Bradley Speaks, Part II
As promised, here is more from The Post's conversation with USA Coach Bob Bradley on Friday.
On the massive task of creating a youth development system that adequately feeds the national teams.....
"What we are trying to do is to make sure that the things we see with the senior national team -- the needs, the concerns -- that those kinds of messages are passed down, not just to the younger teams, but to a wider base so that we are doing a better job developing our young players around the country. I keep using the expression that we need to connect more dots. It is a lot of dots, it's tricky, and maybe we are not going to have them all connected but there's no reason that there is not a stronger, more consistent message that goes down and that, at the moment with the [USSF] Development Academy, there are clubs that understand what we see and are now trying to create the right environments for their younger players to move in that direction. Right now, there is a better scouting network, there is more of an attempt to get the coaches who are overseeing the development academy in different regions into those clubs for training so the things we are talking about can actually take place on the field. We are trying to make sure there is a better way in the coaching education part of it in making sure that it isn't a separate effort. The work is good. It is a start. I wouldn't want to sit here and act like now we wave the magic wand and in a few months it is all done. This is a work in progress, but I think that we have done well to put some things in place that gets the ball rolling in the right direction. For me, it is knocking down the walls, making sure people feel like they are in something together. It's really important to continue to look for good people on all levels. We mentioned scouting. The best clubs in the world have people who have had experience looking for young talent, spotting players that maybe others don't see and making sure that talent is put in the proper environment to maybe get to the top. Scouting that has been done, coaching that has been done, a lot of it has been individual efforts across the country and many of them are really good efforts, but I think now we are trying to make sure this is a little more together."
On the importance of the Development Academy.....
"It is important to have your hand on 62 clubs and now we are adding 12 to get to 75 [including the under-17 national team] next year. The idea there is that you can control this. Right now there are clubs playing there in the under-16 and under-18 level, but the real goal is to get enough influence on those clubs to ensure that all of them are putting top coaches with the youngest kids. As much as the Development Academy looks like an old thing with u-16 and u-18, the real important thing is that you are getting into these clubs and having an influence to understand what needs to happen from the time kids are coming into that club. If those things are done properly, you are no longer faced with the idea that, at 10 years old, [a coach] saying, 'I can't take them to the next level.' There is true structure in place for those kids. There are a lot of other clubs out there, but I think it is important that we started the process with clubs that have a history of playing good soccer. ... The push is to continue to say, 'Where are you getting your kids from? How are you spreading your wings in a way that you are having a greater hand in developing the talent out there?' This only brings up all the issues that we know: Are we finding the best kids? If we find them and they can't afford to pay, is there a way those kids don't have to pay? Lot of clubs are making that effort. We know there are challenges in urban areas with certain families where everyone is working. Can you get them to training? So the effort to do all of these things, like I've said, there have been a lot of superstar efforts by individuals around the country in all of these areas for a long time. It has almost gone unnoticed because it's just been somebody quietly scooping up kids and saying, 'Hey, these kids love to play soccer, they are talented, we are going to have a way to bring them into our club.' But now there is a bigger push across the board that this is all part of building a better youth program across the country. I think we are getting there, but it's a big project."
On how much energy Bradley spends behind the scenes making the development system work.....
"All national team coaches understand that their primary job is to build a national team. As far as the focus on the team and trying to build a group, that is certainly where most of my time and energy is spent. But I do think that the situation in this country is unique and I've coached at all these different levels. I know the different people involved in different places. The one thing I have always felt pretty strongly about is that we are in something together, and therefore, when you can [such as this past Saturday when the development committee met in Washington], be there to join in a meeting, be there, join in, listen, have an opinion - try to encourage the right discussions. It's part of the job, but the primary focus for me is on the top and how it filters down to the teams right below it."
On his role promoting the sport, something most national team coaches around the world do not have to worry about.....
"I do understand how we make this game grow. We are all in that. The media is in that. We have a great game, we've done a lot of great things, but let's face it: We know we have a ways to go. I get reminded often to understand that part of it and, in my own way, I can sit with people and talk about what we are trying to do and let people know that we are aware of the different aspects of the job and what it means. The TV people could drive me crazy sometimes, but it is important that we have games on TV, so you do your best to work together. It is important [to promote the sport], but I still focus on building a team. We have a vision of what we want to do."
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