Worrying about winning at that level is absurd

Updated: March 3, 2014
U13s at SKC

“The last thing we look at with the younger age groups is the win/loss record. Worrying about winning at that level is absurd. The question is whether they are developing the skills to allow them to be successful in the future. We look at whether they are learning to use both feet to pass, settle, turn, shoot, and beat defenders off the dribble.”

Steve “Ole” Olson of SoccerSTL.net talked with Pat Manning and Brian Howe of Sporting STL -Rangers  on behalf of SLYSA. Learn more about one of the newer clubs in the region, their development approach and other topics of interest to the community.

Club Name: Sporting STL – Rangers
SLYSA Member (years): 4
Geographic Area served: St. Louis County, St. Charles County, and the City of St. Louis.
Age Groups served: U8 through U18

Tell me about your Club:
Quite simply, our club’s Executive Director of Coaching, Tommy Howe, is the best youth soccer coach in the United States. In last year’s MLS playoffs, Tommy had more former players on the playoff rosters than all but a few major college programs. That’s an amazing statistic considering he’s doing that just here in St. Louis while those college programs recruit nationally and even internationally. The methods Tommy used to produce those great players are being used to develop our current crop of players.

How is the Club approaching player development?
The ultimate goal for our players is to learn how to play possession soccer. Even at the earliest ages, our emphasis is on teaching our players the skills necessary to maintain possession even in tight spaces through exceptional technical skills and movement with or without the ball. That’s the foundation, and it continues to be built upon as the players progress through our system.

How do you measure the development?
The last thing we look at with the younger age groups is the win/loss record. Worrying about winning at that level is absurd. The question is whether they are developing the skills to allow them to be successful in the future. We look at whether they are learning to use both feet to pass, settle, turn, shoot, and beat defenders off the dribble. As they mature, we want to see that their tactical knowledge and decision making are progressing along with the continued improvement of their physical skills. At the upper age groups, we expect their ball skills, movement off the ball, and split-second decision making to be second nature.

Discuss goal-setting within the Club?
At the team level, our overall goal is for each of our players to learn to play the game properly and to the best of their individual ability. Wins are meaningless if they’re based merely on physical superiority. That can take a team only so far. We want our players to learn to play the game properly at the younger ages so that they will eventually be competing for state, regional, and national championships. Ultimately, we expect to continue T. Howe’s history of producing players that end up on national teams and in professional leagues.
For the club, one goal is to maintain controlled growth. The number of teams has doubled each year, but we don’t intend for that to continue because we want to limit the size of the club. Our plan is to have a pyramid structure with 4 or 5 teams at the youngest level and gradually reducing that to 1 or 2 teams for the high school ages. In that way, we can concentrate our resources to make sure all of our players get the individual instruction necessary for them to achieve their goals.
Finally, we want to completely change the model of club soccer as it exists today. Sporting STL targets kids on their ability to play rather than their parents’ ability to pay. We are pursuing sponsorship deals and revenue streams that we hope will eventually mean that our members pay nothing in club fees. It may take some time, but that’s where we’re headed.

What role does competition have?
It’s essential at a number of levels. For the players, they need it to learn how to apply their skills in a competitive environment. It’s imperative if they’re going to understand what works and what needs improvement. For the club, competition is vital as an incentive for continued improvement. Without competition, you don’t have innovation. Clubs stagnate without it.

Is there a Recreational or Competitive team choice within the Club?
No. Kids who want to play rec have a lot of options. Our purpose is to train those players who are determined to reach the elite level.

What role does SLYSA play in achieving your Club goals?
SLYSA plays a key role in Sporting STL achieving its goals. They run well-organized leagues and tournaments and maintain their fields in excellent condition. Unfortunately for SLYSA, some clubs have gotten so big that they can dictate terms to that organization.

What other organizations is the Club involved with, such as US Club Soccer and MRL?
The primary other organization that we are involved with is Sporting KC through their affiliate program (http://sportingstl.com/sporting-network/about-the-sporting-club-network/) . With them, we are a part of the MRL’s Major League Soccer (MLS) division. Also, we recently partnered with Sporting J.B. Marine (http://jbmarinesoccer.com/) .

What role do the other organizations play in achieving Club goals?
We cooperate with Sporting KC to ensure that our players are getting the highest level of training. In fact, Tommy is currently in Florida taking part in their spring training activities. They also provide our players with the unique opportunity of being evaluated by their professional staff. We expect, in the near future, that some of our players will be designated by Sporting KC under the Homegrown Player rule which would give KC the contractual rights to such a player without exposing him to the MLS draft.
And, while the partnership with Sporting J.B. Marine is a new development, we regard it as a very important step. The pooling of resources will make both clubs stronger, and both clubs share the same philosophy on player development.

What Tournaments will you be participating in this season?
At the end of March, we will be hosting a showcase for Sporting KC. This is open to only clubs that are within the affiliate system. We’re looking forward to seeing how our teams stack up against the other affiliates.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the St Louis Club environment?
The U.S. Academy system and the advent of mega clubs have both had a negative effect on competition within the St. Louis environment.

How can parents best impact their child’s development?
A very good article came out recently that proposed that the most important thing you can say to your child after a game is: “I love to watch you play.” We couldn’t agree more. No kid wants to listen to a breakdown of his or her performance immediately after a game. To that end, parents should find a coach who they believe is the best fit for their child and make sure they understand that coach’s philosophy. Once they’ve found that, they should encourage their child, leave the instructing to the coach, and enjoy watching the kids play.

Have the “Best Practices For Coaching” published by US Soccer had an impact on the Club’s Coaching model?
To be perfectly honest, no. Although it is encouraging to see that the Federation is trying to establish a possession style of play. From our perspective, however, T. Howe has spent a lifetime continually educating himself by studying the training methods of teams such as Barcelona, Spain, Brazil, Holland, and Ajax. Based on that, he’s developed his own curriculum which has proven very successful. That’s the curriculum our coaches follow.

What recent successes have you had in the older age groups?
Our U18s are the first group of boys who have been with us from the beginning and will now be entering college. A number of them helped lead their teams to state championships or deep into the playoffs. A very interesting development with this group, though, is that East Central Community College has signed five players from that team. It’ll be very interesting to see how they do next year.

Do you have players who are playing professionally?
Tommy Howe’s former players playing professionally include Brad Davis, Will Bruin, A.J. Cochran, Tommy Meyer, Cole Grossman, Brandon Barklage, Joe Willis, Luis Soffner, and Tim Ream.

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