There was a lot of introspection following the USMNT’s shock 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago earlier this month, a result that secured the team’s fate of missing the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
As the dust continues to settle, I sat down with a founding father of Major League Soccer, a former President of D.C. United and now CEO of US Club Soccer, Kevin Payne.
Having grown up in England, I’m a relative outsider to the sport in the U.S. system of youth development, but my early read is that at the heart of the USMNT’s problems is that lack of quality coaches – an issue England has struggled with in the past, too.
It’s that lack of quality coaches that spoils young talent before it’s even been giving a chance of progressing, if it even spots it in the first place. It prevents more high schools from launching respectable soccer programs of their own, and forces anybody with hopes of fulfilling their potential into the much-derided pay-for-play system.
So, I asked him about it, and his response was quite enlightening. It wasn’t just a big issue, Payne said. In his mind, it’s the number one issue surrounding youth soccer in the country:
“England has actually done a good job reinventing their development system around the premise that if they want better players, the need better coaches. So then they’ve tackled the process providing more coaching and continuing educational opportunities for their coaches. It was certainly a critical part of Franc’s resurgence and then after that, Spain and Belgium. Maybe the most dramatic example is Iceland.”
“It needs to be a purposeful process, scaling-up the amount of coaches that you have. We don’t have nearly enough. Spain has over 8,000 UEFA A licensed coaches. We probably have a couple hundred coaches with the equivalent of a UEFA A license, and that’s the problem. Look at Iceland. Iceland has one of the highest coaches-to-player ratios in the world, and that’s the reason Iceland beyond what they should be capable of given the size of their country. We have several cities that are bigger than the entire population of Iceland.”
“We need to undertake a far more aggressive and focused program to increase the number of coaches with a higher licensing level. We need to be scaling this far more aggressively. I think the Federation need to be spending a lot more money on this. We almost need to look at it as an emergency.”
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