In 2018, I attended my first United Soccer Coaches Convention. I remember heading to Philadelphia, the site of that year’s event, excited but overwhelmed. There was so much I wanted to see. There were field sessions, panels, certificate opportunities, exhibitors — and not to mention eating a cheese-steak at Reading Terminal Market.
A handful of hours into my inaugural Convention experience though, I realized I had an issue. While I had a general, well-intentioned intuition of what I wanted to accomplish, I wasn’t equipped to answer explicit questions about how exactly I’d go about doing so.
I didn’t have a response to questions like: Should I focus on anything in particular? How could I specifically go about connecting with other coaches? And above all else, how would I be intentional about making the most use of my time?
Going into Baltimore 2020, what will be my third of such events, I can tell you I now have the hang of getting the most out of the experience. And this letter is designed to help you do the same.
Below are 10 steps to let you skip the learning curve I went through the past couple years, answer questions like those I just laid out, and provide you the best chance to truly hit the ground running at your first Convention.
Step 1. Plan ahead.
You will want to map out a good chunk of your time at the Convention prior to arriving. Whether with Excel, pen and paper, or any other media, it’s a good investment in energy to think through a meaningful amount of when and where events that interest you will be happening.
Steps 2 – 7 will walk you through precisely how to prioritize your time.
Step 2. Start planning your schedule by considering Diplomas & Certificates.
There will be opportunities to work towards Special Topics Diplomas, Professional Development Certificates, or even your National Diploma.
To most easily determine when sessions relevant to a specific Diploma or Certificate are occurring, there is an option to filter by track on the Convention Schedule Page.
Begin curating your personal schedule by marking down sessions that will help you meet the necessary requirements for any Diplomas or Certificates you opt to pursue.
Step 3. Identify any particular coaches, lecturers, or educators you want to see.
In previous Conventions, I made it a point to block off time to hear the likes of Jermaine Jones and Tony Strudwick — to name a couple.
As you gear up for 2020, make a note of any names you may want to be in the audience for.
Step 4. Think about the session type you’d like to observe.
The Convention will feature three session types: Elite, Competitive, and Grassroots.
Maybe you want to focus on session types that are immediately applicable to your day-to-day coaching. I’d suggest however that there is value in attending a session that puts you outside your comfort zone as well.
Step 5. Recognize different session formats may be more valuable than others.
There will be field demonstrations, lectures, roundtables, panels, spotlight interviews, as well as others still in the works for Baltimore 2020.
Pick out which of these styles will be most beneficial for you.
Step 6. Be mindful of any professional expectations you have.
If your club is sending you to the 2020 Convention, you may be obligated to attend certain sessions or bring specific information back to other coaches, parents, players, and/or admin.
Take a look through the schedule and pinpoint which sessions might check off those proverbial boxes.
Step 7. Don’t worry if two sessions you want to see are happening at the same time.
You can navigate this dilemma in three ways.
1) Split your time. As an example, you can spend the first 20 minutes observing the warm up of a field session and then move on to catch the last 40 minutes of a roundtable discussion.
2) Divide and conquer. You can work together with a fellow coach, each attend a different session, and then circle back around after to exchange notes with one another.
3) Review recordings. Most Convention sessions will be filmed. So if you weren’t able to catch a topic in Baltimore, you’ll be able to see it by purchasing a recording.
Step 8. Come with the mindset of doing more than just taking notes.
There will be plenty of moments to jot down novel training ideas, learn about a new approach to building team culture, clarify an opinion you were skeptical of, etc.
But you should also see the Convention as a phenomenal chance to connect with people. Be deliberate about introducing yourself to other coaches from around the country, speakers from around the world, and exhibitors from different soccer-focused companies.
Step 9. Leave time open & don’t be afraid to be flexible.
Without a doubt, unexpected opportunities will pop up. It’s fine to leave some time as unscheduled for just such moments.
You may want to have unplanned breakfast with a new friend, head to a session last-minute after a suggestion from a speaker, or grab a meal in Baltimore based on a recommendation from a coach who knows the area.
Step 10. Don’t be nervous!
There will be two first-time attendee sessions if you’d like additional support beyond this letter. I suggest you check them out. The first one will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 15 from 3:45-4:45 p.m. in CC 339/340/341 and the second will be on Thursday, Jan. 16 from 8-9 a.m. in the same location.
More importantly: Everyone is there to learn and foster a sense of inclusivity around the game. All coaches of all levels should feel welcome.
Talking recently with my friend Evan Segal, member of the 2018-19 30 Under 30 Class, I asked him to describe his experience at last year’s Convention. He succinctly replied: “invaluable, filled with connecting, motivating”.
I am confident, with this letter as a guide, you’ll come away from Baltimore with the same sentiments.
Looking forward to seeing you there,