The childhood soccer of Crystal Dunn -- an environment that no longer exists

I am sure governing bodies, leagues, clubs and coaches are all designing strategies on how best to use the win to inspire the next generation of young female players. The excitement should be huge. The concerns should be obvious.

Crystal Dunn  is a New York kid. She developed in an environment that no longer exists, with some crucial contributing ingredients that are difficult if not impossible to find within the youth game. How do I know this? Simply because I was her club coach from ages 10 through 16 on two Rockville Centre Soccer Club teams -- the Rockville Centre Power and then the Rockville Centre Tornadoes. To add to that, I also led the Eastern New York ODP Girls Program where Crystal played and I coached her for one season within that program. She moved on to play ODP with other coaches and made the Regional team and then the youth national teams. [She also played for current Carolina Courage Paul Riley while with the Albertson Fury.]

I think it is important to note Crystal’s attributes as a developing player as they are the cornerstone of all that she has achieved. Even as a 10-year-old, she had an exuberance to play. She was excited to compete, would not be shackled within an environment devoid of fun and if necessary, would create the fun herself. She was brave and relentless. Would thrive on challenges and carry on working until the skill was mastered.

As a concrete example, we would begin each session with some juggling to help the players become masters of the ball. This was a skill she struggled with at the beginning -- no worry because once introduced, along with the reason why, she quickly became the best in the young group. She was creative and intelligent. Able to create solutions due to her skill and athleticism that others could not see. She was a walking billboard for a growth mindset and simply put, behaved in a fashion that told me there is nothing in this game I cannot master. What a joy to coach!

Crystal Dunn while playing with the Rockville Centre Tornadoes in the Long Island Junior Soccer League.

She moved on to play for the Rockville Centre Tornadoes and this is where the developmental journey becomes interesting as the Tornadoes had some key things in place that helped Crystal excel, some of which are perhaps things of the past.

1) A team manager who had no other agenda other than in ensuring the girls had fun at practice and were learning the game and how to work as team. She had no ego and no agenda and her support for me was total. (Thank you, Donna!)

2) A youth coach who firmly believed that winning was less important than developing players. I was then as I am now absolutely convinced that youth players must be given the chance to learn the game before being asked to focus on winning the game.

3) A youth coach who knew then as I know now that I was learning the craft of coaching. Figuring out how to lead players and lead the team. The Tornadoes forced me to work everyday on my craft to ensure they got the chance to develop in the right environment. I meet coach after coach nowadays who believes, based on a few wins, that they have mastered their craft.

4) An incredible group of parents who were more concerned about player development and personal growth than they were about winning. The Tornadoes who played in the Long Island Junior Soccer League, started their soccer journey with two losing seasons. The parental support for the program and the journey we were on never faded. They asked questions, listened and supported.

5) A unified youth soccer environment. When Crystal played the only youth soccer program was U.S. Youth Soccer. All the players were under one banner. This meant that it was much easier to get a high-quality group together. Through both the developmental process and adding players that wanted to be part of the program, we were able to ensure that every session was competitive.

Ultimately this unified youth program led to the Tornadoes playing in the only elite level league of the day -- the now defunct U.S. Youth Soccer Region 1 League. There are now more “elite” leagues than there are goals in the World Cup.

6) Access to ODP, which was the only clear pathway to the regional and national teams and was the only elite level support program available at that time.

I know we can’t turn back time and that creating a team environment where many of the above can be met is incredibly difficult. I am also acutely aware that now, while Women's World Cup when is being celebrated the excitement is high and young girls are inspired to be the next Crystal Dunn, is perhaps the best time to consider how we best help them.

(Tim Bradbury is the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association's Director of Coaching Instruction. Bradbury served as Technical Director of the Long Island Junior Soccer League's ODP in 1996-1999 and as Eastern New York ODP head coach in 2003-2006. He holds a Master Coach Diploma from United Soccer Coaches.)

9 comments about "The childhood soccer of Crystal Dunn -- an environment that no longer exists".
  1. Bob Ashpole, July 25, 2019 at 1:11 a.m.

    Thank you for providing this information. I knew that things had changed from 30 years ago, but hadn't realized how much has changed in the last 15. 

  2. Damon James, July 25, 2019 at 1:32 a.m.

    This is really well done, Tim. So much of it resonates with me, particularly with my experience being slightly older than Crystal but having come through a similar pathway. 100 that too many coaches don’t recognize that it’s a perpetual journey of learning the craft. 100 that we should never lose sight of the fact it is a game, which is never worth playing if not fun. 100 it is no longer clear what the best leagues, or pathways to USYNT is, making for a fractured and
    confusing ecosystem. And 100 that we can only learn to win once we know how to play. How can we get more
    coaches with your mentality?

  3. R2 Dad, July 25, 2019 at 1:39 a.m.

    We spend so much time trying to understand things from the coach's perspective, and so little on how the envirnoment looks to kids. The joy of play has been sucked from the game. So few kids have a club in their town/city that has a path from amateur to first team, so visualizing what that looks like is too hard for the average youth player. I'm glad that CD was able to make the leap, but as the writer states it took the right type of coaching to allow that development at the right time along her career path. SO MANY PLAYERS DO NOT HAVE ACCESS TO THE RIGHT COACHES.

    I remember one club girl who really had elite potential--so, so quick. But her coach played her as a destroyer because her club team had a weakness in that part of the pitch. The female player served a purpose for the coach, but in doing so he denied her the development she needed to get to the next level. Unless a parent can advocate for their child, that potential vanishes.

  4. George Miller replied, August 9, 2019 at 7:31 a.m.

    yea the parent knows better...? maybe but usually they just want their kid to be the focus of the team

  5. Bill Dooley, July 25, 2019 at 12:56 p.m.

    Terrific piece, Tim!

    On Point #4.  This one remains possible, but it is so outside the norm that it requires incessant message bombardment until the emphasis that puts individual development of person and player ahead of the team's paradoxically creates a team that succeeds on the scoreboard.  Not because the team is better; it usually isn't at first.  But because each individual is better than her opponent.  (It can happen surprisingly quickly and becomes a permanent advantage.)

    On Point #6.  ODP is essentially in hospice care.  Everything you need to know about how it's valued by US Soccer is found in the Developmental Academy's prohibition on its players' participation.

    Sorry I missed out on Point #7.  It was "Now get off my lawn!" wasn't it?

  6. Kevin Leahy, July 26, 2019 at 9:10 a.m.

    Am curious as to how much free play that, she had as a kid? Would she play with the ball by herself? Most of the people that succeed on a high level will, go above and beyond the enviroment that, they are toiling in.

  7. frank schoon, July 26, 2019 at 10:44 a.m.

    Reminiscing about how much more fun and caring in those Good old days along With helpful parents, to me is a waste of time. Yes, I remember only one team in all these years ,a B team back in the 80’s, I coached and trained fitting this description, but for the rest of all the years the parents care  about one thing , their kid and second a WINNING TEAM....So, as a whole when I look back at those Good Old Days, I don’t see those Good Old Days were so good at all and neither are they today. In the past 50 years we haven’t developed good technical finesse  players and the style of soccer we play,if you call it a style, is simple counterattacking, along with poor ball possession and weak technical skills, etc. It has been this way from day one.
    Now we can reminisce all we want about the good old days ,but the bottom line is LOUSY DEVELOPMENT .
    The 40 some years that I’ve been  involved with youth soccer parents have always viewed youth coaches with good winning records as good coaches. They are actually not good coaches but good recruiters of players.
    Have you ever heard a parent inquire about how good  a coach is in developing players, instead they are blinded by the winning records, for  they hope this will help notice their kid.  Parents have no clue what is meant by developing .
    I’ve always told the parents that if I become the coach I will use the team only  as a tool to develop the player and Could care less about the team’s winning record or team accomplishments.
    The only thing that is missing currently in the  development of American boys and girls is PICK UP soccer, which has been missing in their development,for they lack so much technical versatility which is a hallmark of American players ; for without it you not only have Half a player, but also a very incomplete player. I can only wonder what Dunn would have been liked if she grew up playing pickup soccer. 

  8. uffe gustafsson, August 8, 2019 at 6:52 p.m.

    Frank can u define the word pickup soccer.
    one thing that my daughter team done for at least her later years in club was scrimmage the same age boys.
    yes coaches was there but pretty much let em play, no involvement in the game except subbing. It was always a very close game in possession as well scoring. I have seen this in our HS team as well.
    and they both love playing each other.

  9. George Miller replied, August 9, 2019 at 7:39 a.m.

    Pick up is frequency with the only structure being what the kids want in their game.  Every day for hours in the yard or beach or whatever. You develop skills, creativity, vision only by frequency.  kids will "practice for 1.5 hours with their team but play for many hours when their in the flow. Picture school yard basketball.  Parents cant get their kid home after dark, why, because its straight up fun.  Thats how you go from good to great.

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