Vince Ganzberg on coaching coaches beyond Xs and Os

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.

United Soccer Coaches: coaching education
7 comments about "Vince Ganzberg on coaching coaches beyond Xs and Os".
  1. Mike Lynch, October 26, 2022 at 11:01 a.m.

    Dan and Vince, Thank you for highlighting the need for coaching education. Being a continuous learner is vital to any profession, but especially in coaching because we are teachers and change is the norm. The principles may be stable but how we engage those principles (tactics) can be very dynamic based on latest trends, opponent strengths and weaknesses, etc. Our players are also very dynamic and diverse demanding we bring our best at every opportunity. Maximizing the teaching and relational moments is hard work, only possible with deliberate awareness, actions, and understanding. Each next generation of players coming through have their common traits but they are also completely unique in their own way. The ability to relate and teach to everyone's learning styles and needs make this profession not only very challenging but also very rewarding when successful, regardless of the results on the field. Luckily, we are very fortunate to have so many accessible learning opportunities in the Federation, but especially with our professional association, United Soccer Coaches, with their many courses, annual convention, mentoring, etc. 

  2. humble 1, October 26, 2022 at 12:44 p.m.

    Mr. Ganzberg has a very important job, more important than a lot of folks are aware.  Thank you for he article.  United Soccer Coaches is very active in the HS and College coaching spaces, both of which are outside the scope of the USSF.  HS and College soccer in USA, looked down upon by many, are each, never-the-less among among the largest youth and amatuer leagues anywhere in the world for boys and girls, maybe the largest in both.  When I drive across the USA and in my city and region, I see far more soccer pitches in HS and college contexts than i do for clubs.  Helping our HS and College coaches be better at what they do will impact many players.  I am a big fan of the work of United Soccer Coaches.  Keep it going! 

  3. R2 Dad, October 27, 2022 at 4:04 a.m.

    I realize this coachy content is this site's bread and butter but I'd prefer coaches transfer their knowledge as a player, to the players. If we are ever to improve the coaching level in this country we will need ex-players demonstrating the basics to young players. Because it's not happening now. It's not good enough to have ex-lacrosse coaches at the highest levels of the sport. It's just not. Technical coaches, who used to be technical players, demand technical players. Which is why we have so few.

  4. frank schoon replied, October 27, 2022 at 5:45 p.m.

    RIGHT ON, R2,!!!!

  5. R E Nicholson replied, October 28, 2022 at 3:26 p.m.

    Sort of. Yes, players who have the ability to teach are absolute gems. However, just saying we need teachers or just saying we need former players sets us up for failure. We all know good teachers who don't understand the sport, and we all know talented players who simply cannot transfer knowledge at any level (and damage young players in the process). In order to progress, we need to stop making such generalizations and focus on the skills and competencies - teaching and technical - needed to help all of our coaches be better teachers in the specific sport of soccer. Vince is exceptionally good at that.

  6. frank schoon replied, October 28, 2022 at 4:05 p.m.

    RE, We have teachers unions protecting bad teachers, just look at what a joke our educational system has become and yes certain players who have good techniques might not able to transfer their knowledge. But that is life. But if I have a choice between someone that has the ability to demonstrate skills  ,I will pick that person over someone whose has 10 coaching license and ordiplomas anyday. The problem with our youth is example R2Dad stated we have coaches have difficulty taking on a lamppost 1v1. In my days the kids all had skills, and they learned with having coaches.

    I grew up in Europe and learned the game in the streets without coaches and learned and I gained great skills,  through lots of playing and playing with older ,better players. You don't need coaches when you're young ,you  need to play, play, play with better players as much as possible.

    The problem we have is that there is too much reliance upon coaches to teach skills when in fact so few have the skills to demonstrate.....Oh, but I forgot coaches today build player character which is  such BS. I want a coach who can teach the game, show the love for the game, and can demonstrate the skills to my son, and I don't need a coach who is good in building my sons character,  that's my job....

    American culture is the only culture that makes coaches important, especially in character building....who cares. No where else does one hear about player character building but here. At Ajax the coaches there employed for you to learn the game and become a good player for them for that's what is all about. If a kid has character problems, he'll be gone soon enough.

  7. Kevin Sims, January 3, 2023 at 6:25 a.m.

    Bravo! First, one coaches people. 

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