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Coaches Blog

Sam's Blog is a bi-weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Coaching Director for US Youth Soccer.

 

Connecting Divisions of Play

Sam Snow

Not long ago, a club director asked this question of me: How would you tie in the youth and the competitive division?

Is there a difference? I know that there is, but more people involved in youth soccer need to understand that it is all competitive. It's just different levels of competition. Toss a ball out in front of two 5-year-olds and they will compete in their own way for the ball. Toss out a ball in front of two 15-year-olds and it will look different than when the 5-year-olds competed for the ball, but it is still competition. Now do the same exercise with two 25-year-olds and you'll have an even more refined picture of 1v1 competition. Still, for each of those ages, over 10 year increments, they are competing at their current level of play.

So tying in divisions of players within the club? Well, I think it has a lot to do with the planned movement of coaches between age groups and levels of play over the years. Even if it is only for a few training sessions, having the coaches work with different levels of play and/or age groups helps the players and the coaches to grow. Furthermore, we should have more mixed ages, genders and levels of play in some of the training sessions. If you take two U-14 teams which play in different levels of play and have them mix together and training together within the club once every four to six weeks then they will all learn and improve in some way from the experience. There will be a better transition then for 2nd division players moving up to 1st division. This approach also builds club unity and identity.

Additionally, our U-16 and older teams should play with adult teams occasionally. The speed of play, tactical level and mental toughness will all be up several notches. That's provided, of course, that the adult team is not beginners themselves. To further the development of the American player we need older teenagers playing with and against adults from time-to-time.
 

Slip of the Tongue

Susan Boyd

Last weekend in their 4-2 victory over West Ham, Manchester United's striker Wayne Rooney scored a hat trick.  Following his third goal, Rooney shouted out to the crowd, then turned directly to the sideline camera and repeated his expletive filled celebration for the world to hear.  He was immediately censured by the English Football Association and given a two game suspension, the standard punishment for public profanity.  Rooney doesn't contest that he swore, after all even my husband heard live what he said, but he feels the punishment is excessive, so he fought that.  The risk was that if the board ruled against him, they would actually mete out a greater penalty.  On Thursday he found out he would have to sit out the EP game against Fulham and the FA semifinal game against crosstown rivals Manchester City.  But he'll be available for the rematch with Chelsea.  So overall the punishment really gives him a much needed two week rest in the middle of a tough season.

In a world where kids have learned that English seems to depend on one adjective and one verb, and they both begin with "f", what Rooney did doesn't surprise them.  While Sir Clive Woodward of the British Olympic Committee argues "Children will see it and say 'if he can do it I can do it too' and behave like that towards parents and teachers," his words come too little too late.  I hate to shake up a Knight of the Realm, but kids already think it's cool to swear.  All Rooney did was reinforce that coolness with his behavior.  Kids hear it coming from their film heroes, their favorite comedians, their sports icons, their friends, their parents, and even their coaches.  I sat at a table in a pizza restaurant with my grandkids and had to finally ask a table of high school students next to us to tone it down.  They were actually contrite, not even realizing how often they were throwing around offensive language.  It all trips so easily off the tongue.

Even now swearing has become a regular event on network television, with the appropriate bleep barely disguising what was said.  Kids aren't stupid.  Sir Woodward was right that kids will mimic what they hear, but Rooney didn't set that ship in motion.  It left dock a long time ago.  If I use my own grandsons as an example, it shows how pervasive and persuasive bad language can be.  My daughter and son-in-law don't use any swear words, even the more "acceptable" ones.  The boys' media viewing is tightly regulated.  They can only play video games rated "E" and they can't go on any of the social media websites.  Yet, after playing a Disney game on my cell phone, they impishly agreed to put the "F" word as their name on the winner's list.  I had to play close to one hundred sessions of that game to finally push the name off the list!  They were five and nine at the time.  Where did they learn that word?  From their friends for sure, but unfortunately they probably also learned it from their sports teams.

Which brings us full circle back to Rooney.  The inherent approval of the use of such language comes when kids hear it over and over from people they trust and respect.  That means parents on the sidelines, coaches, fellow players, and other fans.  Language flies from the mouths of people who should know better into the ears of kids who desperately want to emulate grown-ups.  Parents may argue that there isn't much they can do about it, but I disagree.  Every time we ignore abusive language, we are passively approving it.   Before the season even begins, parents can make a pact to "keep it clean" on the sidelines and to enforce that by reminding parents, even parents of the opposing team, that bad language won't be tolerated.  Kids should know that using swear words doesn't make them cool.  We wouldn't tolerate a kid lighting up a cigarette, so we shouldn't stand passively by and let the word bombs fly.  Kids learn quickly that profanity is used like punctuation to indicate extreme anger, excitement or pleasure.  We need to provide other language which can accomplish the same powerful emphasis.  As an English teacher I can assure the parents of America that their children have far too limited a vocabulary to express themselves.  I once followed a pack of my students across the campus quad listening to them complain about an assignment I had given.  In the course of 400 feet from the classroom to the library these scholars described their distaste for the assignment and me with only one adjective, and that adjective was used dozens of times.  When we reached the library and they realized who was behind them, they burned with embarrassment.  I simply suggested that they get a thesaurus.

We can't cloister our children.  In a world with increasing outside and immediate influences our ability as parents to monitor every experience diminishes rapidly.  Even an innocent keystroke error when doing an internet search can end up with some skimpily clad young woman popping up on the screen.  When Bryce was ten he went to a friend's eleventh sleepover birthday party where the parents popped in R-rated "Matrix" for the kids to enjoy.  When I found out and confronted the mom her response saddened me – she figured all the kids had already seen the movie in the theatres.   Bryce said he thought the movie was really cool, and spent the next two months battling nightmares of men in sunglasses attacking him. 

So we have to accept that kids will see and hear things we would rather they don't.  But we also don't need to condone any bad behavior that arises from those experiences.  Constant and unnecessary uses of profanity steal away from the civility that helps us all work, play and live together.  We want our children to recognize that going to an extreme expression actually diminishes our credibility as reasonable and intelligent people.  English is a rich language that offers some powerful ways to more thoughtfully express ourselves.  Wayne Rooney comes from the land of Shakespeare who expressed himself with grace and beauty and might have said of Rooney's rant:  Mind your speech a little lest you should mar your fortunes. (King Lear)

 
 

Mayday, Mayday

Susan Boyd

A strange thing happened last night.  Life as I know it came to an abrupt and complete standstill.  While watching "House Hunters International," the TV picture froze and remained frozen for several minutes.  Then I noticed that my laptop was no longer connected to the internet.  Dialing the phone to call AT&T to attempt to get the problem resolved, I discovered that my phone also didn't work.  This amazing bundled package I had purchased a year ago had crashed, nearly hurtling me back in time to the late 1800's.  Without my cell phone, I would have had no choice but to take the journey.
 
So, today I wait in my four hour window for the service technician to arrive.  The phone call last night had a surreal aspect since I never spoke to a real person and I was reminded several times during the call that I could "go online to find solutions" or "tune to channel 1000 for help" prompting me to yell at the recording that I had no phone, internet, or TV service – idiot!  I wouldn't have even been able to call for assistance without my cell phone.  With one sudden crash I became stranded on an island in the sea of technology unable to reach civilization.  Helpfully, the recorded voice told me he would be running a few tests and there was a series of R2D2 beeps and boops I assume to assure me that tests were being run.  Then the voice said essentially "I can't help you.  You're really, really broken," and set up a service appointment for today.
 
I realize now how totally dependent I've become on my wireless life.  And it got me thinking about when I first began working for the boys' soccer club; we were just beginning to establish a website for the club.  That was just ten years ago.  We couldn't make our website too complex because most people had very slow dial-up connections that couldn't handle uploading huge picture files to give the website a more professional and colorful presentation.  Instead we focused on simple Word files to get out the information and provided some basic forms for things like camps and tryouts.  Yet once that website opened the club had a far more efficient means for communicating with its members.  We could announce field closings, provide game and practice schedules, post coaching bios, make available maps to other clubs' fields, provide links to the state soccer association and to US Youth Soccer and give members easy access to any and all club information.  I built that first website using Front Page and some basic HTML coding.  The websites that exist now have so much complexity I wouldn't even want to venture into creating those multi-windowed, picture rich destinations.
 
Club websites opened slowly, but now we assume every club will have a website.  We count on being able to search a club name and have the link pop up in our browser.  We don't give it a second thought.  The same evolution has occurred with social networking sites.  Now organizations will have a Facebook and/or Twitter account just to keep their name out there.  People expect that they'll be able to connect with their club, the coaches, even teams and players as easily as they do with their best friends.  With smart phones we can connect with the internet just about anywhere.  The old days of the phone tree are long gone since we can send a text message out to as many people as we want with a single push of the "send" key.  Last minute field changes or game cancellations don't create as many hard feelings because we can get the word out quickly and easily to everyone involved.  When the boys were just starting select soccer, the wireless age had barely begun.  Now we are at the mercy of a single blown modulator in our home!
 
While I'm not all that happy that I don't have the last 15 minutes of "The Good Wife" DVR'd from last night, I understand that with that disappointment comes great freedom and life improvement.  By six tonight I'll have all my wireless conveniences up and running.  I'm grateful for the hundreds of websites I can visit to give me immediate soccer information whether I need directions to the fields, I want to order tickets to the El Salvador vs Cuba game in Chicago, I have to find the right goalkeeper gloves, or I want to read a press release or check out a video on www.youtube.com/usyouth. Just fifteen years ago, I was extremely limited in what I could find on the internet.  So despite this infuriating glitch, I recognize that it's a mere blip on the ever-improving information highway.
 
Before the internet went down I read a very interesting story.  Chad Ochocinco, the Bengal's football player, recently tried out for Sporting Kansas City of the MLS.  He didn't make the team, but he was invited to continue training with them.  As coach Peter Vermes said, "I think it's also good for him.  He realizes this is a lot more difficult than it (appears to be).  For our sport, it's great because I think there's a lot of people out there who question how hard it is to play this game and it's very, very difficult."  I hope this is a trend.  As athletes seek out opportunities to extend their athletic careers perhaps a few more football players will turn to soccer (especially if the lock-out continues).  They won't have the respite of game stoppages every ten seconds or be offered oxygen after racing down the field, so they will need to be very fit.  But soccer can offer them an opportunity to condition their brains as well as their bodies while they can bring to soccer some of their fan loyalty.  After all, if you can't watch the Bengals play next fall, then drive two hours to Columbus and watch The Crew!  Bryce went to a Seattle Sounders home game last week.  There were nearly 40,000 fans in a huge stadium.  He had been to games in England and agreed that this experience had a lot of the same energy and fun.  So we may be seeing the hopeful signs of a trend – NFL players seeking out the MLS and fans embracing the electricity of a game.
 
Regardless, the Internet has furthered our ability to find and embrace our sport as well as the opportunity to express and share our love with others at the click of a button.
 

Effective Communicators

Sam Snow

Successful Coaches are Effective Communicators

For players to become self-reliant you must not micromanage the game for them.  As a player-centered sport, some coaches become disillusioned as they learn that they are the 'guide on the side' and not the 'sage on the stage'.  In many sports, the coach makes crucial decisions during the competition.  This coach-centered perspective has been handed down to us from other sports and coaching styles of past generations.

"Talking too much is a big danger for a coach.  The words get lost in the wind." – Sir Alex Ferguson

In soccer, players make the primary decisions during the match.  The coach's decisions are of secondary importance.  The ego-centric personality will find coaching soccer troublesome.   During the match you can call out some general reminders, 'mark up' for example, but for the most part remain quiet.  But do indeed yell out praise, loudly!  For the most part, sit and silently observe the match.  It's your players who should be heard the most during a match. 

Now, some team supporters will think that you are not coaching if you are not constantly talking, so you will have to educate them on why this chatter diverts players' attention.  Team supporters too often have their view of the match colored by the professional model and by a view of coaching that is portrayed in the sports media.  In a coach-centered sport with frequent stoppages in play and time-outs, the coach takes on a direct role during the game.  Soccer does not stop except for a serious injury and half-time, so the coach has only an indirect role during the match.

You should attempt to have players play for an extended period of time.  The players are thus asked to solve their own problems on the field instead of having the coach make substitutions in order to solve the problem for them.  Coaches should not 'platoon players' in and out of games in order to wear an opponent down.  Unlike most team sports, soccer is a player's game, not a coach's game.  Substitutions allow for all players to play and will speed development for a greater number of players.  You should decide before the match or tournament what the policy will be regarding substitutions – then stick to it.

One outcome of sensible substitutions and less talk by the coach during matches is room to grow for the players.  In this fertile game environment some of your players will grow as team leaders.  This will begin with a player directing one or two players and, in time, the entire team.  Leaders will guide and inspire the team from within.

"Over-coaching is the worst thing you can do to a player." – Dean Smith

I recommend reading the recent article in Youth Soccer Insider [link].