To provide a focus in training on the development of the mind with exercises designed to teach and test it.
It is clear that you put a big emphasis on the thinking player and training the mind - what led you to prioritise this aspect?
I played professionally but would have been a better player if I was more mentally attuned to the game in terms of assessing my options before receiving the ball. The game was fast even then and to have been a faster decision maker would have meant I would have been a better player. So I always wanted to help others with it and it became my focus on teaching. I call it teaching a "half a touch mentality" to produce different actions based on it.
Decision making is crucial in all sports - as a rugby coach in the UK I have often come across players who run certain moves because they are told to and occasionally have success, but the actual understanding of why they are doing it or who they are manipulating is absent. The landscape is starting to change now, how important do you think it is to put this focus on decision making and understanding at a young age?
It is THE most important focus in the game in my opinion. Funny it's becoming fashionable now to talk about decision making and the mind and faster thinking when I've focused on it for almost 20 years. The younger you start the better. I teach patterns of play, I present ways to do things, then I have the players make their own decisions and find different ways to do things within my pattern play framework.
How would your athletes describe you as a coach? What is the coaching identity you seek to put out there?
Positive, encouraging, warm, excitable, fun, educational, very down to earth, and occasionally very demanding when needed. I seek to make sure we are all at the same level no matter what age I teach and everyone's view is as important as the next. They must never call me coach either, it's Wayne, because I want us mentally attuned at the same level.
Soccer is now pretty established in the states, gaining increased media coverage to go alongside the youth participation numbers which have been high for a while. How has the soccer landscape/environment changed whilst you've been in the U.S. and how has this impacted, if at all, on your coaching?
It's generational. Current parents, many have played the game so understand it better and hence the demand to see the game has grown. No impact on my coaching to be honest I'm just happy the game is growing.
Recently you had somewhat of a Twitter rant, which was great, about the approach to youth sports in the U.S. and the focus on winning rather than development. I read recently that Miguel Rios of Brentford FC described youth coaching in the UK, outside the academies, as sometimes being hindered by being wedded to winning. It is so ingrained in the American psyche to win - have you had huge pushback to your long-term developmental approach or do some people 'get it'?
People say they agree then show they really think the opposite. It's fashionable to say development over winning but it's still about winning - perhaps parents push and believe in the win so much as they are vicariously living through their kids and to be a winner in the USA is in the psyche. It's made USA what it is today, with this desire for success in all walks of life, but in Soccer's case I think it's still not understood fully that we must teach the right principles of how to play the game correctly first before the obsession with winning. So not obvious push back, but developing clubs and making money and winning all go hand in hand unfortunately. It won't change my attitude and I love to win but I always believe it's HOW you win not winning for the sake of it.
What do you think are the most important aspects in general for youth development?
Technical development, skill development (which in my book is decision making and links to the mind and totally different to technique) and tactical development and understanding of movement off the ball. We have the ball ourselves 4 to 5 minutes a game so 86 minutes it's movement off the ball - more training focus on this aspect is vital.
I noticed that as well as your football career you played England U16 Rugby and Cumbria Cricket U18 - do you think that experience, and participation in other sports, made you a better overall sportsman rather than if you had specialised early on football?
I believe so but I think it's more difficult to be good at many sports now and specialization comes earlier. And the demands of clubs and coaches mean that little time is allowed for other sports.
You have no doubt been a great help and influence for many coaches with your various videos, books, talks etc. How do you continue to improve and learn yourself?
I buy books, I watch games every day on TV, I read about head coaches and how they work, I see other peoples' work and incorporate it or more often change it to suit my way of teaching. I like to experiment with different systems of play, I have another book coming out soon on "how to teach the 3-1-3-3 system of play" which is a very radical way to play. I'm always looking for the new angle on the game and to try to do something unique.