Fact 1 – Youth Athletes – It is estimated there are around 60 million youth athletes
in USA (across all sports:
Fact 2 – Soccer Players – It is estimated there are around 4.2 million soccer players
(youth and adults, around 2.5 million male players and 1.7 female players). Worth noticing here
that US women’s soccer has achieved a lot greater success and achievements compare to men’s
soccer, where clearly the team is trying to do well, but they cannot yet.
Fact 3 – Using Basketball as an Example – men's teams have won 16
Olympic gold medals and women’s team have won 9 Olympic gold medals. Similar patterns
follow other sports.
Argument 1: Is it a player problem that we are not seeing players that can perform at the
beautiful world class level in large numbers and not just a few? Probably not, if I had to just
consider the % of player problem:
a) from the top players, this would be the 1-3% of players, that show very high motivation and
level but somehow can not self-push all the way or maybe do and are there already.
b) from the lower level players, perhaps another 2-3% that just does not push all the way
Question: what about the other nearly 95%? This is where impact is and where teams and
leagues are filled with, to make the bulk of the sport.
Argument 2: Is it a system problem? Let’s assess a few concepts, before we answer this
a) Consider This Fun but Huge Fact, Before You Even Read More and Reflect:
“2013 Sky Sports reported some staggering statistics around UEFA Pro license holders. Spain
has 2140 holding the world’s top qualification, Germany has over 1000, while England has just
203. With regard to the UEFA A license (the second-highest qualification), Spain is again top
with 12,720 coaches, Germany has 5500 while England has just 1161.”
How many UEFA pro coaches in USA? I don’t know, but if I had to estimate, would have two
* not many
* respect the few that are sacrificing on their own to bring this level of coaching here, much
respect to Jesse Marsch.
b) The Belgium Blueprint:
* Assessing Situation & Research + Developing a Model + Holding & Demanding The
* Outcome: https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2021/06/sport/belgium-euro-2020-spt-intl/
c) Germany Development:
c) Clarity – A Fun Exercise:
* Consider USA soccer federation for a moment to be a company, and the academies, education,
analysis, and more to be departments. Is there clarity? Are all working toward some overlapping
cause? I have no answers to offer, this is for all to think.
d) Is this a common mistake:
* Is it simple to solve such a problem? Maybe, but probably not. Opinions are simple, projects
are not. This is not a linear problem, there is a lot of elements, but the purpose of this article is to
identify the biggest ones.
* How do we pursue the goal to be a world class soccer power? I believe it will be a mistake to
pursue with claiming experience, approaching with entitlement, demanding it with arrogance as
the way to get there. It has to be done in a way that we can sustain long term (see all facts here)
and some of those paths are: passion, clarity, unity, work, education (and from there analysis and
Argument 3 – Is it a Club’s Problem? there are of course several clubs that do amazing
things. Yet, the system is so much larger, that the impact of those clubs remains very small.
Argument 4: Are There Other Factors? yes, but I would argue that, they are additional
factors, not the cause. One example would be, that we have so many competing sports. But
again, I believe this is not a reason why great players are not developed from those that do
There are many paths/ways to climb a mountain, so many possibilities, and I will not claim
we know, but here some humble principles (not methodologies) that could potentially bring a
new and better perspective:
a. Coach Education:
* making coaching education number 1 top priority to organically ignite long term change.
* creating a very, very, very clear outline and demanding very high level coaching licenses at
* offering a lot of free coaching models of great level as an entry
* offer a lot more ongoing opportunities for growth at a system and not individual level
* Connecting all pro academies, where the overlapping factors not only is player/team
development (more at youth but also adult), but this is demanded.
* promotion & relegation: it is time to give the same message that is given to all disciplines: you
must always grow. This idea that one can just be there, is not how anything else works.
* demand very high coaching education, by that I mean equal or better than top Euro academies.
d. Values: I believe we need to instill in youth players that, it is a better way to think “I value
work, learning, unity, growth, therefore we can do great things” versus “ we are great and can do
great things.” The first has depth and can sustain, the second has no roots and eventually falls. In
my opinion, if all else is forgotten, this should not. What one values, growth, so valuing growth
is a solid path toward achievement.
e. Growth – Open Mind: it is amazing how humble most (not all) top coaches or highest
performance are. At a personal level, I have seen this with some of the most amazing word futsal
national team coaches (first team), or an amazing speed skater Olympic gold medalist.
Demanding an open mind, has to be more than placed on a frame on the wall or on policies, it
has to be build in.
e. Youth Project:
* Time to start meaningful youth projects, was 50 years ago, ok 25 years ago, ok now.
* This has to be both, developmental & analysis, so all have an opportunity to develop but also
an opportunity to move up based on merit, those that earn moving forward, move forward.
Again, collaboration and competition, not just one or the other.
* Simplify, the idea of so many, and so many takes away from meaningful. Place emphases on
very clear systems, example: one national program only, where the best go, one regional with
regions and many local.
These things are not linear, but are actually very complex. But at the end of the day, kids are
magic, and we owe it to them to offer more substance and quality and less fillers. At least for the
95%, in the end the environment will always win. This can be a negative or the biggest blessing,
depending on how you view and what you do with the environment.
By Ilir Lushaj
UEFA Futsal Coaching Diploma
USSF B Coaching Diploma
October 1 2023
“Excellence is the sum of the millions of small, moving & honest actions”