When asked how his Santa Barbara SC (CA-S) team has been so successful in the last five years, Santa Barbara coach, Rudy Ybarra credits a philosophy that includes everything from legendary Dutch coach, Rinus Michels, to the movie Gladiator starring Russell Crowe. Ybarra just chooses to sum it up as simply, total football.
“It is a philosophy and training environment that focuses on the technical development of each player,” Ybarra said. “It is trying to get them to understand good possession and always being comfortable on and off the ball.”
While Ybarra emphasizes the tactical necessity of the game, he also appeals to a more simple approach often comparing soccer matches to battles, and there is no team in the Under-16 Boys age group that is more battle tested than Santa Barbara SC. Ybarra’s team has claimed California South National Cup and US Youth Soccer Region IV Championships in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014. On top of that, Santa Barbara is a two-time defending US Youth Soccer National Champion, and will look for a third straight national title in Germantown.
“It speaks a lot to the development of our players and the philosophy that we have,” Ybarra said. “This is a small community of only 90,000 people, and it says a lot about these players that we have achieved as much as we have.”
Through all of this Ybarra explains the players have built up this competitive fire within themselves.
While getting them motivated isn’t normally a problem, there is a specific quote Ybarra likes to use from the movie, Gladiator.
“The quote is ‘What you do in this life echoes throughout eternity’ and I tell them as a group to echo loud,” Ybarra said. “As a coach I try to tell the players there is a target on your back. I tell them everyone in this age group knows who you are, and they are gunning for you.”
On the tactical side, Ybarra calls upon his days as a player, when he played under Rinus Michel in the North American Soccer League (NASL). Michel originated the total football strategy, which involves players performing in a fluid motion that allows them to swap positions in a free-flowing manner that allows anyone to attack or defend. Michel used this idea in coaching stints with Ajax and Barcelona. Michel is most known for leading the Netherlands National Team to the finals of the 1974 World Cup. Ybarra takes this idea to heart, and credits his players for buying into the process.
“Through total football they see their own development and are much more confident defensively and offensively,” Ybarra said. “Each player can play two and sometime three different positions. This is crucial if a player gets injured, like one of ours did. I feel comfortable that I can plug players in to other positions.”
Santa Barbara has had its fair share of close matches. Last year alone was a testament to that as Santa Barbara won both their semifinals and finals matches of the 2013 Region IV Championships via penalty kicks. At the 2013 US Youth Soccer National Championships, Santa Barbara needed a late goal from Raul Guerrero against Vardar 98 (MI) to advance to the finals, where an overtime penalty kick goal from Chairat Puengrod was required for Santa Barbara to hoist the national title. Ybarra explains that this experience in close games has been vital to Santa Barbara going forward.
“Without a doubt our experience in close games has helped us. You can go out and win 7-0 and that’s great,” Ybarra said. “But the real character development occurs when they are challenged and really have to battle.”
There is going to be a fair share of pressure on Santa Barbara as they come to the National Championships in high hopes of winning their third straight title. Central Valley Mercury (CA-N), Arsenal FC (CA-S), Dallas Texans Red 88 (N-TX) and Real So Cal (So Cal United) are the only four teams to win three consecutive US Youth Soccer National Championships. However, Ybarra explains that since his players have been in so many close games, the pressure isn’t what he is worried about.
“When they play in these close games, I don’t sense that they feel the pressure anymore,” Ybarra said. “They believe in themselves and understand their responsibilities. They have been in so many close games, and their maturity as a result is what makes them so special.”
While Ybarra admits at times he can be overcritical, there isn’t any doubt in his players’ minds about how proud he is of them.
“They hear that I am so proud of them every day. We are a family and are together quite a bit. There is a love and respect that we have for each other and it is a bond that extends past soccer,” Ybarra said. “We are developing good young men in the community and there is a special relationship that they have. I thank them for what they are doing for themselves, the club and the team. This situation is very special, and I don’t even think proud is the right word. It is something more than that.”
When assessing his team’s chances of winning that third straight title, Ybarra points out that there are a lot of good teams at nationals, but if his squad plays good soccer, it is going to tough to beat them.
“I’ve told them that they should remember these moments. They have earned them and there are always going to be some good and some bad,” Ybarra said. “I know these kids will keep their composure, and will they win? Only time will tell, but I know they are going to put themselves in the right position to win. After that, only God knows.”