A Q&A with AYSES Head Coach Camilo Ardila (Part One)

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This week AYSES Academy Director of Coaching Camilo Ardila sat down to share how he fell in love with soccer, along with his insights on coaching, fostering creativity in soccer players and even how to be the “perfect soccer parent.”

Camilo Ardila, AYSES Academy Director of Coaching

Q: You grew up playing soccer. What made you fall in love with the game?

A: It was spending time with the ball — I realized as a young boy that I could master virtually any technique I worked on within a relatively short period of time. I loved spending time with the ball. In fact, between the ages of 13 and the time I went to play college soccer, I missed a total of four days of individual practice time; my daily interaction with the ball was magically addicting.

Q: Is there a particular player or coach who has been a role model to you? How did this person impact you as a player/coach?

A: In 1982, when I was 13 years old, I was privileged to watch an Argentine phenomenon by the name of Diego Armando Maradona. Spain was hosting the FIFA World Cup that year, and the tournament was graced by this unique player. He was the type of player who created eager anticipation in every soccer fan.

I recall watching him execute a particular move, one that I had never seen done before. In fact, the mechanics of the move were so confusing that I rewound my VCR (Video Cassette Recorder for you millennials) close to 50 times in order to dissect what he had done. His ability to impose his will based on his technical genius was what I strove for as a player.

Q: What is your favorite team?

I have to confess that this question is like trying to answer “Who is your favorite child?” The truth is that, like millions of others, I am a Barcelona fan because of their technical excellence and collective understanding of what they’re trying to accomplish tactically. Currently, however, I’m also a massive fan of Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspurs. I love their blend of creativity, speed of play and physical toughness.

Q: How has the sport evolved in the U.S. and internationally in the past few decades?

The evolution of soccer in this country has been seismic. I think this is primarily due to the grassroots movement of the last three decades. In the late 1970s, the North American Soccer League (NASL) brought in talented players in the twilight of their career in an attempt to appeal to the masses. In my opinion, the league did not survive because the grassroots movement was not there.

Today, that foundation has been built — it is my understanding that soccer has more youth participants in this country than in any other sport except basketball.

Regarding the mechanics of the game, the game is faster, more technical and more tactical. Imagine watching a basketball game from the 1950s and comparing it to the game today. The truth is that there is no comparison; the game today is faster. The players are more athletic, as well as technically and tactically superior to players from 60 years ago. The same applies to youth soccer, and to every sport for that matter.

Additionally, the internet has had a massive impact on the development of the game; whether you’re a player, a coach or just a fan, you have access to visual and print media that help move you forward.

What made you decide to join the AYSES coaching staff? How long have you been the Academy Director of Coaching (DOC)?

About a year ago, Sammy Olali (the AYSES Club Director) and Coach Phil Thomas approached me with the idea of merging our club, On The Ball Soccer, with AYSES. About this time the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) had made some changes that impacted youth soccer programs nationwide. These changes were going to adversely affect smaller to midsize clubs. Consequently, the combination of changes to youth soccer, my friendship with Sammy and our similar philosophical approach to player development, as well as the ability to impact the club as the academy director made our move to AYSES an easy one.

Q: Tell us about the AYSES coaching philosophy. How is AYSES unique as a soccer academy?

Over the past year we have been working hard to standardize the player development process. Every AYSES coach is committed to helping each player work toward ball mastery. More specifically, at KickStarters (ages 4-5), Pre-Academy (ages 6-7), and Academy (ages 8-10), our players spend half to a third of their practice working on technical development.

We hold firmly to the expression that, “There’s no such thing as a tactical player who is not technical.” What we mean by this is that as players move into a heavier tactical focus, they have to have the technical abilities required for the advanced tactics that come with age. Having said this, there is still a focus on technique even with our oldest players.

Q: Why does AYSES focus so heavily on development? Does this take away from a focus on winning?

A: Development is the foundation necessary for a “successful” playing career. Vince Lombardi, arguably one of the greatest American football coaches ever, reportedly said this to his team on the first day of pre-season: “Gentlemen, this is a football.” These five words were his way of expressing the necessity of the basics.

Unfortunately, coaches give up on working on the basics far too early. By the time players are old enough to play select soccer, practices take on a heavily tactical nature. This approach has stunted the technical development in tens of thousands of club players.

It is our objective at AYSES that when others watch us play, they see both teams and individuals who are characterized by composure and creativity with the ball — this only happens when development has been emphasized from the earliest ages and continues all the way through to the time players graduate.

In our “instant gratification society,” a focus on development is not always the most popular route, primarily because we all want to win. Coaches, parents and players who focus on winning at the youngest ages have unwittingly set a damaging long-term trajectory.

The recipe for winning at the youngest ages is a simple one: Get the ball to your most athletic player who has some technical ability and watch him outrun the back line and finish. This style of play is epidemic. Coaches, parents and players can high-five and congratulate one another, but at what cost?

If as a coach and a parent, you believe that winning is a priority then you can unintentionally short-circuit a player’s development. After all, how do you argue with a winning season? The truth is that getting players to execute and even try to do the right things is a lengthy and often ugly process, one that can result in less wins than one would want, even in the short term.

Q: How does this focus on development shape the way coaches structure practices? What is your approach to drills?

A: Since all of our coaches are in agreement regarding the AYSES philosophy of development, they structure their practices in a way that pays special attention to technique at the younger ages, with a steady and consistent increase in tactical awareness as they age. By doing this we ensure that if players have been with AYSES since Academy soccer, they will have the necessary tools to execute the tactical demands of Select soccer.

It’s important to know that all ages receive technical and tactical instruction at AYSES, just that the proportions change as the player ages.

Our drills are designed to challenge and engage players cognitively (tactically) and physically (technically). Additionally, we believe that a significant portion of our practices should reflect real game play — which is why nearly all of our practices give the players the opportunity to participate in small-sided games (SSGs) and scrimmages.

Typically, the SSGs and scrimmage are done closer to the end of practice. Here, players are given the opportunity to implement the coaching points and principles from the practice. Coaches will intervene when needed to highlight a point without interrupting the flow and fun of the SSG or scrimmage.

Q: What is your most memorable experience as an AYSES coach?

A: This summer my U17s made it into classic league after having clawed their way up four divisions in three years. It’s a fantastic group of players who are genuinely nice and very deserving of having made it to this new level. All those years of work culminated in a profoundly rewarding moment for these boys … and a bucket of ice water for me.

Q: How does AYSES support and encourage players who want to play in college or professionally?

A: There are a number of items that we address when a player tells us they want to play in college or professionally. The first is that we make players aware of the personal commitment necessary to play soccer at the collegiate and professional level.

As coaches we explain to players from an early age the importance of establishing an individual work ethic; players who want to play in college must commit themselves to the process of working independently. In other words, two club practices a week are not enough.

We also provide players with the opportunity to be seen by coaches at what are known as “showcase tournaments.” These typically occur during a player’s junior and senior years of high school. Showcases draw coaches from all over the country and/or region. A coach who is interested in a particular player will either approach the player and family directly during the tournament or email the player a few days after the showcase.

At AYSES we have relationships with coaches in all collegiate divisions. These include NCAA Divisions 1, 2 and 3, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). The college selection process can be scary, but we’re here to help navigate those waters.

Now, to play at the next level (professionally), a player has to have the ability to say “no” to other activities. Keep in mind that we are competing with players from around the world for very few professional spots. Most players coming from abroad were not participating in the analogous football, baseball, basketball, hockey, lacrosse, etc. in their respective countries. These are players who from a very young age consecrated themselves to soccer — many of them playing countless hours of pick-up soccer in their neighborhoods every day.

Finally, we encourage players to use resources like SoccerRecruits.com. This website simplifies the recruiting process by allowing players to communicate directly with hundreds of coaches with the literal “one click of a button.” Sites like these also allow players to manage their personal video archives, which is enormously important since “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Stay tuned for Part Two of our interview next week. Ardila talks about how soccer has evolved and what parents can do to foster their children’s love of the sport.

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