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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.

 

Development

Sam Snow

In 2005, an operations manual was developed for the state technical directors. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 2: Job Responsibilities and the section on player development.

Development - The act or process of developing; unfolding; a gradual growth or advancement through progressive changes…

The truth is the majority of young players become what they were always going to be largely by their own efforts and a lot of straightforward encouragement. Playing an extraordinary number of matches will not alter that fact. Playing in more tournaments and conducting more or longer training sessions will not change this reality either.

Approximately one tenth of one percent will make it onto a National Team be it Youth, Olympic or the full National Team. According to the NCAA, only half of one percent of all college athletes will make it onto a professional team in any sport. The NCAA also estimates that only two percent of all high school players in all sports will go on to play college sports. The majority of players will come to full blossom as a player once in their 20's. Soccer is a long term athletic development sport. Starting to play on "teams" when barely out of diapers will not amend the time needed to grow physically and psychologically to become an accomplished player.

Since it will take approximately 20 years for a soccer player to develop, then a gradual stair step approach to playing adult soccer must be taken. While the players are in primary and secondary school the adults caring for their soccer experience and controlling their soccer environment must be patient with an eye to long term goals as well as short term objectives.

Fostering a love for the game and allowing talent to develop in a sane environment means a reasonable number of matches and training sessions for the age group, not the level of competition. The idea that, the game is the great teacher, has been misunderstood and/or misapplied. Some think if the axiom is true then more games are better. In fact the opposite is true – fewer games are better for youngsters. The axiom means the game will show a player how they have progressed. The game teaches players, through exposure, their strengths and weaknesses. Teach them how to play the game before they are asked to compete for wins. Let them play matches to learn how to compete and how to play in their pre-adolescent years. Eliminate State, Regional and National championships prior to age 15.

Sports do not build character. They reveal it.
- Haywood Hale Brown
 

Hindsight is the best predictor

Susan Boyd

Predicting the future could be a gift or could be a curse. I'm a bit of a control freak, so I'm glad I can't predict the future because it would drive me crazy that I couldn't control what was going to happen. Then again, why couldn't I? I mean if I knew you were going to be hit by a bus crossing the street on Friday at 10:03 a.m., why wouldn't I send you an email or give you a call so you could avoid your fate? But then I wouldn't really be predicting the future because that particular future didn't happen. So I guess I'd be more like a manipulator of the future, but I couldn't do anything with the future if I couldn't predict it first. And if two future catastrophes intersected, how would I decide who to warn first? This whole future predicting and future manipulating might be too big a responsibility for me, especially since I tend to procrastinate. You can tell I think about this a lot. 

As parents we spend much of our time trying to predict our children's future. If they are going to be brilliant students then we need to prepare for college. If they are going to want to become a dancer or a pianist we have to spring for lessons. If they show signs of athleticism we need to decide which sport would be best and then pay for the training. For all those predictions, we probably only get about 2 percent right and the rest of life just intrudes on us unexpectantly.   Despite those odds we go to great lengths to get the future right. We listen to the advice of teachers, coaches, talk show hosts, and news pundits. We quiz our friends, maybe even our own parents, and we read a lot of "how to" books. But how are we ever going to know for sure?

Our oldest daughter pursued dance with a passion. When she was 13 she brought us four applications for performing arts high schools and asked for the application fees. She auditioned all over the country and selected a school in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois where she danced well enough to be looked at by three major ballet companies. And then in the spring of her first year she announced that she didn't want to dance any longer. Who would have predicted that? We went from dance being the left, right and center of her life to dance being an asterisk. She did dance team in high school and she still occasionally takes classes mostly for fitness, but that's about it. Any careful planning we did as parents to make sure there was money set aside for dance lessons, dance academy, and audition trips dissolved into the usual life of a teenager's parent – teaching her to drive a car, going to watch her dance team performances, buying a prom dress, and attending her graduation. 

Certainly the future can be disrupted by cataclysmic events, but mercifully most of us just have the usual mundane trek to the frontiers of life. No matter what we expect to happen, life has a way of throwing plenty of curve balls. Preparing for what might happen isn't the same thing as engineering what will happen. Yet I see plenty of parents concentrating on the latter. We all know, and we may well be, one of those parents always talking to the coach, advocating for his/her child, pushing the kid at every opportunity, and talking in the future tense too often: you will play Division 1 soccer; you will make three goals . . . as if the future were something negotiable. Our kids don't usually think in terms of the future except in an immediate and selfish way, hoping that Mike will ask her to the prom or planning to go to a concert. That's why admonishments about the effect certain behaviors will have on their futures just sail over their heads. How can anyone possibly think about what college to attend or what career to choose when there are more pressing issues such as watching "Lost" or going to the same party as the cool kids. So while we are carefully crafting our child's future, he or she is concentrating on what to wear Friday night. 

Kids naturally don't want to disappoint their parents. So when they see Dad or Mom so strenuously working an angle to make something happen for the future, like making the traveling team or starring in the school play, they may go along for the journey even though it's not where they want to go. We have the experience of regrets in our life which informs our vision of what we want for our kids. But that regret may have taught us the lesson of working harder or not being short-sighted. It's hard to stand by and watch our children take a path that can't lead to what we believe is the ideal future for them. But how do we really know? Robbie absolutely refused to take AP classes in high school even though he was recommended for several. His reasoning was that he wanted to insure two things: that he kept his grades up and that he didn't feel under too much pressure. I thought he was cutting off his chances of getting into the college he wanted and that he was selling himself short. I wanted to spare him the regret of missing a great opportunity because he closed a door too early. Amazingly, he understood what it meant but he said he could cope with not getting everything he wanted because that would be less stress than fighting against the top students in his class for grades.

We have children because we believe in the future and all the good it can provide. But we also have to accept that the future is a wide-open territory with lots of options that will be good. We can highlight some of the options, and we can push our kids towards those options, but we also need to give them the freedom to mold their own future free of our restrictions and manipulation.  Certainly we can provide opportunity, advice, and gentle nudges, but we shouldn't try to craft the future for them. Kids who fight for themselves usually end up stronger and more capable. Kids, whose parents engineer their successes for them, may end up being the starting forward on a team, but ultimately don't possess the temperament and skills to fight for that spot in college or for that big promotion at work. They grew dependent upon Mom and Dad to make things happen and now can only complain that nothing good ever happens anymore. Robbie is presently playing soccer at his top choice for college. His decision not to take AP classes didn't hurt him, although it might have. That's the thing about the future. We can't predict it; we can only analyze it in hindsight. 
 

Cherry Picking

Sam Snow

I had an interesting question from a parent of a youth player that steers us toward a piece of the player development puzzle.

"Why would a U-9 coach from a top program in this area allow and encourage her players to "cherry pick".  There is no offside rule in U-9, but shouldn't coaches be working to educate the players on what is going to happen when Fall League starts?  Or is it more important to get the win?  Thoughts?  Oh, as additional information, the referee is not allowed to instruct or stop the cherry picking from happening because it is a loop hole."

Telling players to "cherry pick" can indeed win games on the short term but it will delay competitive development in the long term.  A forward on a U-12 or older team who "cherry picks" will find that she is often in a poor tactical position.  Once the game becomes faster, and is played over larger fields in older age groups, the cherry picking player is disconnected from teammates who will now be unable to find her for passes.  The cherry picking forward will often be in an offside position once opponents learn how to play the 'offside trap' as a tactical ploy.  The tactical concept of compactness is much more important to present and future performance for these young players than the fleeting gains offered by cherry picking.

Finally, at elite levels of play forwards are required to contribute to defending when the other team has possession of the ball.  The cherry picker will be out of position to contribute to the team effort to get the ball back.  At elite levels of soccer when our team has the ball all players are expected to contribute to the attack and when the opponents have the ball all players are expected to defend.

U-10 Age Group - Law 11 Offside
: there shall be no offside called during these games.  This rule was put into place for the U-10 age group to make it easier for them to play a fluid game.  Furthermore, the typical 9 or 10-year-old does not understand the many situations in which offside may or may not be called.  In fact, many adults have a difficulty comprehending the shades of grey within this Law.

For the sake of keeping youngsters in the game for a lifetime, proper development through childhood and the teenage years is important.  Taking shortsighted actions such as the "cherry pick" inhibits that development.
 

Defending Corner Kicks

Sam Snow

Recently, a coach of elite female players asked these questions of several colleagues looking for thoughts and ideas…

1.      
In the women's game, what is your strategy and organization for defending corner kicks?
2.       What are your favorite activity/activities to introduce these ideas and concepts?

I replied that whether the team is female or male, one factor in defending against corner kicks that I see as a problem is the body posture of the defenders.  Most players tend to stand with their hips squarely facing the ball.  As the ball comes into the penalty area they are not in a good body posture to play a good ball out so that their clearance could become an outlet pass.  This poor body posture often leads to bad tactical positioning too as they cannot see opponents or teammates behind them. Consequently, proper adjustments to their own positioning based on the movement, or lack thereof, by other players are not made.

I teach players to stand with their hips one quarter open to the field.  In this way they can see the corner arc and the ball, as well as up field to see the movement of other players. Then, if they have the chance to connect with the ball, they should play the ball out in a manner that may help their own team start the counterattack.

Of course, being on their toes and alert mentally has a lot to offer here too.

As to training activities specifically on this matter, I simply play on a short field so we get more chances at corners and then emphasize the whole bit on hips and toes.