Q&A WITH JILL ELLIS US WOMEN’S TEAM ASSISTANT & WOMENS DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR

Jill has extensive experience in the U.S. Women’s National Team programs, having served as an assistant coach under Pia Sundhage helping the U.S. Women’s National Team to a Gold Medal at the 2008 and recently the 2012 Olympics in London. Jill has served two stints as head coach of the U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team, guiding the squad to the CONCACAF title in 2010 and to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Germany.

Jill Ellis took the lead on interacting directly with key coaches within the youth club environment while also guiding and directing the U.S. U-17s, U-15s and U-14s US National Teams

She also has been Head Coach for UCLA (University of California Los Angeles) Women’s Program but took a full time role with the USSF in 2011 as Women’s Development Director. Jill holds a USSF A license.

Questions…

1/What is your Role at US Soccer?

I oversee the U14, U15, and U17 Women’s Youth National teams’ programs, the Scouting Network, and our Training Center program.  Simplified, I am working with my counter part April Heinrichs to provide direction and assistance to the women’s youth national team players, coaches, and their environments.

 2/ How has your experience working with Pia Sundhage been? 

Pia is fantastic to work with.  Most of our time on the road is off the field, so working with someone who loves to laugh and is eternally optimistic is a real joy.  She is incredibly inclusive with her staff and that really does create an environment that is very collegial.  I have enjoyed talking soccer and life with Pia and I will miss her.

3/ As a youth coach at national team level what kind of characteristics in a player are you looking for?

The demands of the international game really dictate what players need to be able to do to perform for a National Team.  A high degree of technical proficiency is optimum, even at the U14 age group in camp, the more comfortable a player is on the ball the easier it is to execute in a faster environment.  I think a player’s mental makeup is another important attribute.  They are playing  against the other top players in their age, so bringing a confident and competitive attitude to training is an important piece.  Tactics will be taught in training camps, but those players who watch soccer regularly definitely  show a quicker learning curve to absorb information.

4/ Do you think the standard of players being produced in US is getting better?

I do, but we must continue to push higher.  We will only be able to play at the top level if our club coaches believe they are an integral part of the process and also continue to evolve.  There are some very skillful players out there and more and more our top young players are watching the game so we are seeing some very sophisticated players in our programs. The truly special players need a club coach who has a specific plan for that player’s development.  Typically our most technical players are our smaller players, well now the challenge is to have our most athletic players be as technical so we can be a nation that has it all.

 5/ Do you think the standard of youth coaching is getting better?

In this new role I have been fortunate to meet and interact with many coaches in the club system and yes there are some quality coaches out there.  In hiring for the U17 and U15 Head Coaches in this last cycle it was how Albertin and Damon’s teams played that I was initially drawn to.  Yes, they have been successful, but they emphasized technical development and their teams like to build and possess. I would definitely challenge the club coach to revisit their training environment – as coaches we all get comfortable with the drills we know, but the practices we ran with a team 5 years ago might be beneath the current players we have.  Instead of simply possession in a grid for our high school age players, now let’s add direction and positions. Can we do more functional work with the players?  Instead of one drill to fit everyone maybe tonight we focus on our wide players and we put them in learning situations they will see in the game.  I know its a long answer, but the same weaknesses the club coaches identify in their game exist at the YNT – so let’s start to address them…crossing, finishing, driven balls etc.
6/ Do you think the new USSF Curriculum will take US Soccer to the next level?

 The new curriculum definitely has information that is both valuable and practical, but, ultimately it will come down to the coaches of our younger players who are out on the practice fields and sidelines being able to take the recommendations and utilize them.  Claudio Reyna spent a lot of time traveling Europe to look at what the rest of the world is doing so the information is current and relevant to both boys and girls.

7/ How was the Olympic Experience in London. 

London was great, Wembley even better.  It was fun to finish in London and stay in the Village with all the other nations and truly get immersed in the Olympic spirit.  I grew up in England and watched games at Wembley on tv,  so to get to experience that was amazing.

Here is a video with Jill Ellis and other technical coaching staff at US Soccer talking about the new USSF Curriculum:

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