Black Soccer Association
April 24, 2017
From the World Cup, Olympics and Major League Soccer to college, high school and youth soccer, Kab Hakim has served the game in the US for 28 years and pioneered numerous programs recognized both internationally and domestically. Among his many accomplishments, he is the first coach in America to defeat a full time professional English Premier League Academy on English soil and led the first African American women’s collegiate soccer program when he became the Head Coach of the Howard University women’s soccer team in 1989. “Coach Kab” shares his insights on how the game has grown in America from those early beginnings to the current climate of futsal and how it can be a critical environment to increasing African American participation in soccer while nurturing the kind of technical skills that could lead to America’s first world class player.
BSA: Hello Coach Kab. Thank you so much for taking your time to talk to us
BSA: You are the Director for Futsal America, based in our Nation's Capital, Washington, DC. Can you tell us about Futsal America and how you first got involved?
Futsal America is a player centric soccer skills program that we started back in 1991 as part of a development project to identify and nurture inner city kids year-round leading to a travel soccer experience. It was free for the kids as DC Parks and Recreation (DPR) provided the facilities and budget to grow soccer in the nation’s capital. Over the years, the sponsorship switched to World Cup 1994 and Snickers and the organization changed its umbrella name, eventually becoming the Washington Youth Soccer Association (WYSA) led by Keith Tucker, the Howard University Men’s Soccer Coach.
Keith and DPR Director, Arthur Dockery, brought me in from my position as Head Coach of the Howard Women’s Team to be the Soccer Director for the main development site, Takoma Rec Center.
We began with approximately 80 African American kids aged 4 -8 years old and concentrated on 20 of the most committed ones that showed the best potential for the sport. The program lasted 10+ years and fawned a 100% graduation rate to college soccer making it the most successful inner city academy in the US.
From the day we could place them in travel soccer, they emerged to be the city’s most skillful generation of players and they soon got identified for the State, Regional and National ODP teams that were the pathways to the national team.
In those early days, there were no African American Boys or Girls youth teams, and Howard was the only college in America that hosted African American Men and Women Soccer programs. Thus, the children had very few opportunities or role models to progress to the college arena from youth soccer. Being so far apart in ages, having enough numbers to make one team was practically impossible, especially for the girls. So the players had to find other teams in and around DC to play at the next competitive level. However, we were blessed that all the kids stuck together as a family and continued to train together and play exhibition games as one whenever possible. Having the Howard Men’s team as a local team to follow was key in their social development to aspire to NCAA D1 college soccer. MLS did not exist until 5 years later so college soccer was the ultimate goal beyond expanding playing opportunities for more DC youth.
Futsal was not a recognized mainstream sport as the old indoor soccer off the walls was the way teams played indoor. However, we played futsal on a daily basis on an outdoor basketball court in bare feet with a tennis ball. In fact, we did not even call it “futsal.” We just called it “Brazilian soccer” as a reference to playing the game without shoes like many of the poor ethnic Brazilian kids in the favelas and beaches. It was their (DC kids) connection to the world of soccer outside their community. It was so fun for the kids every morning that it provided the technical base for them to try their footwork against each other and build a skill culture that was competitive as they battled to outdo each other with the best moves. Basic or simple soccer was frowned upon as for the weakest players. From these beginnings, the Futsal America program was born.
Today, Futsal America is a model for nuance skill building for any level player. Most of our Takoma kids still play together, played professionally and coach up to the college level. Every group that has followed the program since has had similar success so we know statistically the program works well in multiple environments.
BSA: Can you explain what futsal is, some of the benefits of futsal and how it relates to outdoor soccer?
Futsal is a 5v5 mini soccer game played on a hard basketball sized court (inside or outside) with a small ball (often size 3) weighted for a low bounce. The goals are roughly a third smaller than outdoor soccer goals and instead of throw ins from the side, restarts are kick ins where you have just 4 seconds to inbound the ball. No time is wasted and the game is fast. “Goal kicks” are thrown in by the goalkeeper, not kicked in, which minimizes time wasted with the ball being set for a kick and played long. There is no offside so goals can be scored from anywhere at any time. In a nutshell, it is basketball with your feet.
The point of futsal is that anyone can play and do what they want with the ball as a form of small sided street soccer. Since South Americans, who developed futsal, were often poor, they did not have a ball to play with or shoes to wear. So they just made a small ball with rags or any object and kicked it around the neighborhood streets and using random sized goals to score in. FIFA formalized the sport and made it a World event as the popularity grew. Because a regular soccer ball would bounce so high on a hard surface, and would often be blasted out of bounds many times, it made sense to make a futsal ball heavier so that it would not bounce much and thus players could be constantly involved in the game without the ball being regularly kicked long or high. This closer proximity to the playing surface led to more touches with the feet and thus faster footwork resulted.
The benefits of futsal are:
When futsal is played right, in a year-round setting, the skill transfer to outdoor soccer is immediate. Futsal players, when they play outdoor soccer, have better control of the bigger ball, faster footwork, more technical range to play the ball, quicker decision making processes, more self-confidence and faster transitional play as any loss of ball will often result in a quick shot on goal due to the small courts. So being able to attack and defend in an instant is a critical benefit that a futsal player has in soccer.
Essentially, every player in futsal is constantly involved in the game so they dramatically improve their skills and have so much more fun with the game. In 11v11 soccer, often a player may not touch the ball for a few minutes or longer and this can be boring and ineffective for a player to improve or impact the game. Many times players are subbed out without barely touching the ball. This would rarely happen in futsal. Thus, futsal is a fantastic environment for developing players who love the ball at their feet and can play quickly both in attack and defense. For goalkeepers, it provides incredible speed and range of shots from all angles so reflexes, positioning, agility, reactions and instincts are honed very quickly through futsal match exposure.
BSA: Why do you think futsal is so successful in nurturing the skills of many of the world's best soccer players like Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar and Coutinho and many of those before them from Pele to Ronaldinho?
This is the critical question that everyone must understand if they wish to use futsal to develop top quality soccer players. In my lifetime, I have never seen a world class player emerge from a rich economic social background of top facilities and structured year-round coaching. No world class player used parachutes to make them run faster, or speed ladders, cones, hurdles, or whatever gimmick some company is touting today to make your child a better athlete or player.
The world’s best players learned their skills and speed of play from street soccer and thus futsal.
It was not from the structured versions of futsal that we see so much today, with expensive leagues and tournaments dominating the scene. Players like Messi, Neymar and Ronaldinho came from unstructured street ball much like America’s great basketball players.
In Brazil, futsal is played like a PE in school. So it is a daily activity year round to be constantly involved with the ball. For poor children, it is unstructured small sided games with a round object that is essential for their development to be pro soccer players of the future. Learning to control, juggle and dribble the ball are the absolute fundamental tenants of real futsal before they begin to pass and shoot.
In the upbringing of these world class players, the dribbler was king. You had fun with the ball at your feet, not treating it as a hot potato. So nutmegs, flicks, rolls, cuts, pull backs, spins, fakes, etc, were essential tricks to gain credibility in each neighborhood. If you could beat an opponent 1v1 once, you were OK, but to beat an entire group 1v5 or 1v10, you were the master of the game. Such daily hierarchy battles were the soccer lessons for these players who grew to be world class with the ball. From the chaos of street futsal came genius as all these players learned through puberty (no matter their size) to be comfortable under pressure but also slick and smooth where the ball was glued to their feet as they twisted and turned through multiple challenges. The culture of futsal in the streets is where world class skills have been fawned for 60+ years or more when we first saw a teenage Pele burst on to the world stage with his beautiful art form of soccer from Brazil.
BSA: Is there a common denominator that you can identify in the success of these top players and their beginnings in futsal?
The common denominator for many of these top players and their beginnings in futsal is that they first played on the street before they played in the gyms and halls. They had fun with the ball at their feet and played to dribble before they played to pass. They played to be the individual king before they played to be the king team.
BSA: Since futsal is mainly a Winter sport in America how could we make it year-round and more mainstream?
This is the gimmick part of futsal in America. Since much of the country is cold and has unpredictable bad weather during the Winter months, many soccer teams plan to be inside over the Winter and have picked up on the ease of using school and rec center gyms rather than walled arenas with indoor turf surfaces. This convenience has drawn many teams to futsal over indoor soccer with cleats. Having more gyms that will host futsal, especially on Sundays when many schools and rec centers would be closed, provides a valuable financial gain for the host facilities and greater community engagement as both youth and adult teams grow. So futsal clubs, organizations, leagues and tournaments should research more of these local facilities and create more opportunities to play in their communities. They don’t have to wait to use a soccer or sport specific arena that may be fully booked each Winter. Just start cold calling every school and gym space in your area and start setting up futsal play and practice.
However, the gimmick, is that too often people think that a couple months of futsal games will make their players better, or rather their teams. This is not the case. When you engage in futsal as a team in a league or tournament you are too focused on the outcome of the games. That is to win. Thus scoring goals is often the main objective. Not having much time to develop the actual skills that futsal can nurture, futsal is used as a shooting practice environment. With that, I mean, just pass and kick at goal as quickly and as often as possible. Many coaches think if they win futsal games. They are getting better. Sadly that is not true at all. If you kick a ball past a player standing in the goal more times than the person in your goal got scored upon that has little to do with actual ball control, footwork or creative skill. Basically, any kid can just kick a ball toward a goal and it may go in. But how many can control the ball when it comes to them, beat an opponent who is pressuring to tackle them, and maintain control of the ball on the run, twisting and turning past opponents before they kick the ball in to the goal? That is skill development.
So, to end the gimmick side of futsal in America, we need to change the culture of futsal from just another game to win, to a game to test and challenge our players to be creative with the ball under pressure.
The main way for that to happen is to create year-round futsal opportunities. So we need year round play. To do that, we need the clubs to work together with the gyms and rec centers to offer discounted space year-round to keep those facilities used for futsal. Adult futsal league and youth futsal league play and practice year-round. When the weather is consistently better in the summer, have outdoor futsal on basketball courts, tennis courts, parking lots, hockey rinks, skate parks, even solid turf fields can be easily utilized. Have plenty of pick up futsal set up.
Once coaches, parents and players are educated on how futsal translates to real creative skills in their players, the demand to play more futsal will grow. Then the supply of league play, exhibition play, pick up play, practice, etc, and use of facilities will be increased.
The other essential bubble up factor to make futsal more mainstream is to provide more futsal play in the inner cities. Like almost every youth culture in the world, once inner city kids participate in an activity or fashion, it quickly becomes the global youth culture. I have always believed that America sets the bar on all youth culture from music to fashion to language and sport. However, soccer remains the opposite as it has become the world’s number one sport without American inner city influence. So if futsal were to dominate inner city life in the US, the impact globally would be unheard of. Once America produces its first world class soccer player, and that player most likely will come from the inner city, then soccer will explode here like nothing seen before. Futsal can be that trigger to taking the US to the top of the global soccer tree for generations to come. But it won’t be through “pay to play” elitist sources or European pro club academies and schools which fail in their own nations. It will be because of street soccer culture becoming mainstream. So we must provide inner city youth with year-round access to futsal if we want to achieve the task of nurturing a player with world class skills.
BSA: How could we combine soccer training practices with futsal each week so that players can benefit from both environments?
Any time a club team trains 3 times a week, one of those sessions should be freestyle futsal. Any coach serious about developing his or her players with genuine skill, should be allowing their players to play futsal freely at least once a week year-round. Then you will see those players learn the tactical demands of 11v11 soccer but also improve the technical nuances of playing in tight spaces and playing a faster smarter slicker game.
BSA: There are many futsal leagues and tournaments played around the country among both youth and adult teams. The sport has certainly taken a massive step in replacing indoor soccer off the walls. Are there any negatives to futsal that you have identified vs the indoor soccer model?
For over 4000 years the Chinese told us with every ying there is a yang. In futsal, the negatives vs indoor soccer are few but still significant. If you play indoor soccer on turf, there is going to be an easier transition back to outdoor soccer than futsal because of wearing cleats, the size of the ball used, the bounce of the ball, the length of the turf court, the endurance in the game and for goalkeepers the safety in landing on the turf surface versus a hard court or gym floor. Also, goalkeepers get to take a goal kick in indoor soccer and some indoor leagues have sidelines for throw ins, instead of side walls. There are also many indoor soccer leagues that play 6v6, 7v7 and even 9v9. So more players can play in a game and thus can eliminate some cost and increase some participation.
BSA: US Soccer now mandates futsal among its youngest academy teams, how do you see this as a critical step in developing America's first world class player?
As I have touched upon in my earlier responses, structured environments and tactical pattern play futsal will not lead to a world class player emerging from futsal. You will only create role players like that with basic technique.
Where this mandate is critical is that US Soccer has at least identified the environment of futsal as being a factor in a young player’s skill development.
Now, the key is who is coaching futsal for those players?
What style of play will they be conditioned with?
What self-expression will the players have?
What freedom will the players have?
What mistakes and trial and error will be tolerated by those coaches?
Will the futsal be player centric or team centric?
The only way I see America producing a world class soccer player from futsal is if the game is free, unstructured, year-round and available to all not just a chosen few. If US Soccer can develop such a culture in its academies that will transcend to every club and school in America, then we will finally see this nation’s first ever world class soccer player and there will be no stopping the US after that. I hope those who govern the game here finally get that and move to implement that culture across the board.
BSA: How can others get involved in Futsal America?
Just go to the website: www.futsalamericafc.com and any one can contact me via the site to participate, learn, start a program, follow a skill curriculum or whatever they need to know. There is plenty of information and especially video of the skills, games and fun aspects of the sport. Currently, players and teams from DC, VA and MD are in the program and more are asking about it all the time.
BSA: What do you think we can do to increase the number of African American youth in soccer?
3 things essentially:
1. Bring futsal to the inner cities of America year-round as their introduction to soccer. No need for large grass areas in order for hundreds and thousands to play.
2. Eliminate pay to play
3. Sponsor futsal as an elementary school, middle school, high school and college sport and then push the IOC to make it an Olympic sport.
With more African American players in futsal, we will see more skill in soccer as they switch. The perception of speed must be modified to a perception of skill of the African American player. Freddy Adu almost brought that message home until MLS destroyed him. Had he gone to Brazil, his dribbling instincts would have been encouraged and honed and by age 18 he could have been the real deal here. Futsal can nurture the next Freddy Adu or American Coutinho or Ronaldinho or Marta but they need to bring the game to every city in America.
BSA: Next year futsal goes pro with the full time Professional Futsal League (PFL). There are some major hitters investing in this pro league such as Mark Cuban, Barcelona, Corinthians of Brazil, etc. Where do you see the future of futsal in America at the pro level?
I have to say as a futsal fan and proponent, I am extremely concerned. Like the women’s pro game here, they have consistently made mistakes in launching it as a viable pro sport. There are so many things wrong with pro soccer at the women’s level that futsal is set for an exact same response as previous pro women and indoor soccer models. Too big too fast too soon.
You don’t throw money at a sport where there is little to no fan base developed. Like the women’s game, futsal has no super stars that can sustain a full time pro presence here in such a large country. Think about it. The travel alone is a money pit. Then to pay full time salaries when there is no market for fans or advertisers or national TV contracts to promote the sport as mainstream is just suicide.
How many cities will host teams? The logistics in a country this size is at the level of a UEFA Champions League match in Europe every week. Well among billionaire pro clubs, that does not happen, so how does anyone in America expect futsal to make money on a national pro level to sustain full time franchises? Nobody knows the players. I have been doing futsal for over 30 years and I don’t know the players. How many top stars are there worth paying to watch? Even if you had Ronaldinho, Robinho, Ricardo and Falcao playing. That’s 4 older super stars. That’s not enough to put on one team never mind 10 teams or more. It’s madness. We barely have any top players in MLS, so to think a “pass and shoot” model of soccer indoor will sell today with all the other entertainment we have at our disposal is quite embarrassing as a business model. One city may be hyped for futsal, but there is no way 10 cities will be in the next year. So like MISL indoor pro soccer, etc, it will fail and thus kill the sport as a future viable pro enterprise, Pro Futsal will be ruined.
To do this, it must be done right. That means the entertainment value must be of the level of the Harlem Globetrotters at their peak. The game must be fun to watch. All the music, lights and fan giveaways in the world won’t be enough if the teams just shoot to win each week. Skills and thrills with the ball must be seen. I doubt any pro coach is going to promote that in this country when their job is to win matches. Honestly, if you pay $20 to watch pro futsal, do you really care if Dallas Rangers beat New York Stars 9-6??? No, this pro league is a bad move right now.
I do believe we can see both a men and women pro futsal league in the future but it needs to build up very slowly. Locally and regionally in small venues with local players gaining local community support. Once they can engage the youth in the area, we may have a generation who can both play the sport well and entertain us for pay. But not today. Let’s get the schools and colleges to play first so youth players take to the sport as a game to watch not just a Winter gimmick.
BSA: There are national teams for futsal and a World Cup. The Olympics is deciding whether to make futsal an official competition for its medals. Colleges across America are playing futsal. Youth national team programs have started. Is this the right model for the top of the pyramid of the sport, if so why and if not, how would you like to see the model of the sport progress?
It’s great to see futsal grow so fast. Every year more and more players and teams want to play. More and more competitions crop up. I love the idea of college futsal. It will be a great Olympics sport. In fact, I would argue that you put futsal in the Winter Olympics. I believe it would be the biggest watched event as soccer often is in the main Olympics. I like the national team programs that are developing, especially for girls. The more international experience American players get the better they will become learning new styles and nuances.
For me the pyramid should be simple and easy to follow. Youth rec, youth travel, youth national team, with elementary, middle and high school futsal followed by college futsal. Then adult rec, adult travel and adult semi pro and national team futsal.
While that would be the infrastructure, my main concern is how they play futsal. It has to be player centric at the youth level. As long as futsal is played with freedom to try things in games, it will work at developing great individual skills. It will be fun to play and watch. But as I have stated before, too many coaches are just using futsal as another game to win. They don’t care about the skills, the nuances, the tricks that make the skilled player. They want a “collect and pass” strategy of 1-2 touches only with plenty of shots from anywhere and at any time. There is no control of the ball, no thought of how to play with the ball. They are turning futsal in to what outdoor soccer has become: “kick and run” and a battle of puberty. Well, that has not worked for this country so “playing to win” futsal will not work either.
At Futsal America, the ball is the toy. That is the culture and that is why we have seen so many players develop truly brilliant skills. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but I am interested in seeing players like Marta, Messi, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Coutinho every week. I am not interested in watching Abby Wambach and Michael Bradley. So for me, the model of futsal should be to promote the individuality of the player before the team until the individual player is very comfortable with dealing and solving pressure problems with the ball.
BSA: You have been involved in the development of soccer in America since 1989. What are some of the key areas of progress that have been made over that time?
There are many advances in the game since I started coaching here in 1989:
BSA: We have some 20 million registered youth playing soccer in America at some level. However, with all the money, facilities, coaches, education, exposure and logistical resources provided we still have not seen an American world class player produced that could walk into any team in the world or is even sought after by the top clubs in world soccer. Can you explain why this is?
PAY TO PLAY
The single biggest issue preventing America from developing a world class soccer player is the pay to play culture.
There are so many issues with this.
First, nowhere in the world have I seen a world class player who paid to play soccer.
You can pay for all the coaching and resources you want, it will never be enough to make a world class player. Such players come from the poorest backgrounds where the need to survive and hunger to succeed far outweigh what they were given. It comes from an edgy cultural experience where you dedicate your life to your sport through skill building, fun, hard work, trial and error, desperation, inspiration and nuance. Not regimented and structured drills.
You cannot spawn a world class soccer player from 90 minutes of team training 2-3 times a week followed by warrior soccer matches where the physical play overcomes the technical nuance.
It does not matter if your team wins 10-0 this week and loses 10-0 next week. The team results do not make the player. The process is more important than the end product. Only what the player does with the ball makes a player. All that matters is that they enjoyed themselves and tried things in the games over and over. Marta did not win national championships as a young girl to become the best female player in the world and 5 time FIFA Player of the Year and neither did Messi. Championships do not make the player.
America keeps making “elite” and “select” national leagues, forcing bigger and faster athletes to compete with each other before their bodies and minds and skills have grown. We don’t see an American Zidane and Ronaldo spawn in the US because we don’t have the culture here to give young potential like that time on the ball to grow. We want bigger and faster now instead of let a kid lose the ball a few times and learn to find another way to solve the problem.
America has many of the best athletes in the world and many good youth players. But by late high school, college or even pro, all that freedom and risk taking is conditioned out of them as they quickly become role players or horses in a race.
Defenders are not encouraged to control the ball in the box or dribble out of pressure. Midfield players are not encouraged to put their foot on the ball and lure pressure to the ball while forwards rarely check in to the ball to receive and turn to take on defenders. Everything is directed to get forward into open space and take a shot or just play possession for possessing sake. Coaches play their best athletes the majority of the game and do not give the slower or smaller players significant game time for them to improve. Coaches are afraid to lose the ball and thus a goal and thus a game for fear of losing their job or money or status or ranking or points. Coaches have little faith in the players and thus puppeteer commands all game to the players thus failing to nurture free thinking and intelligent players who can see for themselves how to win a game by a pass shot or dribble. Players are afraid to take risks for fear of letting their coaches, team or parents down. Coaches put way too much emphasis on the opponent’s ranking, record, size, speed, etc, and thus build up games to be way more important than they actually are. Coaches celebrate winning tournaments of 3-4 games in a weekend as if those 4 games were in the World Cup instead of just 4 shortened amateur youth games. Coaches and parents (the actual adults) get far too emotional in the games putting unnecessary pressure and stress on the players. Instead of supporting their kids, they live through them and put unreal expectations on them.
There are just so many issues with the pay to play structure that will always fail because the governing body does not use the money they get for the sport and from its consumers wisely and effectively to develop the right model for kids to grow and express themselves with the ball. Even in youth World Cups, the US is more concerned with beating Ghana or New Zealand than focusing on how the players play with the ball and improve for the senior team where it matters. Then at the senior level, the US cannot keep the ball against the likes of Costa Rica and Panama who have barely 20,000 players compared to 20 million that the US have. It’s all wrong from top to bottom and the academy gimmick system will continue to fail too.
Only freestyle nuance and street soccer skills will lead to a world class player. They destroyed Freddy Adu by playing the wrong style of play and putting too much on his shoulders too young and that is what happens to every potentially great player here. Results before performances kill the skill.
I have a saying. Form is temporary, class is permanent. US Soccer needs to learn this motto.
BSA: What direction would you like US Soccer and US Youth Soccer go toward in correcting or improving this issue (developing a world class player)?
Eliminate all elite youth leagues on a national level, including all club academies.
Leave kids local.
Provide a universal youth and school calendar so that there are no conflicts for kids and families in the sport that stress and burn them out.
The most important direction is culture and power.
As a culture, I would like to see futsal become a weekly sport mandated by all clubs and schools and provided to every inner city and rural neighborhood in America.
Then I would like to see the power reversed from the clubs and back to the states and the national governing body. This can be done overnight through ODP and make the states accountable for the players’ skills developed at that level.
Once you end the splintered landscape of leagues that force teams to travel 2+ hours to play a single game, you will relieve a lot of conflicts for families, players and coaches. Traffic in and around the cities is becoming a major travel problem season after season as it takes longer and longer to get to your games and practices. Families are greatly burdened with this until kids learn to drive themselves. So teams should stay within an hour of their homes to play youth games. Same for schools up to the university level. No youth player should be allowed to practice further than 90 minutes from their home. It is time to bring back local communities and neighborhood play before it is lost forever.
Competition is not more important than fun. An American player is not going to become world class by playing the youth teams of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, AC Milan, Chelsea and PSG every week. But a player can become a top player developing the art of dribbling against different players, ages, genders on a daily basis. Street style soccer.
The problem is that too many coaches never developed in street soccer themselves and thus did not play beyond college. So they don’t have the experience of what top level soccer is, what it looks like and how players develop to that level. Coaches love to watch a Messi and a Ronaldo but ask the coach how to nurture a player like that and they are clueless. Ask the national coach how to develop a Marta in America. They couldn’t tell you yet they are given roles in the game to see the sport grow which is supposed to lead to top level soccer at an international level. I have never seen a US team, men or women, control the ball in an international match for more than 4 or 5 passes consistently. I see so little combination play from the back, through the midfield or in and around the box, never mind a step over or an elastico move to beat a defender. We just see direct athletic soccer and a culture of gimmicks to make athletes stronger rather than young players better on the ball.
When I took our inner-city kids to Europe at U18 for a tour of professional academies, we played the likes of Liverpool, West Ham, Chelsea and Ajax. The KNVB National Coach in Holland said after a 6-4 game against their #2 ranked U19 team that he had never seen a team playing so many wall passes from end to end. It was too much in his mind. Yet Holland have failed to develop world class players or teams since the Ajax ’95 generation. Their Euro 2000 team under Frank Rijkaard was the last great one. We played the Dutch in 2001 and they still have not learned that their culture of development was too structured to work in the modern game. Players need to be more versatile and individually skilled to break down deeper lying defenses. This is an astonishing oversight in youth development in Europe and because US Soccer likes to follow trends, they are following the same failed models.
In everything America does in business and sport, they are the world leaders, but in soccer they remain years behind. That has to be because of the leadership and soccer culture created here.
So to encourage a new level of cultural skill building, we must bring accountability into the top level of the national development structure and have it filter down to the coaches and parents.
ODP can do this by eliminating the bias and recruiting that plagued it before. By implementing and eliminating the things I stated earlier we have to put the emphasis on the clubs to become player centric.
Currently they are all team centric, geared to win titles, championships and trophies. That system is doomed to continue to fail as it has for over 50 years.
However, if US Soccer mandates that players will primarily be selected for the national teams through ODP, and top colleges recruit mainly from this top end of the pyramid, we can make all clubs and states accountable for the kind of players that come from them.
So with a universal schedule August through July, this is the way forward.
ODP runs state by state tryouts in August to pick 20 of the best available state players for a Labor Day weekend tournament where there will be an ODP bracket for 3 games.
For example, Virginia will play Maryland, Connecticut and North Carolina that weekend, one game a day.
ODP will start identifying talent at U15 not before. That gives players plenty of time to develop their skills and bodies as they enter High School.
ODP will be eliminated at the regional level. It will only exist state by state and then National team.
No training. ODP will exist only as a game schedule identification process of 30 games September through June.
ODP teams will be fluid and flexible where the coaches must look at as many players in their state in these 30 games to pick a final squad of 20 to send to national camp in June.
Any coach in a state can recommend a player for the ODP coach to select and evaluate at any time of the year. If the player is more skilled than the previous 20, he or she stays in the pool. if not they are told what to work on and the coach who referred the player is told what the deficiencies are so the player can try to return at a future date.
No player should be missed from this process as there will be no pay to play. ODP will be sponsored by US Soccer focusing on identifying the most skilled players.
Once national camp starts in June, national staff will select the best 20 players for the national team that will play in a tournament for a week or so. Trips to Costa Rica, Brazil, Germany, China, or wherever can give the players international games to mimic the World Cup tournament experience from U15 to U19. This way the best youth players learn to compete and adapt to an international tournament setting from the age of 14.
The accountability would be on the ODP coach at state level to pick highly skilled players who can play with the likes of Brazil or France at youth level. So if 2 players from VA are selected, that ODP coach can stay for next year as one who is identifying players for the top level of play. But if no players are selected and the VA pool at national camp are players who cannot control the ball under pressure and easily turn it over then the coach can be held accountable and replaced by another coach who may have a better eye for talent. This accountability will spread down to the clubs and parents as clubs will only have prestige and status for how many of their players are being selected for ODP rather than how many championships their club teams are winning.
This is how we can revolutionize the soccer culture at youth level in America and discover the American Messi. Skill vs Size can only come from accountability from top to bottom.
BSA: Regarding coaching education, mentorship schemes, opportunities for African Americans in soccer how can things be improved to provide more jobs and roles in the sport for our readers?
The same way these improvements have been made in the gender roles in the sport. We see more female administrators, coaches, ADs, referees, etc, and even commentators, presenters and reporters in the broadcasting of the sport. These changes came about through equal opportunity laws and rights, mentorships, internships, transparent hiring practices, networking and education.
I believe life is what you make it. In this world, life is too short for regrets. So you have to pursue life not wait for life to pursue you.
Your future in the game is decided by you not some employer. If you have the knowledge, education, qualifications, personality, determination, skill and discipline to fulfill a position in the game, then you must put yourself up for the job and keep applying and knocking on that door until someone opens it. But be ready, no matter how many rejections to one day take that opportunity. Nobody owes you anything. Everyone wants the best person for the job because nobody wants to fail. So prepare to succeed.
If you don’t get the job you want because nobody interviewed you, then ask around for similar positions, talk to those who work currently or previously in the role and find out the conditions and pros and cons of their experiences.
Share your own experiences with other members. Don’t just be a taker, be a giver. Teach your players, your colleagues about training, nutrition, recovery work, fitness, management, marketing, budgeting, seasonal planning, dealing with parents, fans, media, logistics, everything that you have learned pass it on. One day, someone will do that for you too.
One of the more tangible things we can do as an organization is use this website for education and opportunity.
A monthly podcast can discuss the issues in the game we face here and around the world.
Job postings can be shared.
Resume writing and cover letter examples can be shared.
Experiences with coaching licenses in the US and abroad can be shared.
A website can be a wealth of information and inspiration in today’s world. It comes down to giving first. Help others you know or who ask.
At Futsal America, for example, all our players mentor the youngest players in the program. Whether it is to help them with juggling a ball or doing a move or thinking of what to eat before or after a game, any question or concern is immediately shared and addressed. Older players referee too so that they appreciate the difficulty in learning the rules and applying them correctly and in spirit. They must learn to motivate others as well as themselves.
On the futsalamericafc site, so much of what is done in the program is listed and demonstrated on video. Nothing is a secret, it is important to improve the game around us by sharing what works and what does not so others can also experiment and find their solutions.
Our membership should be world leaders in helping coaches and players from around the world navigate the American culture and system. What may seem a small detail to us could be a massive boost and solution to someone else searching for that information. So maybe a forum on the site to share ideas and direction may be of great use.
We can’t complain about those we want to hire and help us when we don’t do the same for others. So I suggest for everyone reading this to provide some time to mentor someone and give them help as they need it. Our example will be passed forward as we network.
BSA: Finally, you have given 28 years to soccer in America. Where do you see yourself in 10 years and what changes can you see coming in the game?
In 10 years, I expect to be coming to the end of my coaching life for players and moving on to more of a consultant life for coaches, clubs and organizations. Helping as many people in the game as I can put together effective, fun and challenging programs that help develop their players. I would love to travel the world more and help different countries implement more futsal oriented cultures for boys and girls in their development strategies. It would be fantastic to see a world class player come from Indonesia, Madagascar or Azerbaijan for a change instead of just Brazil and France. How about the Bermuda or Jamaica women’s national team qualify for a World Cup or Olympics and beat the USA? Something like that would be possible if they embraced a futsal culture from youth to adult and I would like to help establish that long term program.
The main change in the game that I see is that technology will make more decisions for us. Not just goal line decisions but fouls, offside and even tactical ones by a smart robot assistant coach. For example, I think the 5th official behind the goal line has been a total failure and needs to be abandoned for technology. Everything is being analyzed in real time now so we are just an app away from the first robot coach or referee.
We will certainly see the first female head ref of a men’s pro game and a female coach at the Men’s UEFA Champions League level.
I am waiting for the next Black coach of a top European club. Since Frank Rijkaard it has been very disappointing to see a lack of diversity in coaching practices of the top clubs that inspire people all over the globe. Diversity is key for the sport to thrive and grow and so we need more ethnic coaches and players in the game with different ideas and styles. If governing bodies and club chairmen become bolder and more adventurous with a futsal kind of spirit, we could finally see the game become as multicultural off the field as we see it on. Then the game will be more fun and entertaining to play and watch, and isn’t that what the game is about?
BSA: Thank you so much again Coach Kab for taking your time to talk to us.
The Futsal America program: