The Importance of Coaching Within the Lower Leagues

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Coaching in sport is often the most influential part in any team’s process of achieving greatness. Sure we look at players like Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Hank Aaron, and Pele as individuals that changed the landscape of the sport they respectively played in, but coaching has led to so many more innovations in sport. Would the Los Angeles Lakers have won three straight NBA titles without Phil Jackson? Would the New England Patriots have won five Super Bowl titles without Bill Belichick? Even now the big debate in the Premier League is who is the best coach: Pep Guardiola or Jürgen Klopp?

At the highest level of professional sport, coaching will always remain the most important factor for winning. But how does coaching affect the lower tiers of American Soccer? How does someone become a coach? And how can coaching in the lower leagues help prepare individuals for the next level in their coaching careers?

Tactics over talent

America has one of the most active youth soccer scenes in the world. With such a large player pool it’s hard to decide which region has the greatest talent. When you look throughout history you can spot talented individuals from all over the country: Landon Donovan is from Southern California, Clint Dempsey is from Texas, Tim Ream is from Missouri, and Italian international Giuseppe Rossi is from New Jersey. Every club has a great player; that’s what makes coaching the most important piece to winning.

Clint

The easiest way to spot a well-coached team is looking for organization. When a team is organized the viewer can see players stick to their positions, cover a vacated position, shift together as a unit, form a linear defense and press as a team.

When a team is unorganized you often see players chasing for the ball with no intention to cover any space. They rely solely on their physical ability to close down a ball, which leaves open gaps within the field that are easily exploited through a few chains of passing. When the back line can’t line up properly, an attacker can earn free space behind a defender with an open chance against a goalkeeper. If a team can’t press as one unit, it expends energy without ever turning over the ball or forcing a bad pass from the opposition. Organization is the first step that should be drilled into a squad, then a team can focus on various styles of play to beat an opponent.

Many teams use a direct style of play. They focus on using long passes to find openings in the opposition half. A fast and physical front line is necessary to help create and take advantage of space. Oftentimes the team that plays direct also does it in a form of counter-attacking. It will wait for the opposition to commit numbers into the attack, then break up play and immediately get into the opposition’s defensive half.

Some coaches also choose to dictate play and tempo by using a more possessive style of play. These teams play through each positional line waiting for the opposition defense to overcommit and leave open gaps to be exploited. Passing sequences often form triangles which help draw in defenders as they continue to chase down the ball. Long passes are used to change the direction of attack after shifting the opposition to one side. The key to being successful in possession is to be patient, play with your head up and always search for passing options.

While certain coaches may have preferred styles of play, it is each team’s specific positional instructions that help dictate who passes, who receives, how to defend, and the various ways the attackers should score. A good coach prepares their squad for each match and should be willing to change things throughout the the ninety minutes to either fix their squad’s weaknesses or exploit the opposition’s shortcomings.

Becoming a coach

A coach is in charge of many facets of a team within the lower leagues. They oversee tactics, fitness, and player development. There are many routes to becoming a coach, but a coaching license is required for most coaching positions in the various regional and national leagues in our country. There are seven different licenses that are sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation, each of these licenses dictate the level of soccer that can be coached.

Like most players, a coach desires to take his or her position to the next level of competition. The coaching licenses help teach different things needed at each stop of a coach’s career. Some coaches are created from passionate consumers of the sport, while others become coaches after years of learning as a player. While the licensing process can teach you various drills and how to develop players, one’s playing career can also dictate how one coaches on a daily basis. Like in every business there are good mentors that help teach you along the way. Soccer is no different and many people learn about many efficient ways to train their squads from their peers.

Moving on up

To coach the best clubs in the world, a coach needs to continue to move up one club at a time. Unfortunately due to U.S. Soccer operating closed league pyramids, a coach has to leave a team if he or she seeks to further their coaching career. One example is Detroit City FC coach Ben Pirmann who recently left his head coaching position to become an assistant at USL Championship side Memphis 901 FC. While this news was shocking for Detroit fans, it also allows Pirmann to take a step forward in his career, one step that can eventually leads to MLS or abroad. Pirmann can eventually follow a similar career path to James O’Connor and Gio Savarese, both of whom moved from lower divisions to now coaching in MLS.

Ben Pirmann (Photo courtesy of Detroit Metro Times)

Ben Pirmann (Photo courtesy of Detroit Metro Times)

As more talented players start playing within the lower leagues, better coaches will be needed. Some clubs have taken an initiative to hire experienced names like Paul Caligiuri (OCFC/ OCFC 2) , while some coaches like Patrick Hodgins ( Milwaukee Bavarians SC) have created a name for themselves on the coaching level. There isn’t one way to find the right candidate to lead your club, but finding the right coach could mean the difference between becoming a champion or getting relegated.

- Steven Ramirez

Lola Vaughn