U.S. attitudes shift as soccer gains foothold

Change: Those who instruct young players discuss whether being American or foreign-born matters.

Howard At Play

May 30, 2004|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

American youth soccer coaches once took as gospel the word of foreign-born coaches, whom they thought "naturally" knew more about the game because of its popularity in England, Spain, Brazil - wherever. But many in the United States now wonder whether that is still a valid belief.

American national men's and women's teams, fed by growth in the youth game for more than 30 years, have become highly competitive internationally. Increasingly, American players are being recruited by European pro clubs. And more U.S.-born adults are as qualified to coach as those from countries where soccer has traditionally been the dominant sport.

We asked several Howard County soccer advocates to talk about youth coaching, with emphasis on whether being foreign-born or U.S.-born matters - and how much.

Question: How much has the hiring of coaches and questions about what they know changed in recent years?

Ellicott City resident Dewan Bader, a Baltimore Blast defender who learned the sport in Montgomery County and played at North Carolina State: "To some extent, people with accents were getting jobs more so when I was a kid in junior high and high school.

"The perception was they grew up with soccer, [but] quite frankly, they might have grown up with soccer, but they may not have known more.

"Now that soccer has become a big sport, there are a lot more coaches that grew up playing the game. In the United States, kids are learning more fundamentals, and that comes back to the coaches. In the past, sometimes coaches couldn't demonstrate the moves, and now they can, whether they're American or not."

Q: What has changed in what American coaches are like now and how they're able to teach children?

Jim Carlan, chief operating officer of the 6,500-player Soccer Association of Columbia-Howard County and a youth coach for nearly three decades: "You're really into the second generation of players now. The first generation grew up in the 1970s, and now you're getting their kids coming through [to coach]. They've played the game and know the game.

"You've also got American role models that you didn't have before. Freddy Adu [14-year-old rookie pro with D.C. United, born in Ghana and raised most recently in Potomac] is the greatest thing to happen to United States soccer.

"The kids are relating, and the coaches are 100 percent better than they were. It was a whole learning experience [back in the 1970s], and now you've got a second generation coming through, and we're right where we want to be."

Q: What's it like for foreign-born coaches to teach American children?

Evgeney Yarosh, a Russian-born coach for SAC-HC, U.S. resident for 11 years, working with an under-9 boys recreation-level team: "If you start coaching kids from under the age of 6, they're just blank. I know the terminology of everything [to teach] in Russian, and I have to go to the books or listen to the other coaches, or ask them ... to get through to them.

"At 5 or 6, it's mostly run and kick for them. Later, around 8 or 9, it's whatever [skills and tactics] the coach is trying to put in is what they become. It depends on what they coach, the way they coach. Everything is the same for me, except my thick Russian accent."

Q: What does a foreign coach bring to coaching American children?

Tony Corbett, British-born coaching adviser for the Thunder Soccer Club in Western Howard County: "It's something that's inside and is not learned. It's something you grow up with, something you live, breathe, sweat, feel. ... When you grow up in a game that doesn't have the passion here that it does in other places, you have to mentally extrapolate some of the nuances of the game. You have to learn it from someone, so it's a little stilted.

"If you came to England and you watched an English fellow coaching baseball, some of the nuances or stress points or emphases won't be quite the same.

"A foreign national might bring some of the `been there, done that' experiences and might be aware of other aspects of the game beyond the X's and O's."

Q. What could help improve the way American soccer programs find talented coaches?

Bill Stara, SAC-HC's coaching director and longtime boys coach at River Hill High School, and before that at Centennial; also a former pro indoor goalkeeper: "I don't think we do our homework as far as checking out the backgrounds of the people we're looking at.

"Part of being a soccer coach is being an educator. We have to know the age of the kids that we're dealing with, and we have to know the culture that we're dealing with ... and we have to understand how kids think and learn.

"Not only do [coaches] have to understand the game and child psychology, but our society is based upon winning - whether people want to admit it or not.

"Coaching is a profession in Europe and [other places], and it's starting to be over here. What is their background? The actual teaching of children is an art, just like the teaching of soccer is an art."

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