TSW Q&A: SoCal Blues’ Larry Draluck talks instinct, decision-making, “no fun allowed” parents
By Jimmy LaRoue
Southern California Blues SC program director Larry Draluck has evolved as a coach.
Draluck, a nationally licensed U.S. Soccer Federation “A” level coach who helped start the South Pasadena High School girls’ soccer team in 1984 and SoCal Blues in 1990 (with the origins of the club dating back to 1985), used to be more traditional in his coaching methods, and got caught up in the competitive atmosphere of youth soccer.
At the recent ECNL National Showcase Event in San Diego, Draluck took time to answer a few questions for The Soccer Wire about his coaching methods and the club philosophy at SoCal Blues, who have grown into a strong contender at both the regional and ECNL levels.
TSW: Break down SoCal Blues’ Under-16 ECNL team’s season so far.
LD: It’s an interesting story because I’m the director of the club, but what happened was the coach kind of flamed out here on the team, as often happens in this competitive and strange world of youth soccer. And so I took the team, and I insisted that they play a certain way, and that was a very difficult adjustment for them because, again, in this competitive world, we’re so focused on winning, and I was asking the players to be more considerate of quality in certain aspects of their game. And so, the thought process was there, and we got beat.
But that said, over time, the team has really taken on, and they have a good grasp of what I’m asking them to do. That said, they’re young, so they sometimes lose their perspective and start making non-efficient decisions and that’s when we get into trouble. But technically, they’ve improved a lot, and intangibly they’ve improved, so I’m very happy with them.
I’m not a big believer in coaching, and I have some killer players [like] Nikki Faris, I mean, just some devastating attacking players.
TSW: Talk about some of those players.
LD: I hesitate to do that because again, in this competitive, wacky world, somebody’s going to read this and think that I favor. Nevertheless, the reality is that you have key players on your team, and you also have role players. The backbone of the team is always team defense. From there, we can hang on and maybe, when we’re not playing well offensively, we can hang in a game and maybe win a game that we may not at other times. For instance, [on April 1] against that [Freestate] team from Maryland, they were winning 1-0 and we hung on, and we hung on, and we started getting a little better rhythm, and we put them on the back heel, and then we were able to score a tying goal, and then unfortunately, their goalkeeper made a mistake. Still, it was a great game.
TSW: How has the way the team plays changed from before?
LD: Listen, everybody talks about [Spain’s FC] Barcelona. Before that, I don’t know if people appreciated it, but for me, it’s always been Brazil. I’m American, but I always played Latin soccer. And to me, the rhythm of the game is the beauty of it. Someone once told me when I was a soccer player – I played in Mexico a little bit [for UAG Tecos in Guadalajara] – my coach used to say that “soccer is the art of deception.” And that’s really the nuance of the game, and it’s lost. It’s still lost here. It’s lost to my players.
I’m not going to be a good interview because I may say things that are politically incorrect, but too many adults [are] in soccer, too many coaches, too many referees, too many parents. They’re playing for a reward, as opposed to playing for the pleasure, and that’s unfortunate. I remember when I was a kid, I know we all talk about this … we all used to go out and play whatever sport and play for fun, and nobody ever really put demands on us, and we were allowed to have fun and do stupid things. If I was going to jack up a three-pointer, ahh, that’s what I did. The only one who got on my case was my teammates. I didn’t have my dad there, my mom.
As a matter of fact, I made a funny t-shirt for the kids. Well, I didn’t make it for the kids. I made it for me and showed it to them. I did a design and it’s called, No Fun Allowed, and it’s a picture of a dad holding tight to a soccer ball and it says “Dad” across the shirt, and he’s got a mean look on his face and it says “No Fun Allowed.” Because when you try to have fun, for instance, in practice, I’ll play trashcan soccer – stupid, unorthodox, unstructured games where I allow the players to take ownership of their own practice and game, but to parents, in this environment, these structured warmups, these structured things, it’s very impressive, but really, it doesn’t help for the nuance of the game. The nuance of the game is natural instinct. You’re supposed to be creative. You’re supposed have the freedom to do things so I’ll play that trashcan soccer, and the parents will be angry, ‘cause they think that I’m not doing my job.
TSW: What about the edicts from above saying you have to play a certain way or teach tactics? It seems you’re trying to say you’re the antidote to that.
LD: Our club, hopefully, is like that.
TSW: You don’t hear about your style too often at this level.
LD: Competitive, fun games that allow the players to exercise freedom in decision-making. If you really had to encapsulate my coaching, understanding that it’s really about the growth of the players, what I do within the game is try to maximize the repetition of receiving, dribbling and passing. For instance, the receiving aspect, if you watch games, it’s a lost art. Without the ball, what are you doing? You’re chasing. If you watch everybody receive, a lot of the players, even my own, as much as we work on it, there’s separation of the ball from a player when they receive it. They lose time. They don’t have time to make decisions. And they lose the freedom to play the game. They end up just chasing. So, we talk about it. We talk about it, but ultimately, it’s in the talent level of the player.
TSW: Do you feel like that at this level it can be brought back?
LD: I don’t see it, given that … if the kids are allowed to play a free way when they’re young, then they’re natural. They’re smooth. It’s like playing the piano. If you start at a later age, you cannot play by ear. You have to read it. And the same thing with speaking a language. Your tongue moves a certain way and then you might speak perfectly. You might have awesome grammar, but you’re going to have an accent, and that’s what happens when players are young and they’re not allowed to grow technically by leaving them alone.
A big hero of mine with respect to coaching…always talked about, especially at the young age, of giving players the freedom to make their own choices and then as they mature, saying, “Look, these choices have to be narrowed so that we can be efficient within the team.” But it’s still giving them the freedom to choose, because if you don’t in this game, it becomes un-fun. All of these kids are playing to achieve scholarships or college or playing for this or playing for that. What about, “I had more fun in practice than I do over here [referring to coaching on the sideline during games]”?
TSW: Did you always believe that? Was it difficult for you to be more laid back with your coaching?
LD: Yeah. When I was young, I was more dictatorial, and I kind of forced the players to make those decisions because they really didn’t have a vision of the game, and they still don’t. But back in the day, I was a bad coach. I thought it was me. But as soon as I started discovering that it’s really about the players, the players’ talent makes the difference. I know that because for some reason I’m a glutton for punishment, and I coach high school just for fun. I live in a community – it’s not about money or anything, but I coach that high school, and I don’t have a lot of good players. We made the playoffs. We’re organized. I try to explain to them, but I allow them the freedom, and guess what? We get beat. So what? … If I’m supposed to be some big-time coach, then how come my team doesn’t win?
TSW: And now you’re seeing moves toward 10-month seasons, at least on the boys’ side.
LD: Girls, it’s going to be difficult, because a lot of this is social for them, as it should be. They enjoy playing with their friends. And so, if they want to play high school, I say “Go for it.” But a lot of coaches, again, are proprietary. They don’t allow the kids to make their own decisions.
I’m like the stupidest coach, because when I coach high school, my kids always tell me, “Well, my club coach says if I don’t come, then I’m shafted.” And then when I’m a club coach, they tell me the same thing about their high school. I say, “No, go go.” I give freedom. I give freedom because I want them to have the same freedom to make decisions when I’m coaching. Nevertheless, it doesn’t work that way. It’s a one-way street. People decide usually based on what’s best for them. But this is the world we live in.