Review of the ‘D’ soccer licensing course

If you’re reading this, you know what the soccer coaching licenses are, and you are thinking of getting one; E, D, C, maybe eventually the expensive B or A.  Hopefully this review will let you know what to expect.

Getting in the class is easy..  You sign up online at your state youth soccer website and pay the money.
When the day arrives you drive 2 or 3 hours where you rent a hotel or bum a bed from a friend and then spend eight hours a day in one big, long soccer practice.  It’s just like soccer practices you did as a kid: you listen to someone talk about what you’re going to do, then you do it, then they talk about how you did it.  Dribble through cones, 1v1, whatever they ask, you do it.  You spend several minutes on each drill, then move on to the next person and their activity.  Eight hours a day of this.  In the open sun.  Bring sunscreen.

There are also classroom bits where you go inside and do classroom stuff: take a quiz, watch a video, listen to someone lecture.  Topics of discussion were: Tactics, rules of the game, how to fill out a lesson plan, and maybe a drill diagrammed and walked-through on the board.  Each of the instructors – the guys in charge of everything – took turns lecturing.  There were also guest speakers – various retired coaches from the area.  Some were good, asking the occasional question to keep the class interested, and throwing in tips and tidbits on how they coach.  Some just repeated everything in the supplied book.

But these classroom sessions were scarce.  They lasted on average an hour, which isn’t much compared to the seven hours you spend outside.  They were also informal.  While you couldn’t exactly sleep during them, you didn’t need to take notes, and you weren’t graded on anything said there.  The focus of the course definitely depends on what happens outdoors.

The format of the outdoor activities is, everyone gets a chance to be a coach coaching everyone else.  how long everyone gets to coach depends on the amount of people in the course.  We had about forty people, split into two groups, so the math meant we each coached only three sessions during the week, each session being about 10-15 minutes.  The rest of the time is spent listening to everyone else and doing whatever it is they ask of you.  Most everyone had specific drills requiring a set number of people, so if you were bored you volunteered, else you just sat and watched.  Everything soon became tedious, even tried-and-true drills like 1v1 or 2v2.  Enthusiasm ran high the first day but was gone by the next.  Shooting drills were the only drills where everyone summoned energy.

At the end of each day is homework.  Reading assignments, a take-home test, and a lesson plan were standard.  Sometimes there were two tests, or a second lesson plan, something specific to train a player for specific situations.

The last day or two you are ‘graded’.  You do exactly what you’ve been doing, i.e. coaching and participating.  The instructors do exactly what they have been doing – standing and watching – they just do it with a pen.  They have a standard form that they tick off the boxes and write comments. They don’t share the notes immediately.  Instead they are mailed, along with your results.  If your grade was above a certain amount of boxes checked, you pass, otherwise you fail.  Get every check box checked, and you get a ‘National’ license as opposed to a state license.

If all of this sounds routine, it’s because it is.  Standard community college meets youth soccer.  But there is one significant difference.  If you desire to commit the time and money for this course, there is one thing for which you should be prepared:  Philosophy.

The Dutch Method

There is something out there in the soccer stratosphere called ‘The Dutch Method’.  It’s a method of teaching soccer, based on the Ajax academy in The Netherlands.  The academy is famous for selling its youth to premier soccer teams for millions.  Here is the New York Times article that sells Ajax.  If you don’t want to read the article, here is a quote from it that summaries it well: “Here, we would rather polish one or two jewels than win games at the youth levels.”  Another way of saying this is we should improve one or two  talented kids at the neglect of 98% of the other kids.

For better or for worse, the United States Soccer Federation has decided that The Dutch Method is the way of the future for Youth soccer in the United States.  The books the course uses are written by Dutch authors, and the instructors are trained to push the Dutch Method.

This is all well and good – one comes to a course to learn new ideas – but it becomes a problem when some of the ideas are nonsensical.

The instructors occasionally taught one of the fifteen-minute sessions.  One of them (who happened to be Dutch) did a basic 2v2 drill.  The Dutchman kept teaching that both defenders should move to the ball.  Specifically, the person closest to the ball should get on the ball and defend, and the second closest person to the ball should get behind the first defender and together the two of them try to steal the ball back.  I’ve made a little diagram here.
which way should I go
Which Way Should I Go?

The problem with his way is there is an offensive player left wide open.  The player with the ball merely has to pass it to his teammate and both defenders are beat.
you just got beat

You Just Got Beat

And this is exactly what kept happening in our Dutch instructor’s drill.  The defenders weren’t beat every time, but enough.  And each time, the Dutchman had instructions on what the defenders did wrong:  they should have run in faster, or slower, or not let themselves be split, whatever.  It was not the system that was at fault, but the individuals.  And yet the defenders were beat again and again.

We all thought it: ‘this doesn’t seem right’.  Eventually someone spoke up.  And the instructors response was ‘The Dutch Method’.  Specifically, one of the prime attributes of defense, according to our Dutch-written book, is pressure.  Pressure on the ball.  Immediate attack on the player with the ball by two or more players.  Not ‘marking the open man’.  Thus, The Dutchman was teaching us correctly, and our suggestions, however well-intentioned, were wrong.  Because the book said so.

This is just one example.  Other teachings of dubious merit were:  Playing a game of soccer is a hindrance to actually learning soccer – the kids might get hurt.  Instead, time should be spent in practice, doing technical drills.  Teamwork and tactics is not as important as technical skill.  Don’t specialize.  Don’t play to win.

The word ‘professional’ was also bandied about.  Coaches should not participate in the activities – its unprofessional.  Caps and clipboards were bad, sunglasses ok.

Many of these teachings caused concern amongst the class.  Some spoke up.  Politely, the instructors listened, then dismissed them.  After several days of this, the instructors made it clear that they had been teaching this a long time, had heard all of these objections many times, and they were tired of it.  Stop saying ‘Yeah, But..”, they told us.  ‘Do as we say, or you are going to fail.’  And so we were polite and listened, and the few individuals who did not received cold looks and very likely a failing grade.

Personally, I think the instructors misunderstood much of the Dutch Method and our book, but even correcting for their misinterpretations, they still are teaching a losing system.  I have both coached with and been coached by coaches who adhered to these methods.  Losing was common, motivation scarce, and enthusiasm nonexistent.

Regardless of which method is right or wrong, the licensing course is less like attending a soccer camp and more like attending a bible camp.  Your experience did not matter.  Free ideas were not welcome.  You had to do the drills they did, and coach the way they coached, or you failed.

I give the course a ‘D’, that is, one step above failing.  Don’t take it unless you have to.

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