SD Football Center’s Shervin Erfani on Youth Player Development
San Diego Football Center is preparing for a busy summer as the youth development academy hosts its prestigious Fulham FC ID Camp and coaching clinic featuring Albert Puig, former Technical Director of FC Barcelona’s “La Masia” Academy, in the coming weeks.
GoalNation spoke with San Diego Football Center’s Co-Founder Shervin Erfani on player development and his inspiration for growing the game.
Related Article: SDFC Learns from Iniesta
Youth Soccer News: San Diego Football Center is a youth leadership academy designed to progress local Southern California competitive club soccer. SDFC was founded and is run by four local San Diego fathers who are committed to the community, and all with their own children in the program.
Co-Founder Shervin Erfani is a dedicated soccer dad himself and lover of the beautiful game — and, his life experiences have inspired him to work to raise the level of player development and to give back to communities that go underserved.
Erfani is also the founder of Wish a Smile, which is a nonprofit organization with a mission to impact underserved youth by providing them leadership tools that will then empower, inspire and connect them to the world around them.
After suffering a serious heart condition, Erfani chose to focus on his son’s love of soccer and his desire to be the best player he could be — and to help others.
Erfani was attending a soccer tournament in San Diego and was able to meet several coaches from underserved neighborhoods. They all shared the importance of soccer in their community.
Soccer is the only way we can keep these kids off the streets and away from crime was the consistent message.
SDFC’s goal is to offer hope to young people through the beautiful game. Erfani notes that it is a common ground that we can share, with the aim of changing communities through their young people. Erfani also realizes that the best players and coaches always want to learn more — and has an amazing opportunity for youth soccer players to learn at the upcoming Fulham FC ID Camp and the Coaching Clinic Featuring Albert Puig, former Technical Director of FC Barcelona’s “La Masia” Academy.
GoalNation spoke with Erfani on player development philosophy and his inspiration for growing the game.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the San Diego Football Center (SDFC) and who should attend the training?
Shervin Erfani: SDFC is a complement to a youth soccer club and is not designed for recreational players.
Training can be customized to the level of any competitive player.
Our Friday sessions are open for players to drop-in, and our Sunday sessions are by invitation only and require a six-month commitment.
We also offer weekday small group training to help players assimilate faster into our training culture.
Diane Scavuzzo: The SDFC site talks about your mission — can you tell us more?
Shervin Erfani: At SDFC, we key into the attitude of the player and the parents. We have a close group of parents and players who support each other in their quest to improve on and off the field.
This means we look for players who work hard and push each other, yet stay friendly and respectful while doing it.
It is also important that the player wants to be here, not just the parents. We want kids who are willing to take the lead in their development. Kids like this grow a lot from the SDFC experience.
The players who should come are those that desire intense professional-like sessions with a clear methodology behind it. Players who are open to learning about the best global practices will welcome our program.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the youth soccer training like?
Shervin Erfani: SDFC training is based on the FC Barcelona and Catalan Federation methodology. Our methodology is designed by our technical advisors in Barcelona who are immersed in this way of seeing the game.
At our Fulham ID Camp, we will mix this methodology with small and large-sided games to allow players to showcase their abilities.
Diane Scavuzzo: Becoming a great youth soccer player takes time — often parents do not have the courage to be patient nor the knowledge to understand why it takes time ….
Shervin Erfani: Yes, absolutely.
We have learned player development is a marathon, not a sprint.
There are many different types of players. There are those who are naturally talented, then there are those who are a product of hard work. No two players are the same. There is only one Messi in this world. The rest have to work.
According to our advisors, every sport played at its highest level requires developing great habits. Habits create instincts. This is what most coaches talk about when they complain about a player’s speed of play.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do these parents do when they hear this?
Shervin Erfani: They take their son or daughter to a speed and agility coach. The speed of play is not about running or moving fast. It is about decision making. There is no time to “think” on the field.
The moment a player is caught thinking, the game has passed them by and someone has closed them down. The only way you can increase the speed of play is by developing instincts, and this takes time, lots of time!
SDFC is not a club. We do not worry about winning or losing.
We are only focused on developing habits. We separate players based on the good and bad habits.
Our coaches focus on the habits during each exercise. Different groups focus on different habits based on length of time at the academy. If we never tell a new player what these habits are, and ask them after six months, they can recite all of them because they hear and see them in every session.
Diane Scavuzzo: What makes this training unique?
Shervin Erfani: Two things — first, we focus on developing the good habits and second, we have a clear idea of who we want to be.
At younger ages, physicality prevails. When all kids catch up with growth and speed, it is the habits that stand out.
If you look at U.S. players, at the younger ages, we can compete with the European players. However; at older ages, we suffer. Talent needs to be there, but so should proper development of good habits, says our mentors.
We understand there are many ways to play, but we have chosen a style that translates well to the highest level.
We feel the key is to know who you are, who you want to be, and what you want to accomplish.
Only then can a proper training curriculum be implemented. We then pour a lot of resources into our coaches so they can grow and execute this plan. The more we support our coaches, ultimately the better service we give to the players.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are your goals? You talk about raising the level of soccer in San Diego, could you please elaborate?
Shervin Erfani: We have a population of 320 million people in the U.S. There are three to four million youth soccer players in the U.S. and over 160,000 youth soccer players in Southern California, and we have never developed a world class player.
What Cruyff and others at Barca were able to do was turn development into a science.
There was a system that allowed players who had the talent and quality to take their game to great heights.
We and many others worldwide believe the U.S. has talent, but we know we do not have the best systems, for a variety of reasons.
Our goal is to continue to explore the best European practices in development and then share them with local players and coaches with the hopes of elevating the game locally, and making good people while we are at it. One day we would like to be a fully-funded program and be able to provide this information to all.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you think is wrong, what do you think is right about youth soccer in Southern California?
Shervin Erfani: The issue is, are we going to accept good, or are we going to shoot for great, by the world’s standards?
The athletes in the U.S. consistently break all types of records, except in soccer.
I think we should stay in that space of always searching and asking questions from those who do it better. It is wrong for established soccer programs to not keep advancing and asking the tough questions.
The way we worked 30 years ago in Southern California should not be the way we work now. We think SoCal programs should raise the bar and shoot to be the best in the world, not just the nation.
There are many things that are right with U.S. Soccer. The moves in recent years to establish the U.S. Soccer Development Academy to ensure more consistent high-level training and competition is a step in the right direction.
We need to continue this mindset of customizing the soccer experience for the best players.
We believe in the importance of providing elite level training to the elite.
When we drive the kids in training, we like to recite analogies to our players so they can visualize what we are trying to do.
For instance, we remind them that diamonds are formed under massive pressure over a long period of time.
We tell them of the Japanese fishing companies putting small sharks in the fish tanks to challenge the fish and keep them constantly on the move, alive and fresh.
Providing the most competitive environment possible is well-known to be crucial to development. We accept that and try to provide it systematically.
Diane Scavuzzo: As far as educating soccer coaches, please let us know about your upcoming event. Is this open to coaches of all levels?
Shervin Erfani: Just over 2 months ago, we took a group of our SDFC players and coaches to train with Albert Puig, the former Director of FC Barcelona’s Academy.
Our coaches already receive five hours of online training weekly and have traveled with us to learn in Barcelona. Our coaches have seen and met our professional mentors and advisors.
Even so, they and the parents and players were blown away by Albert’s knowledge and methodology when seen live. “He is the master, the best!”
The program with Albert Puig is for coaches at any level.
This seminar is not just about showing the coaches a few drills. This is about teaching coaches how to think, how to plan, what to look for and how to customize a training session and create a curriculum customized to players and a team.
Our goal is to gain enough traction to roll out a periodic coaching seminar series, should the coaches who attend show enough interest. We are confident they will see the special value in this unique event.
Diane Scavuzzo: What can coaches expect?
Shervin Erfani: To be mesmerized by Albert’s knowledge. We considered very carefully who to bring to jump start our local coach education efforts, and we think we have organized something special. We had made a commitment to bring the best of the best to our curriculum and to share the knowledge.
Register here for Albert Puig’s coaching clinic.
Diane Scavuzzo: How did you arrange for this?
Shervin Erfani: Albert Puig was the former coach of the two FC Barcelona players who recently visited our academy kids, and through this and Albert’s relationship to our Director of Coaching from Barcelona, we were able to connect with him.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is your background?
Shervin Erfani: SDFC is not about me. Nor have I come up with the SDFC methodology. I am a facilitator, I bring the right people together. I believe in surrounding myself with people who are smarter than me.
But just to answer this question, yes, I have played soccer all my life, and I love this game. I am a purist at heart. I do not believe in the “business” side of soccer, I believe in the player development aspect. For me, it is not important which team wins the World Cup or UEFA Champions League, MLS, LaLiga, Serie A, Premier League or any other league. What I look for is the youth player methodology. What first teams do have not bearing on the youth development.
I have had the pleasure and privilege of playing alongside players such as ChaCha, Omid Namazi, Tom Dooley, Hormoz Tabrizi, Wadi Hermiz, Preki, Carlos Basso and Jerome Watson to name a few. I was never as talented as they were. My game was all heart and hard work, which allowed me to rub shoulders with such players.
The important thing to note is that just because someone has played professionally, does not mean they are a great coach.
Being a great coach does not mean you are a great manager, and being a great manager does not make you a great coach. In fact, most ex-pro players are not very good coaches, but their ex-pro player status gives them the edge in the eyes of the parents.
If being a great player would make you out to be a great coach, Diego Maradona would have been the greatest coach in the world. Being a player, coach and a manager are all different. Being a youth development coach and being a professional team coach is completely different as well.
I am very passionate about this game, and I am even more passionate about helping young players understand what their dream is and how to work toward achieving it.
Diane Scavuzzo: What inspires you?
Shervin Erfani: Growing up, my hero was Gandhi. I believe that leaders are servers.
As a leader, you must serve ALL. First one in, last one out. Work harder than anyone else and be willing to do any job. No job is too big or too small for the leader. High tides raise all ships. Leaders can not have egos, they must be confident but not egotistical. Have a vision but also be quick to make decisions to pivot if needed.
What inspires me the most is to help and serve others. Nine years ago, I was told that I need to get my affairs in order due to my heart condition. This inspired me to find ways to make a bigger impact in our world and community. The kids are our future, they are the future leaders of this country and our community.
Upcoming events held by SDFC:
Hosted by Albert Puig, former Technical Director of FC Barcelona’s “La Masia” Academy. In this seminar, Puig will discuss the FC Barcelona style Positional Games, along with the methods and reasonings used to create such sessions. He will discuss in detail the philosophy and style of FC Barcelona and the way to put this methodology into practice to develop players.
This two-day lecture will be held August 2nd and 3rd from 12 p.m.-3 p.m. PT at Horizon Prep (6233 El Apajo Road, Rancho Santa Fe, 92091), and then August 4th from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. PT at 4s Ranch Sports Park (16118 4s Ranch Parkway, SD 92127) for the field portion.
The Fulham FC ID Camp will be held on August 2nd and 3rd at 4s Ranch Sports Park (16118 4s Ranch Parkway, SD 92127) from 8 a.m.-11 a.m. PT.
Dan Rice, the Fulham FC Academy Player Recruitment Manager, will select players to join him in London for the SDFC Fulham Training Experience where they will be added to the actual Fulham FC Academy team of their appropriate ages. Two of these players will be offered a free flight (not for their parents) for this trip by SDFC.
Price is $200 for current SDFC Members and $300 for non-members.