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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.

 

Lack of concern in all sports

Sam Snow

One of the hindrances to the development of American soccer players is over-coaching during a match. Far too many coaches do it and far too many club directors and team parents accept it. Players in their late teens have probably learned to tune out the vociferous coach if they have one. Younger players are less likely to have learned that skill yet. Of course, it's a sad comment to acknowledge that players must learn to tune out a loud mouth coach.

So how have I come to this discussion? Well it stems from a brief e-mail exchange with a club coach and the Technical Director in New Jersey. Take a quick read:

Club coach: Rick, any thoughts as to when the rules of the game may extend unsportsmanlike conduct to coaches? As a youth coach, I often sit in my chair on the sideline and listen to the guys next me trying to give themselves a heart attack. I usually talk to my players when I sub them. It never occurred to me that the other coach yelling would be a problem for my players until I asked one of my players why they chose to make the play they did, they said all they can hear is the other coach yelling and it confused them. I started asking my players and all the way up from U-8 to U-14 have the same issue. If the other guy is loud, then they get distracted. My favorite is when a coach 'yells let it go' for a ball to roll out of bounds and my player stops. I think it is a natural reaction for kids. I know everyone says the parents are an issue and I believe that too, but I think the other coach barking is the same thing as a player from the other team barking in someone's ear. I would love to see the debate on that one.

State coach: Unfortunately these are the remnants of the "over coaching and directing" culture of youth sports-- we have no control over what the opponent's coach does; technically the referee should put the ca bash on that -- could be interpreted as over coaching. I tell the players to only respond to my voice and the referee's whistle.

Indeed over-coaching is a cultural habit in American youth sports with soccer not being an exception. Parents and club administrators not only allow it, but in many cases expect it because they think that's what coaching is. All of us need to work constantly to educate clubs that it is in fact poor coaching if the coach is joy sticking the players around the field. It means that he or she has done a poor job of coaching during training sessions if the players have not been taught to think for themselves.

State coach: It is just unbelievable how the children that Coach D describes in his email stop like the power switch has been turned off when they hear the other coach's voice!

Now why do the parents and administrators put up with over-coaching during a match? Because so many think that's what good coaching is. We all need to make a concentrated effort to educate parents of young players and club directors that the better coaches tend to be the ones who sit and observe during most of the match. Yes, they will yell a few comments and reminders during the match. But they are not the puppet master trying to control every move from the technical area. I would begin my education campaign within a club by sharing an article in Youth Soccer Insider by Claudio Reyna, U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director. 

Claudio Reyna: 'Coaches should sit down', by Mike Woitalla - Thursday, April 21, 2011

This discussion began with the sharing of a blog on the general lack of concern about the player has seeped into all levels of sport. Enjoy and share.

An article to reflect upon your coaching ethics and values…
 

Questions that Matter

Susan Boyd

I heard it again the other day, "That coach isn't giving my son enough playing time."   We've all been there with our sons and daughters, watching the team struggle while our child sits on the bench.   We're normal parents who see our kids through those rose-colored glasses of pride and anticipation, unable to believe that everyone else doesn't see the same abilities and potential. That pride can be a dangerous thing if it leads us to an angry confrontation with the coach. It's important to remember that a myriad of elements goes into any coach's decision about who to play, what position to use a player, how much to play someone, what tournaments to attend, what skills need to be worked on, and how best to convey those skills to the players.
           
Before it even gets to the point of wanting or needing to talk to a coach, parents can help eliminate some of the issues by understanding all the club policies as they relate to player concerns. Most clubs will soon begin registration for fall recreational teams and tryouts for their select programs, so this is a great opportunity to make sure that your child joins a club where the philosophies and policies are most in line with your expectations. For example, what are the playing time policies of your club? If your child is on a recreational team, then playing time should be evenly split among players no matter their skills or their years with the club. Make sure that policy is clearly stated in the club materials, so there won't be any confusion. If the team is a select team, there may still be some playing time minimums that the club will enforce. Also you should check with your league and your state association to determine if they have any policies that member clubs need to adhere to. That will give you a basis for discussion if you believe the coach is ignoring those policies.
           
However, I always encourage the player to talk to the coach first rather than have the parent do it, which can be intimidating for most youth players. Nevertheless, it's a good idea to start there and then if the coach appears to dismiss the concern it opens the door for parents to become involved. I know that coaches always respect the players who try to resolve their issues with the team or the coach, so encourage your child to approach the coach on his or her own. Some issues, however, do require the input of the parent, especially when they affect family concerns such as travel and expense.
           
Before you sign with a club, pin down the coach or the team manager on what the financial obligations will be. It's easy to put in the club literature that the team attends three tournaments a season, but if you're a team in Wisconsin, there's a big difference between tournaments in the state and tournaments in Florida or California or even Ohio. Once you're signed with the team, it's difficult to refuse to attend a tournament that requires airfare, especially when the parents around you are thrilled with the idea. So be sure you understand what ""travel tournament"" means before you place your child on a team. Make sure that all expenses are detailed up front; ask about uniform costs, travel, shared expenses such as lodging for coaches and bus drivers at tournaments, team dinners at tournaments and any mandatory team expenses such as soccer bags, warm-ups, and team dues. These questions should be asked of coaches and club by parents. As long as players need to pay for their training, their parents should have a detailed accounting of what it will cost them.
           
Other issues can be anticipated prior to signing for a club. Attend a few practices of the coach you expect to play under to see how sessions are conducted and if you have any problems with those practices. It's no secret that coaches can be salty in their language and occasionally downright menacing in their directions. Just like you shouldn't expect to change a spouse's behavior, you're not going to change a coach's behavior, so if you are uncomfortable with a coach, find another one. Once your child joins a team there will be very little you can do about how a coach conducts him or herself. You can also check out how many players at your son's or daughter's position are already on the team and what formation the coach uses. If there are four forwards on the team already and the coach uses a single forward, chances are pretty good that playing time for most of the forwards will be limited. And expect that if your son or daughter becomes the newest player on the team that there will be a probationary period resulting in limited playing time.
           
Finally, if you do need to talk to the coach about an issue, stay focused on the issue and don't get personal. Very few of us have as much experience coaching soccer as your child's soccer coach. So trust the coach to see the big picture of which your child is a part. If you truly question the coach's ability to coach then you need to find a new coach – again you're not going to change the coach to your liking. If you think your child is being treated unfairly as compared to others on the team, then again you're better off finding a different team and coach. Be sure that you are also not missing the forest for the trees. If players want to improve they need to possess the basic skills of soccer, the most basic of which is first touch. This means the player can receive the ball on any part of his or her body and move it quickly to their foot without sending it away for an opponent to snap up. Your coach may be working on your child to develop and retain an excellent first touch or some other significant skill before adding the element of competition which could result in developing bad habits. Not playing in a game doesn't necessarily translate to not being considered a good soccer player. Development means taking certain steps and taking them in order. So give the coach time to explain without needing to be defensive against your attack. Ask why rather than why not.
           
Shortly after Robbie switched teams, his new team was playing for the National Championship. We were behind 1-0. Robbie was a forward and had been on the sidelines the entire game. One of our forwards had hurt his hamstring earlier in the week and could barely run, but he remained in the game as the team struggled to overcome their deficit. The coach, who went on to coach in the MLS, made the difficult choice between injured experience and healthy unknown.   He decided that keeping someone in there who understood the team dynamics and tactics and was a known leader would be the best to lift the team even with an injury. In the tournament we had won two games with that injured player to bring us to the championship, so overall it appeared to be a wise decision despite the outcome. Still, Robbie's frustration at not being given a chance to contribute and the team's and parents' frustration at the loss did bring up immediate doubts of the coach's choice. Eventually everyone let the moment pass and no one talked to the coach. That kind of restraint is difficult but necessary. I definitely urge parents and players to remember that they will need lots of bridges so be careful which ones they risk burning.
 
 

Pass the Ball and the Pampers

Susan Boyd

Last month, Dutch soccer club V.V.V. Venlo signed a new player to their roster for a 10-year contract. Such signings in the Netherlands usually go unnoticed in the United States, but this one was different. The new player was Baerke van der Meij an up and comer who dazzled with a hat trick in less than 20 seconds and thereby gained the notice and ultimately the roster slot on the team. Baerke has an impressive resume including learning to speak Dutch and how to use a spoon. Once he is toilet trained, he should fit right into the locker room. Baerke is 18 months old.
           
I don't know about the rest of you, but when my kids were 18 months old, they had not yet committed to soccer as their primary sport. In fact, one or two hadn't fully committed to walking. Yet in this age of "get 'em while they're hot," Baerke has become the only soccer player who has to have games scheduled around his naptime. He was "discovered" because he hammered three balls into his toy chest while his parents digitally captured the moment and posted it on the internet. 

Had YouTube existed when my kids were in their single digits, and had I owned a video camera, I might have coached them do something spectacular to gain the notice of a major sports organization. I'm sure I could have drilled them enough to sink three putts from different spots on the green or make 10 free throws in a row into their Fisher Price hoop. Given that this story gained the attention of magazines as prestigious as Time, I assume that there will be a slew of videos hitting YouTube in the coming weeks in an attempt to cash in on the media attention.
           
As Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VVV-Venlo) admitted in their blurb on this event, this was a symbolic contract signing. But it still bothers me. First of all, news outlets didn't report that this was a publicity stunt, preferring instead to give the story more wow factor by omitting that tidbit. Second, it speaks once again to the emphasis on identifying "stars" before they ever have a chance to develop any of their adult characteristics. This only heightens that parental panic that somehow our children will miss the boat when it comes to being tapped for a professional contract. While our kids still need help tying their cleats, we are busy fretting about their athletic choices. If Aesop had written his fables today, it wouldn't have been a dog looking in the river to see another dog with a bigger bone clamped in his jaws. It would have been a soccer parent with a club registration form in his/her hands. 
           
One comment on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYG-E4kbfqk) stated that it would really be awful for this kid if he grew up to be a fan of Barcelona or Man U and was stuck wearing the Venlo jersey. Likewise, how terrible would it be if he had no interest in soccer and instead wanted to speed skate, another national sport of the Netherlands? Or perhaps he won't be sports minded at all, preferring art, music or reading. I doubt the club would hold him to the contract, after all he merely scribbled his signature. As my heroine, Judge Judy, continually points out, minors can't enter into contracts. But he will always be known as the kid in jersey number 1.5 playing forward. That's a legacy difficult to shake off.
           
When the boys were just starting to play there was a club in town who won every U-8 to U-12 game. They formed teams primarily by having each age group stand in a row and picking the biggest players for the first team, then the next biggest kids for the next team, and so on. Their size stood them in good stead until puberty hit and then all of that strength got equalized and even surpassed. Parents who had pushed their kids on this club because it had a winning record became disillusioned when the winning record dissolved. What happened was the kids on other clubs, whose coaching staffs couldn't rely on size, learned skills and tactics which eventually led to some wins, but more importantly gave them a good base from which to develop further. I still watch this pattern of engineering domination with clubs and parents who equate winning with success. 

What kids need is development based on learning the most primary of skills early on.   Every significant soccer player possesses a great first touch, solid passing and the ability to play off the ball. I watch college level players lose the ball time and again because their first touch sends the ball 20 feet in front of them for an opponent to pick up. Players may be praised for understanding what to do when they have the ball, but those same players often kick the ball and then stand to see what develops before making their next move, rather than knowing right where to be when they don't have the ball. Eventually players who want to play at the top level have to fit into a team where all the players get it. Being the top scorer won't be enough to succeed because the entire team has to be able to function as a unit where every player knows what to do every second of the game. No one can accurately predict at age 10, and definitely not at age 1.5, who will be able to develop those team tactics that create the power and success for a club. But every player has a chance to develop even if they don't have a viral video juggling with their ears.
           
I'm happy that soccer gets any mention in the American press and even happier when it relates to youth soccer. But I also don't want to feed the youth frenzy that comes with any sport – the idea that kids have to be noticed before they can ride a tricycle. I remember watching Tiger Woods on the Tonight Show when he was just four. He would do all the tricks including putting, driving, and escaping sand traps with cute abbreviated clubs and his ever-present father overseeing the exhibition. I felt for the kid because it seemed unnatural.   I'm sure, based on many comments he's made about his father, that Tiger doesn't regret beginning his life that way. But I wonder if he could have become as good a golfer as he has without the strict early training and the circus life that came from that training. We can't know because there's no way to do a control study and find out. Still, I'd rather err on the side of giving my kids a childhood with soccer memories that include free time and other sports. Given the tiny percentage of the nearly 14 million youth players in America who will go on to professional careers, parents would do well to let their kids, as a referee would say, play on without the penalty of added pressure and expectation.
 

How would you market a club?

Sam Snow

Q: How would you market a club; internally and externally?

I think the marketing of a club is extensive. To speak to the full scope of the task may be beyond this medium. However, here are a few thoughts. 

Externally, the club must think of point of contact with its targeted customers. So for children, it will be schools, doctors/dentists offices, religious centers, movie theaters and other business places aimed at youngsters, Chuck E. Cheese for example. Also consider parks and recreation departments, YMCA, Boys Clubs, Scouts, Police Athletic League, etc. if they are not running soccer programs themselves. Additionally, if the funds are available then advertising on billboards, newspapers, radio and local public access TV, keeping in mind that newspapers, radio and TV all also deliver over the internet.

Externally, I would also build relationships with high school and college soccer programs. If there are semi-pro and/or pro soccer franchises in the area, then work with them too.

Once a club is up and operating, then advertising on its own web site becomes quite important. Joining forces with the state soccer association on this platform can extend the reach of the club considerably. Then there are many other means to promote the club from within. It could be a fundraiser golf tournament, a holiday dance, an appreciation BBQ for the volunteer team mangers, a club night at a professional match, the club mission statement printed on bag tags for all players and team equipment, encouraging teams to go watch each other play, etc. Bottom line though is the word of mouth from player to player, parent to parent, manager to manager, etc. To get the right messages being shared requires regular communication from the club leadership.