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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.


Continuing Education

Sam Snow

Soccer coaches in America have a multitude of both formal and informal coaching education available to them. The formal education is the courses such as the “E” or “Y” or “C” Licenses through the state and national associations. Formal education could also be the Master’s Degree in Coaching Soccer through Ohio University.

Informal education may include mentoring within a club, clinics, webinars or conventions. In the last category I recently attended the 2015 US Youth Soccer Workshop / NSCAA Convention in Philadelphia. This was my 34th NSCAA Convention and my 20th US Youth Soccer Workshop For the last three years the two events have taken place side-by-side. The contract has been renewed for another three years. I foresee the partnership continuing for many more years.

This gathering of coaches, vendors, referees and administrators is unsurpassed in the world. Where else could professional team coaches rub elbows with local youth coaches? Indeed with over 9000 people in attendance every level of soccer is represented. The convention is a fantastic education opportunity. Sessions are given for administrators, coaches and referees. There are demonstrations done with players of all ages and both genders. Classroom sessions take place from Wednesday through Sunday of the convention week. There are so many wonderful sessions going on that you couldn’t possibly attend them all. Truthfully you will need to attend two or three years in a row to take it all in.

As I write this blog post I’m flying from Denver back to Dallas. I, along with Mike Freitag, gave some sessions for a coach clinic hosted by the Broomfield S.C. Bill Stara organized the clinic for all coaches in the northern Denver area. Over the course of the day about 100 coaches, players, their parents and administrators attended.

All youth soccer clubs must budget and plan for continuing education of the coaches, administrators and parents in the club. The players deserve this effort by the adults. Investment in the growth of its personnel is a club’s highest priority.

So whether it’s a small clinic in a club or attendance at a national convention, coaches must be lifelong students of the game. Indeed refining one’s craft of coaching is an on-going process. If you are a soccer coach then you must be committed to your formal and informal education. A coach has every right to expect the club to host a clinic at least once a year. But the coach has an obligation to attend the clinic. On the club wide ‘clinic day’ all training sessions and matches should be postponed.

Youth soccer clubs should also budget to annually send some of the staff to a state symposium or a national convention.  The experience is eye opening!

Continuing education of coaches should be a cultural norm in all American soccer clubs. I look forward to seeing you at the 2016 US Youth Soccer Workshop in Baltimore next January.

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Don’t Leave Home Without It

Susan Boyd

I really try to be organized. I keep two calendars, one on my kitchen wall and one in my phone, and I still manage to miss appointments. I periodically go through stacks of magazines and catalogs weaning out the ones I still intend to read, though I rarely do. About once a week, I clear off what we call “the high kitchen table,” an island where almost every piece of mail, important folders and pamphlets, and forms land, and then end up going through the recycle bin in a panic searching for something important I accidently threw out. I file bills so I can find them to pay them, tackling them regularly, though not always on time. No matter how hard I try, my organization often dissolves into stuffing similar items into plastic containers with the promise that I’ll go through them soon. Most of those, many containing photos and family mementos, remain stacked in the basement. We all struggle with organization and staying on top of the continually growing collections of paper, possessions and responsibilities.  Nowhere is that more pointed than when we try to maintain control over the tangle of sports gear. It seems that no matter what preparations we make we still arrive at our destinations without some important piece of equipment. Even more frustrating, we often discover other products which could be helpful before, during and after a match, but we don’t have them readily available. Soccer should be fun, but when we are tensely scrambling to resolve an urgent situation, it’s difficult to find the enjoyment within the stress.

I’ve spoken about my “soccer box” I keep stocked in my car, but over the years I’ve evolved and streamlined that box. I’ve identified three important categories where parents can be prepared with little effort. Getting organized to address those areas requires just a bit of time and can help ensure that not only do you have peace of mind but that you might also be a hero to the entire team. This began when I made a discovery while getting boxes to help my son pack up his stuff for a move. I went to the grocery store to collect some containers. They had just gotten a big shipment of wine and liquor in, so the boxes they had available were those that held twelve bottles with dividers. The dividers were readily removable, so we took most of them out, but the dividers also proved helpful in containing some smaller and delicate items keeping them safe and organized. As I was packing up, I realized these would make an excellent organizer for a soccer box, keeping the number of items to the dozen someone could place in the box and making them easily accessible. Adding to its utility are the cut-out handle holes making the box easy to transport. If you don’t want people to assume you purchase your alcohol in bulk, you can cover the box with contact paper in a soccer design. Here are my plans for a much leaner and organized soccer box.

Consider the box as having three columns of four compartments each. I organized the columns into my three necessary categories: clothing, equipment and safety/convenience. Let’s begin with clothing. All too often we can arrive at a field without certain uniform pieces or a teammate will be without the full uniform. Therefore one cubicle in the clothing column should hold one light and a one dark T-shirt rolled up. If you happen to have extra uniform shirts you can substitute those, but most of us don’t have that luxury. In the second square, roll up a pair of shorts and a clean pair of underwear (during wet, muddy games you’ll be glad you have these). The third cube should hold two pairs of socks. Finally the fourth square will hold two pairs of knit gloves and a stocking cap. These clothing items will cover you for situations involving missing uniforms and/or inclement weather, so your young player won’t be riding home in soggy, muddy clothes catching cold and destroying your upholstery.

The second column of four squares will be assigned to equipment. Slide a pair of old shin guards in the first two compartments. They may distort the shape a bit, but since the items on either side are soft items, it won’t be difficult or disruptive. In the third square, slip in a hand-held air pump. We’ve all been to games where balls have been chucked into the woods, splashed into the river, or scampered under brambles until the only option left is that raggedy, deflated orb that your pump can now resurrect into the new game ball. The last compartment can hold extra shoelaces, an LED flashlight, and some hand-warming packets.

The third column contains safety and convenience items. Start with a quart-sized zipper bag, which you’ll fill with safety pins, a sewing kit, a small pair of scissors (you won’t believe how often these come in handy), a roll of gauze, a variety of bandages, and white medical adhesive tape. The bundle can be rolled to fit down the divider. The next section will hold cleaning products like facial tissues, alcohol and wet wipes, a small chamois cloth, and cotton balls. You can place these in a quart bag as well, which is both easy to roll up and keeps the products dry. Stuff a bottle of sports drink or water in the third compartment. Finally fill another quart bag with a mechanical pencil, pen, pad of paper, cellophane tape (not in a holder), small roll of colored duct tape (which can be used to add numbers on t-shirts or alter the numbers on jerseys), and a sharpie marker.

The items in this soccer box should cover you and the team in most, if not all, adverse and sudden situations. It won’t take up too much space and will stay neat and organized. Likewise you can get your player’s soccer bag under control to help ensure that all necessary items make it to the field. When you wash uniforms bring the soccer bag into the laundry room and set it by the washer/dryer. That way when you or your child go to grab the bag, it will be a not so subtle reminder that parts may be sitting in the laundry load. You could get a mesh bag or even use a plastic grocery bag to house cleats and shin guards. Keep that bag in clear view in your garage or mud room. I told the boys they couldn’t enter the house until they had knocked clean their cleats, and put them and their shin guards back in their plastic bag. That bag always got placed right at the back door. Some families maintain a checklist on a dry erase board that hangs on the last door the kids exit. They have to check off the items before they can leave the house. That teaches them that are responsible for being fully equipped when they arrive on the field, and if they aren’t, then they can’t expect you to rescue them.

No matter how well you handle the dilemmas of organizing and transporting sports gear, things will get lost, stolen or forgotten. Therefore having a back-up that serves as a safety stop not only for our kids, but for the team, isn’t a bad idea. I keep the box in my trunk year-round, but if I need the space, I can easily remove it and set it in the garage. The advantage of these liquor boxes, besides the wonderful dividers, is that it’s sturdy enough to transport. If you want, you can get a duffle bag to set it in and take it as checked luggage since nothing in it is fragile. Just be sure you have something solid on the top as a cover. The entire box won’t weigh that much and may be just what’s needed to bring peace of mind.

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The Eloquence of Losing

Susan Boyd

We’re in the middle of an extended competitive season. The first College Football Playoff Championship ended last Monday and by the time this blog publishes we’ll know the challengers for Super Bowl XLIX. CBS has already begun the Road to March Madness hype. The Golden Globes were last week, the Grammys in two weeks, and Oscar nominees have been announced. We learned the Heisman winner in an announcement that opened the flood of MVP awards destined to last until championship contests end. It’s about winning – dreams of winning, bets on winning, predictions of winning, analysis of winning. And with winning comes its evil twin, losing. We feel the need to explain away our losses with talk about snubs, injuries, lousy coaching decisions and poor officiating. 

Our adulation for winners often clouds other issues. We forgive NFL players for spousal abuse, drug dependencies, and even attempted murder if they can help ensure a win for our team. High schools with strict policies concerning behavior and eligibility will reinstate a student to a team if a teacher expresses the need for the offending student to help win a sports championship or star in the school musical. We end up willing to sell our souls for win, in fact that’s the plot premise of “Damn Yankees.” Our obsession with winning can lead to some unattractive behaviors such as taunting when we win and pouting and blame placing when we lose.

At the recent Golden Globes, George Clooney was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille award for both his extensive work in films and his tireless efforts highlighting and resolving human rights violations around the world. In his speech he addressed the issue of winners and losers. He expressed that he felt it unworthy for anyone in the room to mope about losing, 80 percent of the nominees lose, and any winner to be overly prideful. Even more significantly, those nominees represent such a small percentage of the pool of possible nominees, everyone who made a film or TV show that year. Further, those lucky enough to work in the industry are another small percentage of those who dream of being in their shoes. His point was that everyone who has realized a dream should be grateful, and not regret being singled out for particular notice. The moment of a win will burn brightly like an exploding nova and then just as quickly fade. We can’t halt time and make a win the all-consuming center of our existence. We all must move on. While we can have some warm fuzzy in our memory, we aren’t defined or sustained by any win.

We understand the language of winning – the pride, the humility, the power. Yet, losing likewise has a noteworthy expressiveness we need to learn to embrace. I’m not advocating that we shouldn’t encourage our children to train as hard as they can, to set high goals, to go for a win, and to enjoy a win when they attain it. Rather, I’m arguing that we place so much emphasis on winning that we neglect to teach our children anything about losing other than as a negative to avoid at all costs. The only universally positive connotation of losing that I can think of is losing weight. Yet children will experience more losses than wins, especially big wins. Florida State had 29 straight wins going into the Rose Bowl this year, but they lost in a rout to Oregon. Watching the team melt down pointed out the difficulty of handling loss when you have no experience with it. The quarterback, after a fumble, went to sidelines and screamed at his coach rather than taking responsibility for his error. There was in-fighting on the team, and players began to blame one another for various failings on the field. The loss was made truly ugly by the team’s inability to cope with it. A week later, coming off the high of that win, Oregon found itself being routed by Ohio State. But the team held together fighting to the end with dignity. Despite being down 22 points with less than a minute to go, they went out and played hoping for at least one more score, reinforcing that the game was more about playing than about winning. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, with no time left on the clock, scrambled in the back field chased by OSU players and then heaved a Hail Mary pass down the field that was intercepted by OSU. So, the Heisman Trophy winner ended his college career not only on a loss, but on an extremely rare interception, only his fourth of the entire season. He didn’t need to do that; he could have simply fallen on the ball since the outcome was sealed. But he believed in fighting and playing. 

We need to listen to the lessons losing can teach our children. People who acknowledge their losses as a natural outcome of trying seem to be less affected by them. Instead of looking for excuses, they look for merits. They work to understand what the loss can teach them about improving and overcoming errors.  They accept that losses happen, but don’t have to be repeated. Humility applies to losses as much as it does to wins. Kids need to learn to be humble enough to accept the loss without assigning blame, which may momentarily mitigate personal embarrassment but does nothing to keep team cohesiveness or reinforce self-esteem. If a child loses an individual honor or contest, it’s important to have perspective, just as Clooney pointed out. Getting to the place where you have the opportunity to win or to lose is a victory in and of itself. Certainly the instant devastation of losing can take the wind out of the sails, but the ability to listen to what the loss can tell us will ultimately make each person stronger. Robbie was the Gatorade Player of the Year for Wisconsin and placed on the ESPN Rise second-team in his senior year of high school. It was a wonderful moment for him and naturally for his proud family. I still have the commemorative bottle of Gatorade awarded to him. But so much life has come after. He had two losing seasons in college and after finally making the NCAA College Cup by winning a very difficult game, his team lost in the first round. Every win, every loss has been but one stepping stone in his hopefully very long life. His brother Bryce was sitting on the bench in his high school senior year as his team lost in the quarterfinals of the state tournament. His coach was “saving” him for the semis and the finals that never came. So he ended his high school career watching his team lose. Later at a recruiting meeting, the college coach told him, “So what. You have lots of soccer ahead of you.” And he was right.

Helping our children to keep heads up after a loss will have more significance than all our praise for a win. Adulation is an expected result of a win, but not expected with a loss. Therefore, we need to find the positives and illuminate them. Joining in on the blame game only makes losses seem undeserved and unfair, which they aren’t. They are the natural offshoot of competition. So telling a child that the team would have won with better officiating, or if the coach had played her longer, or if it hadn’t been raining, or any other excuse we can make only reinforces the idea that we shouldn’t have to be the recipients of a loss. Yet think about how often we lose every day. I enter the Home and Garden TV contests to win a house (I even use the two entries a day option). Despite trying for the Dream Home, the Urban Oasis, the Smart Home, and the Blog Cabin every year for the past decade, I haven’t won. Go figure. We buy lottery tickets and lose regularly. If we do win, it’s usually a small prize like getting two more free entries. We don’t get all green lights on that trip to the doctor when we’re ten minutes late. For most of us, the college and pro teams we support end up not making it to the finals. We might have an election year of our candidates winning, and then suffer years of watching our candidates lose. We also lose money, car keys, jewelry, important papers and teeth. Rarely can we claim personal vendettas against us in those circumstance. Things happen. We have to be able to shake it off, move on, and avoid rationalizations. 

When Oregon lost the National Championship, the alumni association sent out an email thanking us for our support, encouraging us to thank our team for a great year, and asserting that heroes aren’t always victors, which I thought was a great statement. Replace the word hero with the word player and you have a wonderful reminder for your kids. The important factor is to be a player with integrity, purpose and dignity. Play games with joy, hope and good sportsmanship, win or lose. Find where improvements can be made, and accept the weaknesses which can’t be resolved. If our kids participate in several sports and after-school activities, they will be in situations where they have strength around them and other times when they will not. Yet in all circumstances we need to move towards the endgame and embrace the results which occur. While our children may need to depend on the abilities of others to secure a win (or a good grade), they have to accept that there will be some factors of victory over which they have no control. They can derive pride from their effort and their contribution to whatever results are achieved. At the very least they should be rewarded with respect for working to help others to do well. A loss doesn’t have to be the language of defeat. It can speak in the language of honor, improvement and perseverance. 

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Not Molded but Unfolded

Susan Boyd

Among the clutter on my dryer door, among photos, magnets, and to-do lists, sits a quotation from author Lisa T. Shepherd:  “In raising my children I have lost my mind but found my soul.” I keep it front and center and read it at least once a day. It reminds me on the good days how important my children are to me, and it reminds me in the bad days how important my children are to me. Some might argue that I had early evidence of losing my mind because I have four offspring spread out over 22 years. That means I’ve had at least one child living at home for the past 40 years. Many of you would agree that becoming a soccer parent could be judged as another sign of a lost mind, given how much of our lives end up being dictated by the time, travel and economics of youth soccer. Yet it is exactly these moments of mental lapses that provides us with our souls. We have given of ourselves so that our children could find joy. Nevertheless, we need to proceed with caution when we think we are acting in our children’s best interests. While we may feel that we are giving them the gift of accomplishment, pride and a future, we need to be sure that we aren’t trying to mold our children into what we value as success but they don’t want. The siren song of socially revered examples of success can blur the line between enforcing and endorsing. American author, Samuel Griswold Goodrich saw this dilemma even in the early 1800s, “How many hopes and fears, how many ardent wishes and anxious apprehensions are twisted together in the threads that connect the parent with the child.” He cannily presaged what runs through the minds of present-day parents on the sidelines of a youth game.

It’s difficult for us to segue into the role of assisting the unfolding of our children’s legacy because our first job is molding their lives. When they are pre-school, we must teach them the basics of becoming self-sustaining children — walking, feeding themselves, potty training and pre-language skills. We know there are benchmark moments in their development, so we judge how well we are doing as parents if our children beat those marks. We love to share how accomplished our little tots are – Amanda walked at nine months, Ethan said his first word at six months, Julio was out of diapers at 16 months. When they get to school, we measure success by how advanced they are in reading, writing, math and science. We continue our role as hands on shapers – helping with homework, deciding courses and schools, training them to handle the demands of life. As they age, we add activities into the mix, proud of our kids who do well in sports or acting or art. Transitioning from parenting that molds our children into functioning people to parents who provide the environment where those people can evolve into adults who have happy, fulfilling lives. We naturally hope that we will be the remarkable parents with remarkable children so it’s easy to forget that in fact we do have remarkable children without having to adhere to the measuring stick of public achievement. Harry Truman said, “I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” That’s a difficult standard to achieve because we believe that we can shape our children through expectations, instruction, demands and sheer will. We are convinced we know what’s best for our offspring, but we may need to listen better. Therein lies the soul we find when we are parents. We open up our hearts and accept unconditionally the path our children decide to follow. It can be difficult when we make ourselves vulnerable to what society defines as greatness. But a parent’s greatness lies in supporting our child’s definition of her own greatness. 

I recently re-watched the movie, “Magnolia,” which focuses on nine people in Los Angeles whose lives intersect. It’s a powerful film addressing primarily issues of parents and children, illustrating Laurens Van der Post’s argument that “children tend to live what is unlived in the parents, so it’s vital that parents should be aware of their inferior…side.” Two characters are Stanley, a child prodigy on a quiz show, and his adult predecessor, Donny, who enjoyed the same adulation twenty years previously. It’s an interesting view of what a child goes through in trying to meet the lofty expectations of the adults around him and the emptiness of his life once he matures and his peers’ skills catch up. Because Stanley is so successful as a quiz kid, his father, who has status by association, assumes and therefore expects he wants to continue. He doesn’t listen to what his child really wants, which is to read quietly in the library with his beloved books. Adults stifling Stanley’s free will is detailed allegorically when in the middle of the show he asks the producer to go to the bathroom. She tells him to hold it until the next commercial break. Stanley can’t and wets himself. Even though he’s clearly the brightest member of his team, he refuses to come forward to take on an opponent. He knows his accident will be discovered by the audience. However he is “outed” by his teammate, prompting giggles from everyone, and again they demand he come up. Forced by circumstances he finally expresses his pain to the host and the audience, “This isn’t funny, this isn’t cute…because I’m not a toy, I’m not a doll…because I can answer questions.” Near the end of the film he enters his father’s bedroom, wakes him up, and says, “Dad you need to be nicer to me. Did you hear me?  You need to be nicer.” He’s begging his father to listen to his needs.  Meanwhile, Donny, the once brilliant child star and now living on faded glory, survives frustrated by the normality of his present life. He never had a chance to unfold as he wanted, left in a childhood of adulation but minimal satisfaction. He did it because he believed his parents loved him, but quickly learned that his parents loved his success, having spent all the money he won. He yearns for the notoriety that he equated with love, but he’s smart enough to recognize that there is a difference between reverence and love. As he says, “I have so much love to give.  I just need someone to love me.”  It’s an important reminder that our job isn’t to create major players but to be sure that our children develop into adults who have a strong base of love.

It’s difficult to relinquish the job of molding our children. We begin our journey with them by teaching them how to do the basics of life. Then if we have more children we return again and again to that process with each one. So our habit has been established to decide what they need to do and how they need to do it. No definitive moment occurs declaring that now we need to give the reins over to the kids so they can unfold in their own manner and time schedule. That’s because we must still set boundaries, help with decision-making, maintain expectations for behaviors, and set examples for how to proceed in life. Kids need instruction, but they don’t need us to determine which activities, dreams, and careers they will enjoy. John Fischer, musician and author, reminds us, “The essence of our effort to see that every child has a chance must be to assure each an equal opportunity, not to become equal, but to become different – to realize whatever unique potential of mind, body, and spirit he or she possesses.” 

We actually wield a tremendous amount of power naturally.  Our children want to please us, so more often than not they will make choices that they know will please us even if they are not totally comfortable with those choices.  We need to be sure to listen and to quickly let them know that they don’t need to follow in our footsteps or live up to our dreams for us to love them and be proud of them.  In our own small way we can send messages of disappointment. We can create expectations without even realizing it. With the best of intentions we might state, “You’re the best player on the team.  They’d be in trouble if you ever quit” placing a child in a position of not wanting to disappoint our faith in him and the team’s need for him. Even though he doesn’t want to play soccer anymore he feels compelled to continue. Therefore we need to be willing to give our children permission to unfold outside of our own blueprint for their lives.  We naturally want our kids to do well and be happy, and with the benefit of experience we believe we know what’s best for them as they move forward. Yet we may be missing the opportunity to expand those choices if we don’t include our kids in the discussion and remain willing to compromise and be flexible. We had a rule that the boys had to meet their commitments completely, but then they could stop an activity. We would have a discussion when each sports season started, reminding the boys that if they signed up, they had to finish, but if they had any doubts, then maybe they shouldn’t sign up at all. There were choices they made that were difficult for me to accept, but I had to leave my disappointment out of the discussion (easier said than done). They both had musical talent. I supported myself through college by playing guitar and singing in coffee houses (before Starbucks) and Bruce played piano. We gave them lessons, but it became obvious that neither of them wanted to continue despite having ability. I knew they could be successful, but I had to admit they weren’t happy. Interestingly much later Robbie took up guitar on his own, and now has a strong interest in music, giving me a tiny bit of satisfaction. 

I know that I made mistakes, we all will, but we have to try to resist the urge to mold our children’s future into some image that feeds our needs, instead letting the children’s needs unfold within our love and support. Hindu philosopher, Krishnamurti, asserted “If the parents and teachers are really concerned that the [child] should discover what he is, they won’t compel him; they will create an environment in which he will come to know himself.”   Keeping our distance while maintaining the close bonds of love seems like an oxymoron.  It’s love that drives us to want the best for our kids and convinces us that we need to intervene.  The real issue becomes are we addressing the right aspects.  Instead of micro-managing playing time on their team, signing them up for every possible lesson in which they express even the slightest interest, getting them special training so they can advance ahead of their peers in sports and academics, and cleaning up every mistake they make, we would do better to give them the skills to make strong, positive choices, expect them to take responsibility for their actions, and not make praise and love contingent on doing what we want them to do.  Henry James express 100 years ago sentiments which hold even more power today as our world becomes more globally connected.  “To believe in a child is to believe in the future. Through their aspirations they will save the world.  With their combined knowledge the turbulent seas of hate and injustice will be calmed. They will champion the causes of life’s underdogs, forging a society with class discrimination. They will supply humanity with music and beauty as it has never known. They will endure. Toward these ends I pledge my life’s work. I will supply the children with tools and knowledge to overcome the obstacles. I will pass on the wisdom of my years and temper it with patience. I shall impact in each child the desire to fulfill his or her dream.” If we know our children are happily and ethically pursuing a path they have chosen, we can’t ask for much more in terms of being a successful parent.

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