The time has come to re-think, re-model and start over when it comes to how we educate and coach our kids. For the past several decades, education has been viewed as linear narrative where students start at Point A and end at Point B, with the end product supposedly being a successful life, great talents and solid career, at least that is what we are led to believe. We have been sold on this standardized model of education and have naively fallen victim to conformity as a society. In soccer, the USSF has the same linear view with their licensing structure. Once you get the “A” License you must be a very good coach, almost like a soccer Buda, if you get the USSF “Pro” License maybe you can replace Pep Guardiola at Manchester City with your new credential and resume. The USSF must believe their product is so special; they have the right to charge an insane amount of money to get a soccer coaching license in the United States, but before I get too into the USSF’s massive shortcomings and ignorance, let’s get back into the main message of this article which is education and soccer coaching.
Most of us grew up attending a school that placed us in neatly organized rows, each sitting quietly at a desk, the teacher would instruct us to take out our pens or pencils so we could copy down what was written on the board. After writing down what was on the board, the instruction that followed was in the form of a teacher lead lecture, with some questions mixed in to make sure we were not sleeping or day dreaming. If we were lucky the teacher would allow for some out loud class reading! I remember the agonizing feeling I would get waiting for the loud bell to ring, which signaled the end of class. At that time, we were allowed 5 minutes to get to the next class. Those five minutes between classes was our freedom, we could socialize, tell jokes, act silly or do whatever, but inevitably the bell would ring again, signaling we had to be back in our seats for another lecture. The best environment for developing teamwork, collaboration, discovery learning and guided learning was in the arts, physical education and recess! These of course are the most undervalued and under supported subject areas in the education system. The fact is, we are being educated like robots and I’m fairly certain nobody even realizes it. This is and has been the linear path of education, as a society we have accepted and conformed to this path but now that path must be questioned and changed.
Another major flaw with the education system is that it stigmatizes failure, encourages student anxiety and pressure with class rankings and grade point averages, it highlights mistakes and views incorrect answers as failures! What good is it to have students memorize data just so they can just regurgitate it back on the day of an exam. In today’s world knowledge or data is free, it’s all around us, especially with the advancements in technology, why do teachers have students memorize endless amounts of data? It’s not the data that matters, it’s how you apply it that makes you creative, innovative and valuable. Anyone can look up and access data, statistics and facts. Why would a student need to sit in front of a teacher who is lecturing in today’s world? Knowledge is free and available almost anywhere and at any time! Listening to lectures can be done on youtube. Class time much like soccer practice, would be better spent working in collaboration with classmates in an environment that encourages learning, problem solving and enhances passion for the subject and the learning process. It is imperative that education is seen as a tool that can facilitate the passions of students, affording them the ability to discover and learn without the fear of failure. I came across a great story the other day that talked about a well-known college in California that wanted the “F” to be seen as the new “A”, they encouraged students to “Fail often and fail early”, this was something they strongly believed in! How awesome is that! Another interesting bit I came across is from a world famous artist that said, “we are all born artists”, implying the way education is run, it slowly takes creativity away from people until they become robots and not artists. Do kids with ADHD really need medication or do they need an outlet to pursue learning in an environment that better suites them and their unique talents? In this day and age there have never been more distractions for human beings to deal with. Does that mean we should medicate students who are having trouble being successful in the current archaic education system? The problem is that people tend to do things just because they have always been done that way, assuming they must be correct. We have always focused on the student pleasing teacher, the teacher pleasing the superintendent, the superintendent pleasing the parents and the school district trying to please everyone with positive data from mandated government testing! The fact is, what ultimately ends up happening is teachers teach students with the sole objective of passing these standardized test, as everyone attempts to please everyone. In the end the students are the real losers, we create robots and kill creativity, passion and real learning.
How does this relate to coaching soccer in the United States? Let me connect the dots for you and hopefully it will all come together and make sense! The United States Soccer Federation wants coaches to pay around $15,000 in order to obtain the USSF “A” License. I say $15,000 because of travel and expenses, on top of the course costs, but it’s probably more like $35,000 if you take into account the loss of working wages from the huge time commitments involved. Furthermore, the USSF Coaching Method is based upon a rigid curriculum that is basically “Do it our way or fail”. There is no room for questioning their methods or to have any healthy discussion on the reasons behind the USSF methodology, never mind if these methods have ever produced a world class striker or won the US a major tournament on the men’s side. At the end of the USSF courses candidates have to pass heavily scrutinized tests from the “Expert USSF Staff”. My first question is, does the USSF have some secret hidden knowledge that is worth $15,000 – $35,000? I can safely answer that question for you with a resounding “no”. In fact, the USSF Coaching Licensing program is everything that is wrong in the sport in the United States. Training coaches that the USSF way is the only way and if you make a mistake you will have to retest and fail the incredibly expensive course. You have all these coaches running around scared trying to pass silly field tests. Are these coaches being encouraged to be creative, innovative, ask questions and to take risks? No way, they are nervous and just want to pass the test that cost them a fortune. I guarantee anything that the USSF covers in their Pro License is available on google. Real learning is in the application of the knowledge, which is fueled by the coach’s passion to become better and study harder, while applying the knowledge on the field! Applying the knowledge without fear of being graded and judged is essential! This spring I had a conversation with a former coach of Lionel Messi’s from Barcelona. He shared with me the same exact feelings about the licensing programs. All I can do is laugh at the USSF and their attempt to standardize the correct way to coach the game, while pricing 95% of coaches out of the licensing program, creating this elite wealthy few individuals that can become USSF coaches. Congratulations to the USSF, you have succeeded in your quest to build a pay to play and pay to coach model. What we need is a licensing program that promotes original thinkers and innovators; how about a program that facilitates passion for the game and encourages questioning and failed attempts! Who cares if your version of the 3-5-2 broke down or your zonal defending was exploited on a set-piece, that’s life and you reflect, think and grow. You can’t be afraid to take risks, learn and pursue your passion! Is there one right way to coach or run a training session? No!! Can you run a complete training session using one exercise while changing it slightly? Yes! Why does the warm-up need to be related to the day’s lesson? Why do you need to start small and build it into a large game at the end? I usually build simple to complex but I don’t have to do it that way, I could reverse it! I could start with a large game and go to a small game. I might not ever change from the 6v6 exercise for the entire session, maybe I just add different conditions and variables. I want to create an environment at training that stimulates player learning and problem solving themselves. Could you imagine even bringing these questions up in a USSF course. My cognitive soccer training course is designed in the complete opposite of the USSF course. I want coaches to try out ideas and not care about failing, just try again! Education is not a linear path with one route to follow, education is right here and right now, it can go in any direction.