Man on a Mission – Part IColin Herriot, DOC at youth club Waldorf SC in Maryland, shares his developmental philosophy
by Ken Sweda | Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Colin Herriot and his club Waldorf SC have a singular purpose: to create an army of creative, technically superior and tactically astute players.
What is it that sets this man and this club apart?
The same thing that makes a good player a great player.
So what is the philosophy of Waldorf SC? Here is the exact wording of the club’s Mission and Vision Statements:
Mission: To develop soccer players within the Waldor Soccer Club community, commensurate with their skill level and desire, in a safe, professional, positive and fun environment.
Vision: “To be recognized around the State, Region and Country as the leader in the development of soccer players and coaches.”
If you’re perceptive, you’ll notice a couple things are missing: there is no reference to teams, or to winning. And that, in a nutshell, is a key to developing real footballing talent, and why so few difference-making players are produced in North America. Producing players is so much more important, and time consuming, than winning. And it takes quality coaches, with the time, desire, responsibility and resources to make it happen. Coaches that ALL share a similar mindset. Coaches must be brought in who already espouse this philosophy, or who want to do so (hence the reference to the development of coaches, not only players.) Coaches that will then venture out, network, and pass on this philosophy.
So what experiences brought Colin Herriot to his current philosophy and prepared him for the approach he now brings to his coaching? Let’s go back to his early days in the game.
Herriot was born and raised in Scotland. Like any other kid with a pulse in Scotland, he had a ball at his foot from the time he could walk. He played in local parks; street soccer was a massive influence on his childhood and his development as a player. He played for the local boys club team (travel club) until he was approached and recruited by the professional outfit, Hearts Football Club. He had the opportunity to represent Scotland at the U16 level, gaining three schoolboy caps during his time. Shortly afterwards he had spells in the trenches with two Second Division Clubs East Fife, Cowdenbeath FC.
His early coaches could be described as “passionate” and “intense”. He respected the fact that all of his first coaches were volunteers (excluding his professional experience) who had a genuine love for the game. There were no uninformed, if well-intentioned, Baseball Dads.
Says Herriot now: “I remember my dad hanging the nets on goals and painting lines hours before kick-off just so the kids had the opportunity to play. I always sensed a genuine connection from the volunteer coaches for the kids to improve and excel within their respective clubs and programs.”
On occasion, he acknowledges, the passion and intensity could boil over to the kids and the field which automatically stifles creativity and decision making, as we are well familiar with here in NA. His training at Hearts was professional and organized, however; a “million miles away to my prior experiences.”
Birth of a Coach
Those experiences fed into his decision to become a coach himself, and fostered his style and philosophy. He admits that he still had that “player” mentality and found the transition to coaching difficult. But he expected his sessions to be intense and all the players to be focused, no matter of the age-group that he was working with. However, as all coaches come to learn, you must adapt and change your body language to the age groups and gender you are working with, not necessarily your philosophy but certainly your goals and practice sessions. Citing his own maturation and development as a coach, he continues to self-assess his performance.
That maturation and self-aware mindset fuels his desire to connect with his players.
“I have learned to create an environment where the kids are allowed to play freely and with expression. Especially at the younger age-groups, we have a responsibility in this country to hopefully make the kids fall in love with the game. I allow the players to play and make decisions; that’s part of their development, right or wrong. If coaches continue to manipulate young players from the sidelines, where is the child’s thought process? Decision making? Creativity?”
Indeed, the focus on creating this type of environment within his sessions allows players to enjoy training, games and their soccer experience. From viewing videos like the one below, I can tell you the kids work extremely hard, apply themselves well and seem to love the program.
The process of producing players like this is almost criminal in its simplicity, and yet for some reason is virtually ignored by most youth clubs around the country. All DOCs know they are often at the mercy of the club board, and therefore, indirectly, of the parents, many of whom demand that their child be on a winning team or they’ll quickly pull their money and move on. Colin inherited a situation not unlike this, but through his passion, knowledge and perseverance he sold the club on his goals.
His biggest obstacle was to change the mindset of a club and soccer community. The club had no real long-term goal or vision. They had teams and coaches but were severely lacking in direction and guidance. Since taking over, the board has been very receptive to all of his ideas and supported him wholeheartedly over the past twelve months. His approach was matter-of-fact: he simply created a list of five items that he felt were major issues and if corrected, could transform the perception of the club. He attended the majority of board meetings which helped build a positive communication between himself and the elected members.
“Most of our changes have been met with positive feedback which over a period time creates trust and allows the club to progress.”
Herriot suggests that there must be standards and some type of focus on a bigger goal that facilitates that progress. To him, it’s imperative that when players enter their organization at six years old, they have a clear blue print explaining the club’s focus and direction. It’s a crucial alley, he says; anytime he has dealt with disgruntled parents in regards to training methods with his staff, he always asks them to refer to the club’s mission statement. The mission statement is implemented by all of his coaches; this helps create his club culture and makes Waldorf recognizable across the board.
How, on a functional level, does the club progress? Colin’s vision statement again has a major part to play.
“If we are producing the players in the correct manner then the success will follow. Unfortunately (in most places in the country) we are teaching the kids with potential and great athleticism, short term routes to be successful and not concentrating on the longevity of their development.”
Of course at 7v7 & 8v8 level winning is irrelevant, but that’s not the case in this country, a problem Herriot laments. Like my own experiences, he concurs that at the youngest ages we are already placed in structured divisions, pressurizing coaches to win games at all costs.
“The atmosphere that’s created at tournaments even at the U9 level, it’s ridiculous, but the environment demands teams to win and lose. The most unfortunate aspect of all of this is that the bigger clubs in the country, nationally ranked organizations, have the tools to change the culture. Some of these clubs have 500 kids attending try-outs for U8 teams. They could build a platform; create a foundation that demands patience and a club wide approach to youth development.”
In part II of this story, we’ll get into more of the details that make Colin Herriot and Waldorf SC a shining example and rising star in US youth soccer.