What to Expect on your USSF D License Course

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Eric Duda is Assistant Technical Director at Massachusetts Youth Soccer, where as part of his job he teaches USSF E and D licenses. As a player he was a two year standout at Bowling Green State University who went on to play professionally for Chicago Riot in the MISL and Chicago Fire Reserves in the PDL. Eric coached for several club teams in Illinois and currently works with ODP teams in Massachusetts. He has the USSF A & Y licenses, NSCAA DOC diploma and degree in education.

The USSF licenses are undergoing a major overhaul to become more like the UEFA model. What do you think about the 60 day gap in the D license and the other new changes?

I like the changes. As an instructor you tend to see that on the week-long courses there isn’t a lot of information that they can take in and give back to us. A lot of copying takes place between candidates as they try to meet deadlines, which makes it very hit or miss as to whether they get what is being taught or not. The new system with the gap gives them an idea of how to apply some of the teaching. For most of the candidates we have worked with, they have had at least some success going away and trying out what they have learned on the course. During that time they run three lesson plans with their teams and should video tape them. Candidates will email me every week or two and let me know what worked and what didn’t, as well as what they will try next. Much of the communication is about session design and who is involved in each activity.

It is now very difficult to skip the E license and go straight to the D. What is your opinion of that?

The pathway is designed to be all-encompassing, and whether it achieves that we are not sure yet because it is still in its infancy. I’ve seen candidates jump to the higher levels and maybe they have experience from their playing career, but it is a different beast altogether trying to coach. Teaching something and knowing something are two different things. As a result it is better to have gone through the entire licensure process. There are always going to be candidates on courses who need to be at a higher level, and others who are overwhelmed and should have started earlier. I feel like the idea of having people go through all of them makes sense for the most part though.

How much of a step up is the D from the E?

I don’t think people realize how much of a step up it is going from the E to the D. The E is getting harder and is likely to keep increasing in challenge over time as US Soccer redesigns it [and adds in the F license]. This is necessary though because going from the E to the D is like going from high school to playing at the top level of college. People are introduced to playing by the numbers as a concept on the E course and they are expected to know it and use it on the D course. There is no more 4v4 going to 4 goals, there is 4v4 with my 6,7,9 & 11 playing against 6,2,3 & 4 working on something very specific.

What can candidates do to prepare for their upcoming D course?

The major things they need to understand are the principles of play in both directions (attack and defense), and the playing by the numbers idea. It is important to have a technical component to their coaching ability. What we see is that many will coach about 97% tactics and maybe 3% technique. The more technique you can get into your sessions, the better though. Learning the principles and the specific nomenclature that US Soccer recommends that coaches use is important. When you go out on the street you can say what you like, but when you get tested you need to use the right language that people can understand. As an example, we will talk about pressuring defenders and covering defenders, rather than first and second defender, or we want to spread out rather than we want to get width.

My experience is that coaches try to bluff their technical knowledge at this level because they don’t have that core understanding. What do you do to expose and correct that?

I think it is back and forth questioning. People understand basketball here and when you talk about how to shoot a jump shot, people have an idea of what that should look like. How you teach it from the ground up is very different though, and the same is true for soccer. To actually teach the broken down method of passing – my heel is down, toe up, ankle locked, foot turned out to the side, using the pendulum motion, position of the planted foot, following through to the target etc. ­– that’s the level of technical correction that you might have to make. What we hear though is hey it’s got to be an accurate pass. As for how they should improve it: getting on the field and actually playing the game helps. I don’t know that there is a great resource out there that breaks down techniques, but maybe they can talk to a local colleague who can go through it with them.

In the olden days there was a grade for playing ability. The instructors say that this no longer exists, but does it factor into your grading?

It’s not supposed to. I will say that the people who look the part maybe have a 51% chance, but it certainly isn’t an official thing. When candidates are going through the process and have a certain look and demeanor about them it gives them some leeway. Neither the E or D are playing courses though, and we explicitly say that to them. Some will show up injured or on crutches and not play, which is fine as long as they can coach, but if you can play it certainly doesn’t hurt your chances.

How much should people expect to play during the weekends?

There are not many recreational coaches who are going on to get their C license, as most on that course are wanting to do this job professionally. Being able to demonstrate and play the game is important to being able to coach. When I played I had a high school coach who had an ok background in the game, but as a player I could do things better than he could show them, which drove a wedge between us. The courses have long days in the field, and if there are lots of people playing, it is nice to get a session off every once in a while, to stay fresh. That isn’t always possible if people are sitting out and not regularly taking part. There is a collective camaraderie between candidates when they work hard for each other, but that takes all of them getting out and playing in the sessions.

What else are you really looking for when you watch coaches in their final practical?

To get the national license rather that the state license they need to cover the five W’s (WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY) related to their topic. So if their topic is Improve your team’s ability to build up through the midfield they need to be able to answer Who will be involved (the midfielders for sure, but also some defenders and an attacker to allow us to go from point A through our midfield point B and to whatever our goal is – point C). If you are doing the topic and don’t have any midfielders, that’s a red flag. Then another major one is When. Most coaches have an idea of the topic and when the techniques are applied, but the actual moment in time that it needs to be addressed they fail on. Many times they will coach a situation that didn’t actually occur or when they make a freeze they will totally recreate something that didn’t happen and throw out solutions that don’t have any merit. Get the players right; get the field set up correctly too. Where is the location on the field will this take place.  If you are coaching a topic that asks for the attacking half – have a halfway line so we can gauge where on the field you are. What deals with what happened, or what you might need to say. Why addresses the reasoning you might need to coach, and the explanation you make to a player who might not understand the coaching moment.

Should coaches try to find different activities or just repeat whatever you did earlier in the course?

I don’t think it is necessary to copy or repeat what we did, but I’m not saying that is a bad or a good thing. That is the easier approach generally, but we do like to see that candidates can boil something down to the easiest version of it. Some coaches want to show you the greatest activity they have ever run – that has fifteen moving parts and players going in and out – but they manage the activity rather than coaching within it. When you are designing a session, break it down to the most basic level of your topic. If you are Coaching your team’s ability to build up using wide players, at a basic level you want to have wide players involved, some kind of buildup, and make sure it is in the right part of the field. Similarly, if you are working on finishing you need forwards, a goal and a goalkeeper at the most basic setup, then work from there.

Is it better to put strong players in positions you are trying to coach or weaker ones who might make more mistakes?

It could be beneficial to have weaker ones there as you’ll get some different coaching moments that might be easier to correct and more obvious. I would be careful to avoid doctoring the setup too much though because they might not be able to perform the task that you need them to do for the topic.

Are there targets for how many people should pass on each course?

No. We would love every single candidate to get the national license because we would feel like we did our jobs well. Inevitably it doesn’t work out that way though. People think that there is a quota but it is just not that way. The standard is set to give everyone a chance to meet or exceed it, and the people who are not ready will not get the license. It is all based on the performance of individual though, not the group as a whole.

If people don’t get the national license, do they ever complain or contact you to talk about it?

Very rarely does that happen. We try to do a really good job of providing feedback of where they may have fallen short with the standard. We video every session of their testing too, which allows us to go back and run through the video again to make sure our initial grading was accurate. We are very specific about timing, methods used, what was said and so on. By giving specific feedback they are clearer on the reasons why they didn’t get what they had hoped for.

How much of a step up is the C license from the D?

I don’t know much about the new C license because we don’t deal with it. The E license coaches on the ball and directly against the ball; the D license looks at a line of players; then the C license deals with entire blocks within a team together – so maybe your back line and midfield working together. Making that jump can be a challenge, and the candidates that we see here who get their National D have a ready to go on to do their C license.

Which courses have you most enjoyed taking, and what was so good about them?

I did my A and B licenses in the same center with a lot of the same candidates. We all took the B together, then came back the next year to take the A, which gave us a great group relationship. The B was my favorite course because added to that we had the most engaging instructors for learning. Dave Rubinson and Gary White (previously with the Seattle Sounders) did a great job of teaching on the course and offering information that I could apply in the real world. The A course is a lot of fun, but it tends to be nerve-racking because you have gone all this way to get to the highest license and it becomes more business-like.

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