By Sam Polak 

One of the best parts of the United Soccer Coaches Convention is that it attracts people not just from the US, but all over the world.

I spent Saturday taking advantage of this fact and focused my time on attending sessions with ties to different parts of the globe.


9 AM with Tim Dittmer — Goalkeeping the FA Way

Tim is Head of Goalkeeping for the FA — the FA, also known as The Football Association, is the governing body of football in England. And Tim’s session was as impressive as his title.

I boiled the training down into my two favorite points below (but to be quite honest, that was a tough task as there was a lot more worthy of studying and discussing).

  • Mannequin use

The session had goals positioned in the middle of the pitch with sets of field players tasked with delivering crosses from the surrounding left and right sides. Mannequins were also arranged around the goals to create a proper sense of how crowded the box can become when keepers deal with crosses. 

To start, any time a cross from a field player hit a mannequin, it counted as a point against the goalkeepers and a point for the wide field players.

As this initial exercise progressed, the value for hitting a mannequin also coinicided, moving from a value of 1 point to 2 points to finally a goal. This demanded a higher quality of service from the wide field players without Tim ever needing to use his voice to elicit it.

But it also, alongside vocal demands from Tim, implicitly ratched up the focus and effort required from the keepers.

Not all of us have mannequins available for our training exercises. But reflecting on how we can more creatively facilitate pairing tougher explicit demands with a progression in scoring is worthwhile.

  • Managing experimentation

I often make playing time decisions based on performance in training sessions. However, I also expect players to improve during practice and thereby encourage growth through making mistakes. This dynamic does not always seem fair for players in my view.

Tim had an approach to this that I hadn’t considered, which I hope will be valuable for any other coaches who struggle reconciling this tension as well.

Tim was very deliberate about creating a positive practice environment for the players. And in that context, while walking a fine line between correcting and scolding, he prioritized using the practice time for more reps (versus instruction time) with an added intentional sense of allowing the goalkeepers opportunities to experiment.


11 AM with AJ Swoboda — Evolving Decision Making in the Boardrooms of Professional Football

For those of us who appreciate some of the way math is becoming integrated into our game, this was a great opportunity to learn more about 21st Club, a Football Intelligence Agency serving several big-name clubs all over the world. 

I don’t think anyone would argue against the fact that soccer is an emotionally-charged game. AJ’s session focused on the value of contrasting objective data with our potential personal biases to determine a fuller, more accurate picture of any performance.

Very few of us may be in the boardroom of a professional club in Europe, but that doesn’t mean we can’t recognize the the importance of holding up our perceptions against numbers. Using data can allow us to confirm observations or prompt us to examine something deeper if we find a disconnect between intuitions and a statistic.


2 PM in the Exhibit Hall — visiting PlayerMaker

With offices in Tel Aviv, Florida, Beijing, and the UK, PlayerMaker is a bona fide global company. And if you haven’t heard of them yet, it’s only a matter of time until you do.

What makes PlayerMaker most interesting in my view is the product’s approachability. It’s a piece of technology placed on players’ shoes — which means it doesn’t really require mainteance or installation and ultimately uses footware as a form pre-established technological infrastucture.

The technology provides access to different tiers of information depending on team needs. It starts by providing basic data like number of touches an individual player had during a training session or game and moves all the way up to data on load analysis used by professional sport scientists and coaches.  


We all hear that the world is becoming faster and more interconnected. This fact is even more true in the global game of soccer. We can learn from coaches in England; study shared insights from companies like 21st Club who advise elite teams around the world; or use PlayerMaker, the exact same piece of technology as teams like UNC, Norwich, and Maccabi Tel Aviv.

With that said, there is yet to be a subtitute for the in-person connections and authentic sense of commonality you find when you are in the same room as someone. That was both my favorite part of this year’s Convention in Baltimore as well as a fundamental part of the value in coming. And it’s with this in mind, I hope to see you in Anaheim at next year’s Convention.