My current focus on youth soccer forced me to miss a lot of the women’s soccer events at the NSCAA Convention. During the NWSL Draft, I was in a pair of interesting presentations. I was in a TOPSoccer presentation during the women’s soccer breakfast. (That said, the sausage, egg and cheese-filled pretzel I picked up at Reading Terminal Market that morning was a delicious, filling dose of protein.)
I did catch a couple of things here and there — the NWSL coaches’ panel (surprisingly lightly attended), a couple of sessions that touched on men’s and women’s soccer, and the “Live Your Goals” press conference.
The latter was notable mostly for the predictable (and justifiable) media reaction: “Yes, it’s nice that you’re visiting every country that qualified for the WWC, but what about the turf?”
FIFA’s head of women’s competitions, Tatjana Haenni, smiled pleasantly and joked that she would’ve disappointed if no one had brought up the question. Grass in 2015 isn’t going to happen, but the good news is that they’re open to changing out worn-out turf, and the bidders for 2019 (France, South Korea) are proposing grass fields.
Aside from that, the best exchange from the press conferences was when an SBNation reporter (didn’t catch the name) asked if the World Cup would be diluted as it grew from 16 to 24 teams. Haenni’s answer was impressive. Sure, we might see a difference in quality between the teams, but “the positives are so much stronger.” The teams that qualify get more resources to grow. And in the men’s World Cup in Brazil, there were one or two results that were pretty shocking. (The press corps duly laughed a little.)
During the NWSL draft, I was over at a session on German player development. Sounds dry, but consider how successful Germany has been, both in taking women’s soccer seriously for a couple of decades and reconstructing its men’s development in the 2000s.
German U17 girls coach Anouschka Bernhard recalled that women were banned from German playing fields in the 1970s. They’ve taken off since then, and she says girls have benefited from the retooling on the boys side as well.
A lot of German girls, in fact, continue to play with “boys” teams (more accurately, they’d be coed teams) into their early teens. The mixed approach surely has some pros and cons, but at least we can’t say German girls are getting inferior coaching if they’re right alongside the boys.
The big takeaway from 2011, Bernhard says, is learning to deal with pressure. The German team lost on the “mental side,” she said. She didn’t specify what they’re doing to improve, but would anyone bet against those improvements paying off?
From elsewhere at the convention: What I’m hearing is a backlash against the serious ramping-up of “serious” play, all the way down to the tweens and even below. See my post from Thursday, and yes, it applies to men and women. Coaches are beginning to regret making young people give up their childhoods in pursuit of dubious goals.