Tj Kostecky is the head coach of the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds, Long Island University soccer team that plays in the NCAA Division I, the highest series of the university sport of the United States, winner in 2015 of the Regular Season & Tournament of the Northeast Conference . Assistant professor of Sports Science, since 1981 together with Len Bilous, university coach and former player of the American Soccer League, he holds lessons of “Vision Training Soccer”, a type of training based on teaching football players make the best decisions on the field of play. We contacted him by asking him some questions about the development of soccer in the United States, in particular the relationship between professionalism, university Soccer and youth, aiming to understand the growth prospects of the soccer movement in view of the 2026 World Cup, which will be held in a condominium between Usa, Mexico and Canada.
How does the youth system of American soccer currently work? What would you change?
The US youth soccer system has over 4 million registered players and consists of the following organizations:
- US Youth Soccer
- YMCA’s, Boys & Girls Clubs & small amount of Inner-city programs
In addition there are non-sanctioned leagues and tournaments where players from mostly Latin American, African, Caribbean, Asian and Middle Eastern heritage compete.
An important challenge we have to overcome in the US is that over
70% of athletes drop out of soccer before they reach High School.
The reasons, according to the kids is it’s not fun anymore. There is an overemphasis on winning. Practices are over structured for drills and not playing time. Players are forced to choose a single sport at too early an age and it becomes too expensive for parents too afford the costs. We must bring the fun back to soccer.
- I would create pick-up (free play) small-sided leagues where players play 2-3 times per week (no training). Only one coach would be assigned per field, not per team. The coach’s primary function would be to balance the games and to remind players to “look at their options before they receive the ball”. This environment is fun and everyone plays, not just the elite level player. Here players are empowered to solve their own problems and create their own solutions. On both the men and women’s side the US is not developing enough creative and exciting players that can impact the game.
- These leagues would not have age restrictions. This would allow for mentoring, where the young players are learning from the older more experienced ones. This would increase opportunities for more players to participate in the game, save families both time and money where players will not need to travel long distances to seek expensive coaching and competition.
Do you think that the university soccer system, as well as today, is structured to benefit the development of soccer in the United States?
Although players certainly do develop and improve in the current system and a small percentage of the very best go on to play professionally, unfortunately there are limits. It is primarily a recruiting system that mirror’s the professional game. Under pressure of winning, coaches turn to recruiting the best available amateur players in the world so that they can achieve positive results.
Currently how important is the SuperDraft for MLS?
Up until now, the SuperDraft has served as a valuable marketing tool to engage and build fan interest and excitement for the MLS.
The birth of USL D3 with promotions and retrocessions will benefit soccer in the United States?
Yes, I believe this would benefit soccer in the United States. If the USL D3 decides to include a promotion/relegation system in their model, interest will be high. Americans thrive on competition and we love winners. The opportunity and excitement of seeing a match who’s outcome will determine a place in a higher league would be something different and exciting for the average soccer fan. Even the general sports fan and press would embrace this idea.
Why did male soccer fail in North America to get the results of women’s soccer?
We were a pioneer of women’s soccer development in the World. In the US almost 50% of youth participation has traditionally been female. There has never been a stigma to overcome here as in many cultures and religions around the world. So from sheer number of women playing soccer, we had a jump on the rest of the world. Coupled with the government mandated Title IX Program which ensured equal funding for educational programs in elementary, secondary (high school) and college athletic programs, we created a development model that produced great female athletes with sufficient skills, strength and power, that could not be matched by the rest of the world. At this time, several countries have increased funding, increased participation and improved their developmental programs to compete on par with the US.
What are the strengths of women’s soccer in the United States? Are they replicable in male soccer?
The focus on women’s soccer is similar to the men’s game, which is based on strength, power and speed. The qualities that are missing in both games is vision. Vision is the catalyst that enables decision-making, problem solving and creativity.
How important are university studies for young players? Can it be an advantage over European or South American footballers?
University education challenges students (young players) to problem solve and to innovate. Once you’re introduced to a higher level of education, you can then begin to understand and solve complex actions. Innovation and consistently good decision-making skills are essentials qualities displayed by professional players. And the very best ones: Modric, De Bruyne, Hazard and Iniesta consistently make the right decisions with the ball.
Similar to players who play chess have brain functions that are more advanced then those who play checkers.
How important are soccer clubs and high schools for sports training for young players?
Soccer clubs and high schools are both a vital part of the developmental process for young players. In general the learning curve is higher in the youth clubs as some offer training and playing at 3 or 4 years and up to age 18. Those which offer a variety of year round options: competitive travel teams, small-sided recreational leagues, coaching seminars, training camps, parents education and travel abroad will naturally develop better soccer players.
High school soccer is limited to 3-4 months a year. Nevertheless, this too is an important part of soccer development for players ages 14-17. This environment enhances mental skills; improving self-esteem as players develops leadership and social skills. Teammates who attend school together and live in the same neighborhood are passionate when it comes time to representing their community in competition.
What are the most promising young players of American nationality and who can aspire to a career full of successes?
Aside from Chris Pulisic from Dortmund, I would say the following players have the potential for promising careers. Chris Richards at Bayern Munich, Josh Sargent at Werder Bremen, Tyler Adams and Ben Mines at New York Red Bull and Giovanni Reyna at NYCFC (son of former US International Claudio Reyna)
If you had the chance, what change would it bring to be competitive during the 2026 World Cup?
As discussed earlier, the qualities that are missing in our national teams are decision-making, problem solving and creativity. Our training methods need to change to address these deficiencies. The focus should be on improving player’s field vision. By doing so, players will learn to anticipate and see one or two steps ahead of the opponent. Modric, De Bruyne, Griezmann and Iniesta are such players. Once we begin developing these qualities in our players, we will then become competitive with the best teams in the world.