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Brad Friedel: “U.S. should have a conveyor belt of talent”

Jun 28, 2013, 1:22 PM EDT

Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Getty Images

This is quite a timely piece of analysis from Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Brad Friedel.

Following the USA’s exit from the U-20 World Cup yesterday, the evergreen EPL veteran waded into the discussion about how young soccer players should be developed in the USA, when speaking at a coaching camp in California.

Friedel, 42, is completing his UEFA A license and wants to move into a managerial or technical director role.

It seems as if the former USMNT ‘keeper has a pretty good idea of how to shake the US soccer system up, in order to help develop more talented young players.

“We have far too big a population here in the United States not to be producing more talent,” Friedel said. “Yes, we are light years ahead of where we were when I was a youth player. A lot of good things have happened, but I still think there needs to be a lot more focus on coaching at the grassroots level.”

Quite how that happens is anybody’s guess but at least Friedel is throwing his ideas out there.

Tottenham’s veteran ‘keeper also shared a few of his secret’s to goalkeeping stardom and believes that is the “one position year in and year out where we’re [USA] very strong.”

(MORE: U.S. U-20 squad crashes out of World Cup after crushing defeat to Ghana)

Friedel has played more of a bit-part role at Spurs since French international Huge Lloris arrived from Lyon last season. But Friedel is all about the team and individual improvement and believes that mantra should be shared across US soccer to try and help top quality young players

“I’ve been to so many states here and all the parents are so concerned about is winning, winning, winning,” Freidel said. “Winning is irrelevant when you’re 11 or 12 years old. It really is it. At youth tournaments, I look at the technical ability of the players. Whether the team wins or loses — I don’t care.”

So as Tab Ramos’ men take stock of the US U-20’s failure at the FIFA World Cup, can Friedel’s thoughts help US soccer to try and develop one of the world’s best youth programs?

(MORE: Friedel reveals plans to coach after career is over)

It seems like they’ve tried pretty much everything else down in Bradenton, so why not ask Brad to share his thoughts and expertise when he hangs up the gloves in the next few years. You could do a lot worse than listening to a 16-year EPL veteran.

Fascinating insight from one of America’s best ever goalkeepers.

  1. randomhookup - Jun 28, 2013 at 2:19 PM

    Well, if he is talking real “grassroots” — then the issue is more parents who actually know the game. Ones who played at a competitive level and who have a good grasp of the basics. And they serve as junior’s 1st coach and maybe even team coach.

    And you need to eliminate pay-for-play so that the emphasis is less on winning and more on skill development.

    Neither of those is easy to change.

    • midtec2005 - Jun 28, 2013 at 2:25 PM

      I think the issue of parents that know the game is an issue that will fix itself. All of us that grew up playing now will be parents eventually. But thats certainly a part of it. I personally never had a coach that played the game until I was 13! I know that won’t be the case for my children…

      • charliej11 - Jun 28, 2013 at 3:02 PM

        Exactly see my snide post below. We need more kids playing, not less like BF seems to want. Our development problems are NOT anything anyone like he says. Our development problems are that when I played as a kid my parents didn’t know how to throw a ball in from out of bounds.

        The fact that we are where we are now considering that, is unbelievable.

      • lyleoross - Jun 28, 2013 at 3:46 PM

        I’m not sure CharlieJ is correct. I didn’t get the impression that BF was advocating kids not playing, but maybe I missed something. I didn’t get the impression that Brad was saying anything other than the focus on winning is bad, and kids need to focus on technical development.

        I think he’s 100% right. The problem is more about how we go about teaching technical skills. Currently, it’s lousy and boring. Kids in SA learn technical skills on their own, in the streets. They don’t have a parent teaching them, or a coach. They go out and learn it by doing it with their buddies, every day. Main stream soccer in the U.S. is nothing like this. On the other hand, if you cross the tracks to the immigrant side of town, you see this in spades. While that is consistent with Charlie’s notion that you need lots of kids playing, what’s more important is how they are playing. No coaches, no boring technical drills, just me against you figuring out how to beat you using my feet.

        BTW – little league baseball has the same problem. We spend millions developing players. Yet the best players come from the Dominican Republic where they play street ball with their friends. Over coached kids playing in little league can develop into very good players, but they are rarely great.

    • lyleoross - Jun 28, 2013 at 3:11 PM

      This is complicated. I’ve been coaching for six years, and Brad is right on. I see this all the time. Another way of saying it is that the skills necessary to win games between the ages of six to 11 are exactly the skills that prevent winning between the ages of 15 and 30. Parents/coaches teach the kids to play long, sprint down the field, and shove the ball into the goal. Because the effort is to win, there is a panic with lots of “kick the ball” screams when the ball is in the penalty box. The kids learn to panic whenever the ball gets there, you can see it happen.

      To prevent this, you have to coach your parents, and set a standard on the field for the kids. You can do it, but it takes focus and dedication. You may lose games at first, but that quickly turns around, and after a season or so, your kids will dominate. My current U7/U8 team controls the ball between 70 and 80% of our games. We love it when the other team kicks the ball down field. It’s a gift.

      My parent’s mantra is soft touch, or control.

      • dafootballs - Jul 1, 2013 at 10:08 PM

        Of course Brad is right. There are two ways to play… one is the way you see it done by most coaches at “travel” tournaments and high schools around this country, the other is the way Brad is suggesting.

        We sacrifice development and soccer maturity for short lived wins. Show me the best players in your area when they were ten and I guarantee 90% of them were average, adequate or playing other sports by high school.

        Why? Because they were taught by coaches who sought only the win, cheered by parents who only gave them genuine validation when they won and complete failure to provide in-depth training commensurate with their athleticism. These kids didn’t grow as players and they were “burned out” when they started losing or not getting the on-field results that seemed to come to them so easily before. Their coaches got louder, more desperate for wins and the parents more critical of everything and everyone, while the kids seemingly unable to please anyone, simply lost interest.

  2. charliej11 - Jun 28, 2013 at 3:00 PM

    What we need is millions and millions of kids willing to train only, with the thought that 1 out of a 1,000 of them will make it to the top, the other 999 will have wished they played in competitive games instead of wasting their lives away.

    Brad F will do that, vote for Brad for US soccer development president.

    I wonder if he is one of the trolls posting on sites like this or if it is his twin brother ?

  3. scottp11 - Jun 28, 2013 at 3:02 PM

    I played club in Texas until 8th grade when my parents sat me down and said they couldn’t afford to pay for it anymore. I wasn’t great, wasn’t bad but still had to grow. I understood their situation and I was content to just keep playing with my public school football and track teams.

    By HS, I was all-city safety in football and placed every year in the 400m dash. I didn’t even like playing football, it’s just what you did b/c it was free, easy and after school. I wish I had kept playing soccer but it was not meant to be.

    So, I think that happens with a lot of kids. The school-sponsored sports draw them in, away from parents paying and carting them around. It has to be an improvement either there…or we need to establish soccer centers to ID, cultivate, etc. kids like they have in Europe. But that will never happen b/c people would consider that “socialism”.

    • charliej11 - Jun 28, 2013 at 3:05 PM

      How about playing soccer in HS like you did track and football ?

      Or are you saying track and football should change their models too ?

      • scottp11 - Jun 28, 2013 at 4:07 PM

        Well no, track and football were offered at public schools from 6th grade on. Soccer was not. Once in 10th grade you could join the “district’s” soccer team, which wasn’t per-school b/c supposedly there wasn’t enough interest. Same as hockey. But it was treated as a second-hand sport. The kids who had continued with playing club soccer didn’t even bother with the HS teams, it was nothing.

        Track and football don’t need to change their models necessarily b/c they have hoards of kids coming in at the start of every year and every semester. For free and five minutes from your school locker.

        I don’t know what the answer is for US Soccer. But there’s a lot of potentially great athletes out there who don’t get the proper exposure to soccer past age 10.

      • talgrath - Jun 28, 2013 at 5:04 PM

        Many places in the US don’t have soccer teams in High School, particularly if you were playing 10+ years ago; my high school did not, for example.

    • charliej11 - Jun 28, 2013 at 3:09 PM

      BTW the US seems to do pretty well in the Olympic track and field with guys like G Rupp attending college.

    • dafootballs - Jul 1, 2013 at 10:16 PM

      Yes…it is terrible. My three high school + aged children play or played in college. Not on scholarships though, because they did not play travel soccer. Our system is screwed up. The cheapest sport in the world to play is the exclusive domain of mostly the wealthy in the USA.

      As a high school soccer coach in a poor area, I lost 90% of the boys who played soccer before they reached high school. Culture and money drove them away.

  4. billobrienschindimple - Jun 28, 2013 at 3:03 PM

    You don’t need professional experience to understand that we, in terms of soccer, are failing miserably at the youth level. There is too much reliance on parental coaches, most of whom are volunteers and have little to no experience in the game.

    Compare that with Spain who have thousands of paid, professional coaches at the youth level alone. As it is in the US, youth players are coached to win, rather than being coached to learn the intricacies of the game. I coached youth and HS soccer, both for about 2 decades. I am always amazed at how few players I saw that were just oblivious to the tactical side of the game.

    Until the money is invested for professional, licensed coaches I do not expect any significant increase in the talent the USA produces.

    At least as a Croatian American I always have the red and white checks to satisfy my need for a rooting interest in knockout stages of the WC.

    • charliej11 - Jun 28, 2013 at 3:37 PM

      You should hire 1000s of coaches ! Solved.

      …pretty sure the US has thousands of pro coaches too….that is why is it pay to play.

    • lyleoross - Jun 28, 2013 at 3:54 PM

      I’m gonna disagree with you. I have my E license, and that isn’t the solution. We actually focus hugely on technical skills in our training and it’s not working. It’s how you do it that matters. Kids spend hours doing toe touch drills, practicing different ways of handling the ball, and gaining skills with both feet. The problem is that those technical drills have no relevance to the real game. The kids look great, in an open field with no real defenders. In a game they look panicked and often over or under touch the ball. You need to figure out how to gain those technical skills in an environment that mimics game play. USYouthSoccer understands this, but their methodology for young players is lacking. They do better with older kids, but by then it’s too late.

    • handsofsweed - Jun 28, 2013 at 5:37 PM

      LOL @ Croatia “always” making it to the knockouts of the WC. Its like the only WC ever played was in 1998. The next time they get into the knockouts will be the second, if they ever return. Ironically, the US has been there twice since Croatias one and only appearance.

  5. jdcupit - Jun 28, 2013 at 4:57 PM

    I live on the line between North and South Texas State soccer associations. Both these State Associations put a plan in place after the 94 WC to develop players capable of playing at the top levels of the sport. The “2010” plan. They identified coaches ( many were parents with no playing experience), put in place great coaching courses and instructors and set in motion the methods to ID future ODP youth players. It works. The systems they developed turned out loads of players who had “game sense” and some tech ability. Many parents didn’t like it and wanted soccer to stay a “suburban sport” with high fives and tunnels for the kids all around. That does not make great soccer players. Went to 4v4 for little ones, started academy teams, on and on. The real kicker is that the hispanic community never bought in and we lost another generation of hispanic youth. No Money, No Play. The real issue comes into play when the hispanic pirate leagues have all the talented players and thats where you learn the game, playing the game. Thats where the likes of Jose Torres and Clint Dempsey came from. Clint played in the Mexican league as a 13 year old. He was not the best player at his age group, there were 1/2 a dozen as talented. You ask him today if he learned more in mexican league or “rec soccer” and he will laugh…Lets get serious. Play the game, anywhere, anytime, put kids into situations where they can play. Brad may have a plan, if it doesn’t include more game situations and full inclusion for free it won’t ever work. Its not that poor people make better players, its that better players make better players…..Thats the Nacogdoches East Texas way!

  6. Dan Haug - Jun 28, 2013 at 6:07 PM

    How can you write this piece without mentioning that Friedel already has failed in an attempt to create a soccer academy? It seems pretty relevant if he thinks he’s got the answers to our development problems.

  7. smgraff4 - Jun 28, 2013 at 7:06 PM

    What it is, is that many of the many thousands or even millions of parental or youth coaches in the USA barely have an idea of what they need to do. Hiring more “coaches” won’t necessarily do the trick.

    For those that follow me on Twitter (@smgraff), I’ve long advocated for one particular American to take a significant role in providing the grassroots education–former USA U-17 assistant coach Tom Byer (more popularly known as TomSan).

    Recently (in February), Slate did a feature on him and the massive work TomSan has done in Japan building the grassroots soccer properly. The Japan you saw against spain, and potentially the Australian and Chinese teams you will see in the future, are all playing an amazingly attractive brand of soccer–technical, offensive-minded, and involves players making the right reads on defense, etc. and really playing good fundamental soccer. You see the work he’s helped to do in Japan in about 19-20 years, turning them not only into a true powerhouse, but one that exports players regularly to the Bundesliga (potentially now THE best league in the world in terms of financial stability, real soccer, and fans.

    He’s helped to develop an app featuring drills parents could do with their kids, or kids can do with kids to improve their timing and ball control, etc. (It will be available in the USA at some point, but you can try to ship his Japanese-language DVDs into English).

    Anyway, here’s the piece from Slate. (And you can follow him on Twitter too: @tomsan106)

  8. billobrienschindimple - Jun 28, 2013 at 7:15 PM

    You are correct. My intention was major tournaments, to include WC and UEFA.


    Love the name BTW.

  9. bobinkc - Jun 28, 2013 at 8:15 PM

    I am going ignite an evening fire storm here with this one. There are still an awful lot of places in this country where soccer is a sport fit only for “pansies” and should only be played by those boys who aren’t “man enough” to play a “real man’s sport” like American football. Another possibility is that soccer is a “girlie” game. Only when attitudes like this are fixed “one guy at a time,” will soccer truly step into its own here.

    Tomorrow night I am taking a friend from church to the SKC/Crew game at Sporting Park using our son’s ticket since he can’t go. My friend has never been to a soccer game and hasn’t a clue about how anyone can stand to watch such a low-scoring sport. Plus all the “real” guys in high school always played football; no “sissy” sports for them. If you didn’t play football, you watched from the stands. It should be a really interesting game for me (those of you who want to can pray for my attitude and patience tomorrow night).

  10. mvktr2 - Jun 28, 2013 at 9:45 PM

    First, pay-for-play has to end. Next like it or not bobinkc makes a relevant point but I’d put it in cultural terms. I live in the southeast more than a 9 hour drive each way to the nearest MLS park (though I did just move 2.5 hours north so maybe I’m a couple hours closer?) Outside of major metropolitan centers in the southeast college football is absolute KING here generally followed by high school football. The town I just left had a population of 9500. On friday nights fall before last I witnessed 4000 people crammed into standing along the sideline space to watch a 0-10 team play 4-A ball. Participation while not mandatory is expected on some level by a certain % of the population.

    The culture is changing, but it’s a slow process. For me it in one form or another can be linked to and measured culturally by it’s influence within major media outlets. When the american public is enthralled with soccer the way they are with am football and to lesser degrees the nba etc youth soccer will have the foundation to become a conveyor belt. Why? Because until it is pursued with a singular PASSION by 10-30 million kids there will not be a means to overcome the poor coaching, system flaws, etc inherent in the US or any soccer development system (yes I know current participation falls in this range, that’s why passion is bold). When the MLS is treated with as much hype by espn as the WC currently garners from them soccer will have arrived as a cultural force.

    I know I didn’t answer or add to the thought of ‘how to get there’. I just think it’s important to understand that no matter the system and we all know there is a ways to go, things will not be optimal until soccer is not only culturally relevant but is culturally passionately considered important a la NFL, CFB, NBA, etc. Steps are being taken in 20 years I think we’ll be on the cusp of that step as among the most important viewership demographic of young males soccer is currently the most watched sport on TV. That’s a huge statement and a FAR FAR cry from my youth, I’m 40.

  11. creek0512 - Jun 29, 2013 at 12:12 AM

    I don’t think coaches utilize enough (or more likely at all) 3v3 or 4v4 keep away in a small contained area. This is where young players learn to contol and pass the ball in heavy traffic. Do it enough and then when they get closely guarded in a game they won’t panic. They will also learn to communicate better during these sessions and to defend as an organized group.

  12. bellybuttondivot - Jul 5, 2013 at 1:25 AM

    The first easy step in my opinion is to move high school soccer to the spring. Don’t even try and compete with football. I played college football but am a big soccer fan. Those sports seem to have the most athletic overlap in their pool of players and kids play both up until high school then have to choose one or the other. Think about how much athletic talent just in div 1 college football never sees the field. 120 schools at 85 scharships each is over 10,000 D1 football players each year just at the highest collegiate level. How many of them might choose soccer over riding the pine somewhere if they had done both in high school? The other male spring sports, golf, tennis, baseball and track aren’t near the competition for the same kids. The hardcore baseball kids do it year round anyway and if there is a sport a kid can do same season in high school is it not soccer and track, both 99% running? Plus the “soccer is soft” stigma is definitely alive and well here in the Midwest at least, but I believe it is a byproduct of those sports being in conflict via scheduling to some degree. It’s you’re one of us or one of them. If I’m a high school football coach and I know my kids that do soccer in the spring are going to run their tails off everyday and work agility constantly I’m all for it. Weights are great and necessary obviously aiding all sports, but speed kills; see SEC football.
    Just my thoughts on what I think is a practical way to get more of our overwhelming athletic talent pool in to soccer.

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