Commentary

John Hackworth: 'Learning how to win is part of development'

By Mike Woitalla

Coach John Hackworth, who rejoined the U.S. national team program after four years with MLS's Philadelphia Union, has gotten off to a strong start since becoming U.S. Soccer's first full-time U-15 boys national team coach late last year.

His team won the Torneo Delle Nazioni -- hosted by Italy, Austria and Slovenia -- scoring 15 goals in five games and winning, 3-2, in the final over Austria, which had beaten Brazil and tied Mexico in group play. It beat host Italy in the semifinal decided from the penalty spot after a scoreless tie.

How to put the performance into perspective?

“I’m always looking at things from how can we long-term get these players better,” said Hackworth, who will also serve as a U-23 assistant to head coach Andi Herzog. “But I really think that learning how to win -- while not sacrificing your principles and objectives for a team -- is a component of player development. I thought we did that really well in this tournament.

“I really thought being able to play the kind of soccer we played, with our style, sticking to our principles while learning how to win in that environment was important.”

Hackworth is charged with preparing a core group of players to pass on to U-17 coach Richie Williams for the 2017 World Cup cycle – the 2000 birth-year players. He included in his squad three 1999s who have been in U-17 Bradenton Residency: forward Lucas Del Rosario, goalkeeper Eric Lopez and midfielder Nicholas Taitague, who went out injured in the first half of the opener – 4-1 win over Costa Rica.

Austria and Slovenia, which beat the USA, 3-2, after it had already clinched a semi spot, fielded all U-16s (1999s). Costa Rica was a mixed team while Italy and Croatia brought U-15s.


Photo courtesy of U.S. Soccer.

“We went in with a clear plan of how many minutes we were going to get players and how many guys were going to start,” said Hackworth. “We kind of scripted our first three lineups. We knew Croatia brought their 2000s, so we played with only our 2000s [a 6-2 U.S. victory].”

Having three residency players with the group, Hackworth says, gives the younger players a chance to learn about the Bradenton residency program they may end up at.

For Lopez, it was an opportunity to shine. He earned Goalkeeper of the Tournament honors.

“It can be tough to be the No. 3 keeper in residency,” said Hackworth, “because you don’t get a lot of games and he got four games over there and really raised his game and his leadership role.”

Andrew Carleton led the Americans with six goals. Besides his goals in the final, the Georgia product also scored a pair against both Croatia and Costa Rica.

“I am reluctant to point out individuals,” Hackworth said. “It was a real team effort. Everybody started a game. Everybody played multiple games, with the exception of one player.”

But Hackworth did laud Carleton:

“He has the right mentality. He likes to be creative. He figures things out. He really got beat up against Slovenia because he was identified as a player teams had to neutralize playing against us. And he was smart enough against Italy and Austria to change his game a little bit. And that was really good sign. … There were a number of guys who played really well.”


Photo courtesy of U.S. Soccer.

“In the short amount of time, it was fun to watch some of these guys really blossom,” Hackworth said.

Before his stint with the Union, where he served as assistant coach and head coach, Hackworth coached the USA at the 2005 and 2007 U-17 World Cups after serving as John Ellinger’s assistant at Bradenton. He says he’s enjoying this age group.

“There’s some slight differences,” he says, “but it has to do getting these 2000s a year before I ever had players come into residency. There’s the age, the physical maturity. … They’re really anxious to learn. They’re eyes are wide. They haven’t had some of the experiences they’re going to be faced with down the road if they do get called into the residency program. So it’s been fun to introduce some of those ideas to them and see them put them into competition is fantastic.”

One thing that has surprised Hackworth was how aggressively these 14- and 15-year-olds are being scouted.

“There were scouts from clubs and agents from all over the world looking at all the players,” he said. “That’s part of the business now. It’s definitely going younger than it’s ever gone. That is part of this process now for these young players. They’re going to get a lot of people telling them certain things.

“I’m not going to say there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that but you do think it’s little precarious when you have agents and big clubs saying to 14- and 15-year-olds, you’re our next big player and we want to sign you … We want to keep them grounded and keep them on a path where they can still develop.”

6 comments about "John Hackworth: 'Learning how to win is part of development'".
  1. Coach Referee, May 6, 2015 at 1:45 p.m.

    Whoa Nelly.

    “But I really think that learning how to win -- while not sacrificing your principles and objectives for a team -- is a component of player development....."

    What?!?! Really? "Winning" can now be a topic of discussion at trainings and prematch speeches? Is learning the players' responsibility or the coaches'? If it's a part of player development, at which point does it get presented or discussed or introduced into the development process? How do they learn this? On their own? Or taught by us?

    I know, I know, I know. I asked a bunch of questions and for the most part, they are rhetorical for thought. I'm just surprised to see a person from US Soccer using the word "winning" in regards to player development. I mean, we all know as coaches that it's implied or inferred that if you're the team with the fewest mistakes, the team that plays the closest to a 100% perfect match, that the odds are in your favor that you'll win the match. We all know that winning matches helps reinforce and justify all of the hard work at trainings. And, we all know that losing in matches helps to make players better in the sense that they can see areas that need improvement. We've been masking and hiding the "competition" of playing a sport and that's why we have sports and board games and video games.... to win.

    So now, we've got a US Soccer coach saying that learning how to win is a part of player development. Is this the go ahead for us at the local club level to finally start teaching our players to win opposed to just developing their skills? Can we say in a prematch speech..."Let's go out and win this match"? Or, do we still avoid this taboo and beat around the bush? If this coach wants his players to win U15 Cup and wants them ready to pass onto the next coach for the u17 Cup to win and etc and etc and etc and then the top tier of the USMNT for the FIFA World Cup, then they need to learn how to win. Before these players ever get to the Academy and Residency Programs, is it now our responsibility to teach them how to win so that they are ready to do it when they get to these prestigious levels of play within US Soccer?

    Wow, as you can tell, I'm just a bit awestruck that a US Soccer coach even mentioned the word "winning" in the same sentence with "player development". Sorry for getting on my high horse, but I just couldn't resist the opportunity to speak up about it. I doubt that I'll be jumping up and all of a sudden change my coaching curriculum. But does this story open the door for a new mentality?

  2. Thomas Hosier, May 6, 2015 at 2:51 p.m.

    @ Lance Eber .... and a lovely high horse it is! I have always wondered when it was time to "flip the switch" and tell the players it is OK to win or to want to win. While I know we are talking about our kids here .... winning is a habit worth promoting in all competitions. I like the way Vince Lombardi addresses it: What It Takes to be Number One
    "Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

    There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that's first place....." http://www.vincelombardi.com/number-one.html ..... programing our kids to believe winning isn't important is just flat stupid.

  3. Soccer Madness, May 6, 2015 at 5:07 p.m.

    Gentlemen, regardless of what this coach said in regards to winning, the reality is USSDA Teams all play to win or at least the great majority of them. And they do so by picking physicality over skill. Thats what I have seen mostly. It's easy to say one thing and silently encourage something completely different. Just look at current USSDA rules, officiating, each club's structure. Every club in it major source of income is directly or indirectly pay to play. MLS teams offer free Academy but make alot of money off of Partnerships with satelite clubs with the promise of bringing them in for a look. They charge $50 a year per kid plus must buy Uniform Packages of $300 and up. Officiating is God awful and in no way or form does it encourage skillfull play. USSDA clubs should be ranked solely on quality and quantity of quality players they each develop. Nothing else. But they are. What is glorified is who wins National event at U16 and U18. That encourages less younger players playing up which in turn hurts better develop overall. Dont look so hard at what they say. Start paying attention to what you see my friends.

  4. Soccer Madness, May 6, 2015 at 5:12 p.m.

    "We kind of scripted our first three lineups. We knew Croatia brought their 2000s, so we played with only our 2000s [a 6-2 U.S. victory]." So what was the thought proccess when facing the all 2000 Italy team?? Lets just use the 99's and win?? Dont you think you might have sent your team the wrong message on that one?? I dont think we can beat Italy 2000 with our 2000 goalie and our 99 fwd will also make the difference. That game vs Italy was probably the only game that mattered had we played our 2000 only team and we chose to use 2 99's just to get past semi's. Had we lost 2-1 or 3-1 would have still been better and something to build on. Wasted opportunity if you ask me.

  5. BJ Genovese, May 6, 2015 at 9:31 p.m.

    Who has the best USSDA right now... or top five and reasons please?

  6. R2 Dad, May 7, 2015 at 12:29 a.m.

    Is it possible to tell the kids winning is good but not the coaches? Winning is still bad. Bad because there are so few decent coaches out there that can do so without that major, monumental caveat: "while not sacrificing your principles and objectives for a team". Tell a college coach to win and you get, well, college soccer/kickball. So no, until the citizenry of the US cares as much about quality of play in soccer as they do in basketball and football, winning is bad. Good for the players, but just don't tell the dang coaches because they go all squiffy. We'll know it's time to tell the coaches it's OK to win once they earn their keep and start really developing world class players. They don't really know how, hence the Winning is Bad dictate.

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