San Diego Surf Soccer Coach Paul Currie
Great Coaches on Great Coaching: Paul Currie on Coaching the Right Way.
Paul Currie, is a highly respected and dedicated youth soccer coach who is also a phenomenal former pro soccer player. Currie is a coach who has been on the pitch, under pressure, and has enjoyed great success and experienced the disappointment of lost opportunities. As San Diego Surf Soccer Club's BU15 Academy coach, Currie's team won the 2011 U.S. Youth Soccer Region IV Championship and competed at the Nationals this summer.
How did this native of Burnley, England, come to be coaching in California? Well known for his "Barcelona" style of coaching, how did Currie's experiences as an English player influence his coaching style? SoccerNation had a great conversation with Coach Currie and discovered the man who is the great coach.
SN: What do you think about the choice of Jurgen Klinsmann for the new Head Coach for the U.S. Men's National Team?
Paul Currie: I think Klinsmann is a brilliant appointment, couldn't have done better. Fantastic choice. I think he is going to bring a lot of good ideas to the U.S. team. Klinsmann was a top player and was a brilliant coach for Germany. He is going to get the U.S. playing like a proper team with a great style of play and help the youth game focus on player development.
The win at all cost mentality must change. The pressure to win at the youth level is damaging. You can be a responsible, hard working coach who is focused on developing and not win games. Sometimes my teams get "wacked" in a tournament and they can be the better team. In the general flow of the game, their play can be fantastic and the team can still lose the game. If we lose and play horrible, that is different. But often it can happen that teams play well and lose but are clearly developing. Keeping track of winning can hurt the players' development. It is important to develop the players.
The nuts and bolts of the business are what you do on the training field.
Youth soccer in the U.S. is getting on the right track with Claudio Reyna and the emphasis on passing and development over just winning. And that all kids should be getting on the field for at least half the game, even if they are messing up, so they can be learning. You have to be fair to eveyone. If you lose a game, it is not the end of the world.
|"I think that if you coach in the right way and try to develop players, then the wins will come." Paul Currie
SN: As an experienced and successful youth soccer coach in San Diego, what do you think of youth soccer in California?
Paul Currie: Southern California has great soccer players and a lot of very good soccer programs, but I think there is too much structure and organization. I have some mixed feelings about it. Obviously, I can’t say too many bad things about it because I’m earning my living at it. That would make me a hypocrite. But I question the amount of structure.
SN: What was soccer like in England when you were a young player?
Paul Currie: Years ago, when I was growing up, youth soccer was totally different. There were no competitive leagues. In fact, I didn’t play in an organized competitive league until I was sixteen.
I did play in a lot of soccer games when I was young, they just were not organized by youth clubs as they are today in California.
The soccer games were fierce. While there were no competitive leagues, the soccer matches were not friendly pick up games, because people are soccer mad over there. Also there was no professional coaching when I was growing up. I never really got coached until I was sixteen.
SN: Where you on a soccer team?
Paul Currie: I was playing on the skill teams. And we played pickup games all the time. As soon as skills finished you were out on the field with your friends. And you’d never see your parents until it got dark and you got home. Everyone was playing all the time.
SN: How else was it different in England?
Paul Currie: Without going into the bigger issues, there’s a lot of fear in English football. There’s a lot of emphasis on “don’t do this, don’t do that, you can’t lose, you can’t play a short pass there.” So I think a lot of kids in England play with the fear of making mistakes and doing things wrong. I know I did.
SN: But you have also said you were irreverent in some ways about the English style of football. That you were good enough to be able to do your own thing and you didn’t really like the traditional long ball. But you still had fear on the field?
Paul Currie: Yes, I did. I knew I wasn’t going to just play the ball down the field no matter what the coach said, and I used to get in trouble all the time. But the point is, if the coach says to do something, and then you go out and do the opposite but you’re successful doing it, only a lunatic would say “don’t do that.”
But the first time you would try something the coach didn’t want you to do and it didn't work, then you’d get in real trouble.
I could tell you some horror stories. I remember watching a video of an English manager yelling at his team at halftime because they were losing 4-0. It was so typical of what happens back home. Players need encouragment, not fear, to motivate them.
SN: Why is youth soccer in America so different?
Paul Currie: The American culture that drives the youth soccer business here. But I think it’s also the way of the world now. Parents want more control over the kids, and they want to know what they’re doing all the time. It’s a different world now. It’s more dangerous than when I was young and out every day until dark.
SN: The world has changed. It’s not as safe, so we want to know where our kids are all the time.
Paul Currie: That is part of it, yes. But I do think it has something to do with the American mentality as well, because winning seems to be "in-built" in Americans. I think that’s why they’re successful in sports and other areas.
SN: America does not like being second place.
Paul Currie: Yes, I agree. I think there is definitely something that drives Americans to want to win, and it doesn’t matter what age they are. This competitive nature could start as early as U8.
SN: Does this drive to win help us?
Paul Currie: I think the mentality of always wanting to win works against Americans. If you think about it, you’ve got a group of 7 year olds and the parents all want them to win all the time. If it’s got to be “win-win-win,” then development is going to suffer.
SN: Players never get a chance to really learn and develop?
Paul Currie: They never have a chance to sort of relax and be kids and enjoy the game. That’s counter-productive, really. That attitude of “win-win-win” is counter-productive at a young age because there’s a lot of pressure put on the kids.
When kids play for top clubs, it can also be counter-productive, because then there’s pressure on the coaches to produce a winning team for the parents. The parents have to learn it is not about always winning.
SN: How much pressure is there on the coaches?
Paul Currie: It’s unwritten, and some coaches will take it more on their shoulders than other coaches. Personally, I don’t really feel any pressure to win.
SN: And yet you win amazingly often...
Paul Currie: Well, I don’t know about that. It just depends on what teams you’ve got. But I really don’t feel any pressure because I think that if you coach in the right way and try to develop in the right way, then the wins will come. Sometimes they don’t come at U8 but they come at U10 or U12 or U15 or whenever they do.
SN: What’s the most critical age for development?
Paul Currie: Well, the textbook answer would be that the Golden Age of learning is between 11 and 14. That’s when you can absorb the most information.
If you think about it, you can’t really talk to most 7 or 8 year olds for more than a couple of minutes because they get easily overloaded and blank out.
So I think they are right about the Golden Age. I think U11 is when you can assimilate information a little bit easier.
And then I think the best players at U14, generally speaking, are the best players U16, and the best players U18 and the best players at U20. This is not always true but in general.
SN: So you can tell at U14 who is going to be great at U18?
Paul Currie: I’m not saying you’re completely formed as a player at U14, because obviously you’re learning all the time – I am still learning things at my age. But the best players as 14 year olds, generally speaking, are going to be the best players at 16, the best players at 18, the best players at 20 and the best at 30 years old. You’re not 100% formed as a player at 14, but you’re on your way.
Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager in the English Premier League, says that players are formed by 12. He can tell at 12 years old who the best players are going to be. I would extend that a little bit to 14. Also there are one or two great players who fall through the gaps and that maybe you don’t think much of at the younger ages and then, at 17 years, old they’re very good.
SN: Are these previously unnoticed players amazing at 17?
Paul Currie: I won’t say “amazing,” but I think they can still be good.
I’m certainly not suggesting that a 14 year old who’s not great should just give up. But you can see which players are likely to be the ones playing at a higher level.
SN: What makes an amazing player?
Paul Currie: At the end of the day, natural talent. It’s natural talent and working out, being dedicated to your craft and having a great attitude. But mostly it’s natural talent.
I grew up with so many great players in England, and some super-naturally talented players wasted it because by the time they got to 16 or 17 they got involved with drinking and girls and all the rest of it, and they just stopped playing.
The time to get really serious about soccer is when the players are 15 and 16 years old, and if the players are really into the game. If the parents are more into soccer than the players, then there is something wrong. It has got to come from the kids.
SN: And what makes a good coach?
Paul Currie: I think having a good relationship with the players.
When you’re a player – and of course there’s nothing better than playing, especially in the pro game where you’re going in every day and you have just a great repartee with the lads on your team. When you come out you miss those relationships the most. So when you’re coaching I think the relationship is important.
Obviously you’ve got to have structure and discipline, but you have to have the relationship with the kids as well. And the older they are the easier it is, because when they’re younger you need that respect first. But when you get to know them better, you can let them see a different side of your personality. You can have a laugh with them and call them silly nicknames or whatever.
SN: What do you like best about being a coach?
Paul Currie: Seeing something that you practice come out beautifully on game day. That is the best. You can think, "Oh, wow, I have had something to do with that." It is great to seet that you have influenced the players to improve. I am very respectful of kids; if I raise my voice, everyone turns their heads.
SN: I think you have the reputation of being a very serious coach...
Paul Currie: It is funny, I never viewed myself as serious. I like to have a good laugh. Players have to get to know me. I don't try to make friends with the kids at the start.
SN: Parents are less involved with older players as well, does this make a difference?
Paul Currie: They’re less involved in some ways. When the players are young, the parents all come to watch practices and then less so as the players grow up. At first, I think the parents want to know, “Who is this guy? What’s he going to be like?” Soccer parents want to know the coach is firm but fair.
With my BU15s last year, I had a great relationship with the kids. We had a real good laugh. We won many championships. Nothing was really serious until I said, “Okay, we’re doing this,” and then the training behavior was spot on. But we had a great laugh off the field. That team was the ultimate coaching experience.
SN: Do you miss your championship team?
Paul Currie: I miss them, but then that’s life. They’re going to have a lot of different coaches between me and wherever they’re going to go.
SN: How do you think players make the transition between different coaches? I know that can be confusing for players.
Paul Currie: I talked to the 15s in Phoenix, because they’re at the age where they’ve got the intelligence to evaluate what they hear.
I told them they have to listen to all the advice any coach gives them and then, with their own intelligence, sort out the good advice from the bad advice.
For example, Nico (Mike Nicholson) is the Surf Academy coach, and he had these boys from U11 through U13. Nico has a different style than I do, he probably encourages a more direct game than I do, and I told the boys, “Look you're old enough now to take responsibility for yourselves. You all can play, you know how to play, you know the right way to play in terms of improving yourselves as players. So just carry on doing what you’re doing.”
Actually, Surf realizes the importance of the coaches all being on the same page regarding philosophy and style of play.
SN: What do you think of San Diego Surf Soccer Club?
Paul Currie: is a great club to work for, I have been here a long time and I am very happy here. The facilities are fantastic and the fact we all practice on the same field is great. The players who come here are dedicated and the coaching staff is great and we are becoming more consistent.
SN: Can you elaborate on what you mean by consistent?
Paul Currie: For example, I think my brother, Surf Coach David Currie would agree. He has been working with the U8 team for three years, and if I take a team off of him I know they’re going to be playing the right way. And then if he takes a team off me, vice-versa.
It’s all about consistency in training. We may all have different ideas and different ways of getting the same results, but not completely different philosphies. Some people may think it’s good to have very different styles of coaching, but I don’t.
When we went to Barcelona, the Barcelona U10 boys were playing exactly the same way the first team boys were playing. So, they have different coaches all the way up but it’s the same style. Same with Manchester United in England. It’s got to be the same style of soccer.
SN: How often should players train per week?
Paul Currie: Personally, I believe teams should train 3 times a week. Coaches need to do what it takes to get their teams ready and develop their players. You can't expect great things if your teams are not ready.
SN: What about Futsal? Futsal is becoming more popular; do you recommend players playing Futsal?
Paul Currie: Futsal is brilliant for young players; it gives them great touches on the ball and is a good way to develop. Kids need to touch the ball more and should be playing small-sized games. I think kids start playing soccer because they like to touch the ball and then they get on the field and do not often have the opportunity to touch the ball that much. Futsal provides a terrific chance for kids to develop footskills and have fun.
SN: What do you think about being a coach?
Paul Currie: I think coaching is overrated. I said that to my team last year. People tend to look at the coach as the main person, but that really isn't the case. The players are the main people. Coaches do not win games, the players do. In traditional American sports, the coaches may be more important -- as in baseball and football. In England, the coaches watch the game and may give you a hiding after the game, but on the field it is the players who talk to each other and tell each other what to do. First and foremost, it is about the players.
The kids think that the coach should be the end all, but I want the kids to make their own decisions. Players should ask for the ball, not wait to get it. Don't they want to play? English people have a reputation of being reserved, but when they are playing soccer, they are mad-like, all shouting. Here in America, the kids are much quieter, no one says a word. Too much pressure can do that.
SN: What do you think of the impact of college?
Paul Currie: It's rubbish. I am hoping my U15s are a new breed for colleges. If I go watch a college game, it should be entertaining to watch. Not played with fear.
America is the only country in the world that asks soccer players to take time out of playing soccer and becoming a pro to attend college. In England, U16s are playing against older people and that is great for development. It is challenging to play against adults. Here, players only get to play with older, more experienced soccer players after college.
A young U17 player might not go to college if they were offered a great pro contract, but then they might be giving up a $250,000 scholarship to a D1 college.
SH: How can the U.S. become competitive if our youth players take 4 years off to go to college before being a pro?
Paul Currie: In England, if you haven't made it by 20, then you are probably not going to make it. Those years between 18 and 22 are massive in terms of development and going pro. This is hard in America. There is no easy solution.
SN: Where your parents supportive of your playing soccer?
Paul Currie: Yes, but they were not constantly at the field. My father was a lawyer and would turn up occiassionaly for a game, and he liked it. But he never pushed me.
Next: Paul Currie's background as a player and how he came to America....
Paul Currie FACT FILE
As a young man, Paul Currie represented Lancashire School Boys Team as a U14 through U16 player. He then went on to play four years for Huddersfield Town FC in England and three years with Newcastle Town FC in Australia, before returning to England to play a final two years with Colne Dynamos FC. Currently he plays for Surf Premier League in the San Diego Men’s League.
As a coach, Currie spent two years working with Juventus FC in Australia and two years with Barrowford Celtic FC in England before coming to America. His coaching experience in San Diego includes five years with the Del Mar Sharks and one year with Carlsbad Lightning before moving to San Diego Surf, where he has coached over seven years now.
Currie’s San Diego Surf Soccer teams have been very successful, bringing home championships at Pegasus Cup, Lightning Cup, Nomads Cup, and Surf Cup (twice).
The teams have also won three Presidio League championships, two championships each at Presidio Cup, Encinitas Rotary Cup, and Villa Tournament, and one at the Mission Viejo Invitational Tournament.
To top this all off, his teams have taken two State Cups, two Regional Championships, and one National Championship. Currie has three (3) teams this season.