Eastside Youth Soccer Association broadens its horizons to integrate coaching education
By Brian Beaky
In 2010, the administrators at Eastside Youth Soccer Association (EYSA) had an idea. What if we could get all of our coaches — Recreational, Select, and Premier — on the same page, teaching the same skills and style of play?
The benefits, they quickly saw, would be enormous. From the youngest ages, players would be taught the same fundamental skills and styles as the older, more talented players. As players moved up through the ages and levels of play, their teammates and coaches might change, but the expectations with regard to player development, playing style and positioning would remain consistent.
The idea was unquestionably a good one. Actually implementing it across three levels of play, with several hundred coaches, however, proved to be more of a challenge. To initiate the process, an EYSA curriculum was drafted and propagated to support coaches (many which are volunteers) with practice plans, drill sheets and videos to help coaches implement their sessions. EYSA will continue to offer a variety of coaching education events each year.
The next challenge was to identify the style of play EYSA wished to implement.
“We started at the U8 level, teaching a more indirect, possession-based style,” says Aaron Byers, Vice President of EYSA and himself a coach in the Mercer Island Soccer Club. “It’s better for the players, both technically and tactically, because it focuses on the most important skills — receiving and passing under pressure, maintaining possession, et cetera.”
The club took its inspiration from many of the top European clubs, including Dutch giant Ajax and Spain’s FC Barcelona, each of which utilize a possession-based style to run circles around their opponents. And, more notably, each of which teach that same style consistently at all levels of the club, so that the young players signed to youth academies as teenagers are well-versed in the club’s style of play by the time they reach the senior squad.
This summer, Byers and EYSA took their integration a step further by inviting brothers Brian and Gary Kleiban, the founders of 3four3 Soccer, to Seattle to conduct clinics with the association’s Select and Premier-level coaches. Brian has implemented possession-based skills with his FC Barcelona Academy teams to overwhelming success in Southern California, while Gary has become the voice of the organization, advocating for a possession-based style in blogs, magazines and websites nationwide. In addition to coaching their own teams, the brothers conduct clinics with clubs and associations across the country, to instill best practices and help integrate that style into the fabric of each club.
“I was delighted when EYSA reached out to 3four3,” said Gary Kleiban. “It’s a sign that there are organizations trying to…better align themselves with global football. Which really means, better align themselves with the fundamentals of the game.”
For three days in early September, 3four3 conducted classroom and field sessions with EYSA’s coaches, teaching the possession-based style and its advantages for teams of all ages, genders and skill levels. By the end of the session, Byers says, EYSA’s coaches were overwhelmed — not by the challenge, but rather by the simplicity with which the style can be taught.
“Coaches were almost in shock as to how they (the Kleibans) were able to demonstrate and implement their model in such a short time,” Byers says. “I heard coaches say, ‘Why are we just learning this for the first time now? It makes what we’ve been trying to do so much easier.’ Honestly, it was a coach-changing, life-changing event.”
Colin Rigby, the varsity head coach at Mercer Island High School and a coach for Eastside FC and Mercer Island Select, was one of the coaches in attendance. He says the lessons learned during the 3four3 clinic will pay dividends for all of his teams.
"3four3 has really helped EYSA coaches understand the importance of developing soccer players within a possession-based approach, and why it helps with fundamental skill and tactical development,” Rigby says. “Thank you to 3four3 for focusing on the development of our youth in a sport that needs it."
Now, Byers says, it’s up to EYSA’s coaches to implement that style with their own teams, and hopefully advocate to other coaches within the association to do the same. Byers hopes that within a few years, nearly all of EYSA’s coaches will be teaching 3four3’s possession-based style of play.
“A possession-based style taxes a player’s technical and tactical abilities far more than any…direct-based style,” Gary Kleiban says. “And the more technical and tactical a player is, the more malleable they become and able to adapt to any future ‘style’ a coach may want to implement.”
To learn more about 3four3 or the possession-based style of play, visit their blog at blog.3four3.com.