How U.S. Soccer plans to redesign its sporting director job

FILE - U.S. Football Federation Athletic Director Ernie Stewart stands on the field before the Iran-United States Group B football match at Al Tumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Tue, Nov. 29, 2022. U.S. Football Federation Athletic Director Ernie Stewart walks off to to join PSV Eindhoven following the departure of American general manager Brian McBride, a leadership reshuffle that leaves men's team coach Gregg Berhalter in limbo.  (AP Photo/Ashley Landis File)
Former athletic director Ernie Stewart left US Soccer last month. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis File)

US Soccer plans to narrow its responsibilities as athletic director as part of a small but significant restructuring at the top of the federation.

The role has been vacant since Ernie Stewart left last month. In 2019, it was essentially created for Stewart, who expanded his responsibilities beyond the US men’s national team, to all of the US national soccer teams, and even to the wider American ecosystem of the sport.

But now that the leaders of US Soccer are conducting what they call a “global search” for Stewart’s successor, they have also changed the job description. President Cindy Parlow Cone said on Saturday that the new athletic director they are looking to hire ahead of the Women’s World Cup in July will “really focus on our national teams… and our technical plan at the elite level.”

In essence, they shared Stewart’s work, which “was hugeParlow Cone said. for two. They will create a new position to oversee the wider landscape. This new executive, who will report to CEO J.T. Batson, will focus on everything from coaching education to officiating development, as well as “growing youth and adult participation,” Batson said.

This, in turn, will allow the Athletic Director to work almost exclusively with elite players, as well as the environment and structures surrounding US Soccer’s 27 national teams, from USMNT and USWNT all the way to youth teams and what US Soccer calls its own. extended national teams (beach soccer, deaf soccer and more).

US Soccer’s new role as athletic director

It will also create a job description that better matches the skill set of many skilled sports directors in world football. Batson, speaking at the federation’s annual general meeting in San Diego, told a small group of reporters that in interviews with potential athletic directors, the candidates had given “a lot of very positive feedback … about narrowing the focus.”

“People have been pretty direct about this evolution,” Batson said.

According to him, US Soccer is looking for its next Athletic Director “a professional in identifying, attracting, retaining and creating successful elite-level sports talent, as well as someone who can own our technical vision.”

And while that description is vague and less influential than sporting director positions at clubs, where executives can sign and sell players and virtually build a team on the pitch right away, it will be more subtle than it used to be.

Why US Soccer has changed

Batson said that discussions about the “evolution” of the role began in Qatar between him and Stewart. In these and other conversations, he realized that “managing our national team’s programs is more than a full-time job.” This resulted in other areas in Stewart’s field of vision lacking the attention they deserved and demanded. “We have not been able to focus – as we all think we want and should – on increasing youth and adult participation, increasing the number of referees in this country, increasing the number of coaches,” Batson said.

These discussions with Stewart led to further conversations with other US Soccer employees and stakeholders around the country. And in their work with Sportsology, the consulting firm brought in to search for a sports director, “we received confirmation from a review of how other federations [around the world] organized, as well as feedback from our team on what works well and where there are problems,” Batson said.

“So,” he said, “put all these things together, and that’s what brought us here.”

He and Cone acknowledged that there would be some overlap between the athletic director position and the new position, such as in talent discovery. And, of course, at the moment both are extremely conceptual; both can continue to evolve.

But the new definition, Batson explained, is that a sports director will “consider pools of players in the thousands or tens of thousands, [and] hundreds of coaching pools” is the very top of the pyramid. “As an organization, we also have to think strategically about millions of player pools, hundreds of thousands of coaching pools, hundreds of thousands of refereeing pools,” and that’s what the new position will do.

“They’re very different skill sets and they’re very different things to think about day in and day out,” Batson said.

Regarding the leadership structure at USMNT, and in particular whether the position of CEO will be filled or abolished, Batson said it has not yet been decided; this will be decided by the new sports director.

And he declined to go into the details of the search for a sports director, except that he and US Soccer were “interviewing people from all over the world.”


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