Remembering Dettmar Cramer reminds us: It's all about the ball

By Mike Woitalla

The legendary German coach Dettmar Cramer once joked he felt sorry for the ball when he watched soccer by players with poor technique.

I didn’t know he said that when, as an 8-year-old, I met Cramer. The meeting came in Dallas, where my father was getting his U.S. Soccer Federation “C” license from Cramer in 1972.

But I do remember how my dad -- who had before he got his license from Cramer read three of his books -- coached. We did everything with the ball. Even the stuff now called SAQ – speed, agility, quickness training. I think Cramer may have called it gymnastics. And he came up with ways to include the ball.

Cramer died last week at age 90. The scores of obituaries in the German media listed plenty of his accomplishments and noted his impact on the rise of German soccer as a federation (DFB) coach, first working regionally to identify and develop young talent. Cramer was Helmut Schoen’s assistant coach at the 1966 World Cup. He famously lobbied the DFB officials not to kick an 18-year-old Franz Beckenbauer out of the national team program because he had sired a child out of wedlock. Cramer coached several pro clubs, including Bayern Munich, which he guided to back-to-back European Cups in the 1970s. Under the auspices of FIFA he traveled to 90 nations to give coaching courses. In Japan, which recruited him to create a soccer infrastructure and which he helped win the 1968 Olympic bronze medal, Cramer is considered “The Father of Japanese Soccer.”

A few of the German obits mentioned his short stint as U.S. national team coach, which comprised of two games against Mexico in 1974 before returning to Germany to coach Bayern. Not mentioned was that Cramer had a profound impact on U.S. Soccer. In the early 1970s, Cramer set up the U.S. Soccer Federation’s national coaching school, helping create its curriculum and traveling the nation teaching coaching courses.

The first course was held at the Moses Brown School in Rhode Island in 1970. Among those getting their licenses at that session were Joe Morrone (who died last week) and future U.S. national team coaches Eugene Chzyowych, Gordon Bradley, Al Miller, Manfred Schellscheidt and Alkis Panagoulias.

First USSF license course, 1970, Providence, R.I. Back row: Bob Ritcey, Layton
Shoemaker, (unknown), Lenny Lucenko, Tom Nevers, Dettmar Cramer, Bob McNulty,
Hubert Vogelsinger, Joe Morrone, (unknown), Will Myers. Front row: Trevor Pugh,
Joe Machnik, Gene Chyzowych, James Bradley, Manfred Schellscheidt.

Schellscheidt went into the record as the USA’s A-1 coach (the first USSF A license coach) and also went on to coach or assist with the U.S. U-17s, U-20s -- he headed the U.S. U-14 national team program for nearly a decade -- as well as NASL, ASL and McGuire Cup championship teams.

“Dettmar was a great man who had an enormous influence on soccer and on people in general,” says Schellscheidt, who has in turn been credited by the likes of Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley for having a major influence on their coaching. “Cramer coming here was a milestone of great importance because he started the coaching schools that are in the end still a good thing. The coaching school is not just to coach but to have a better understanding of the game.”

The first encounter Schellscheidt, a German native, had with Cramer came when Schellscheidt was a teenager called into a German regional youth national team pool. When they met again 14 years later ...

“[USSF President] Gene Edwards and [general secretary] Kurt Lamm asked me to join them to meet Cramer at a restaurant,” Schellscheidt says. “Before I was introduced, Dettmar looks at me and says, ‘Was machst du denn hier?’ [What are you doing here?] It was unbelievable. I was one out of hundreds of kids he coached. He had a photographic memory.”

When Miller, a Pennsylvania native who had started running federation coaching programs and youth national team camps, first met Cramer he didn’t expect it to go well.

“I was told the Federation was bringing in a German guy,” says Miller, who would become the only U.S.-born coach to win a title in the old NASL. “I thought, oh hell, not again. We were always getting guys from Brooklyn -- Germans, Swedes, Brazilians or whatever, who were supposed to have all these great soccer credentials and 90 percent of the time these guys were total screw-ups.

“I knew zero about who this Cramer guy was.”

Cramer explained he was just there to observe and politely asked Miller to see his training plan for the teens brought into a junior Olympic development camp.

“Cramer looks at it,” says Miller. 'He says, ‘This is really impressive. Who developed this?’ I told him I did. That I was a physical education teacher and grew up playing soccer in Philadelphia’s German community, and I played soccer in New York.”

On the second day of camp Cramer asked Miller if he could help. Miller let Cramer to do a session on ball control.

“It was like an angel came down,” Miller says. “Cramer gets up in front of the kids and starts juggling like a wizard. The kids were mesmerized, and so was I. And he’s talking to them the whole time! Sending a message: ‘Ball control is all about being friendly with the ball, feeling the ball, understanding the ball, how the ball works, and being a master of the ball.’

“And then he gives one of the most amazing sessions I’ve ever seen.”

Miller still didn’t know exactly who Cramer was until Cramer asked him if he wanted to use a film he brought for a classroom session:

“I said sure. We didn’t have very good film. It wasn’t like now when there’s all sorts of video. So we start watching and it’s the 1966 World Cup final. And I see Cramer training the German players. I thought, ‘Oh my God!’ This is the guy who liked my training plan!"

USSF "C" license course, 1972, Dallas. Bernard Shub, Pat Craig, (unknown), Bill Murphy, Stephen Radvic, Philip Ramirez, Dettmar Cramer Jr., Dettmar Cramer, Ron Griffith, Jan Book, Horst Woitalla.

Miller says the curriculum that Cramer brought not only changed American coaching, it also created a “tremendous camaraderie between the college and high school and [adult] club and the youth coaches.”

“Early in my days we had a little problem because if you were a club coach, you thought college coaches were stupid,” says Miller. “And if you were a college coach, you thought club coaches were stupid. I was kind of caught in the middle because I was coaching in college but playing at the club level.

“I thought that Dettmar’s original schools crushed that and brought everybody together. That was one of the best things that came out of it, other than learning good fundamentals for coaching and getting educational coaching background.

“A lot college coaches were physical education teachers trained by coaches who had never seen a game. Cramer modernized American soccer coaching.”

Miller remembers Cramer’s approach to fitness being greeted as “revolutionary.”

“He believed in fitness but the fitness was with the ball,” Miller says. “He called it specific fitness -- getting fit for the game that you played by playing the game and using the ball to do the running and exercising and so forth.

“He thought training without the ball was wasting time. Everybody bought into it, because we didn’t have that much time with our players and he was teaching us how we could get more out of them.”

Schellscheidt says, “Of course, let’s take into account that the game evolves. But what Dettmar put on paper is as good today as it was in those days.”

10 comments about "Remembering Dettmar Cramer reminds us: It's all about the ball ".
  1. Ric Fonseca, September 25, 2015 at 9:55 p.m.

    Very good article Mike! I still have his coaching manual, and many fond memories of his two sessions - over 40 years ago!!!

  2. Karl Schreiber, September 25, 2015 at 11:19 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing this, Mike! When Cramer was in Bellevue/Seattle in the late sixties I called his hotel and was very happy when he agreed to a meeting. I remember how he radiated energy. I was a coach of an U 8 boys team with my name and accent the only qualifications for the job. I remember his emphasis on training with the ball and how he tried to get his point across in his coaching sessions in the U.S. by referring to the pool player who does NOT run laps around the pool table, nor does the swimmer run laps around the pool. I had been allocated one game ball and one practice ball at the time… He talked about editing a film about “pendulum training” (with tethered balls) which he had successfully introduced in Japan. I improvised with it, but our facilities were not well equipped. – Just wondering: Is this technique still used in training sessions…?

  3. Kent James, September 25, 2015 at 11:49 p.m.

    Nice article. I had heard of Detmar Cramer, but was unaware of how important he was to US soccer. I have two questions about the clinic classes depicted; the A course had a very high percentage of legendary coaches, was that because as the first session, they were already established and simply getting credentialed, or was the A course that effective? And Mike, was that Horst Woitalla any relation?

  4. stewart hayes, September 26, 2015 at 9:21 a.m.

    Thank you Mike I enjoyed your well researched information. It helped me recall that actually the first contact I had with Dettmar was in 1968 not in the early 70's as I had previously thought. He came to watch my Juventus of Redwood City U18 team play a game in Balboa park. He met with us for a meal after the game and politely told us that we played ping pong soccer. I still have my 71 page concise 1973 edition USSFA(now USSF) Coaching Manual developed by Dettmar and edited by McNulty and Lucenko which is elegant in it's breadth and simplicity.

  5. Chris Kovalcik, September 26, 2015 at 2:50 p.m.

    I had never heard of Dettmar Cramer but it is easy to see his greatness and legacy. The game has lost a great coach and person.

  6. Ric Fonseca, September 28, 2015 at 2:15 p.m.

    To Kent: The first two USSF Clinics that I attended (and helped manage the UCLA Coach Dennis Storer)in '71 & '72, the coaches that signed up were in the process of applying for the C, B, and A licenses. I recall only seeing three or four who were going for their A at that time and the number grew exponentially so that by '78, 79 and 80, when I was the on-site Course manager, the new "USSF Licensed" instructors included the likes of Miller, Lindores, Machnik, Lawther, Perez, Killen, Walt Chysowich, McNulty and Lucenko,, had all gone through the process of the C, B, and A curriculum and had been "annointed" by the USSF to form the beginning cadres of Cramer's coaching legacy. As for legendary coaches that were under Cramer's legacy, the most notables included none other than USF Coaching Legend Steve Negoesco, and if memory serves me correct the San Jose State Coaching legend (also former Cassius Clay's or Muhammad Ali's) Olympic boxing coach Julie Menendez. There were other "legendary" coaches, but their names escapes me, though I remember a famous former Peruvian national team player who was denied his Z, 'cause he hadn't gone through the C & B process!

  7. Ric Fonseca, September 28, 2015 at 2:17 p.m.

    oooop, that should have been "... denied his A (Coaching) License..."

  8. Kent James, October 1, 2015 at 12:07 a.m.

    Thanks Ric. Always informative...

  9. Roy Pfeil, October 5, 2015 at 9:59 a.m.

    In 1972 I took my C. 9am sunday morning, and it was a warm and humid morning in NJ, the candidates were put in 3 lines. Young guys in front line, old guys (50+) in back line. we did 35 1 minute fitness drills with the ball with a 30 second rest and demo after each drill. I was used for all 35 demonstrations of the next drill during the 30 second "rest" period. I remember Cramer saying with his German accent, "do not show me your tired!" and when people in the back row (3 total) fainted from exhaustion Cramer would say "please let the physio (trainer) attend to the injured". I was 5'11", 160lbs and very fit. For the rest of the week I was paired up with Al Albert, William and Mary Coach, and Lincoln Phillips, goal keeper for T&T. Both were 6'3"-6'4" and over 200 was a challenging week...Walt Barr also gave me a tip near the end of the week that helped me pass my teaching test...

  10. Dennis Lukens, April 14, 2020 at 6:15 a.m.

    A long time ago. Actually I can not remember when. Probably in mid 1980's. I took the NSCAA Advanced National Diploma Course in Florida. One of the instructors (Jim Lennox?) was shopping between classes and ran into Dettmar at a store. He was there on vacation. He convinced Dettmar to come and give a lecture. He was announced to us all. We sat in the room all quiet and in suspense and then the Great Man walked in. He gave one of the best if not the best lectures I ever heard. Went from simple to complicated. We sat on the edge of our seats in awe as he told us soccer was a series of small group games strung together by long passess. You can not play 11 vs 11 unless you can execute and understand technically and tactically 1v1, 2v2, 3v2 etc...Simple but brillant. Watching Messi Xavi and Iniesta keep the ball away from and penetrate the best defenders and teams in the World made me understand who right he was.

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