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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.

 

NYL & Leaders

Sam Snow

The last three weeks I have been very busy with National Youth License courses and club sessions in North Carolina, Texas, Washington and Virginia. US Youth Soccer has conducted, in conjunction with the State Associations and U.S. Soccer, 19 courses including the one I am concluding now in Virginia. To date, over 600 coaches and administrators have attended those courses. One of the goals of U.S. Soccer for the next few years is to impact Zone 1 of the Player Development Pyramid. Zone 1 encompasses the age groups of U-6 to U-12. That of course, fits precisely in the focus of the NYL, the "Y" License. So, US Youth Soccer along with Claudio Reyna, Youth Technical Director for U.S. Soccer, hopes to spread the impact of the "Y" License even further along the youth soccer landscape. Why the emphasis on Zone 1?

If we hope to improve the quantity of players and quality of play in Zones 2 and 3 then we need to look at what we are doing in the beginning of a person's soccer life. Most Americans come into playing the game of soccer at some point by the age of 12. Our approach is that if we take care of the beginning, the end will take care of itself. This is not to stay that we ignore good coaching and a good soccer experience for teenage players. It is saying that we must do a better job with the soccer environment, coaching, officiating and soccer parenting with the preteen players. As the culture of soccer in Zone 1 improves, then in time it will trickle up to older age groups. So, how does the "Y" License play into all of this?

The "Y" gives us a forum from which correct information for running training sessions and setting up matches for children can be delivered. Fair enough you may say, but 600 coaches out of the 300,000 who are part of US Youth Soccer is not much of a dent. That's true – unless we can reach decision makers. To that end one of the courses held at the end of October was an invitation only course conducted at the US Youth Soccer national office at Pizza Hut Park at the club house and fields of FC Dallas. At that course we had in attendance a member of the national board of directors, the manager of the Passback program for the U.S. Soccer Foundation, the youth directors from four professional franchises, the director of a large Soccer Across America program in New York City, the executive director of a state association and numerous state association staff coaches. That course impacted leaders at several levels of the game. It may thereby impact policy making decisions.

We do indeed want coaches and administrators from grassroots programs attending the course. They naturally have the most direct contact time with players and their development. But we also need the movers and shakers attending the course. We need coaches and administrators from the national level, the state level and the club level in the course. Then we begin to change the youth soccer culture. Then we reshape the American soccer landscape. This is not an easy task nor will it evolve quickly or without consternation. To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, we leaders should choose to take on this challenge not because it is easy but because it is hard.

The updated list of 2011 National Youth Licenses can be found here. Additional courses will be added throughout the year.

Sign up for a National Youth License course today!
 

No Freezing or Stampeding Necessary

Susan Boyd

Black Friday is fast approaching.  Here in Wisconsin it's the penalty hunters must pay for abandoning their significant others on Thanksgiving.  While deer hunters cling to tree blinds in freezing weather at 4 a.m., their bargain hunting counterparts line up at 4 a.m. at the local big box store to stampede in and spend thousands of dollars with the hope of procuring at least one item at 90% off.  I've never done the Black Friday run, but then my husband doesn't hunt, so he's around to knock some sense into me.  Instead I spend most of October and November pouring through scores of catalogs in order to get my holiday shopping done early and easily.  I rarely achieve either goal, but at least I get to see what's out there for the soccer parent shopper.
 
I have to preface these suggestions with the following disclaimer:  Neither I nor U.S. Youth Soccer Association has any vested interest in these websites nor do we officially endorse any of these products.  I just earmark these as I come across them because I think they would make great gifts for young soccer players.  Some of them I've bought myself, but most I have just come upon in hours of catalog and web browsing.  I'll categorize these by price points – Under $20, under $50, and under $100.

UNDER $20
  • Stainless steel 10 oz. snack containers with carabiner clip keep snack items fresh even in the heat and can attach easily to backpacks or soccer bags.  Containers come in blue, black, pink, red, or green and cost $12.95.  Stainless steel 24 oz water bottles in the same color choices run $14.95.  You can mix and match snack and water containers to save $2.95 on the pair. http://www.windandweather.com/product.asp?section_id=0&department=0&search_type=normal&search_value=Water%20Bottle&cur_index=&pcode=2339

  • Looking at the sky doesn't always help you figure out what the soccer weather will be. This forecaster key chain gives the weather, time, calendar, humidity and temperature.  But that's not all.  It has a flashlight and alarm clock as well.  Clips on to a soccer bag or fits in your pocket and costs $19.95. http://www.windandweather.com/product.asp?section_id=0&department=0&search_type=normal&search_value=forecaster&cur_index=2&pcode=2112

  • Fleece Ear Bags are handy little discs which fit over the ear, won't fall off, and eliminate that plastic ear muff holder or the slippage of an ear band.  These can fit easily into a soccer bag for those days when Mother Nature has a cold.  They come in a large variety of colors, fabrics, and prints at $14.95 a pair or $12.95 if ordering 2 pair or more.  http://www.plowhearth.com/product.asp?pcode=96

  • Fleece wrist wallets are zippered wristbands for holding keys, credit cards and cash without having to drag a purse or a wallet to the game. They cost $14.95 and come in a variety of colors, fabrics, and prints.  http://www.plowhearth.com/product.asp?pcode=9954

  • Nothing is worse than muddy cleats messing up everything in the soccer bag.  These flannel shoe bags are $14.95 for 2 pair, one in baby blue and one in navy. http://www.magellans.com/store/Travel_Solutions___Packing_For_Carry_OnLP349N?Args.    For the girls there's fabulous wild print shoe bags for $20 at Etsy.  Each bag holds one pair of shoes.  http://www.etsy.com/shop/zoetote

  • Actually there is something worse than muddy cleats; it's muddy, smelly cleats and socks.  So consider buying great shoe deodorizers called Skunkies which come in your choice of five colors (Kelly Green, Fluorescent Green, Pink, Red, and Royal Blue) in Xtreme Sport scent.  These are small mesh bags with a soccer ball emblem which absorb odors and moisture.  Buy several pairs to put in soccer bags, soccer drawers, cleats, and keeper gloves.  Sold in pairs for $4.69 at Epic Sports.   http://soccer.epicsports.com/prod/14002/skunkies-soccer-ball-shoe-equipment-deodorizers.html

  • Soccer ornaments are a fun tradition for your family.  Once the kids are grown they can take the ornaments to decorate their first tree with some memories and begin their own traditions. Ornaments also make great coach and manager gifts.  Several websites have soccer ornaments at various prices, most under $15.  Here are three websites I think have the best variety:
 
UNDER $50
  • You probably remember me talking about Dry Guy dryers.  The one I own looks like an upside down table with the legs being posts on which you can put boots, gloves, hats, etc. and through which warm air blows to dry them.  I recently came across Dry Guy in a format that has two dryers that slip into the shoes and a cord to plug in.  There's no cumbersome motor base – just two dryer modules.  They come in a travel form with both a 120V AC household outlet and 12V DC car charger or a regular household format with slightly larger dryers.   Each cost $29.95.  Their advantage is that they easily slip into a soccer bag or backpack.  The disadvantage is that you can only dry two items at a time and at a slightly longer drying time than the bulkier one I own. This link takes you to the regular dryers, but if you scroll down you'll find a link to the travel version.  http://www.plowhearth.com/product.asp?pcode=12057

  • We all know how chilled to the bone we get after a cold game.  So a Back to Basics Cocoa hot drink maker is just what the family needs to warm up at home.  Just add the ingredients, use the provided mixing paddle to blend, and then heat.  The front spigot allows for easy dispensing.  $29.95 http://www.amazon.com/Back-Basics-CM300BR-Cocoa-Latte-Hot-Drink/dp/B0002TUVQM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1289611974&sr=8-1
UNDER $100
  • Here's an item for the true soccer fanatic – the FIFA World Cup DVD collection 1930-2006.  The set comprises 15 Discs with over 24 hours of viewing.  That much soccer only costs $89.99!  http://acornonline.com/fifa-world-cup-collection-1930%25962006/p/15065/

  • You may remember me talking about my search for the perfect soccer chair.  I located one that not only had a table with a cup holder, but had a heated seat as well!  I can attest that the chair is wonderful, especially for watching from Wisconsin sidelines.  But you can't always use a chair.  Sometimes you have to sit in bleachers. TempaChair offers a battery powered heated seating pad.  The pad rolls up and fits into a coat pocket or a soccer bag.  Imagine a true ""bench warmer""!  It costs $59.95 and lasts 2.5 hours on high and 4 hours on low on one charge. http://tweetys.com/tempachair-battery-powered-heated-seating-pad.aspx
 
All these websites will probably have shipping and handling charges and possibly local taxes, so the prices I've state are for the items only.  I hope you all have a great holiday shopping experience.
 
 

Hurry up and get famous

Susan Boyd

Every time I think my kids have accomplished something noteworthy I get gob-smacked by another preteen prodigy who has achieved a perfect SAT score or invented a better way to microwave bacon. The latest is a 10-year-old opera singer, Jackie Evancho from Pittsburgh, who has an album coming out next week for the holidays. She was a contestant on "America's Got Talent" (AGT) but I saw her on the "Today" show. I don't watch AGT because their child superstars make clear that my kids are remarkably ordinary. I'm delighted my kids fit in so well with their peers, but I also like having my fantasy that they will make the cover of Time magazine before they can drive.

I don't think I'm any different than any other parent. We all want the best for our kids while also validating our excellent parenting and genes. At one point I only had to compete against friends and family, but now we have YouTube highlighting world-wide phenomena daily. It's like getting your cousin's holiday newsletter extolling her kids either saving the rainforests or winning a poetry award. But instead of getting it once a year, you now get it every time you log on to AOL.  It's hard not to be jealous and to believe that brilliance touches every family but mine.

When I sit on the sidelines of a youth game and see parents coaching, demanding, and even verbally assaulting their kids to meet unrealistic expectations, I see the dark side of all this adulation of young luminaries. We lose perspective on what constitutes normal, even exemplary, performance. We make the mistake that somehow we can create the child star through sheer force of will. I don't know what's completely behind the emergence of a Jackie Evancho. She may be a very regular 10 year old with an extraordinary talent. But I suspect that there's also a mom and/or dad in the wings coaching to the point of micro-managing. We can never know for sure, although we get a boat-load of tell-all tales from child stars like Patty Duke or Macaulay Caulkin revealing some pretty horrific histories. 

I remember when I first saw 3-year-old Tiger Woods on the "Tonight" show. He was making these great shots and putts, but hovering over him directing him every second was his dad. Andre Agassi just published his memoirs, "Open", in which he details tennis as a prison from which he tried to escape. His father expected all his four children to be tennis prodigies, but only Agassi survived the grueling daily training sessions that often pulled him out of school and left him with no friends.  Despite the agony, the success of these talents only reinforces a parent's belief that his or her child will be happiest by being the greatest through intense training and constant monitoring. Hopefully most of these parents do it to insure an amazing future for their children and not out of an egotistical need to be recognized as the parents of high achievers, although I suspect the latter plays into their behaviors too often.

Even after Agassi details his horrific journey to the highest levels of men's tennis, he also admits that he has come to appreciate what that success has meant for him. Obviously this makes the process problematic. On the one hand, we parents want our kids to go as far as possible on whatever career or interest path they choose, while we also want to insure they have a childhood that they can look back on with joy. We only get one chance to do it right, and naturally we make tons of mistakes. But we don't want to have any regrets that some major talent in our children went untapped because we didn't push enough. For many of those talents we have to make decisions before our kids are old enough to have any serious input. I remember on vacation to Florida when the boys were three and four we got them tennis lessons with the hotel pro mainly so we could relax for two hours poolside without having to watch out for the boys. When the pro returned he extolled their athletic abilities and naturally suggested they continue training with him, which at $40 an hour I fully expected him to do. But then he said, "Bryce is really too old to ever become a serious tennis champion, but Robbie definitely has a chance." In ten seconds he had opened a dangerous door. What had begun as time-killing lessons could now become a serious mission to mold a new tennis sensation. We passed.

When I tell this story most people laugh and agree that we probably would have spent thousands of dollars on a long shot. But there are always a few, especially those who know how athletic Robbie is, who ask, "Don't you wonder if he could have made it?" Sure I do. I have the same fantasies about all my kids that they achieve ultra success in their chosen passions. I know that child actors, models, tennis stars, gymnasts, and figure skaters among other "professions" can start before kids are toilet trained so parents have to make the choice to pursue these dreams. I respect their decisions since only they know their family dynamics and their child's ability to handle the pressures of such early professional demands. But luckily most of youth sports evolve slowly and don't begin seriously until a child is 9 or 10. That gives the player a bigger voice in what happens. As parents we need to listen.

 Ultimately the question becomes: how different will your child's life be if he or she becomes extraordinary at a young age or simply becomes successful but typical as an adult.   The temptation to try for the former outcome is powerful. Yet the reality remains that many have tried and few have succeeded.   With no "do-overs" we'll never know which path would have been the best. Sometimes the decision can be made for us if our child is plucked from obscurity by fate – like Lana Turner being discovered at Schraft's. However, for most of us we have to decide if at age 5 knowing how to slide tackle or score 10 goals a game indicates our child has exceptional skills worthy of intense development. While most of us will decide to take pride in whatever accomplishments our kids achieve, brag and share pictures until people run when they see us coming, and give our kids an occasional push, some of us will decide to pursue an accelerated course. If your child is successful I'll try not to be jealous, but I can't promise anything. 
 

Let me check my calendar

Susan Boyd

Last night I shopped online for calendars. I like to give them as gifts because everyone needs a calendar, because I can buy a calendar to suit someone's interests, and because calendars are fat-free (except for the chocolate filled Advent calendars). There's a website I use appropriately called calendars.com that probably has every calendar ever made for 2011 plus games and mugs.  I came across the website several years ago when I was desperate to find a calendar that could handle all the entries I had to make. Most calendars I found in stores had these anemic little squares that couldn't hold three entries much less the dozen or more I needed. As I filled in my new, super-sized calendar I realized that soccer had taken over my life.

I'm not really complaining because I love sharing this activity with my kids. At the same time, I also know the feeling of jolting awake in a cold sweat as I panic over forgetting a game or an after practice treat assignment. Now I just have two kids to worry about, but Robbie has a friend who has seven siblings, all in soccer. I can't imagine juggling eight soccer schedules. I talked to the mom at team registration and she seemed remarkably calm. She must have an incredible calendar. She also has her kids all in one club minimizing travel for practices. But what about games and tournaments that never seemed to mesh for our family. She just shrugged and said serenely, "It seems to work out." Maybe she has taxis on call. In any case her aromatherapy must be amazing.

Youth soccer does take on a life of its own. Before you know it, your time has been stolen, now channeled into driving for, watching, shopping for, and organizing soccer. You not only know the clerks in your local soccer store, you have them on speed dial. You can explain the offside rule to anyone. When you turn your television on it's already set on Fox Soccer Channel. Birthday parties have soccer themes, you haven't bought a shirt without a number on the back in years, and you have to unload 12 soccer balls in various states of inflation to reach your spare tire. What began as a fun way to spend Saturday morning has now become the dominant entry on your calendar.

Finding the necessary balance in life seems impossible with soccer dominating one side of the scales and the rest of life clinging to the other. The best way to push back the soccer encroachment is to do it early and put those non-soccer events on the calendar right away. In our family we made an agreement that soccer would never take precedence over certain family activities. Sticking to that commitment wasn't easy. Occasionally it wouldn't have been inconvenient or a sacrifice to change our plans, but doing so would have opened the door to a full-blown soccer take over. So school dances, a weekend for snowboarding, a field trip, and other life experiences got their spot on our calendar along with the soccer games and trips. We also limited the number of days the boys could miss school for soccer. That's really tough because spring travel tournaments never seem to fall during spring break. Setting those limits before soccer season starts makes all the jumble on the calendar easier to handle.

As much as my boys love soccer, they also got tired of the routine. Every once in a while they needed a break just to hang out in their rooms, play some video games, or have their non-soccer buddies over. That last thing is really important because friends can get left behinds when soccer takes over. So, I encourage you to find room on the calendar for those breaks. Have a Friday night pizza party, buy tickets to a basketball game, or go out for dinner that isn't a quick bite before or after practice. I love soccer with my kids because we interact a lot together traveling, sharing game stories, and finding common ground in the sport we all love. But we also need to recognize that talking about the last goal or analyzing a disappointing game isn't a substitute for talking with our kids about values, teenage issues, and their dreams. We need to find topics outside of soccer to occupy our discussions.

When we get those blank calendars in December, it's the best time to pencil in some non-soccer activities. Even though soccer isn't some evil swarm of insects seeping under our doors to invade our lives, it can be a bit like a dog barking incessantly. We love the cute dog, but we also wish it would just quit yapping for a while. We can use the calendar as a way to control how out of control soccer can become. Don't get me wrong – we're still crazy for soccer in our family. After buying calendars online I sat through a soccer game that we lost 5-1 in 41 degree weather with 30 mph wind gusts and rain and hail. That's when you know you've won some battles in keeping soccer at bay, but you have definitely lost the war.