ussoccer.com: What are your 2015 objectives for the Coach Development Department?
Dave Chesler: “The objectives for our department remain clear and constant. We will always strive to increase the standards of coaching through a constantly evolving licensing environment. The goal will always be to develop better coaches and an improved environment for players. In the end, the target outcome is “better players.” That translates into a process of annual change (initiatives). This must be a constant evolution- there is no final destination.
In 2015, one of the primary initiatives is to have one-on-one tutorials between an instructor and a candidate. This one-on-one interaction translates into effective change and learning by the candidate. Another key initiative is the comprehensive assessment of a candidate’s work. We have historically measured the soccer knowledge of a candidate; we will now integrate a detailed assessment of their ability to effectively teach and interact with the players and the team in a training environment."
ussoccer.com: There are two new license courses being rolled out in 2015. Can you explain the reasons for the new courses?
DC: “For the past eight to 10 years, we’ve had an incomplete pathway. U.S. Soccer provided courses that covered most of the key developmental stages of a young soccer player but not all. We have relied on a variety of partnerships to close these gaps and have been working strategically over the past four years to create a single pathway that clearly distinguishes our U.S. Soccer methodology and philosophy on coach and player development. The specific need was to provide the foundation and capstone to the license pyramid. This year we’re excited about the release of our “F” license, which is a foundation course for the coach or parent of children 5 to 8 years old. At the other end of the spectrum, we will now provide training and certification of technical leaders with the Youth Technical Director license. We are also well into the development of a Pro license, which is for elite and very specific elements in our coaching environment- the senior, professional and national team coaches.”
ussoccer.com: The F license is exclusively online via a new state-of-the-art educational platform. What functionality will the platform offer coaches?
DC: “It’s completely customized to support our philosophy and our methodology. The design and structure is parallel to our U.S. Soccer coach development pathway. It’s a coaching technology tool, not just a communication tool. For example, the graphics tool will allow us to communicate efficiently with, and between candidates, because they’ll all be using the same tools, diagrams and formats. Thus, our communication of technical information will be very clear and visually consistent. All of the archives where the content is stored are searchable by using the categories and terminology that is consistent with our long-term player development strategy. A coach will be able to search by an age group, a topic or a developmental stage. This is a technical tool that will support the development, planning and resource needs of every coach at every level.”
ussoccer.com: Over the past three years, there have been increased expectations for coaches taking courses. What are these expectations and what have been the results thus far?
DC: “You are not improving the coaching standard unless you’re constantly evolving. That change must be challenging the current status. Maintenance will not get us to another level. There has been an evolution through a progression of initiatives. We have focused on integrating teaching competency with sport-specific knowledge and practical experience. Through several process steps, I think that we have changed our trademark in soccer coaching.
The new expectation is that teaching competency and communication skills must be integrated with knowledge and practical experience. We expect that the former high-level player, the expert tactician, and the expert theorist can also demonstrate essential competencies that are necessary to effectively influence a soccer player’s development. Ultimately, we now teach and assess whether a coach can influence athletes and effectively change their performance.”
ussoccer.com: There are plans to launch a Pro course. Where will this fall in with the recent new course offerings?
DC: “The Pro course will be at the top of the pyramid. I think it’s important to envision it at the top alongside the Youth Technical Director course that we have just implemented. They’re both elite courses. Both courses represent the highest standards for coaching competency, but one is focused on the youth side, and the other is completely focused on the unique aspects of coaching senior players at the professional or National Team levels.”
ussoccer.com: There have been some policy changes made to the license pathway. Can you explain the reasons for the changes?
DC: “For me the word efficiency first comes to mind. If you have a pathway that is sequential and the steps in the sequence are dependent on one another, there is a progression of learning about the developmental stages of the athletes you are coaching. There is a progression of complexity for tactics that is important. Having coaches come into the pathway at different points is not very functional, so our vision is for a coach to enter our pathway and be in it throughout their entire coaching career; that they continuously try to get to the next level and prove themselves. It’s all about efficiency and clarity to go through a sequence of courses.”
ussoccer.com: In 2015, new grading criteria were implemented for the D, C, B, A and Goalkeeping courses. Can you explain the changes and the reasons for the changes?
DC: “We wanted to get a measure of what a candidate presents to us. The theory of how you plan and conceptualize is one big chunk. A second chunk is how you act on the field, and a third one is just your knowledge and experience about the game. We wanted to start measuring all of these. Previously we put the emphasis on grading coaching on the field, now we feel we have a much more comprehensive perspective of the person and all of the tools that make an effective coach. Based on the four, five courses that we’ve had this year that we’ve used the grading system on, it looks very favorable to the candidate. They’re getting positive results and that’s coming from the changes, especially the fact that we’ve increased one-on-one time significantly.”
ussoccer.com: One of the changes to originate from the grading policy is Performance Centers. Can you explain the thought process behind Performance Centers?
DC: “The whole idea of a performance center is that we separate the major part of the assessment from the learning phase which may also be perceived as the experimental phase. In any effective learning environment there is a period where you have mentorship and tutorials. You are provided time to practice new ideas. If you’re truly experiencing positive growth then something is new, something is extending your knowledge and skills set. So rather than testing immediately after something is presented or challenged in front of you, you go and practice in your own environment and then you come back to one of these performance centers after a reasonable time interval, and now you’re asses. It’s part of the bigger picture of improving the environment and the opportunity for growth for a coach. We will now begin to separate the learning process from the evaluation process and provide a period of practice in between.”
ussoccer.com: How does U.S. Soccer evaluate its coaching development program?
DC: “I think our primary method is by comparing ourselves globally. We have a global relationship with other Federations; we can’t restrict ourselves to domestic educational processes here in the United States. We compete around the globe and we must evaluate ourselves relative to a global environment. Whether that is UEFA standards, CONCACAF standards or another country, we should compare our development programs and the competencies we’re looking for with the world around us. I engage and interact with our UEFA and CONCACAF counterparts on a regular basis. We also bring high-level instructors from other countries to be guest instructors in our events. They provide feedback on what we’re doing and how to continuously get better. They validate that we are well on our way to providing valuable growth opportunities for our coaching community.”
ussoccer.com: You were recently a guest Instructor at a UEFA Pro course in Finland. How does the coaching development compare to other licensing programs and specifically UEFA?
DC: “It’s a difficult thing to measure. I have to try to measure that because it’s important to share content and information, and I think our credibility has sky rocketed. I’m reluctant to say that we have equitable standards because there are so many variables. But the way we’re formatting our courses and the content we’re teaching, it all is very equitable now. We’re approaching UEFA’s minimum standards and are even beyond in some of our entry-level courses. I think our progress is good, but it will never stop.”
ussoccer.com: As you look to 2015 and beyond, what are you most excited for?
DC: “I’m excited about the next set of changes. I’m excited to be involved in this because it’s a process; there is no final outcome. In 2016, our focus is to remove the testing portion from the educational phase for all of our higher level courses. The candidates will go through a deliberate practice phase with feedback and then when prepared to succeed, they will return to a Performance Center. It’s a huge project from an implementation perspective. It involves doubling our events and doubling our staff. I’m excited about that, and also very anxious. It is well worth the effort and resources because it means 1) better coaches, 2) a better environment and 3) better players.”
ussoccer.com: Do you have any final thoughts for our coaching community?
DC: “Yes, the most important thought is to always remember that our most important coaching task is to ignite and inspire the ‘play’ in our players.”