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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.

 

People Development

Sam Snow

US Youth Soccer is undergoing a strategic planning initiative.  One of the groups is focused on people development in our Association.  I have now begun to work with that group.  One aspect they hope to impact is the leadership training of administrators, coaches and referees.  So, I shared with them a document I put together several years ago.  It touches on some of the main characteristics of leaders. 

Can a club train a coach to become a leader?  Can a person develop leadership abilities?  The answer is a resounding YES.  Leadership is a combination of specific personal qualities.  It begins inside a person and relies as much on philosophical approach as it does on learned skills.  These are the major character traits of leaders:

·        
Courage
·         Big Thinker
·         Change Master
·         Persistent and Realistic
·         Sense of Humor
·         Risk Taker
·         Positive and Hope-filled
·         Decision Maker
·         Accepts and Uses Power Wisely
·         Committed

For all of the details and more information, click here for the full document which is now posted on the US Youth Soccer web site.
 

Who's the child?

Susan Boyd

We all have moments we wish we could do over. I once spilled grape juice all over myself during a Joe Biden fundraiser. I was four seats away from the senator and was there with my grandmother who nearly disowned me. This happened in 1979, and I still relive the embarrassment. Those types of moments are not only easy to recall, but easy to recognize as blunders. Unfortunately we also have moments that we should know fall outside the boundaries of acceptable social behavior, yet we seem to be totally blind to the fact. Just attend any youth soccer game and you'll understand what I mean.

At one youth tournament, I was on the sidelines of a U6 game. At that age winners and losers don't factor into the experience. Every team plays three games and every player gets a participation trophy. The fields are so small that they can't even accommodate all the spectators along the sidelines. We had to sit two rows deep. The idea is for kids to get the experience of a tournament without the expectations and pressures of a tournament. In other words, this is for fun. Most of the kids are still clueless about the rules and strategies of the game. They understand they need to kick the ball into a net. Which net is usually unimportant. However, the outcome of this particular game became very important to some parents. It began with arguments about referee calls – which were usually about balls going out of bounds – and escalated to screaming at the kids whenever they scored in the wrong goal. Finally one parent had had enough of her child's coach not correcting the kids and she strode across the field in the middle of the game to give her expert advice to the parent volunteer. When the referee met her on the field to turn her back, the mother began poking the ref in the chest with her finger. The poor referee, who was about twelve, didn't want to be disrespectful to a mother, so he kept asking her to stop, at which point she began to curse at him and poke him harder. Mercifully another parent, perhaps her husband, came onto the field and attempted to persuade her to return to the spectator's side of the field. She responded by slapping him. In the end, it became a police matter, the kids witnessed an extremely unpleasant encounter, and one child in particular had to take home the memory of his mother's behavior as his participation trophy.

That's one of the most ridiculous and extreme situations I have witnessed, but it does highlight the problem of overzealous parents. We watch sports at home where we can freely yell at referees, coaches, and players without fear of someone climbing over the bleachers to punch our lights out. Then we go to a live professional sporting event and get caught up in the frenzy of screaming and criticizing. So it is little wonder that parents can forget where they are when they go to their child's game. These aren't professionals used to the slings and arrows of fan criticism. These are impressionable youngsters who really don't understand what all the fuss is about.

When Robbie played on a coed team we had a game in early spring that even challenged the concept of Refrigerator Soccer. The day was freezing, damp, and windy. Naturally we bundled our kids up in warm-up suits, gloves, hats, parkas, and if they had been invented yet we would have added Snuggies. The referee showed up, a nervous and earnest girl who was refereeing her first game. She had obviously read and memorized the rule book. She made the kids take off their pants and jackets because their uniforms weren't visible. When we asked if we could put their uniforms on outside of the outerwear, she answered no. So we parents were already not predisposed to liking this referee. She further aggravated our good natures by constantly calling back throw-ins for being illegally performed. Her whistle blew so many times I began to think she was a frustrated musician. We all tried to be patient and understanding, but with the cold and the constant calls we parents lost our collective calm and began to say things like "Oh come on" and "You've got to be kidding" To which the young referee responded by threatening to kick some of us parents out. That was the final straw and several parents began to have even choicer and bawdier comments for the young lady. As the exchanges began, one young player streaked by the parents, put her finger to her lips and said, "Settle down!" If she could handle the cold, the calls, the frustrations, then it really wasn't our place to fight her non-existent battle. It was a humbling and significant lesson for us not so grown-ups.

Over the course of years of youth soccer I have seen fights between parents of opposing teams, coaches and parents mix it up, parents and coaches attack referees verbally and physically, coaches attack players verbally and, regrettably, physically. I have passed by parents standing over their children and berating them for a poorly played game, even threatening them with the loss of soccer if they didn't start playing better. I have heard cursing and name-calling which if our kids used even 1 percent of that filth they would be grounded for a week. In many cases these outbursts occurred at games for kids under age 12. Even worse I know I'm not alone in these observations. I'd like to think that we parents could be better role models and gentler spirits, particularly when our kids aren't yet old enough to drive. Being supportive of our children doesn't mean embarrassing them in the process. We don't have to channel Bobby Knight because ultimately at these ages no game outcome is more important than having fun and building positive self-images. I understand giving up criticism is harder than giving up chocolate for me. But we can work towards the goal of focusing on what's going well rather than on what's going wrong. I'm not sure what our kids really think of us when we act out, but I know what I think of my kids when they act out. It's got to be pretty disheartening for them to see us incapable of the adult behavior implied in our admonishments to "grow up."
 

Parent Programming

Sam Snow

Recently, I was in Tennessee to teach a National Youth License coaching course along with Tom Condone, Tennessee State Soccer director of coaching, and Mike Strickler, Florida Youth Soccer director of coaching. Last Tuesday, I was able to visit with parents of Under-11 players with the Collierville Soccer Association, which is just outside of Memphis. Tom Condone and Dale Burke, Tennessee State Soccer executive director, made the trip too. The three of us, at the request of the club executive director Paul Furlong, were able to speak with the parents, the club director of coaching and a couple of the club administrators. The club has recently initiated an academy approach with the Under-11 and younger age groups. The parents had some concerns on this approach providing for sufficient competition for the kids to further develop their soccer talents. We spoke with them on the stair step approach to proper player development and age appropriate competition. The folks asked good questions during the meeting and we had a positive dialog. Here are some of the comments from the club members which they shared after our meeting.

Tom,

I would personally like to thank you and Sam Snow for coming to Collierville and presenting the youth module to our Under-9 through Under-11 parents.  I believe it was very educational and that it hit home with many of them that were in attendance.  Also, I would like to have you come here once a year and present this information to our new, up and coming parents.
Once again, thank you for your time and efforts with parent education.  I have added a few emails below from some of our managers who attended and are in the process of passing on the information they learned.

Regards, Shawn Loth
Junior Lobos Director/Director of Club Training
 


Shawn,

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the seminar Tuesday night.  I appreciate the efforts made by all involved at CSA to coordinate a visit from the directors of US Youth Soccer and Tenn. State Soccer.

I was able to understand the importance of learning proper technique, striving to play well, and most of all to have fun playing the game for 9, 10, and 11-year-olds.   We have to be responsible, as parents and coaches, to teach these kids that winning is not the only thing that matters.  We tend to ask the question "Did you win?" or ""Did you score?" instead of asking "Did you have fun?"" or "Did you play your best?" and "Did you have a positive impact on the game and your team?" 

They suggested that players not be cut at this age as they are still in the "developmental" stage.  This can result in more than one team, i.e. A, B, and C teams.  With this said, every child should get equal playing time.  Each team should be equally matched.   

One thing that struck me was tournament play.  They recommend playing "in state" such as friendlies.  Set something up that will allow you to get there and back in one day.  Little Rock would be okay as they are only a couple of hours away.  It's not necessary to travel long distances for tournaments at this age.

I used to think that if a coach sat on the bench and didn't interact with the players on the field that he/she didn't care.  The coach is a teacher.  He/She has given them the tools through practices, training, etc. to make decisions on the field for themselves and for their team.  Games are learning experiences.  Everything the players have been taught, experiences they have had from an early age, it all comes together and clicks at the age of 26, 27 or 28!!!!  I wouldn't have guessed that this would be the age they will peak. 

Encourage your child to play!!!!  Not just soccer.  Grab a basketball and shoot some hoops, ride a bike, climb a tree (although that one scares me to death).

They have documents, guides, etc. from both websites that can be very helpful to the parents and players.  "Best Practices", and "The Vision" document were a couple that were mentioned in the meeting.

US Youth Soccer -
www.usyouthsoccer.org
Tennessee State Soccer - www.tnsoccer.org
Proud Parent, Theresa


 
Shawn,

I wanted to thank you for setting up the parent education seminar on March 9th for our Lobos parents.  My husband and I attended the meeting and found it informative and insightful.  I gathered a lot of helpful information during the meeting and have researched several of the websites that were mentioned.  I will be passing on the information to our team parents that were unable to attend the meeting.  I feel that it is very important that all parents hear the proper perspective regarding youth player development.  One key point that I gathered from the meeting was the Under-6 through Under-12 player should focus on the process of playing instead of the outcome.  Another point is that building technical skills at a young age is key to having a successful player at an older age. 

I will pass on what I've learned to other parents in the program and I hope that we are able to have additional seminars of this nature.

Thanks, Sonja
Lady Lobos Manager
 
So the director of coaching and executive director of a State Association, along with the national director of coaching, made a six hour round trip for a one hour meeting to make a difference for a club and the players therein. Join in with us on this team effort to improve the youth soccer experience!
 

Things that go bump on the field

Susan Boyd

Watching college or professional soccer you'd think the injury rate during a game nearly matches the number of players on the field. As Rooney or Drogba writhe on the grass after coming in near contact with an opponent parents might question the safety of the sport. Then, miraculously after a few minutes of agony the injured player leaps up with no residual pain. Even players removed from the pitch on a stretcher end up returning to the game within minutes of their near-death experience. In the absence of serious injury players depend on melodrama to catch their breath. Certainly soccer players aren't immune to serious injury. Just ask Abby Wambach who saw her Olympic hopes dashed by a leg fracture in 2008. However, most soccer injuries involve minimal recuperation without long-term consequences. In fact the rate and severity of injuries to soccer players compare to those of competitive and distance runners (www.soccerinjuries.net).

The two most common areas of the body to suffer soccer injuries are the knees and ankles. Because soccer requires quick turns and sudden bursts of speed followed by sudden stops, the knees and ankles take on a heavier burden of sustaining the player's activity. Ankle injuries are usually strains which can heal by rest, ice, and wraps. Knee injuries, unfortunately, can go beyond strains to include tearing of the meniscus and ligaments. These require surgery and a longer recuperation time, but with few exceptions result in the player being able to return full speed to the game after several months. Even Wambach's leg fracture didn't stop her from scoring her 100th goal a year later.

Although infrequent, head injuries are scary because they can result in concussions, so any head injury has to be taken seriously by players, coaches, and parents. Whenever there's an injury to the head, even if it doesn't seem to result in a concussion, the player should leave the field for a few minutes to get the injury assessed. Most professional players don't follow this advice, but all youth players should. Head injuries don't have to be tremendously traumatic to result in brain swelling and the symptoms which come with that condition. So letting players have a few minutes to see if they develop nausea, dizziness, incoherence, and/or blackouts means that treatment can begin quickly before major damage to the brain occurs. If a player has been knocked out, he or she should not continue to play at all that day, and the injury should be assessed by a physician.

Despite these traumas, soccer remains one of the safest sports around. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (www.aaos.org) there were 477,500 soccer injuries reported to doctors and hospitals last year in America most of which (325,000) were minor. In a 1997 study in Canada of youth players 0-19 years of age, researchers made some interesting discoveries about soccer injuries (http://www.injuryresearch.bc.ca). Of all injuries reported those requiring surgery made up 26 percent while concussions were only 1 percent. However they also discovered that girls were twice as likely to be injured as boys and that the lower extremities were affected 46 percent of the time. They joined the AAOS in making several suggestions for minimizing injury: year round fitness conditioning, warming up and cooling down sufficiently for practices and games, securing goal posts (players should never hang from a goal post), and steady increases in training and activity over the course of several weeks. A Swedish study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) stated that there was a 77 percent reduction in knee injuries in female players 13-19 after a soccer-specific exercise program intended to improve motion patterns to reduce stress on the knees (JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Jan. 11, 2010). Another study about pediatric sports injuries lists soccer injuries in practice at 2.3 per 1000 hours and in games at 14.8 per 1000 hours with the majority of injuries being contusions. They also concluded that head injuries from head to ball contact are rare and head injuries overall are low.

Soccer ranks fifth on the list of safest sports. So chances are your son or daughter will play year after year without any major injury. Nevertheless, soccer is a contact sport, and unexpected harsh contact between players or the ground can result in harm. Therefore, if your child complains about any pain especially in the joints, have him or her checked out before returning to practice or games. Even if it is just a sprain or strain, overuse can aggravate the injury and make the recuperation time longer. It can also lead to collateral injury because in protecting the primary injury the player puts unusual stress on other joints. None of us wants to see our kid rolling around on the field. We can hope it was for nothing more than the sake of dramatic effect. But if it is for real pain, we need to take the injury seriously, even if our child pops up and continues to play. US Youth Soccer has recommendations on their website which give guidelines both for prevention and treatment of common soccer injuries (www.usyouthsoccer.org/assets/1/1/SoccerInjuries.doc). With a bit of calm and good preventive conditioning, bumps on the field can result in nothing more than a bruised ego.