Michael Duggan and Steve Cowell Pride Themselves On Having A “Club For Every Player.”
Prepared to be brave and do things the right way – an environment where every player can develop and thrive.
Across Southern California – and across the nation – youth soccer players come in many shapes, sizes, and level. Some are content to get out on the field with friends and kick a ball around once or twice a week, while other see themselves moving up to elite youth soccer and eventually to college, professional and perhaps even National Team level. In many communities these different levels of players would have to find different clubs in order to fit their needs. In San Diego’s North County there is a club that prides itself on having “a place for every player at every level” – Carlsbad United F.C. (CUFC).
Under the leadership of Director of Operations Michael Duggan and Technical Director Steve Cowell, CUFC provides a myriad of opportunities and levels for players, from the Recreational Program to the Competitive Program and on to the Elite Program. CUFC even has a TOP Soccer Program to meet the need of every single child in the region who wants to play the beautiful game.
“What makes this club different is that we truly have a program for every player,” said Duggan, “as a recreational player, as a challenger player who is looking to start the game on a competitive level, as an intermediate player or as a top elite player. We are really the only club out there that can pave the way for every step of development.”
Carlsbad United currently has three distinct programs, with a fourth set to launch in the fall of 2014. New players can test the soccer waters in the Recreation Program, which is a community-based program open to all ages and abilities where playing in your neighborhood, having fun, skill development and building a love for the game are the key components. From there, players can move on to the Competitive Program, a progressive development program offering high levels of professional coaching and competitive playing opportunities at the local and Regional level.
The highest level at CUFC is the Elite Program, which is a college-bound program providing exposure, connection and placement opportunities for Elite players while competing in the top competitions at a regional and national level. These players have the added support of coaches with college experience as well as a dedicated Elite College Program.
“We have a lot of experience and representation at the college level with our coaches, and we are really able to guide the players for success on and off the field,” said Duggan. The list of current college coaches at CUFC includes Ron Pulvers, Bobby Renneisen and Courtney Drummond of Cal State San Marcos, Paul Holohan with San Diego State University, and University of San Diego goalkeeping coach Guillermo Rodriguez.
The fourth program, the Champions League Program, will be a weekly program that provides every player with the opportunity to participate in the beautiful game, regardless of special needs. The key components will include enhancing self-esteem and developing physical mobility, the spirit of teamwork and a sense of community.
When CUFC was formed in December 2013 with the merger of Carlsbad Lighting SC and Carlsbad Wave FC, it created a club with more than 4,000 players, nearly 60 competitive coaches and 200 recreational coaches. Duggan and Cowell, assisted by Director of Boys Program Glenn Malone, Director of Girls Program Carl Higham and Directors of Recreation Brad Green and Heather Hilliard, have devoted countless hours to making certain that every level of player is provided with the stepping stones to develop.
With Carlsbad United, a child can begin at age 3 or 4 in the Mini-Kickers or Little Rookies program and develop all the way to the Elite level – all without leaving the club. Whatever the player’s ultimate goal, the path is there.
“Players have to consider why they play the sport and how far they want to go with the sport,” said Cowell. “We understand that there are some players who just want to have fun with their friends and play soccer together for the recreational season on fields close to their homes. Then we know there are players who have ambitions of making the Cal South Olympic Development Program (ODP) and playing on an elite level, and we can provide everything those players need to make it to the top.”
With the Recreation Program, Green and Hilliard have developed a place for kids to learn about the world’s most popular sport from recreational coaches who have been trained in the same philosophy as the club’s competitive coaches. To help develop every child’s love for the game, the program has no tryouts and kids can count on playing at least 50% of the game. Perhaps most importantly, the emphasis is on helping kids learn the proper way to play – no kick-and-run here. This goes back to the training that all CUFC coaches receive, no matter their level. All coaches are encouraged to pursue advanced licenses in order to develop their own skills.
“We strongly believe in coaching education, and we currently have 12 ‘A’ Licensed coaches on staff,” Cowell pointed out. “As directors at the club, it is our job to inspire and guide the coaches.”
Duggan is even more insistent on having a well-educated coaching staff. “I don’t feel that anyone should be coaching competitive soccer without a top level license,” he stated, “and I personally don’t feel anyone should be coaching with less than a national ‘C’ license.”
“We are not only building a club for developing good players but also for developing and educating coaches,” Duggan added. “We have to support our coaches.”
“A club can only go as far as its coaches can take it,” Cowell stated. “The coaches are the face of the club and should represent everything a club stands for. It is vital to have people with the coaching ability, knowledge, and personality to deliver the club philosophies to the players. For me as a Director, the most important thing is to have trust in your coaches and their abilities.”
To further develop the coaching staff, CUFC launched a new coach education program in May, developed by Cowell. The goal of this new program is to help instill the Carlsbad United philosophy in all coaches at all levels. A benefit of this focus is the creation of a smooth pathway for players who decide they want to advance beyond recreational soccer into the competitive game. No matter the team or the level, all coaches will work from the same curriculum.
“A youth soccer club’s philosophy and mission statement should guide everything at the club, from programming to coaching styles,” Cowell explained, “One of the biggest things for me, dealing with over 4,000 players, is having a consistent philosophy that people believe in and want to participate in. This is the only way we can back up the talk. What makes Carlsbad United different is that we are prepared to be brave and back up what we say and do things the right way.
Doing things the right way includes keeping the emphasis on developing players to their fullest potential – even if that means that a team ends the season without a winning record. Because in the end, especially at the younger ages, playing “winning” soccer does not always mean playing “developmental” soccer. Too often coaches of younger teams can become so focused on the score that they will resort to the “kick-it-to-win-it” style where one or two strong players are kept up front and the job of the rest of the team is to get the ball up to them to score. While this may look good on the score sheet, it does nothing to build the skills of any of the players.
“We do not want coaches who are in it to win,” Duggan said. “They have to believe in our philosophy, which is playing from the back and having every player being comfortable on the ball. For the earlier ages it is so important to provide the right environment to build the right foundation to start. The coaches have to braver at these younger ages to support players being creative and taking chances, and we as DOCs have to be supportive of our coaches as well.”
Asked if the club had ever had coaches with the “long-ball” mentality, Duggan replied, “We have, yes, but those are the teams who only can produce short term success and we have eradicated those coaches.” However, Duggan and Cowell also have to deal with the American winning mentality of some parents who believe that the Ws and Ls do tell the whole story. Cowell was asked how he and Duggan handle such situations.
“It’s about educating the parents,” replied Cowell. “So when a parent comes to complain about not winning, it is really an opportunity for us to be brave and believe in what we are doing and to educate that parent. We explain that winning a game is not the point, but that developing the players and the team is the long-term goal.”
“There really should not be a be-all-end-all to winning, otherwise you are going to fail,” said Duggan. “If you put the right things in motion and have the player development in the stepping stones, then winning becomes the end-result.”
There is, of course, a difference in not winning at the Rec level and not winning at the Elite level, and Duggan and Cowell acknowledge this. As teams advance in level the wins and losses do become more important, but by developing the players and teams the wins come more easily. Duggan likens it to providing a coach with the best tools possible for overall success.
“There is a fine line between success and failure when you get to a national championship, and this is when winning depends a lot on the coach.” Duggan explained. “If he or she is able to make those technical changes in the game, that is going to change the game. A coach is only as good as his or her tools, and the players are the tools. It has to be about the players, and our job is to produce the players.”
At Carlsbad United F.C. the players will always come first, supported by well-trained coaches who in turn are supported by the Directors of the club. With the focus on helping all players reach their potential, there is no need for any child to look elsewhere for the right place.
“We aim to produce high quality technical players who demonstrate sound decision-making ability in game situations,” said Cowell. “We believe in developing the complete soccer player who excels in the four key areas of technique, tactics, physical ability and psychosocial skills. At CUFC we believe in a ‘player first’ philosophy, where individual player development is the foundation upon which individual teams in the club are built.”
“From AA-B to Premier players, every player can find a place to play soccer here,” said Duggan. “We have a soccer curriculum that delivers on the promise of developing players.”
“Ultimately, our vision is to be recognized as a national leader in full-service soccer education,” Cowell concluded.