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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."

more below.....

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."

By Steve Goff  |  April 28, 2008; 1:58 PM ET
Categories:  U.S. men's national team  
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Next: Parlez Vous Francais, DCU?


He says a lot without saying much...

Posted by: RB | April 28, 2008 2:21 PM | Report abuse

I think Bradley touched an a very important aspect - money at the youth level. These days it costs a parent an awful lot for their children to participate in travel soccer. The system is set up in such a way that only the good but well-off can afford to pay for the overnight trips, camps, high registration fees, uniforms - never mind just shuttling the player to practices.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 28, 2008 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Third! Drrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Posted by: Its pronounced "Du-mas" | April 28, 2008 2:32 PM | Report abuse

The organization and the cost of putting together a National youth program has to be outragous.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like for each State to develop its own youth soccer program that incorporated scouting throughout the State, with the top State teams playing against regional multi-state opponents... and then I get overwhelmed with how many people would have to be involved to do it.

It's like one of the Country's biggest assets, it's size and number of citizens, is also one of it's biggest challenges.

At least the USSF is trying to do something to develop the youth. When I watch the kids performing at half-time of the United games, sometimes I'm amazed at how good some of the kids are. I sure hope it works out in the end.

Posted by: TCompton | April 28, 2008 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Or, conversely, the system becomes one where the clubs with some money are able to sweep into communities (i.e. working-class immigrant) and offer scholarships. They can skim off the best players, subsidized by mediocre middle-class kids, and large recreational leagues.

The smaller clubs and those clubs that are financially humble - due to size or lack of deal-with-the-devil sponsorships - may not have a realistic chance to wooing kids with tons of skill but little money.

Bradley is right, the best coaches need to work with the youngest kids. USSF pushes that in the national courses, but it does not happen. Many of the "best" coaches stick to the older groups, or only the 'A' sides, for greater pay, or better career advancement. When was the last time one of the 'top' coaches at any of our local clubs took on a motley group of U5s and actually put them time into them (knowing some would play poorly and without enthusiasm)??? Answer: never...well, almost never - they might have a kid on the team.

Too much of the current club system is based on chickenhawk recruiting. Clubs and coaches too often devolve into brand recognition...seeking to build a critical mass or center of gravity where they can monopolize the talent pool in their geographic area.

On the whole, we do not spend enough time building players. Coaches end up recruiting as a short cut rather than DEVELOPING players. The structure of our leagues practically begs that...tournaments, club-hopping, sponsorships, club fees, etc.

Results rather than performance (there is a difference) command first chair.

I applaud that they are making great strides, but it seems to be driven from the top on down. It needs to be built from the bottom up, instead. USSF and NSCAAA will show you the stats - there is a massive, massive dropoff at the U12/U13 level where soccer loses it hold on kids. Much that is the result of coaches, clubs, parents and leagues getting it wrong. USYSA tries to remedy this, but it is an uphill battle.

We have a club in Virginia that is now advertising "pretravel" training for U5s! FOUR YEAR OLDS! Of course. A pageant-parent culture awaits.

If USSF wants to get serious, they need to figure out how to develop a street soccer culture (or reasonable imitation)...the Europeans admit they have the same problem.

Heck, the academy system didn't even exist in Europe in the glory days...the are a relatively modern invention and arguably are not successful given the rate of failure (West Ham being an exception).
Look at the top leagues. Full of imports. Likewise the top clubs' Academies - full of imports. Chickenhawking in the third world in a zero sum game to sign a kid before a rival.

What will the US do differently?

Sorry for rambling...

Posted by: Erick | April 28, 2008 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Eventually, MLS will be big enough that they will be funding their own clubs and have huge networks of people with a financial stake in identifying and training players who are able to step into MLS at 17 or 18. Soccer in this country is entirely dependent on the financial success of MLS.

Posted by: Sharp | April 28, 2008 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Goff, I'm really impressed that you pulled this interview. And it sounds like BB really gave you some time and some thoughtful answers. I guess running the best soccer blog in the US gets you some attention.

Keep up the good work, my man.

Posted by: Matte | April 28, 2008 3:25 PM | Report abuse

As a youth coach, 1 thing I've noticed that is holding our teams back is the number of options kids have here compared to latin american countries, for example. While futbal is the primary sport in latin america, here it competes with baseball, football, basketball, track, swimming, etc. And this doesn't even count the non-sport options, such as scouting, musical lessons, or other artistic endeavors. If the kids don't specialize early enough, will they be able to maximize their talents? But do we want a culture where it is decided what sport your kid will do by the age of 8? This will always be a difficult thing for kids in this country.

Posted by: Dsmac | April 28, 2008 3:44 PM | Report abuse

I really think that the Academy teams should all be tied to an MLS or USL team. To invest in developing players there must be some sort of future pay-off in either great ticket sales/team success or big transfer fees to top Euro clubs. I just don't think it'll work to have an "Academy" with a couple U-16, and U-18 teams. It doesn't make good business sense. It would also help develop the brand for USL and MLS teams. But the biggest problem seems to be fitting in the high school, college and ODP systems. US youth soccer is certainly a unique animal. Good luck Bob.

Posted by: Sean G | April 28, 2008 4:00 PM | Report abuse


One way USYS can get the youth clubs to stop emphasizing results over performance is getting rid of the youth national/regional/state championships that they sponsor each spring. At 12-years old (U13) kids enter tournaments that lead to one overall national champion. That in my opinion is a serious lack of perspective.

Posted by: Tommie | April 28, 2008 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Wow, that was pretty boring stuff there. This is the National Team Coach not the youth development coordinator. Steve you shouild have asked more USMNT questions not this grass roots soccer stuff becasue it's clearly not his cheif concern nor ours.

Posted by: tex | April 28, 2008 4:09 PM | Report abuse

For that to happen, I suppose Futsal/MISL would have to grab a foothold in the major U.S. cities.

"If USSF wants to get serious, they need to figure out how to develop a street soccer culture (or reasonable imitation)...the Europeans admit they have the same problem."

Posted by: Juan-John | April 28, 2008 4:18 PM | Report abuse

following up on my earlier post (2nd one) with some anecdotes:

1) Erick's comment on pretravel for U5. Pretty outrageous. Winning-focused games at the age and even older I believe severely stints true skills progress and, more importantly, fun. The USSF put out an excellent document about the preferred and maximum size of teams, goalies or no goalies, keeping score, etc for the various age groups in youth soccer that the leagues around here haven't come close to abiding by.

2) I learned that in NJ and elsewhere it is common to pay youth soccer coaches at ordinary travel clubs. I volunteer to coach and was always coached by pretty good volunteers (pretty good coaches btw even in the early 80's in rural NY). Again - money becomes a large factor whether a child can play or not. Under the current circumstances, I certainly would not have had a chance to play at that level. I played with and against the likes of Dario Brose and ended up playing Div I soccer.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 28, 2008 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Wow, that was pretty boring stuff there. This is the National Team Coach not the youth development coordinator. Steve you shouild have asked more USMNT questions not this grass roots soccer stuff becasue it's clearly not his cheif concern nor ours.

Posted by: tex | April 28, 2008 4:09 PM

Speak for yourself, please.

Posted by: JkR | April 28, 2008 4:22 PM | Report abuse

We don't need our top coaches wasting their time with the U5s! There has to be a way to build coaches who understand and can work with younger aged kids with tiny attention spans in a way that helps their development. But you're never going to be teaching tactics to 6 or 8 year olds. There needs to be more emphasis on free play and very small-sided games at the young age levels if for no other reason than to limit the herd-ball that inevitably develops.

I think part of the issue is definitely parental involvement. One of my co-workers has a pretty athletic 10 year old who was much sought after by a certain local club with high-powered paid coaches, several hard practices a week and games on the weekends. I think this sort of stuff really wears kids out, many of them anyway. Even though my colleague's son won a spot on that team he decided to keep playing rec ball instead because the travel team was too much of a commitment. And he has taken up lacrosse and ice hockey (his dad's sport) as well, so his soccer career may well be over anyway. And then there are the parents who also get worn out by it all. There seems to be little perspective. I suppose some will say that this is how you build a program and make the best players. But it can also be a recipe for burnout where by 14 the kids have simply had enough. It is all too structured and regimented for kids this young. Maybe by 13 or so you can start this sort of intensive stuff, but 10 is too early I think.

Posted by: Glenn | April 28, 2008 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Goff - please ignore "tex." Most of us, I think, found this to be informative and even interesting.

I agree with Glenn. We don't need our best coaches working with U-5s. I have a 5 year old and I can tell you that her interests are fleeting. I would not waste my money at this point putting her into any kind of "pretravel" or advanced soccer program, though I would love to think she might someday be interested in that kind of thing. More importantly, our national coaching expertise is better focused on older kids. Let the really young 'uns have fun, keep their coaching to a minimum and let the play want them to play more - don't make soccer at that age be a preprofesional activity. God, there's enough of that in this society already with kids planning college applications before they're even in high school!

My secret theory is that John O'Brien burned out on high level soccer after his time in the Ajax system. But in his mid-20s, what could he do with himself but keep playing? His injuries were mysterious... and maybe exacerbated by a lack of desire on his part to keep working on and off the field?

Posted by: Modibo | April 28, 2008 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Wow, tex you're kidding me, right? Goff, nice work, man. Keep it comin'.

Posted by: Kosh | April 28, 2008 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Yes, it would be nice if the top coaches could spend time with the younger players rather than concentrating solely on the older players. Perhaps National youth coaches should be required to do so, much as the full professors at my university were required to teach at least one introductory course in their subject in addition to their graduate seminars.

Posted by: Hedbal | April 28, 2008 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Tommie - you are right!

Glenn - I respectfully disagree. The USYSA disagrees with you as well.

The point was not about having A-licenses running all U6 matches. For starters, the A does not even address that age group. Further, I have seen more than a few A who are incapable of coping with U5s. Part of this is the current coaching education ladder where high-level players can bypass lower licenses. Actually, USSF reviewing this and the byes are likely to can have a guy who goes straight into B training...then gets becomes and A without one minute of formal education for U12 and younger.

Coaching is coaching. Moreover, it some ways, coaching the young ones and building their technical base, while keeping them entertained is harder. You can't yell at a 5 year old or intimidate him/her into performing - or maybe you can, but they will stop playing soccer.

In my National Youth License course, I was blown away by Sam Snow - the head of USYSA coaching education. The guy had coaching chops. Moreover, despite his position, he continues to coach young rec players (U8 range). Why? Because it makes him better and it ensure at least some kids are getting the right environment.

FIFA published a study a year or two ago noting the development rates of players from Latin America, Europe, and the United States. They found that Argentine and Brazilian kids reached technical mastery by age 12-13. Brits reached technical mastery at age 15-16. Americans reached technical mastery after age 18!!! In other words, American are still learning HOW to play with the ball while other kids are learning WHAT to do with it. This is the reason that American player lack tactical/mental speed on the pitch. They reach technical maturity later and therefore have lost formative years in their tactical development.

There are volumes of research by the associations noting this.

So back to "top" coaches at the young ages...these coaches should be there ensuring these kids get the widest techincal base and achieve complete mastery of the ball. Preparing kids so that they are "ready" for advanced levels of play in their adolescence.

What is more important? Technical development of 5 year olds or 15 year olds? Guess?

5 year olds! One, they are the biggest pool of talent (refer back to the dropoff at U12/U13). Two, if they have not started technical development early, by age 15 it is either too late, or they are playing catch up.

The youngest players are the base, since all other senior players ultimately come from those ranks.

It is not about "coaching" either, rather about teaching. Aside from technique, the push is not for developing decision making abilities from the earliest ages. Why? Unlike "gringo" sports which depend greatly of the input of the coach or trainer, soccer is the one sport where the decision must be made on the field, in real time, at game speed, by the PLAYERS. You can line up a kid and have him take 10,000 kicks, but he won't learn how to deal with pressure, numbers, space, etc. The design on activities at those early ages are critical in the respect.

Think of it this way, would our schools be better off if teachers did not worry about reading proficiency until 9th grade? Of course not. Reading starts in pre-school so that full fluency is reached by 9th grade and they can progress to more difficult material. Soccer is similar.

No one would argue that our best teachers should only reside in the high schools.

Give me 18 of the most gifted U19 boys in the area (thanks to ruthless recruiting) and I can almost let them play and have some success. It is the rare coach that takes a group very young and put the years into teaching them to get them to that point...actually GROWING a team, rather than putting one together.

Did you watch FFF on Monday? They referred to Ruud Gullit surprise that he was having to TRAIN the american players...actually showing them turns, moves, and things to do on the pitch. Why was he surprised? Because that is not necessary anywhere else in the world. Elsewhere, the players have those technical areas in their subconscious and the managers can focus solely on game preparation and tactics.

That is a direct result of our latent youth system. The girls system is just as flawed. We were at the top, solely because we had a massive head start and many other countries literally did not allow girls to play. Hard to fail in that environment. As other countries developed their female players on the same path as the guys, they started to crush us.

Where foreign coaches look to the USA is in the scientific aspects of strength/physical training and preparation and sports science. So, basically we are only good at the science of soccer, whereas we need to be working at getting good at the ART of soccer.

Goff noted a few posts back that perhaps the US has looked for too-long to English speaking europe for development models to emulate. The formal (i.e. club, not favela five-a-side) Brazilian system is much better and should be our model. We need players with flair, creativity and guile. The latest NSCAA Journal has a great article detailing the strengths of the Brazilian system.

Ugh. I ranted again. Some taze me please...

Posted by: Erick | April 28, 2008 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Please ask BB if he knows how many subs are permitted in FIFA futbol. Replace the cheater.


Posted by: Tiny Tim | April 28, 2008 7:14 PM | Report abuse

The fundamental problem is that most of the existing "clubs" are kids soccer factories, not soccer (football) clubs... legitimate clubs have adult and old timers teams at several levels in addition to youth teams... these organizations have leadership that recognizes the sport as more than a route to a college scholarship or a place to babysit little johnny... the oldtimers with money provide a good part of the funding along with the guidance of the club and perpetuate it... until the US has (develops, or redevelops, in many cases) such clubs, youth soccer in this country is going to revolve around a bunch of well-heeled parents (who know nothing, btw) on the sidelines yelling at the players, refs and coaches, wondering why johnny isn't getting the attention he "deserves"... while johnny leaves the sport at age 14 because there is no "future" (i.e., scholarship for his parents or enjoyment for him)... sorry for the pessimism in light of what have been a few tentative positive steps of late...

the divorce between adult soccer in this country and youth soccer is a tragedy... both are thriving in their way, but are a fraction of what they could be...


Posted by: Anonymous | April 28, 2008 10:27 PM | Report abuse

This has been mentioned already but bears repeating:

One aspect of successful youth development needs to be an informal or "street" culture where soccer is played for fun by kids as they grow up. There's a kind of second-nature with the ball that can only be gained as a young child. That second nature combined with athleticism, molded *later* by structured academies is what makes world class players.

If our soccer association wants to see better kids coming through the pipeline then we need more fields and free space where kids aged around 7-12 can play after school for fun. Not formal, no uniform, no screaming psycho soccer moms/dads, just kids playing ball for fun.

The US soccer association needs to work in tandem with local governments, park associations or whatever, and create places where kids (yes even immigrant kids!) can play soccer. Right now such places are few and far between, most soccer fields around where I live require permits and enforcement is strict.

There are basketball courts everywhere, soccer fields are bigger and harder to maintain, yes, but we're a rich country if the will is there it can be done. I just doubt that the will, or proper application of it, is really there.

A lot of the same problem is seen with baseball, the lack of inner city kids having a place to play and so on. The childhood informal play is the foundation of everything that comes later.

Posted by: uranderson | April 29, 2008 3:25 AM | Report abuse

The "right" environment is to leave them alone until U12. No structure, no coaching. Build fields and let them play.

Where's the individuality? Where are the Ronaldinhos? The development system in this country is the beat down off all individuality to create thousands of one-touch pass and move clones.

Posted by: Mike | April 29, 2008 12:07 PM | Report abuse

thanks for part 2, Goff. Good stuff.

Basically the youth talent will develop to a bigger level the same way minor league baseball makes money: MLS(MLB) paying a lot of money to players that trickles down to the agents, managers, handlers etc.

As soon as MLS is able to pay at least $125K minimums you will see plenty of clubs that let kids play for free but hold a share of their rights like you get in other sports. That way the youth club gets paid eventually once the pro teams come knocking and they are incentivized to create complete players or face not making money.

Posted by: papa bear | May 1, 2008 10:42 PM | Report abuse

thanks for part 2, Goff. Good stuff.

Basically the youth talent will develop to a bigger level the same way minor league baseball makes money: MLS(MLB) paying a lot of money to players that trickles down to the agents, managers, handlers etc.

As soon as MLS is able to pay at least $125K minimums you will see plenty of clubs that let kids play for free but hold a share of their rights like you get in other sports. That way the youth club gets paid eventually once the pro teams come knocking and they are incentivized to create complete players or face not making money.

Posted by: papa bear | May 1, 2008 10:42 PM | Report abuse

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