Q&A with SCA's Josh Sterling

It’s a lengthy read, but worth your while.
The Coaching Directors from Santa Rosa United (Steve Rammel) and Sonoma County Alliance (Josh Sterling) agreed to participate in a Q&A as their respective clubs get ready to launch another season with player selection and team formation.
Their answers were candid and forthright and you are encouraged to read both Q&As throughout and comment constructively.
Ultimately what both Directors and both Clubs are trying to do is for the good of the kids, all the kids.
Today, SCA’s Josh Sterling.

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PD: What exactly is your role in the club?

JS: “My official job title is Director of Coaching. In many ways it is more of a Director of Soccer Operations position. I oversee the soccer side of the club and sit on the board as a link to and representative for the coaching staff.
“As Director of Coaching I am responsible for shaping the vision and direction of the club, overseeing, hiring, educating, evaluating the coaching staff and developing, implementing and executing training programs and concepts.
“Along with overseeing the coaching staff and training programs I must monitor and evaluate team and player development. This is to be done in training observation, running trainings and game assistance and analysis. Because this is youth soccer I play a big role in parent education, communication and problem solving.
“Due to the sudden growth and current structure I have a lot of administrative duties that have grown into the position over the years.
“I have been lucky enough to have the ability to hire a Technical Staff so part of my job is to oversee our Technical Staff. This staff helps me in many of the above duties and many of the duties that are not listed.
“We have a Technical Director that works solely on the field to assist me with oversight on the training ground. I have an Assistant Director and Director of Education that helps with the day-to-day stuff, on the field and off the field and assists with coaches education.
We also have a Youth Director who helps oversee the U9-U13 boys and U9-U13 girls. Many clubs are unable to provide this structure and additional oversight, but we feel it is necessary.”

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PD: The evolution of club soccer in general and Santa Rosa United and Sonoma County Alliance has been incredible over the past decade. What have been the positives and negatives of that evolution?

JS: “The first positive thing that jumps out at me is the fact that between SCA and SRU we have a lot more kids playing competitive soccer than ever before. This is the ultimate positive. More kids than ever before are getting a quality Division 1 soccer experience.
“A negative aspect is the growth happened so fast that there were things that were missed along the way.
“One thing is structure of the clubs and leagues and the other is education of the parents and players. Many parents and players have unrealistic expectations. Most the time it is the parents and this causes a lot of additional pressure on the kids and even the coaches and clubs.
“This pressure is usually revolves around winning as it is the easy, not the best, way to judge success.
“Because the education has not been done at the same rate as the growth there seems to be a lot of emphasis on winning at the wrong times or even worse winning at all costs.”

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PD: Do you think clubs should or could work closer in any way with high school teams?

JS: “Yes. I think there are two parts to this though.
“First, I think it would be ideal if the clubs and high schools in their general area worked together to be sure that the high school player is getting the quality coach’s instruction they are getting in club soccer. They do not need to be the club’s coaches, but at least a coach that has the level of expertise most club coaches in SCA and SRU have.
“Of course, cooperation with scheduling, start dates, camps and so on would be great.
“The second part is bigger than just the local clubs and high schools. The U15-U18 season is crazy because of the poor cooperation between CIF, CYSA and US Club Soccer. The kids start in May and play club until high school soccer in August. Then they play three months of high school soccer on a lot of terrible fields. So by the end of the high school soccer season players have played seven months of soccer with little or no large breaks.
“This does not happen anywhere else in the world. Then we attend a college showcase in November and maybe get 3-4 weeks off in December.
“Then we start up in January and go through April and than start all over again. This combined with the fact that Northern California has three different high school seasons is crazy.”

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PD: Would you like to see the high school season altered to accommodate a state playoff system? How would that affect the club structure as far as team selection, training sessions, tournaments?

JS: “Yes. I grew up in Cal South and we had all the high schools playing during the winter. It was great as we had a true Cal South high school champion based on school size. It was also an ideal time for high school soccer to take place for the youth soccer clubs. The winter is not a busy time for club soccer so to have high school soccer take place then would be great. If we moved to the winter we could have a Cal South vs. Cal North championship.
“I do not think if we moved the high school season to the winter it would negatively affect club soccer at all. It would only make it better in many ways. We could have a true competitive State Playing League for club soccer in the fall. This would be similar to the Coast Soccer League in Cal South where there are Premier, Gold, Silver and Bronze divisions. The lower divisions are more local and the Premier and Gold Divisions are the better teams in the State.
“With numerous high school seasons this is not possible. In recent years fields have been an issue as the North Bay gets more rain than most. Now with many schools having synthetic fields it might be possible, but probably not likely until we get more schools with synthetic fields.”

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PD: Both SRU and SCA have versions of 1-2 or Gold-Blue or Red-White teams. Does that concept work? How could it be better? What about parents, the ones who generally pay the money, who think payment for a “second” team should be less because they are getting lesser coaching and/or competition?

JS: “Well in SCA many of our 2nd team coaches are also 1st team coaches. We had four second teams this season because in the U9 and U10 age levels we made even teams. All four of the coaches of our 2nd team also coached a 1st team or one of our even teams in our Academy. We did not supply our 2nd teams with lesser coaches. We hold all our coaches to high and similar standards.
“The main issue with the concept is the structure of CYSA. Many times our 2nd teams are forced, based on the structure, to play teams above their level of play. This is not ideal for them or for their opponents. NorCal Premier has been a positive experience for many of our 2nd teams as they provide us with different levels of play.
“Still outside of NorCal Premier and a few tournaments, the structure outside and above the clubs is not set up correctly. In SCA this creates problems for some of our 2nd teams and limits the number of competitions.
“In an ideal world a better way to do 1st and 2nd teams would be something closer to the European model. This would mean training pools of 30-32 players and revolving rosters based on performance, improvement, injuries, development rate and positional needs. This concept is sometimes tough for players and parents to understand because in the U.S. we are more familiar with a “MY”
team environment and honest and upfront evaluation and proper communication can be tough for a coach.”

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PD: Speaking of fees…have club teams priced themselves out of the market for the average player or are clubs simply charging what the market will bear?

JS: “I am not sure what the market will bear or should bear, but I am certain that kids are not playing soccer in SRU and SCA because they cannot afford it. This is truly a shame.
” Now, coming from one of the people who gets paid for coaching and being a Director this is not hypocritical. I know that the fees are mostly to cover the coaching staff and I think the coaches in this area deserve to be fairly compensated as professionals. I think what a parent gets from the Soccer Educators of SCA is valuable and inexpensive compared to many other activities that kids do (piano, guitar, gymnastics. Etc).
“My issue is I think soccer clubs should do a better job reaching out to the community for funding and lessen the financial burden directly on their members. I also think the communities and local businesses (Like the Press Democrat, ha! ha!) should look to help youth organizations like SCA and SRU. Most clubs outside of the U.S. are funded mostly from monies outside of their membership.”

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PD: What formula or criteria do you use in the coaching selection process?

JS: “SCA has a common philosophy and style of play. We also play the same system or slight variations of the base system of the club. So it is important that our staff is willing to and wanting to coach within our philosophy and style. This is the starting point for coach selections.
“So when we are looking for coaches it helps if they have experience in coaching in what we call the “SCA Way” of playing. We also use licenses, playing experience, time spent in SCA, coaching background, personality, out-of-country experiences. Coaching licenses are not only important for the information, but also it shows the desire of the coach to improve and develop. We want people who want to be better.
“We also look at the coaches’ qualities and personality in order to put them in the correct age levels.
“Our staff and staff rotation is similar to the school system. We like our coaches to become experts in one or two age levels and stay there as the teams pass through.”

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PD: Are certain coaches better suited for boys rather than girls teams and vice versa?

JS: “Yes. Of course there are some that can work with both genders with great success, but most coaches have a gender they are better suited for. The maturation process is different between the genders and again we feel there are qualities and personalities that make experts in certain age levels (like school teachers).”

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PD: What formula or criteria do you use in the player selection process?

JS: “We use TIPS. We got it from the Dutch. It stands for Technique, Insight (tactics), Personality and Speed (physical attributes).
“In the youngest age levels we look for the P and S as we feel we can teach and develop the T and I. As the kids get older the T and I are more important in the selection process.”

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PD: What is the No. 1 problem with club soccer organizations?

JS: “Structure. There is no perfect or ideal structure in the U.S. right now. So, everyone is trying something new or different and there is a lot of trial and error. When I say this I mean clubs, leagues and associations/federations. There is no link from the youngest youth player to the top professional similar to other countries.
“We have club soccer, but it is not connected to high school aoccer and neither is connected to college soccer or professional soccer. College soccer and professional soccer are not linked.
“There is just a bunch of soccer associations and levels and no one is working together. Then there is the structure of the clubs themselves. I think SCA is moving toward more structure on and off the field every year, but I see many clubs with no common vision or common line from the board, to the directors, to the coaches, to the parents and then to the players. This vision and common line is very important to SCA.”

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PD: Is there an ideal “club’ anywhere in the country that you would like to see your club emulate? If so, what makes that club so good?

JS: “There are a lot of clubs that have certain aspects that we would like to emulate and I feel we have some ideal aspects, but not one club that I think has all the pieces of the puzzle- YET!”

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PD: Do you attempt to work with coaches at the Rec level and if so how?

JS: “Yes! We believe strongly that the base of your competitive club is your grassroots (rec level). That base needs to be large, educated and cooperative/supportive. We have a great relationship with the Petaluma Youth Soccer League and Petaluma United (Division 3). This is something we are very proud of.
“Our Assistant Director is also the Director of Coaching for the Recreation Level and Division 3 level. SCA provides all the Petaluma United Division 3 teams with parent volunteer coaches with a SCA trainer for 40 sessions a season. We also run and staff their Academy (U10).
“We have a GREAT relationship with the Division 3. We also run numerous programs for the Recreational Level. These include U10 Allstars, Super U8’s, 4 days a week drop-in training for U8-U12 recreational teams all of August, coaches education lectures and summer, spring and winter camps. Our vision is to build from the bottom up.”

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PD: What do you consider the top priority of your club and why – winning tournaments, player development, college placement for players, a player leaving the club with a love of the sport or something else?

JS: “In many ways all of the above. Our No. 1 goal and first SCA value is to create a life-long love for the game of soccer. We always tell the kids that when they are our age if they love soccer like we do then we succeeded.
“We then hope they can pass on the same joy that the sport brought us. Some of our other SCA values are to reinforce life lessons through the game of soccer and develop each player to the highest possible level.
“For us in SCA soccer is more than just a game. As the kids get older these values are very strong and we start to put more emphasis on winning. Knowing how and learning how to win is important for a player’s development and winning certain events helps getting invited to the best college showcases. From there our goal is to place the kids at the appropriate school based on their education desires and soccer level.”

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PD: What is the one thing that your club has accomplished during your time with it that you are most proud of?

JS: “There a lot of achievements I am proud of, but two things really stand out in my mind. One is I am proud that we have such a great relationship built with the recreational level and division 3 level in Petaluma. We truly feel and speak like we are one club from Rec all the way up to SCA. The cooperation is fantastic.
“Now, I did not do this alone, but feel I contributed to this great accomplishment. I also am very proud about the culture we have created in SCA. SCA plays the same system of play, coaches think and look at the game very similar, other clubs know SCA for the way we play and the parents believe in the fact that we will risk losing to play fun, attractive, attacking soccer.
“Of course, I am very proud of the Soccer Educators we have in SCA as I feel there are few clubs in Northern California that compare.”

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PD: Do you think SRU and SCA are rivals or do they share any commonality in the soccer community?

JS: “Both. I think on the field between the white lines it is healthy to have two good clubs/teams that want to win badly each time. To me that is a healthy rivalry. It brings out the highest levels of competitiveness and this is good for the player’s development.
“It is crucial that the players, coaches and parents keep this in perspective and not let it spill off of the field.
“What I think is unhealthy is some of the mud-slinging that goes on. I was shocked when I read the blog responses to (Steve) Rammel coming to SRU.
“The SCA vs. SRU theme was shocking. This part to me is unhealthy and irresponsible. I feel that SCA and SRU share the fact that we want what is best for the kids in this area. Many staff members in both SRU and SCA want to see this area improve in comparison to Cal South which has the best teams in the nation.
“So, down the line it may be that SRU and SCA work closer together. We have to always ask ourselves what is best for the kids.”

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PD: What is your role in promoting individual players for possible berths on collegiate teams?

JS: “I run our College Acceptance Program (CAP). This includes a power point lecture for all high school age level players and a packet of information. Now, we have 7th and 8th graders coming.
“We do a few homework items during our training camps to help them get started, I discuss with the coaches where and what level the players are looking for, I meet with players, talk on the phone with the players, coaches and the college coaches, I send e mails and help promote the players when necessary. I use the contacts I have created while at SSU for 8 years and I am a reference for all the SCA players.
“In SCA the coaches also play a big role in this. That is why we keep the same coaches in the older boys and older girls as they develop relationships through the years with the college coaches.”

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PD: When a player, any player on first- or second- team, asks you how they can improve, what is the one thing you always tell them?

JS: “There is not one thing as every player is different. We do evaluations in writing two times a year and I review and read every one. So, based on the evaluation of the coach and what I have seen I would give them the appropriate information.
“We would discuss it in the form of TIPS (Technique, Insight, Personality and Speed) the same way we discuss player selection. If it is one of my players that I coach on a team I would again break it down with the TIPS criteria for him or her.
“Also, reminding the player that they should also feel comfortable asking me or their coach for ways to improve. That is our job!”

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PD: In your travels, how to you think your club stacks up to other clubs of comparable size around the country?

JS: “When looking around the country it is tough to say as different clubs have different goals. If we look at State Cup or Surf Cup Championships we do not have any so we would not stack up well with that as the criteria.
“If you look at the type of soccer being played, the development of the individual and the culture of the club then under those criteria I feel we stack up against any club with only 2,800 recreational players underneath them.
“Our club from recreation to SCA is half the size of say SRU and SRYSL. It is 1/3 of say (Danville) Mustang. So, already we are at a huge disadvantage based on numbers. So, although we can compete with these clubs we are not in the same category when you talk about club size.
“When playing outside of Cal North other than a few other states and of course Cal South our state is competitive with anyone. Cal South is by far the best in the country.”

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PD: Where would you like to see club soccer in general in 2016?

JS: “I could write a couple of pages on this, but I will try to keep it concise. I hope club soccer will have structure and be connected to amateur and professional soccer.
“I hope for clubs with adult teams that are connected to the youth teams similar to Europe. So kids grow up and play for the club for their entire career with a few years in college or hopefully above the amateur level. It would be great to have Over-30 teams in the clubs, coed teams and so on. These clubs would have facilities with clubhouses. Then the club would be a place members come to train, be social, watch other teams, support the first team, train by themselves and have a home away from home.
“These clubs would have outside support so no kid is denied soccer at their playing level due to money.
“I also hope to see clubs emphasize playing more skillful soccer and less kick-and-chase. Our National team is a prime example. We are so athletic and can disrupt the other team, but we are rarely the more skilled and tactically-aware team. This emphasis may cause youth teams to give up more goals and win less games, but in the end it would be more fun to play, more fun to watch and better serve our National teams.

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PD: Will soccer be a major sport in the U.S. in our lifetime?

JS: “I hope so, but until there is a common line from youth soccer to amateur to professional it may continue to be perceived as a youth sport.
“Although soccer is played by more youth than any other sports it is not in your face every day on ESPN or on commercials. The money and marketing in the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB is tough to compete with. Not to mention the culture of the U.S. that has revolved around these sports forever.
“If the U.S. does not change the overall structure and continuum from youth to professional the only hope is that all the youth that play will grow old with a love for the game.
“So, the demand, understanding of the game and overall marketability will increase. Soccer is an awesome sport with so much to offer fans and I only hope the U.S. will embrace it like the rest of the world.