Bobby Howe, Former U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching, Reflects on Time with St. Kitts and Nevis
CHICAGO (Nov. 1, 2012) – Coach Bobby Howe recently returned from St. Kitts and Nevis, a small island country located in the Caribbean. Howe, who served as Director of Coaching for U.S. Soccer from 1996-2000, has a long history of experience and a vast wealth of knowledge in soccer.
Howe began his career first as a professional player for West Ham United in the English Premier League. After concluding his playing career, he traveled to the U.S. in 1977 to coach the Seattle Sounders of the North American Soccer League (NASL). He later coached the Portland Timbers (A-League), worked for the Washington State Youth Soccer Association and coached the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team. Howe currently serves as part of the USSF National Instructional Staff and as a coach for Emerald City Football Club in Seattle.
Howe traveled to St. Kitts and Nevis in mid-September to help guide and consult the country’s senior national team under head coach Jeffrey Hazel. While in St. Kitts, Howe helped the team prepare for and compete in the 2012 Caribbean Cup. He assisted with the first round of the tournament, which is played amongst the national teams of the Caribbean Football Union. The tournament will ultimately determine the four teams that will qualify for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
St. Kitts went 1-2-0 in the qualifying round and unfortunately did not advance in the tournament. The team beat Anguilla 2-0 in its first match, but later suffered losses to Trinidad & Tobago and French Guiana, who both advanced to the next round. Despite not getting the desired result, Howe described the tournament as a great learning experience for the St. Kitts national team and coaching staff, and for himself. Continue reading for Howe’s thoughts on the experience.
ussoccer.com: What was your main priority upon arriving in St. Kitts?
Bobby Howe: “I wanted to determine as early as possible what my role would be; specifically, what they wanted me to do. I’m always very sensitive when there is a head coach and a coaching staff involved. I wanted to work with them, but I also wanted to make sure that the head coach knew he was the head coach and my role wasn’t to replace anything that he was doing. Rather, I wanted to help him and the staff out by having conversations and providing opinions based upon my previous experience. I wanted to make sure that I was helping and supplementing what they were doing and offering the right sort of advice, rather than interfering with any sort of programing or schedule they had already put in place.”
“As we moved forward, I realized that Jeffrey Hazel, the head coach, was actually quite willing to allow me to do a great deal. Really, I did all the main body of the training except the warm-ups and the shooting practices and the regeneration sessions. But I did all the actual training that was functional. I was pleased. I felt that I was able to contribute and I think they were very happy to allow me to do that.”
ussoccer.com: How did you form your initial assessment of the team?
BH: “I first met with Jeffrey Hazel to discuss his expectations of my work with the team and to determine his background, the makeup of his staff, his thoughts on strategy, the training schedule and the game schedule leading up to the first game of the tournament.”
“The second day I was there, I observed the team playing against a local team. It was clear that we needed to work on most aspects of the game. If we were going to upgrade the game that I had seen to the next level, we certainly needed a lot of work in training.”
ussoccer.com: After speaking with Coach Hazel and watching the team play, what did you identify as the top two or three areas of need?
BH: “I determined the main things we needed to work through. In the order of priority was maintaining possession, utilizing the space on the field, and changing the play. In the first game the team played very narrowly and I felt that they needed to extract a little bit more width out of the field. During the first week of practice we did some work on flank play, we did some crossing exercises, and talked about the quality of the cross and the timing of runs in the box.”
ussoccer.com: How did you deal with the challenge of small numbers attending practice?
BH: “We spent a lot of time working with the locals for the first two-and-a-half weeks. We had a couple of practices in which only seven or 10 players showed up. The main problem with fewer numbers was that not enough players were exposed to the training on a regular basis. There were only about three or four players that attended all of the training sessions that we did. Another issue was trying to maintain a theme. For example, you can do passing and support and possession activities with smaller numbers, but you can’t do any functional training. You can’t play a forward line against a defense or integrate the midfield with the forwards in a functional sense because you don’t have enough players to do it.”
“We tried to make use of the numbers that were there. You could create a generic theme for a practice, but you couldn’t plan on it being a functional practice because you didn’t know how many would be there. So you really had to improvise a fair amount in training. I tried to maintain a theme and follow a plan, but the activities that I used to implement that plan were not necessarily the ones that I had initially written down to do.”
ussoccer.com: Was it difficult preparing for the tournament given that you had such a short amount of time?
BH: “I think we did what we needed to do given the number of players and given the time we had. I think any time more would have been wasted time because we would have just been working with fewer players so not many players would have been impacted. A little more time working with the whole group would have been ideal, but that’s a little bit unrealistic. Club teams are not going to release players unless it’s going to be through the international window and that’s what happened here.”
ussoccer.com: What were the expectations of the players and staff heading into the tournament?
BH: “I think that the expectations from all were that they would get through this round of the tournament. They knew that Anguilla wasn’t very strong and that proved to be the case. They knew the game against Trinidad was going to be the tough one because we had the opportunity to scout Trinidad. We felt that French Guiana going in to the tournament was a little more of an unknown quantity, but we had the chance to see them play a couple of times and I think even then we felt that we had a chance. The expectations for the island were optimistic.”
“The long term goal for St. Kitts is educational programming. I think that the Federation’s training program, especially for younger players like the Youth Modules and the ‘D’ and ‘E’ license courses are in line with what they need. Then the coaches who have the education and the coaching ability should be encouraged to travel to take their ‘A’ and ‘B’ licenses.”
ussoccer.com: Throughout the experience, did you feel you had the support of the country, the coaching staff, and the team behind you?
BH: “They were very encouraging and accepting of ideas. I had a very good rapport with the players. I felt the rapport with the staff was also very good. I think we definitely had the support of the Football Association. The president was very keen on having someone come in and the staff there was very accommodating. I have to give them all the credit in the world for trying to host this, feeling that it was their best chance to move on to the next round of the competition.”
HOWE OUTLINES HIS TRAINING REGIMEN FOR ST. KITTS AND NEVIS
During his time in St. Kitts and Nevis, Bobby Howe was able to take a hands-on approach to training the St. Kitts National Team in its preparations for the 2012 Caribbean Cup. Howe outlined for ussoccer.com the main tasks he chose to focus on during his time with the team:
- To determine the most suitable system
- To determine the most suitable strategy
1. Changing the play
2. Selection of passes
3. Timing of support – angles and distances
4. Timing of runs
5. Utilization of space (width)
1. Individual responsibilities
2. Team shape
4. Compressing space
1. Quality of cross
2. Timing of runs in the penalty area
3. Number of players in the penalty area
Howe also identified three more specific areas that the team needed to work on after watching their first game. He concentrated on these topics during the first week of training:
1. Quality of pass
2. Quality of support
3. Movement off the ball
4. Recognition of options
- Changing Play
1. Options to change play
- Flank Play
1. Combination options for wide players
2. Crossing practices3. Runs in the penalty area
After the first week, Howe advanced to other coaching topics such as defending. He added: “I also felt that we needed to work on defending, but during the first week it wasn’t the priority. I felt that we could work on defending as my time there developed since defending is easier. Later on, we did spend some time working on the defensive aspects of the game.”
He chose to concentrate on these five defensive aspects:
1. Positional play
2. The back four
3. Pressing – when and where
4. Compression of space – pushing up from the back
5. Line of confrontation