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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.

 

Argentine Football Association (AFA)

Sam Snow

Well I continued my visit in Argentina with a tour and meeting with the staff at Estudiantes. The facility is impressive with a dozen fields, swimming, tennis, and golf, indoor facilities with locker rooms and dorms and administrative offices. The discussion with the staff included the possibility of US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program players and coaches being able to stay and work with Estudiantes for an extended period. I will let you know how this possibility works out in a future blog.
 
The next day, we were taken on a private tour of the Boca Juniors facilities and we were allowed to observe the second team and youth teams in training. In the afternoon we toured the training facilities of the Argentine Football Association (AFA). We were guided on the tour by Mr. Ruben Moschella. The facilities include eight first class fields, one beach soccer field, dorms, cafeteria, exercise rooms, health centers, Futsal indoor center and offices. While in the building reserved for the full national team we meet the son-in-law of Diego Maradona, head coach of the Men's National Team. He handles all of the administration for Coach Maradona's work with AFA. We had to quickly leave that building as Diego was on his way to the facility and does not like to have anyone there when he is in the building. It was interesting watching him drive onto the complex and up to the building at 60 miles per hour; I think he believes his is a Formula 1 driver. Even though we had to leave one building on the complex we continued our tour. We ended in the main cafeteria and met there with Mr. Hector Elizondo. He refereed the first and last match at the 2006 World Cup and is now in charge of the instruction of FIFA referees in CONMEBOL and CONCACAF. By trade he is a special physical education professor at a university. He was very interested in our TOPSoccer brochure printed in Spanish. Overall the tour was enjoyable and we made good connections with AFA personnel.
 
On the next to last day of my stay in Buenos Aires I was able to meet with Juan Grondona, the first vice president of FIFA and the president of the AFA. We discussed the possibility of an exchange between AFA and US Youth Soccer. The door was opened by Mr. Grondona for coaches and referees from AFA to visit us to pass along their information on the education of referees and coaches and for us to share with them our methods. We will also look into the possibility of American coaches attending education sessions with AFA at their training center. Again I will let you know in a future blog on how this possibility develops.
 
This was a productive trip for US Youth Soccer and our members. We will grow this soccer relationship in Argentina. I urge all of you involved in any way with the beautiful game to explore the world as everywhere you go soccer is part of the culture.
 

Buenos Aires Trip

Sam Snow

Right now I am in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The purpose of the trip is a series of meetings with Estudiantes, Boca Juniors and the Argentina Football Association to discuss their approaches to youth player development, coaching education and the advancement of referees. The first meeting will be today as you read this blog with Estudiantes. But Sunday was a wonder soccer day.
 
Along with Jerry Matlak, Mike Strickler, Bill Buren and Virgil Stringfield, all from the Florida Youth Soccer Association we went to La Bombonera, home stadium of Boca Juniors. The match today was with River Plate, the Super Clasico. The Boca Juniors versus River Plate match is one of the most renowned derbies in soccer across the world. The atmosphere was incredible with thousands of people jumping up and down in unison and singing team songs. Confetti filled the air along with smoke bombs and steamers. Click here to see a 30 second video I shot at the game.
 
The match ended in 1-1 after Boca went ahead at the 59th minute. So this year neither team earned the bragging rights for this derby. On Saturday, we watched a match of lesser renown, but also interesting and entertaining. It was between Gimnasia and Rosario Central. This was a match with both teams fighting to keep from relegation into the second division. With a tie Rosario would stay up and Gimnasia needed a win to stay in the first division. Again the fans brought wonderful energy and excitement to the stadium. When 5,000 fans jump in unison on wooden bleachers it is literally a moving experience!
 
After watching both of these matches and then speaking with the other coaches on this trip one of our observations of the skills of the Argentine players compared to Americans is heading. Most of our heading is to strike at goal from a cross or to clear it while defending. Most of the heading we saw in these two matches was to pass. The headers were flicks and straight on headers to put an air ball down to the feet of a teammate. It was clear that heading the ball in Argentina is a finesse skill as well as a powerful one if necessary. So how good is the skill with these players? Even as I write this blog I am watching sports center and a soccer tennis game is on of 2 vs. 2. Two of the players are youth players from Racing and the other two are sports announcers in dress shoes and suits. They are playing on a marked field in the TV studio… final score 11 to 9 for Racing. When the sports casters have heading skills better than most of our coaches then you can be sure the skill is a serious part of the soccer development culture.
 
That fact was borne out today in our visit to the training facilities for Estudiantes where among the dozen soccer fields were several areas marked off for soccer tennis. If we have youth soccer clubs playing soccer tennis at all then it tends to be a defensive approach. With the Argentinean players, it is a possession and attacking game with the passes over the net being only from headers.
 
So in looking at another soccer culture, we see an area we can improve. Heading can have as many variations as passing. It is a skill where we could be quite talented given the athletic ability of our players. So coaches let's teach this one, but with finesse as well as power…just like good passing.
 
I'll have more from Argentina in my next posting on the US Youth Soccer blog next week.
 

Off Kilter

Susan Boyd

I pride myself on my organization, but recent events have placed me in a whirlpool of chaos. Suddenly all my careful planning, filing, labeling, and storing have dissolved into 150 boxes with vague notations such as "master bedroom coats". Since I have never in my life stored a coat in my master bedroom, I am totally confused. I may have another woman's box. She may be as organized as I but sitting in her torn up home staring at a box that says "Office Soccer Schedule"" and withering with bewilderment. Unless her own children play soccer, in which case she is probably tearing into the box hoping for sudden and complete order.

Now that soccer season has begun in earnest, I am undone. I don't have my two foot by three foot calendar on the wall where I can fill in every detail of our complicated lives. I don't know where half my soccer necessities chortle in hiding. Random gloves and hats appear from various open boxes without rhyme or reason. Even Robbie has begun to feel my panic. Where he once depended upon me to be able to find any lost or misplaced soccer item, he has had to accept that I no longer have the rock solid and uncanny ability to zero in on the truant article. I am as lost and misplaced as his soccer gear.   The well-oiled machine of our soccer lives now coughs and sputters without dependable results.

So you can imagine the absolute elation and relief when I discovered my soccer survival box intact in the garage. Untouched by the disaster and escaping packing by the movers, the box sat on the shelf like a beacon of hope and tranquility. Within its cardboard corral my rain jackets, umbrellas, paper towels, wet wipes, and other soccer accessories rested tranquilly awaiting their return to my van. Robbie might not have all his uniform pieces, but we have toilet paper for the port-a-johns. Last weekend we traveled to Indiana for Midwest Regional League competition and had occasion to tap into the box for rain gear and umbrellas. We were even able to provide umbrellas for others who had not yet set up their car for soccer season. I felt partially back in control.

This chaos has put lots of things into perspective. For instance, I recognize that my children aren't the only ones who forget to pack their cleats in their bag and realize it after two hours on the road. I'm not the only mother who runs through a check list with my kids before we depart. The phrase "If you keep everything in your bag, you won't lose it" echoes through many a home. Smelly, month old wet shorts sit buried in the bottom of thousands of soccer bags. The mad rush to locate a ball pump repeats itself dozens of times at tournaments. So while organization can be a wonderful way to avoid crises, it isn't completely reliable.

Once, when I was a manager, I somehow lost the player pass, medical release and birth certificate of a player. We were at a tournament that was run by someone even more compulsive than I am, so rules were meant to be followed to the letter. The tournament was in Florida and families had given up their spring breaks, spent hundreds of dollars to travel down, and naturally expected to watch their children play. So I had to figure out how to solve this crisis. I tore through all my paperwork, which had been completely in order prior to boarding our plane – believe me I had checked and double checked everything. So I hoped that somehow the paper fairy would fly down, point her wand in some dark recess of my brief case, and illuminate the missing paperwork. No such luck. Then I had a Eureka moment. I knew this player was in Wisconsin US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program and I knew that we had to have a birth certificate on file plus a player profile with picture to participate. I called a friend in the State Association's office, she faxed down a new card, the birth certificate, a blank medical release, and the photo. In fifteen minutes I had reproduced the player pass (not laminated, but who cared), had the parents fill out a new medical release, and returned to the registrar with ALL my paperwork. Did I find the missing paperwork? Yes – apparently the paper fairy was having a bad day – the clear protective folder was stuck to another folder. 

The moral of the story is that no matter how organized any of us might be the fickle finger of fate has a way of demolishing the best system. So we need to be prepared not to panic, to be problem solvers, and to accept a lack of organization as part of being human. Ultimately even the worst case scenario can be resolved. We need to keep our eye on the real purpose of all this structure – letting our kids play this great game and have fun doing it. Until all my boxes are open, all my papers sorted, and everything put in their rightful place, I'll have to accept a certain amount of bedlam in my life. The games will go on without my structured input. And they'll be just as good.
 
 
 

Soccer is Life

Susan Boyd

Today I am having my home professionally cleaned. It's an amazing though awkward event. I don't feel quite right sitting in a chair and observing someone dusting my bookcases and vacuuming my rugs. Usually when I am sitting watching someone perform I cheer them on. I'm not sure I can do that with a cleaning crew:   "Way to wipe down that counter," or "Amazing polishing." So I asked them to please do my office first so I could retreat here and write to the hum of their activity. All of this cleaning comes at a cost - I had a flood in the house over winter break and lost 75% of our home. We are now nearing the end of a very disruptive and stressful rebuilding. As the final carpeting and painting is done, I continue to find small odds and ends which need to be either corrected or added or eliminated. But Friday we officially move back in.

We also leave Friday to head to Indiana for US Youth Soccer Midwest Regional League games. Which points out the steady continuity that soccer brings to our family. Through all of this chaos, we have had to focus on soccer as well, which has proven to be a much needed diversion. Bryce began spring soccer at college, where he has earned the number one keeper spot for the moment. Robbie has had practice and a tournament in Las Vegas. Soccer proves life goes on. 

I'm not saying soccer is life despite the slogan. Nor would I assume to say soccer is the only steadying force in anyone's life. Lots of things like jobs or church offer an anchor for families. But I have been grateful for the diversion that soccer offered in these months of frustration. Every trip we went away, we returned to see progress on the house giving us hope that this particular calamity would eventually be behind us.   Soccer gave Robbie a distraction from the discomfort of being displaced to a rental home. He hated not having his bed, his room, his "stuff."

Clinging to whatever life raft I could find in my loss means I also have found comfort in writing more than I ever had. It provides a release for my frustrations and my fears as well as offering some respite from choosing paint colors, carpeting and hardware. Combining writing with soccer has proven to be the ultimate win-win situation for me.   Soon I will be surrounded by my beloved books, papers and music. I'll have my office haven for solitude and rejuvenation. But I also look forward to traveling to California to see the boys play or to Ohio and Nevada to watch my grandkids play.

Today I also got to clear out all the boxes and bags of "rescued" items from our house because I finally had a house to put them in. And then I had the ultimate joy of outfitting my van with my soccer survival kit. My chair, blankets, rain gear, umbrellas and soccer box have now taken their rightful place in the back of the van, and I swear they look positively radiant in anticipation of a new soccer season. Everyone will get to come out and "play" because the weather will vary from warm and sunny to cool and rainy. I'll get to use the gloves, hats and rain jackets. Everything seems right and orderly once again.

Robbie has been in Florida on spring break with friends, but after talking to him yesterday I believe he is as anxious to get back to the routine of weekly soccer games and the camaraderie of soccer buddies. Soccer makes our lives more even, it gives us a common goal (pun intended) and excites our spirits. Like horses finally released to run in the pasture after a long winter, we too yearn to frolic and cavort. It's difficult to imagine our lives before soccer because we can't imagine our lives without soccer. Yet everyone eventually has to come to the end of actively playing and watching to mellow themselves in the life of armchair soccer enthusiast. I hope the day doesn't come too soon. I'm having too much fun enjoying my children and grandchildren having fun. Maybe soccer is life.