This was not an easy article to write for the very reason that what I’m about to discuss is not a black and white issue. We will look at perceptions of both the USSF, NSCAA, and everything in between. What I offer are real stories, experiences, and personal perceptions shared by myself and many coaches that I’ve met on various license and diploma courses. You may read this and find yourself completely agreeing with how each organization is presented. You may also read this and find the opposite is true, that you’ve had a much different experience to what is presented. For both parties, share your story and enhance the discussion, but my main point is simple:
There are some major problems with how coaching education in the United States is offered, executed, and perceived by coaches throughout the country.
I remember my first coaching course like it was yesterday.When I had decided on coaching as a career, my next step was to begin getting my coaching badges. I located the Eastern NY State Soccer website and found the E course. I registered for it, had some pre-course nerves, and felt like the day wouldn’t come soon enough! The course was held over two weekends, with the first weekend primarily focused on the instructor offering class-room theory discussions as well as field sessions to help give us ideas as well as a foundation for us to build upon for our testing phase. One of the problems I noticed right away was that there was one instructor for a group of 25 or so coaches. This created problems of its own, such as the fact that only two coaches were able to run a practice session before our testing phase, or the logistical nightmare of one instructor having to assess 25 sessions over the course of one and a half days.
The day of final testing, an additional instructor was assigned to our course to assist with assessments, cutting the large group in half, but the good news ended there. The instructor had a face that screamed he had better things to do, and his glum demeanor was not helped by the fact that he didn’t utter a single word to the new group of coaches who were now going to have to perform for him rather than the instructor we had gotten to know, and thus feel more comfortable around. The environment he created just by his demeanor and unspoken attitude was one that kept us tense and on-edge, and thinking back now I’m still stunned at how he carried himself as a staff instructor.
I was a nervous wreck but got through it, having learned some great things during the course. Now this is a huge point to make before we start to highlight some of the problems, and that is that any coaching course, whether the NSCAA Level 1 or the USSF A license, is a place where you can pick something up. Whether it’s from the coaches also participating in the course or the staff instructors, I’ve always managed to pick something up, even if it’s things I warn myself I shouldn’t do. Having acquired my E license, I wanted more coaching education and on a selfish level, I wanted something better for my resume. Not a good outlook but you’ll excuse my way of thinking a couple of years ago when I first started this journey.
I soon discovered the NSCAA and saw that they were hosting a High School Diploma course at the High School I went to as a student. I signed up, expecting a similar environment to my E license, and prepared myself for the upcoming weekend course.
I couldn’t have been more surprised.
The environment created by the instructors was incredible and it was a place where we were encouraged to think on our feet and think for ourselves. Sessions and lectures were presented to us, but it was not presented in the sense of “this is what’s right, now repeat after me.” Rather, it was presented to give us ideas and help us find our own groove, help us find things we liked and we could extrapolate on with our own coaching journey. After the High School diploma course, I wanted to do another NSCAA course. In January 2014 I took the National Diploma and felt the same way as I had at my first NSCAA coaching course. I was in a place where everyone wanted to learn, improve, and most importantly, help each other. Instructors learned from coaches taking the course, and coaches learned some invaluable things from the instructors.
Now, a couple things should be explained. There are obvious differences between the NSCAA and the USSF, the most obvious of which is the fact that the USSF is designated by FIFA to hand out coaching licenses. The NSCAA cannot offer licenses, but instead offer coaching diplomas and this helps explain why both organizations go about things the way they do. I often tell people that I view the NSCAA as driver’s ed, whereas the USSF is the road test. You go through drivers ed, you learn, you practice, you improve, and eventually you are ready for the road test. Everyone’s a nervous wreck before their road test, but you can’t get your drivers license without it.
I’ll fast-forward the story by saying that I fast-tracked myself through the NSCAA Courses(for better or for worse), and in January 2015 I completed the Premier Diploma. I was always challenged in the NSCAA courses, in a good way, but it was the general opinion of almost everyone involved that the NSCAA was a much more relaxed organization about passing then the USSF. It’s understandable, as the NSCAA is there to educate and improve coaches, whereas the Federation is there to ensure coaches are worthy of the license they are going for. One troubling point of conversation was always constant in any discussion, however, when comparing both organizations.
While taking my premier, many of the coaches participating in the course were there for their A License renewal. They had received their A License and every four years have to do various things to get 8 CEU’s to ensure their A License doesn’t expire. Conversation almost always turned to comparing both organizations. One coach told me a story from his A License, where instructors in the hotel wouldn’t return his hello and instead opted for ignoring him as they walked on by. Another discussed that on his B License, the staff instructor had the coaches line themselves in age order, and him being the youngest was then routinely picked out throughout the week as not belonging with coaches who had decades of experience as compared to him. Competition amongst the coaches participating in the course was another common trend, a far cry from the NSCAA social’s that are a popular event at any of the residency courses. One of the major talking points was the idea that sessions had to be regurgitated, done in the same fashion as presented to the coaches on the licensing courses. Prove that you knew what the federation wanted, not that you knew how to think, adapt, and coach on your feet in a constantly changing environment.
One organization had the feel of a place where all were welcome, all were students and teachers at the same time, and all would improve if they applied themselves. The other organization had an elitist feel where people were so worried about failure that robots were created to ensure a smooth assessment.
Where would you want to go?
Once again, understand that you may have had a completely different experience. You might have found the NSCAA to be too lax and the USSF courses to be just the right mixture of serious, competitive, and challenging. I myself have been able to experience additional USSF instructors that were on NSCAA courses. One of the USSF instructors instructed me during my Advanced National diploma. He constantly engaged me, had me always thinking on how to constantly improve everything I was doing, and I was left with an incredible respect for his ability as a coach and an educator. What I present, however, is the majority of opinions and stories from the countless number of coaches I know who have gone all the way through both organizations, and with far more experience in each organization than myself.
Like it or not, most believe in the idea of perception being reality, and the perception currently of USSF Coaching Education is not a positive one. Where are we failing, and what needs to change?
If you start with your E License and go down all the way to your A License, you will have spent $6,620(Using E and D License prices from Eastern NY State). That includes cost of residence at the C, B, and A. It does not however include travel to and from the courses, some of which can be a flight or two away. It also does not include the subsequent cost of renewing an A License. $10,000 is a good enough estimate for our purposes. $10,000 is an enormous amount of money. Colleges are now mandating B licenses in most cases, Academies demand B due to Federation policy, and with the recent change in waiver policy, the NSCAA is no longer a way to skip some of the lower licenses and get onto the B License straight away. That’s an enormous investment over time for people who want to get into the game, to improve their own ability, but are met with this huge wall in the way keeping them out.
Some argue that most coaches don’t need an A license for what they plan on doing, but I think that’s a nice way of covering up a much larger problem. Not every coach is reimbursed by his school, or team, for coaching courses and not every coach can afford expenses like this depending on their family situation. Many of us constantly complain that players are slipping through the cracks because of our pay to play model, but how many coaches are slipping through the same cracks? We are literally pricing people out of the possibility of attaining higher licenses, which in turn affords them more coaching opportunities. I know a lot of excellent coaches who have been so daunted by the process and the price of higher certification that they have found a club or a school to work for, gotten into a groove, and settled, stunting their own self-development.
The old-school mentality of repeating what you see is another prevalent problem within the coaching schools. There is a fear amongst coaches, many times for good reason, that if things are done different to how the instructor presented, then they’ll fail. Disagreeing with instructors is seen as a fatal error, and creativity for coaches is thus stifled. There’s a great story that has been going around for a while now that tells of an older Dutch coach taking a USSF course and having a disagreement with the goalkeeper instructor. The instructor was annoyed, exasperated, and finally cracked, asking the coach if he had ever played the position before to have such an incorrect opinion. There was some quiet murmurings and some hushed laughter amongst the group, but it was directed at the instructor. The Dutch gentleman was a man by the name of Jan van Beveren, a former Dutch national team goalkeeper, famous for his feud with Johan Cruyff which ended his international career prematurely.
Are coaches so focused, or perhaps nervous, on passing the course that their own self-development is stifled because they simply repeat what they’re shown? It’s a problem that has certainly improved over time, and certainly things aren’t as draconian as many claim they were years ago, but the problem still remains to a certain degree.
Presented above are my experiences, amongst other coaches, with coaching education. Listed above are two major problems I find with the current state of coaching education with the USSF. There are inevitably more issues, but for purposes of keeping this into a short story rather than a novel, I will offer those two issues.
As I mentioned before, this was not an easy piece to write because inevitably some may have had completely different experiences. Because of that, help the discussion, enhance the debate, and discuss your experiences on here and some of the issues or perhaps positive things you have seen or foresee.
After all, just like coaching courses, I’m here to challenge and be challenged. I hope you’ll join me and do the same.
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