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Q&A: Former USWNT Star and Techne Training Founder Yael Averbuch

Note: NorCal Premier Soccer regularly sits down with an influential figure in the youth soccer landscape to pick their brain about a variety of different topics that are relevant in the current soccer environment in the United States. For this edition we spoke with former USWNT player Yael Averbuch. A New Jersey native, Averbuch won two College Cups at the University of North Carolina before embarking on a 10-year professional career that saw her play for seven different clubs in three countries. Following her career, she designed the Techne Training app, which helps players improve their skills on their own time. Techne is the official app of NorCal Premier Soccer’s Player Development Program.

NorCal: How did you fall in love with soccer?

Averbuch: I started playing because my best friend in first grade played. I knew nothing about it. It’s kind of a little bit of a mystery because my parents didn’t play but right from my first practice session, I thought it was really fun and I was really into it. Since that point, I can’t remember ever wanting to do something else. It was a little bit of luck mixed with my obsessive personality.

NorCal: What did you do on your own while you were growing up to try to continue and improve?

Averbuch: My parents didn’t know much about soccer but they were both athletes. Our general family approach to things was that if you were going to participate in something, you should at least be educated, you should be committed to it. It’s not just showing up and doing what your coach says, but having your own experience and practicing on your own. For anything my family ever does, this has been ingrained in us. From the very beginning, we were on a family mission to figure out what this soccer game was. I had some great coaches and mentors where I grew up in North Jersey so I was very fortunate to be able to take individual lessons with them and learn more about soccer, but they’d ask me if I knew how to juggle and I’d say, “what’s that?” So I went home, looked it up, and we’d find the Eurosport catalogue and buy basic soccer training videos to try and figure out all these things. From a very early point, I would go out and try to practice juggling, go pass the ball back and forth. I was immediately on this mission to figure out what I should be practicing.

NorCal: When did you feel like you wanted to, or even could, pursue soccer as a career?

Averbuch: In fifth grade I remember saying that I wanted to be a professional soccer player, but I had no idea what that meant. The boys in my class were all basketball players or football players so I figured I could be a soccer player. Now I think about how crazy that was, but I never thought that that was a crazy dream. I just had to figure out what it took to get there so over time I went on this exploratory process to find out what that looked like. I ended up going to watch the US team that won the 1999 World Cup train while they prepared for the opening game. I looked at everything that they were doing and asked myself, “can I do that?” That was where my dream really started, but as a teenager, I gained a little bit more understanding about the process. I needed to look and see where I was going to play college soccer and how that all worked and what it meant to be a top level player.

NorCal: You played in two different iterations of the top division of women’s professional soccer in the United States. What was your experience like in the former WPS compared to the current NWSL?

Averbuch: It’s interesting because my perception of things was so naive when I first played professional soccer. It’s hard to really remember what I was perceiving versus what was reality. I felt in a lot of ways that it was very professional and exciting in the WPS. It wasn’t like there were giant salaries or anything, but it seemed like this was the real deal. We played in bigger stadiums, it seemed like some of the players were making pretty good money, but now after having seen that league fold, the league was clearly very fragile. When the NWSL started, it was very scaled back and I was very aware that it was a risky thing and we needed to be careful. But now it’s been around longer than the two previous professional leagues combined. As someone who saw the first league I was a part of fail, I was aware of a lot more.

NorCal: Why do you think the NWSL has succeeded where others did not?

Averbuch: I think that we, as a country, have learned a lot of lessons about women’s soccer. The NWSL’s No. 1 objective is sustainability and I feel like a lot of times I have to remind people of that. People see all this big money being spent in Europe and wonder how the NWSL can compete, and obviously we want the NWSL to compete with the top clubs around the world, but the No. 1 goal for the NWSL is to be here in three years, five years, 10 years. The secondary goal is for it to be the best league in the world. I think that perspective and maintaining that as the No. 1 goal, to build something sustainable, had to be the case and it has been the case. It’s why the league is still here.

NorCal: The app you created, Techne Training, is the official app of NorCal Premier Soccer’s Player Development Program. For those who don’t know about Techne, how would you describe it?

Averbuch: Techne is an app that guides players for their individual training that they do away from their team environment. We work with players all around the world and also organizations, teams, clubs, high schools, and colleges to offer players access to this guided training that they can do at home on their own.

NorCal: Why do you think that training on their own is so important for these players?

Averbuch: I think some of it might be pretty obvious but there are some extra layers that I don’t think are always thought about. There are basic tools that allow you to play well. If you’re just in a practice environment with a team, it’s impossible to get enough repetition — no matter how good your coach is — to truly master the skills that make you confident on the field and make the game more fun. The better you can control the ball, the more fun the game becomes. Group time is so valuable but you can’t do all the individual stuff that you need to do as a player. Also, I know from my own experience, that (individual training) is how I developed an empowering sense of accountability, discipline, and consistency. I think it’s so important for players to have that individual relationship with what they’re doing — whether it’s soccer or something else — and to set goals and achieve them.

NorCal: Nowadays, with kids not really going outside as much to play and practice on their own, how are you reaching this generation of youth players who maybe have more distractions?

Averbuch: Growing up, when I would buy VHS training tapes, it was hard to find information about what to do. I just had to figure stuff out or make stuff up. Now there’s so much information and people are used to it being readily available on their phone or mobile device and they’re used to immediate feedback. When I was growing up, I would do something for months without hearing anything, but now kids aren’t just juggling for two minutes, they want to know immediately if they’re doing it right. There are parts of the process of learning a skill that technology can’t affect, you just have to put in the time. What we can do is to use technology to make professional instruction available so whether you have an amazing coach or not, you can learn from the Techne app or other resources. But also we can provide that feedback and a sense of tracking to help players be aware of their progress. We’re meeting players where they are — the reality is that everyone has a phone and they’re on it all the time so if you’re going to be on your phone, you might as well also be getting better at soccer.

NorCal: Anything else you’d like to add?

Averbuch: Techne is very much a product of my own journey as a player, I’m really trying to give back to others. If anyone reading this has more questions or wants to learn more, I would love to have a conversation.