Now that soccer is spreading so rapidly among school children in the United States, the question of coaching becomes urgent and controversial. It is controversial enough even in England, where Ron Greenwood, coach of the English national team, recently criticized coaching of the young. Greenwood made no bones about his belief that many coaches are instilling bad habits in English soccer players.
In the United States, the problem is greater because most youths are starting from scratch.
Coaching, itself, always has had opponents in Britain. Youngsters should be allowed to develop naturally as soccer players, some critics insist. To coach them is to coach the virtues out of them, to repress their natural instinct for the game, and to turn them into automations.
There is a severe danger of this happening in America.
There are two reasons because the American version places a high premium on plays and tactics and because so many of the so-called coaches at the schoolboy level know little or nothing about soccer.
The result is that an absurd insistence is placed on formations and tactics, killing the joy of playing in their pupils, forcing them to submit themselves to systems such as 4-2-4, 4-3-3, 4-4-2 and man-to-man marking (defensive coverage).
Tactics in soccer should always come to technique, invention and intelligence. Soccer is essentially a game of common sense. If a player is doing the sensible thing - looking for open space, backing up a teammate on defense, passing to an unmarked man, marking an unmarked opponent - tactics take care of themselves.
The way to bring soccer to the young is to let them enjoy themselves. I don't think this begs the question. If you throw a soccer ball to a group of children, they want to kick it, control it, juggle it - some of the basics of the game.
Leave youngsters alone and they will learn to play on their own. That is the wisdom of the anti-coaches. It might suffice in Europe and South America, where there is a long, strong tradition of soccer, but it just won't do in the United States, where there is scarcely any tradition at all.
What is the poor parent-coach or would-be coach to do? He has dozens of children who want to play soccer, and he probably has never played it himself, let alone taught it. He has nothing but books to turn to and to try to learn soccer from books is a hopeless endeavor.
In addition, well-meaning parents are not helped by bad examples set elsewhere in the States. For Example, Walt Chyzowych, the Amercian national coach, has been criticized by Gordon Clark, the former coach of the famous West Bromwich Albion team and one of the most respected scouts in Britain, for insisting that the United States Olympic team mark man to man.
Clark, who worked in the North American Soccer League, believes, with justice, that such methods are essentially negative, and strangle the creative urge in young footballers. But college coaches all over America mistakenly favor the strategy, which has done so much to kill attacking soccer in Italy.
Then there is the insane practice, in collegiate soccer, of allowing unlimited substitutions - a practice abused to the point of outrage by the Indiana team, which has been known to make 20 substitutions in a game.
Soccer is a 90-minute sport divided into two periods of 45 minutes each, in which substitutions are minimal.
In the World Cup, no more than two are allowed in any game, and that only since 1970. In the English league, only one is permissible. This means players must learn to pace themselves for 90 minutes, and coaches must plan accordingly. How can they possibly do so when player are coming on and off the field in endless relays?
The question, then, is who will coach the coaches? Many NASL clubs are working very hard, through their own players, to spread the practical experience is worth 10 tons of theory, and it is always advisable for any group of young potential soccer players to find someone who has played the game to teach them.
Failing that, it is most important that adult coaches attend some kind of course or clinic to teach them about soccer. The trouble is that they may well meet inferior coaches who will prattle on about man-to-man marking and tactical formations.
Tactics should always be fitted to the players on has available. Practice and encouragement of skills should always be at the heart of all coaching of the young.
But until America has built up its own soccer traditions, the difficulties will remain. What is beyond doubt is, in the words of a famous English coach, George Raynor, "There is no substitute for skill. Skill must always be placed before tacties." CAPTION: Picture, Some soccer expert decry U.S. emphasis on teaching youngsters plays and tactics, not skills. By Kenneth Stancil - The Washington Post