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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.

 

Playing numbers for Small-Sided Games

Sam Snow

The intent is to use Small-Sided Games as the vehicle for match play for players under the age of twelve. Further we wish to promote age/ability appropriate training activities for players' nationwide. Clubs should use small-sided games as the primary vehicle for the development of skill and the understanding of simple tactics. Our rationale is that the creation of skill and a passion for the game occurs between the ages of six to twelve. With the correct environment throughout this age period players will both excel and become top players or they will continue to enjoy playing at their own levels and enjoy observing the game at higher levels. A Small-Sided Game in match play for our younger players create more involvement, more touches of the ball, exposure to simple, realistic decisions and ultimately, more enjoyment. Players must be challenged at their own age/ability levels to improve performance. The numbers of players on the field of play will affect levels of competition. Children come to soccer practice to have fun. They want to run, touch the ball, have the feel of the ball, master it and score. The environment within which we place players during training sessions and matches should promote all of these desires, not frustrate them.
·         We believe that players under the age of six should play games of 3 vs. 3. This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate playing environment. No attempt whatsoever should be made at this age to teach a team formation!
·         We believe that players under the age of eight should play games of 4 vs. 4. This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate playing environment. Players in this age group can be exposed to a team formation at the start of the game, but do not be dismayed when it disappears once the ball is rolling. The intent at this age is to merely plant a seed toward understanding spatial awareness.
·         We believe that players under the age of ten should play games of 6 vs. 6. This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate playing environment. The coaching of positions to children under the age of ten is considered intellectually challenging and often situates parent-coaches in a knowledge vacuum. Additionally, premature structure of U-10 players into positions is often detrimental to the growth of individual skills and tactical awareness. This problem is particularly acute with players of limited technical ability. We also believe that the quality of coaching has an impact on the playing numbers. We recommend that parent-coaches would best serve their U-10 players by holding a U-10/U-12 Youth Module certificate.
·         We believe that players under the age of twelve should play games of 8 vs. 8. This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate environment. The U-12 age group is the dawning of tactical awareness and we feel it is best to teach the players individual and group tactics at this age rather than team tactics.
 
 

Something Happened on the Way to the Send Button

Susan Boyd

I wrote a completely different blog for this week, but then two things happened. First, the U.S. Men's team posted an amazing and well-deserved win over number one ranked Spain in the Confederations Cup. Second, before the game, FIFA had each team captain read a statement which condemned racism on the soccer pitch and asked for an end to racism in the world. FIFA has continued a program it began supporting several years ago that addresses the problem of racism in soccer. In 2005, disturbed by a racial slur cast on him by, ironically, the Spanish National Team coach, Thierry Henry began his "Stand Up, Speak Up" campaign. He asked Nike to support the cause, which they did by manufacturing and distributing rubber wrist bands of two intertwined circles of black and white.   They also funded public service announcements before, during, and after games that featured major soccer stars decrying the blight of racism in the sport. Then in 2006 for the World Cup, FIFA began its own program – Say No to Racism. Yesterday, hearing the fans cheering the on-field pronouncements gave me new hope that racism can be defeated.

The U.S. Men's win over Spain proves two very significant aspects of soccer. Anything can happen and heart plays a huge role in the sport. I had so little faith in the U.S. Men after their lackluster performances in the preliminary rounds of the Confederations Cup that I actually went out grocery shopping during the first half of the game. The U.S. had barely squeaked through to the semis. They had required the perfect storm we all calculate at our kids' soccer tournaments to open the door to Wednesday's upset of Spain. The U.S. had lost two games in their bracket. The only way they could go through was if they beat Egypt by three goals and Brazil beat Italy by three goals. Other than very young youth games, it's a rare day when teams win with a three goal margin. To have two teams do it defies the odds, but that's what happened. The fact that U.S. team did its part to insure a berth in the semis speaks volumes about their collective change of heart from going through the motions to clawing for victory. So I should have expected that given the chance on the world stage to show that the U.S. can now be a force that they would do exactly that. By the time I arrived home from the store, the U.S. was up 1-0 and when the dust settled they had added a second goal and played the waning minutes down a man after Michael Bradley received an extremely questionable red card. They played brilliantly, especially in the back where a frustrated Spain had opportunity after opportunity stolen by our defenders and Tim Howard, the goalkeeper. I can't wait for the game Sunday. By the time this blog is posted, everyone will know the outcome, but right now I don't even know their opponent!

What motivated me even more to change my blog was the ceremony before the game, which I saw later in the evening when we watched the game again (note my previous blog on recording games and playing them back). It was moving to see the Spanish team captain reading a statement deploring racism. Since it was two incidents involving Spanish teams that sparked Thierry Henry's crusade, it was both fitting and significant that Spain read the first statement. When Henry was insulted by the Spanish National Team coach he didn't respond, believing instead that FIFA would condemn the statement. But nothing happened. Then a month later the black members of England's national side were barraged with a slew of racial insults during a "friendly" match in Madrid. Again nothing happened.

As Henry explains in an interview in Time magazine, he felt he had to speak out. "As a player, you'd hear or see the occasional racist insult or gesture, but you'd tell yourself it's unfortunate but normal, a price to pay if you want to play pro football. But after all these things happened, I realized that footballers have a duty to defend important values, and use their media exposure to deliver messages when the occasion presents itself." He solicited Nike and the rest is history. What Henry didn't say was that no player should have to pay the price of racism, especially youth players. Yet they do every day here in the U.S. and around the world. They don't receive monetary compensation for putting up with racial attacks. I understand this personally. 

I don't speak about it much because I don't feel it is relevant to most discussions, but our sons are adopted and bi-racial. They have endured their share of racial attacks during games and off the field, but they also understand that people will find any way, even hatred, to try to put them off their game. We have always said that the boys can't use racism as an excuse for not succeeding because many African-Americans and Hispanics have succeeded before them in atmospheres of far less tolerance than today. Nevertheless, they have had to toss off both overt and implied racism. Bryce has been spat upon in goal and called names. Just this week Robbie, who is working for a landscape contractor, was refused a cup of ice water by a client because she was "out of cups," while just moments later a white coworker was given a cup. Clearly racism is pervasive and ugly, but certainly not worthy of being tolerated within the international power and scope of soccer. When FIFA came out with their Say No to Racism campaign, I applauded. It has happened far too late for an organization with such world-wide influence and recognition, but it happened. For that I am grateful. 

Soccer encompasses the world and as such can provide the leadership to rise above intolerance. Soccer sponsors more international competitions that bring together disparate races, religions, politics, and economies than the highly touted Olympics. Both men and women play.  It fosters both national and individual pride. So it shouldn't be the venue where racism is allowed to be practiced unabated. Therefore it was a powerful moment in that South African stadium where two teams spoke out against racism. Today Brazil and South Africa will meet in the second semifinal game and these teams will also read statements before the game. Having players unite shows, in Henry's words, "that racism is a problem for everyone, a collective ailment. It shows that people of all colors, even adversaries on the pitch, are banding together in this, because we're all suffering from it together." When teammates are attacked on the basis of their race or religion, it affects everyone.

As parents, coaches, and referees we have a responsibility to both lead by example and to confront racism when it appears. It's a sad commentary that a program like Say No to Racism is needed but it is also heartening to see that an official stance has been taken by the international organization. I am not so naïve as to believe that racism will disappear altogether, but I am hopeful that we can make racism difficult to flourish. After all, if the U.S. Men's team that lost to Costa Rica, barely beat Honduras, and clawed its way into the semifinals of the Confederations Cup can then defeat the number one team in the world, I think that collectively as human beings we can find the heart to squash racism.  
 

The Sun Never Sets on Soccer

Susan Boyd

Right now I have an undetermined number of boys in my basement who showed up to watch the U.S. Men's National team take on Brazil's National team in the Confederations Cup. I say undetermined because the game started at 8:30 a.m. and boys started arriving around 1 a.m. to "sleep" over and be up in time for the game. I don't know about any of the rest of you, but it is a rare day when my boys are up before noon when they have no responsibilities. So for an entire gaggle of young men to not only be up, but wide awake and yelling at the TV in the early morning fascinates me. They will emerge from the basement only for bathroom breaks and eventually hunger, although I suspect there are enough chips, pizza, sport drinks, and fruit downstairs to rival a survivalist's storehouse.

I should also mention that the game is being recorded both in the basement and in the family room, so although I am not watching it now, I'll have the pleasure of seeing it replayed at least a dozen times over the next few weeks. I finally "accidently" deleted a World Cup final that had been replayed weekly over the course of two years. I felt no need to sustain the repetition because despite soccer's relative infancy as an American TV sporting event, there are still enough games to fill each 24 hours period without having to rewatch old ones. But my sons don't just play the game; they are students of the game. They can tell anyone who will listen what the latest trades were and for how much coin, who scored and when, what coaches got fired or hired, what uniform contracts each team has, how effective various teams' set plays have been, who got injured, and who just accomplished a particular watermark in the sport.

When they watch soccer, they are like lost explorers who can't see the forest for the trees. They are so busy studying moves, kicks, positioning, and runs that they lose track of time and scores. The aforementioned World Cup final I erased had one ten second moment where Oliver Kahn missed stopping a goal. That particular snippet of the game was replayed at least several hundred if not a thousand times as Bryce studied the goalkeeper's position, reaction, and failure. I doubt the entire city of Chicago uses the frame by frame feature on their remotes as much as our family does.   Once the analysis begins on a particular game, strike, or foul, I know I need to find a book to read because I have lost control of the television for a good two hours.

After the U.S. /Brazil game ends I know that the boys in the basement will begin the freeze frame replay of stretches of the game, arguing over every nuanced moment. They will also be reenacting those moments both in the basement and later at the soccer field. They will spend hours trying to reproduce a particular foot move or style of kick. All of them blew off sleep, work, even food to watch the game and to participate in the post-game breakdown. I should also mention that at 1:30 p.m. Egypt takes on Italy, so I expect the basement to be a mix of hot air, sweat, and salsa by dinner time.  

I think if I could figure out how to channel this passion for soccer into other ventures I'd win the Nobel Prize for Making Parents' Lives Easier. I know that's not a real award, but they'd create it if I could harness kids' soccer interest into cleaning their bedrooms, finishing homework, doing dishes, and folding laundry. The best I've been able to accomplish is a begrudging agreement to bring up dirty dishes and trash from the basement.  I'm working on getting the pair of shorts on the stairs up to the bedroom sometime this month.

Despite messy rooms and laundry piles I am still happy the boys love the game so much. It's definitely an activity the entire family shares in one form or another, although the laundry "form" seems to be singularly mine. While the boys can needle one another into explosive confrontations, soccer has always been the common ground where they meet and communicate. Yesterday Robbie came home from work totally spent just as Bryce was leaving to play a Small-Side game with friends. He asked Robbie to join him, but Robbie pled exhaustion. Twenty minutes later, after a shower, Robbie came downstairs in his soccer gear and drove up to the field to join in having called a friend of his to go as well. Two weeks ago Bryce found a crushed ping pong ball under the couch and he's still kicking it around the floor. Soccer doesn't define the boys because they have so many other interests and dimensions, but soccer definitely provides the spine to their existence. Everything ultimately either emanates from or journeys towards their soccer interest.

The other day I was in the soccer store picking up yet another item of soccer clothing. The place was swarming with kids ordering their uniforms for the coming season. I witnessed every emotion from exasperation to joy within that store. Several of the girls hated the uniform they had to wear, while one little girl put on the uniform and then twirled around with total glee. Some boys were arguing with their moms about the uniform size; moms wanted it bigger to grow into and the boys wanted it tight and fitted. One dad firmly set the top limit he would spend for soccer cleats and then agreed to a slightly more expensive pair.    Nearly everyone left with more than the required items. I've been there and done that with the bank statements to prove it. So as I once again paid for a sweatshirt Robbie just had to have and the clerk typed in my phone number from memory, I thanked the stars that if my boys had to have an addiction that it was soccer. Eventually all the parents in that store will do the same. I just remember that I could be watching reruns of "Cops" rather than the U.S. vs. Brazil and grateful that my children aren't the centerpiece of an episode.
 
 

Player-Centered Training

Sam Snow

Guided Discovery

The traditional way sports have been taught is with the coach at the center of attention. The coach told the players what to do {command style} and expected them to produce.   With the command style, the coach explains a skill, demonstrates the skill and allows the players to practice the skill. In contrast to 'reproduction' of knowledge in the coach-centered approach, the guided discovery approach emphasizes the "production" of new talents. The approach invites the player to think, to go beyond the given information and then discover the correct skills. The essence of this style is a coach-player connection in which your sequence of information and questions causes responses by the player. The combination of information and question by you elicits a correct response, which is discovered by the player. The effect of this process leads the player to discover the sought tactic or technique. Guided discovery simply means that you raise questions and provide options or choices for the players, guiding the players to answer the questions for themselves because they become curious about the answers. The novice player in a command style setting thinks too much about what they are trying to do, a form of paralysis by analysis. Instead if you guide the players in a player-centered training environment then they gradually become capable of holistic thinking in their soccer performance.

 Holistic thought is opposed to the analytical type of thinking. Analysis means to divide the whole into parts which can be studied more closely. Holistic thinking considers the thing as a whole. Soccer performances {training sessions and especially matches} are better suited to holistic than analytical treatment because they involve an integrated set of movements which must all happen at the same time. There simply is not enough time during a match to perform each of the movements separately and then string them together. Holistic thinking has been linked anatomically to functions carried out in the right hemisphere of the brain. The brain has both a right and left hemisphere connected by a bundle of nerves called the corpus collosum. The right hemisphere coordinates movements and sensations associated with the left side of the body and the left hemisphere does the same for the right side of the body. In addition, the left hemisphere is known to control analytical thinking, which includes verbal expression, reading, writing and mathematical computation. The functions associated with the right side of the brain are nonintellectual ones or those having to do with sensory interpretation, coordination of movement, intuitive or creative thinking and holistic perception of complex patterns. This hemisphere can grasp a number of patterns simultaneously.[i]

Sports tradition has emphasized left-side brain functions to the exclusion of the other. We acquire pieces of knowledge one at a time. In soccer, the traditional coach teaches separate points of technique, ignoring the 'flow' needed in actual performance. Some coaches use the holistic approach. In soccer we draw upon right-hand brain capabilities of holistic perception, rhythm, spatial relationships, and simultaneous processing of many inputs. Left brain functions are largely uninvolved. Novice players often go wrong in trying to control their movements with a constant, specific internal awareness. They engage the left-brain functions of analysis and sequence to interfere with holistic coordination of physical movement, which is a right-brain function. Obscuring a player's awareness with too many instructions {over-coaching} will make him or her so preoccupied that he or she can't 'chew gum and run at the same time!' It's called 'paralysis through analysis'.

It is often argued that effective coaching is as much an art as it is a science. Guided discovery in coaching soccer is a balance of the two. In a broad sense our coaching style of the American soccer player must move away from the 'sage on the stage' to the 'guide on the side'.

""I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.""
 Confucius
 



[i]
How Psychosocial Sport & Play Programs Help Youth Manage Adversity: A Review of What We Know & What We Should Research by Robert Henley, Ph.D.; Ivo Schweizer, M.A.; Francesco de Gara, M.A.; Stefan Vetter, M.D. at the Centre for Disaster and Military Medicine, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland