Great interview with former US national team coach; highly critical of how US develops players

This is the sort of article we’re used to seeing when Canadians discuss problems related to developing young players. What’s unusual is the credibility of the critic. Tony DiCicco has coached both men’s and women’s national teams in the States and won both a World Cup and an Olympics with the women’s team.

But here’s a sample of what he has to say about youth soccer development in the U.S.:

Our players are not getting the foundations of the game. Our players are not technical. Right now in the U-17 World Cup, the semifinalists are South Korea, North Korea, Japan, and Spain. Three Indonesian (sic) teams – they’re all about technique. Their coaches emphasize it. Our coaches at U-10 emphasize winning. You can win games and sacrifice player development and that’s what’s happening in our system. Why is that happening? Like I said, youth soccer is big business. If I don’t win, it doesn’t matter if I’m developing players, my business is going to hell.

This was published a few weeks ago so it really foreshadows the Americans loss to Mexico in CONCACAF in qualifying for the 2011 World Cup. There’s real concern, for both genders,  but the women’s team in particular that they are slipping on a global stage and changes need to be made.

Here’s something that I heartily concur with:

On the girls’ side our players are not smart players, they lack sophistication, they’re not technical enough. If I get a stud athlete and I get her to out-run everybody and I put the ball over the top 15 times, she might score two or three goals and we win the game. But eventually that stud athlete comes up against a stud defender and it doesn’t work anymore and she doesn’t know how else to play because she’s never been coached properly. We have a lot of that. I don’t blame the players, I don’t blame the parents, I blame programs and I blame the coaches.

He’s nailed it there. It’s shocking how much of girls soccer, right through to Metro and Y League levels is all about knocking long balls over the top for fast, athletic girls to chase down ahead of defenders and get shots on goal. It has all the sophistication of Sarah Palin.

Read the full interview here.

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8 Responses to Great interview with former US national team coach; highly critical of how US develops players

  1. Fred Cutler says:

    Exactly the kind of play, coaching, and learning built-in with non-tiered U9 U10 boys 22-player teams. Too few kids with any understanding of the game on any given team, and just as few with motivation to understand the game, so I get U12 kids who still want to bang the ball up the field to other kids who know only waiting for the direct ball, a few poor touches, turn on the speed, and take a shot. I’m coaching at least 3 of them now.

    If we were really serious about this, we’d tier at u9, play maximum 5-a-side, and ALWAYS score goals based on the number of consecutive passes before the scoring touch. If we played like this, and stayed in-house (West Side) until U11, we’d make progress on what Di Cicco is concerned about.

    And somehow we’d get younger kids to play in the park and schoolyard with older ones.

    • Gregor says:

      Our ‘double size’ U9-U10 teams are tiered though? The parallel game soft tiering system mitigates the problem by creating two playing environments: one for stronger, more motivated players and another for developing and more recreational players.

      I know exactly the frustration you’re talking about though. As I said I see it from most of the Y League teams I played against on the girls side. And this is from 1995-96 born players.

      I think the 5 a side, passing-emphasis, game you’re describing is actually a very interesting concept.

  2. Lari Hakkinen says:

    Gregor, I greatly appreciate that you actively keep bringing up important topics to raise awareness and stimulate debate and hopefully change. I could not agree more on your previous views on player development and also the above post regarding comments by DiCicco. Coincidentally, Brendan Quarry from TSS posted yesterday an excellent article about a similar topic ( Although you and Brendan discuss about girls, it applies to my mind very well to boys, too.

    • Gregor says:

      Thanks Lari, much appreciated. I did actually see Brendan’s article re-printed on and yes we definitely see things the say way. Ironically I exchanged emails with Brendan a few weeks ago about some players and we didn’t see a couple players in the same light at all! Yes, it does apply to boys too but from my experience the lack of technical ability, tactical awareness and sophisticated use of the ball is much more prevalent in the girls game and as Brendan says there’s no physiological reason for it. These are not physical components of the game where there should be, and is, a natural gap.

  3. Fred Cutler says:

    Yes, soft tiering every week, so the kids notice it EVERY WEEK instead of once at the beginning of the year! And practices are unmanageable, and certainly of no benefit for the top 3 players on each team, unless the practices are tiered as well. So the kids get tiered 50 times instead of once. If the objective is to go easy on their tiny egos, this is a system that totally backfires.

    The issues with 9, 10, 11 year old boys is that behaviour degenerates to match the worst behaved kids. We will not “develop” really top-level players in this country until we have them playing A LOT with no adults around. But only the ones who want to. It is simply a question of motivation. The only players who “make it” are ones who by age 12 have a drive to improve themselves so they can win. They will want to be playing all the time, and often with like-minded kids of a range of ages. These kids are rare and when they’re in a regular club environment they quickly get frustrated with the average gold player’s motivation level. That’s why the son of the previous commenter has not been around this regular environment for four years — he would go mad with the shenanigans of even the normal 11-year-old gold player. He would go mad on the gold team he would be on if he were playing at his normal age in his home club. And in our social environment the alternative is only possible when a parent is willing to drive for hours on end like a gymnastics or hockey or swimming parent. Unfortunately, we don’t have Brazilian beaches to play on before and after school and a willingness to let 7-year-olds who want to play all the time do so — in the alleys, parks, and beaches.
    (Hi Lari!)

    I really don’t think it’s as much about a ‘win-at-all-costs’ attitude as Di Cicco or Quarry say. For boys it’s about who’s playing with whom. For boys coaches in an untiered environment it’s about behaviour control. And it’s something that the pro coaches don’t see because they slip in from time to time and have a built-in authority. Parent coaches can only have this authority with 9 year old boys by being much tougher than any of us Canadians want to be; and much tougher than parents want us to be when the game is “for fun”.

    Oh, and last in my rant is a spring/summer/fall season. That would help on the behaviour side.

    • Lari Hakkinen says:

      Hi Fred,

      I think the discussion that you are referring to; “tier or not to tear” and how to do it and how early is an important one. However, I was probably a bit unclear as my emphasis was, like I believe in the attached article, more on slightly older tiered teams with motivated players eager to learn that are also many times coached by professional coaches. Even at that level, I do not think that, although I am happy to say there are some exceptions, players get the chance to learn things that they would need to. In that regard, I think that the comments by DiCicco via Gregor and Quarry touch an important issue that may have not been realized and debated widely enough.

  4. Larry says:

    I would like to see more academy style development at the younger ages and a reduction of formal leagues and schedules. Coaches and parents at the young ages are too focused on winning games rather than teaching technical skills as the season is focused on formal games vs development. In an academy/school environment specific technical and tactical concepts can be taught, such that the kids can try to execute them in small-sided game at each session. I guarantee that the kids will be enjoying themselves and learning during these in-formal small sided games. It would be great to see more kids playing in the street or park, but it’s difficult in North American society now a days and this is probably the next best thing. There are good examples of development academies, such as Roman Tulis, TSS and others where shape, movements and individual skills are taught and players are not artificially slotted into positions. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford these academies, so there is a huge gap between the “high level” academy and the club offering. Translated into numbers, the vast majority of kids does not attend these high level academies due to finances, time, or commitment or just that the parents feel the kids are not ready. Perhaps there is an opportunity for the clubs/districts to close the gap even more with an increase in the ratio of training/development to formal games.

    A well-built house is always built on a well-made foundation.

  5. frank woods says:

    great article Gregor….have to agree with the post that said we have to get kids’back to playing in alleys/parks/beaches…playing in non-structured environments…however that is more a clutural or society issue now and not likely to happen….i am not big on academy’s however if kids don’t play at the park anymore then they need to get technical sessions in structured environment ….the best and most skilled players of the past never attended academy’s(Best/Maradona/Pele,etc)…Thierry Henry wrote an article saying he learned the game in the alleys of coach made him a better player he wrote,,,but coaches made him a smarter player…anyways, less emphasis about winning and more emphasis on development …Frank

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