BARRY PAUWELS: I was responsible in Belgium for all programming from the grassroots to the A level and the pro level. Belgium is a little bit of a complex country where you have the Flemish Dutch-speaking parts, and you have the French-speaking part. Education is basically the responsibility of the communities and it's driven by the government. I was responsible for coaching education for the Flemish part of the Belgian federation.
SA: You were a part of the Belgium’s relatively recent rise in soccer world?
BARRY PAUWELS: I was involved in a lot of steps of the process. The real process started after the dip in 1998. Sometimes you have to hit the bottom before people start to reflect. We saw that we were in bad shape and then we started to study successful teams and successful nations in soccer.
SA: Such as?
BARRY PAUWELS: In the 1990s you had Ajax being really successful. We also looked at France, which won the 1998 World Cup. And then of course Spanish soccer, its national team, started to grow and improve.
And Barcelona, influenced by Johan Cruyff. So we looked at all these models to see, how did they build up. How do they regain the ball, and how do they transition. Looking at the strengths of those successful teams, and then we reflected on how we could do it.
And we saw that we needed to adapt if we had the intention of becoming successful in the future.
SA: How did Belgium do it?
BARRY PAUWELS: The first thing you do is you develop an identity, you develop a style of play. Then it’s about implementation. How you implement a new identity? And coaching education was the main way to inspire coaches through all players of education because they create on a daily basis the environment where players develop. It's ultimately all about player development.
That was huge part. Then, first, we used the youth national teams to test on the highest to see if it could be successful. The second part is we were inspirational for our clubs because it was no longer about a theoretical framework, but it also got implementation through the national teams. And you inspire clubs and you inspire coaches.
We built an identity that you saw from U-15 to the first team. You saw a clear style of play. Clear identity. And the only thing that changed was the size of the shirt. That was built on the belief that this was really important for player development.
But it would not be correct for our [Belgian] federation to take credit for what is happening now, because you are in a small nation, you only have 400,000 people involved in soccer – and clubs and clubs coaches are more important in development than national teams. Players spend more than 95% of their time in the club environment. Coaching education is the driver to steer change and inspire people.
SA: How did you end up at U.S. Soccer?
BARRY PAUWELS: My role at the Belgian federation included giving training sessions, doing workshops, working in a UEFA context in study groups -- so you meet a lot of people. One of the people who noticed me was Ryan Mooney [U.S. Soccer’s Chief Soccer Officer, who left the federation in December 2018].
Ryan basically reached out and started a conversation. We had a couple of really interesting conversations exploring ideas and challenges and U.S. Soccer’s next steps.
The day the U.S. got eliminated from 2018 World Cup qualifying was the day I decided to come to the U.S. I had really inspirational and open conversations with leaders of the federation that gave me a lot of inspiration, a lot of energy, and motivation and courage to make that decision.
We are all a big family in American soccer, the people in the clubs, the members – and ultimately and hopefully I will be able to contribute because of what I learned in Belgium: It takes vulnerability and people with good intentions who leave their backpack behind. To have honest conversations and try to get on the same page.
I say this from the bottom of my heart: If we are able at some point, with all technical leaders, and all influencers in the game, to get on the same page in this country, I have never seen, and I have also worked a little bit in China and I have worked all over Europe, the huge possibilities we have here.
SA: As far as getting on a country on the same page and creating an identity and playing style, in addition to you arriving from Belgium, U.S. Soccer’s leadership includes Earnie Stewart (Sporting Director), Nico Romeijn (Chief Sport Development Officer) and Wim Van Zwam (lead coaching instructor), who all hail from the Netherlands. Belgium and the Netherlands are nations significantly different from the United States demographically and geographically, background of kids, background of coaches. What makes you think the best way for American soccer to be run is by people from countries that are so different than ours?
BARRY PAUWELS: It's a really legitimate question. And I would ask the same question if I were in your shoes, because I'm a guest in your country. And it's not about my ideas, and bringing everything we've done in Belgium and coming here and to copy it. That's not how it works.
I've been hired because I have a certain level of expertise in setting up and leading coaching education and improving the processes within coaching education, but I've been mostly hired because off my attitude and because of the fact that I recognize that every coaching education process and every development process of a player is based on an identity. And the identity in Belgium is different that the identity in Holland, and it's only a 15-minute drive to go from one county to another.
So it's based on culture. So when I come in, the first thing is to try to understand the complexity of the game and how the game is organized and how culture can influence things like an identity and style of play. And then when you look at the implementation, [in the USA] you have more than 100 members, more than 100 organizations involved in organizing soccer, supporting players in their development, supporting coaches in their development.
What I've learned and what I bring in, the first thing I bring I think is the knowledge and the expertise that if you want to build an identity you need to do it in a partnership. And I think the [Youth Task Force, coaching] Working Group is a really good implementation of the fact that you now see that U.S. Soccer recognizes and wants to work in close partnership with its members. And I couldn’t be more happy with that.
Six months after his election to U.S. Soccer presidency, Carlos Cordeiro in July of 2018 proposed a task force to address American youth soccer issues. In October 2018, U.S. Soccer launched a nine-member Youth Soccer Task Force, which was followed by the creation of six working groups. The Coaching Working Group is staff-supported by Pauwels.
That's what we created with all those Working Groups based on specific focuses and challenges we have, in referee matters, standards & certification ... coaching matters.
So how can we bring all that expertise and these different views and processes all together and have a meaningful discussion to first evaluate where we are in this country, and second, determine what are our next steps that we can all make together to improve. One of my responsibilities is to help support that process.
SA: The Youth Task Force did not include Latinos in its Working Groups when the number of people involved grew to 60, even though the USA population under age 18 is 25% Latino and the U.S. youth national program pool in 2019 is about 40% Latino. Carlos Juarez has since been was added to the Coaching Working Group after the absence of Latinos had been pointed out. But what did you think when you saw that the Coaching Working Group didn’t include Latinos? Especially considering U.S. demographics and the success of the Latin style of soccer?
BARRY PAUWELS: I like the question and the comparison you try to make. But when you look at the Working Group we started out with, it was put together because they were specific experts. All with a different background from all across the country representing various organizations, and that's why those people were there.
The second part was Mike Cullina, our chair who leads the working group and ourselves, we knew that we didn't have enough representation and we didn't have enough expertise. That's why this group is continuously open.
Mike is continuously looking for more expertise. Looking for more variation in the representation. Making sure that the organizations are represented, making sure that the communities are represented.
Youth Task Force’s Coaching Working Group
Within in the last two months, the composition of the Coaching Working Group for the U.S. Soccer Youth Task Force that was launched in October of 2018 has added Carlos Juarez, Yael Averbach, Tom Turner and Tom Condone. No longer in the group is Nick Perera from the original eight. (Perera is currently in Paraguay playing for the USA in the Beach Soccer World Cup.)
SA: We just watched the USA and Mexico at the U-17 World Cup. Mexico finished runner-up and the USA failed to reach the second round.
BARRY PAUWELS: I was part of the staff ...
SA: When you came back, and as you know we have a very large Mexican-American soccer-playing population, kids who play that style of soccer, did you go back to the Working Group with and say, "Let's reflect on what Mexico is doing"?
BARRY PAUWELS: It's about how experiences steer you as a technical leader in a department or an organization that allows you to build knowledge and to challenge some of your expertise. But in each tournament you will have key moments that decide if you will go on or not go on. Just to rely on one observation, just remember we played Mexico in Concacaf U-17 final, and we were the better team. [Mexico won, 2-1, in overtime.]
There are a lot of things that we do good. But we come back and we will take the time to reflect and that doesn't mean me reflecting alone. I was one of the assistant coaches, so I was part of the team. The reflection will be done by a bigger group of people and will be shared with Gregg [Berhalter] and Earnie [Stewart] and with Kate [Markgraf]. There will be a bigger group reflecting on that experience and taking lessons out of it, and to see how we can improve our processes in order to be more successful.
Losing 4-0 to the Netherlands in its final group game -- after a 4-1 loss to Senegal and a 0-0 tie to Japan -- ranks the performance of Raphael Wicky's team with the worst of the USA's 17 appearances at the biennial U-17 world championship.
SA: The USA, the only nation to qualify for all but one U-17 World Cup, has been relatively successful at that level and reached the quarterfinals two years ago. What went wrong this time?
BARRY PAUWELS: You can focus on two things. You can focus on the process and you can focus on the result. So I would say, let's first focus on the process.
I think the Federation made an incredible move to hire a new head coach with the expertise of Raphael Wicky. I was part of his first training session when he arrived and I have been part of the last games at the World Cup. I have rarely seen someone with his competency and his level of experience coaching at that level. I think we made a really good move to bring him in.
SA: What do you mean by his experience coaching at this level?
BARRY PAUWELS: I mean coaching at the under-17 national team if you know that he coached in the Champions League the year before and he was a head coach at the high level of competition -- that means you have a unique skill set and you have unique abilities to operate at that level. The fact that U.S. Soccer brought in a coach of that magnitude to support the process of developing players at the under-17 level -- that's for me exceptional.
SA: You still think it was a good idea to have this team coached by someone who had not coached American kids until he came in March? And neither of his two assistants had experience coaching U.S. players at a world championship.
BARRY PAUWELS: The main task of a coach is to create a learning environment for children in order to steer their development the next level. Ultimately that development will be crucial in long term. We all the time aim for long-term development. Of course, you have some tournaments where you create measurements. At the international level you have European Championships, Concacaf Championships -- confederation championship -- and then you have World Cups.
When you look at the expertise, there was a lot of expertise in the coaching staff. On the player level, both Ante [Jazic] and Rafa had big careers as players. They have experiences coaching with youth national teams, Rafa in Switzerland and Ante in Canada. Myself, I was at two European Championships with Belgium U-19 women. I was at the U-17 European Championship in Azerbaijan a couple years ago. So you have a lot of expertise.
And children do not differ from each other. They all have the same basic needs. We talk about generation management more than the factor of a nationality. Of course that comes into the equation, but it's about being able to manage a certain age group, manage a certain level of generation.
And I think the coaching staff did well.
SA: How do measure that they did well? Obviously we don't how many of the players will succeed at the higher levels, but considering the results, with Wicky coming in March, what do you see as signs of success and that the Wicky hiring was a good idea?
BARRY PAUWELS: It's all about long-term development. All players are on a pathway. Allow me to look at the Belgian context for example, the generation that is playing now, which has Kevin De Bruyne and all these big players, even had difficulties to qualify for a tournament in Europe. They never won big prizes. At the youth level, it was all about developing the individual. Because ultimately you go to the first team that is where players from different age groups and categories come together.
I think looking at the process of player development from a long-term perspective is really, really important.
SA: The first coach-education initiatives to come out of the U.S. Soccer Youth Task Force have just been announced …
BARRY PAUWELS: The Task Force Coaching Working Group has two major responsibilities. The group discusses topics that are based on two specific areas. The first one is to improve accessibility to the courses. We do that by identifying barriers that coaches have to educate themselves. So the Working Group produces advice and recommendations in order to improve the accessibility of the courses.
The second area is how do we grow this pool of instructors. To run more courses, we need add more instructors.
Soccer’s Coaching Education Pilot Coaching Programs based on Youth Task Force recommendations.
• Modify the requirements for the Grassroots Instructor License course, changing the prerequisite from a B-License to all C-License coaches.
• Modify the C-License course format from a two five-day commitment to a five two-day commitment, and D-License course format from a two three-day commitment to a four day-and-a-half commitment.
• Expand the in-person Grassroots courses from a 12:1 candidate to instructor ratio, to an 18:1 ratio.
BARRY PAUWELS: We got feedback and questions, can we tweak this, and we said, OK, let's get on the same page. We created the Working Group. Let's try to identify areas where we can improve. Let's listen to the people who on a daily basis implement and organize these courses. Let’s get that feedback and let's be really, really open minded. And based on that feedback we created the pilot courses and we will see what feedback we get from the pilot coaches.
We are open to change. I think we and all of our members have the same ambitions. Now we have the vehicle to exchange ideas, where we exchange experiences, and based on these experiences we develop new initiatives. And co-create the future together.
SA: In 2018, U.S. Soccer replaced the F and E licenses with the Grassroots Pathway, which made starting the licensing process convenient with online courses and I liked them very much because of their Play-Practice-Play approach …
BARRY PAUWELS: We have the online courses 4v4, 7v7, 9v9, 11v11 -- but we also have the in-person courses for those four. In January 2020, we will announce Spanish courses for the in-person 4v4, 7v7, 9v9 and 11v11 courses. We are now in the last phase of translation for all of these courses. We have pilot-tested the 7v7 in-person. Those courses are going through their final revisions. Also the online health and safety module. We are hopeful to launch the in-person Spanish courses early next year.
We envision to go through the same process with the online courses. We're aiming by the end of 2020 to have all the 4v4, 7v7, 9v9, 11v11 courses translated and acceptable for Spanish-speaking for the end of 2020. We expect the first course to be available by the summer of 2020.
SA: For the higher level courses, one challenge has been the travel cost for candidates. Has that been addressed?
BARRY PAUWELS: This year we had about 40 coaching C license courses. So more accessibility can be created by increasing the number, so now we go from 40 to 50 in 2020.
The C course is organized by our members. The U.S. Soccer coaching department does the C license the B, A license, both senior and youth. Our members do C license and below.
We support our members in strategic planning. We organize a lot of workshops. We provide a lot of data to see how you can detect areas in your geographical surface where your coaches live.
SA: How would you describe the Federation's relationship with United Soccer Coaches? In 2015, U.S. Soccer stopped allowing candidates to skip lower-level U.S. Soccer courses if they had diplomas from the NSCAA (now United Soccer Coaches).
BARRY PAUWELS: United Soccer Coaches is a member of U.S. Soccer. That means they can run our courses. They also run grassroots courses. United Soccer Coaches is a big organization with really good people on board. Again, we're all on the same team.
We try to improve environments for children who on a daily basis go to the training field and want to have the best time of their lives. They arrive with great expectations and we believe as U.S. Soccer that experience can best be delivered by a licensed coach. Because you educate yourself in how to create the best possible environment for children, where they can enjoy, where they can be challenged. Where they get support and further develop. That's what we all try and do.
SA: One of the complaints from DA clubs is U.S. Soccer requires coaches to have a B licenses, which increase clubs’ financial challenges. They have to pay for their coaches to obtain the B license or hire B license coaches who can require higher pay because of the high demand for B license coaches. Why wouldn’t a C icense qualify someone to coach U-14s or U-13s?
BARRY PAUWELS: In every country, it's like this.
SA: Assuming the goal is to create world-class players and the USA becoming a world power on the the men's side, what do you think are the biggest challenges and what makes you most optimistic?
BARRY PAUWELS: I'm an optimist, so let me start on that side. We have high-level universities. We have a high-level educational system. There's a lot of research going on in the U.S., and it's world-class research. There are all these organizations, like the Aspen Institute, that do all this great work, and many, many more, to partner up with. They do incredible work in research.
For us, as a Federation, it's really important that we keep on looking at research to make meaningful decisions, the best decisions.
We are in a country where sports is part of society. I come from a country where sports is not part of society. The level of facilities we have here is nowhere else in the world. The number of clubs. The importance of sports in education is really, really important. That's not the case elsewhere in the world.
Then you have our mindset to improve. Our mindset is to do better everyday. Our dream to someday be No. 1. I think these are the biggest attributes one can ask for. You have knowledge, you have the culture, and then you have the facilities to run that.
Now how do we as a Federation take all these possibilities, co-create, collaborate, bring people together, because that's then the challenge. With different organizations and different levels, how do we bring people together? How do we unite?
But I can tell you when I walk into the office at 8 a.m. in the morning and I leave at 6 p.m., I know that people at U.S. Soccer House, and people from all of our members, they also wake up with that energy to bring people together and discuss -- to further improve the game.