Jeff Carroll grew up playing for two different clubs: Northglenn Thunder and Club Columbine, which became Rush. He played on a B team until he was 14 and then played for the top team at Northglenn for two years then went to Rush and played on a state championship team for the rest of his youth career. Jeff went to college at Holy Cross, which is a small D1 school. He played every year there and then played semi-professionally for the Boston Bulldogs and Worcester Wildfire while he was finishing up his senior year. During the summers he trained with the Colorado Rapids MLS team and now he continues to play at an amateur level.
What does your current job involve?
JC: I am considered the Director of Coaching for Colorado Storm North. We don’t have it titled as a certain age group but I try to deal more with the U13’s, 14’s and 15’s of both genders. I oversee the coaching development and deal with any issues that are brought up.
Which age groups do you most enjoy coaching?
JC: I think I’m best at younger age groups, U10’s-13’s. But because of coaching and the high expectations that I have I think I do a good job with the older kids. I personally think I do better coaching girls but I am having some success on the boys’ side right now, I’ve just never really been on the boys’ side until recently.
What is it like working for Storm North?
JC: I really enjoy it because of the backing and support we have with a large program – large enough to where if I need some help with something we have a large staff who can help. The facilities and extra things that we have are also good. We have a State Cup game on one of our fields coming up, so we’re going to get a training on that field so we can get ready for the game, because it’s different being a small turf field that we would regularly train on. We have a lot of access to things like that because of the size. Other than that it is just like anywhere else: dealing with kids, soccer, and enjoying education of youth and developing their character for the future.
Which fellow staff have you learned the most from?
JC: I would say probably Mike Haas and Rafa Amaya. Rafa has helped a lot with the scouting and the college preparation for kids. He does a good job of evaluating teams and figuring out the small details that can benefit a team. From Mike the different things about training sessions that he runs and the structures of the sessions.
What are the big new projects for Storm?
JC: The WCDA and ECNL leagues are both exciting new programs. Both are similar to the Development Academy, with the WCDA being for boys and the ECNL for girls. They are run through US Club Soccer and basically the idea is that it allows us to travel and play top-level teams on a consistent basis. Here in the state even in the divisions there are top and bottom teams who bounce up and down. The older age Premier divisions and Superleagues there’s usually a top group and a bottom group so some of the games are 1-1 and some are 5-0. So the idea of this league is that every game will be competitive. So far it has been. There are some organizational issues that are currently being fixed, especially by the newer WCDA league. I know that a lot of the players I have on the team have gained significant college exposure from being part of it.
Do you have a favorite teambuilding activity?
JC: I like the Mine field game you have on your website already. I like to have players pick their own teams then have them have to stick together throughout a variety of games in a practice so that they overcome their own problems, battle through the next couple of sessions to the end. Then you are looking for whether they grew as a team. I like to talk about it at the end with the groups.
With programs I used to teach with, discovery programs, it is more about changing the environment than changing what activities you are doing, so with Mine field the blindfolding changes the environment as kids have to listen and communicate. Sometimes I do things when the weather is different – say on a rainy day – because it changes the environment again, which makes it uncomfortable and puts pressure on them to solve the problems with the team.
How do you decide what you will practice each day?
JC: I have a plan for the year that helps me make sure I do what I want to do. But I also look at what the weekend past issues were and look at what we need to do for the next couple of games. At the league level it’s about continuing to grow as individuals and as a team. At State Cup level with this group it is more about trying to get the victory, so sometimes it’s just sheer progression of the season and other times, depending what we have coming up it’s ok we have this team who are strong in this area so we need to practice how we deal with that.
How do you write your season plan?
JC: I usually start my season with defending, because you need to have a system to defend or you are going to struggle to do anything in games. I try to work with the team that I have whether it is U11 or U16 to find who works in specific defensive roles to see whether we will play four at the back or something else. I will start with 1v1 defending and build up to 4v4. I like to spend the first two weeks of pre-season on that. Then I build to attacking, possession, finishing etc.. If I do switch activities around and make sure to update the schedule so I don’t end up doing too much of one thing. I keep it consistent.
How do you keep your plans?
JC: I use the Soccer Planner from Soccer Specific and I also have a binder that I keep of the handwritten ones as well as some from Soccer Specific.
Do you rate practices after you do them?
JC: I haven’t really gone back; I just try to remember what activities or sessions worked well with which teams and age groups.
What tournaments do you like to go to?
JC: It depends on the age group. With my current team I focus on showcase tournaments. With the U16 Copa team, which is also basically the WCDA group we’ve done WCDA events, but we’ve also done the Las Vegas Mayor’s Cup, the Rush Showcase in New Mexico, as well as another Las Vegas event. We will do the Real Showcase and the Rocky Mountain Showcase. If we don’t get the results we want in State Cup we will do US Club Soccer Regionals, which is a club tournament.
For the older age groups it’s definitely showcase events. I don’t think it matters what showcase it is as long as you’re being challenged and being successful. For example, at the LV Mayor’s Cup the team performed well and I was contacted by several college coaches from good programs regarding the players we took. I think the tournament has gotten better over the last couple of years, with tighter talent.
Do you have any tips for traveling to tournaments?
JC: Staying as a team is important, which is another part of teambuilding. The point of going to events at that age and level is to perform and show well, or to perform and win. For that to happen I think the kids need to be involved and focused on soccer the whole time. We look at nutrition and preparation before the games, we eat together too. For the younger ages it is less about the preparation and less important that they are there with chaperones, but I still think they should stay together in the same hotel.
I think planning a schedule together is important. Where you are going to eat, how you are going to eat, finding places that are close to the fields in case you have games back to back. Plus it is important to choose the tournament that will get you the right results. I’ve seen teams go to events and end up getting slaughtered and others where they walk the whole thing. I try to find the event that will give the team the right level of challenge.
What hotel rules do you follow?
JC: With the older teams we stay with four players per room with chaperones at opposite ends of the corridor. Chaperones are the same gender as the players. We have curfew times set, which is all talked about before. I post a schedule on my door with expectations and timings. We make sure they get up early enough for a team meal before games.
How do you talk to your team parents?
JC: I start the season with a team meeting for parents, especially for younger teams. I think you have to have more regular parent meetings with younger teams. We try to do close to once per month for younger teams, depending on how the season is going. With the older group it is more beginning, middle, and end of season. I think email is an easy way for parents to communicate that allows them to be more honest, but I will also spend time during a weekend talking to parents on the sidelines to get a feel for how they are doing. I think I am pretty open for parents to come talk to me at any time.
How do you deal with problems?
JC: I take a proactive approach. I try to keep communication open so problems don’t build. I talk about playing time and other major issues in the preseason. If there is conflict during the season I will deal with the small group when appropriate or the whole team when it is needed. We then will quite often solve it together.
What is the biggest threat to youth soccer in Colorado right now?
JC: That there is only Colorado Soccer Association as an option in the state. US Club is expanding around the country and if it gets involved in Colorado there might be changes that cause problems for different programs. I think US Club is good; I think the competition gets US Youth Soccer thinking again, which is good. USYSA is the only thing that has been around for the last few years, and now US Club is changing that, which will improve both programs.
What else do you think will change in the future?
JC: The Development Academy program will change to be hopefully more of an MLS-driven program, so that kids can develop in a professional program rather than random academies around the country. I think Rush and Real will have to look to associate with professional teams. The Adidas Alliance allows us to work with the Rapids and get our players visible to the professional team. It is not there right now, but I think it we as a state focus on changing the structure to be more driven by the MLS, then the Rapids would improve and it would help the professional program in the United States.
If you could change anything at all in youth soccer, what would it be?
JC: I think it has become a business now. I think in the past there was business and development as a focus but now things have shifted towards business in money and parents and the focus has shifted to “My Kid” and taken away from the development of all players in Colorado. Other states who don’t necessarily have the same approach have improved without players having to spend as much money as we do here in Colorado. Also, unfortunately, the US is the country where the better you get, the more you get to pay, rather than like elsewhere, where often the better you get, the more they will help you out.