It’s not easy to become a USSF-licensed elite soccer coach:
“You must pass six licenses. … The failure rate is high -- I haven’t had time to check this data but it’s often well above 30 percent of license-seekers who are told, ‘No. Come back again when you’re ready.’ It’s difficult to imagine a teacher certification or licensing program in this country failing 30 percent of applicants.”
The words are those of Doug Lemov, a renowned teacher of schoolteachers who in 2010 was enlisted by the USSF to help train soccer coaches.
He’s telling us it’s tougher to become a licensed elite soccer coach than a certified teacher.
An article in the current edition of The Atlantic on Lemov’s work in soccer hit the web in the same week that SI.com’s Liviu Bird reported on the USSF's overhaul of its coaching license standards and MLS’s collaboration with the French soccer federation (FFF) to get the “Elite Formation Coaching License” for its youth academy coaches.
“The first cycle of the Formation License took two years and involved 320 hours of on-field and classroom instruction,” writes Bird.
Said one coach who got the license, Darren Sawatzky: “That course was the single hardest educational thing I’ve done in my life. It was harder than my college degree.”
Wow. Sounds like soccer is a very complicated sport.
Of course, soccer-coaching licenses have been around for a long time in the USA. In September, I wrote about German Dettmar Cramer setting up the USSF’s national coaching school in the early 1970s. Since then, the men and women who coach our kids also get diplomas from the NSCAA. Or if they’re playing AYSO, the coaches take that organization’s courses. U.S. Youth Soccer has the National Youth Coaching Course.
The American coaching license industry got a shakeup of sorts in 2015, when the USSF announced it would no longer accept NSCAA diplomas as a prerequisite to skip the USSF’s lower-level courses. In other words, even if you have an NSCAA National Diploma, you’d have to start at the entry level to work your way up the USSF’s license ladder.
That it’s ridiculous for the USSF to claim it has a magic formula no one else has access to is one thing. There are other serious concerns.
I have heard of lower-income clubs whose coaches didn’t have the money or the time – because of their day jobs – to get the licenses that would enable their teams to compete in the elite competition their talented kids deserved to be in. Who’s to say that these coaches aren’t as good as those who have the benefit of charging their players thousands of dollars a year to play for their clubs?
I also wonder how many men and women out there are excellent coaches but might not be suited to the academic rigors of what some of these courses demand.
For sure there are basics about health and safety and age-appropriate training that I believe everyone who coaches kids must familiarize themselves with. I know from my own experience, and from others, that much in these courses helps us become better coaches. I like a lot of Lemov’s advice. And Bird's article on the "overhaul" indicates some common-sense changes, such as taking the C, B and A courses to "the candidate’s home environment" and spreading the course work out over a longer period instead of a nine-day residency course.
But what comes through loud and clear when one reads the reports of the in-vogue sophisticated coaching education is the aggrandizing of the coach’s role. That’s a perilous approach in a sport whose greatest players have in common lots of soccer without adults telling them how to play.
From Bird’s article on the Elite Formation Coaching License: “Much of the terminology used in the course comes out of the classroom rather than off the soccer field.”
So kids, be aware, your teams are “academies.” You’re on a “curriculum.” And your field has become a "classroom."