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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.

 

Overuse

Sam Snow

During my flight to the US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer Region I symposium in Newark, Del., this weekend I read a report in Pediatrics, Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The article, written by Dr. Joel Brenner, was Overuse Injuries, Overtraining and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes. I want to share with you some excerpts from this article as they are directly applicable to our youth soccer scene.
 
"Overuse is one of the most common etiologic factors that lead to injuries in the pediatric and adolescent athlete. As more children are becoming involved in organized and recreational athletics, the incidence of overuse injuries is increasing. Many children are participating in sports year-round and sometimes on multiple teams simultaneously. This overtraining can lead to burnout, which may have a detrimental effect on the child participating in sports as a lifelong healthy activity. One contributing factor to overtraining may be parental pressure to compete and succeed.
 
"An overuse injury is microtraumatic damage to a bone, muscle or tendon that has been subjected to repetitive stress without sufficient time to heal or undergo the natural reparative process. Overuse injuries can be classified into four stages: (1) pain in the affected area after physical activity; (2) pain during the activity, without restricting performance; (3) pain during the activity that restricts performance; and (4) chronic, unremitting pain even at rest. The incidence of overuse injuries in the young athlete has paralleled the growth of youth participation in sports. Up to 50 percent of all injuries seen in pediatric sports medicine are related to overuse. The risks of overuse are more serious in the pediatric/adolescent athlete for several reasons. The growing bones of the young athlete cannot handle as much stress as the mature bones of adults. Other reasons include susceptibility to traction apophysitis or spondylosis, rotator cuff tendonitis, etc.
 
"How much training is too much? There are no scientifically determined guidelines to help define how much exercise is healthy and beneficial to the young athlete compared with what might be harmful and represent overtraining. However, injuries tend to be more common during peak growth velocity, and some are more likely to occur if underlying biomechanical problems are present.
 
"The American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness recommends limiting one sporting event activity to a maximum of five days per week with at least one day off from any organized physical activity. In addition, athletes should have at least two to three months off per year from their particular sport during which they can let injuries heal, refresh the mind, and work on strength, conditioning, and proprioception in hopes of reducing injury risk. In addition to overuse injuries, if the body is not given sufficient time to regenerate and refresh, the youth may be at risk of 'burnout'."
 
The overtraining (burnout) syndrome can be defined as a series of psychological, physiologic, and hormonal changes that result in decreased sports performance. Common manifestations may include chronic muscle or joint pain, personality changes, elevated resting heart rate and decreased sports performance. The pediatric athlete may also have fatigue, lack of enthusiasm about practice or competition, or difficulty with successfully completing usual routines. Prevention of burnout should be addressed by encouraging the athlete to become well rounded and well versed in a variety of activities rather than 1 particular sport. The following guidelines are suggested to prevent overtraining/burnout:
 
1.       Keep workouts interesting, with age-appropriate games and training, to keep practice fun.
2.       Take time off from organized or structured sports participation one to two days per week to allow the body to rest or participate in other activities.
3.       Permit longer scheduled breaks from training and competition every two to three months while focusing on other activities and cross-training to prevent loss of skill or level of conditioning.
4.       Focus on wellness and teaching athletes to be in tune with their own bodies for cues to slow down or alter their training methods.
 

US Youth Soccer ODP Championships Talk

Sam Snow

This past weekend the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program Championships took place here in Frisco, Texas, at Pizza Hut Park. The fields were great, the weather was good and the level of play was high. 
 
Along with the Championships, Dr. John Thomas, Coach Dave Rubinson and I conducted a Coaches Connection symposium. The symposium included two class sessions, match analysis of three of the ODP matches and a training session run by Oscar Pareja, Director of Player Development for FC Dallas and his U-16 boys' team. Plus the coaches, administrators and players got to watch the FC Dallas versus Chicago Fire match. In all it was a great soccer weekend.
 
John Thomas, Dave Rubinson and I watched all of the US Youth Soccer ODP Championship matches over the weekend. All of the matches were good quality and the final for the 1993 Boys between Cal South and Oklahoma was riveting! As the three of us watch the players in the matches we also look at the coaches. We observe how they handle warm-up, bench management, substitutions, tactical adjustments, halftime talk, injuries and cool-down. 
 
One crucial coach and player interaction stood out for us – communication. The state select team coaches at this event were models of professional standards in this regard. There was none of the constant yapping from the coach as is heard around so many soccer fields. By and all there was no micromanaging of the players on the field and there was little chatter from the coach to the referees. So while a good standard of match coaching was displayed it can still go up another notch. In this regard for many coaches a new skill must be learned.
 
The information that coaches gave to the players during the run of play was appropriate, at the right moment and just what the team needed for the game situation. Halftime talks were mostly a talk by the coach or coaches and only a little bit of response by the players or small groups of players discussing with the coach the second half game plan. The information given by the coaches at halftime was again right on the money, but tended to be a monologue and not a dialogue. So here's the point. To improve understanding by the players in the team plan for the next half or during the flow of the match and for the players to buy into the plan they must have a hand in devising the plan. Certainly these players of high caliber, good experience and 15 to 17 years old are quite capable, when given the chance, to contribute to the game strategy. After all it is the players who must execute the game plan. If they are just passive receivers of the game plan, as opposed to active co-designers of the game plan, then the likelihood of consistent execution of the game plan diminishes.
 
As an example while watching a 1993 Girls match with Virginia and Minnesota a corner kick was taking place. The coach of the attacking team called out to the players on some positioning adjustments to help keep good team shape in case of a counterattack from the corner kick. The information he gave was good, the players adjusted and the timing of talking to the players was right. However, the players simply followed orders called out by the coach. Instead the coach could have asked a key defensive player to fix the positioning of the team. Then the player takes over commanding teammates and adjustments are made. In the end this is far more efficient and quicker as the players will be able to talk to each other and make adjustments without waiting for information from the middle man, the coach. 
As these talented players move up to even more competitive levels of the game with large crowds watching and the players unable to hear the coach from the bench internal team communication is a must.
 
With halftime the talks should be a dialogue from the get go. Ask the players for a defensive adjustment they think the team should make, discuss it and the coach sums it all up for the team. Then do the same for the attack. Now the players and coaches have jointly come up with the second half game plan. By involving the players they are now thinking tactically and the plan will be much clearer in their minds, which means execution of the plan will improve. When players are accustomed to this approach the coach will find that the players are talking about what to do in the second half as they walk off the field from the first half. Their mental focus on the match will improve.
 
The new skill coaches must learn is to take a player centered approach in training and in matches. Both training sessions and matches are learning opportunities for the players and coaches. The coach will need to learn a bit about the use of guided questions in matches as a continuation of guided discovery coaching in training sessions. The final objective is to give the game over to the players!
 

Hard Choices

Susan Boyd

I like to watch the show "Jon and Kate Plus Eight" about a couple who had a set of twins. Then they decided to try for one more child and ended up with sextuplets. It's a reality show, where they follow the family a few days each week to see what they are up to. I like the show because it gives me hope that I can continue to handle the much smaller family I have and it inspires me with the relative calm the parents possess.   I also find myself wondering what they would do if all the kids wanted to do sports, and they all chose different sports. I'd like to see them stay calm in the face of that scheduling. Yes, I'm inherently nasty when I get jealous.

Motherhood is all about choices. Some choices are easier than others: do I scrub the toilets or take the kids to the park? Other choices are more difficult: do I let my 12 year old watch an R rated movie that all his friends have seen? Most of our choices have adamant naysayers ready to judge the decisions we make. "You aren't breastfeeding?" "She's not potty trained yet?" "You let him have soda?" We all know the instant we broke down and bought the Barbie doll for our daughter despite our misgivings. We remember the watershed moment we gave in to that "rated T for Teens" video game. Eventually our best intentions can't withstand the outside pressure from TV ads, our kids' playmates, even other parents.  We cave and feel guilty. But we also discover that our daughters and sons don't have bad body images and don't end up serial killers. We lament the loss of innocence and move on to the next round of choices that likely will involve body piercing and tattoos.

Some choices are inevitable and unavoidable. I hate the choice I have to make when Bryce has a game in one place and Robbie's at another. It requires some creativity to take some of the sting out of the experience. Cell phones have eased the separation dilemma appreciably. I can get and give regular updates on a game's progress. It's not the same as being there, but it does allow me to feel a part of the action in a small way. Video taping is out of the question. First of all, we barely have enough hours in the day to see games live and to get through all the EPL games we've TiVoed. Second, I'm terrible at filming. Every time I sense something good is going to happen, I have to see it with my own two eyes, so I lower the camera. We have an entire library of soccer tapes that I call anti-highlights. It's kind of like someone came in and cut out the best moments of the games leaving us the generic bits. We can watch Robbie darting towards the goal, and then it cuts to the ground while a cheering soundtrack plays over the jiggly shots of grass and feet. By the time I rotate the camera back, it's to see the team lined up for a kick-off. Or when the opponents get ready to fire, I drop the camera to watch Bryce's spectacular save, and then get the camera back in focus in time to see the team receiving his punt or throw. Any college coach who wants to see a highlight DVD of our boys will need to use his imagination.

Other choices have to be made in the quagmire of societal expectations. For example, the boys don't remember, but I used to make dinner every night. Once sports began to take a serious foothold in our lives, I had to decide what to do about supper. When practice ended, the boys wanted to eat immediately. I tried the Crock Pot route, but you can only eat so many meals cooked in a ceramic tub. Luckily we had a wonderful family restaurant on the way home from the fields. They had great, fresh food, which was reasonably priced. We ate there so often, that when we parked our car out front, the waitresses would see and have our drinks waiting for us at our favorite table! Despite the fact that we were eating out instead of at home, we were eating together, talking, and free of television. I admit to a bit of rationalizing the worthiness of that choice, but overall I still say it was a good one. Still, I had admitting to that choice because it involves me not living up to the mother code of behavior.

And I have paid for that choice which has led to what I call the "menu mentality." The boys think I should run a short order kitchen. If I make spaghetti I'm told "I don't want spaghetti. I want a burger." So I naturally tell the story of growing up with four brothers and sitting down for dinner every night. My dad would arrive home at 6:10 p.m., get a glass of milk and two cookies, sit on the couch and read the newspaper until 6:30 p.m. when we would all sit in the dining room (yes, the dining room) to cheerfully and gratefully eat whatever my mother cooked for us. We never ate out. The boys just look at me like I'm a dinosaur. Rather than battle "menu mentality" I've decided I'll cook regularly again when the boys are gone to college. My hope is that when they return they'll be so glad not to have dorm food that they will gobble up whatever I serve. I made the decision because I don't want to fight anymore. My decision is probably not your choice and you may judge me for it, but I'm doing what works, and I choose to save my battles for things like tattoos. What we ultimately choose in life is dictated by all the choices we have made before and less and less by what others will think of those choices. So I figure it's inevitable. Those perfect parents, Jon and Kate, will have eight kids running around with sleeve tattoos and nose rings. It will vindicate all my choices good or bad.
 

Sticks and Stones

Susan Boyd

For some inexplicable reason I have been watching "American Idol" this season. Other than some of the preliminary rounds with all the awkward, tone deaf William Hungs believing they can actually win a recording contract, I've pretty much ignored the program. This year the nephew of one of my husband's patients, Danny Gokey, is on the show, so I guess that's the curiosity. What I've discovered is that the real point of the series isn't for the contestants to win. No, it's for the public to judge them and not just with a weekly vote. Idol bashing has risen to the status of a new public sport. Each contestant is run through the ridicule mill facing criticism about wardrobe, dance, tattoos, voice, facial hair, hair, hair color, and personality. Simon Cowell doesn't even figure in these slam downs. Normally thoughtful and rational people suddenly become nasty, back-biting fiends when they discuss the show.

Reality shows in general bring out the armchair critic in us. We have an opinion about every aspect of someone's else life just because we can. Having "The Bachelor" in our living rooms one hour a week for twelve weeks gives us the right to decide who his wife should be. We can get as upset about someone getting voted out of the tribe as we would if it were our own mother being sent to the gulags. So perhaps it is no surprise that we find ourselves offering up our critiques on an eight year old's ability to pass under pressure or a coach's choices for the starting line-up. We have been validated as experts. After all, the fate of America's Idol rests in our hands!

We live in a media world where people's fates can be decided with the beep of a buzzer or a cell phone call to the number on the screen. We zap our enemies instantly on the video screen. We can order anything (and I mean that literally) on Ebay with a few clicks of our mouse. So it's no wonder we think we have the right to offer running commentary on our child's soccer game.

Stand on the side lines of any soccer game and you will hear a chorus of opinions freely and loudly expressed. We criticize the opponents. We criticize our fellow players. We criticize the coaches. We criticize the referees. We even criticize the parents. You've heard the comments and, admit it, you've made the comments. "He can't pass." "She's a ball hog." "I swear I could coach better than he can." And those are the just the observations I can repeat on a family web site.  The more passionate we become, the more X-rated the vocalizations grow. We forget we aren't in our living room shouting at the screen, "He's an idiot for picking her." When we're at the soccer field we're in a crowd of people who actually love "the idiot" and think he's doing a bang up job.

Most players are too young and too innocent to be the object of our judgment. How often have you spent the ride home in the car critiquing the entire game and judging the individual player performances?  Such evaluations can model for our impressionable children undesirable behaviors. They are learning to aim the magnifying glass at others, rather than on themselves. And if you think those comments don't spread beyond the car, then you live in a fool's paradise. Of course sometimes we make our comments public. Sideline chatter regularly turns to assessments of the players, frequently focusing on the opposition. The problem is that in the close confines those comments might be overheard by the parent of our target. Those stinging remarks can affect relationships not to mention stirring up immediate conflict. I've seen my share of sideline battles brought on by an overheard observation. I came close to erupting when someone accused my eleven year old son of "flopping." I was surprised at how much I was personally offended by the remark. It showed me the power of words.

We grow up hearing "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," which is a noble concept and totally unrealistic. Words hurt us all the time. We have all been the object of some form of ridicule which you think would give us pause when dishing it out. But our culture and the sense that in this huge world we are somehow anonymous embolden us. We may express our views in hushed tones under our breath to the person next to us and believe it won't go any further, but the grape vine curls everywhere. Our words have tremendous power to harm. While we'll never be able to totally stop the urge to criticize, we can all try to be more mindful of where and when we exercise our expertise. So keep delivering those reality show verdicts. After all, Simon Cowell's balance sheet depends on your continued disparagement of the contestants.