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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.

 

Coach Rotation

Sam Snow

The question comes up now and then about how long a youth coach should stay with a team. So, here is the question from a club coach in Indiana.

Hi Sam,

What, in your opinion, is the correct amount of years a soccer coach should stay with and coach a team? Bearing in mind we at our club are all about player development. At the moment, our policy is three years with the option of a fourth year at the discretion of the club director of coaching, but after four years they have to revert back to a younger age group or change teams. Do you think this is right or wrong? Your advice is welcomed. I will not take your opinion as policy. Thanks.

My personal opinion is that a coach should stay with a team for two years and then take on another team. The players learn more about the game when exposed to a variety of good coaches over the years; emphasis there on good coaches. If they go from a coach who has experience and talent to a novice coach then that will not serve their developmental needs. However, if the club has a good progression of coaching talent then the players can move onto a new coach in the club every two years and benefit from learning new twists on the game from another coach. Ideally, the coaches in the club are all working from the same progressive curriculum and the U-12 coach has briefed the U-14 coach on the players moving up for example. Now, we're talking about a club that really has vision on player development. In the end, let's also keep in mind that as students, these kids get a new teacher each year and their academic progress is not hindered consequently.

Here are the comments from Vince Ganzberg, US Youth Soccer Coaching Committee Region II representative, National Staff Instructor and Technical Director for Indiana Youth Soccer.

I concur with Sam's opinion. For the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP), I move a coach every two years. I did it when I was a club DOC as well. I guess I view it like a kid in elementary school. For the most part they have a teacher for one year and then move on. Every now and again though, they will have that same teacher for another year which is fine, but after year two a new voice is often useful and beneficial.
 

The cases are real

Susan Boyd

If you have been reading my blog for awhile you know that one of my guilty pleasures is Judge Judy. I plan my laundry folding around that 4 to 4:30 p.m. time frame. I'm not sure why I enjoy JJ except that the show is like the proverbial train wreck that we can't ignore. It also reaffirms daily that my life is at least not as bad as the lives of the litigants. When you've had the tenth blow up with your teenager over cleaning up the basement, it's nice to know that at least he didn't wreck his girlfriend's car while driving drunk with a suspended license and leaving the scene of the accident. He's just messy.

The other day a JJ case hit closer to home. A mom whose son played in the Pop Warner Football League had volunteered to be the team's treasurer. Apparently the team generated thousands of dollars every season through fundraisers, dues, and donations. So she oversaw a significant treasury. She was suing the coach of the team because by her reckoning he fired her without cause and owed her $1,700 for materials she had purchased for team gift bags. That last statement made me very glad my boys chose soccer over football. At the end of the year we usually had juice boxes and some treat. We then gave the coach and the team manager thank you cards and a small gift. If we spent $300 we were on the extravagant end. So I did gasp at the $1,700.

Apparently the main argument from the coach was that she was derelict in her duties by asking the parents to write their checks to her which she then deposited in her account and paid out. She countered by saying she kept records of every check she received and that she took personal checks for only one of the many money collections. My response – big deal! I was team manager for several of my boys' soccer teams when they were very young, and I can tell you I collected money all the time in what could only be described as haphazard. Parents would come up to me in the middle of a game and hand me $20 in one dollar bills. I'd scribble their names down on a napkin using a crayon I found under the back seat of my van and then accidently blow my nose on the napkin. Yet somehow I managed to keep track of all accounts through memory and some retracing of funds. Years later when someone else was a team manager, I never worried that she would take the funds I gave her and have an evening out at Jack in the Box on me. Did I occasionally have to remind her that I in fact paid? Yes. Did I occasionally have to check my bank records? Yes. Did I probably pay twice in a few cases? Yes. When I was manager did I have to cover someone who just never paid? Yes. But the amounts were so small and making waves just didn't seem worth the possible tsunami they might create. This Pop Warner team had taken the entire idea of team treasurer to the level of CFO.

The mom argued that she was dismissed because the coach's wife believed they had engaged in some unsavory behavior at a team party. It later came out that someone had possibly seen them kissing by a car and had told the wife. The mom claimed she wasn't even at the party. The coach pleaded the fifth. The mom further argued that her son had been kicked off the team as well. Then the President of the Pop Warner League stood up to defend the coach's actions. Why he wanted to get in the middle of this soap opera is beyond me. In the end the treasurer got her $1,700 back, but everyone lost some dignity that will be much harder to reimburse.

The final blow came in the after case interviews when the mom said, "And this is just touch football for first graders. I can't imagine what goes on in real football." I nearly fell into my laundry basket. These adults had dug in their heels and carried a battle about $1,700 and suspicion over an affair into a public venue seen by millions, and their children are just six years old. The lesson to be learned screams out to us: youth sports are for the youth. These parents forgot why their kids were playing touch football. The extravagant expenses had nothing to do with kids being able to play the game. Good grief! We played touch football every Thanksgiving with an old football we had to reinflate and whatever clothes we were wearing. It's a cheap sport. Kids don't need gift bags, and I can't figure out what fundraising had to be done unless they used diamond studded footballs. This should have been an opportunity for the kids to get some exercise while having fun rather than for the parents to air their personal secrets, showcase their indulgences and continue their petty feuds. I'm hoping no one recorded the episode, but I'm sure someone did so that Johnny and Molly can relive the horror of their parents' bad behavior. 

We all need some serious perspective adjustments if we take youth sports this intensely. Robbie and Bryce have played on dozens of youth sport teams most of which they never continued. Yet I know they have fond memories of those teams. They loved basketball, baseball, volleyball, gymnastics, skate- and snowboarding, and soccer. But it was only the latter that they eventually pursued seriously. Even today they still participate in each of those sports and talk about the "remember when" moments. I can guarantee that we never paid more than $150 for any sport, that they never got a gift bag, and that we never participated in any major fundraising until we got to upper level soccer. But I can also guarantee that they had great experiences, learned the fundamentals of the sports, and formed good friendships. That's all we can hope for when we put our children in youth sports. If there's going to be drama, let it be on the field or the basketball court rather than a courtroom. Make sure we remember our responsibility – we're the parents, so we need to be role models and take the high road. If we want to indulge our children, then indulge them with love and attention. They won't admit it, but they really want that more than what money can buy. And they certainly want it more than being notorious Judge Judy litigants. Just as I can say thank goodness my children aren't anything like the children on that show, our kids want to be able to say thank goodness their parents aren't anything like the parents on that show.
 

30 Years at the NSCAA

Sam Snow

This past weekend I attended my 30th annual NSCAA Convention. My first one was in 1980 when another young coach and I drove from Orlando to Houston to attend the convention. If I recall correctly, there were about 800 people at that one. This year's was in Philadelphia and had about 5,000 attendees. Certainly the convention has grown in many different ways over the years. Still, it strikes me the same as being a great soccer love in. Those of you who do not clearly recall, or did not live through the 60s, can ask a baby boomer what a love in was.

I think of the NSCAA Convention as a soccer love in because it is an opportunity to see the many friends we have in the game who live in other parts of the country. Given the size of our country as our friends move around with their soccer jobs, it can be a real challenge to visit with one another. Or, perhaps like I did, they move into another level of the game. I moved from being a college coach to a youth coach and educator. So, the convention gives me a chance to visit with friends who are still in the college coaching ranks. Part of the convention for me is that reconnection with friends and colleagues in so many levels of the game.

The convention has moved from hotel ballrooms to convention center halls. The sessions have grown to full field demo areas and therefore what can be demonstrated has expanded. The range of topics in sessions on the floor and in the classroom has grown and is now quite varied. Perhaps though, it is time to coordinate that a bit more so there can be a connection between the sessions that reflect the needs of the game in the USA. Just a thought.

Is it time to reduce the number of meetings that take place so that more attention can be paid to the education sessions? For me, I just go from one meeting to the next now-a-days and do not actually get to watch many of the sessions. I would like to be able to attend more though. The convention is a business and networking scene so maybe the meetings need to take place, but are they detracting from the main purpose of coaching education?

One of the events at the convention I always enjoy is the Walt Chyzowych Memorial Fund ceremony. Talk about a Who's Who of soccer in the United States – well this is where they gather. The ceremony honors someone who has given a lifetime of service to the game as Walt did. This year the recipient was Walter Bahr, who played on the 1950 World Cup team that beat England 1-0 sending shockwaves across the football world. Walt got the assist on that goal. Many NCSAA members do not know of this ceremony but they have heard of the 4v4 tournament which bears Walt Chyzowych's name, another piece of the convention that has grown dramatically from humble beginnings.

For years the coaches had pickup games at the convention in the ballrooms or the hallways. When Dr. Tom Fleck was the president of the NSCAA he decided to formalize these games. So, in 1981 the convention was in Orlando and there was a large empty field behind the hotel (yes we needed only one hotel). Ron Quinn and I took a paint machine and made lines on the vacant lot for two 5-a-side soccer fields. I went to a guy named Andy Caruso with this new company called KwikGoal and we set up some of their goals on the field. Badda boom badda bing, we had a tournament. I signed up coaches, easy to do when there were less than a 1,000 coaches attending, and we had an afternoon of games. Boy has that tournament grown into an outstanding evening of fun games.

So, there are a few asides from a long time coaches' convention attendee. I hope to attend many more of the annual gathering of those committed to the game!

The US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop is coming up February 25-27 and I hope to see many more friends and colleagues in Fort Worth!
 

Letter Men (and Women)

Susan Boyd

I received a box from my aunt of letters my mother had sent her over the years. Each letter detailed events from her life and the lives of her five children. They gave me great insight into how my mother regarded our development into adults and our various achievements along that road. With five children our family hummed with activities. My two oldest brothers did a year or two of Little League, but for the most part we were the science fair, poetry contest, film competition kind of kids. I did ski competitively for a few years, which I loved and which took me to some interesting locations, but I also did forensics, writing contests, flute, piano, and guitar, singing, and acting, excelling at only a few of these, which you'd never have guessed by how my mother cooed over each of my recitals or minor stage roles. 

Recently my youngest brother and his wife had a baby. They announced it via email and with the click of the reply button I sent my congratulations and some auntly advice. Then I got to thinking about those letters my mother used to write. With the advent of email and now text messages and twitter, we certainly haven't given up on the written word, but we have made it more transitory. I doubt any of us regularly print off our text or tweet logs. Few of us save those emails from family and friends. We write them, read them, and then vaporize them to make room for more.

One might argue that such facilities promote more regular communication which is a good thing. But I would argue it doesn't promote the legacy of communication that letters provide. While I can mentally catalogue many of the amazing events in my children's lives, I can't bequeath my heartfelt reactions. We have some evidence of achievements in the form of certificates, news articles, pictures and trophies, but no real evidence of my pride in them not just for the wins but for the attempts. I realized this when I read my mom's letters. Every one of my attempts whether or not they resulted in ski victories or poetry wins earned a chronicled place in my mother's letters. The tiniest moment of my life, now forgotten, has come back to make me feel the pride my mother felt. Decades later, I am touched. The connection I have to my mom renews itself in the reading of those letters. I have not left a similar legacy to my children, and I regret it. They don't have any tangible reminder of how proud I was of all their efforts.

Likewise, I don't have any collected works of letters to and from my brothers I can pass on to my nieces and nephews. I read an email, I may even forward it to my husband or to another brother, and then it eventually fades into the queue of my "read" emails and at some point completely vanishes. So when my middle brother writes about my namesake niece's work in a DNA lab, the evident pride of his words are now gone. I should have printed the email off, but I never thought of it because the very nature of cyber communication is the ease with which it comes and goes. With a single keystroke we can make it appear and make it disappear. We don't need to hunt for stamps, envelopes, and writing paper. We don't need elegant leather bound address books that show the history of our relatives' and friends' life journeys with each move scribbled tightly into any available space. Now they could move a thousand times, but their email address lasts forever.

A corollary to our ephemeral communication is our fascination with our digital and video cameras. While the cliché "a picture is worth a thousand words" may have some validity, I disagree when it comes to passing on how you felt about the person in the photograph. We can take a picture of a goal, our child playing the piano, the blurred streak of riding a bike without training wheels, or the sweet smile and new backpack on the first day of school, but the picture doesn't convey a personal message from the photographer to the subject. The photos and videos are so easily created and just as easily discarded that they lose the impact of being special.

Perhaps letters have become communication dinosaurs, but I could have kept a diary for each of my sons so they would have a record of what I felt each time I experienced something in their lives such as school dramas or soccer tournaments. I have very inelegant handwriting. I'm embarrassed by how bad my penmanship actually is, but I realize that it's a part of my character that I can pass on as a thread tying together generations. While my mastery at typing allows me to win more easily at word games on line and avoid confusion as to whether I wrote "affect" or "effect," it does little to distinguish me at a quick glance from any other writer. But we all recognize one another's handwriting nearly instantly. 

I'd like to make a proposal for returning to a more permanent and personal form of communication. As your children grow and venture out into the world, record those adventures and your reaction to them in a way that will persist with the gravity and personality that writing permits. You can still share experiences via a quick text, "Mia scored the winning goal!" but also give yourself the luxury of expanding on that achievement with more details of how you felt and what your child showed at the moment. If you don't write letters to relatives, write letters to your children so that years later they can discover how significantly the smallest event played out in your life. They will be able to touch the paper you wrote upon and see the movement of your pen as you documented it nearly contemporaneously. They will be able to put the letters away and bring them back out because they exist with the same permanence as furniture or homes. 

I encourage each of us to set down the digital camera, the cellular phone, the wireless computer, and the Blackberry, and take a few minutes each week to write down with pen and paper what happened that week with the kids and how proud you were of them. It's a special legacy that parents have had available for centuries and can continue to provide for centuries into the future. When Bill Gates promotes our paperless society I can promise you that his children would rather be grasping a tome of letters he wrote than a flash drive found in the bottom of a safe deposit box. There is something vital and engaging about a letter written or even scrawled. It embodies the smells, the oils, the movements, the thoughts, the emotions and even the soul of the writer which brings comfort and connection to anyone who holds that paper.   Our written words can be a hand that reaches through the years to offer a gentle caress to the hearts of our children.