Category: Teaching

I got an F

screen grab digital coaching center
Jurgen and Jill, for now.

I added a certification to my CV today. I’m now the holder of an “F” coaching license from the U.S. Soccer Federation. This means that I completed a two-hour online course that imparted the best practices for coaching soccer to children aged 5-8.

I don’t have children, but in my role with Durham Atlético, a futsal club, I decided it’s important to begin acquiring credentials. We are planning to develop children’s programs in partnership with Parks and Rec of Durham, and we need to know what we’re doing. A couple of our player-volunteers have this certification, as well as the “E,” which is for children aged 9-12, and at least one other person is taking the “F” course, too.

The system of licensing coaches is a novel practice for Americans, but globally, soccer federations believe youth development is too important to be left to its own devices, whether it be an unregulated free market or an army of often untrained parents who yell at kids, play them when they’re injured, and favor their own children. Or, at a later stage of development, shady AAU programs that are little more than talent scouts for agents and shoe companies, or high school gym teachers who wouldn’t know a concussion if it hit them on the head.

Here in Durham, we take inspiration from the nation of Iceland, which charmed the soccer world during last summer’s Euros. The population of Iceland is scarcely bigger than Durham, yet this tiny nation advanced to the quarterfinals, claiming the scalp of England along the way. Here’s the key to the miracle:

Arrigo Sacchi famously suggested elite coaching should be open to people from any walk of life, from elevator operators to stockbrokers. At the end of the last century the Icelandic FA put this into practice. Bolstered by the TV money pouring into every Uefa country, Iceland set up an open, hugely popular training scheme. Currently this nation of 335,000 has around 600 qualified coaches, 400 with Uefa B licences, or one per 825 people. To put this into context, in England this number falls to one per 11,000.

The result is a spread of expertise right down to the lowest level. “Here you need a Uefa B licence to coach from under-10 level up and half of the Uefa B licence to coach under-eights,” Dagur Sveinn Dagbjartsson of the Icelandic FA says. This isn’t simply box-ticking. The Uefa B is one step off the level needed to coach a professional team in England. Yelling dads it ain’t.

That’s from The Guardian. For more on Icelandic football, here’s a piece (originally in Howler, but only coming up in a Guardian reprint) by Durham writer Davis Harper, who’s also a fine futsal player. (No discussion of Durham Atlético and Iceland can fail to mention Tash. –Ed.)

I may write more about the online “F” course at a later date. As it happens, my day job is as an IT instructional designer, so I have a professional interest in the quality of the pedagogy as well as its content.

Instructional design shop talk aside, the course showed some of the fissures and identity problems that afflict American soccer.

On the Twitter: Talking with Andy about soccer business model

I replied to an innocuous “pro tip” from Andy Schwarz (@andyhre). It turned into an interesting discussion about what I contend are two contrasting views, or business models, of professional sports. Schwarz’s analyses generally concern the U.S., and I was suggesting that soccer abroad, particularly in Europe, operates with some assumptions that aren’t included in his models.

This recap is for my reference. Turns out that embedding a bunch of overlapping tweets is tricky, so these are not necessarily in a logical progression. (It might be time to check out this Storify thing.)

If anyone wants more context, tweet at me or leave a note in the comments.


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Me on the Twitter: New schools getting into this football business. Does it make sense?

Earlier this week, I was involved in a conversation about the economic value of football to colleges, and UNC-Charlotte’s decision to field a football team. After CBS/SI guy Seth Davis mocked Joe Nocera’s latest NCAA column for being disappointed that more schools aren’t dropping football, someone cited UNC-Charlotte as an example of an ambitious school looking to add football to its menu of attractions.

Andy Schwarz, a California sports economist, was in this fray, too. I’ve tweet-versed with Andy a few times—he and I broadly agree on the need for the NCAA to operate like a normal (and legal) business. Here’s a typical post from his blog, Sportsgeekonomics.

More pertinently, here’s his Dec. 8 piece for VICE Sports about the decision by the University of Alabama at Birmingham to cease its football operations. Some of the disagreement I had with him over that piece spilled into this Twitter-stream about UNC-Charlotte and the economics of college football.

Here’s the Twitter conversation, which started after this Davis tweet:

Here’s Schwarz a little later:

Then two other people led the conversation to UNC-Charlotte:

Here’s me:

Then Jay Smith, a UNC history professor known for his criticisms of big-time sports on campus (and who is writing a book with whistle-blower Mary Willingham), jumped in:

Whatever may be terrible about Twitter, it’s a great space for a few obsessives to find each other.