Cal South’s Director of Coaching Steve Hoffman On Youth Soccer Today
Steve Hoffman, Cal South’s Director of Coaching Education and Player Development, has been involved in Southern California youth soccer since he arrived from England more than three decades ago. Maddy Shiber spoke with Hoffman about youth soccer past, present and future — as well as his long history in the game and his Beatles connection.
Maddy Shiber: You are the Director of Coaching for Cal South with approximately 150,000 players playing the beautiful game. How did you develop your love for soccer?
Steve Hoffman: It was natural. I grew up in England. Everyone around me was playing soccer. I played at various youth and amateur levels, as well as on a professional level for Southport FC. I was very proud to play for this team – it was the club for Southport, where I grew up.
After I injured my knee, I began coaching.
Maddy Shiber: When did you start coaching?
Steve Hoffman: After I came to the states. My son was playing youth soccer with a local AYSO group, so I got very involved. I wanted to share my professional experiences and love of the game.
I joined Cal South in 1984, and my son’s team ended up being very successful and won the state cup twice. I coached them until they were 18 and graduated out of that team. All of the players went to college.
When I came to the states with three children – ages 3, 5 and 6 – and my wife, I wasn’t planning on getting too involved in sports. But, because my son was so involved with the game, I became involved with the game again.
Maddy Shiber: What brought you to the USA?
Steve Hoffman: The Beatles … My mother-in-law and father-in-law were very friendly with the Beatles. They owned record stores in England, and retired in the United States in 1976. So obviously we had family here, and moved from Southport in 1982.
Maddy Shiber: What do you enjoy most about coaching?
Steve Hoffman: I love working with kids, and also seeing the stars discovered. Landon Donavon is a great example. Rachel Buehler Van Hollebeke, Alex Morgan … there’s so many former Cal South ODP players you could mention on the girl’s side.
Right now, I see two or three very special kids on the boys and the girls side who are developing. Seeing these talented youth soccer players reach their potential is the most fun thing. We look for players who can play on the national team; we scout for youth soccer player who are going to fit in and excel, and we give these talented kids an opportunity to improve.
Maddy Shiber: What do you like the least?
Steve Hoffman: I would say the worst part of coaching is when we’ve lost sight of how we develop kids because we just want to win soccer games.
And I am not necessarily referring to the coaches. It is the culture that surrounds us; parents want to have their son or daughter go somewhere that wins. That’s the least enjoyable part of me, and it worries me a lot that kids go from club to club to win. It seems to be all about winning; more of an emphasis on winning than on the player’s development.
Maddy Shiber: What is the most amusing thing you’ve witnessed or experienced while coaching youth soccer?
Steve Hoffman: It was funny at first when I came from England, because Americans speak a different language. In England, when you say “fake” that means to call the paramedics. In America when you say “faking” that means to be doing a foot fake or a body fake. So when I went to a coaching school and this guy said, “We’re gonna work on faking tomorrow” I’m thinking we’re going to call the paramedics out.
The second thing was when this guy says, “We’re going to work on a wall pass,” so I get my ball and start kicking the wall. The guy says, “No, no, no; it’s a give and go, a one-two.” I’d never heard of a wall pass. Another time, one of my son’s coaches told my wife to go “shag” a ball — that’s not something you say in England! Even to this day, I still hear funny lines that come up now and again and get mixed up.
Maddy Shiber: What were your favorite teams growing up and which teams do you enjoy watching most now? Why?
Steve Hoffman: I’ve always been a Liverpool FC fan. Also, obviously, the United States Women’s and the United States Men’s teams, because I feel like I’ve played an influence on them. I do watch Barcelona FC sometimes, but I’m a true Liverpool fan and don’t really watch anyone else.
Maddy Shiber: Do you have an example of something one of your coaches did that you have adopted as a coach? Anything your former coaches did that you avoid?
Steve Hoffman: I like having guidelines in my team, and I always relate to coaches who have rules and guidelines and stick to them.
I’m centered towards helping the kids develop. Also, I don’t believe in running as punishment. What does it teach players at the younger ages? That running is punishment. And what do you have to do in soccer? Run. That’s my pet peeve — I would never use running as punishment. Pushups, maybe, but not running.
Maddy Shiber: What’s the biggest mistake youth coaches make? What’s your advice for coaches at the youngest ages?
Steve Hoffman: The game has changed in the last ten years — like you wouldn’t believe.
Coaches are typically paid nowadays, and when you pay someone, how do you evaluate them? Do you judge a coach by their record of winning or losing games or by developing players — which takes patience when the result are not immediately visible?
I think the hardest thing right now for a coach is not to sacrifice their philosophy. And, the biggest problem coaches face today in soccer is the parental pressure.
If his or her philosophy is to develop young players, they have to be truthful with the player’s parents. Coaches need to tell parents that they may not always play everyone in every game. For example, the coach should say, “In two tournaments this year, I may not play everybody. I may play what I feel is the strongest team. In league games on the weekend, I will play every kid and give them a chance to develop.”
Maddy Shiber: Tell us about your coaching career highlights – what are you most proud of?
Steve Hoffman: That’s such a big question; as the director of coaching for Cal South, I am very proud of our clubs, coaches and players. In the last three years, Cal South teams have won twenty-nine regional championships and twelve national championships. But that is nothing new for our clubs, coaches and players in Cal South.
I coach in the ODP program. This year, I coach the 98s, but I still oversee all the teams. As a leader of the program, it is sweet to see all those kids win.
Maddy Shiber: What are your main objectives as Director of Coaching Education and Player Development?
Steve Hoffman: I think of coaches as not just coaches, but teachers, and very influential in the lives of children. If you ask a kid for the three most influential role models in their life, they’re going to say either their mom or dad, their teacher, and their coach. I believe that coaches have a tremendous role.
Soccer is a profession and I’d like to see it be more professional by having people improve their education and grow as coaches. So on the education side, our goal is to always improve the opportunities for our coaches at the coaching schools.
Maddy Shiber: How does money impact youth soccer?
Steve Hoffman: Money is always an issue, so we work on earning revenue so we can make our programs more affordable. My main goal is to keep giving opportunities in the Cal South Pro+ program to every kid who deserves it and has the talent, regardless of their financial background. Soccer training shouldn’t be restricted by how much you can pay. It should be about how much you can play.
Maddy Shiber: Do you play a role in helping players find opportunities to play soccer in college?
Steve Hoffman: Yes, at every level. Not just for Pro+, for any team that plays for Cal South, if I know them, I’ll help them. We help anybody we can to go to college, and they’re always welcome to ask us for help. The ODP program on the girls side, a lot of kids have committed already. I watch soccer locally to help as well. A big goal for us is to assist anybody in Cal South. We want every member to get a college experience.
Maddy Shiber: Has the role of ODP changed with the advent of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy?
Steve Hoffman: It has not changed, because we have always been out there trying to find players for the United States National Team program.
The kids in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy are already identified and in the United States national team program.
So as far as the role changing, that’s it; we don’t need to see those kids, they don’t need to come out to ODP because they’re already being seen every week. When we started this program with the boys, I believe they were 1991’s and 14 out of the 15 kids in the program received scholarships to college because they played in the ODP program.
Some people may say the US Development Academy program is detrimental, but I think it’s fantastic. I think it’s a great program, and I believe it’s giving more players opportunities. We strongly believe in the identification process. The Olympic program is an early identification program for the national team. In Southern California we’ve got about ten or eleven development academies. Now times the number of academies by twenty players, and those 200 something players are out of our ODP program and providing those opportunities to other kids, and this is a wonderful thing.
Maddy Shiber: Anything you’d like to highlight about the Cal Pro+ program?
Steve Hoffman: On the boys’ side, the negative thing is that coaches still don’t push the kids to come out. So the biggest thing I’d like to highlight is to ask coaches, especially on the boys’ side, to be involved with this program and inform the kids that they can come out. Coaches may be worried about losing players, but this program should have no relationship to what a coach wants. It should be the player’s choice; it’s their right to come out to the program. I think the biggest thing on the boy’s side is to get all of our clubs to encourage their kids to come out; this would give more kids an opportunity.
Maddy Shiber: What would be your advice to parents and players trying to navigate what can be a somewhat confusing youth soccer landscape? (rec, travel, various clubs, ODP, Development Academy, ECNL)
Steve Hoffman: Oh, I could write a whole book about this.
I think that the hardest thing with youth soccer and club soccer is that you want the exposure. There’s different categories, on the girl’s side it’s driven by ECNL and the top clubs. Players are committing to college as early as high school sophomores or even freshman. On the boy’s side, the selection process is a bit longer and it’s still juniors and seniors that are being committed.
Cal South always wants to make sure we do the best we can to promote its players. So I would say to parents: you always want to do what’s right for your child, because you have that right. You should always encourage your child to play at the highest level possible, whatever that may be for your kid. Parents should always look at the principles of the club; selecting the right club, as well as the right coach is critical. Those are big factors for you, and you should always do your research.
Always remember in the new year that your child is a free agent; they can go anywhere they want to go. When they’re young, the emphasis shouldn’t be on college; it should be on playing the games and getting experience.
Maddy Shiber: If you had a magic wand, how would you use it to improve American youth soccer?
Steve Hoffman: I think I would use my magic wand to have coaches want to get better in their job as a coach and make youth soccer free for all. The reality is, we need more professional coaches if we want to win the World Cup, but they have to get the credentials. I was talking to a coach from Florentina, and he was telling me that the top kids in Florentina, they’re the top team, and they don’t pay. I would want my magic wand to make youth soccer affordable for everybody, and encourage coaches to develop as coaches and teachers as much as possible.