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U17 MNT coaches on player development

Published: March 23, 2012

(TopDrawerSoccer.com Managing Editor Robert Ziegler recently spent part of a week in Bradenton, Florida with the U17 Men’s National Team residency program. Following is one of a series of articles about what he saw and heard there).
BRADENTON, FLORIDA – In our ongoing conversation with the U17 MNT residency coaches, head coach Richie Williams brought in assistants Jim Rooney and Anthony Latronica as we continued the discussion.
u17 men's national team boys club soccer coach jim rooneyJim Rooney
Rooney, like Williams, played a number of years in Major League Soccer, but for the New England Revolution. Latronica, like Williams, was a USSF Technical advisor, handling the training centers and scouting for a section of the country (in Latronica’s case, Texas). Before that he coached in college soccer, including at Oregon State and Air Force. A third assistant coach will be hired to the program in the coming weeks.

Q: What is your personal philosophy of building up and developing players?

AL: These kids are still young. Most of them were freshmen in high school and now they are living away from home, in a new environment, training every day. So we have to be all about player development. Our goal is making them better every day. In their own environment they are not training as frequently, so one thing we’re focusing on is their day-to-day habits. They need to develop good training habits and maintain a high concentration level. You want to make sure you don’t get too far ahead of yourself.  
JR:  Basically we’re reinforcing ideas we come across about simple things. We’ve seen where they are the better players in their club teams, but now they don’t have the luxury of taking breaks and taking time off in training. We’re trying to raise that intensity to last for a whole training session. My personal sense is I want to maximize every training session the best we can, it’s not going to be on all of the time, but at the end of the day, you still have to put out a full effort on both sides of the ball. Some guys tend to play only when the team is attacking, because they’ve been able to get away with that at their club. But at this level they can’t do that. We’re constantly reinforcing that.
Q: Are the players here receiving that instruction well?
JR:  Mostly. Sometimes, for instance, In the 5v2 grids, we still have to remind them. We recognize it is a process. They talk about being a professional player and we remind them it won’t happen if their attitude about improving isn’t right. We try to give them the right habits to help them reach those goals. We talk about which foot to receive a pass on when they want to do certain things, little things like that can make such a difference. We are getting them to think more about these kinds of things and yes, I think most of them are picking it up as they go.
Q: Do you have to adapt your communication style or approach player to player?
JR: Definitely. Different kids have different personalities. Some people are better to pull aside and talk with while others you can talk to in front of the group.  
RW: That is huge, knowing how to man manage, especially remembering we have 15 and 16-year old kids. For me, I’ll get on a guy, but in a positive way. I’ll let them know if they are not doing something right, but I’ll also be very positive with them when they do things in the right way, and again, remember which ones can you say more things to and which ones should you say less to. There are different ways to feel them out and look at and observe them. We think communicating and interacting with the kids as much as possible is the best, so they know where we are coming from. We reiterate to them that it’s a huge opportunity and we see everything they are doing. We are here to help but when you get on the field, every touch, every pass, every play matters. You can’t be coming on the field for an hour and only showing up for 30 of it. It doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes, but as long as you try to go about it the right way, we’re not going to have a problem with it, it’s just when you don’t put the work in that we’ll get upset with you and to be honest, you’re not going to be here long-term. It’s not a threat, it’s just reality at any high level of soccer. There are thousands of kids in this age group who would die to be here, and we want the ones who will do things right on and off the field.

Q:  Is finding the players who will do these things integrated into the scouting mission for the USSF Technical Advisors and the USSF Development Academy?
AL: When we evaluate them in their own environment, they are able to get away with more in the competition, but in this environment they can’t. Their weaknesses start to show. If we can identify their technical weaknesses in games and then pull those weakness out and start correcting them, and insert them into games and see a difference, now we’re starting to get somewhere.
You have to remember, they come from a lot of different environments. They have different backgrounds, styles of play, coaches, a lot of things. We’re almost starting from scratch here with a new head coach and staff who may want different things. Once we establish what we want, then we can hold the kids accountable to that.

Q: Are you able to send communication out to coaches at club level about what it is you are looking for?
RW:  If it continues to happen where a coach who keeps recommending players that don’t belong, it will reflect on him, so I guess you could have a conversation with him. This is part of where we are going with trying to get better coaching. The guys who are spot on about a player, you’re more likely to go back to. We’ve talked about if we should talk to a club team coach about something they’re doing that we see that isn’t really the best approach. You might get a recommendation on a player, but every time you see the team the goalkeeper or the backs are kicking the ball down the field so you never get to see the player play.  We might have to say ‘You’re not helping the kids develop, the way you’re playing and we can’t see anything with this player because of how you play so it’s not helping us either.’

Next Week: We look in detail at U17 MNT training sessions.
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