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.

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