CEO of GFL Soccer Eddie Loewen on What is Working and What Needs to Change in Youth Soccer Today
Eddie Loewen is an expert on German’s Youth Bundesliga, understanding how Germany has emphasized the player development of youth soccer players for years. Loewen grew up playing in the Bundesliga and played professional soccer in 3.Bundesliga before coming to the USA. Loewen holds a UEFA A license and USSF B.
As the CEO of GFL Soccer and the Director of Coaching of the GPS Tampa Bay Affiliate of FC Bayern Munich, Dunedin Stirling Soccer Club, Loewen scouts talented youths and arranges for high level, elite player trials in Germany as well as competitive youth soccer immersion trips.
GoalNation’s Diane Scavuzzo interviewed Eddie Loewen on the future of youth soccer in America, specifically on what we need to do differently if we want to accomplish our goals of playing on the world stage.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is right and what is wrong in American youth soccer?
Eddie Loewen: Let’s talk about what is right, first.
Most other soccer countries would envy our soccer/sports complexes. Our infrastructure is very good for the majority of youth clubs. We have tons of excellent facilities where players can develop properly.
If I could change one thing, it would be to add locker rooms and a clubhouse to every facility, where kids and families can hang out and socialize while having food and drinks because it would promote camaraderie.
The team chemistry and bonding that occurs in a locker room are irreplaceable.
We have a lot of talented young players ages 8-14 and I believe that we are doing a good job on the grassroots level developing players that are technically sound and athletic.
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But we can improve these efforts by educating our local club coaches — and making sure that these coaches who are responsible for developing our youngest player understand the soccer culture that exists outside of our shores.
The U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy, known simply as the DA, is a good program but I believe we need to change some things in order to develop professional and national team players.
The gap between the MLS DA’s and some regular youth soccer club DA’s is too big.
In Germany, the Nationale Leistungs Zentren/ Bundesliga -Pro Academies, NLZ, are focusing only on developing a professional player, that is the main goal.
The success of this highly targeted program becomes clear when you realize the fact that the 2014 German World Cup team had 22 of 24 players come from an NLZ and in 2017 the Germans won the Confederation Cup with an Under 21 team.
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What is the goal of the DA? I think that many DA’s have the purpose of developing players for college. Since the American college model doesn’t align with international professional player development, we need a practical solution.
We need to have one tier in our country’s DA that completely focuses on developing a professional player and not a student-athlete.
Diane Scavuzzo: What else do you believe needs to be improved?
Eddie Loewen: We need more local training centers to identify talent. More local training centers organized directly by U.S. Soccer, and not necessarily by the state associations, would further help in identifying local players.
We need to solve the problem of players having to travel two plus hours for practice. This does not happen in Germany as we have a structured system for identifying players.
Once the talented players get identified, they need to be playing for a club that aligns with the U.S. Soccer philosophy and has quality coaches on staff to ensure proper training and development.
We have too many leagues and member associations of U.S. Soccer which make things complicated, and navigating the path to development overly complicated.
These three problems need to be fixed:
- The fact that parents have to choose every tryout period which club they will align themselves with is ridiculous.
- The fact that parents are then weighing their decision between the different leagues their child would benefit the most from is ludicrous. Parents have to choose between leagues provided by the US Youth Soccer state associations, US Club Soccer, etc.
- Why do we make it so complicated and not transparent?
Does the label of the league your child will play in or the amount of money you spend for various tournaments your child will participate in determine the soccer fate of your child? I don’t think so.
Diane Scavuzzo: What needs to change in youth soccer today?
Eddie Loewen: We need to reform the youth soccer system in the USA — especially between the ages of 15-18, high school, and 19-22, college.
The club, college, pro pyramid is broken.
If the end product is supposed to be a professional player, we need to give this player an opportunity to develop accordingly.
We should offer two paths of development.
One focuses on creating student-athletes with college as the end product and the other focuses on solely creating a professional player. Only then will we strengthen our professional leagues and the national team.
Currently, the majority of players are going to play in college and then try to pursue a professional career. But the truth is that the four years of college really don’t prepare a player for a professional career due to the inconsistent playing schedule.
Players in other countries who are between the ages of 18 and 22 are playing 10-11 months per year and are used to playing in real pressure situations. There they play for promotion and relegation in front of thousands of fans all the way down to the 4th tier of German soccer.
These years are crucial for a young player because he learns how to play with men and in under pressure situations. In college, the preseason is only 10-14 days long, then the season spans between 3.5 to 4 months, and then the rest of the year training is very limited due to NCAA rules.
Over a span of four years, you lose six months every year of playing soccer at a high level. That is just too much to compensate for a player that really wants to play on the highest level.
The competition on the highest level between the ages of 15-18 is not consistently high enough and travel distance is too much. We should be able to offer good competition for players in a radius of 1-1.5 hours of travel.
We need more transparency in a players’ developmental pathway.
We need a clear philosophy of player development and the players we want to create. We need reform of our coaching education.
As far as I know, U.S. Soccer is working on a major reform and this will take time.
We need humility!
I think we can all agree that we are still a developing country when it comes to soccer. Yes, we have made great strides in our development as a nation, but we still have a long way to go and are not close to some nations that have earned themselves a couple of stars, World Cup titles, on the jersey.
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Simple example: I have a coaching colleague here in the US that I played against in Germany and who has earned himself the DFB Pro License. The DFB Pro License is harder to get than the regular UEFA Pro License due to the number of hours and requirements that the coaches have to fulfill. The DFB Pro License has the highest amount of required hours compared to all other UEFA Pro Licenses and the same stands for the DFB A License compared to the regular UEFA A License.
As an American, he played and coached in Germany’s professional league as a head coach which is quite rare. When he asked U.S. Soccer what his DFB Pro License equates to in the USA, U.S. Soccer told him that he would need to start with the U.S. Soccer C License.
Why would U.S. Soccer not move someone that holds the DFB Pro License directly in the A or Pro course in the US? Do we think so highly of us? Why don’t we utilize someone with that experience and integrate them into our scouting staff and instructors staff so that we can develop coaches with strong profiles?
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you recommend?
Eddie Loewen: It should be possible to have a DA bracket that is geographically bound to max 2-3 hours travel. I think that we should have more DA programs locally so that teams don’t have to travel as much for games, similar to how it is done at the U12.
Of course, the standard has to be high, but I believe that there are enough youth players to ensure a high standard for competitive matches.
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While this might fight traditional commercialism and the business of youth soccer — rather than one big club having 3000 players and 5-10 teams in one age group, and where the B team is almost as strong as the A/DA team, we should have these players that don’t make the top team of one prestigious club go to another club nearby that can also offer a DA program, so that these players can play in the top tier as well.
This would ensure DA games are more local, two hours drive max, and a more comprehensive scouting effort because the player that doesn’t play in the top tier of the one club can now play in the top tier for another club, rather than playing the second string.
Why do we need clubs of the size of an entire city?
We need more free play, infrastructure for kids to play free such as futsal and 3v3 and we must lengthen the college soccer season.
U.S. Soccer and municipalities should work together to build soccer courts, futsal courts or similar, where players can play free 24/7. Where they can self-regulate the game, the rules, etc.
Free play is essential to the creativity of a player and only this way will we create real soccer stars.
Our youth soccer players are so too used to being spoon feed.
What do I mean? Meaning unless the coach puts the cones down and gives them direction, the players will not be able to self-regulate.
This also reflects in actual games where players are too dependent on the coaches because they can not make their own decisions and adjust during a game in case the opponent makes adjustments.
Diane Scavuzzo: Where have we fallen short and how can that be improved?
Eddie Loewen: Today, in youth soccer, we have too much smoke and mirrors. From leagues to programs, we are selling the game.
But the game can’t be bought. The game is bigger than all of us.
The game in its purest form only needs players, a ball, and two goals. We have commercialized the game too much, where parents that want to introduce their kids to the game are faced with too many choices.
We stopped looking at the fundamentals: Does the coach/club care? Does the coach create a fun and developmentally appropriate environment where my child can thrive as a player and person? What is the philosophy of the club regarding player development?
Even parents unfamiliar with the game can sense real passion and commitment to the game and to kids developing. We can make the future for our players better in the USA if we work together.