FC Dallas Under-18 Academy Head Coach Luchi Gonzalez is tasked with guiding the next generation of FCD players on how to conduct themselves both on and off the field, but that doesn’t mean Gonzalez isn’t continually working on his own development.
The 33-year-old is the FC Dallas representative of a 21-man delegation currently in the middle of a 16-month youth development course led by the French Football Federation.
“It started a year ago as an initiative by MLS to help educate the academy programs,” said Gonzalez. “They would like to start making that a priority and their idea is to start with our coaches and how can we create a plan for them to be educated by some of the historically best youth academies in the world.”
Having arrived at the famous Clairefontaine headquarters of the FFF last Sunday, Luchi is currently in the third installment of the five-course curriculum and the second of three trips to France. The FCD coach is spending a week at the training facility before heading to Ligue 1 side Girondins de Bordeaux for a week of observing training at the six-time French champions. Another domestic trip in March 2014 and a final return to France in May 2014 round out the 18-month course.
“It’s not a one week or two week course it’s a year and a half process of five trips,” said Gonzalez. “It honestly takes a really holistic approach to coaching. They don’t even like the word coaching, it’s education. You’re an educator and you need to bring a youth player through our system, so that they’re prepared to be a professional.”
The French have long been at the forefront of youth development with their Under-20 side winning the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Turkey just a couple months ago. According to Gonzalez, the whole concept that the course is based around is not only developing the technical side of a player’s game, but the soccer IQ of a player as well.
“You need to guide and make suggestions, but not solve things for them and impose on a way that you’re making the decisions for them,” Gonzalez said about the program’s concepts. “There’s no joystick to control their every move. You need to create an environment in training and have behavior as a coach that allows them to discover. That’s how they learn and become a smarter player.”
“There’s also a notion in the French Federation that the decision making is more important or higher priority than technical work. A player needs to know what good decisions are before they can apply a technique. I thought it was a good point and makes you think.”
At the heart of creating the ideal environment for learning and developing mature players ready for the first team is crafting the ideal training schedule. Gonzalez sends many of his drills back to the French Federation for feedback. In a class without traditional tests or grades, it’s a great way to show the concepts are getting through to Luchi and the rest of the coaches from around the league.
“I’ve already implemented some of the possession-type drills because they have a specific objective and I like the way they flow. These aren’t drills I’ve copied from them, but drills I designed with the constraints and rules,” said Gonzalez. “They’re not telling you or giving you drills, they’re saying this is how you teach and set it up, now you create your own exercises and environment.”
“I’ve already gotten really good feedback, and apparently what I’m doing is in line with what they want behavior-wise and with the setup.”
Just about the only thing Gonzalez hasn’t liked about the program is the lamentable timing given the fact that his under-18 US Soccer Development Academy squad starts their 2013-2014 regular season on Saturday at the Toyota Soccer Center against local rivals Solar SC, a game he will have to miss. The time and effort is certainly worth it, however, for the 33-year-old as he enters his second full season as head coach.
“You can know the game like a book, but if you don’t know how to stand on the field and adjust space or put in a player in a specific spot or a specific adjustment [it’s useless],” said Gonzalez. “To them it’s an art form, it’s not about what you can put on a paper or writing an essay, it’s how well can you manage a group.”