If anyone needed convincing that God is a soccer fan then look no further than last month when the NSCAA’s annual coaching convention in Baltimore just evaded Storm Jonas.
Just a week after the end of the world’s largest gathering of soccer coaches the weather turned nasty on the eastern seaboard and Baltimore was battered with 30 inches of snow – the first time on record that amount had fallen in Harford County.
Storm Jonas tragically claimed at least 19 lives in the US, bringing major cities to a halt and leading to the cancellation of thousands of flights. The downfall brought Washington DC to a standstill and saw drivers ordered off the roads in New York City as 11 states declared a state of emergency.
There’s no doubt the convention would have been heavily affected and may have been cut short, but as it was Baltimore 2016 went off without a hitch and proved another huge success thanks in large to a helping hand from above.
Nowhere in the world can deliver a coaching convention like the NSCAA do every year. A five-day festival of soccer with 10,500 attendees, 200-plus presenters producing 100 lecture and field sessions and 300-plus companies from ourselves, GoPlay Sports Tours, a division of ACIS to Corpus and their oval-shaped balls. And yes they do sell the imaginatively-shaped training aids worldwide and plenty of them too, according to their men on the booth.
The waterfront City proved again to be an ideal haunt after hosting the convention five years ago and the bar was again raised.
The NSCAA, who are celebrating their 75th anniversary year, continue to attract internationally acclaimed clinicians and coaches. Former England international and Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce was one of the guests this time around, along with highly-regarded Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, former Chelsea coach Avram Grant and newly-appointed USA Under-19 coach Brad Friedel.
Pearce held a number of classroom sessions and field sessions, which were well received and the 53-year-old was “blown away” by the scale of the grassroots participants in the US.
“The sheer number of participants at grassroots level is incredible. And even more so in the women’s game. It really blows us (England) away and we have got a lot to learn from the US,” Pearce told Sirius XM at the convention.
“MLS will only get bigger and it’s going to start to attract coaches, like myself, from England. I like the US model because the league is more open and anyone can win it.”
While Pearce was surprised by the scale of the sport in the US, retired USMNT star and controversial Fox Sports analyst Eric Wynalda attempted to cure the MLS ‘problem’ in his “Let’s Fix This, It’s Broken” seminar.
“The problem with the MLS is not that the players aren’t good enough. It’s that they’re not being challenged,” said Wynalda to the intrigued auditorium.
Another feature of this year’s convention was La Liga’s technical partnership with US Club Soccer. The link-up is aimed at advancing coaching education opportunities through their new “LaLiga Formation Methodology” courses, which start this spring.
The MLS SuperDraft and NWSL College draft was the focal point of the media attention, but the exhibit hall is still a favourite of GoPlay’s and it did not fail to disappoint again with small upstarts featuring alongside huge global brands.
From Kwik Goal’s vast range of equipment to the more bizarre booths pedalling mis-shaped balls. The pick of 2016 were Ballwall’s aptly named wall, Bonza’s sport bag that turns into a seat and the Frix Friction Ball, which doesn’t roll as quickly as a normal ball and so enables more touches, which claims to aid skill development.
But for all the weird and wonderful exhibits and celebrity guests it’s the attendees who make the convention. Coaches of all levels come from all over the world to learn, share, maintain and build new relationships and the atmosphere is something to behold.
There is nowhere on the planet that allows high school coaches to interact with well-respected, international class mentors with Barcelona, Chelsea and US Soccer to name but a few. The learning process and career development for many is invaluable and the relationships moulded at the convention are ones which last a lifetime.
The one common denominator at the event is the willingness to learn about the game we love and that is the one thing that is evident more than anything.
See you in Los Angeles in 2017.