Tony DiCicco on the high school ban, coaching education and the future of girls soccer

Interview by Mike Woitalla

Tony DiCicco, who coached the U.S. women to the 1996 Olympic gold medal, the 1999 Women's World Cup title and the 2008 U-20 Women's World Cup crown, spoke with us about the changing landscape of girls soccer in the USA. The U.S. Soccer Federation is launching a Girls Development Academy in 2017.

SOCCER AMERICA: What do you hope the American girls youth soccer landscape looks like in 2020? What can you imagine being better than it is now?

TONY DICICCO: In 2020, I hope we are creating and inspiring technical, sophisticated players at earlier ages who can -- as Mallory Pugh has done -- make full-team appearances earlier in their career.

I would also love to see less alphabet soup with our youth development programs.  We are diluting the development of the elite player by spreading them over too many programs.

Hopefully by 2020, the GDA [Girls Development Academy] is established and U.S. Club, USYS, USL, AYSO and other organizations all have their function with development from age 4 to adult under one set of guidelines and principles.

My slogan when I coached the USA Women was “win forever.” I was criticized by some for it but … why, with our numbers and our potential, should we think of anything else for our national team!

However, at the younger age groups, it has to be more about development than winning. Winning has its place, for sure, but in 2020, I would love to see our development direction established and adopted by all.  

This doesn’t mean playing the same system or even playing the same way … it does mean that we need to become more technical at the earlier age groups, be more creative earlier and become real students of the game worldwide and not just students of USA female soccer!

Tony DiCicco (Photo courtesy Fox Sports)

SA: What, if any, are your biggest concerns about what could go wrong when U.S. Soccer launches the Girls Development Academy?

TONY DICICCO: The biggest challenge for GDA is that, initially, it will likely splinter girls elite player development.

This will prevent all the best players from training and competing in the same environment.

I am against denying female players the opportunity to play high school soccer. Each player and each team needs to determine if the experience is worthwhile from a soccer standpoint and if the experience is important for the player socially.  

Playing for your hometown is something pretty special and should not just be 100 percent discarded. Also, it has taken the Boys DA seven to eight years to get to this place today with mixed reviews.

I do think the future is brighter because of MLS teams taking a lead in player development. MLS teams have budgets of $1 to $2 million dollars on their BDA teams and their focus is less on winning and more on developing a player for their team or someone who generates interest internationally.

Yes, we haven’t seen the next Brian McBride, Landon Donavan or Clint Dempsey evolve.  Now looking at the girls side, how long will it take for the NWSL teams to be able to create that type of structure?  Will the ECNL continue to play? I think yes, at least, for a while. This definitely is a challenge for the GDA.

SA: Can you expand on why you disagree with the U.S. Soccer Girls Development Academy not allowing girls to play high school soccer?

TONY DICICCO: I think it is wrong to mandate that girls can’t play for their high school teams. I know high school coaches who are outstanding and will develop players.

Yes, there are some that are poor and therefore, the player, parents and club coaches should make the decision -- not some national declaration by the GDA.

Also, the social aspects should not be discounted. Finally, having the opportunity to play for your town in front of often bigger crowds is also, in my opinion, important and can also serve for development.

This mandate may also keep some elite players/teams from going with the GDA and staying with ECNL which, again, may splinter development. Even the BDA didn’t start out with this mandate so I suggest that the GDA relaxes this mandate until, they can show, what they are and what they are capable of delivering.

SA: One of the big differences between the upcoming Girls Academy and the current ECNL is that the ECNL is age pure and the GDA will have combined age groups – i.e. U-15/16 instead of clubs fielding a U-15 and U-16 team. Which do you think is better?  

TONY DICICCO: Good question! I am not absolutely sure on how this will impact but I don’t mind seeing the combined age groups. Currently there is a U-15 and a U-16 team, so if you take the best of those players and make the U15/U16 A team and the others are a B team … That may create challenges for the club but I think you will see movement between the teams as there should be with any competitive developmental structure.

Players develop at different stages and different ages and a player on the B team may become one of the most important players on the A team with time. The biggest challenge I see with this is managing the parents!

SA: What’s your view on the state of coaching education in the USA? For example, U.S. Soccer is requiring Development Academy coaches to have at least a “B” USSF license while no longer recognizing NSCAA course diplomas.

TONY DICICCO: I think that the B License requirement is going to eliminate many very good coaches. I see where the DA is coming from but I think that a coach with a C license and an expectation on when to achieve their B license makes sense.

As far as the NSCAA courses … I have worked both USSF and NSCAA courses and both are very good so I think U.S. Soccer is making a mistake by not recognizing the NSCAA Coaching School. The biggest reason is that a generation of coaches has gotten their A license but they have also gotten their Premier Diploma from the NSCAA.

This means they did more courses and received more formal education. The NSCAA instructors are former and current national team coaches, MLS coaches, college coaches. Bottom line: both schools are good, education is good and on-going coaching education is valuable. I don’t think U.S. Soccer comes from a place of strength when it diminishes the contribution of other organizations, whether they are ECNL, U.S. Club or NSCAA.

8 comments about "Tony DiCicco on the high school ban, coaching education and the future of girls soccer".
  1. Raymond Weigand, March 25, 2016 at 4:23 p.m.

    Bravo! The banning of high school seems to be economically motivated ... club coaches do not want their revenue interrupted for 3 months. Some stories it more transparent ... club coaches claim high school soccer causes injuries, which then interrupts for 3+ months. Baloney. What high school soccer does is gives the kids a chance to play a leadership role / a teaching role / a motivator / etc. And the kids get a break from the hyper competitive / profit motivated club world.

  2. Andrew Pawl replied, March 28, 2016 at 10:42 a.m.

    Not sure what the rest of the country looks like but many High School divisions ban Club Soccer during the season altogether - less private lessons in some cases.

  3. James Madison, March 25, 2016 at 6:55 p.m.

    Thoughtful discussion. First Dorrance and now DeCicco singing largely the same song. How many more will it take before USSoccer hears.

  4. GA Soccer Forum, March 26, 2016 at 9:27 a.m.

    mentioned above, don't believe its not about winning. yes, style of play and coaching evaluations is a huge part of the process, but how do you get your teams on the map and the radar ---- by winning, by making the semifinals of the DA playoff structure. Look at Ga United, the non-MLS Da here in Georgia, they got a ton of recognition last year because they won consistently at 2 of the 3 age groups

  5. GA Soccer Forum, March 26, 2016 at 9:29 a.m.

    and one last thing, academics has to be a priority, anything can happen and these kids need to be prepared for the next phases of their lives that 99.9% of the time would not include playing soccer.

  6. beautiful game, March 28, 2016 at 10:41 a.m.

    The incorporation of "total football" into the youth development program introduced by Dutchmasters Rinus Michel and Johan Cruyff in the 1970s would be the perfect launching pad in order to create more instinctive players with a higher soccer IQ. This system was brought to the USA by Dutch trainers and soon disappeared.

  7. SRH IAM, March 28, 2016 at 11:51 p.m.

    Nice to see more commentary taking the USSF to task about their superiority complex over the NSCAA.

  8. Big Dad, April 26, 2016 at 3:57 p.m.

    Banning girls from playing HS soccer will backfire on US Soccer and Girls DA. Unlike the boys, we all know the top girls are picking their college as HS freshman. We will see the top talent abandon the Girls DA and return to ECNL as soon as they commit.
    All the DA will do is dilute the talent and reduce the quality of competition and games for years to come.

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