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:

Is it Leagues or Culture that Affect Players Development… or both?

Is it Leagues or Culture that Affect Players Development … or both?

I have worked both in England and the US watching players develop and become great players. However i have also seen too many players drop out of the game to quickly. I always think if there wasn’t too much of an emphasis on winning, would all players play. Being a coach myself i always want to be successful. But what is success?

Is success producing a top player who goes on to be a top professional player’s? success  watching kids play with a smile on their face and improving week in week out? or is it winning a league, trophy, medal etc?

Do not get me wrong it is great to win but it is how teams/coaches go about winning that can discourage a players development. I recently did an article on Performance over potential (Is Englands problem Player Identification) and it stated that potential can be over shadowed by performance. My questions are.. does setting up Leagues at youth level hurt long term development? Are there coaches out there that are playing the strong physically dominant players every minute of every game to win the game? Does the style of play get affected because teams/coaches think they have to win and in turn hinder a players development?

Each coach has their own philosophy and i believe that each person sees the game in a different way. This is fine however, do coaches see success as winning or developing players to play at the highest level they can?

In both the US and UK there is a winning mentality and a culture that is inpatient to development. There are many great coaches out there who (in my opinion) try to teach the right things and don’t sacrifice development over winning a game.

Landon Donovan is a great example of Player Development in the States.

“It’s amazing to me that people put so much emphasis on trying to be tactical and worry about winning when it doesn’t matter when you’re 12 years old,” Landon Donovan

Setting up a league sets up expectation. There becomes an expectation that a lot of parents want to finish top of the league. Emotions become part of the game because now there is added pressure. Pressure to perform to win the game and many youth players if its 6 yr olds to 15 yr olds cant handle.

I am a huge believer that a coach creates the environment on the sidelines (for the good or the bad). Coaches are a example for the parents. If coaches become so engraved in winning then parents do. If a coach creates a teaching environment than parents will see what the coach is trying to work on.

Another question i ask is do players play with freedom and express themselves. Do they want to take the risks that they would do in the park playing with their friends etc… Or does the game mean so much to coaches and parents that the players become robotic. Soccer/Football in my opinion is about making good decisions in the right areas of the field. However too much command style coaching can lead to predictable robotic players because coaches are thinking of getting that win.

Parents can also affect a players development…

Parents who allow and trust the coach’s to coach to improve their child’s game allow the development process to happen slowly. Parents who get caught up in the winning and coach from the sidelines want an immediate result are hurting their child. At my club we have a parent contract that all parents have to sign. No coaching on the sidelines is a huge one for us. This is vital to allow a player to concentrate on the game and play with no fear or distraction. I believe Parent education is just as important as player education. Constant communication with parents about what you as coaches are working on is huge as it allows parents now to see the game differently. If coaches and parents do not interact than it becomes a guessing game for the parents. Why is Jonny passing the ball back to the GK? Why is he playing Defender now? Why is coach bringing him off? etc.

Here is a link below to Positive Parenting by US Youth Soccer:

positive_parenting

I believe there are so many factors to hurt player development and creating a league could be one. However as mentioned before its is the coach that creates a learning environment. Coaches have a responsibility to teach players the enjoyment of the game and not games to become pressured environments that youth players cannot handle.

Do we need to implement leagues?

It is great to be competitive however in my opinion leagues should be catered to certain age groups. Young players cannot sometimes handle the pressure. When should winning matter and leagues be in place. I would love to here some feedback if leagues should be in place? If they should should they be catered to level of teams players? What age groups should league start?

Here is a powerpoint from the Dutch FA (KNVB) on player development. They create leagues but what is the culture of their nation. Holland amazes me as the population is only 16 mill people and they produce top international players on a regular basis.

dutch vision on development

Do their coaches create a learning environment instead of a winning at all costs one? Do the parents create a learning environment instead of a winning one? Do they play the physically dominant players to win games?

The FA and USSF are working hard on player development and also coach development. Consistent education to players, coaches and parents has to happen. A culture has to change. To have change people need to allow change and have a open mind to it. If parents, coaches, players become impatient then a nation that could fulfill its potential will always be trying to run before it can walk.

The views are my own, i would love some feedback…

Thanks for reading, Jamie