Interview with Quakes Academy Head Coach Paul Holocher

I had the pleasure of talking to San Jose Earthquakes Academy Head Coach Paul Holocher, about the future of the program under him, as well as some general things about running a successful academy.

You can follow Paul on twitter @HolocherPaul.

“Coach Holocher began his coaching career at UC Santa Cruz where he led them to a 109-24-8 record. He also took the Slugs to the 2004 Division III championship game. Paul is well known in the Santa Cruz soccer community having founded a youth soccer club named Catalyst SC. After 8 years at UC Santa Cruz, Paul took his talents to Cal Poly where he turned that D1 program around and led them to some of the best years that program has ever seen. He coached Cal Poly for 7 years before parting ways to become Director of Development at Maui FC in Hawaii.” – READ MORE: Quakes Academy: Paul Holocher

Quakes Epicenter: When you took over the program, it was clear that the playing style changed. Why do you believe playing style is so important? Especially in terms of long term development.

Paul: Playing style is vitally important to player development, especially at the youth levels. For any coach there is a preference of style based on what they enjoy and what they feel is effective for the objectives they have. For me, as a development coach, I want to teach a possession-based game because I feel it is an excellent platform for the young player’s long-term development. But the objective is not just to teach possession to the players, but to teach them all the major principles of the game within the four moments of the game. With the ball, without the ball, and in transitional moments between those moments. Wanting to possess the ball more than the opponent can then be both an attacking and defensive concept, as it requires players to become highly committed and effective in transitional moments. By looking to control the game with possession we also begin to teach concepts of intelligent positional play, field-awareness, decision-making, and many other aspects of the game. Combine this with teaching how to compete, how to transition quickly, how to defend and how to read the various moments of the game and it will bring about a comprehensive youth soccer education.

For example, we want all our Quakes Academy youth teams to begin early in their playing days to learn how to confidently build-up from the back and hold possession of the ball as we attack. Teams and players that can collectively possess to attack and destabilize an organized opponent will be more prepared and adaptable for the next, hopefully higher levels. This is challenging soccer and it takes years sometimes to teach or master.

If a youth players never learn to open up for each other in the back for example, the ball will be continually kicked over your midfielders’ heads at the first sign of pressure of the opponent because that it is the easiest and safest thing to do at the moment. But when this happens year in and year out, say starting at the age of 10, that young player has lost literally thousands of opportunities to grow both technically, tactically and perhaps most importantly in their composure. That is why I truly believe that even at the youngest ages of 7-8-9 years old, player development should involve some genuine tactical ideas that bring value to all the players’ technical training.

The game played at the highest levels is one with soccer players who are all comfortable with the ball and comfortable in possession. Goalkeepers are not only great shot-stoppers and organizers, but also confident with the ball at their feet and can assist the build-up. The modern center-back, besides being a no-nonsense defender, is also a very confident playmaker- with the skills and composure of a midfielder. Top level forwards need to be able to break-down organized defenses with combination play and dynamic movements in tight spaces. With this in mind we want to develop a playing style that encourages all these traits to be developed.

Quakes Epicenter: The Quakes have made several great investments in their youth programs recently – with the Burlingame Dragons as their PDL partner, the hiring of you and Andre Luiz, as well as the recent plans to create an academy complex. How important are things like a USL Pro team, and a residency program to make the Earthquakes an elite program in the US? What more investments will it take to set up the program to be as successful as possible?

Paul: It is exciting to know that we are looking to invest more into the youth programs and also the other platforms for the college and other aspiring players to reach the highest levels possible. We have a great relationship and program with the Burlingame Dragons in the PDL, and Quakes Academy players who are currently in college now have that great opportunity to continue growing as a player over the spring and summer months. A USL Professional team would be just another major step in the pathway for these aspiring Quakes Academy players. If a young player is not ready for the first team and we have a USL Pro team acting essentially as our reserve team, these top young players will have the opportunity to compete at a very good level, and work towards their goals. It is all about creating an infra-structure within the club that develops a pathway for every level so we can keep promoting players upwards.

The proposed Academy facility for the Quakes and the city of San Jose would be another massively positive step towards coming on par with other top youth development programs world-wide.

You look at top youth programs around the world and their infra-structure has been developed over many, many years. I have been able to travel to many top Academies like Feyenoord and Ajax in Holland, Liverpool and Manchester United in England and FC Barcelona in Spain. They each have found their own way of finding-scouting and nurturing youth talent. Each also has a dedicated facility, a home-base where they can make for a special environment. Most of the MLS teams now have, or are in the process like we are, of developing this type of ‘epicenter’ of youth development. It will be a very positive investment for the youth.

I am not sure we need a residency program as much as possible cooperations with educators that could facilitate the ambitions for a young person that really wants to commit to both academics and the sport. These educational cooperations are common in Europe and also in Canada, but are yet to be prevalent here in the United States. At Feyenoord in Rotterdam for example, the academy has cooperations with two local schools that coordinated schedules with the Academy that allowed players to train for a few hours in the morning and devote more time to both soccer and academics. It was an environment where the young person is learning how to excel at being a student-athlete.

There is a lot we can do to develop the Quakes Academy. We are still a very new Academy. We want to continue to organize and grow our staff. We want to develop both our scouting and outreach programs. And we always need to look to keep educating our coaches at every level so we can be better develop the players. All these things take a coherent vision, belief, organization and time.

Quakes Epicenter: What is the big picture with this program? Where do you want to ultimately take the San Jose Earthquakes academy, and where do you see the program 5 or 10 years down the line?

Paul: We always should look to the highest levels of the sport as a reference point of where it is possible to go. For example, what can we learn from the top Academies in Europe or South America? We also need to take into account the uniqueness of our own soccer culture and be at the forefront of taking steps towards what is possible here. For example, college soccer in the United States is an important part of our developmental culture. The great majority of our graduating Academy players will continue their playing careers in college. So a part of our Academy focus should be encouraging and helping them towards this path of being a responsible student-athlete.

I would also like to help advance ‘cooperation in development’ with other dedicated soccer clubs in Northern California to ultimately grow and move the game forward as a whole. We have an amazing soccer community here in Northern California and there are so many young players that have potential to reach very high levels in the game they love. We have several RDS programs- Regional Development Schools- that we have in place and which I feel can become even more instrumental in how we build our Academy scouting and development model.

For me, the big picture would be to help develop a more systematic approach to youth development. Messi has amazing and god-given talent, but since he was 12 years old the ‘La Masia’, Fc Barcelona’s school of soccer and life, nurtured his talent both as a person and player. Is it possible that there is a 8 year old out there in San Jose, Mountain View, Salinas, Modesto or Oakland that has the talents and drive to be a professional? Absolutely there is. This is how you must think in the world of development. You must see and believe in the potential of the youth and give them the resources, stability and guidance to reach their highest potentials. ‘Feet on the ground, but eyes to the sky.’

In 5-10 years, it will be possible to have a dedicated facility, hopefully a USL team, a complete staff with clear vertical integration from the youth academy all the way to the first team. We will get there.

Quakes Epicenter: How do you work with Andre Luiz and all the other coaches to implement the system and type of soccer you are trying to implement with the U18s and U14s?

Paul: Andre and I, and the other coaches are beginning to work more closely together in integrating the U14’s with the U16’s and U18’s. It has been a really busy last few months, and we usually train at different fields, but Andre comes to observe my sessions when he can, and I do the same with the U14’s to see which players are coming up and how they are developing.

It is important for the coaches within the Academy so we can develop the vertical integration I refer to. This is even more important as next season we will be adding the U12 and U13 Academy teams, along with our current U14, U15/16 and U17/18 teams. We need to continually work towards this continuity, so each step for the young player is a building block towards the next level up. Even down to the U8, U9, U10, and U11’s, those are equally important ages in any top flight Academy as that is the foundation. As they say “from little acorns do mighty oaks grow.”

Quakes Epicenter: Thanks again for taking the time to do this, I’m really looking forward to seeing what you do with the academy. From the few games that I have seen on YouTube, I can definitely see the difference in style of play from last year to this year.

Paul: Thanks Anay! Yes, looking forward to meeting you soon too. Thanks again for all you do for the Quakes and our soccer community.

Anay Patel

I have been a lifelong Quakes fan, and founded Quakes Epicenter in November of 2014. I have been credentialed to cover the Quakes since the 2015 season, and currently serves as the lead editor of the website. Outside of the Quakes, I am currently a student at the University of Southern California studying Computer Science and Business Administration.

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