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Mike Barr: Thoughts From The Bench

thoughts from the bench

Raising The Level Of Play For The Older Elite Player 2/13/2017

Players looking to get to the next level must create a sense of awareness in their role on attack, defense and in transition. They must see the game from a perspective of "what should I do to create more opportunities to score goals, create passing opportunities?" or decide to possess or go forward.

In order to meet those requirements top level players anticipate play on both attack and defense consistently and are usually two to three seconds ahead of the average player. They feel a sense of comfort in moving without the ball or into defensive positioning before the ball is actually played in and around their immediate area. This requires not only field vision but a work rate that sometimes may not be rewarded or recognized by other players or even their coach.

These special insights as a player are gained by becoming a more complete student of the game. Through constant evaluation of one’s play, utilizing video tape and recalling moments in a match, a player begins to assess his or her play in a more professional manner. 

The coach plays a huge role in this process by recognizing deficiencies in a player by examining matches, discussing and finding moments in a match that can be corrected and analyzing an individual’s performance through guided questioning during video review. Providing a checklist of roles and responsibilities within thirds of the field for an individual player and having the player chart their performance through a match will reinforce the qualities expected of them. As players enter into high level play, more effort and time will have to come about for not only the player but the coach as well.  To meet success for both the player and the professional or paid coach requires spending more time in analysis, making corrections, consistent effort  and an unparalleled desire to raise the quality of play.

On HBO's "Revisiting Trophy Kids" 4/18/2016

Reviewing a television event triggered my desire to once again get back to blogging. The most important television to all parents was Revisiting Trophy Kids, the HBO sports documentary. Scenes from this documentary may actually have you cringe and sometimes in my case, want you to somehow relive your relationship with your adolescent or adult child and his or her involvement with sports at a young age.

Being a parent is a rewarding but difficult job. It becomes more precarious when your child gets involved with sports for the first time. You now see your child with a sense of fear or admiration as he or she is compared with other children together for the first time.  Looking at your child in an actual game may bring about a reaction that you as a parent have never experienced. You see deficiencies or strengths that may consume your life and that of your child’s. You want what is best and do whatever it takes to feel pride in his or her success and makes sure success continues or else you push, make unrealistic demands and find trainers to get your child caught up. 

Make no mistake, children’s sports is big business and whether it is an individual or a team sport, there are thousands of individuals ready to take advantage of easy money. So called premier or high-level coaches will prey on a parent’s fear that their child is behind the others or a fear that if their child does train for those 10,000 Malcolm Gladwell Outlier hours they will never reach that pinnacle of athletic success.

What parents don’t realize is the devastating effect their decisions regarding sports will have on their child as he or she gets older. Parent/child relationships are ruined and marriages fall apart due to the stress and time dedicated to making your child the next Venus Williams or Lionel Messi. Financial implications only add to the misery in some families.

Please love your children unconditionally for what they are and not for what you envision in your mind they should be. Feed off their responses. Allow them to experience all sports, music and the arts. Children deserve what is best for them. Take time to listen and ask what your child wants and not what you assume he or she needs.

What's the Deal with Leicester City? 2/8/2016

It seems like everyone is jumping on the Leicester City bandwagon as the Foxes look to increase their lead in the Premier League. Why not? Their relentless style of play and the emergence of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez as major goal scorers make for entertaining matches every time they play.

I have recently begun to look at their success in a much different way. How in the world can a team of underpaid, supposedly average at best footballers, shake up the usual hierarchy of world renowned teams and their ever-growing salaries like Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea? Could there be something to learn here as youth players in the United States are forced to navigate the elite club and academy system? Could it be that playing for an elite, star laden team or club may be a detriment to a player?

Jamie Vardy in 2010 was playing for FC Halifax in the National League, a fifth tiered club of professionals and semi-professionals. Riyad Mahrez was playing for La Havre in French Ligue ll in France in 2013. Would both of these superstars have had the success they are currently experiencing now, if they were with top level clubs? Less playing time, less confidence translates to fewer opportunities for the players to establish themselves.

As players as young as ten or eleven are being recruited or identified and matched together because of their hypothetical superior skills are they actually taking a step backwards?  Do skills and confidence erode as they are now not the go to player on their team or losing out on touches because other players are considered superior in the new environment? Shouldn’t they suffer set-backs or disappointments to spur on their competitiveness in matches?

Another thought to consider for coaches, players and even parents; does having a team of young elite players diminish the drive to work hard and be persistent the entire match because their technical ability is far superior to the opposing team?

Leicester City is clearly a blue collar squad that plays the entire ninety minutes. Can analytics provide the answers in finding the make-up of future top level teams? Is it necessary to have two full teams of capped internationals to win championships or is it the right distribution of a few recognized, talented players and a surrounding cast of hard working players who believe they can compete and win in every match? Something to think about.

Coaching Education, Player Development and Different Pathways for Success 2/2/2016

It is important for players and parents alike to realize there are numerous pathways to soccer success. The recent MLS draft revealed that six of the top 10 players selected did not play in the National Developmental Academy programs but did play in their state Olympic Development Program, in the National Championship Series and in US Youth Soccer’s National League. US Soccer must recognize that top level players achieve success within different environments and locations. A more cohesive scouting system is needed to identify players who have professional talent and not solely rely on Academies to develop players.

We had two coaching courses this past weekend hosted by YSC. We conducted a National E and a National D License. We were fortunate to have Tommy Wilson, Director of the Union Academy as one of the instructors for the D License. Tommy brings a wealth of soccer education experience as a UEFA Instructor and as a former Director of Education for the Scottish Football Association. In the future we plan to do more with the Union and create a bond that will strengthen both Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer and the Philadelphia Union in developing players and coaches.

There was a candidate taking the E License that encouraged me about the value of soccer education and how he perceives himself as a coach. Unfortunately, I also heard a disappointing response from two candidates taking the D License before the course even started.

First the positive news. I was pleasantly surprised to see former Union player Fred, a Brazilian, in the class for the E License. With his professional experience, he could have moved right to the National C License. In talking with Fred, he felt he wanted to start from the beginning with the F License because he knew he had much to learn as a coach. Fred wants to develop his coaching skills and become comfortable with US Soccer’s educational system. His skill and personality made for a very successful and positive E License.

On the flip side, two young coaches seemed disappointed they had to go through the entire coaching licensing procedure. After all, they were academy coaches at a club that was recently awarded academy status for the younger ages. Their complaints fell on deaf ears, because all coaches must go through the entire process except for MLS professionals and National Team players. At times, there is an entitlement issue with younger coaches who feel they should be exempt, because they played college soccer and now are coaching elite players.

Young coaches should look at licenses as opportunities to become more proficient and confident in their teaching abilities. In fact, we all should. Consider Fred as the example.

US Soccer should take note as well. So long as all sides of youth soccer and coaching are on the same page we can develop together and show people the different paths to success.

Bowie And The Bengals: Soccer lessons from the outside World 1/11/2016

On some weeks it is difficult to come up with ideas related to coaching or youth soccer. There may be a discussion with a colleague or player, a training session with U6’s, a conversation with a coach from another sport, a 30 for 30 episode or a match on television that spurs my thoughts. But two separate incidents so far removed from soccer have brought some views on achieving success.

My commitment to soccer has never interfered with my appreciation for all sports. I can become enthralled watching Serena Williams or Jordan Spieth, recognizing the hours of intense training they put into their sport to make their success look easy. I can marvel at the All Blacks of New Zealand as they sometimes look like a war-like ballet wearing down opponents.

I also have the ability to look at incidents within sports and relate them to soccer. This past Saturday I caught the final quarter of the Bengals-Steelers playoff game and was drawn into the drama of watching a team collapse in the most crucial part of the game. Two players, Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones, lost control at the most decisive of times and cost the Bengals a victory.

This incident led me to think of how many times I have asked for players to leave a quiet demeanor on the sidelines and play with intensity in a match; to play with abandon at times, if the moment or time in a match called for that type of trait. How I expected players to be loud and confident; even brash all the time. It wasn’t until I got older did I recognize that maintaining that passion cannot last through an entire match, and players must be capable of tuning that intensity into more intelligent and calm performances based on the circumstance of a given match. A coach should provide his players with values that do not reflect the “win at any cost” mentality  many of us grew up with but play with an intelligence that reflects the time and circumstances of the game. As a coach you can insert those conditions into your training sessions and reiterate playing with a sense of recognition of the variables that surround any moment in a game.

As a baby boomer the death of David Bowie hit me with a feeling of deep sadness as his music was an influential part of my life. More than just a major musical force who had an effect on almost every musical genre for the last 40 years, he was also a risk taker who was capable of changing his persona and music to be appreciated by all audiences. I cannot think of another personality who changed with the times to provide incredible music to new generations of fans.

As coaches, do we sometimes frown on risk takers on the field and ask for conformity in their play? Do we coach the imagination out of players at young ages until they all look the same in their play? Celebrate the risk takers: Messi, Ronaldo, Hazard, Ibrahimovic and Neymar. These are the players who will impact youngsters and encourage creativity in much the same the same way David Bowie impacted music.

Considering Relegation In American Sports 1/4/2016

Sports Enthusiasts in the United States are quick to criticize the relegation system within most soccer playing countries throughout the world. Yet in my eyes, it would be a breath of fresh air to the non-productive sports franchises in Philadelphia. Imagine if every general manager faced the pressure of remaining in the premier division of baseball, football, basketball, hockey and soccer.

This blog comes out of the frustrations of watching the lowly 76ers tank another season, the freakish display of rampant mismanagement of the Eagles, and the inability of the Phillies to judge talent and holding on to veteran players too long. The much criticized Flyers seem to always want to compete at the elite level of the NHL but lately without much success.

Try to envision what would happen should each of these teams face demotion to a lower league with a team from, let’s say, Little Rock, Arkansas taking any one of their positions within the top league.

Little Rock joins the NBA and Philadelphia joins the Caterpillar Tractor NBA League’s Second Division. With the relegation of the 76ers, the owners lose NBA television rights and all the advantages of playing in the NBA. Their value diminishes, and it does not become a cash cow to unscrupulous owners. They would be forced to make strong decisions every year on personnel and salary. They would be challenged to always have a competitive team on the court and make player personnel decisions in the present rather than five years into a murky future. I for one would attend games for the second division Sixers if they displayed a drive on the court and an honest effort of the ownership to get back into the NBA. Imagine the boost to Little Rock’s fans and the economy in the city as their team now competes within the NBA.

I have to give the Sons of Ben credit as they demonstrated their frustrations with the Union last year resulting in changes within upper management. I really believe the Union wants to field a team that will compete for an MLS Championship, but the other sports may not have that pressing urge to produce a winner. The Union does not reap the benefits of lucrative TV contracts and need to have a strong team to keep a strong fan base. In contrast, as long as television rights in football, basketball and baseball are keeping a team in the black, where is the pressure to produce a quality product year in and year out?

Do you think Chip Kelly, now fired, would have made the decisions he made in the last two years if the Eagles faced possible relegation? I think you would probably see LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson playing every Sunday. You more than likely would see well-thought out decisions from a core of professionals, rather than one or two arrogant individuals affecting our pro teams and the numerous fans who would love to see competitive games every week.

Within the English Premier League, tiny Bournemouth is the Little Rock of English Football and they have harbored attention and support throughout Europe and the world because of their relentless effort against impossible odds. Wouldn’t it be special to watch a team in Philadelphia play every game with incredible intensity knowing losing could affect the value and position of the team?  

How To Grow College Soccer 12/14/2015

The true fact for all the parents of elite boy players is your son will probably not play professionally but will more than likely have a chance to play in college. They will play in very competitive matches enjoy their friends and teammates and yet few people, fans or media, will notice.

The NCAA and US soccer should make it a priority to come up with ideas to make the college game more relevant and have college soccer be utilized for pro development and identification in much the same way basketball, football, and hockey provide players to the professional ranks.

This weekend Stanford won the NCAA Division One title in front of 4,057 fans at Sporting Park in Kansas City. The semi-finals with Syracuse, Stanford, Clemson and Akron stirred up little interest from even the most avid soccer fans.

Locally, within the Philadelphia area, college soccer is lucky to have scores even reported. High school soccer gets significantly more coverage than any college matches. This has been the case for years and unfortunately little effort is made by the soccer community or the local colleges  to have college soccer get the coverage both the men and women deserve.

I know the argument will be that soccer is a non-revenue producing sport, and yet when the NCAA Division One Lacrosse Championships were played  at Lincoln Financial Field in May of 2015 the attendance for all the games was over 24,000 and media coverage was substantial. Much of this may be due to the weather in May or the lack of competition with other college or professional sports. The Lacrosse Championships is a more festive event with tailgating and alumni happy to make the trip for a party-filled weekend.

So what is soccer to do in order to get the sport to the masses like football and basketball and make college soccer an integral part of the pathway in identifying professional players?

The first main concern that should be examined is the current fall schedule. The NCAA, with US Soccer’s recommendations, should push for a split season; 8 to 10 games from August to November and 8 to 10 regular season games from March to May. Move the championship to the spring and avoid conflicts with college football and professional football. More importantly, one game a week would normally be played, providing proper periodization in regard to training. This had always been a major concern from critics of college soccer from the professional ranks who claim the college schedule hinders development. It also provides professional scouts a better idea of the individual attributes players demonstrate in in meaningful play and makes selections less questionable.  

With playing the college soccer finals in the late spring you would be assured of a more colorful and worthwhile atmosphere and less conflicts with other sports. Criticism may come in the form of too long a season but at this time NCAA baseball goes from February to June and teams may play up to 60 games. Hopefully a push for change will come from more progressive athletic directors who want to see fair opportunities for all college athletes.

Bournemouth's Victory Over Chelsea Highlighted This Sports Weekend 12/4/2015

It was a great weekend for sports enthusiasts in the Philadelphia area: The Eagles’ miracle win against the Patriots, the Penn State Women’s incredible run to the NCAA title in North Carolina and the biggest surprise, and most pleasing result to me, Bournemouth beating Chelsea 1-0 in the Barclays Premier League.

I had the pleasure of watching Bournemouth train this past summer, and I was impressed with the effort and enthusiasm displayed by the entire team. I had a feeling they would have a chance to turn a few heads with their first ever entrance into England’s top division.

Bournemouth plays in tiny Goldsands Stadium with a seating capacity of 11,770. Chelsea plays at Stamford Bridge, capacity 41,798. The totals salaries of Bournemouth are 1/6 those of mighty Chelsea, and yet the Cherries seemed to have played with ten times the heart of the Chelsea side, which is loaded with top international players.

In attempting to relate this performance to youth soccer, all I could think of is the hundreds of parents who yearly remove their child from the local club in the hopes of better training and more exposure at the more expensive clubs. Moving to that more affluent club does not guarantee success in player development or intensity on the field. Sometimes playing for the underdog brings out the best in individual players and often the team itself.

As fans, keep an eye on the David of the Premiership as they battle the well-paid Goliaths. Big lessons can be learned by youth players as they watch how intensity and constant desire can be the biggest attributes in becoming a top level player anywhere!

Should Mounting Costs Of Soccer Affect College Decisions? 11/30/2015

Your soccer-playing son or daughter is a junior entering his or her senior year in 2016. This player has played ECNL or for a top club the past five years and still there’s been little response from coaches you have contacted or the numerous college showcases he or she has attended. You hear from one or two Division I colleges that reluctantly come up with $5,000 a year in a combined academic and athletic scholarship package but you expected more; especially when the colleges offering money cost close to $60,000 a year.

The promises of the club coach never came to fruition, and there is a taste of bitterness that bothers you more each day. That bitterness is even more dramatic when you think about the $55,000 in club fees, coaching salaries and travel expenses associated with your child playing the last five years.

A few local Division III colleges have expressed a sincere interest and project your child as a starter if he the player decides to attend but you are staring at cost of more than $40,000 a year. You still have two younger children who may soon be in the same predicament and you desperately do not want to put your child in a situation where he or she is carrying a debt of $50,000 in loans upon graduation.

I would like to present a couple of options to families who are facing this financial crisis. Option one is to look at state universities. Tuition and room and board is $15,000 to $25,000 less than the private Division III colleges. Most state universities are Division II, but if your son or daughter attends a Division I college and does not get the opportunity to play, he or she has the choice to play club soccer. Club soccer keeps your child playing but does not have the pressure and time commitment that playing for the Division I team demands.

Option two is to attend a local community college for around $13,000 a year and have your son or daughter have the opportunity to improve his or her game by playing for the community college or playing in a strong adult league and saving eligibility. If your child decides to attend a community college the savings are high, little debt is incurred for you or your child and there is still that chance a Division I college will have an interest if development continues.

It may have been your dream and your child’s dream to play soccer at a top Division I college, but now you should begin to make decisions that will be in the best interest of your child’s future. The success your son or daughter experienced playing youth soccer will soon be a pleasant memory. The mounting costs associated with soccer coupled with education may not be. Their happiness and success as an adult should now take precedent in your decision.  

State Champions In Hershey: A Showcase For High School Soccer 11/23/2015

Congratulations should go out to an incredible Central Bucks East Boys Soccer team that just completed an undefeated season with a 2-0 win over Seneca Valley Saturday night for the PIAA AAA State Championship. Head coach Mike Gorni led the team to the state crown in his 21st and final season as head coach at CB East. I was struck by Austin Prime’s comments before the game. “We were driving up and you see the lights, the stadium, you see all the fans. I don’t think I’ve experienced anything like it,” Prime told Philly.com.

High School Soccer has taken a hit by the so called experts in player development over the years but I feel there is a swing for many boys going back to playing for strong non-academy clubs and players remaining with their high school teams. There are clubs within Region One who are as good as or better than the non-MLS Developmental Academy teams and even have coaches who are more or equally qualified. With the success the players receive at the club level and the recognition and publicity they receive at the high school level, they do not go unnoticed by college coaches.

I recognize it is difficult as a parent to make the right decisions in regard to your child’s soccer future but ask yourself a few questions before making decisions to play developmental academy or stay with a regular club and play high school.

Will my child develop more as one of the top players on our club team or as a bottom level starter or even a bench player on a Developmental Academy team? Is there a better chance to be recognized by college coaches if my child remains with the current club?

Are the qualifications of the Developmental Academy coach as good as your child’s club coach?

Has your child expressed an interest to stay with his current club and play with peers in high school?

Am I denying my child a chance for an experience that can never be recaptured by not allowing him the chance to play high school soccer?

Am I living out my dream instead of my child’s?

The early knock on high school soccer was the lack of qualified coaches but many schools in Eastern Pennsylvania have gone outside the teaching ranks to bring in qualified, experienced coaches. In addition, many of the teachers still involved have college playing experience and have achieved much of the same qualifications as academy coaches. Most of the teams in the finals in Hershey had up to four coaches working with each high school team.

Take a look at Coach Gorni’s resume. He has coached nine US Youth Soccer National Championship final four teams and led five ODP Teams to the national final four. In addition, he has won 11 Region One ODP Championships.

The Academy System was formed to identify prospective National Team Players and professional players. Those types of players can come from any level or team, and if I see a player within ODP who has that potential I would approach the Union about him. I would also explain to that player and his family what they may be giving up in regard to family time, friendships, other sports, the arts, and a chance to be a kid.

I would be remiss in not mentioning congratulations to all the boys and girls high school teams who played so well in reaching the finals who come from Eastern Pennsylvania. Those schools include: Lewisburg, Loyalsock, Trinity, Villa Joseph Marie, East Juniata and CB East (Girls). These are moments that you and your classmates will share forever.

Changes Could Spell Doom For GotSoccer 11/16/2015

In my recent travels and having the opportunity to speak to groups and individuals, there are questions and some confusion on the direction clubs and coaches are taking in regard to US Soccer’s new initiatives regarding birth years and small-sided play. I believe that after this initial tryout period within Eastern Pennsylvania and throughout the country, things will fall into place beginning in the fall season. For all the over-the-top, negative feedback from individuals who see few positives in the change there may be a silver lining attached.

Because the new teams will now have new rosters, players moving up or down and players moving from one team to another, wouldn’t it make sense to abolish or not buy into the GotSoccer rankings of youth teams in this country? This ranking system buys into the foolish pride of parents and coaches who boost their own self-esteem through their children or the children they are coaching. This is a structure that awards points to teams who participate in GotSoccer tournaments in order to move up in the rankings. The system ignores player development and forces clubs to give up on young players when they form elite travel teams at U8. This is a system that rewards wealthy clubs, who can afford to travel to big GotSoccer tournaments, but ignores small community clubs.

We have multiple measuring structures built in to youth soccer. Leagues, state cups and regional competition should give coaches, parents and players an idea of the strengths and weaknesses within their team. Most younger-age youth clubs in Europe actually have no standings and even do not report scores. Let’s give soccer back to the players and develop all of our youth and not just the privileged few who have the money and resources to exploit a flawed system of adult-driven accomplishments

In Support Of High School Soccer 11/09/2015

Congratulations to the Central Bucks East Boys and Girls for winning the District One 3A Soccer Championships this past weekend. I know that the thrill of all their matches so far will provide long-lasting memories for every member of each team and their coaching staff. High School soccer is so unique to what is occurring within youth soccer today, where the community or neighborhood club will soon be non-existent. High school soccer and all high school sports are truly the last bastion of true community spirit, togetherness and long-lasting friendships.

All of the players I coached in the past 30 years continuously tell me their greatest thrill and most fun they ever experienced in sports was competing for district and state high school soccer titles. Many of the players I coached in high school were State Cup, Regional Cup and National Cup Champions. A large number went on to play at hundreds of top Division One, Two and Three colleges. But any success they experienced in cups or college pales in comparison to state title runs in high school soccer. Nothing relates to competing and winning a state or regional title in front of family, neighbors, friends, faculty and peers. It is certainly a long standing and wonderful tradition that should never go away!

Where Have We Gone Wrong With The U17's? 11/02/2015

I felt the Under-17 United States Men’s National Team, after watching them in person and on film numerous times, had an excellent chance to make it to at least the quarterfinals of the U17 World Cup. Of course my prediction was incorrect as the United States failed to get to the knockout stage. In examining the eight teams in the quarterfinals it almost seems incredible that nations such as Belgium, Mali, Croatia, Ecuador, and Costa Rica made it to round of eight; not because of lack of soccer prowess but because each of these countries have a population of between 4,000,000 and 16,000,000. The population of the United States is 318,000,000 with a soccer infrastructure that rivals the top soccer playing countries of the world, and yet we can’t seem to make it to the elite level except for our women’s programs.

The Developmental Academies have produced little in the last few years and yet the powers within US Soccer feel a need to have our elite 11 year olds train four days a week to curtail our shortcomings on the international stage. How does one know that an 11 year old player will actually be elite? Has over-coaching taken a stranglehold of our young players who do not get a chance to play with friends or peers, without the pressure of winning, complying with instructions from an adult, or the opportunity to be a kid? Will the Academy system in the United States be a never ending saga in frustration? Does this system find all the talent we have in this country? Can we develop our own strategies or will we follow the European teams that don’t always thrive on their own changes?

Why not bring top representatives from all the states, from youth to the MLS, and develop a four-year plan at the completion of each World Cup that will examine the needs of our country? This large symposium may trigger alternatives that reflect our ever-changing culture and meet the needs of all players in a cost efficient manner that will help all.

Reflections On A Disappointing Season 10/26/2015

First, I want to address something I wrote last week. I was critical of the PIAA and the state referee association for not making an effort to find young referees at colleges in Eastern Pennsylvania. After my opinions were posted, I found out that the state referee association has in fact searched out students at colleges to referee and have been making a concerted effort to find younger referees.

Second, I wanted to offer an evaluation of my high school season. This past Friday I experienced my first losing season as a coach after coaching high school soccer for 29 years. My teams qualified for postseason play every year but this one. My reactions were typical: disappointment, frustration and pondering the future. As my initial reactions receded, I thought about what led to the performance of my team and the impact I had on their season.

In previous years it would only be examining certain matches or the final game that eliminated my team from the playoffs but this year was different. I was forced to examine the whole season; my impact on my team’s performance, our training sessions, putting players in proper positions, my decision-making and asking myself did I have a positive impact on the development of each individual player? I also asked myself if my expectations for the season were too high and did I overestimate my team’s ability.

I plan to meet with each individual player and get their input on how they felt about the season and their own overall performance. More importantly, I want to get their perspective on what I can do better to improve their play and the play of the team.

I will examine strengths and weaknesses for each player and come up with a seasonal plan starting with futsal play in December to the beginning of next season during Labor Day Weekend. I want to build on failing to get to the postseason as an opportunity to be a better coach and mentor to my returning players and ultimately produce a winning team that steps on the field with a sense of confidence and swagger in their own ability, as well as their teammates.

That's part of the joy of coaching. Each year brings new experiences and challenges.

Quality Refs Could Be Found On Campus 10/19/2015

It seems a role I intend to follow as I get older will be working toward making youth sports available to all and improving the development of youth soccer players in particular. Though the quality of play of young players and the educational training of youth coaches has shown a dramatic increase, we still have not addressed the referee situation in this country. Within Eastern Pennsylvania and most likely the entire United States, there is a severe shortage of quality referees. This affects club soccer and high school soccer at all levels. Shortages of referees creates a large pool of working referees who were not players or lack general awareness of the games and are ill-suited for the pace of play. Moreover, we're asking refs to work too many games.

Unfortunately, the Eastern Pennsylvania State Referee Association and PIAA have missed an opportunity to go out and locate young referees who know the game and would be wonderful additions to the current group. If these associations were to contact universities throughout the state and offer referee courses at various colleges on a yearly basis, much of the dilemmas mentioned earlier would be solved.

How many male and female ex-players currently attending college are looking for money to supplement their tuition, and room and board expenses? Becoming a referee would allow students to stay in soccer beyond their playing careers. They would also be better able to relate with players up to the older levels because of their age. More importantly, schedules of college courses lend most students opportunities to do school matches as well as club matches on the weekend. I suggest both EPSRA and PIAA contact college part-time employment administrators and pursue new, energetic referees. It is a win-win for everyone and the game itself!

USMNT's Loss Cause For Re-evaluation Not Complaints 10/13/2015

The excitement of the recent Mexico vs USA CONCACAF Cup was lost as pundits began to react to the Americans’ loss. ESPN’s Taylor Twellman was critical of the final result, the number of players who are over 30 on the USA’s roster, the U23’s defeat to Honduras and the overall ability of Jürgen Klinsmann as both National Team Coach and Technical Director in an interview immediately following the game.

Meanwhile, the German National Team lost to Ireland and was in danger of not qualifying for the European Cup. Over the weekend, however, everything came together as Germany finished on top of their group by holding off Georgia. I wonder if the German press reacted to the Ireland loss with the same harmonious litany of discontent from so-called soccer experts in this country.

The U17’s, U 20’s and U23’s have more players playing in academies, U20 teams, U23 teams, and the full first teams throughout Europe than ever before. Within the European clubs American players are playing at a faster, higher technical level than MLS and most of the Nike Academy teams. The team that qualifies for the 2018 World Cup will be vastly different than the team we saw in Pasadena and could be stronger than the team we fielded in Brazil.

Instead of hearing the dire predictions of the so-called experts, why don’t they offer solutions in how are identification system in the United States needs to improve? Why not set up eight to ten geographic Regional Centers to identify top players for both boys and girls throughout the United States from U13 to U17 and place them with MLS Academies or top clubs on the girls’ side?

We can learn a great deal from the success of the German Federation and how they seem to meet the needs of their players by a cooperative meeting of numerous coaches and former players and devising a plan that will help with the identification process now and in the future. If the American Academy programs are not producing national team caliber players shouldn’t US soccer reexamine their value moving forward?

U23's Show Promise 10/05/2015

Some of my co-workers recently mentioned how I sometimes sound like the prophet of doom when I express my views of youth soccer. But today I want to spread some good news on the horizon. The Under-23 United States Men's National Team under coach Andi Herzog has begun to produce results that may carry them to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

With a roster of 10 foreign-based players, eight MLS players, one college player and one free agent, the US team garnered two wins in the opening round of CONCACAF group play. Five of the U23 USMNT members also played for the US U20 team that made it to the U20 World Cup quarterfinals before losing to Serbia in penalty kicks.

Three players eligible for the U23 squad (Julian Green, DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks) will be playing for the full National Team on October 10 in the CONCACAF Cup Playoff against Mexico this Saturday.

It is important that young players begin to surface and assert themselves internationally because many of the familiar US players from the last World Cup will more than likely not be part of the World Cup Team in 2018, should the United States qualify.

On a Monday in Philadelphia where there seems to be a dark cloud over all our professional teams, there is a young team for all soccer fans across the country to get behind and follow to 2018 in Russia.

Playing Up Has Its Benefits 9/28/2015

Concerns have arisen from both parents and coaches in regard to the true birth year age changes coming from US Soccer and the effect it will have on current teams. My suggestion is to consider the pros and cons of all your options.

Before you automatically think of disbanding your current roster or splitting your team in two to accommodate the new rules, I would suggest at least thinking about playing up an age group. Playing up carries a value that cannot be replicated. Younger players will learn to play with speed and vision to stay with older players. They will also recognize the role that physical strength plays in soccer. They can adapt in two ways: by improving their own strength or working harder to find space on the field. Both will greatly help them as players.

As a high school coach, I see players with skill who may play against players three years older prosper in that environment and truly mature. They are forced to get out of their comfort zone and rise to the challenge, which they’ll have to do if they wish to continue their careers beyond club or high school play.

Coaches, recognize the pros and cons of playing up and explore the options. You may give up the chance for a successful season, in terms of wins and losses, but your players remain together and individual development may improve with your younger players. Explain to the parents your decision and take a chance. After all, isn’t development more important than winning?
 
 
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