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Great Coaches on Great Soccer: Colin Chesters on U.S. Youth Soccer
Great Coaches on Great Soccer: Colin Chesters on U.S. Youth Soccer | Colin Chesters, Surf Soccer, San Diego Surf Soccer Club, Surf Soccer Academy, ODP, Olympic Development, U.S. Soccer Development, editorschoice

Great Coaches on Great Soccer: Colin Chesters is the Director of Coaching at the San Diego Surf Soccer Club at the back Polo Fields in Del Mar, CA

Great Coaches on Great Soccer:  Colin Chesters on Youth Soccer Today.

Diane Scavuzzo chats with Colin Chesters, Director of Coaching for San Diego Surf Soccer Club about youth soccer in America today and the challenges of being the director of one the most successful youth soccer clubs in America.  

READ NEW ARTICLE published October, 2011 - Colin Chesters on Elite Player Training, Borrowing Players and Running Up the Score

Colin Chesters is a former professional soccer player.  He played for 4 years for Derby County FC in the English Premier League and 3 years with Crewe Alexandra in the English 3rd Division and 3 years for Northwich Victoria in the Conference League.  Chesters was the leading scorer in the Conference League for two seasons.  Chesters also won the FA Trophy and played twice at Wembley.  Chesters also had a Club Record signing for Crewe Alexandra.

SNN: Can you share your vision on boys youth soccer development in the U.S. today?

Colin Chesters: “We are very fortunate.  The soccer infrastructure is great at the youth level in our country, but when our players get to the high school age, I believe it needs to be done a little differently with more emphasis on technique.  I think the U.S. is probably as good as any other country in the world when you look at all the soccer infrastructure for 8 years old to 14 years of age.  Overall, I believe the technical and tactical development of youth players needs to be improved.”

SNN: How is soccer in the U.S. different?

Colin Chesters: “I think where we differ as a nation, from the rest of the world, is our focus on winning at the younger ages.  In the U.S., there is a GOTTA WIN attitude.  We are more focused on winning than developing players in the younger ages.   Unfortunately, winning becomes important to keep the parents happy, so they want to be on the team the following year. The more losing, the more growing pains, the better off that we’re all going to be down the road for long term development.”

“I think the rest of the world views long term development better than we do. We live in a must win-tomorrow type of culture. “

“I think where the American soccer development program really falls down is when our players hit the high school ages.  Although, the development academy is making strides training our high school age players better, America does not afford its youth the same opportunities as abroad.  Great high school age players in Europe and South America could be playing against a seasoned professional on a pro team.  In the U.S., the same age player is playing high school soccer with teammates who have far less soccer knowledge and have had significantly less training.  Often, a strong club player is significantly better at soccer than the average high school player who has often played little high level soccer.  Our club players often will have nobody to pass to on the field.”

SNN: What do you think about college soccer and the development of our pro soccer players?

Colin Chesters: “I think attending college is the American way. I have had kids in the past that could have been pushed towards the European dream but instead chose to attend college.”

“I think American kids are more focused on getting a college education first, rather than risking a pro contract in another country and becoming ineligible for a college scholarship. But for a kid who has an opportunity to go that pro route in Europe, I feel they should jump at the chance as it can be incredible opportunity.”

 Jovan Kirovski at the LA Galaxy
 Jovan Kirovski Midfielder at the LA Galaxy

“One great example is a player, Jovan Kirovski, who I coached at the Nomads. Jovan Kirovski, who might be working for us soon, is with LA Galaxy right now. Kirovski was born in 1976 in Escondido, CA and had a European heritage.  As a young soccer player, he went off in 1992 to play for Manchester United.  He rode on the bus, ate crappy English food, played as a pro, did all those exciting things; but also gave up the chance of ever getting a college scholarship. “

“Kirovski played with Manchester United for 3 years and then a couple of big German teams and returned to the U.S. in 2002 to play for the LA Galaxy then went to the San Jose Earthquakes and ended up back at the LA Galaxy.

“Kirovski has had a fantastic career, but he really rolled the dice. It was a huge, huge thing what he did at 16 years old…..going to Europe and Man United, signing as an apprentice for basically minimum wage and foregoing the college scholarship…not many people are willing to do that.  Kirovski is one of the few players to follow his dreams of going pro in Europe.  Often players want to wait until after they graduate college to follow this dream and then it can be too late to pursue a career in Europe.”

SNN: What is it like to go off to play soccer in college?

Colin Chesters: “Although I have no experience playing college soccer myself, college is the logical step after high school for most players.  Unfortunately college soccer is really about bigger, stronger and faster soccer players. This coupled with the college subbing rules that enable a team to run hard for the whole game, changes how the soccer match is played." 

“Consequently, I think college soccer isn’t the prettiest game that you can watch. It’s more like a lower level English-style game. Everybody is playing it safe, everybody is running fast, everybody is playing hard, everybody is fully motivated; there is little time to become a great passing team at a college and knock the ball around.  There are very few college teams that are capable of becoming a great passing team, they would really have to be superior to do this.” I don’t think that it is going to change.  But this style of soccer is ingrained in our college system, ingrained in the college rivalries and the physical element really rules the results.  The physical element of the game is more important than the technical.”

SNN: College soccer obviously impacts the MLS.  Do you think college soccer slows down the growth of the more graceful, ‘Barcelona’ style of elegant soccer that is played in Europe?  If the evolution of a player is club soccer to college soccer to the MLS draft…

Colin Chesters: “I think some kids play their prettiest, nicest soccer on a high-level quality club team, a higher quality of soccer than they are probably ever going to see again in their lives.”

“This is certainly true of the college level, and I don’t really see any MLS teams passing the ball on the field like Barcelona does.”

“At the club level, there are highly talented U16 and U18s group of kids I see them believing in what they do,  playing beautiful soccer; passing. Perhaps they are so superior to their opponents; they can stick to their style of soccer no matter what.  Perhaps the pressure is a bit lower.  Maybe the stakes are lower.” 

SNN: How does the U.S. Development Academy fit into this?

Colin Chesters Surf Soccer Club Director of Coaching
Colin Chesters can often be seen at the Surf Soccer Club's Polo Fields watching his club's players and teams compete.

Colin Chesters: “I think it is making strides.  The Development Academy is truly teaching development. Most of our kids will get better from the mandated training, coming to practice 3 times a week with a serious head on and a commitment to practice.”

“I remember when, back in the day, we would have a U16 team and only 8 kids would show up for practice, now we have 24 kids at every practice. The kids come all the time, the players are very committed.  They come early and leave late.  They are super excited to play the games on the weekend.  These soccer players are not fatigued because they are playing six games in three days.”

"Having every player show up allows the coach to have a more functional training session with all the players training in their positions.  At Surf Academy, for example, we have three trainers per age group and each individual player receives consistent, comprehensive training."

“I think the academy development system allows players to mature more quickly. Training in this environment helps kids learn about red cards and foolish fouling and five yellow card accumulation rules.  Players are now being privy to things that they were not before and this will eventually help on the pro level and national team level.”

“You are not dealing with a player anymore who has to come off the field for five minute to take a drink of water. He knows when he comes off the field he is finished.  Now, his responsibility to himself is to get fitter so he can last 90 minutes. The training helps a player understand that if he has run out of energy, how to rest on the field if he gets tired without being a liability to his team.”

“Players today are now learning, all the time, the little intricacies on how to be a better teammate, club player, and a better prospect as a college, pro player and potential national player.”

“All the kids who enter our academy program become a more accomplished player in a shorter period of time.  They treat the game more seriously and they commit to training much more seriously and therefore better opportunities happen for them.  Players are benefiting from the academy in many ways.  The training really taps into the players’ potential.  The bar is raising, everyone needs to reach higher and keep up and the academy system is helping players keep up with pace of the game.”

“Players used to have a mad moment during a game and the coach would have to pull them off the field to calm down for 5 minutes.  Now, with all the training in the academy environment, players are learning how to play with their emotions under control and not to let them take over.  College, MLS and U.S. soccer will ultimately be the ones that benefit from the academy training programs.”

SNN:  What is your opinion on the identification program for the U.S. Development Academy’s residency program in Florida?

Colin Chesters: “Most of the identification process is incorporated into the development academy with scouts coming to watch the players often.  The scouts will watch a player’s performance in the games as well as evaluate players in training, practice and games where you can be judged the best.”

“The old style of the ODP (Olympic Development Program) and the all star teams getting together Cal South being dominate; beating some other team 6-0 really wasn’t really the best way. I personally feel ODP should be called the IP, the Identification Program. In fact, I feel the words 'olympic' and 'development' have little or nothing to do this program."

“I think the academy system and the market training centers are a much better way. They are both identifying and developing players.  Seeing a player in their own environment, where they are comfortable, with their own team, seeing what they bring to the table is important. Then the next step is the market training centers, where they will take the best 30 kids from Southern California and train them all together.”

“It was a lot of fluff with the ODP system.  In the past, ODP would bring in 120 kids to placate everyone, and then they would take 60 kids so they would have enough players to go on a European trip and pay for it. ODP is still charging the player to do things.  Due to U.S. Soccer's intervention, the pay-to-play thing is going away. The goal of U.S. Soccer Federation's youth development program is to identify, train and develop players at no cost to the player. Anytime you get brought into these things now, it is free of charge. If they want a player to go to Florida now, it is on their dime.  If they want to bring a player to the Home Depot Center to have a look, they pay for it.  It has definitely changed everything. ODP was a bit of a money maker.”

"I believe, in the near future, the same academy style program that exists for boys will be in place for the girls, but for right now, the ODP is still the best option for the U.S. to make a national team for female players."

SNN: How can ODP thrive adjacent to the academies?

Colin Chesters: “The word on the street that I hear is that people don’t even watch ODP too much anymore.  It used to be the prime place where UCLA, Notre Dame and Stanford would find players.  Now they could go and watch an ODP Southern California vs. Nevada final and there isn’t one player that they would want to recruit. ODP has become more like trying to find a diamond in the rough as most players are now in the development academies."

SNN: Can I quote you on this?

Colin Chesters: “Absolutely, you can quote me on that for sure.”

RELATED ARTICLES: Colin Chesters on AJ Soares MLS first round daft pick plus Surf Soccer Club News on SoccerNation

This is the first in a series of interviews with Colin Chesters on youth soccer in America.  

Next week:  How did San Diego Surf Soccer Club become an Academy and what does the U.S. have to do to compete and win on the world stage?

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