It seems like a millennia ago when I last heard that soothing UEFA Champions League anthem. It’s still hard to grasp that the world of football has come to a standstill. While most leagues have been simply postponed, others have decided to cancel their seasons altogether. With the beautiful game standing idle because of the pandemic, now’s the time to take a closer look at soccer here in The States. For philosophical ruminations about football and its presence in America, there’s no better person to ask than Coach Garvin “The Guru” Quamina.
What if I told you there was a coach/trainer with a decade-plus long track record of churning out top-level collegiate and professional athletes but has never been sought out for top-level leadership? What if I told you the patience and professionalism maintained by this man goes as far as staying silent while other coaches publicly claimed to have developed his players? His massive success in coaching and training is only outmatched by his level of humility and football acumen. So today, we’re going to take a deep dive into the sport from the local level all the way to the top. The good, the bad, and the extremely ugly.
Coach Garvin Quamina, affectionately referred to as “Coach G” by those that know him, hails from Trinidad & Tobago. Having played U-12 and U-14 football, his love for the game took shape in Miami. Growing up in South Florida, Garvin was immersed in the culture in some form or fashion every day; be it playing or otherwise. As a loving husband and father of five, his coaching hat was put on after one of his sons took interest in the game. These early years are where our unsung hero would gain the confidence to change the landscape in the region for years to come. “I met these amazing Trini guys: Ivan Sampson, Steve Shan, and Anthony James. They were all linked in some form or the other and they gave me that confidence. They were like, ‘Hey, you’re good at this!’ And these guys were doing this way before me. Ivan told me ‘Your style and the way you do stuff… Go for it!'” He and Anthony James would travel all over the country coaching camps and using those opportunities to learn as much as possible while applying personal elements to their game. In essence, taking their game to the next level. When Garvin did his national youth license the final report from the director read, “Candidate can teach this course within a year.”
If that wasn’t enough positive reinforcement, his services would soon be sought for the development of Shaquille Moore. In football, it’s not unheard of to pack your bags and relocate to be closer to your trainer, coach, or desired club. In this case, Shaq moved to Georgia to continue to develop with Coach G. It was a passing of the torch in a way. Shaq’s father was coached by Trinidad & Tobago legend Bertille St Clair. He had established a good rapport with St Clair and saw the same relationship developing between Shaq and Garvin. It was then he started to recognize, “Wow this thing is real.”
Quamina has been quietly imprinting his coaching tactics for 19 years. Behind the scenes for nine-teen-years (and it’ll be 20 later this year). “Again, Anthony James and guys like that, I worked with a lot. They taught me so much without even teaching me.” He’d spend countless hours on the phone with guys like Andre Fortune just picking their brains and exchanging tactics. Conversations like these are where the real nuggets of wisdom are dropped. The type of experience that can’t be replicated by a course.
It was clear he had a knack for youth coaching so it was only natural that U.S. Soccer courses would be taken. He took one for the National Y license and the basic ones to follow, along with getting his English FA badge under Jack Warner in Trinidad. “When I got that I was like eh… No need to rush through these. I’m still looking to do the one in Wales. In order to coach the academy level in England, you need an FA “B” (license) and that’s what I had.” He had everything he needed to take things to the next level abroad.
But his focus was on long-term youth development right here at home. “I’m going to get into camps, develop young talent, and ship them out to different parts of the world.” When he said this, I leaned forward with an inquisitors’ eyebrow that screamed, “Do you have somewhere in mind?!” He read me perfectly and laughed stating, “I have a nice relationship with a big club in France…” A few clubs came to mind, but as I was about to let out my first guess, his smile fed me a gentle ‘no way’ which was supplemented with a, “Maybe I’ll reveal them this year.” That’s a really big deal. I continuously mention the fact that Georgia is a treasure trove of football talent and not just for players. Garvin is an excellent example of how top-tier coaching goes undiscovered or overlooked, which leads me to our next topic: coaching.
After watching from the sideline all these years, I decided it was time to take a dive into a subject that needed dire addressing. At the youth, collegiate, and professional level, you’ll see black players here and there. But one thing you don’t see? Black coaches. The U.S. is good at implementing “systems” to address their needs and often times specific groups get overlooked or simply excluded. So I wanted the skinny on the coaching system in our country to see if it was more of the same. In my mind, there was no better person to ask than “The Guru” himself. What talking heads and officials make out to be so complex was broken down so easily by Coach G that I was almost upset. Upset at the fact that these simple discrepancies could’ve been rectified years ago (that is, if anyone actually cared). But the culprit in the halt for change in footy is no different than any other sector in this country.
“It’s about economics. The whole entire system is focused on its revenue stream.” He said frankly. For example, if I’m a coach who wants to get an A, B, or C license, and that license costs “x” amount of dollars… But I don’t have “x” amount of dollars, it’s like a glass ceiling is put in place. So how is a coach supposed to acquire higher coaching credentials if they can’t afford it? “AAU is the highest level of youth basketball in the country. There’s a guy out there who has a hoop in his yard, has a love for the game, and pushes his knowledge on a bunch of kids. He gets them to understand what he wants, colleges go to the AAU programs, selects the players, and move on. Now compare paying around $90 for an online course you can complete in a day to coach AAU to thousands of dollars for courses that could take months to coach football .”
The message here is simple: If you can get through to 25 young athletes, that can understand your methods, and you can get them to the next level, you should be qualified to coach.
As a coach and a trainer, Quamina comes in contact with talented youth pretty much every day. On the training side, he’s brought up some of the more notable young names at Atlanta United. He started with Andrew Carleton roughly 10 years ago and eventually worked with Chris Goslin, Patrick Okonkwo, and Lagos Kunga.
On the coaching side, Coach G leads two girls teams, 02’/01′ and 04′, at Concorde Fire. Those two teams comprise his ECNL teams, his personal teams. When looking at a coach, you should look at the entire package. Does he know his kids? Can he coach? Can they implement his tactics on the pitch? And of course, you have to have the numbers to back it up. “My 18’s are top of the league and their GD (goal differential) is +66,” he explains with a smile. “The younger team is pretty close too at +61. The 04’s last year got to 101 goals in the regular season.” The man’s productivity cannot be questioned. A goal differential of “+66” is simply maddening.
His efficiency and methodology are part and parcel of the “guru” moniker. He connects with his players on a deeper, almost spiritual level, and it shows in their performance. “We’re not just beating these other teams because we’re big and athletic, we’re doing it by playing the game the right way. With flair, style, and pure enjoyment. They can sit down and make 30 to 40 passes against an opponent with their eyes closed. They’re learning, watching, studying, texting me, and just totally consuming it.” His 18-year-olds, the group of 02’s, are the ones heading to college. He has 20 girls on that squad. Of the 20, 18 are committed to NCAA Div. I schools. “We have schools like Stanford picking up Astrid Wheeler and we have arguably the best 02′ in the land in Lucy Mitchell heading to Notre Dame,” he said. Tennessee, Clemson, Vanderbilt, and Georgia also appeared on his extremely long list of schools pursuing his players.
This is what the game is missing here in America: passion. You can feel it in this man’s voice when he talks about his kids, the game, coaching, and anything surrounding the sport. It’s clear that his techniques are working with his audience and said audience is applying those principles on and off the pitch. On the pitch, he often mentioned that his kids play the game ‘the right way.’ But what exactly is the right way?
- “First of all, it’s getting them to understand that they’ll never play this age group again. So every year that you play in your age group, enjoy it. If you’re playing U-16, enjoy it because next year you won’t be playing in it.”
- The next step is to make sure they’re enjoying what they’re doing. “Not just keeping the ball but having a blast doing it. Slicing and dicing opponents, fighting back for it when its lost, and working harder than the other team.”
- Then comes the final step: the why? “Yeah you cross, but you need to understand why we cross. ‘Why’ is the most important. Arrival time… Why? If you go too early, you’re offsides. If you go too late, you won’t get the ball. I’m big on the why. The right way is understanding why we’re doing what we’re doing on the pitch, how to play, why and how we warm-up, and why we spend so much time on technical work. Once you understand that, everything else becomes easy.”
Take his Stanford product Astrid Wheeler who we mentioned earlier. She grew up with Quamina’s high school boys. She knows the game and the culture, but there was an opportunity to bridge a gap. She grew up playing against young Hispanic and African men. A 13-year-old girl was running with 18-year-old boys who were playing the ball to her with pace. And now? The gap has been bridged. You can throw the ball in the air between her and them and she’s fine. Her speed, passing, awareness, and first touch are out of this world. Part of her development came from playing with these young men at Campbell High School. When you’re 13-years-old playing with 18-year-old boys who eat, sleep, and drink the game, you have no choice but to rise to the occasion. You have to be good.
Speaking of development, I wanted to clear the air on a matter that I had mentioned earlier in Quamina’s introduction. Atlanta United Academy Director Tony Annan claimed that he developed Atlanta United Homegrown Andrew Carleton which is clearly not true.
“Yeah, I heard the interview with them talking about Carleton… But I understand that’s a part of the game and I didn’t say anything. Anyone who has any clue about Andrew knows what’s up. I saw the kid at 10 or 11 years old and asked his mom if I could coach him. I coached him from then, all the way up to now. All those years when we had no DA, we were working. Four days a week, every week. Mornings, nights, whenever. We’d have tournaments in his backyard. You learn so much by just playing, playing, playing.”
Had time allotted, our conversation could’ve went into the dying embers of the night. But before I wrapped things up, I had to bring up the obvious. The ugly truth that resides in every aspect of American culture. I’ve seen white guys as young as 26-years-old, fresh out of grad-school, get offered full-time coaching jobs at colleges and universities. Coaches with some experience, coaches with no experience, even coaches with losing records, are continuously thrown opportunities. Meanwhile, a coach with a winning record and winning attitude, who’s well-liked and admired by his players, who thinks outside the box, and most importantly wins, is not getting contacted. 90% of his girls received NCAA D-I scholarships while others are playing professionally and for national teams and not a single organization has reached out to him? You connect the dots.
When major clubs and even national teams contact you regularly to secure your players but have no interest in securing you? It’s easy to put two-and-two together. The Director of State Men’s Football was quoted as saying, “Candidate can teach this course within a year” regarding Quamina. So a coach who’s good enough to teach a licensing course on coaching… isn’t good enough to coach?
I have a final message from Coach G. A rally cry. A call to arms. If we as a country are going to matriculate into the footballing powerhouse that we could be, we need change, focus, and cohesion. Here he is in his own words:
“The same time and effort that parents put into selecting a school/teacher for their child should be done for youth soccer. The same way you’re willing to go to that school, investigate, and find out what they’re about before you pass your child over there because you want the best education for them. You should want that for your child for the sport (the best soccer education). I’m a chef by trade. You always have the best ingredients to make the best dish. I want the best ingredients always. You can’t make chicken salad with chicken s***. I want the best! Go over there, handpick the best, and give them the best experience. Iron sharpens iron. Get this group right here and inspire them to get there (forward). Inspire them, develop them, figure out what it takes to get them here (points far away). Work. Grind. Sweat. Don’t just take the people’s money, turn your back, and drop the kids off. Don’t know their names but, have all the loving words till the check clears, then forget again in July. Go ask them (coaches) some questions. Hold them to task like you hold teachers to task. I love the sport, love the game, I’ll never get caught up in their politics “pretending” to develop players. I’ll continue to develop players. To develop talent. I’ll be very honest. WE GOTTA BE HONEST WITH THESE KIDS! We can’t fake development. We’re either gonna do it or we’re not. Either we’re gonna do it and do it the right way, or leave these people’s kids alone. Move on. Don’t rob them or cheat them. Be honest. A coach told me a long time ago, ‘No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.’ I live by that.”
Photos of Shaq Moore and Astrid Wheeler: Provided by Coach G
Chris Goslin and Andrew Carleton: Hakim Wright
Cover Photo: Malcolm “X” Lewis