A 3,000 mile journey in search of real football: a coach’s education

These Football Times published a must-read article a couple of weeks ago on the big gap in coaching quality here compared to countries like Spain.

It describes one US coach’s experience with three Spanish guest coaches during a summer camp on the East Coast and then his three years of learning about soccer in Spain.

Here are key sections from that article (edited slightly for brevity and clarity):

The three Spanish coaches each taught me more about football than I had previously learned in my 15 year playing career through a variety of different settings including travel teams, premier clubs, summer camps, high school soccer, college soccer and ultimately men’s league.

My coaching career, which included US Soccer national courses, club and collegiate experience, and working summer camps, had been as educationally disappointing as my time as a player.

Between playing and coaching, I had been a part of the US Soccer Federation for 16 years, yet what had I really learned?

In the two weeks I had been working with the three football wise men, I discovered football had a game cycle, it had four phases, each technical ability had a specific tactical intention, it could be simplified in 2v1s and 3v2s, training finishing didn’t mean you’d score goals, defending was more than your stance.

They were showing me through their actions that coaches facilitate learning not with their instructions, but their well-crafted sessions.

Coaches don’t teach creativity but nurture it.

I witnessed how they played chess with their players whilst empowering them to be more than pawns. They demonstrated that coaches are in the spotlight for the losses and in the shadows for the wins. This was merely the tip of the iceberg and I wanted more.

These three Spanish coaches did something US Soccer never had: they inspired me.

At that point, I came to the conclusion that I knew nothing about football. US Soccer had failed me. I had dedicated the majority of my life to it and it had let me down.

Throughout the years, on countless teams with a myriad of experiences and numerous coaches, I was betrayed with a lack information, inspiration and motivation.

Footballistic unfulfillment fed my yearning to learn everything there was to know about my childhood passion, and the only place to achieve this was 6,000 kilometres away.

So I went to Spain three years ago to study football and I finally understand it.

There is an exorbitant amount of mental and physical elements that concern a player’s development over the course of a year, and more so, their integral career. To assign an unqualified and untrained individual to be responsible for a team of young football players would be detrimental to the sport and the integrity of the children.

In order to train any team at any age, the Spanish Football Federation requires coaches to have completed at least the UEFA B license (465 hours over at least nine months of theoretical and practical learning and evaluation). A coach in possession of a US Soccer National ‘D’ license (36-40 hours) is allowed to train any team at any level younger than 15.

How do we expect an individual who’s been prepared for a mere 40 hours to be capable of growing young players into exceptional footballers?

To read the full article click here. It’s worth it!

Thank you, David, for sharing your experiences. It helps push us along here!

Author: James

Lifelong player and student of the beautiful game in Germany, England, and USA. Volunteer futsal coach and USSF referee.

3 thoughts on “A 3,000 mile journey in search of real football: a coach’s education”

  1. Excellent read and info, thx. This gets to the soccer IQ issue we know we are lacking, and how it is that Spain has put this under the microscope and infused their players with it.


  2. First of all, 3000 miles is not 6000 kilometers. But I’m being pedantic!

    I read the full article. And I read about 3 other, very long articles linked off that 1 article. And I didn’t just read them, I reread, and backtracked and digested them, and thought about what they were saying while I was reading them. And here, fundamentally, is what I got from those articles:
    1. Too many coaches and parents and players and clubs spend too much money, time and energy focusing on “on the ball skills”. Dribbling, chipping, 1v1, etc. And not enough time, money and energy on off the ball skills.
    2. On average, each soccer player will touch the ball 45 times, for a little over a second each time, for a total of 1 minute of “possession” in each 90 minute game. Or put another way, each player will posses the ball for 1% of the game.
    3. Using the math from #2, and assuming 22 players on the field, actual possession of the ball by a player will occur about 25% of the time. That means 75% of the time the ball is not at a players foot.
    4. In other words, 99% of an individual players time on the field is spent without the ball, and his impact on the game and its outcome during that time period has nothing to do with the players ball skills. Instead it has to do with his “team-centric” skills, such as field position out of possession, defensive posture, field movement to influence opposition players, player and ball blocking maneuvers, movement toward and away from the ball when in possession, and on and on….
    5. Put another, more succinct way, Americas obsession with “possession-based” soccer and players with excellent ball control skills, and its focus on training those skills (at the detriment of the softer skills) will result it in never competing fully at the international level.

    While I believe possession is important, and good passing and receiving is important, they are akin to a race car driver being able to press the accelerator pedal to go faster and the brake pedal to slow down. They are essential to driving the car, but far from what is necessary to actually become a race car driver, never mind a good one.

    What do I think this means for US Soccer?
    1. Passing and receiving fundamentals (and dribbling to a degree) should be focused on far more at the younger ages, until they are done correctly.
    2. Way more emphasis should be placed on tactical development at older ages (assuming the technical has been done properly at younger ages) with proper training and education vs the the bullshit “let the game be the teacher” mentality we see today.


    1. Ah yes – I should have rounded up to 4,000 miles!

      I agree that what a player does when he/she doesn’t have the ball is very important. I posted about this in the past: https://norcalsoccerdad.com/2015/11/20/30-seconds-a-youngsters-time-with-the-ball-during-a-typical-youth-game/.

      Technical skills are (very) necessary, but not sufficient to become an international level player. And the ability to “possess” the ball, both individually and as a team, is also (very) necessary, but not sufficient. There is so much more as you say.

      The (relatively) easier thing to teach is positioning and passing. Developing the technical skills takes much more work and needs to start at a much younger age. And being able to keep possession and move the ball to where you want gets exponentially more difficult as time and space is reduced by increasingly capable opponents. And for that the players need exquisite ball control and be able to use a range of technical skills.

      “Let the game be the teacher” doesn’t work at a certain point. It’s often an excuse from lazy coaches, unfortunately. That said, there is tremendous value in a street soccer culture and kids playing during every school break etc. Something that doesn’t happen here much, but it’s common internationally.


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