Dean Linke  |  Host of The ECNL Podcast  |  October 30, 2020

I recently hosted one of the most interesting podcast conversations I’ve heard in a longtime on the ECNL Podcast “Breaking the Line” when Christian Lavers, the President of the ECNL, and Vlatko Andonovski, Head Coach of the US National Team, went back and forth on a variety of topics around coaching, development, philosophy and so much more.  What struck me most about this interview was the longstanding relationship between these two men whose careers have crossed professionally over the years and while their paths are so different, their comments were strangely similar as they talked about their mission in their “jobs”.

I have known Lavers for years and am well versed in the ECNL – obviously as the host of Breaking the Line and in conversations and jobs in other areas where ECNL’s programs and my media roles have intersected.  They have long believed in the importance of the whole player, promoting motivating taglines like “More than a League”, “Leaders Play Here and “Always be More”.  As I listened to these friends and peers of so many years talk, I was struck how so much of what I have heard from the ECNL under Christian’s leadership was being similarly echoed by the top US Coach.

“I want my players to be good people and then good soccer players. Throughout my career, before saying we have good players, it is important to be able to say you have good people,”  Vlatko noted mid-interview and it felt like many a message I’ve heard in the past from the ECNL, or even in informal conversations with Christian as he speaks of his vision for the league.

Toward the end of the talk Lavers asked if Vlatko could go back and talk to his younger self as a youth coach what he would you tell himself.   Vlatko answered “I have grown as a coach, there is a lot more than winning and losing. I realized that is something I shouldn’t be so focused on.  Another thing is the holistic development of players.  I would spend more time on the culture of the team and the psychology of the players.”

I had to smile that principles learned back while coaching in youth soccer, and he coached in the ECNL for several years, have followed Vlatko through coaching U7 and U8, rec, high school, club, college and pro all before taking the spot as the top coach in the United States.  The most successful women’s team in the world, the US National Team, has a coach who believes in many of the same principles that define a youth soccer league.

In the tangled world of youth sports, this was an “aha” moment – two people at the height of their careers, reflecting on some of the most simple, logical views on player development that are often lost in the sideline jabber.  It was a bright moment for me to see the President of the country’s best youth soccer organization, and the leading women’s coach in the country, both talk about how being a top player on the field is only part of the purpose of the sport.