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U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Dave Chesler

Q&A with U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Development Dave Chesler

U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Development, Dave Chesler, was first introduced to the game of soccer by his gym teacher in the fifth grade. The freedom of expression that soccer offered set it apart from other sports and he knew he wanted to make it part of his life. An avid player ever since, Chesler played at the University of Maryland before transferring to the University of Washington, where he graduated and went on to earn his Secondary Education Teaching Certificate.

Chesler first started coaching at the youth level while still an undergrad student and diligently worked his way up to where he is today. He has coached at all levels throughout his career from high school, club, college, and ODP to a pair of U.S. Soccer Youth National Teams. Chesler joined the National Instructional Staff in 1992 and was hired as the Director of Coaching Development in 2011. In this role, Chesler has worked tirelessly over the past few years to make improvements to the U.S. Soccer Coaching license pathway. Constantly striving to challenge coaches and increase the standards of coaching in this country, Chesler recently spoke with to describe his own coaching career and the work he is doing to develop the pathway for others.
You have been involved in soccer at all levels for your entire life. When did your passion for soccer begin?

Dave Chesler: “I was first introduced to the game through my P.E. teacher in fifth grade. There was an immediate emotional connection to the freedom of expression and decision making that soccer offered. This teacher facilitated an environment that really enhanced the freedom to play and make our own choices. My first experiences with other traditional North-American sports were the opposite, so the choice for soccer as a life-long sport was always clear for me.” While you were a teacher, you began coaching high school soccer. When did you know that you wanted to make soccer part of your long term career?
DC: “
I actually began coaching while I was still a student-athlete finishing my undergraduate degree at the University of Washington. I was coaching a U-13 competitive team, a responsibility for which I really had no practical skills or knowledge. The challenge of influencing the behavior and growth of others through this experience was a large factor in my decision to supplement my undergraduate degree with a Secondary Science Teaching Certificate. The coaching aspect became a supplemental component of teaching in another important domain, environmental science. Coaching soccer was convenient, and in retrospect, it provided me many years and hours of deliberate coaching practice.” When you first started coaching, who were the role models that you looked up to? Did you base your coaching style off of a particular person or philosophy?
DC: “
I believe that every coaching philosophy is centered on a person’s individual core values. The fundamental actions of a coach or teacher are meant to influence others, and in most cases, these ‘others’ are young, developing human beings. The level of responsibility and influence you have is huge. Your core values are constantly exposed in this environment. My first soccer coach was very influential in this regard; he used a positive filtering system to praise us in public, correct us in private and respect our individual ability and style. These are now my core values and my personal coaching barometers.

“In a theoretical sense though, I can best relate to the fundamentals of John Wooden’s philosophy and methodology. John Wooden was the legendary UCLA basketball coach. He was a teacher-coach, and that is how I envision my methods and style. He is renowned for a highly detailed approach to teaching the game, and more significantly, he is respected for his philosophy on developing the person as well as the athlete. He recruited athletes based on attitude, potential to grow and a specific set of core values. He personally modeled and expected from others maximum effort and actions that reflected exceptional character.” You served on staff with several Youth National Teams, specifically as head coach for the U-18 WNT and assistant coach for the U-20 WNT. What memories stand out for you from that time?
“This was a period of tremendous personal growth for me as a teacher-coach. The international component of coaching at this level is a unique domain that can’t be replicated in any other environment. The international component encompasses everything from the technical aspects of a national playing style or philosophy, to the passion and determination that is translated into physical performance. There are also unique cultural characteristics that seem to influence the performances of each Federation on the field. An example is the tactical methods and technical precision of the Japanese youth teams.

“These international experiences, surrounded by an environment of extreme passion and very high performance expectations create long-lasting, indelible memories. One great moment was coaching the final of the Pan Am Games with the U.S. U-20 WNT in Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. There were 72,000 plus Brazil fans there to cheer on our opponent, the Brazil WNT. I’m very thankful that I was the assistant coach in that game!” You have been a National Instructor with U.S. Soccer Coaching Education since 1992. How did you first get involved in instructing national courses?
“I think that the pathway I took is one that is quite common among coaching educators in our sport. After taking a few national-level courses in the U.S. Soccer license pathway and gaining some experience with coaching in elite youth programs, I was asked to execute several coaching clinics on behalf of the ODP program and also the University of Washington. These experiences led to teaching the U.S. Soccer entry-level courses (F, E, and D) for several years. The progression continued toward becoming a National Instructor with some great mentoring and support from the Director of Coaching at the time, Bobby Howe, and several other U.S. Soccer National Staff members.” Over the past few years, you have taken coaches to Spain, Brazil, and Italy with U.S. Soccer’s Coaching Education International Workshops to learn about the structure of foreign programs as well as how they develop their players. What similarities or differences do you see in comparison with the structure and development here in the U.S.?
“Every Federation in the world has developed their own unique coaching development program. This is true for each country we visited or studied. The U.S. game, and thus the development of our coach and player resources, must also evolve in our own “U.S. Soccer” way. Our coaching programs and philosophy have been very consistent for the past 25-30 years. Recently we have been more aggressive about updating some elements of our content in order to provide a more global perspective of the game. For example, we are starting to place a higher emphasis on the physical component in each course level. The game has evolved and is now quicker, with a more explosive pace and a greater emphasis on passing and movement. This evolution translates into tactical changes and increased physical demands.” Is there a country that you would like to model coaching education off of, or does the U.S. present unique challenges and opportunities that require a distinct national identity? If so, what does that national identity look like?
“There are no single-entity programs or comprehensive models. There are very effective components from some countries that we have selected and will continue to select and integrate in some revised format that best suits our soccer culture and our specific challenges. We will continue to study other models. The process is one of objective self-examination and then integrating new ideas as simple adaptations to the foundations of our U.S. model.

“We will constantly look for current, innovative teaching methods and content from around the world. An example is a concept commonly referenced as “reality-based training”. This has been the foundation of the KNVB (Holland Federation) for many years. Essentially, the Dutch are able to evaluate a coach and mentor a coach in the coach’s home team environment. All of the training topics and evaluation scenarios are derived from the candidate’s match and training environment. Our National Instructor leaders feel that we needed to create our own version of this methodology. Our challenge for implementing the same protocol is the scale of our country and the magnitude of resources needed to accommodate thousands of coaching candidates in this process.

“This is where adaptation not adoption is important. We provide a current, age-appropriate match to the candidates for analysis prior to the face to face component of a course. The entire course is now focused on utilizing this match as if it were the candidates’ match. This match provides the “real” game moments and thus, the specific topics for testing, technical interviews and practice coaching throughout the week. This is our adapted version of a reality based environment.” As the Director of Coaching Development, you have been passionate about making improvements to coaching education in the United States. Describe some of the changes that have already been made in the last several years to U.S. Soccer’s coaching license structure, particularly to the D and E license courses.
“The most recent changes are in two areas: content and methods. In terms of content, we have integrated a series of practical components centered on the development of the physical component of our game. For example in the “D” Course, we now work on the accurate planning of a series of training sessions. We are teaching the foundations of effective periodization of training loads. Out of necessity, this must include some level of sport science. Thus, each license level will incorporate a progressive element of sport science in order to develop effective application and best practices for the physical development of a soccer-athlete.

“In addition to content changes, we have integrated new, more detailed components into our teacher-coach methodology. These components are focused on coaching behaviors and tools that help us measure teacher-coach effectiveness. We are integrating specific measurement tools and skills that provide the coach with tools and methods focused on effective teaching. An example of competency measurement is quantifying coach interactions using a tool called “Active Observation”. In this process, we measure all interactions during a training session. We quantify the components of an intervention by the coach. The measurements are useful in supporting a Performance Review of the training session environment.” There seems to be a greater emphasis placed on the grassroots player and coach. Can you explain why?
“We are playing catch-up in the area of grassroots coaching and player development. We are now taking aggressive steps to provide resources, support and oversight for all coach and player development in the grassroots ages, which is defined as 5-12 year olds. Our objective is to provide practical, accurate and effective tools for the grassroots coach to use in creating a positive and healthy youth development environment. We are incorporating FIFA and U.S. Soccer expectations regarding grassroots player development and programming.” The Coaching Department recently launched a Technical Director Pilot course. Can you provide insight as to who the course is for and what the focus is about?
“The Technical Director Course is targeted at technical leaders. These are coaches who have achieved high levels of technical expertise as team coaches. This is a pre-requisite for the course as they must be credible, confident mentors in their future role as a Technical Director.

“The course is about further developing skills and gaining experiences in four domains. The first area of concentration is Technical Leadership, which means guiding, mentoring and overseeing coaches from a technical perspective. Organizational Leadership focuses on guiding and directing all of the components of a Club, Academy, League or State. This would include coordinating and leading administrative and coaching components together and leading the process of change. Strategic Planning helps coaches develop tools and skills and gain experience in long-term planning for the organization. This may be technical in nature or it may be a topic such as organizational growth. Lastly, Management training helps coaches organize and coordinate all of the components and structure of the group.” You recently took on a new role as a Confederation Instructor for CONCACAF. What does this role involve?
“We are engaged in developing licenses to support the demands and needs of coaching development throughout our Confederation, which is made up of 41 individual Federation members. Collectively, the CONCACAF Instructors are collaborating to produce a sequence of Confederation Licensing levels (D-C-B-A). These will be certifications with eventual equivalencies to the courses offered by each Federation – U.S. Soccer as an example. We have finished creating the D-level license and have already completed the first two courses, one in Mexico City and one in Cayman.” What message would you like to share with coaches?
“My primary message to coaches is a saying that symbolizes the approach we want our coaches to take: IGNITE the play in your players. IGNITE stands for:

• INSPIRE: Be the emotional leader for the young athletes that you serve. Inspire the “play” in your players.
• GUIDE: Apply the guidelines from the U.S. Soccer Curriculum to your specific coaching environment.
• NURTURE: Perpetuate a passion for the game. Provide a balance between structured and unstructured play.
• INCORPORATE: Age-appropriate methods and best practices relative to the developmental age of your players.
• TRAIN: Become a master coach. Develop your craft to provide a quality training environment.
• ENVIRONMENT: Develop the athlete and the person – do not sacrifice youth development for a result.”