From pros to youth and back again

When Dave Dir was a youngster growing up in the Chicago area, he played club soccer in one of the city's ethnic neighborhoods. German, in his case. Those clubs were run by people who knew the game, knew how it should be played and how it should be taught.

That experience shaped Dir in ways he could never imagine then, but he can certainly identify them now. So Dir is trying to give back to the game what it gave him, and maybe find a way to make a living in the process.

Dir was the original coach of the Dallas Burn. He had them in the playoffs every year of his tenure, from 1996-2000. After being replaced by Mike Jeffries following the 2000 season, Dir, like most "lifers' in a given sport, sought ways to stay connected.

He has done that successfully. Dir has carved a niche for himself in television. He earned rave reviews for his work in the ESPN studio during the 2002 World Cup. He has been equally impressive as a television analyst for Burn games. (I admit to a bias. As one who watches quite a bit of soccer on television and sits next to Dave in the Burn broadcast booth, I happen to think he's as good as any TV analyst in the sport, national or local. But what do I know?)

He has also continued to pursue his love of coaching, serving as one of Thomas Rongen's assistants on the United States under-20 national team. And he has been active in coaching and managing in the sometimes cutthroat world of youth club soccer. It's that world to which Dave Dir seeks to make a lasting contribution, and he may be on to something.

"After I left the Burn", he recalls, "a few youth organizations called me (mostly in the Dallas area) about coaching and organizing. What I found was a lot of well-meaning people who were volunteers, and some of the programs suffered from the fact that, frankly, they become about the volunteers and their jobs and being too involved, and not about the kids."

It wasn't that the parent volunteers didn't want to do the right thing. Goodness knows some of the elite amateur youth programs spend puzzling amounts of money trying to create efficient club structures.

But what Dave Dir found was a couple of things: one, a glut of local politics that sometimes got in the way. And two, people were willing to pay a price for really qualified instruction. So it occurred to him that he might be able to use his contacts the right way.

Those experiences, and those contacts, have led to the creation of Associated Soccer Group. Dir founded ASG with some of the people with whom he'd been involved for years, and here a little background is helpful.

Dave Dir actually worked for Major League Soccer before there was an MLS as we know it today. He was hired by Alan Rothenberg, Bill Sage and Sunil Gulati as the fledgling league's director of player development in 1993. He brought Rongen and Andrew Warner into that fold, and he has called on their expertise in founding ASG. (Warner, of Tallahassee, Florida, works for U.S. Soccer on the region 3 ODP staff.)

"I found that there might be a need in youth soccer for things to be run more professionally", he says. "I think clubs want to and can be run more European-style, by professionals who channel down to the youth team. What ASG is about is this: how can we get professional associates together and use our resources to help youth clubs who might not be able to afford this level of management, or know how to do it, on their own?

"I was getting calls for coaching seminars, on how to structure a season. Because of the things I've had a chance to do, we could bring professionals from different parts of the country together, to give people an access to this expertise as consultants. What we hope to do with ASG is establish a kind of national youth program that really hasn't been there before."

So Dir started ASG Dallas, a club that fields six teams in five age groups at the moment. "Our goal is to have two teams in every age group in Dallas. But we don't want to just have teams to have teams. We want to give the kids the best possible chance to learn."

Dir is quick to say his organization isn't for everyone. "This is for the elite kids who are serious about it," he says. "We'll have a national staff of coaches. We'll make uniforms and equipment better and more affordable. ASG Dallas has applied to be a 501c3 not-for-profit group, so the kids will be the real beneficiaries.

"The possibilities are fairly endless. Equipment, literature, organizing travel. We want to be able to take all star teams overseas. Some of the coaches on our national staff will have those contacts. But this is not for everybody, only for the truly serious."

Dir is also quick to point out, "I didn't invent this stuff. It found me. It was the way I was taught to do things. It's just not being done much any more. Until now."

Dave suggests his story could be called "From pros to youth and back again."

The way he was taught, he believes, is the right way to do it, and he's trying to pass that along.

Brad Sham is in his seventh season doing play-by-play for Dallas Burn television broadcasts.

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