One of the greatest women’s soccer players ever, Michelle Akers, is upset that the U.S. Soccer powers that be haven’t taken her up on her offer to help out with the national team:
Per a phone conversation with Sunil (Gulati, USSF president), he told me I did not have enough experience to coach at that level,” Akers said. “I disagreed.”
Which raises a general question: Can a former player with no known coaching experience* contribute to a major coaching staff in a meaningful way?
(*Update – She is listed as a volunteer assistant at Central Florida. In a lengthy Twitter conversation, she revealed that she does indeed have a B license.)
Several MLS clubs have had success with players going straight from the field to the sideline. Jason Kreis, winning MLS Cup with Real Salt Lake less than three years after abruptly retiring from the field to take the reins. Ben Olsen did a brief apprenticeship as assistant coach before taking over with D.C. United, which stuck with him through some difficult times before getting to the top of the East. Others haven’t quite caught up to the realities of leading a team.
If you want to coach a pro team in the USA, you need an “A” license. You get a two-year grace period. So sayeth the professional league standards.
Former athletes get fast-tracked through the process, to an extent. Those of us who didn’t play at a high level need more than two years to get to the “A” license. Those with five years of Division 1 pro experience can skip straight to the “B.” College players, like my House league colleague who played at Stanford with Julie Foudy, can often skip some lower level licenses.
A licensing course won’t turn a bad coach into a good coach. But it’ll give a prospective coach, even one with the playing experience of an Akers or an Olsen, a few new ways of looking at things. (Update: And again, she does indeed have the “B.”)
The worst coaches you’ll see, at any level, are those who learned one way of doing things and think that the only way things are supposed to be done. They’re the youth coaches who yell and scream and run unproductive drills because that’s the way they were taught. They’re the pro coaches who can’t relate to players with a skillset that doesn’t easily match something they’ve seen before.
So it’s a little disheartening to read a statement from Akers that’s all about the past. Does the USA always need to play the Anson Dorrance style? Would Akers be able to relate to a new-school player like … oh … right … they never bring in new players.
But there’s another issue of basic compatibility. Whether you agree with the latest trends of Euro-inspired possession ball or the Jill Ellis number system, would you really want a coaching staff with such contrasting visions?
The only former U.S. men’s player on the U.S. national team staff is Tab Ramos, who was always an atypical U.S. player and doesn’t seem to be trying to push the Steve Sampson style on Jurgen Klinsmann.
Sure, the U.S. women have been a tad more successful than the U.S. men through history. But both games are evolving. Bringing in someone from the past is hardly an automatic positive.
Update: Akers has taken issue with this post on Twitter, and her general point is that more people from era should be involved with the program today. And indeed, it’s a larger issue than one person’s experience. A common complaint in U.S. soccer circles is that few women are going into coaching — MLS sidelines are full of MLS veterans, NWSL sidelines are not full of former players. And then there’s the question of whether the U.S. women’s program is just too insular in general, even to the point of shutting out thoughts from previous generations.
So some interesting discussions can flow from these questions. Not that we’re likely to see anything change before the World Cup later this year.