Q&A: U-17 WNT Head Coach BJ Snow Talks About World Cup Qualifying

Under-17 Women's National Team head coach B.J. Snow sat down with ussoccer.com to talk about the teams expectations coming into the first match of the U-17 CONCACAF Championship. USA will kickoff against Jamaica at the Grenada National Stadium in St. Georges on March 4 at 2:30 p.m. ET (FOX Soccer Plus and FOX Soccer 2Go).

ussoccer.com: How was the team after arriving in Grenada six days before the first match?
B.J. Snow: “We wanted to come here a few days early to certainly get acclimated to the weather, the facilities, the hotel, the environment. I think the first few days of training have met the expectations that we set forth and I think the girls are in a good place right now. I think the priority at this point in time is making sure that they’re physically prepared as the tournament approaches and they’re certainly mentally prepared. So it’s a really fine line and a balance that we’re trying to deal with from a coaching standpoint, and I think so far the girls have handled everything really well.”

ussoccer.com: You have experience helping the Women’s Team last summer and learning from head coach Jill Ellis. How has that benefitted you and the U-17s?
BS: “Since I took this job with U.S. Soccer it has been extraordinary the amount of learning that goes on. And to be in that pressure cooker environment with the women’s team for almost a year and a half has helped my personal growth as a coach exponentially. Being able to learn from Jill (Ellis) and all of the coaches there in a different role, to try to help the team in a different capacity than what I have to do, it’s helped me be able to identify different areas that are needed to help this team. Not just from a head coaching standpoint, but how we put a staff together, what are the dynamics that we need to continue working on within the team. Seeing how those players act on a daily environment with the full team, in that environment is extraordinary. And if we can just take a small piece of what they do on an everyday basis, our girls are going to benefit from that forever.”

ussoccer.com: Forward Ashley Sanchez and defender Kiara Pickett helped the U-20 WNT to win the title at the U-20 CONCACAF Championship. What do you expect them to bring to the U-17 squad?
BS: “All these players are at a point in their career where they’re learning thousands of different things from this environment. One of the things that they’re learning to do is to lead. It’s not an innate quality for them, so it’s teaching them how to lead. But most important for us is the experiences that they’ve had – the fact that they’ve been in an environment that has replicated what we’re going to go through over the course of the next week and a half. Feeling those emotions, ‘What do you have to deal with?’ What is the adversity that we have to deal with? What are some of the great things that we have to soak in?

“Those experiences – for them to be able to talk about those things – are monumental for the rest of the group. And they look to them for those experiences. But at the same time the young players – they’re all young players, 14 to 17 years old – they wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think that they could help us right now. They are soccer players – the game doesn’t know how old they are. As long as the player realizes they can be in this environment and contribute, which certainly they do, then we feel we’ve selected a group of 20 players that can start at any point in time.”

ussoccer.com: How will the team prepare in the Caribbean climate with little rest between group matches?
BS: “Certainly it’s a different level than what the girls are used, but we’ve tried to incorporate that throughout the cycle. The ‘every-other-day-game’ is something we’ve tried to do, in fact just two weeks ago with our NTC tournament we did the exact same thing and tried to plan the games at the same times that we’re doing now, two days in between. The physical load and the preparation to deal with the physical load, I think the girls are used to by now because of the experience they have in our training camps, so hopefully that will benefit us once the tournament starts. I think the time away from us the girls have done a good job focusing on how they can individually improve their fitness so that when we come here hopefully we can hit the ground running. So far their preparation has met my expectations.”

ussoccer.com: With the recent success of the WNT and the U-20 WNT, is there any added pressure to continue the momentum?
BS: “Is there an element of pressure? There’s always an element of pressure. We try to educate them on dealing with that. When you put on that crest, when you put on that jersey, the pressure will always be there to win – that will never change. So we have to teach the players how to deal with that pressure and the expectations that come along with it. But at the same time we don’t focus on the Women winning, we don’t focus on the 20s qualifying. What we focus on is the process that those teams used to obtain their success. So we talk about the journey that the women’s went through - the ups and downs, how did they navigate through the process of winning a world championship? Those are the things we focus on – the details, the everyday interactions of the staff and players. Ultimate we hope that that gives us the best chance of succeeding. They laid out a road map for us, and we’re hoping to follow it.”

ussoccer.com: What did you learn and take away after winning the NTC Invitational title last month?
BS: “I think overall it was a perfect dry-run, not just for the players but from a staff perspective, everybody learning what their roles and responsibilities are going to be, how to manage a tournament from a coaching standpoint, certainly doing player evaluations in an environment that is pressure-packed, dealing with the international game – which our players don’t get to deal with very often. You can’t replicate the international game no matter how many camps we have. Until you play high-quality international competition you can’t replicate the emotions, the feelings that you get, from a player standpoint. So that’s what we wanted to accomplish at the NTC Invitational and hopefully that’s eased them into this tournament so that they’re more themselves. We talk with the group that we don’t want them to make this game any different then the game they grew up playing. We want them to be that eight-year-old girl playing in the backyard with their brother or sister or their friends. That what we want them to be and if they can play that free then we feel we can give them their best opportunity to be successful.”

ussoccer.com: Now that the team is finally in Grenada, what is the focus of the girls?
BS: “Our focus has been on the preparation for the tournament. Over the course of the last year and a half throughout the cycle, it goes through ebbs and flows. We’re trying to identify players, we’re trying to develop players and now we’re at the point where we’re trying to form a team – or we have been in that process for the last couple of months. I think we need to focus at this point in time on what gives us our best chance to deal with the tournament, but in regards to game day preparations our sole focus is on Jamaica and nothing else but that.”

ussoccer.com: What do you expect from the roster you’ve named for World Cup Qualifying?
BS: “The game continues to evolve, it continues to get better, it continues to get faster. From an international standpoint the Women’s World Cup was an enormous showcase – it was a time where everyone in the world could see how great the game is, how exciting and dynamic the game is. And I think the youth level is at place right now where it’s following suit, so it’s our job to keep up with those expectations and move the game forward. The players that we selected hopefully have that ability to do that.

“We’ve always talked about this continuum scale that we’ve tried to deal with where we’re trying to focus on players at this age group that have the ability to move forward within the national team system and hopefully play for our country in the future with the full national team. But at the same time, are they prepared to help us win right now. That’s always a dynamic that’s tricky to deal with. We feel we’ve selected a group of players that have the ability to help us win right now but also are an investment for the future, and that’s ultimately what my job comes down to.”

ussocer.com: Was it difficult finding the right balance of player development with that added motivation to win?
BS: “I think we have to have a philosophy as a youth national team system. We’ve certainly done that, and as long as we stick to that philosophy and teach these girls all the facets of the philosophy, that’s part of our job. In regards to winning and development, it is a fine line for this age group. Certainly the number one thing for our age group is to develop players, but we do not lose sight that the number one priority from a U.S. Soccer standpoint is always that we want to win. And we don’t shy away from that. The girls’ expectation is that they want to win. And at the same time we want to do it the right way so that we’re not skipping development standards that they might need to accomplish over the course of their youth career to make sure that they’re prepared for the next step. Ultimate that’s what we need to focus on, but right now it is about qualifying for the World Cup and for our players that is the number one goal at this point.”