In February, U.S. Soccer promoted Frenchman Didier Chambaron to Director of Coaching Education, replacing the Belgian Barry Pauwels, who held the position since January of 2018. Pauwels had replaced Dutchman Nico Romeijn, whom U.S. Soccer hired as Director of Coaching Education in June 2015. (Romeijn returned to the Netherlands in February 2020 after serving as Chief Sport Development Officer since 2018.) Also part of the latest shuffle was the departure in January of Dutchman Wim van Zwam, who arrived in 2015 and had served as Coach Educator and pro license lead instructor. Among those who came on board during the Romeijn era, Coach Educator Aloys Wijnker returned to the Netherlands in 2018, Italian Vanni Sartini moved to an academy job with the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2019, while Dutchman Antal Vergeer remains Technical Lead of Instructor Education & Development.
Before joining U.S. Soccer five years ago as Assistant Director of Coaching Education and the A License technical lead, Chambaron served nine years as a FIFA instructor. He was also the Oceania Confederation's Head of Coach Education in 2010-16 and head coach of New Caledonia's national team in 2007-2010.
SOCCER AMERICA: Did the pandemic force a lot courses to be canceled?
DIDIER CHAMBARON: We didn't cancel any courses. We created courses in a way we could move forward in a virtual environment in case we couldn't organize in-person meetings. We know in-person education is vital for development courses but we also know that now we can apply some of the best practices and provide our soccer community with a combination and virtual and in-person teaching. And we also took this opportunity to sit down and reflect on our current situation, what we do, and what the future of education look like.
SA: Will virtual teaching be a bigger part of the courses in the in post-pandemic future?
DIDIER CHAMBARON: Yes. Education will never be the same. ... Now we do education from a different perspective. It will reduce the number of nights coaches are away from their families, their club and players. … If we can bring education in terms of in-person meetings in market, with people traveling less, that would be fantastic.
SA: Is U.S. Soccer able to meet the demand of coaches applying to take courses?
DIDIER CHAMBARON: We have an application process because, as a Federation, we are licensing people. We recognize competency at the end of the course experience, so it's not open for everyone, but we have an education pathway from grassroots to full license. For every course, we have criteria. But we offer educational opportunities at all levels.
We are currently working on a new strategy for the future to make education more accessible. We would like to provide access to quality education opportunities and promote diversity through specific programs.
SA: When you refer to changes in the coaching education approach, do you mean changes to how it’s taught and what is taught?
DIDIER CHAMBARON: Both. But it's not about change for me, it's about evolution. As education evolves, we need to continue to evolve.
We used 2020 to reflect on best practices in our department, we met with our members, with experts in teaching from our sport, but also for other sports. And it's very important to me to understand the needs of our community.
And we learned it's not just about providing our community with a formal education pathway leading to a license, but also to provide access to educational opportunities just to be informed, to be engaged. So, in the future we would like to supply all these needs to educate people. We will continue to certify because it's important for our federation to have standards, but we would like to go beyond this formal education.
And we would like to promote continuous education, to retain and develop coaches, for all of the levels of games.
It’s very important for us to create and develop standards not just within our coaching education department, but in collaboration with our members to improve our capacity to provide education all across the across USA. It's a big, big project. Collaboration with all our members is vital if we want to influence the next generation of players and coaches.
SA: If some is going to get a C license, for example, later this year or next year, how different is that going compared how someone got the C license a couple of years ago, or three years ago?
DIDIER CHAMBARON: We believe we should do more in between, to provide coaches with learning opportunities in between courses. It's going to be part of the new world in the future, because like in Europe, the confederation, Concacaf, is going to regulate coach education across our confederation.
In the past, we always focused on in-person meetings. Now we look at every course as an experience with content spread out for over a longer duration, depending on the license, so it will be more aligned with the principle of adult learning. So it's not just about overwhelming people with information, but we would like to provide them something more consistent with more connective points.
SA: How confident are you that the costs of getting licensed won’t be a barrier to many coaches in the USA?
DIDIER CHAMBARON: It's definitely an area of improvement and we invest a lot of money, but making education more accessible is very important. Time commitment can also be a barrier, which why we want to providing more flexibility. We will try reduce the number of nights away. Providing education in their region, in their market is definitely important. If people don't need to travel, it will reduce the cost.
We know it's an area we need to work on, so we’re working on strategic plan with our members to provide more courses all across the U.S.
SA: Are you concerned that despite the USA’s large Latino community and a significant presence of Latino players in the men’s youth team program, Latino coaches have been under-represented among the A-, B- and C-licensed coaches?
DIDIER CHAMBARON: To me, it’s important to promote diversity and foster an inclusive community, representing all backgrounds. It's definitely a must-do. Diversity is a strength. I would say, we need to be more inclusive in the future. And if we do that, we will win together.
As we plan future courses, we have to make sure we value the qualities each individual brings to the game and we definitely need to make coach education more accessible to some communities. We champion diversity and it’s something we need to keep in mind when we create content, when we’re thinking about the big picture as a country.
SA: It’s also a style of play issue, isn’t it? And obviously Latino players are a major part of our soccer community. When someone takes a C, B or A license, does that prepare them for coaching Latino players?
DIDIER CHAMBARON: Education is focused on the individual. We know we definitely need to be closer to the reality of all our communities. It's something that is a very important part of our values. It's definitely something to consider – and to consider various ways of looking at the game, their own club’s identities, their own club's style of play, their own game model. And then providing them with an appropriate coaching education to develop their process in their club, in their environment.
SA: Over the last half decade, U.S. Soccer has brought a number of Europeans to play influential roles in coaching education – including four Dutchmen, a Belgian, an Italian and yourself. How confident are you that people from countries with significantly different soccer landscapes and demographics can relate to the challenges of American coaches?
DIDIER CHAMBARON: For me, it starts with the U.S. identity. Looking at the country, we are unique and we should be proud of this uniqueness. And in terms of coaching education, it's about providing people with opportunities. Learning and education opportunities to develop players in their environment.
I believe in game in the U.S. I believe in the people I work with. I am very people-oriented and never do something against American coaches. I do my best to create something unique, not to copy and paste something from somewhere else.
SA: How do you see the balance between the right amount of coaching and the right amount of letting players play? Allowing them the freedom to learn from the game?
DIDIER CHAMBARON: It's very important to give players opportunities play the game and to give them opportunities experience real-game situations. Once we create this environment, now it's time to influence them and help them to make decisions. Give them opportunities to see the game, and then helping them make good decisions and to execute the decision.
We all know every game situation is unique and it's not about telling players what to do, it's about helping them to grow and to understand and recognize game situations – creating this type of environment from Monday to Friday – and on game day players can enjoy the game. It's about facilitating learning.
SA: Anything else you'd like to add or address?
DIDIER CHAMBARON: Something that's very important to me is collaboration with all our members. That will help us to aim high and to move toward something fantastic for the new generation.