Jimmy Conrad Interview: Youth Soccer Training in America

Jimmy Conrad Interview: Youth Soccer Training in America

I reached out to my buddy, Jimmy Conrad, on his view of soccer in America. Jimmy played with me at San Diego State University, and went on to play in the 2006 World Cup for the US National Team.  He now plays for Chivas USA in the MLS.

If you would like to see the background of Jimmy, you can visit the site below.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Conrad

So back to the main purpose of this interview. If you know me, you know that I am not a big fan of what is going on with US Soccer at the top levels.  So I wanted to get an unbiased position from a World Class Player from the United States.  Below are the questions and answers unedited.

Coach Randle: Why do you think the US hasn’t become the soccer powerhouse it should be?

Jimmy: The only reason the U.S. should be considered a soccer powerhouse is due to our sheer size, both in geography and population, but if the money and culture aren’t in to making the sport grow, then it doesn’t matter how big we are because kids have to want to engage in the sport and training for soccer from an early age, all the time, like they do in the countries that ARE considered soccer powerhouses.

Coach Randle: What do you think the US Soccer Federation is doing right?

Jimmy: At the moment, I think the number one thing the Federation is doing right is acknowledging that they weren’t doing it right before and are now trying to make the infrastructure better in this country.

Coach Randle: What do you thing the Federation is doing wrong?

Jimmy: Since I haven’t seen behind the curtain to see the financials, the bottom-line stuff, etc., it’s hard to offer an educated opinion on what is feasible to try to attempt in this country and what isn’t but I will say this: I know a lot of coaches, directors of coaching for clubs, etc., who have been at this youth soccer movement for many, many years and they are as disillusioned as ever by the lack of direction from the top and the mere fact that we don’t have a bottom-to-top plan in place to help facilitate the development of players in this country. The hiring of Claudio Reyna as youth technical director of U.S. Soccer is a step in the right direction but he’s going to need help.

Coach Randle: What do our players need to be doing to close the gap?

Jimmy: They need to be working on their first touch as much as possible because the kids can watch all the tricks on YouTube that they want by their favorite players but if they can’t control the ball, then they can’t do the fundamental things needed to have success at any level with soccer drills: dribbling/holding a ball under pressure, passing (over distance, to the correct foot, and in small spaces), and shooting (with both feet, under pressure, proper technique). To be honest, I could go on and on but everything comes back to the first touch because how can a coach even attempt to teach effective soccer if he has a team of players that can’t do the things I mentioned above? And if that coach DOES consider teaching them tactics, then the only conceivable option he has is to tell his players to kick it up the field and hope that his “athletic” forward can run onto something and score a goal. We need to get away from this mindset, which ultimately means that we need to do away with winning at all costs!

Coach Randle: What do our coaches need to be doing to close the gap?

Jimmy: …Winning! The fixation by coaches, parents, and our culture to win at all costs is a HUGE detractor from the development of players in this country. Let’s be honest, who cares if your child wins the U-10 State Cup? What does it matter? In the big scheme of things, it doesn’t mean a thing and this pressure of having to win all the time, most likely turns away more kids from the sport, then turns them on. The big knock on our National Team is that we don’t have enough creative players but how are we supposed to nurture creativity in our youngsters when they have to win, win, win at every age group and never have the time to enjoy the game within an environment, which is set up by the coach, that encourages proper technique, confidence, good soccer decisions, and no fear from making mistakes because making mistakes is how players gets better! When I coach my teams, I always tell my players that if you make a decision, good or bad, I can help you. I can tell you if your decision was good and if it wasn’t, then I can explain to you why and what you should look for next time when the situation arises again. But if the player does nothing and is afraid to make a decision or even want the ball, then I can’t help you get better. I definitely got off on a tangent but coaches need to make sure all the players can control a ball, they need to not emphasize winning and emphasize making good soccer decisions, and finally, they have to make sure the kids understand that it’s okay to make mistakes. Soccer is a game of mistakes. This needs to be addressed in the soccer strategies here in the U.S.

Coach Randle: What is it that these world class players like Kaka, Ronaldo, Messi, etc. have, that our players are lacking?

Jimmy: A combination of an incredible first touch, amazing tactical awareness, creativity, and the confidence to try things knowing that 90% or more of the things they try will fail.

Coach Randle: Thanks Jimmy. I appreciate your feedback as it runs very parallel to my studies and philosophies.  To be honest with you, the youth soccer federation in this country spend millions of dollars a year in the wrong places. At least that is my take. The u17 national residency program is one area and another is the new u16 and u18 academy leagues. Our players are lost technically at these ages and don’t have the time to close the gap. If we redirected that money to youth programs, U8 to u13 or so, we could begin to change the soccer culture here and develop more technically proficient youngsters. It baffles me why the money is spent on young adults u16 and u18 and nothing is given to our youngsters. Another issue I see is the quality of coaches at the youth level, which affects everything from soccer drills to game performances. The youth level doesn’t pay so it is essentially just a stepping stone for coaches. Lastly, we are the only country that makes our youth pay to play. So I agree with you. The change has to start with the bottom and end at the top. Right now it seems to focus on the in between players. Thanks again Jimmy.

Jimmy: I agree with your sentiments wholeheartedly. Please feel free to use my statements on your website.

The above was an unedited interview I had with Jimmy. Jimmy is a great role model and inspiration in my life. He deserves every bit of success he has achieved. Nothing was ever handed to the guy. Everywhere he went he had to prove himself. He left San Diego State after his Sophomore year to walk on at UCLA .  He sat out one year as required by NCAA transfers and played the last two seasons with them. He played in the back along side US National Team Member, Carlos Bocanegra. Together, they won a Division 1 Soccer Championship.

Even with that success, Jimmy was undrafted in the MLS and spent a year in the A-League. His achievements beyond that include Defender of the Year for the MLS and member of the US World Cup Team in 2006.  He also does some writing and commenting for Sports Illustrated and others.

Jimmy is the epitome of a great role model and over achiever who will do whatever he can to help kids get to the next level.

I hope you enjoyed this interview.  What do you think we need to change as a country to close the gap?

Coach Randle

 

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