An arm around the shoulder changed Vince Ganzberg’s life.
The Indiana native was 24 years old, in his second year as head coach of South Bend’s St. Joseph High School. Ganzberg had just delivered a rousing halftime speech that helped turn a 0-0 deadlock into a 6-0 rout.
Legendary University of Notre Dame coach Mike Berticelli was at the game. His son would be going to St. Joe, so he wanted to check out the soccer program.
After the game, Berticelli jokingly asked for a copy of the halftime talk. Then he put his arm around Ganzberg, and asked if he’d ever taken a coaching course.
No, the high school coach said. He’d just been reading books.
At the time, Berticelli was also director of coaching for the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. Ganzberg soon signed up for a course at Ohio Wesleyan University.
“Everything clicked there,” Ganzberg says. He continued coaching. But he’s dedicated his life to coaching education.
He calls that meeting with Berticelli “divine intervention.” They went on to become mentor and mentee, then friends, before the Notre Dame coach’s sudden death from a heart attack in 2000, at 48.
A chance encounter nearly two decades earlier had introduced Ganzberg to soccer. His father volunteered to be a YMCA coach, and brought young Vince to a coach’s clinic run by Indiana University staff members. George Perry and Mike Freitag were there – coaches Ganzberg later worked with and for.
He went on to play at Bethel College, then got into teaching and coaching. But helping coaches grow became his passion.
Ganzberg spent 10 years as director of the Indiana Soccer Association. The U.S. Soccer Federation took notice, asking him to design their F license course, and help with the E and D curriculums.
Ian Barker later brought Ganzberg to United Soccer Coaches (formerly known as the NSCAA), as assistant director of coaching education. When Barker resigned earlier this year, Ganzberg took over the top spot.
Since then, he’s worked to change the focus of grassroots education. The goal, he says, is not to teach X’s and O’s. It is to “transfer your knowledge as a coach, to the players.”
That’s not as easy as it sounds. “Many coaches know the game,” Ganzberg notes. “But they don’t know how to put it into practice during training or matches.” And while many coaches can transfer knowledge about shooting, ball control and defending to their players, they don’t always know – or think about – soft skills like player management and being a mentor.
“The game itself has not changed,” Ganzberg adds. “Principles are still principles. But the methods of training may be different now. There’s less isolated technical work. Skillwork can be addressed by playing games. I’ve always believed ‘the game is the best teacher.’"
Coaching of coaches has changed too. When Ganzberg took his first U.S. Soccer courses, he says, coaches were judged on their own playing ability. Now, that does not matter.
In addition, today’s coaches enter courses with a stronger knowledge base. Most – including recreation-level coaches – have now grown up playing the game. Of course, that doesn’t mean they know how to coach 6- or 16-year-olds. That’s why coaching education courses are important.
United Soccer Coaches continues to add them, in areas like urban soccer, goalkeeping and mental performance, and for specialized groups like directors of coaching.
Accessibility is another change. The pandemic showed United Soccer Coaches the ease and advantages of offering courses online. Eliminating travel, time away from home and associated costs has opened up coaching education to a broader and more diverse group. The organization now offers “blended” courses, where different levels work together.
There is still something to be said for residential courses, Ganzberg insists. Put on hold during Covid, they’re opening up again. “People like to spend five days immersed in a soccer ‘fantasy camp.’ It’s great for casual conversation and networking.” He still remembers listening in awe to Anson Dorrance and Schellas Hyndman in the dining hall and hotel lobby.
For years, U.S. Soccer and United Soccer Coaches were in competition over coaching education. The federation’s courses had the national governing body’s imprimatur – and U.S. Soccer did not officially recognize the coaches’ organization’s courses.
Ganzberg calls the current relationship “good. We’ve had dialogue back and forth. They’re our federation. Our job is to work with them, and offer courses that help all coaches.”
Among the courses he hopes to create: how to coach children with special needs, and a curriculum for youth academy directors.
He also wants to encourage young college and high school players to consider coaching, as volunteers or a career.
Just as Mike Berticelli — with an arm around his shoulder — did for him, nearly 30 years ago.