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Barcelona-based American Todd Beane Driven to Help U.S. Men’s Soccer Grow

By Sean Jensen, 11/13/17, 1:00PM CST

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New England native is inextricably linked to soccer legend Johan Cruyff

Beane, who married Johan Cruyff’s daughter, Chantal, in 2008, is proud to have helped add to his father-in-law’s already immense legacy, establishing or upgrading youth academies all over the world.


Todd Beane has been revolutionizing youth development for local and national programs throughout Europe, Africa, South America and Asia.

The name behind THE NAME doesn’t immediately ring a bell.
 
Not for a lawyer in Saskatchewan with a hunger for soccer history, nor an entrepreneur in a Washington, D.C. suburb, nor a cardiologist in Washington state.
 
Even two California-based soccer coaches — one a promising youth coach in an MLS club’s academy program, the other a five-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year — do not recognize the name Todd Beane.
 
Yet the Barcelona-based American is inextricably linked to soccer legend Johan Cruyff in three distinct ways. Cruyff was Beane’s boss, mentor and father-in-law.
 
A New England native, Beane played soccer collegiately at Dartmouth and professionally in the U.S. He also earned a masters in education at Stanford. From there, however, Beane journeyed worldwide, co-founding Cruyff Football and the Cruyff Institute with THE Johan Cruyff and revolutionizing youth development for local and national programs throughout Europe, Africa, South America and Asia.
 
But the impact of Beane’s work hasn’t penetrated North America — and that bothers him.
 
“I was fortunate to learn from great educators at Stanford, then I learned from one of the greatest minds in football,” Beane says. “I saw a disconnect with what I was gleaning from Johan, with his intuition and vision, and what we were still doing back home. You can put your hands up and (expletive) and moan. Or you can do something.
 
"It’s my personal mission to redesign talent development for people in North America.”
 
The passion and potential are there, Beane says. According to a 2015 Wall Street Journal story, youth soccer participation (6.3 million) doubles tackle football and includes 1 million more kids than baseball. Fox and NBC regularly televise European soccer league matches, and the MLS has aggressively expanded to 22 clubs. And while the U.S. women’s national team is a worldwide juggernaut, the U.S. men’s national team has toiled in mediocrity, most notably failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia after a humiliating 2-1 defeat to Trinidad and Tobago last month.
 
“We haven’t advanced because we haven’t produced our version of (superstar Spanish players) Iniesta or Xavi,” Beane says. "We have to be realistic to say our best is not good enough on the worldwide stage. I admire Christian Pulisic’s energy and ambition; that’s why we’re so excited about him. But shouldn’t we have a long list of Pulisics by now?”
 
Beane, who founded TOVO Academy in December 2015, believes he’s got the answers — and a growing number of North American soccer supporters are backing him.


Kevin Grimes

Kevin Grimes, the head men’s soccer coach at the University of California, Berkeley, bumped into a friend at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) convention in Los Angeles in January. That friend, Erik Imler, won three national titles at the University of Virginia and played for the U.S. at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Imler suggested Grimes attend Beane’s lecture. Grimes was captivated by Beane’s hour-long talk on TOVO’s roots (TOVO is Dutch for Total Football) and goals.
 
Afterwards, he sought Beane out.
 
“We have a natural connection,” says Grimes, a five-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year who just wrapped up his 18th season with the Golden Bears. “There are people in the soccer world I don't want to get anywhere near because of their thinking or philosophy. But Todd’s and mine are pretty well aligned.”
 
Grimes traveled to TOVO’s headquarters in Barcelona, and he also attended a two-day coaching course Beane conducted last July in Los Angeles. Grimes is scheduled to go on another trip to Barcelona next month and hopes to connect with Beane again.
 
“Todd is bringing the genius and the granular and organic philosophy of Johan to the forefront of soccer right now,” Grimes says, “and people can relate to it and see it and bring it to their clubs or their universities, or wherever they’re coaching.
 
“It’s a great thing.”


Soccer legend Johan Cruyff, left, partnered with son-in-law Todd Beane, right, co-founding Cruyff Football and the Cruyff Institute.



Soccer was secondary
 
Soccer wasn’t the first sport Todd Beane played as a boy. Growing up north of Boston, hockey came first, and then came baseball. Beane didn’t play soccer until middle school, after he moved to Hampton, New Hampshire, and he didn’t become serious until attending Simsbury High School, just northwest of Hartford.
 
Beane and his friends yearned to play soccer beyond the high school fall season, taking part in indoor games with Portuguese players in the winter and creating a spring team.
 
Year-round soccer was an anomaly in the area at the time.
 
Beane’s high school coach didn’t understand the sport — he was a baseball coach and athletic director — but motivated and guided Beane, emphasizing character development in all of his student-athletes.
 
Beane’s soccer team went undefeated his senior year, securing Simsbury’s first state title. At Dartmouth College, the soccer team struggled his sophomore year but started to take off his senior year when the school hired Bobby Clark. 
 
A legendary goalkeeper in his native Scotland, Clark began his collegiate coaching career at Dartmouth; Beane was the leading scorer in Clark’s first season. By year two, Clark led Dartmouth to the first of his three Ivy league championships then headed to Stanford and, ultimately, Notre Dame. In 2013, the Fighting Irish won the NCAA title.
 
“His greatest influence was showing us that the sport was a vehicle for something greater in our lives, whether on or off the pitch,” Beane says of Clark. “His passion was for the game and developing good, young men.”
 
After graduating, Beane headed to the Salisbury School in northwest Connecticut, near the borders of New York and Massachusetts, to be an assistant coach on the soccer team. Beane’s interest in coaching was fostered when he was 16 years old, as a camp counselor at YMCA Camp Belknap on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. He felt invigorated in helping younger boys mature and develop.
 
“I knew team dynamics,” Beane says, “but I didn’t understand the art of teaching.”
 
With an English literature degree from Dartmouth, Beane enrolled at Stanford University to pursue a masters in education. Then, after three seasons of playing professionally for the Reno Rattlers of the then-United Systems of Independent Soccer Leagues, Beane distanced himself from soccer, taking a job in Costa Rica as the education director at the Cloud Forest School.
 
Little did Beane know how significant that two-year adventure would mean for his career — and life.

 

The Legend


Johann Cruyff in 1974

Johann Cruyff grew up blocks from Ajax’s stadium in Amsterdam. He joined Ajax at 10 and played his first senior level match at 15 in 1964, about six months after Beane was born.
 
Former Ajax player Rinus Michels managed the club into a golden age, and he implemented a fluid, possession-oriented style of soccer that became known as Total Football. The success wouldn’t have been possible without Cruyff, a rare player with exceptional skill, vision and intelligence.
 
A three-time winner of the Ballon d’Or award given to the world’s top player, Cruyff is universally considered one of the game’s top three players, behind Pele and either ahead of or just behind Diego Maradona. Remarkably, though, Cruyff’s impact after playing is arguably even more significant.
 
He embraced and elevated Total Football, reviving Ajax and FC Barcelona’s international success on the field and creating a pipeline for players and coaches through youth academies. Cruyff’s fingerprints are all over FC Barcelona, arguably the world’s most revered soccer club. In July it ranked as the third-most valuable sports franchise in the world behind the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys. In 1973, his first season at FC Barcelona, Cruyff the player led the team to a La Liga title and won European Footballer of the Year. In the 1980s, with the club enduring crises on and off the field, Cruyff the manager led Barca to its first European Cup victory. And in more recent years, Cruyff the advisor shaped the club’s identity by assisting in the selection of the right players and leaders.
 


"Cruyff is the most important person in Barcelona history," former Barca president Joan Laporta told Spanish sports newspaper MARCA in March. “The club should have changed the name of Camp Nou in his honor. I chose (Frank) Rijkaard, Txiki Begiristain (former director of football) and Pep Guardiola because Johan told me to. Barcelona has been recognized, loved and admired for the best football that has ever existed because of who he was.”
 
In the early 2000s, Beane’s classmate at Dartmouth informed him that Cruyff was looking for someone with a background in soccer and education. In Europe, young athletes had to choose early: Soccer or school?


Johann Cruyff won the Ballon d'Or award as the world's top player three times.


Pro sports … or bust
 
Beane, of course, knew full well Cruyff’s legend. But he didn’t know what to expect in 2002, as he arrived at Cruyff’s home in Barcelona. Beane was escorted to Cruyff’s basement, replete with antiquated equipment, including a fax machine.
 
“Where do I start?” Beane recalls Cruyff quickly asking.
 
The two began crafting a pilot program.
 
“We created an institution that would not force young athletes to choose between intellectual study and athletic pursuit,” Beane says. “I had the opportunity to marry sport and study.”
  
Beane, who married Cruyff’s daughter, Chantal, in 2008, is proud to have helped add to his father-in-law’s already immense legacy, establishing or upgrading youth academies all over the world, most notably at Ajax and Barcelona.
 
But Beane had a vision of his own.
 
“I wanted to create an organization where kids, beyond the 220 at Ajax or Barcelona, can train in a way that’s exponentially better than the majority of training available,” Beane says. “I wanted the focus to be on the footballer first.”
 
Beane believed players were being spoon-fed what to do, without understanding why. He believed the key in producing better players was developing smarter players. So he launched TOVO Academy just south of Barcelona, along the Mediterranean Sea, and he created his version of La Masía, the famed nickname of FC Barcelona’s youth academy.
 
Jim Kroczynski, an attorney in Saskatchewan, Canada, was fascinated by Cruyff. He fervently consumed books and stories about him, and he longed for his boys, Bob and Cody, to experience something that at least resembled Total Football.
 
During his research of Cruyff, Kroczynski discovered the name Todd Beane. Then the coach and director of a local program, Kroczynski emailed Beane in February 2014, asking for some guidance.
 
Beane responded.
 
“I was intrigued and attracted to the notion of this gentlemen affiliated with soccer royalty would even consider giving me the time of day,” Kroczynski says.
 
Kroczynski’s sons headed to TOVO Academy for the inaugural training camp in the spring of 2016.
 
“ ‘Dad, we learned more in two weeks at TOVO than we have ever learned in our life,’ ” Kroczynski recalls Bob telling him. “They came back and played with a level of confidence and maturity I hadn’t seen before.”
 
Cody, 16, is currently in TOVO’s three-month, full-immersion Residency Program; Jim Kroczynski is a certified TOVO coach.
 
The Kroczynski family is all-in on Beane and TOVO.
 
"Cruyff is a pioneer and visionary, and he shared his knowledge and wisdom with Todd, who is an educator,” Kroczynski says. “Todd is sharing all of that with the world through TOVO. That may sound idyllic, but it’s true.”
 
Todd Gibby and his then 13-year-old son Mac attended a training camp that started in late March. Gibby, who is younger than Beane, also played under Clark at Dartmouth. After his collegiate playing career, Gibby coached soccer at Washington and Lee University in Virginia. On his first day at TOVO, though, Gibby was off-put by Beane’s message.
 
“I’m not going to teach your kids to kick the ball or head the ball or pass the ball any better than they already do,” Gibby recalls Beane saying. “So I ask myself, ‘Why am I here?’ That’s not very encouraging.”

But Beane tells Gibby and other parents that his emphasis is on their cognitive development, teaching the young players how to play, where to be, what to do. What particularly resonated with Gibby was Beane’s insistence that mind mattered more than body; Mac, after all, was very small for his age. The drills and games demand the athletes are skillful and conceptual, able to anticipate the actions of opponents and teammates.
 
“I’m a totally believer in TOVO,” Gibby says. “It’s a completely revolutionary way to teach soccer. The methodology behind the training is outstanding.”
 
After a 12-hour flight from Barcelona, Mac arrived at his family’s home in Bethesda, Maryland, late on a Saturday night in April. He played for the second team at Bethesda Soccer Club, and they had a game scheduled Sunday morning. Though exhausted, Mac played in the game, and he scored his first goal of the season — actually his first goal in several seasons.
 
In the first three games of the fall season, Mac scored two goals, and he played with purpose and confidence.


Rafi Otero of Seattle says he improved his mind for soccer by attending a TOVO camp run by Todd Beane in Barcelona.

Like Mac, Rafi Otero is a diminutive player in Seattle; he’s 14 now and is five-foot. Two years ago, his mother asked him if he wanted to attend a soccer camp in Barcelona run by Beane, a former high school classmate of her’s, who had worked with Cruyff.
 
A soccer buff, Rafi didn’t need to hear any more.
 
“I didn’t really know about TOVO,” Otero says, “but the name Johan Cruyff carries a lot of power in the soccer world, so that immediately put my doubts to bed.”
 
Otero is incredulous when he’s asked how he knew of Johan Cruyff.
 
"It’s like knowing Michael Jordan’s name,” Otero says. “Cruyff is a legend.”
 
Otero says TOVO de-emphasizes size, strength and speed.
 
“When I get to play with TOVO, it levels the playing field,” Otero says. “It’s about developing a good, soccer mind. When I got back home, I played a lot faster.”
 
Otero says Beane is patient and communicates concepts clearly.
 
“He’s really good at getting your mind working,” Otero says.
 
Otero returned from Barcelona with a pad full of drawings and notes. He and his mother, April Stempien-Otero, enjoy watching soccer on television, particularly Real Madrid. But Beane’s teaching allowed Otero to better understand the tactics Real Madrid regularly utilizes.
 
“Those two weeks of training were like six months of team-training here,” Stempien-Otero says. “It’s developed a confidence in him.”
 
Though in the background, Beane always impressed his father-in-law with a special quality.
 
“Todd is a natural teacher,” Cruyff once said. “He has clear ideas and presents them in a way that people enjoy and understand.”

 

Spreading the word
 
Beane had his last professional conversation with his father-in-law in March 2016, as Cruyff was dying of cancer (Cruyff died later that month at age 68).
 
“I shared my ambition to bring these morsels of wisdom back home,” Beane quietly recalls.
 
Home, of course, is the United States. And though TOVO is headquartered in Barcelona, Beane frequently travels to the U.S. to host clinics and recruit players and coaches to visit TOVO. Soccer has become a big business the world over; three of the five most valuable sports teams are in soccer (Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid). Consequently, politics factors into the sport at all levels, including at youth clubs. That is why Beane says it’s important that TOVO is club neutral.


Jay Gomez

Like Grimes, Jay Gomez attended Beane’s lecture at the (NSCAA) convention in January. Gomez didn’t know Beane but heard about him through his boss, Paul Holocher, the San Jose Earthquakes Development Academy director.
 
“When you go to these things, you usually have coach talk about their team,” says Gomez, a U-15 coach at the Earthquakes Development Academy. “But Todd does more than coach-speak and puts a real educational spin on his and has really strong research. It was pretty easy for me to pay attention to him for an hour.”
 
By March, Gomez traveled to TOVO’s La Masía.
 
“There were 30 coaches from around the globe,” Gomez says, “and we all became fast friends. We chose to go there because we all wanted something different.
 
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
 
In October, Gomez returned, this time with his entire family in tow.
 
“It’s a very unique environment to immerse, not just in soccer culture but Catalan culture,” Gomez says. “There’s no substitute for being there.”
 
Beane welcomes players and coaches to TOVO’s La Masía, but he makes clear that he wants to do his part in helping the game grow in the U.S. There’s no shortage of passion among young American players, he says.
 
“The players' ambition and dedication far surpasses our capacity as coaches to nurture their full potential,” Beane says. “We are not good enough for our children.”
 
Beane sees a few obvious problems.
 
First, U.S. coaches focus on a technique-centric paradigm.
 
“We have produced generations of players who know how to kick the ball but don’t know why, when and where to kick the ball,” Beane says. “We have not mastered cognitive development as coaches. And if we can produce more intelligent players, we can produce more world-class players.”
 
Second, U.S. parents focus too much on results and rankings.
 
“Those are really irrelevant and insignificant,” Beane says. “Johan said, ‘You don’t have to worry at seven years old. Learn, have fun and let that journey unfold as it will.’ But because everyone feels a pressure to play this ranking game, what’s lost is the process of pure development.”
 
Third, U.S. programs are fueled by the mighty dollar.
 
“That is a huge factor in advancing the development of American soccer, which has been dominated for years by a pay-to-play system with elite youth clubs,” Beane says. “That system has, too often, left out talented players from financially struggling families.”
  
Changes could be afoot in the U.S., as the U.S. men’s national team won’t participate in the World Cup next summer. But Beane says cognition and inclusion must be core values if the U.S. is to take the next daunting leap on the world stage.
 
“That same training will not get us into a final of the World Cup,” Beane says. “We cannot repeat the same training we’ve had for 35 years. The responsibility of our sport rests in the hands of coaches.”

About Sean Jensen

Sean Jensen was born in South Korea, but he was raised in California, Massachusetts and Virginia, mostly on or near military bases. Given his unique background, he's always been drawn to storytelling, a skill he developed at Northwestern University and crafted for the last 16 years, almost exclusively covering the NFL. Sean lives in a Minneapolis suburb with his wife, two children and dog. Read more

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