'Improved coaching is the priority' (Tony Lepore Q&A, Part 2)

Interview by Mike Woitalla

In Part 2 of our interview on the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, Director of Scouting Tony Lepore addresses the quest to improve the coaching of elite players in the USA. (Read Part 1 HERE.)

SOCCER AMERICA: How does U.S. Soccer’s announcement last month that it would be providing “increased education for coaching and guidance for its elite-level players?” relate to the Development Academy?

TONY LEPORE: We know improving and supporting our coaches is the single most important improvement target for the Academy right now.

The first part is we need everyone to be on board with the vision and the philosophy and being part of a streamlined pathway.

We also need coaches who have a strong conviction, who have the quality, the knowledge, the understanding -- but we also need them to apply more sophisticated age-appropriate coaching methodology.

We’re requiring all of our coaches to have minimum license and certification. From our assessment, we know that we have simply too many unqualified coaches when it comes to licenses. Whether head coach, assistant coach or goalkeeper coach, or a director, 40 percent of the Academy coaches don’t meet our current requirements.

SA: Why is the figure so low?

TONY LEPORE: It’s the time away and also the cost. We’re going to help with that, but we need the clubs to make this a priority.

U.S. Soccer is going to provide the courses. Academy clubs are now hosting. We are subsidizing the cost and giving priority access to [Academy coaches] because our courses fill out very quickly, they’re very popular. We’re giving them the runway to get up to speed.

When we compare ourselves to the international standard, we look at not just the financial resources but also the human resources and the level of expertise. We feel we’re way behind in the number of experts.

SA: How would coaches who get up to speed with licensing and courses coach differently?

TONY LEPORE: It all comes back to training environment. Right now, what’s important is we’re looking at the progress we’re making. The conversation has really changed from building a team to get results to the process of individual player development.

With that comes planning. Highly sophisticated planning. We’re shifting the focus more and more on the individual, really understanding the individual’s needs.

It’s also about the focus on style of play, which is really improving. We are developing an identity and a style of play, where we want to be more proactive, more dominant, more creative.

And really, style of play is at the core of developing players. And everything in the playing environment should translate to this identity and style of play.

Our goal is to develop a player who is world-class. In order to develop that, style of play is important. It’s players who have the character, insight and technical qualities.

SA: The USA has a quite a long history of coaching schools, coach licensing and coach education. Why are we behind?

TONY LEPORE: It’s a good question. I think part of it is mindset. What makes a good coach is always being hungry and looking to learn with an open mindset. Just like a teacher, learning along with the student, coaches should learn along with the player and aim to get better all the time.

One thing we’re looking for, and we see it more and more, is when players come into a youth national team they’re speaking a common language, which is the connection between our national teams and the Academy clubs, and that’s a key. …

We also have coaches at clubs who are stretched too thin. … Part of that is defining what a good club structure looks like, the model, the staffing level. We’re working closely with the clubs.

We have added a top-tier course that’s very focused on leadership, all the key criteria to developing a successful academy program, and are doing a new Technical Director course.

Dave Chesler [U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Development] is a real key person. He's an important part of our management team and will be a crucial part of the single most important improvement target -- supporting coaching development.

Tony Lepore Q&A, Part 1: 'Development Academy Making Progress and Staying Ambitious'

12 comments about "'Improved coaching is the priority' (Tony Lepore Q&A, Part 2)".
  1. Peter Orona, January 15, 2015 at 9:41 a.m.

    The focus needs to be developing the American coach no different than it is developing the American player. There needs to be a coaching ID program and the US should mentor those coaches with the last methods, ideas, and resources. Young and up and coming American coaches should be the focus.

  2. Futsal nation, January 15, 2015 at 10:38 a.m.

    Training coaches better will do little to do develop the very best players possible under current development structure. Main objective for USSDA clubs should be to develop pros. To do that they need incentive or to be held accountable. If we dont have that we are just running around in circles. look at our U16 roster which are players born 99. Very few of those players are regular starters on thier U16 Academy teams which are 99/98. How can a top 99 not be good enough to start every game at 98 top USA level?? You see what I mean?? The objective of mostly every USSDA club is to win National Championship. No different from any non USSDA club.

  3. Joe Linzner, January 15, 2015 at 12:19 p.m.

    Not every coach sees the game at a level that will enable him ti impart top level skills, vision and movement at a level equal to international play. Like with any sport all of the above need to be made automatic, not reactionary. Like runs off the ball to exploit space and assuring vision that is assessed prior to receiving a pass and not, receive a ball, then look for an outlet pass. Teach close control via soft feet, (hands for keepers) Strikers trained to know their position on the ball using the box as reference and being aware of keeper position via glance then putting th ball where he isn't...etc etc there is too much push to play games at a young level and not enough drills to impart the above. Above all to keep training interesting to encourage and not boring. Change in tactics throughout a game, even in practice to teach flexibility. More positioning of players to allow to different areas of the field.
    Classroom demos with emphasis on strategy and movement ideals and question and answer sessions without reproach on any level.......There must be a separate conditioning and playing environment and on and on......
    We just do not have international experience available at all levels based on personal experience from coaching at child level all the way to semi Pro.....

  4. Clayton Davis, January 15, 2015 at 2:03 p.m.

    Hopefully we'll get a higher percentage of former professionals involved in the actual coaching of youth soccer and not just expensive week-long clinics. It sounds like the current expansion of the YNT programs is not an easy process due to the limited number of people with advanced knowledge of the game.

  5. Mark Torguson, January 15, 2015 at 2:23 p.m.

    Well said Futsal Nation, USSDA should be in the business of developing pros, and should be compensating for doing such. If USSDA clubs want players from others clubs, there should be a trickle down of effect of compensation. If clubs are financially rewarded for developing pros, that will take the emphasis of winning at the younger age groups.

    Slightly different outlook, as anyone tracked the YNT results since the inception of the Academy and before?

  6. Futsal nation, January 15, 2015 at 7:47 p.m.

    Mark, to add to that, USSDA claim a player as their product if only there for 1-2 years. this certainly helps them validate themseleves as a "development Academy" byut it seems its under mostly false pretenses. This leads pay to play parents to believe that USSDA is where these kids developed when most of the time it is not the case. So in a way, USSDA is profiting from these players without compensating the, often smaller, clubs they recruited from.

  7. cisco martinez, January 16, 2015 at 11:04 a.m.

    The main problem in my opinion is there is no development for U-17 to professional level. Our top players go to college and are not developed, the team is. Moreover, this country only looks at athleticism not technical ability.

  8. Bob Ashpole, January 16, 2015 at 12:30 p.m.

    While I think it is important for the youth coach to focus on style of play in the adult game as the target of development, but, until players are ready to play the adult game, the training objectives must focus on developing the technical, tactical, mental, and physical tools that are needed.

    In my view we need to be developing well-rounded players (for several reasons). While team selection and development involves comparisons between players, player development should involve the improvement of player weaknesses as well as strengths to help that player reach full potential.

    While many players end up as "role players" on senior teams based on relative abilities of the players on that team, developing role players should not be the development goal. Flank players are a good example. They all need the same tools. Where they play (left, right, back, or wing) is going to depend on a comparison to the other players available for the match.

    Moreover I think it is a mistake to see the mission as building a senior team that can only play one style of play. That mission will result in a competitive team, but not a championship team. My vision of a championship team includes creative problem solving and flexible tactics to fit the opponent and the circumstances of the match.

    In the days before television, you could surprise opponents with team tactics, but those days are long gone.

    To summarize our vision should be to develop flexible teams and flexible players. Competitive teams are good, but our goal should be championship teams.

  9. James Froehlich, January 16, 2015 at 2 p.m.

    Lots of great comments! One that struck a chord for me was from Futsal where he identified the quest for "championships" as being detrimental to the goal of high level player development. I believe that is a crucial point. Within the development structure, team standings, championships, must be eliminated. Players and coaches must not be associated with "A" team. When competitive matches are arranged, rosters should be compiled from different academies with coaches randomly assigned. Hopefully all this would eliminate the easy route to winning, especially at the younger levels, of individual coaches selecting purely the most athletic players and riding their coattails to "championships".

  10. Futsal nation, January 16, 2015 at 11:38 p.m.

    James, what you suggest will never happen. Coaches get paid for results. Sadly, only results needed for economic growth is winning. This happens from the Elite level (USSDA) to the lowest levels (Local Travel Soccer). There is nothing to gain financially to develop top players, or very little and risk of focusing moslty on the top players is too great. Much safer to win, show trophies, brag rankings to atract paying customers. Really easy to put top players together to accomodate college scouts for easier work. Easy money. With no compensation for top players there is no way to hold them from leaving midway through season to another club. Why focus on them individually?? Its sad but this is actual thinking of most USSDA clubs.

  11. Ray Almubaslat, January 22, 2016 at 2 p.m.

    (Please Forward to Tony Lepore and Brad Friedel)

    Why is a top-talented player like Faisal Almubaslat (17) with international experience in the Junioren Bundesliga not on the u19/20 MNT? Judge for yourself:

    Faisal Almubaslat 2015 Soccer Highlights (USA and Germany)

  12. Ray Almubaslat, January 22, 2016 at 2:04 p.m.

    Oh - I forgot to mention some top European clubs (without mentioning names here) and other smaller clubs too have already shown interest in Faisal who opted to skip College Soccer and go Pro in Summer 2016.

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