It's 4:25 pm on Thursday in Baltimore as 100's of coaches surround the Kwik Goal Demo field at the United Soccer Coaches convention with all eyes on one man eagerly anticipating what is to come. A charismatic Todd Beane sits in the middle of the area, alone on his chair, scanning his notes before the session starts.
Todd's work is well followed across the world and not only for his outspoken comments about the standard of coaching here in the U.S.
Todd begins with a story about a conversation on the fundamentals of soccer over breakfast; he had with his late father in law, Johan Cruyff. Todd asks the room in Baltimore with pure confidence in his voice, "are you willing to redefine the fundamentals of soccer here today?"
You may remember at the United Soccer Coaches Convention in 2019 when Todd threw a ball down the field and made a player sprint after it. He stated, "This is what it's like to play college soccer in America."
But to understand Todd's complex with the coaching quality in the U.S., you must first know where he is coming from.
Todd began working with youth at camp Belknap in New Hampshire and tells me he still considers himself a camp counselor today as he jokes he's "just a tad bit older."
Todd graduated from Dartmouth College in 1986 with a B.A. in English Literature. Upon graduation, Todd achieved a Rotary Scholarship to attend the University of Sussex in England and concluded his formal studies at Stanford University, where he earned a M.A. in Education and a Secondary Teaching Credential. As an athlete, Todd played NCAA Division I soccer before playing professional soccer in the USISL. In coaching, he was awarded a U.S. Soccer Federation "A" License, coaching both collegiately and professionally before founding TOVO in 2016.
Through TOVO, Todd has served academies such as Barcelona, Ajax, Los Angeles FC, and Chivas Guadalajara.
Todd tells me TOVO was born "to maximize the potential of athletes in our charge at TOVO Academy Barcelona and to educate coaches worldwide via TOVO Institute. If we do that well, we will make a dent in the talent development universe. TOVO is a methodology that nurtures players of great cognition, competence, and character. We have developed a training program that dynamically develops intelligent players. That is, we hone not only the technical prowess to play the game but also the intelligence and character to compete with vision, precision, and pace."
At the convention, Todd demonstrates in a playful yet truthful manner a traditional coaching session here in the U.S. that consists of working on the 'fundamentals.' It consists of players standing in lines passing to stationary players at a pole who gets to receive and dribble up to a goal unopposed before taking a shot and receiving a ball in the air, served from behind the goal and heading it into a small practice goal. He then throws down his 'toys' and tells the players to run through the hurdles and ladders after passing to the player at the pole.
The majority of the audience chuckled and saw the funny side, but I only had to turn behind to hear people huffing and walking away at what they were witnessing. Obviously, the session was hitting close to home. It is this kind of attitude and unwillingness to adapt and evolve, which are among the biggest reasons why the U.S. has 4.2 million youth players registered with U.S. Soccer and has failed to produce a single world-class player in the men's game. Humorous as it is, there's no hiding this is the harsh reality of our coaching environment in the U.S., as the majority of sessions put on for our youth look like what Todd demonstrated in the early parts of his presentation.
Todd tells me, "For far too long we have limited our definition of the "fundamentals" to passing, receiving, dribbling, heading, and shooting. That definition prejudices our players. If we are to maximize the true potential of youth players, we must expand that definition significantly to include position play elements like angles, distance, timing, lines, and situation. And we must also include a critical skill of finding space to exploit. In short, we must redefine the fundamentals and subsequently redesign our youth training".
But why are coaches not changing? Why are we still seeing parents put their kids with coaches who have been doing the same thing for 25 years? After all, the game has changed, shouldn't we as coaches? I asked Todd, why did he think there was an unwillingness to change from the traditional training methods? He explained, "Uncertainty. Humans stagnate within comfort zones, but comfort zones represent familiarity. People love familiarity. This is a human tendency, not one unique to the coaching profession. Change is hard, and managing that change emotionally and logistically quite arduous actually. Nonetheless, the best in any industry are those that examine assumptions and evolve accordingly. Now is the moment to move beyond the status quo for the benefit of our players".
I agree with a lot of Todd's methodology, and I have never been a fan of the Rondo (just a personal preference). But when you hear Todd talk about his beliefs on youth development, you can't help but be drawn in, and why not? He has some of the most qualified staff in their profession working with him at the TOVO academy. There is a strong belief in positional play exercises, about making decisions and developing technical excellence, but why play rondos instead of small-sided games? "The question suggests a combative rather than complementary relationship between these exercises. Every game is a position play exercise.
Our job is to help players realize this on a daily basis as we nurture a more profound understanding of purposeful positioning and impeccable execution," Todd tells me. Call it what you want, but there is no denying Todd is driving change not only here in the U.S but all around the world. One of the biggest things a good coach should be is open. Open to change, open to learning, and open to trying new ideas. After Todd's session in Baltimore, you see him interacting with coaches on the side, talking, and making time for everyone. It shows his personality and humbleness, another characteristic we can all use. After all, we are all in this game for the same reason, to develop young people. And the most significant takeaway Todd has from the Three times Ballon d'Or winner, Johan Cruyff? "Enjoy life and be courageous to do what is best for children."
So I leave you with the same question Todd asked us in Baltimore. Are you willing to redefine your fundamentals?
By Dan James
Elite Soccer Institute
If you want to find out more about TOVO and Todd's work, I have included links below.
For directors and coaches learn more here: https://tovoinstitute.com
For parents and players learn more here: http://tovoacademy.com/