For the third straight year I attended the “Soccer Coaching Convention” in Chicago last week. It’s a fascinating event with its size and the amount of coaches that attend. The scale of the event is huge and the locations are so big that you get enough exercise just walking through the convention hall once.
This year it was reported that it was over 14.000 coaches attending, I’m not sure where they all were, but it sure was a lot of people continuously walking around. The question is what they were searching for during these days.
For me, before traveling to Chicago I studied the schedule and wanted to take note of the sessions with topics that interests me. This turned out to be a slightly difficult task since the headlines for the sessions where often long and when you looked closer at the description of each session there was often contradictions to the headline making me unsure of what to expect.
Eventually I found 8-10 sessions (in addition to all WFA sessions) that could be of interest and jotted them down in my calendar. Doing so made me realize that many of them took place at the same time, reducing the number of possible (interesting for me) sessions to attend by 50%.
So I had to do some guesswork to prioritize which to attend and which to drop. Eventually I ended up going to 4 sessions of which 1 was a practical with coaches I know and 1 was a big mistake, prompting me to leave after 10 minutes after noticing my decision making error. Still a decent success rate of choosing sessions.
One of the sessions I attended was on the business of US youth clubs which was good for me to get more of an insight into the fascinating (and strange for Europeans) structure that is currently in place to “develop” football players (there are strong arguments to be made that developing football players is not incentivized by the current youth club structure, hence the quotation marks).
Given the huge amount and variety of sessions while knowing what ludicrous prices the organizers charge for renting a room, AV equipment, booths etc (I was told by one exhibitor that they wanted to rent a vacuum cleaner one day, the price: $500!!) you start to reflect on what the purpose of this event is.
In the different sessions you see many coaches sitting on their phones, chatting to each other while someone is presenting and walking in and out of rooms every 10 minutes. At least for these coaches, increasing their knowledge is not what they are looking for.
What’s also noticeable is that there are many individual meetings during the day and a lot of social events in the evening. This makes sense since there are probably many coaches who meet up with their friends and network in order to get better jobs.
There’s also a lot of companies showing off new shiny toys who of course wants to sell their products. And what place better to do so than at a place with 14000 potential customers at once, so it makes perfect sense.
My reflection is that maybe the convention is less about coaches learning, improving football in the US and more about the organizers and their corporate partners making money? Maybe it is mainly a social event meant to inspire coaches and give them opportunities to network, while at the same time bring in money to the organizers and their corporate partners?
Anyhow, it is always a pleasure to be in US and especially the beautiful city of Chicago. Getting the possibility to attend two NHL games was the highlights of the week. Too bad the Bears lost to the Eagles and that the Bulls were out of town…