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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on USYouthSoccer.org every Monday.  A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom". 

 

Those Who Can't Do Teach

Susan Boyd

I'd forgotten how much fun it is to watch a soccer game through the eyes of a novice viewer. Over the years, most of us have had this experience as we indoctrinate grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, friends and any other person willing to share a weekend game or two with us. Soccer takes on a whole new meaning when explaining "off side" or "penalty kick" to the uninitiated. The boys have played long enough that we've managed to introduce nearly everyone we know and love to the game. Most of our family and friends knew that eventually they would have to participate in a sideline visit no matter how much their preconceived notions about soccer warned them away. Eventually, as the boys traveled more, the soccer came to their town so that they could no longer politely refuse to come to watch. I admit I behaved something like an itinerant preacher for soccer, praising the sport with a zeal they couldn't refuse. I managed a few converts over the years, but I didn't win them all. Nevertheless, I loved the thrill of giving someone the informational tools to begin to enjoy the sport.
 
So imagine my delight a few weeks ago when the bus driver who brought our team to Huntsville, Ala. for a tournament sat down next to me and said, "This is my first soccer game." Now I had double the reason to enjoy the game: I could watch my sons play while opening the door to the world of soccer for my new student. I quickly established our starting point. She had children, but they had never played. She truly had never seen a soccer game, not even snippets of the World Cup. She had heard of Pele, but no one else. She knew players couldn't use their hands except for the goal keeper, and she knew they tried to score in the opponent's net. She didn't know how many players were on the field, nothing about their positions or responsibilities (except for the goal keeper), and she didn't know how long a game ran. This was going to be fun!
           
I need to stop for a moment in my story to point out two very significant benefits of teaching someone about the game. First, you need to really understand the rules and the nuances of soccer in order to explain them to someone else. I thank youth soccer for providing me with a strong base upon which to build my knowledge. Although I had lived in Europe and had been initially introduced to soccer in my teens, I didn't really care much about rules until my own children started playing. I was blind to the intricacies of soccer until I had the chance to slowly develop an understanding by watching youth games. Just as my kids grew up learning soccer, so did I. Second, you get the opportunity to invest yourself in the game beyond hassling the referees or pushing your child. Taking the time to see the game through the eyes of a neophyte affords you the chance to step back from deep involvement in the game and re-experience your own first introduction to soccer.
 
With an apprentice sitting next to me anxious to absorb all my nuggets of wisdom, the ball skittered over the goal line and the keeper set up for a goal kick. "Why's he doing that?" So I got to explain the two actions that can happen depending on which team sends it over the end line. She caught on pretty quick to the difference between a goal kick and a corner kick. Throw-ins were a cinch. Fouls were trickier because, well because they are occasionally subjective and therefore obviously wrong, so explaining them required some restraint not to editorialize. I left that to my fellow fans. I did get to explain about cards when she couldn't understand why some fouls were just fouls and some were carded. Again, I did my best to explain why one offense was treated more egregiously than others. Some were easier, especially when they were called against our opponents. When a player received a red card, she wondered why his foul was worse than any other foul. Since the card was given to one of our players, I actually had the same question. But I had to find the reason and make it plausible. "Our player took down the opposing player from behind without going for the ball. That was considered dangerous play and in the eyes of the referee warranted a red card. It was also an attempt to prevent the player from scoring a goal which is considered a tactical foul. Thank goodness it happened outside the box." I had to explain then about fouls in the box and PKs which was actually a good teachable moment and took my mind off of being upset about the red card.
 
Suddenly an opposing player went down while we were making a run to the goal. He crumpled, rolling on the field in agony, yet play continued. My student rose to her feet in deep concern and wondered aloud why no one was doing anything. I had to explain the tactic of injury. I assured her that the player was just fine, and collapsed in the hopes of slowing down or stopping our team's rush to the goal. Sure enough, when this fallen comrade was completely ignored, he leapt to his feet and rejoined his team's defense. Welcome to soccer! "How does the referee know when an injury is real or fake?" I felt like Master Po with my "Grasshopper" or Yoda with Luke Skywalker ("much to learn you still have. . . .") "Years of experience,"" I responded. The words were barely out of my lips when Robbie went down, and I jumped up. "What happened?" I had forgotten to add that mothers also know when it's real or fake. Robbie's injury let me explain the substitution rule because he went out and no one came in for him. "If they sub for him then he is out for the rest of the game. So they are going to see if he can come back in." She looked confused, "But if he's injured, then wouldn't an uninjured player be better?" That did sound reasonable. How to explain without sounding vain about my child? I opted for the "it's early in the game and the coach doesn't want to start subbing too soon." I don't think she bought it since again having nine players on the field while waiting for a possibly injured player to step back in didn't seem logical. She was learning, as we all have, that soccer often defies logical explanation.
 
My pupil also noticed in the waning minutes of the game that our team seemed to have more players up top. So I got to explain about 4-4-2, 3-4-3, and other formations that coaches choose. We had been using a 4-5-1 formation, so when we went to 3-4-3 the bus driver noticed the difference. And for once my reasoning seemed logical. We were behind and needed to score, so we put in three forwards and four midfielders to push for some goals. We lost the game, but the driver announced that she'd had a good time. So had I.
 
Parents should take every opportunity to educate themselves about soccer, which includes helping one another out. If your child stays with the game, you'll need to be able to keep up with the complexity that grows at each level. Roughness of play increases, so we have to temper our upset when our little ones get knocked down. Defenses improve, so we have to accept that we won't be seeing those long runs down the field by our darling player. Speed of play increases, so we have to adjust how we watch play unfold. The field gets larger, the goals do too, the substitutions get tighter, the travel increases, things are always in flux, and so we have to get smarter and adjust. Youth soccer gives us the opportunity to all be neophytes and to all become experts. While I would never discount the joy of watching our children play, I also would encourage parents to talk to one another in order to learn the game. The more I understand the more I love the sport. I partially exercise that enthusiasm by sharing what I know with others and engaging in conversation about the game whenever I can. I'm certain my sons would cringe hearing some of what comes out of my mouth, but I'm also certain they'd be pleasantly impressed with how much their mom knows. I can't coach the game, I certainly can't play the game, but I can engage a fellow traveler so we can educate one another about our journeys.  How else do you get those insights that make the trip special?
 

Goalkeeping begins at U-10

Sam Snow

I had the following interaction with a coach in Florida not long ago:
 
Sam, can you send me some good articles or a comment on why we should play without goalies at U-8? I am trying to influence a club to change to this format.
 
The U-8 age group is still in an egocentric phase of psychological development, which tells us that we should allow these children to run and chase the ball, to be in the game – not waiting at the end of the field for the game to come to them. It is more important at this age that they chase the game. Children this age want to play with the toy (the ball) and they need to go to where the toy is to be fully engaged.
 
Consider also this passage from the Ajax youth development plan: "It is typical for the 8 to 10 age group that each child plays for himself rather than combining with the others. In addition, children move towards the ball and not away from it, and are inclined to play the ball forward and not to the side or backwards."
 
Emotionally, a 7 year old cannot make the distinction between himself the goalkeeper and himself the child. So when a goal is scored, and all of the adults groan out loud, he blames himself for the goal being scored. It's no wonder then that they begin to shy away from playing in goal.
 
Please remember that visual tracking acuity is not fully developed until around age 10. This visual ability impacts a person's capacity to track a moving object over a long distance or when in the air. This is one of the physiological reasons we wait until the U-10 age group to introduce the position of goalkeeper.
 
In conclusion, here is a pertinent section from the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model:
 
Why no keeper until U-10?
 
Here is the Position Statement of the 55 State Association technical directors on the position of goalkeeper:
 
"We believe goalkeepers should not be a feature of play at the U-6 and U-8 age groups. All players in these age groups should be allowed to run around the field and chase the toy – the ball. For teams in the U-10 and older age groups, goalkeepers should become a regular feature of play. However, young players in the U-10, U-12 and U-14 age groups should not begin to specialize in any position at this time in their development."
 
The analysis of most soccer experts is that small-sided games for young children are most beneficial for learning basic motor skills, basic rules and the fundamental concepts of the game. They also learn how to interact with their peers within a game involving a ball. What is not supported is the use of goalkeepers in this format. Children want to run, kick the ball and score goals. Every child should experience the triumph and success of scoring a goal. They don't do well when told to stand in one place. If the action is at the other end of the field, a young goalkeeper will find some other activity to hold his or her attention.
 
Young children have great difficulty visually tracking moving objects, especially if they are in the air. Most children younger than 10 are very reactionary in their movement behavior and will duck or throw hands in front of the face if the ball comes toward the head. Anticipating where the ball might be played is a skill that has not yet developed and that does not really develop until age 9 or 10. Prior to age 9, visual tracking acuity is not fully developed. Players have difficulty accurately tracking long kicks or the ball above the ground. Beginning at approximately age 10, one's visual tracking acuity achieves an adult pattern.
 
Striking the ball at a small target accurately is a challenge for all children. Goalkeepers restrict the opportunities to score goals to a select few players. Young children stuck in goal will not develop goalkeeping skills and are more likely to get hit with the ball than actually save it.
 
It is important to wait until children are better able--physically, mentally and emotionally--to handle the demands of being a goalkeeper. There are no goalkeepers in the 3v3 and 4v4 format through age 8; goalkeeping is then introduced in the 6v6 format beginning at age 9. This still allows plenty of time for children to grow up and be the best goalkeepers they can be. Thus most likely keeping them engaged in playing soccer for many years to come. Once players take on the goalkeeper role, they tend to grow in the position through three general stages. Those stages are shot blocker, shot stopper and finally goalkeeper.
 
The shot blocker stage is one where the goalkeeper simply reacts to shots after they have been taken. He or she tries to get into position to make saves and this is sometimes merely blocking a shot and not making a clean catch. The attacking role of the shot blocker is usually just a punt of the ball downfield.
 
At the shot stopper stage, a player has progressed to not only making saves after a shot is taken but also being able to anticipate shots. With this improved ability to read the game, the shot stopper gets intobetter positions to make saves and begins to stop shots from being taken in the first place. The shot stopper now comes out on through balls and collects them before a shot is taken. The shot stopper also cuts out crosses before opponents can get to the ball. The shot stopper comes out in one-on-one situations and takes the ball off the attacker's feet. The shot stopper can deal with the ball both before and after a shot is made. Distribution with some tactical thought on the attack is also developing for the shot stopper.
 
The goalkeeper stage is the complete package. The goalkeeper is highly athletic and physically fit. The goalkeeper is mentally tough, composed and confident. The goalkeeper has the full set of skills for the role to both win the ball (defending techniques) and to distribute the ball (attacking techniques). A full-fledged goalkeeper is indeed the last line of defense and the first line of attack. A goalkeeper not only makes saves but contributes to the attack with tactical and skillful distribution of the ball. The goalkeeper is physically and verbally connected to the rest of the team no matter where the ball is on the field. A first-rate goalkeeper is mentally involved in the entire match and is therefore physically ready when the time comes to perform.
 
Thank you, I believe we have success. This one is for the kids. I am here to tell you all the tact and education in the world, won't keep some from wanting to hang me high. I informed them of the rule. I suggested they should change. I thought a compromise could help lead them in the right direction, at least.I included our rules committee chair into the matter. I forwarded her response, because the board wantedto know if it was mandatory. While I was awaiting her response I sent Sam's response along. I also included my District Commissioner in the matter. I had her full support. Ultimately this was the board's decision. Tonight the registrar told me she's making two more teams and moving to this format. The one argument I heard was this was a progressive club and they wanted to be able to train goalies in prep for U-10 competition. They may hate me but, the kids win. All is good.
 
 
The logic that one needs to have the U-8 age group play goalkeeper in order to be prepared for the introduction of the position at U-10 is flawed. By the same unfounded logic, we should have 14-year-olds drive cars in preparation for when they are actually allowed to do so at age 16. If we allow this encroachment mentality to take hold, rather than showing adult patience and long-term development perspective, then the club would soon have keepers at U-6 in preparation for U-8 which they mean to actually be in preparation for when the position is introduced at U-10. Furthermore it tells me that the adults involved underestimate the children's ability to learn the new skills and concepts of play when they move into the U10 age group. Why does the club lack faith in its own players?
 
This is a classic slippery slope. The approach is also indicative of a mindset of children's soccer being a spectator sport for the adults; which it is not! Youth soccer is for the players, not the spectators. If the spectators want the thrill of a sporting spectacle then go watch a MLS, WPS or college match.
 

Protective Order

Susan Boyd

They sit there, the behemoths of the soccer field, tempting anyone who has energy and imagination to take a few chin-ups from the cross bar. They look as solid and stable as Stonehenge. What could go wrong? Plenty actually. Movable goals are responsible for over 120 emergency room visits a year, thousands of minor injuries, and, sadly, since 1979, 36 deaths. Very few soccer clubs use permanently anchored goals since these do not allow for resizing and reconfiguring fields to get the maximum use from the minimum area. Moving goals allows the overworked areas in the goal mouth to rest and rejuvenate. But with the ease and convenience of movable goals comes some neglect. Anchoring the goals makes them less flexible since pulling up the anchors can be a chore. Some clubs opt for sand bagging the back base of the goal, but this doesn't offer as much stability as the auger and stake anchors that manufacturers recommend and more and more states are requiring by law or by commerce act.

This last week, "Zach's Law" was signed by Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois requiring proper anchoring of all movable goals. Presently there are close to half a million movable goals in use in the United States. Although the ratio of deaths to goals is small, most of the deaths involve children between 9 and 11, a tragedy that can be easily prevented. Illinois' Law joins California, Arkansas (Jonathan's Law), New York, and Wisconsin in implementing acts that enforce proper anchoring and have the power to levy fines when not. Movable goals weigh between 150 and 500 lbs. and fall for a variety of reasons. Some tip because they are placed on uneven or too soft a surface, some tip because of the temptation of performing a chin-up on the cross bar, some tip because of wind gusts, and some tip from being knocked during a game. No matter the cause, the bones and skulls of children are no match for that amount of weight toppling from that height.
           
In 1995 the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission adopted and published guidelines for movable goals. (http://www.odsl.org/docs/home/goal%20safety.pdf) The guidelines are comprehensive and the same guidelines incorporated by states into their laws. They are also the same guidelines endorsed by U.S. Youth Soccer Association. Unfortunately the USCPSC has no enforcement capabilities, so these guidelines must be adopted and followed by the organizations they affect in order to be effective. Since so few states have given these guidelines legal teeth, I encourage you to print off the guidelines and provide them to your soccer club, school district, church, and youth organizations, anywhere there might be goals. Educate both parents and children about goal safety including not to use goals as a climbing wall or a chin bar. The guidelines include a warning sign that organizations can print off, duplicate, laminate and attach to the goals. When goals are to be moved only adults should do the job. Kids naturally want to pitch in, but the danger of a tip over makes this a task best left to grown-ups. 
           
In addition you can lobby your state legislature to adopt a law that gives power to the safety guidelines. In this age of partisan squabbling, this is an issue that all politicians should be able to get behind. There is minimal financial impact on the organizations affected other than to purchase sufficient and proper anchoring, unless they violate the law, in which case fines can go from $1,000 to $10,000 depending on the type of offense. Truth be told, we shouldn't need a law or fines to make sure that the equipment our kids use is safe for them. In most cases, educating organizations about the dangers of movable goals and the ways to prevent these dangers should be sufficient. But a law does get the attention of anyone affected by the law, so in the end it can speed along the process of making products safer and stronger. And for the few stubborn souls who don't think anchoring is necessary, it provides the means to compel compliance.
           
The best thing you can do as a parent is to make sure your kids understand the power that goals possess. Make sure they don't use the goals as gym equipment. Don't be shy about telling children you see hanging or climbing on goals to get down. Even when anchored, the laws of physics still apply.   If enough weight is exerted on the top of the goal, it can tip on the fulcrum of the front posts. So educate your kids to respect goals, to use them as directed, and to let their friends know about the dangers. If we work on proper anchoring, proper respect for the equipment, and proper movement of the goals, we should be able to prevent not only deaths, but injuries as well. Zero goal accident deaths should be our target. It's an achievable objective we should all aspire to. It won't bring back 10 year old Zach Tran, Jonathan Nelson, or Hayden Ellias, but it honors their lives by protecting the futures of other 10 year olds, one of whom might be your own.
 

Get In The Game

Sam Snow

For several years US Youth Soccer has had advertisements for TV and other mediums called "Get Out and Get in the Game". The idea was to promote young people to get outside play soccer and interact with their friends. I have the same idea in mind for coaches. No, I don't mean coaches going to play soccer; although that would be a good thing. I mean for coaches getting involved in the political game.

Now before you panic coaches, I'm not saying you should run for an elected position; although that's not a bad idea either. What I mean is for coaches to get involved in the decision making process for policies and by-laws. The thought of coaches getting themselves involved with the decision makers comes to my mind since this weekend is the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of US Youth Soccer. The AGM is held in conjunction with the Finals of the National Championships Series (NCS). Both the NCS Finals and the AGM are took place in Phoenix last week. Check out the US Youth Soccer web site for great video clips and stories on the Finals.

As to the AGM and coaches involving themselves in the decision making process, I have always advocated that coaches do so. I hear too many coaches complain about the decisions made at the AGM of their club or state association, but they never made any effort to participate. When I was the Technical Director for Louisiana Soccer I encouraged the club directors of coaching to attend the state AGM and speak up on issues that impacted the playing environment. A few of the club coaches took up the challenge and voiced their thoughts at the meetings. Even though they did not have a vote, usually the club president had that right, having coaches there and speaking on the proposals helped to sway the decisions being made.

It is that kind of involvement as a leader in a club or a state association in which coaches should participate. Do not become a politician. Let the administrators make the business decisions that are necessary to operate clubs, leagues and associations. Do, however, get involved in the decision being made that impacts players and coaches. If you do not get in the game then you have no right to complain about the outcome. Some coaches say that soccer decisions are being made by non-soccer people. Well where are you? If you want decisions made by "soccer people" then get yourself to those meetings. So come on coaches, Get Out and Get in the Game!