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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.

 

Appropriate Field

Sam Snow

Last week the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy held a tournament at Pizza Hut Park, which is the location of the US Youth Soccer national office. I was able that week to watch some great matches. I was also able to share a meeting with Claudio Reyna, Youth Technical Director; Tony Lepore, Director of Youth National Team Scouting; and Asher Mendelsohn, Director of Referees, Coaching Administration and Development Academy Programs.

We had good discussions on coaching education and aspects of player development in the USA. One facet of player development on which we all agree is that players twelve years old and younger should play small-sided games. But what must be further addressed is that often the field on which these small-sided games are played are too large for the age group. There's little point to the match if the field is so large that the players must play kick-n-run simply to cover the yardage. When the field is too big then quality soccer only makes a rare appearance.

For real soccer to happen in a small-sided game for players in the Under-6, U-8, U-10 and U-12 age groups then the field must be of the appropriate dimensions. The right size field makes it possible for players to dribble, pass and shoot in realistic situations on realistic parts of the field. As they get into the U-12 age group then the tactical possibilities in the game grow for the players when on the right size field.

So the right environment for preteen players must be a smaller field with an adjusted size goal and smaller ball. The length of play must be shorter and the number of players on the field must be less than eleven-a-side. Here are the national recommendations for the proper size ball and field by age group.

Age Appropriate Ball Sizes
Age group
Ball size
Circumference
Weight
U-6 and U-8
3
23-24 inches
11-12 ounces
U-10 and U-12
4
25-26 inches
12-13 ounces
U-14 to U-18+
5
27-28 inches
14-16 ounces

 
US Youth Soccer Recommended Field Dimensions
Age Group
Length x Width (yards)
U-6
25 x 20
U-8
35 x 25
U-10
55 x 40
U-12
80 x 55
U-14
100 x 65
U-16
110 x 70
U-18+
120 x 75
 
 

Numbers Game

Susan Boyd

         Here's some numbers for you: 17 million people play soccer at least once a year in the U.S.  8.5 million people play soccer 25 or more days per year. Five million children (under 18) play organized soccer.  3.2 million youth players are registered with U.S. Youth Soccer Association. 8,200 youth soccer clubs operate in the U.S. (Those clubs sponsor over 2,000 soccer tournaments a year). All major soccer sanctioning committees recommend that players participate in no more than 40 matches a year, no more than two matches a weekend, and no more than one match a day. Most players break the last guidelines when participating in one of those 2,000 tournaments.

         Soccer can be broken down into a game of 11 v. 11 with a field formation of a keeper and 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 or some variety of placements depending on the tactics. The field as, stipulated by FIFA, measures 100 to 130 yards long and 50 to 100 yards wide, so long as the field is not square.   The goal is eight feet tall and 24 feet wide. Surrounding the goal is a box extending 18 yards out from the goal line and 44 yards wide, the territory in which a keeper may use his or her hands, and in which a foul may result in a penalty kick. There is a smaller box extending six yards out from the goal line and 20 yards wide, which serves no purpose under the rules of soccer, but is the area sacred to a keeper. You'll often hear remarks about keeping the offense out of the ""18"" or ""6"" which refer to these two areas. There's a 10 yard radius circle in the center of the field (Keepers hope to get their goal kicks past this circle). For teams younger than 13 these field dimensions will hold their relative relationships in size, but will be smaller depending on the age. For the game to be played, the number of nets required under FIFA rules is 0, but if nets are used, they must not interfere with the keeper, be secured, and not allow the ball to pass through. Goal posts and cross bars must be painted white. The traditional ball consists of 32 panels (12 pentagons and 20 hexagons), but recent designs have created balls with as few as 14 panels.

         Kids who dribble a soccer ball can run between two and four miles per game, with older youth players running on average six miles per game. Throw in a tournament weekend, and players can average eight to 12 miles per day. At 100 calories burned per mile, that's 800 to 1200 calories per day. Unlike adults who count on activity to burn up calories, kids are burning calories just growing. So it's important that parents replenish those calories with nutritious snacks and meals. Gatorade isn't enough, nor is one banana which is only 100 calories on its own. Many professional soccer players use high-protein sandwiches to restock the power plant such as PBJ, chicken salad (easy on the mayo), grilled chicken breast, and, if kids will eat them, avocado and/or hummus sandwiches. Kids who play soccer need around 3,000 calories a day!
           
         Soccer teams play by the numbers too. U.S. Youth Soccer Association is one of many organizations encouraging small-sided games to foster more touches on the ball and more individual coaching with fewer competing team members. At U6, teams are 3 v. 3 and U8 are 4 v. 4, both with no goal keepers. U10 teams play 6 v. 6 and are the first age level to have keepers. U12 teams are 8 v. 8 and U13 moves to a full side of 11 players. Field sizes match the smaller team sizes, letting players learn how to use the sidelines and develop the idea of team tactics and formations. Of course smaller team size means more teams, which means more coaches. Currently there are over 66,000 youth soccer coaches in the United States, and more than 60% of them are volunteers. 
           
        American soccer fans have increased exponentially in the last decade. Just considering the MLS you can see tremendous growth in season ticket sales. Kansas City had 467 season ticket holders in 2007 and this year has 9,000. FC Dallas sold three times as many pre-season tickets this year as last. The two expansion teams, Portland and Vancouver, have sold 11,000 and 16,000 season tickets respectively. Fox Soccer Channel began as Fox Sports Channel in 1997 but switched its name in 2005 and went exclusively to soccer only programming in 2006. It added a new station, Fox Soccer Plus in 2010 when it also went HD. In addition ESPN has increased its dedication to soccer including showing all of the Women's World Cup games this year. At the Men's World Cup last year in South Africa, the U.S. bought more tickets (130,000) than any other country besides the host nation. All American games are sold out for the Women's World Cup.
           
        Financial publications peg average family spending on youth sports per child at around $2,000. The number can climb quickly if a child plays on an elite travel team, participates in additional leagues, and/or opts for private coaching. That number also doesn't include what the family spends to attend tournaments together which can be up to $400 for a weekend for a family of four with hotel, gas, and meals. Of course if you have to fly to a tournament then you need to double or triple that amount. Soccer should be a pretty cheap sport; after all you just need a ball and some shin guards (gloves if you're a keeper) and a wide open space to play. But somehow we have found ways to take a game that can be played nearly for free and turn it into an activity costing thousands of dollars a year. Required club gear can really drain the bank account with warm-ups running around $100 and full uniform kits running upwards of $180, and add in bags at $70. If you change clubs then that wardrobe cost comes anew, and even if you stick with a club, uniforms become obsolete every three years, so clubs have to select new gear. Throw in cleats, favorite player jerseys, and paraphernalia such as blankets, scarves, head bands, kit bags, posters, and balls that leaves you with several hundred dollars due at the register.
           
        Numbers can tell an interesting story of how a sport operates, how it grows, and how it impacts our lives, but what really matters is that you and your children enjoy the sport. Here's a number that does translate into fun: three. That's the number of games my sons will be playing this weekend that I get to watch. 
 

Mission Statement

Susan Boyd

            What parent hasn't looked at his or her kid and wondered, "Does my child have the stuff of a champion?" Then we all answer "Probably" and strive for the best. Defining a world class athlete can't be done with a simple formula or a few lines in a manual. While athleticism plays a significant role, it's not enough. A world-class athlete needs more. Yet those additional attributes can be elusive and may be predetermined and unteachable, which doesn't keep us from trying to mold our children into the model. When my boys were little, they devoured biographies of great athletes such as Pele, Jackie Robinson, and Michael Jordan. Comparing their own experiences to those of their idols and trying to figure out how they could climb into that stratosphere of achievement. Except for a few homilies about hard work and believing in themselves, they didn't make any life-changing discoveries.
          
            With the Women's World Cup underway in Germany, the US Women have issued a "Handbook" that includes stories about what they felt helped foster and develop their soccer careers. Most of these women had surprisingly regular childhood soccer experiences. They detailed dads who set up goals in the backyard, moms who drove players two hours each way to ODP and club practices, strong coaches and playing high school soccer. In more than one case the women reinforced the idea that soccer needed to be fun.   While all these anecdotes help humanize those who can seem like superwomen, they don't reveal a magic ticket to the top. However, one player came close. Jill Loyden went to see the first-ever Olympic gold medal game for women's soccer in Atlanta which the U.S. won. She stated that "Ever since then, it became a dream and a mission to become part of the US Women's National Team".
          
            I really liked that distinction. We often hear players talking about their dreams, but calling her primary dream a mission points out how big a role drive and passion play in success. I've learned a lot about missions in the past ten years watching my boys and their soccer teammates develop. I've seen excellent players fall by the wayside because they didn't possess the serious passion necessary to make it through the really tough work, disappointments, and injuries. I watched players get by-passed because they divided their interests and ended up being masters of none. I've watched my own sons struggle with crossroads when it came to their passion for the sport and the sacrifices necessary to move forward. It's easy to sacrifice when you're succeeding, but the higher a player climbs the more serious the competition and the frustrations become. Plenty of great athletes don't become professional because ultimately they place their priorities elsewhere. So no matter how seriously they trained, no matter how advanced they became, no matter how much they succeeded, at some point the trade-off between the hard work and the reward shifted to other interests such as professions, businesses, or education. Their mission no longer was sports.
            The concept of an unteachable mental edge hit home last week. Watching my granddaughter do a figure eight on the pool deck as she marched out to jump off the edge, thought better of it, turned and retreated to the stairs, I was struck with the importance of mental drive. Nothing at the pool enticed her to overcome her fear of leaping into the water – not sharing the experience with her friends, not keeping up with her sister, not taunts from kids in the pool, and not the promise of an orange sucker from her swimming instructor. Her mind would not allow her to jump. The same holds true for other youth athletes. Some players have no hesitancy about making tackles or hip-checking a player out of her path. Other players hold back, some out of fear, some out of disinterest, and some out of stubbornness. We parents can't manufacture the passion kids need to overcome mental obstacles.  But we find it difficult to refrain from trying. Whatever that intangible mental edge might be, we will cajole, encourage, bribe, push, beg, and maneuver to get our kids to seize and use that edge. 
           
            I can't describe how much I wanted to just shout at Megan, "Jump already!" She had approached the edge of the pool at least three dozen times, announced she was going to jump, looked down, and then retreated. There was no impediment but her own mindset. She could stand where she was jumping, kids in swimming diapers were jumping, and the stairs were right there. Yet I also knew that until she made her own decision to jump she wouldn't develop the self-confidence necessary to master the next challenge in her life. I had to remind myself that she was the one swimming. My ability to swim, my parenting (grand-parenting) skills, and the future of competitive diving were not the issues here. Maybe she'll jump tomorrow; maybe she'll jump next summer. Her mental edge, her passion, will manifest itself at some point, but probably not for swimming or soccer or gymnastics. She may not have athletic dreams or she may have lots of athletic dreams. But hopefully she will find a single mission that will drive her life and help her overcome the tough roadblocks ahead. All I can do is provide as many opportunities as possible for her to explore.
 

Taking a knee

Sam Snow

This week's question concerns the irregular habit of all of the players on the field of play taking a knee when another player goes down with an injury.

Hey guys, I'm currently coaching a girls U8 travel team. I've played soccer as a kid, played in college, managed a junior college men's team as well as trained club teams in the New York Hudson Valley area. Currently a concern for my team is understanding that taking a knee for an injured player is not required but a courtesy. Personally I don't agree with taking a knee and would rather group the players together, reiterate where they are in the game and clap for the player. The players also get tight and are more likely to cramp. I'm not sure I never did it and don't think it's disrespectful not to take a knee.

The action to take knee when a player is injured is not required in the Laws of the Game. However, it has become a bit of a local habit in some youth soccer circles (a spillover from gridiron football). The better procedure would be that if the referee has stopped the match for an injury to have the rest of the players to go to the touchline in front of their team bench, but do not leave the field of play, and get a drink of water. If the coach is not involved with the care of the injured player, then he or she may have a BRIEF word with the players (during this moment in the game the coach must remain in the technical area). But a coach must be very careful here to not get across more than one point. Too many coaches talk too much. It is more effective with children to be concise. Of course, if the injured player needs to come off the field, then the other players should recognize her or him with applause. This form of fair play should be expected of your players whether the injured player is from your team or the opposing team.

The action of recognizing with applause the injured player if she or he must come off is a stronger public showing of being good sports than taking a knee. Hopefully, the players are taught that they do not need to stop automatically if a player is injured. The game plays on unless the referee calls for an injury time out. Having said that, it is also incumbent on the coach to teach players that if a player is badly injured and the referee has not seen the player on the ground and has not stopped play then the players should play the ball out over the touchline.

The team in possession of the ball should put the ball out of bounds. The referee can then let on the medical staff to care for the injured player. Once play is resumed with a throw-in for U-10 and older teams or a pass-in for U-6 and U-8 teams, the team awarded the restart should give the ball back to the opponents if they were the team who played the ball out to care for an opposing injured player. If the team who played the ball out of bounds did so for their own injured player then the team taking the throw-in or pass-in may keep possession, but should put the ball back into play by sending it back toward their defensive third. Fair play then resumes from there.

Of course THE most respectful recognition of the injured player is not applause or taking a knee but a personal kind word from one player to another.