Spotlight on Jared Small: The Prodigal Son Returns
By Mitch Silver
Jared Small is the Once and Future King of Rye Boys’ soccer. Or, at least, the Once and Future Garnets’ Head Coach, after taking a three-year hiatus to return to his collegiate alma mater, Harvard, where he just earned his law degree.
Jared, once the youngest player on his Rye Youth Soccer travel team, seems to be making a habit of returning to old stomping grounds. So the pertinent question seems to be: <What did you learn about coaching high school players while you were away?>
“I learned a tremendous amount, especially on the defensive side of the ball. I learned about body positioning, about that first reaction step, about pressing the other team and playing in a cohesive low block.
“As one of my college’s assistant coaches, I was responsible for trying to recruit some of the best youth players this country has ever had. I want to share a lot of what those top players know about the sport, what the best coaches are teaching. If you watched as many World Cup games as I just did, you saw players positioning themselves to receive the ball in a way to be as productive as possible with it and quickly as possible.”
<Speaking of the World Cup and America’s failure to make it into the finals, a lot of people think the U.S. approach is all wrong. Do you have any thoughts?>
“I think at it’s highest levels, American youth soccer is in a better position than it’s ever been. The level of coaching and professionalism at the top MLS academies like NYCFC, Montreal Impact, and LA Galaxy have already elevated the youth game significantly. Players like James Sands —who grew up in Rye and progressed from Rye Youth Soccer to NY Soccer Club to the US Youth National Teams and the MLS — are the epitome of what I would call a golden generation of American youth international players. James and the top eight to ten other U-19 players in the country come from a wide range of backgrounds, have represented the country extremely well on the largest youth national stages, are beginning what will likely be successful professional playing careers, and are probably a few years away from making the U.S. a formidable team at the World Cup.
“At the recreational level, I think the Rye Youth Soccer model — intramurals, advanced intramurals, and travel team — as one that can accommodate a large swath of players. The cost of the program has always been relatively affordable compared to the cost of programs in neighboring communities, the balance between parent coaches and paid trainers is generally a good one, and there remains an emphasis on skill development over winning.
“So, if there’s a problem with American youth soccer, it’s probably due to the proliferation of pay-to-play clubs that cater to the ‘elite’ player. They try to provide a marginally better level of coaching than a town-based program like Rye’s, and yet they charge a lot of money. It’s really important that players and families do their homework before jumping onto one of these teams.
“I think the best thing we can do is to open the doors for coaches of all levels to observe training sessions and interact with others who really know what they are doing. US Soccer had a great initiative this past spring in which top college programs and academies held open practices for community coaches. I love the concept of a more open community of coaches and soccer administrators.”
<So, does that mean you’re for kids playing one sport, soccer, all year round?>
“On the contrary, kids should play multiple sports if they want to and have the ability to. Absolutely.”
<Finally, what are you planning to do with your law degree?>
“I’ll be taking the bar exam this winter. Harvard has a Seeds of Peace program that’s allied with its Negotiation & Mediation Clinic. I want to work with people in Israel, Palestine, and Gaza…maybe make a difference. Anyway, I hope so.”
Coach Jared Small gives his Garnets a few pre-game pointers.