November 26, 2018
For more than 30 years, Lenny “The Lion” Taylor has impacted football in the Caribbean in an enormous way. Taylor’s philosophies and principles in the early 1980s have remained the same to this day, “Build fantastic players by not just improving their football skills but also by expanding their theoretical knowledge of the game.” Incorporate Lenny’s food and drink distribution company, ironically named after his nickname, the Lion Quench, and he is on a mission to teach coaches to develop a well-rounded world class footballer that the Caribbean hasn’t seen since the likes of Dwight Yorke, former Trinidad and Tobago National team and Manchester United player in the 1990s and early 2000s.
He believes his training principles are a preparation for life and encourages dispelling old unsuccessful ways by building from the ground up and seizing the opportunity to appreciate what it takes to play internationally. With this philosophy, he has developed thousands of youth players to play in colleges in the US in addition to playing professionally throughout the world.
Lenny was the second black FIFA Licensed Instructor in the world behind Lincoln Phillips, and he has held various positions throughout the Caribbean as the head coach of St. Vincent and the Grenadines during their 1996 Gold Cup run to the Technical Director of St. Kitts and Nevis from 2005-2008. Taylor continues to call Florida home even prior to his time in the Caribbean, currently coaching at Pompano Beach Football Club.
Despite spending most of his time in Florida with his distribution company and coaching, he still finds the time to give advice to coaches in Caribbean Football. He says that he doesn’t see the islands as separated, rather as one Caribbean nation. He also doesn’t hold back his words when discussing football.
Earlier this month, we spent time in Bradenton, Florida at IMG Academy attending the U-20 CONCACAF Qualifiers and we happened to run into Taylor prior to the Jamaica, his home nation, versus Mexico game. When asked what his thoughts were on football in the Caribbean, he said, “I am not on the ground anymore so I can’t be certain, but in my opinion we are not doing a good job in the development of our young footballers. Truth is we are decades behind where we need to be because of the poor job being done.”
His beliefs are a testament to the fact that no Caribbean nation has qualified for the Men’s World Cup since Trinidad and Tobago, with Phillips as its Technical Director in 2006. As for the Women, Jamaica recently became the first Caribbean nation to qualify for a Women’s World Cup, which will take place in France in June of 2019. Although the U-20 Jamaica Men’s National team went undefeated in their group during the qualifiers, they didn’t qualify for the hexagon or final round of six because Mexico who had the same record, defeated them on goal differential. Yet no other U-20 Caribbean nation came close, with Trinidad and Tobago finishing a disappointing 4th of 5 teams in their group.
Taylor pointed to youth development as the biggest problem and why we continue to see the Caribbean fail despite the fact that it has better athletes and more technical players than their Central American and North American counterparts. He explained, “A number of areas of weaknesses come to mind, but I will focus on two in particular with the first being the lack of infrastructure and coaching/instruction. It is difficult to provide real youth development programming without having the proper structure in place to support it in a way that it can be impactful. When adequate structures are in place both financially and programmatic, both the individual players and the quality of football improve.
Second, the coaching/instruction must improve. I say that meaning, the young players need to get coaching and instruction that is age appropriate. For example, the kids that go through the grassroots program should have achieved a certain knowledge and skill level by the time they graduate to the Pre-Academy level at 11 or 12 years old. Also, when they get to the Academy level at 15 or 16, they should have a particular knowledge and skill level as well. You want our kids of a certain age to be on par with kids of a similar age group in other parts of the world. These targets should be pursued by all the coaches involved and there should be consistency in methods and expectations, and with one philosophy.”
Taylor believes there to be four pillars of focus in growing any program: Player Development, Club Development, Parent Education, and Coaching Development. He believes that if an association focuses on these pillars then we will see a vast improvement of success.
When asked what his thoughts were on the administrative side of football he mentioned, “There are a number of things I would like to see happen. I would like to see more of the former players get involved in the administration of the game because many have moved from playing to coaching. I would like to see more of the former players make the transition. In addition, I would like to see us develop a football culture and style that suits us. We often try to adapt training and playing styles seen in Europe and South America, without making sure that they will be a good fit for us. We must evaluate our strengths and weaknesses then identify training methods and a style of play that would allow us to be successful. Lastly, there are many former Caribbean players, coaches and football officials now living in the Diaspora, who are willing and able to make a contribution. Some of those individuals should be identified and contacted and given an opportunity to contribute to the development of football in the region.”
Despite the challenges, Taylor vows that he will never give up on Caribbean football and will continue to support the nations at any future CONCACAF, US Soccer, or Caribbean events.