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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.

 

Organic or Mechanic?

Sam Snow

On the soccer market today, one can find a number of services and products that purport to have an influence on player development. Some go so far as to state they can cause a "breakthrough" in training the young stars of the future! A few claim to be unique and use software or other devices to help coaches rapidly drive player development. Many of them offer data collection and progress reports that make player development a bit of an assembly line mindset. The approach is almost a computer world matrix – people as cogs in the machine. The wording used in their promotions makes the program offered seem like the best thing since sliced bread. If you haven't gathered it yet from my tone I am skeptical of such programs and claims being made.

"We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process, it's an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development; all you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish." – Sir Ken Robinson

These companies are even misusing the concept of matrix – something within which something else originates or develops is the closest definition to what they have in mind. The most common use of the word is a rectangular array of mathematical elements that is subject to special algebraic laws. The idea is one of basically crunching numbers. So it is a mechanical process of developing players. Many people like the idea because it quantifies development into neat little book reports that they can share with others. We can look at years of data from soccer schools, including Lilleshall, and see that few players make it from even those ranks into the pros. Player development is a somewhat messy pathway that is largely unpredictable. That fact frustrates a lot of folks who want to 'package' player development and sell it to parents, administrators and coaches who may not be well informed enough about soccer to resist what on the surface looks like a good idea. They would need a deeper knowledge of the game, children and teenagers to understand that no one system works for all. The assembly line approach to player improvement falls in line with those who want to measure ball skills. All of these approaches have a limited affect on improving player performance.

I was a 440 yard dash runner in high school (yes it was so long ago that the race was in yards not meters). I knew that I needed to shave off tenths of a second from my time, but I needed to learn better running mechanics and so forth in order to do that. The measurement of time for the run was not sufficient to aid my mechanics and strategy for a race. As Dr. Albert Einstein once said, "Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts."

In paraphrasing Sir Robinson's comment I see how player development is an organic process. We cannot fully predict the outcome. You can only create the conditions under which players can flourish.

Look for these concepts and more in the soon-to-be released Player Development Model from US Youth Soccer.
 

Finder's Fee

Susan Boyd

Cam Newton is arguably the best college quarterback, even the best football player, this year. But he's been embroiled in ongoing questions into his eligibility stemming from accusations of pay for play negotiations with Mississippi State by his father. As Auburn climbed into the BCS No. 1 spot last Sunday, the school faced the possibility of having Newton declared ineligible and having their wins vacated. However on Tuesday the NCAA gave Newton provisional eligibility stating that it didn't appear that Newton knew anything about his father's attempt to get a six-figure bounty for delivering Newton to Mississippi State. 

For purposes of full disclosure I received my graduate degree from University of Oregon who was number one until Auburn took over last Sunday edging out my beloved Ducks by .002 points in the rankings. Nevertheless this discussion of Newton is not sour grapes on my part. Rather, I'm concerned about parents who feel entitled to a cash reward for doing their job. That's the real point. No matter how much we spend on our kids, it's our job to support their dreams both emotionally and financially. I'm not saying that our children are entitled to unlimited contributions from our family income. But when we can afford it, we should be underwriting our children's dreams to the best of our abilities. 

If Cam Newton's father Cecil felt he was owed something for his years of sacrifice, he's wrong. If I had to place a value on what I've spent on my four children it would exceed this week's Powerball jackpot. Seriously! There isn't a college around that could pay me enough to cover what I've spent. Even if one of my children was a superstar, I couldn't imagine risking their eligibility and everything he or she had worked for by seeking some remuneration for doing my job. As things stand now, I'd merely give some coaching staff a really good laugh if I asked for money to convince my child to play for their school. All we can hope for is our kids' thanks. Robbie once told me that when he makes it big he'll get me a Lincoln Navigator. I don't really want a Lincoln Navigator, but that was his way of saying thank you, so I said thank you back. I'll never see a Lincoln Navigator or even Lincoln Logs, but I have had the pleasure of watching my children play in their respective sports and the knowledge they each had an activity that kept them involved, healthy, and happy. I'm not owed anything more than that.

Many non-sport kids have parents supporting their aspirations. There's rarely any major payoff down the road for anyone, athletes or not. But the amount of attention and money sports generate for colleges, could give the parents of athletes some wrong-headed idea that they deserve to share in the pot. Good parents support their kids whether it be sports, music, forensics, or model building. Non-athletic pursuits can require as much or more financial support than those who play sports. And I suppose there are parents of super smart kids who push for bigger scholarships by playing one college against another. But that's not money directly in their pockets. That's not a reward for being the bearer of the fruit.

Whatever our kids achieve stems from their passion and their investment in themselves. We can facilitate, but we're not out there running the field or practicing the scales. We may get up at 3 a.m. to take our son or daughter to 5 a.m. hockey practice, but that doesn't merit a paycheck. When we're so involved it's difficult not to have our ego invested in our children's accomplishments because we feel those accomplishments somehow reflect on our parental abilities. To some extent it does reflect on our parenting because if we weren't supportive, if we didn't pay for lessons or team fees, if we didn't drive to practices our kids most likely couldn't achieve in their interests. But ultimately their success falls solely to their own investment in their talents. If they don't work hard, if they don't learn from their mistakes, if they don't give 100 percent, then it won't matter how much money we throw at the situation. 

Cecil Newton deserves to be in the parent hall of shame. No matter how talented and extraordinary Cam turned out, there's no development bonus for the parent. Cecil risked his son's ability to earn the highest accolades in football including the Heisman Trophy and a national championship because he saw an opportunity to cash in. He risked not only his son's future, but the future of every player on his son's team – kids who have talent, but may have just eked by to win a coveted spot on the football team. Those kids had parents who probably made as big, or bigger, a financial investment. But they chose to respect that their obligation comes without compensation. Since the NCAA investigation is still open, there remains a chance that this will be a house of cards that collapses on Cam, his Tiger teammates, and Auburn. I don't really care what happens to Cecil, but I do care about what happens to young dedicated athletes whose only sin was guilt by association. I can't imagine my boys working hard enough to have their team reach the number one rank in the United States only to lose it all because the parent of a teammate wanted to line his pockets.   But my kids would have to wait in line to box that parent's ears. I have first dibs.

Side note: As I was writing this blog I was watching the awarding of the FIFA World Cup hosts for 2018 and 2022. Russia won for 2018 and Qatar for 2022. The United States was thwarted in their bid for 2022, so it will be back to the drawing board for 2026, although the early favorite for that year is China.
 

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.