"From 11 to 16 is the time to teach rules and fundamentals. Serious coaching, but always playing. Just the way American boys learn basketball: dribble, set, shoot. Games every day after school on the playground, that is the way kids learn soccer, too. Over and over and over. Above 16 is the time for tactical talk and strategy; only then does the coach bring out the chalkboard."
Rodrigues and Lopes became very suspicious of the American coaches' penchant for the chalk-talk. "We were giving a clinic in Santa Clara a few days ago, and there was a coach using a blackboard with a team of young girls," said Rodrigues. "Oh my, the board was covered with dotted lines and arrows and circles and Xs and numbers. I didn't even know what it was. Too much of that is no good. Just play."
Of the hundreds of youth soccer coaches in the U.S., most have played or been trained in either the English or the European style of soccer, which stress an aggressive, physical and team-play concept, clearly different from the Brazilian and South American style where the emphasis is on individuality, rhythm, grace and short-passing brilliance.
And so the Brazilian coaches, like a warm breeze from Ipanema, advocated the system—or lack of it—that produced a Pel�. "I think the kids are getting confused by this," said Rodrigues. "I see them looking over at their coaches to see if it is all right for them to abandon for a moment all their serious training."
At a youth session in suburban Piedmont, a fashionable community of big homes and gleaming Mercedeses, Rodrigues' face lit with delight when he observed an 8-year-old, redheaded, freckle-faced boy moving the ball with a sure—if rough—touch down the field. He ran to embrace the lad. "You are American?" he asked.
"Yep," said the kid, "but my mom and dad are Scottish." This sent the emotional Brazilian into a tailspin. "Oh, I didn't know," he said. "He's Scottish, and they are great soccer players. Maybe soccer is in the blood. Perhaps one can't learn the game. Maybe America will never have great soccer!"
Lopes, on the other hand, was cautiously optimistic. "One must think here of the politics," he said, referring to the fact that U.S. businesses with South American interests, such as Coca-Cola, have helped fund the exchange operation. "We are here really for the betterment of soccer. We are here to say to Coca-Cola, 'See, the great Brazilian soccer coaches believe in the U.S. development of the game. Keep putting your money into it. It is valuable, and both soccer and you will reap the benefits.' "
In the meantime, as Rodrigues said, "There is joy," and after a hard day teaching on the soccer fields, Lopes and Rodrigues took off for Sneaky Pete's, a San Francisco disco, to samba and bossa nova until the early hours, carrying with them the rhythm and grace of Brazilian soccer. Promising to return next year, Rodrigues said, "Someday I dream that the U.S. and Brazil could meet in a World Cup game. That would be a great joy. I will hold that thought."