Drills are for the Army

Bobby Howe, during his playing career, lined up with England greats Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Jimmy Greaves at West Ham United. Howe came to the USA in 1977 to play for and coach the NASL’s Seattle Sounders, and since the 1980s has been deeply involved in American youth soccer. He was U.S. U-17 boys national team assistant coach in 1986-89, U-20 boys national team coach in 1989-1993, and U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Education in 1996-2000. He served 12 years as Washington State director of coaching and since 2005 has been a director and boys coach at Seattle’s Emerald City FC.

SOCCER AMERICA: In 1993, when you coached the U.S. U-20 national team, it reached the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup. What was your reaction when the USA failed to qualify for the 2011 U-20 World Cup?

BOBBY HOWE: I really can’t understand it. I was very disappointed. Now three teams from Concacaf qualify for the U-20 World Cup. Back then there were only two spots from our region. So, very disappointing. I can’t put my finger on that.

It seems to me more kids are playing the game. Are the levels of competition equal to the levels in the country then? They shouldn’t be equal, they should be better, right?

The U.S. Soccer Development Academy program that we have now really hasn’t had time to bear fruit, I don’t think.

SA: Since two decades ago, we have more players, more youth clubs, more experienced coaches …

BOBBY HOWE: We have more coaches than ever. But I’m not really sure some of these folks coaching are really great coaches, I don’t know. But in my travels I see people coaching and I’m thinking, they’ve got coach after their name, but I’m not sure if they’re coaching the right things.

SA: What are examples of what you see that makes you say that?

BOBBY HOWE: Several things. Behavior on the touchline is one. The types of activities in training is another.

I said to one of my assistants the other day, “Have a look around this field and give me a general observation of what you see on this field and tell me if there’s anything going on.”

And there were about half a dozen separate team groups on this field. What sort of movement? What sort of activity?

There are too many instances where the coach is the focal point of the session. The coach is in the middle and the players are standing around listening to the coach talk.

You see situations with the kids, with a ball each, waiting for their turn to kick it. That’s the type of thing I’m talking about.

SA: What should practice be like?

BOBBY HOWE: There should be activity. Practice should be a challenge. It should be a challenge to their skill. It should be a challenge to their decision-making and it should be a challenge to their imagination. Too many times I look around and see sessions where there’s not really a lot going on. You know, drills.

People call it drills in the United States. I remember Roy Rees* saying to me, “Why do they call this drills? Drills are what they do in the army.”

They’re games. They should be stimulating little games. Every technique activity should have a game involved, or an objective, or a competition to excite the imagination of the players.

But there’s too much wasting time in training, too much standing around.

(*Welshman Roy Rees was the head coach of the U.S. U-17 boys national team in 1986-1993, assisted by Howe at the U-17 World Cups 1987 and 1989, when the USA made history with a win over Brazil.)