Making Soccer Great: International Coaching Legend Albert Puig on What Soccer Coaches in America Need to Know
Albert Puig is a former FC Barcelona Youth Technical Director and now the Assistant Coach of New York City FC.
Youth Soccer News: Many key influencers in American soccer believe that for the USA to successfully compete on the world stage, and not just qualify for the FIFA World Cup, we need to have better youth soccer coaches developing our talented youths.
In a country as vast as ours with a population of an estimated 327,908,413 people as of January 2018, obviously, there is immense youth talent. After all, Belgium beat Brazil in the 2018 World Cup quarterfinals with a population of only 11,516,076. Therefore the question arises, is it the quality of the coaches that has kept us from claiming success?
New multi-part series on Improving American Soccer — Here is Part I of a new series with Albert Puig.
Founder of APFC Courses, Albert Puig is determined to help American youth soccer coaches improve their craft. Puig’s organization has recently partnered with several youth soccer clubs including Rebels Soccer Academy in San Diego.
“Become an Elite Youth Soccer Coach and Stand Out From the Rest — in 5 modules — claim your dominance as a top coach in soccer” is the slogan on Puig’s APFC website.
Those unfamiliar with Puig’s background might wonder how he can make this assertion but those who know he was one of the key people who built FC Barcelona’s famed La Masia — well, those people are just eager to learn from his experience. As the former FC Barcelona Youth Technical Director and the Academy Director at the Catalan Club, Puig has worked with players of all ages through the La Masia ranks.
La Masia is the famed player development program which trained Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, and Cesc Fabregas. FC Barcelona is world famous for their player development program and Pep Guardiola, as well as many other coaches including today’s head coach Ernesto Valverde, have benefited from Puig.
Puig, who is now the Assistant Coach of New York City FC.
SoccerToday’s Interview with Albert Puig
Diane Scavuzzo: What has been the biggest challenge in training coaches in America?
Albert Puig: Coaches in the USA don’t have a long tradition of soccer compared to Europe, where there are concepts intrinsically found in society.
Soccer coaches in America have not been exposed to these concepts. The challenge has been to expose them to these European concepts and culture.
Diane Scavuzzo: What does is mean “Youth teams should be judged by player development, not focused on results” Is this practical? Is this important and why?
Albert Puig: In youth soccer, teams must be judged by the individual development of the players.
I speak of the individual and not the collective.
The most important thing in the player development stage is that he or she understands the language of soccer within the collective but never imposes the collective (playing system) as a priority versus the intrinsic development of the player.
The players must make mistakes and the main job of the development is to correct these individual concepts within the collective sport.
But above all, player development comes before any results.
Sometimes they come together because good development results in growth for the players which is reflected on the scoreboard.
IN YOUTH SOCCER: You should never view the results as the objective, just the outcome of a good development.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do the top elite European youth development coaches know that American coaches don’t?
Albert Puig: European coaches have the advantage of decades of experience in youth development methodology implementation as well as societies where soccer is part of the culture.
At the end, soccer is understanding a match and teaching the children what is going on in that match so that they can understand and make better decisions on the pitch.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are the top 3 mistakes American youth soccer coaches make?
Albert Puig: These are the worst mistakes youth soccer coaches make:
- Repeat, Repeat and Repeat. Repetition of technical movements with no sense, no objective, goal or purpose; repeat for repetition’s sake.
- The System Above it All. We care too much about a particular system and place it above the style.
- Muscle Power. Emphasis on the physical characteristics and development of players thus focusing on physical aspects during training.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why are youth soccer coaches in America getting it wrong?
Albert Puig: The best players in the history of the game are not the fastest, the tallest, the strongest.
Soccer is the most beautiful game in the world because it’s all about decisions.
This is why understanding concepts are the foundation of this sport. The more high-quality information and concepts the players understand, the better decisions they will make, and as a result, they will grow as players.
It’s important to know these concepts and use the correct training structure to implement them and for the player to comprehend them.
Diane Scavuzzo: How many youth soccer coaches in America have you seen ‘do it right?’
Albert Puig: It wouldn’t be fair to say that all coaches in the USA have it wrong.
I’ve seen some really good coaches here. Obviously, there is still work to be done, but there has been a revolution. The creation of clubs and youth academies has been a positive change.
Diane Scavuzzo: What does the APFC methodology teach?
Albert Puig: My Football Code is a methodology based on the teachings of concepts/principles rooted in the best decision-making choices in soccer — while at the same time fostering creativity.
All this is approached through encompassing coordinative/technical and cognitive/ tactical aspects of the game.
The development of an individual’s capacity is a result of understanding concepts (game criteria), but its natural habitat is within freestyle playing, therefore fostering creativity which results in empowering the player by optimizing his/her skill level.
This results in a superior understanding of what is happening on the pitch during a match. The result is to see what others don’t!
The APFC methodology empowers coaches with these concepts so they can teach and transmit their newly acquired knowledge to their teams and players.
The APFC methodology enhances the player’s special qualities with creativity. Creativity is a key factor in the development and growth of any soccer player.
CONCEPT+DECISION+CREATIVITY= DEVELOPMENT OF THE SOCCER PLAYER
Diane Scavuzzo: What are the top mistakes youth soccer players make?
Albert Puig: Youth soccer players in America don’t understand soccer as a language and its concepts.
Too many youth soccer players view technical and physical factors as the most important.
This can be seen in the repetition of technical and physical movements. The main mistake is that they don’t understand timing, pauses, passing or comprehend a match as a whole. At a technical and physical level, they are very good but the issue is not understanding a soccer match.
The USA player has a love for the ball and not for the game and this is the main problem.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are the major differences between youths training here and those in Spain at La Masia?
Albert Puig: The main difference is in understanding the game.
At La Masia, the work is focused around the player understand what is going on on the pitch. Because the level of competition is higher in La Masia, the level of execution is also very high when compared to players here in the USA. But I repeat, the most important factor is that they teach youth players to understand the game.
Diane Scavuzzo: How long do you think it will take for America to get on the right track and really start producing higher-quality talent that can compete on the world stage?
Albert Puig: I don’t think it’s about time but about wanting to change.
When the USA realizes it wants to be a world reference then it must choose a path.
Currently, the USA is implementing structures borrowed from other sports to teach and train soccer. This must change in order to become a powerhouse. There is no exact timeframe for this.
After the 1994 World Cup was hosted in the USA, many thought that within a short time there would be a huge growth of the sport on American soil. That did not happen. And with the USA being host to another edition of the World Cup, we all wonder if the time is right for real change or if this might repeat itself.