Nico Romeijn and Ryan Mooney
SOCCER AMERICA: American basketball, football and baseball, which are more coach-centric than soccer, don’t have anything close to the licensing requirements that soccer has. Why does U.S. Soccer have such stringent coaching license requirements?
RYAN MOONEY: Part of it is our being a member association of FIFA, and the responsibilities and expectations around education and licensing connected to both coaching programs and referee programs. As a member of FIFA, it’s one of the mandates that are on us as a Federation. This answer is not meant as, “Hey, because we have to.” This is more of a footnote to the answer. Nico can speak to really the reason, the impact, and our intentions with the coaching education program.
NICO ROMEIJN: We are trying to create the best environment for the players. And we are talking about players of all levels, including recreational players. A really important resource, when you’re looking at the environment of the player, is the coach.
When you do research from players about their experiences, a lot of them are mentioning their coaches are their main influences when looking at their career. And also, staying in the sport or dropping out. When you’re looking at the coaching job, we like to compare it with teaching.
If one of your kids is attending a school, and a teacher tells you, “I was a really good student, and therefore I’m now a good teacher.” I think a lot of us will question that, because being a good student doesn’t mean you’ll be a good teacher.
That’s the same way of looking at coaching. If you were a good player, or played the game a lot, doesn’t mean you’re a good coach.
We think it’s more or less a kind of profession. Of course, on the voluntary side we don’t talk about profession, but you need these basic teaching skills to inspire these kids. And we’re also looking at health and safety, and so on. So, we take it very seriously.
Whether recreational soccer and talent development, it’s based on competency. That’s why we think we should have these courses based on the competencies of a coach and make it very serious, because we are serious about growing the game, about increasing the level. But also, we are looking after the interest of the kids.
SOCCER AMERICA: If we accept the idea that licenses make coaches better and the courses will make us a better soccer country – the fact is they’re not easy to get. For example, the cost. The cost of getting U.S. Soccer’s higher-level licenses is about five times the cost of a German DFB license. Why are they so expensive?
NICO ROMEIJN: We recently did research on the cost of our licenses. The last thing I will say is that we are cheap, but we’re also not the most expensive courses when you’re looking at Europe. So, for example, when you’re looking at France, that’s much more expensive than over here.
Our licenses are based on multiple meetings. And it’s also based on what’s happening in between the meetings. That’s also a part of the license. That’s when they put what they’ve learned into practice. That’s a really important period of mentoring.
For example, the B license, its four months, but it’s also four months of mentoring from the instructor, so you can imagine having to pay the instructor for four months. That's not cheap.
When you’re looking at these prices, we’re not the cheapest, but we also subsidize these costs. There is a lot of investment from the federation.
When you look at the real costs, these are much higher than what we get from the applicants.
SOCCER AMERICA: I’ve heard many complaints that it’s difficult to get into the courses, because of a lack of availability. Early this year, and recently, when I’ve checked the availability of A, B and C license courses, most of them were already booked full. If someone in California wanted to take the next available C license course, that person would have to travel to Virginia or Illinois. Currently, the U.S. Soccer Coaching Center site does not list any A or B license courses in 2018 that have open registration. And if they were open, they require significant travel for most coaches. Are you able to accommodate all the people who want licenses? I’ve even heard that half the people who have recently wanted to get A or B licenses can’t find available courses. Is that true?
NICO ROMEIJN: I don’t know the exact numbers. Let me explain the model, because that’s important to get more insight.
Our C licenses and Grassroots licenses are taught by our members. State associations, but also the other members, USYS, AYSO. They are responsible for teaching C licenses and Grassroots licenses.
These are open applications, and of course they have to be organized to attend these licenses. But there are no requirements when you’re looking at the backgrounds of the coach.
When you’re looking at the B, A and Pro licenses, actually we are also looking at a coaching pyramid. We like to compare that with a player pyramid. So, not every player can become a professional player. Not every player can become a national team player.
It’s the same when you’re looking at the coaching pyramid. When looking at the Pro license, it’s really focused on coaches who will work in the professional environment, so there’s an application …
SOCCER AMERICA: But to coach a Development Academy team, at any age group, you have to have an A or a B, is that correct?
NICO ROMEIJN: Yes.
SOCCER AMERICA: Why would a C license coach not be qualified to coach an under-12 or under-14 soccer game?
NICO ROMEIJN: Because we have developed these licenses based on the context, where they coach. When you’re looking at talent development, we’ve got things in the course. We’re looking at content and also working on the competencies, focused on the context. That’s the reason, because, again, it’s really based on the environment they coach in.
SOCCER AMERICA: I’ve heard this: There is a shortage of A and B license coaches, the DA clubs need them, which means that those who have those licenses can demand higher salaries, which is very expensive for the clubs. Clubs that pay the course fees for their coaches say the courses are expensive and that creates another significant hit to their budget. That affects the entire club, not just DA players. That doesn’t seem to be in the best interest of American soccer, does it?
NICO ROMEIJN: No, it isn’t. We can be really sure about that one. Actually, I would like to look at these numbers. But OK. ...
[But] if we’re looking at the model, it’s growing more and more. You talk about the traveling coaches have to do for their licenses. We opened our Development Center in Kansas, so that will be our hub when you’re looking at our licenses.
More and more, we are growing the model and organizing these licenses, more and more and more, so that demand and supply will come in balance.
But that’s a growing model, to be honest.
The last thing we want to do is not look at the quality and only look at the quantity: “Let’s grow the number because it’s demand and supply.” No, we think there should be a balance when you’re looking at quantity and quality.
SOCCER AMERICA: But if you know the clubs are struggling to pay for A and B coaches, wouldn’t it make sense to say, it’s OK to let a coach with a C license coach a game?
NICO ROMEIJN: No. That’s based on philosophy. It’s your starting point. You want to have someone who is really prepared for the environment that he or she is coaching in. And that should be based on your license that’s appropriate with your environment.
You shouldn’t make concessions about that quality.
SOCCER AMERICA: Under the age of 18, 25% of the USA’s population is Hispanic. How many Latino coaches do you have with A or B, or even C licenses?
RYAN MOONEY: At the moment we don’t have demographic information in the DCC [Digital Coaching Center], so we’re not able to tell you, at least at this time, gender and/or any other type of demographic information. We are looking at how we can have the candidates voluntarily identify their information, so we have at least some semblance of data. But we don’t have a definitive answer.
SOCCER AMERICA: How important do you think it is that the coaches at the higher levels reflect the various communities in our American soccer, whether that’s the Latino community or the black, African-American community? It would seem to me you’d want to have coaches who can relate to kids, and that can be more likely if the coaches are from those communities. Is that something you agree with?
RYAN MOONEY: Yes, the only thing I would slightly amend, is not just at the elite level or higher level. Every gender, every ethnicity, every background … I don’t know that if it will always be the case that officials and coaches and players are of a similar correlation depending on the particular type of identifier or identifiers one might use. But we certainly think leveraging the diversity of our culture and of our population in every segment of how people participate is important and really valuable, for sure.
SOCCER AMERICA: My observations have been that there are a significant number of Latino coaches at the grassroots level, but not at the higher levels, A, B, and C. And these are very often coaches who can’t afford to take a couple weeks off, and can’t afford to pay for the room and board, and license fees. Is there any plan from the Federation to go to those coaches, instead just waiting for them to somehow figure out how climb the coaching ladder? To reach out to coaches in under-served communities?
RYAN MOONEY: One of the things that is important to note is that U.S. Soccer is a member organization. I think sometimes there is misunderstanding of what the Federation’s capabilities and capacity is as it relates to all four corners or coastlines of this nation.
So, we really rely on our members and we really rely on our members’ members, which are primarily the leagues and the clubs themselves, to drive particular types of outreach programs or local initiatives, whether it’s connecting with under-represented or under-privileged populations.
Los Angeles and Southern California is the perfect example. At times, whether it’s fair or not, there’s criticism or expectation of what U.S. Soccer doing to unearth the talent there. I think the question is really, what are the clubs doing? Because U.S. Soccer has a limited presence there relative to its members, whether it’s Cal South or AYSO, and other members that do programming.
It doesn’t mean there isn’t an interest. And obviously the idea of how can we continue to further subsidize the cost of education at all levels, not just grassroots or elite, but at all levels, is something we will continue to look at.
I think ultimately those initial touch points and connections that happen with coaches, regardless of what demographic they may have or what community they’re from, has to start locally for it to be most effective.
And that’s one of the challenges we have. The reality is we don’t have a local presence across the country. It’s something that happens through our membership organizations. So, working with them to drive and create those opportunities to connect is certainly a strategy.
SOCCER AMERICA: But if you look at the Federation level, at the youth national team coaches, at the A, B, C licensed coaches … If we look at the national team head coaches on the men’s and boys side, we have one Latino. And the last time I checked there was one Latino Technical Advisor [out of 12]. I assume to get into those positions, you have to go through the coaching licensing program. Wouldn't any organization, not just soccer, be interested in having the staff at the highest level reflect the demographics of the country? Isn’t it common sense that that usually helps an organization be successful?
RYAN MOONEY: I think there’s certainly a common sense approach to what you’re saying. I think what’s also a challenge, and it’s not to be combative, but it’s worth noting that for the roles, whether its youth national coaches, or previously Technical Advisors, there also needs to be an interest and a level of engagement from a candidate.
It may be the case that the opportunity we have to offer or the location of the opportunity, or the compensation, or whatever it may be, is also not necessarily of interest to … and I’m not saying it’s not of interest to the Latino applicant.
I share very openly that we have had active recruiting efforts to try and reach more diverse applicant pools and we have found that many times, very unfortunately, that the interest is not there for the opportunity or the job we have to offer.
I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong. I would certainly be in support of us having a better and more diverse representation across all of our roles in the organization, not just those connected to the field.
At the same time, it’s something where those recruiting efforts and the interests have to go hand in hand for us to create those opportunities.
SOCCER AMERICA: There’s also the style of play question. What are your A, B and C license courses teaching? How are they teaching us to coach our kids? Are they teaching a Dutch style, a Belgian style, a Latin style?
NICO ROMEIJN: Actually, none of them. We talk about style of play. We are looking at the B license, the A license, the Pro license.
When you’re looking at the C license, and below, Grassroots licenses, we are teaching them player development philosophy of maximized potential of players, based on having an enjoyable environment.
When you’re looking at style of play, at the B and A and Pro license, the B license is based on the best development environment. The A license is actually based on choices from clubs and coaches. So, we’re trying to empower coaches and clubs to think about, OK, what’s our style of play? What’s really matching with the DNA of our environment and how do we translate that to the field.
So, it’s not the Federation is mandating a certain style of play. When we look at our national teams, we also want our national teams to play in a way that’s based on the DNA of the soccer culture of the U.S, so we expect clubs to do the same with their coaches and their players.
SOCCER AMERICA: If I’m coaching in an area where a large number of my players are Latino who have grown up playing a Latin style of soccer because of their culture, their parents, their uncles, or the soccer they watch, will I be able to coach them in a way to bring out the best of them after I get my U.S. Soccer licenses?
NICO ROMEIJN: Yes, correct. Exactly. Only what we will do during these licenses is challenge the candidates all the time about, is it the best development environment you’re creating? But the style, that’s up to them.
To give an example, to play small-sided games, with the younger players, we think that’s a good development environment, so we challenge you to think about, it’s better to play with young kids, 4v4 instead of 10v10 or 11v11.
RYAN MOONEY: I would add that sometimes it’s a misconception that somehow the curriculum in coach education teaches coaches to only coach a certain way or players to play a certain way.
It’s far more a process of guided discovery of what your philosophy or principles are and how are those things being applied, whether it’s a training session or a game environment that maximizes the development of players.
Those concepts transcend whether it’s style, information, principles, characteristics, profiles, etc. -- it’s more we’re looking for the candidate to be mindful of how he or she and what he or she is creating in the environment and how it aligns with developing the players.
That is an applicable exercise -- whether you put the players out there in 4-4-2 or 3-4-3 or we’re going to press or we’re going to counter, or we’re going to play wide or whatever it is.
It’s really more the exercise or the processes that the coach or the candidate is exposed to and how they bring that in to their environment -- vs. there’s only one way to play we’re all playing number-number-number now, and no questions asked, no deviation. It couldn’t be further from that.
SOCCER AMERICA: I believe it was in 2015 when U.S. Soccer stopped allowing candidates to skip lower level U.S. Soccer if they had diplomas from the NSCAA (now United Soccer Coaches). Why was that? Wouldn't that make it more convenient for coaches to get into the pathway for the higher-level U.S. Soccer licenses?
RYAN MOONEY: It would. But it’s philosophical, because their [United Soccer Coaches, formerly NSCAA] curriculum approach isn’t aligned with ours. That’s like you’re being taught French, and you’re saying, hey, it’s a Romance language, so it should be equivalent to my Italian course.
When in reality -- there’s no doubt that there are some connections between learning a language, syntax or verb conjugation – but we felt plain and simple that the direction we were heading and we have since implemented, was not, and has not been, and is not consistent with the philosophy and methodology that was used by the NSCAA [United Soccer Coaches].
So effectively you have an apples to pineapples comparison. We didn’t think it was appropriate for those equivalencies to remain intact.
SOCCER AMERICA: Isn’t there something to be said for coaches in a country like ours to be educated differently, instead of putting all your eggs in one basket? I’ve been around long enough to see that every few years the “right” way to coach changes. Even the Federation has constantly changed its curriculum. Are you guys so confident that the way you’re teaching is the right way? The way we should be taught for a long time?
NICO ROMEIJN: We are confident that we are doing it the right way. But we also know it’s not the only way. Of course, there are more ways of teaching.
It’s OK when a coach says, I want to do my licensing with [United Soccer Coaches] or in Europe. I think that’s the choice of a coach. But, actually, we’re talking about U.S. Soccer licenses, which are based on the Federation’s courses.
But we acknowledge there are different ways of teaching.
RYAN MOONEY: Whether it’s United Soccer Coaches or UEFA or La Liga or Positive Coaching Alliance, etc., etc. There are all sorts different opportunities for people to continue their professional development, and to learn and to grow. And however that does or doesn’t apply to their work as a soccer coach, we are understanding and supportive.
That’s a lot different, however, providing an equivalency – and saying that thing over there is equal to what it is we’re teaching for a U.S. Soccer license.
NICO ROMEIJN: To add to that, we would like our members to be involved in teaching courses. So, the thing we are doing is building that network of instructors based on educating instructors from different members and building a big network of instructors all over the U.S.
And based on that, we hope we will be in every corner of the U.S., so people can do their coaching coaches maybe in their club environment or at least close to it.
RYAN MOONEY: That goes back to your comment, Mike, about the availability of the C license. Without getting into the details, I’ll take your comment at a more macro level. That hey, there isn’t an operator, or there isn't something local, our hope would be that whether it’s Cal South, or United Soccer Coaches, or AYSO, or U.S. Club Soccer, whether it’s any of our members, that have instructors who are trained and certified to teach our courses, they have the ability to provide those offerings.
And obviously that’s really key to meeting the supply and demand, and whatever it may be or not be, all across the country.
That’s the core of our strategy, to be able to license more and more coaches, as effectively and as competently as possible.