Q&A with Total Futbols Todd Hamlin

Going to Sleep Every Night Excited for the Next Day

Todd Hamlin, Total Futbol Assistant Director, shares his favorite coaching moment, best advice for young players and why he loves his job: "Some of the strongest, most determined and motivating people in my life are the kids that I coach."

Title(s): Assistant Director, Total Futbol; Head Coach of Herndon United (U17-G), Chantilly Storm (U16-G), Herndon Hurricanes Black & White (U12-G) 
Playing Experience: George Mason University ’03-04
Previous Coaching Experience: W.T. Woodson High School (Fairfax, VA) ’06-‘07; VYSA ODP ’05-‘11
Certification:  USSF National “A” License; NSCAA “Premier” License, NSCAA Regional Goalkeeping Diploma
When did you start playing soccer? What was your most memorable moment as a player?
Like most kids, I started playing when I was about 5 years old. I liked soccer a lot but after playing a little bit of everything, I actually fell in love with baseball first. I stopped playing soccer to play baseball year-round from when I was about 8 until 12. Even though I was on strong teams and was really good at it, I started to realize I needed something with more action and chose to take a season off to try soccer again. I scored a goal in my first game back to soccer and was hooked from that point on. I actually ran into my baseball coach that afternoon and, when I told him about it, he said he knew I’d found my passion.
My most memorable moment as a player is the day I was invited to play on the team at George Mason University (GMU). I was a walk-on so I went to college with big dreams but no guarantees.  Making the team was an incredible feeling. I had a late start with the game and it validated all the hard work that I put in since I came back to the sport.
“Some of the strongest, most determined, and motivating people in my life
are the kids that I coach.” 
How did you get involved in coaching?
I’ve always had an interest in helping people. During my freshman year at Mason, one of the older players asked if I’d be interested in doing some coaching on the side as a part-time job. I loved it from the start. 
When I stopped playing for GMU, coaching was a great way for me to stay involved in the game and the hours fit well with my schedule. I didn’t know at the time that I could turn it into my career, but it was immediately rewarding and interesting for me to keep doing it.
What coaches did you look up to as you began your career?
I’m of the mindset that you can learn something from anyone. The best people at their profession are constantly learning and improving. 
I played for strong coaches at GMU and I tried to draw on a lot of what I learned from them. I combined that with what I picked up during my youth career and tried to gather as many things as possible from the more experienced people I was coaching with.
Great coaching transcends individual sports: I’ve studied the top coaches in basketball, football and other disciplines. John Wooden (legendary UCLA basketball coach), Gregg Popovich (current NBA coach of the San Antonio Spurs) and Don Shula (former coach of NFL’s Miami Dolphins, currently holds the NFL record for most career wins with 347) are three that I’ve spent a lot of time studying. They are some of the best coaches in history.
What is your most memorable soccer moment as a coach?
There are so many! Helping players grow into better and more confident people is immensely rewarding. Watching them apply those skills in a team environment to help it succeed grow is even better.
In terms of a specific moment, one definitely stands out. I was coaching at Woodson High School and we were losing a game 1-0 with a few minutes to go. My leading scorer ran off the field and came up to me, distraught, with tears running down his face. I asked him if he was hurt and he said no. He said he didn’t know what to do because players from the other team were using racial slurs against him. I told him the best thing he could do was to play his game and not let what they were saying get to him.
There were only a couple minutes left in the game when he went back on the field. Almost immediately he set up the tying goal. He grabbed the ball and raced it back to midfield. The other team took the kickoff and he was able to steal it. He proceeded to dribble through the rest of the team and beat the keeper to give us a 2-1 lead with a minute to go.
He celebrated by sprinting over to hug me, crying again, but this time they were tears of joy, along with a huge smile on his face. He kept saying “Thank you” and the magnitude of what that moment meant to him really hit me.
It was one of the most memorable moments of my life and I was so happy that this player was able to transform a potentially horrible experience into a triumph. He learned that what someone else says or thinks could never define who he is as an individual.
What’s the best advice you have for young soccer players?
The most important thing for a player is to find an environment that fits their ability, challenges them, develops their skills, improves their thought processes and builds their passion for the game. A player will have lifelong enjoyment and appreciation of the game if they’re taught to be confident with the ball at their feet.
Every player’s individual goals are different and what one player is looking to do down the road doesn’t necessarily affect the others on a team. What matters most is that a player feels challenged, but remains confident. They need to have the ability to achieve - or make measurable progress toward - their goals within the team or program’s framework. It doesn’t do a player much good to be so far beyond their comfort zone that they lose sight of what they’re looking to do. 
“Ultimately, our track record in developing top-level possession teams at the older ages speaks for itself.” 
How difficult is it to teach young players to play possession soccer? How long does it take to master this style?
Possession style soccer is when a team looks to string passes together and generate quality chances by sharing the ball throughout the field with controlled, patient passing. 
There are lots of challenges when it comes to teaching kids how to knock the ball around. It requires all aspects of a player’s skillset to be strong, from their technical ability to their decision-making to their mental composure and patience. To truly master this style takes a lot of time and effort. It takes years for players to understand and apply all aspects of possession soccer.
One of the biggest challenges we face is that we live in a very results-oriented society. Although it’s the highest level of the game, possession soccer is vulnerable to direct play, especially at the younger ages. While kids can usually see their own progress, a major challenge currently is the education of their parents, who didn’t play the game growing up and want to measure progress in wins and losses. It’s easy to look at the score for a game and try to determine who the better team was. What most people don’t realize is that the team that won the game isn’t learning the skills and ideas needed to be successful when they’re older. A lot of times the kids who win a lot at the younger ages but don’t learn the long-term skills won’t enjoy the game down the road. It’s disheartening to watch as people make decisions with a narrow mindset, but ultimately, our track record in developing top-level possession teams at the older ages speaks for itself.
Do you believe that soccer in the U.S. (i.e., Club, college, National Team, MLS) is improving?
In general, soccer in the U.S. has made some incredible strides recently. The average level of a youth player today is substantially higher than it was 5 or 10 years ago, much less 20 years or more. A lot of that has to do with players having coaches who grew up with the game, which wasn’t nearly as common a decade ago. Kids are also exposed to more soccer now on TV and the Internet so it’s much easier for them to develop a passion for it. A few years ago, I never had to worry about kids at a practice spoiling the result of a game I DVR’d. Now, I know if I don’t watch that game live, I’m going to hear the kids talking about it.
There are still issues hampering the sport, however. The win-now mentality keeps us from developing a broader base of players starting at a young age. Kids still don’t get enough touches outside of organized training. The fragmentation of the elite player landscape at the high-school age keeps a lot of the best players from playing against each other. As a result of those things, we still haven’t been able to develop truly World Class players like Messi or Marta.  
What players and teams do you consider to embody “the beautiful game”?
The last 10 years have given us many examples of players and teams who represent “the beautiful game”. The Spanish men’s national team from 2008-2012 that won the World Cup and two European Championships is a great illustration, along with the professional club FC Barcelona (FCB), which is still excelling at the top level. Lionel Messi (Argentina) is the best player in history and others like Christiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Luis Suárez (Uruguay), Xavier “Xavi” Hernandez (Spain), Zlatan Ibrahimoviæ (Sweden), and Andrés Iniesta (Spain) have pushed the game to new heights during their primes.
One of the best parts about this game is how different styles can all circle back to excellent versions of “the beautiful game”. FCB’s and Spain’s “Tiki-taka” style (tiqui-taca  in Spanish) is elegant and exemplifies possession soccer at its finest. The technical mastery of the Japanese women’s national team is amazing. The organization, efficiency, and technical skill of the German national teams, both men’s and women’s, are inspiring to watch. 
“While athleticism and mental strength are important pieces for any travel player,
comfort with the ball and the ability to make good decisions quickly
are what really differentiates the best from the rest.” 
From a development perspective, what qualities do you think are needed to be successful as a player, especially for those interested in continuing to play in college?
The two things that we stress the most within Total Futbol are a player’s technical skill and the quality of their decision-making. 
While athleticism and mental strength are important pieces for any travel player, comfort with the ball and the ability to make good decisions quickly are what really differentiates the best from the rest. If a player isn’t facile with the ball and can’t make the right decision on the field, they’re going to struggle.
For those looking to play collegiately, it’s all of those things sped up to a higher level. Having a passion for the game is also crucial. It’s hard to put in the work necessary to be a college athlete without having a true love for the game.
What role can high school soccer can play in developing players? What are the pros and cons of high school soccer versus travel soccer?
What I always tell my players is that the high school experience is very different for each player. The level of the team, the coaching, and the style of play vary greatly from school to school. For some it’s very positive, while others have a negative experience. 
High school soccer can be a boon for a player’s confidence and getting extra touches on the ball is only going to help with being technically sharp. For 9th and 10th graders, playing against older players can enhance their growth by teaching them how to play against more experienced and stronger players. Of course, putting on the school’s uniform and having your friends come watch you play in a stadium can be a great experience, too.
The cons are that too many games in a short amount of time raise the risk of injuries. The latest developmental models recommend fewer games and more training sessions -- high school soccer is the opposite of that. At the same time, a lot of high schools aren’t able to play the same style that we’re looking for (i.e., possession soccer) and it’s difficult for players to navigate between the two. Players can get frustrated because high school teammates and coaches aren’t on the same page. 
Ultimately, clubs are where players that are interested in college are going to be seen and recruited. The high school game has its pros and cons, and a lot of it comes down to representing your community and playing with your friends and neighbors. Each player’s experience is different and overgeneralizing is risky. The most important thing is that players understand that it’s a piece of their overall experience and their club teams are where they’re going to spend the most time throughout the year.
What do you love most about your job as Assistant Director of Total Futbol?
I’m really lucky to be in the position I’m in. I love so much about my job: I’m able to coach soccer and help run a small business for a living, and both of those are immensely fulfilling.
As a coach, I work with players who are incredible and inspirational on and off of the field.  Some of the strongest, most determined, and motivating people in my life are kids that I coach. Watching them grow as people and players is such an amazing feeling.
As Assistant Director of Total Futbol, I’m able to work with coaches from around the world and constantly learn new things. I’m exposed to personalities and cultures that add perspective to my life. I’m also helping a small business grow. Nadir and I have grown a lot as we’ve grown Total Futbol and we’ve got some really exciting things on the horizon. I’ve worked for major corporations at different times in my professional life, and it’s exhilarating to be a part of a small business where you see the impact of the effort you put in. There are always challenges and hurdles, but there’s an even bigger sense of accomplishment when those are cleared.
I’ve met so many people in life who dread their jobs or just do enough to get by. I go to sleep every night excited for the next day because whether it’s a big game, a practice session for a team, or a new business venture, I know there’s something exciting coming tomorrow.
“I go to sleep every night excited for the next day
because whether it’s a big game, a practice session for a team, or a new business venture,
I know there’s something exciting coming tomorrow.”