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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.


Women In Soccer

Sam Snow

A few weeks ago I attended a symposium for Women In Soccer -  Almost 110 people attended the symposium. The speakers included Carrie Taylor, Diane Scavuzzo, Lynn Berling-Manuel, Lesle Gallimore, Shannon McMillian, Louise Waxler, Rosalie Kramm, Sally Grigoriev, Chris Moore, Jeff Plush, Jerry Zanelli, Duncan Riddle, Steve Hoffman, Yvette Brown and Angela Hucles.

The day was filled with a great exchange of information from the speakers and the audience members. The fundamental goal of the symposium was to get more women, especially the former players, more deeply into coaching, officiating and top tier sport management. We also need more women in soccer media, marketing, governance, sports sciences, etc.

The push toward a tipping point gained real momentum at this symposium. To keep that momentum going there will be a meeting to devise action plans to achieve the goal of more women in soccer leadership at the 2016 US Youth Soccer Workshop in Baltimore next month. The session will be led by Carrie Taylor and Ruth Nicholson. That session will be in convention center room 321 beginning at 2:15 PM on Saturday, January 16th. If you support this effort tin any way then please do attend that session.

In the meantime you can email Carrie Taylor ( your goals or reach out through Twitter @Carrie1v1 #WIS2015GOALS. PLEASE also include the #WomenInSoccer hashtag. You may also read and add to the document via Google.

Carrie Taylor has shared a link to the following document:

WIS 2015 Goals

Goals list. Please invite people to add their goals as you see fit:

Open in Docs


We hope that you’ll actively participate with us at the January 16th meeting.

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End of an Era

Susan Boyd

Quick! Name the soccer player with the greatest number of international goals. Hint: this forward has appeared in four World Cups and three Olympics. Give up or did you know? It’s Abby Wambach, who retired from the game on Dec. 16, 2015 with 184 goals scored in international play. And yes, that is more than any other player male or female in soccer history. That means more goals than Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham or Mia Hamm who amazingly ranks second in the world with 154 goals. Abby’s impact on the sport transcends gender distinctions and national allegiance.  She definitely elevated the game here in the United States, but she has also joined the international pantheon of notable players with name recognition around the world.

Abby began playing soccer when she was six and made the U.S. National team in her teens. She played college ball at the University of Florida where she honed her signature diving header. Her headers determined games with last minute clutch plays, most notably in the 2011 World Cup when her header at the 122nd minute tied Brazil in the semi-finals, leading to the U.S.’s ultimate victory to make it to the finals. Her head was marked by both her own team, as the point to hit in hopes of a goal, and by the opponent as the dangerous weapon which had to be stopped. Yet teams often couldn’t thwart the power she possessed with both her head and her feet, and more significantly the power she possessed to inspire her team. The New York Times declared she was “the soul” of the Women’s National Team, and there was little argument with the truth of that statement. She motivated teammates to persevere through tough matches and helped them remained focused leading to strong performances and significant come-from-behind victories. While her skill as a player is unquestioned, it is her character which sets her even further apart from other sports marvels. She possesses integrity, determination, humility and joy, traits we hope all our youth players aspire to and achieve. She embodies the true character of a role model. Abby was a refreshing stand-out who could inspire both girls and boys; someone we could trust to provide drama-free behaviors. When Hope Solo, the goalkeeper for the Women’s National Team, was arrested for domestic abuse just prior to the 2015 World Cup, Abby kept her opinions to herself, focused on the competition ahead and supported her teammate. That’s a class act. As she shifts to a new role as commentator, soccer representative and endorser, she will continue to bring to soccer the same high level of investment and scrupulousness. Pointing our kids in her direction wouldn’t be a mistake.

However in this climate of larger-than-life sports celebrities who all too often seem more self-involved than humble in the face of their success, it’s difficult to find people we want our children to look up to. We may chuckle at some of the antics, but the behaviors of these notables aren’t anything we want our children to model. Abby’s time of playing has ended, and new players will take her place as time moves forward. Just as Mia Hamm and Cobi Jones gave way to Abby Wambach and Landon Donovan, they have now given way to Alex Morgan and Michael Bradley.  Unfortunately we parents don’t get to pick the sports icons our children adore. That comes from a mix of public opinion and personal attachment. We may be able to steer our kids gently in a certain direction, but ultimately they want the jersey that everyone else is wearing. Alas those who imbue a jersey number with legendary magic can’t all have the dependability that we witnessed with Abby. Too regularly our heroes end up letting us down. So that begs the question, what do we do when our child’s idol has clay feet? 

In 2013 we had a summer of huge disappointment when Brewer’s outfielder Ryan Braun denied he used performance enhancing drugs, had a suspension overturned and then in a disastrous turn of events had to reluctantly fess up. Caught up in the same scandal was Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees who dug in his heels in the face of overwhelming evidence and refused to admit to any wrong doing, though the evidence (and the baseball commissioner) said otherwise. Thousands of kids were sent into a tailspin as they struggled with the aftermath of fallen idols. These kids had jerseys, posters, signed baseballs and other memorabilia, all of which lost their luster quickly. Some continued to support their heroes, but most were too scared and ashamed to admit their allegiances. It was confusing to hear newscasters and sports reporters tear down their icons daily. Parents were also conflicted because they understood the seriousness of the charges but also felt loyalty to their team. Imagine how much more upsetting this was to young players who didn’t comprehend the issues except on the most rudimentary level. All they really understood was that their star was tarnished and by association so were they.

These doping suspensions weren’t the first implosion of a sports star’s image (think Tiger Woods, Tonya Harding, Lance Armstrong), but is regrettably emblematic of how many players end up on the wrong end of the law, lying or flaunting poor social decorum. We parents have the unenviable task of helping our kids deal with the news. We need to help kids separate the legend from the reality. It’s important for them to understand that just because someone can score goals from 30 yards out doesn’t mean he’s a pillar of integrity. Kids can still be enamored with a player’s skills while taking exception to her conduct. We parents should point out that all the adulation can warp a person’s sense of humility and entitlement. Whatever the circumstances of a professional player’s fall from grace, kids should be able to learn some valuable lessons about making ethical choices, being honest and taking responsibility for behaviors. We should openly discuss the reports and kids should be encouraged to come up with how their hero might have better handled the situation. We can ask “What would you do if someone offered you a way to cheat?” or “Is there a time when lying is okay?” or “Does someone famous have the right to ignore the rules?”  While these seem to be rhetorical questions, we may be surprised at how our kids view the issues.  Rather than judge the responses, we should encourage a dialog, focusing on all the issues involved, and continuing the discussion as it impacts their lives. We should do this is so that our kids learn to analyze moral dilemmas and arrive at solutions that will make both us and them comfortable. It’s not about one right answer but about developing the tools to find their own answers while in the midst of an ethical quagmire. It won’t be just about sports, but really all about life.

Abby’s retirement marks the end of an era with the Women’s National Team that set amazing standards for quality of action both on and off the pitch. When we find a player that we believe embodies a strong work ethic and moral compass, we shouldn’t be shy about pointing that out to our youngsters. The player may not be the biggest star, but at least he or she can serve as an example of what we want our children to aspire to. It’s all right if our kids hitch their loyalties to someone we consider possesses questionable principles because should he or she falter, their fall will provide valuable life lessons. More importantly, there will always be an Abby Wambach out there to whom we can direct their attention. Sports heroes despite some extraordinary skills are also human beings with frailties, but some, like Abby, have fewer than others. An era of decency will continue long after good players retire. Someone will take their place. It will be exciting to see who steps up in women’s soccer.

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Meeting the Costs

Susan Boyd

Despite soccer being a simple game requiring little equipment, it has morphed into a rather expensive sport. When our kids are under ten we can get by with minimal costs. Most soccer shops will offer inexpensive packages of cleats, shin guards and ball for around $50, but those costs quickly spiral into double and triple the amount as kids get older. The costs for training escalate depending on the type of club team your child plays for.  The further up the skill level our children travel the higher the costs rise. If you change clubs you’ll have to change uniforms which often include a number of peripheral items such as warm-ups and soccer bags. Utilitarian cleats give way to high end boots which are specialized to playing position and ironically cost more the lighter they become. Apparently removing materials somehow increases manufacturing costs. Naturally the more players become advanced the more they have to travel to find equal or stronger competition, so those costs need to be added to uniforms, cleats, training and ancillary equipment. Some clubs will include fees for coaches’ travel in the club dues, but other clubs will ask every family to contribute an amount each trip. The final financial insult comes if your family decides to travel with your child.

What began as a simple $100 to $200 yearly expense can suddenly explode to 20 times that amount. It’s a subtle increase at first, and then before we know it we’re writing checks in rapid succession being rushed along a money trail with no stops and no exits. So how do we pay for this?  Some people may be lucky enough to absorb the costs, but most people will need a plan to handle the assault to their finances. There’s several ways to make this work, but we have to be proactive and definitely not shy about pursuing possibilities that ease the burden.

Many clubs have financial plans for families. These may be in the form of scholarships, payment plans and substituting volunteer hours for fees. My main advice is to not be shy about asking. We may feel embarrassed to seek help, but you’d be surprised how many families can’t handle the expenses without some assistance, especially if they have multiple players in the family. So call the club treasurer or president prior to try-outs to discover how the organization handles paying fees. Don’t be afraid that your questions will somehow interfere with your child being selected. Clubs understand that they need the best players to have a winning record to attract more top players and significantly more paying families. So they are usually happy to work out payments without putting parents on the spot or dismissing their children because they might not pay up all at once. Clubs make money from their fees, but a big money maker for most clubs are tournaments, which require a huge number of volunteers to make them run smoothly and be attractive to the best teams to enter. Clubs will generally have a volunteer requirement which must be met to be a member, but those requirements often barely meet the minimum needs for tournament personnel. So clubs will also offer a reduction in club fees for extra volunteer work. Bruce agreed to help mow the fields once a week in return for lowered fees in our case. A club may also offer scholarships in return for significant continual volunteering such as painting lines weekly, running concessions, cleaning bathrooms and clubhouses, etc. It actually makes good financial sense for the club who would pay far more to hire people to do these jobs than they give in fee credits. Occasionally clubs will have a fund raising event and give credits on dues if a family reaches certain fund raising goals.

It’s not unfair to ask our children to help out with these fees. They may appreciate the opportunities offered to them more if they have a financial stake in the outcomes. Kids can earn a referee license at age 12 to oversee U6 to U10 games with a minimal amount of training offered through your state referee association. The fees they earn aren’t significant, but if they work two or three games a weekend they can earn $30 to $40. After a month they’ve covered the cost of a uniform. They can continue to earn more advanced referee qualifications which leads to higher pay. As they get older they can also earn a coaching certificate. By earning a “D” license Bryce netted a fair amount of money in high school giving private goal keeping clinics to young kids in the club. If you live in a city or near a city with a professional or college team, they will probably run summer camps and require teen counselors. Kids can make several hundred dollars over the season depending on how many camps they work. The place we spend a lot of money is the local soccer store, so once kids reach employable age, usually 15 or 16 in most states, they should apply to work at the store. Not only can they make money, but they will also benefit from employee discounts to help defray costs.

I ended up getting a second job to help pay for the boys. I was lucky enough to get a job in soccer first as the administrator of Bryce and Robbie’s soccer club and then with the Wisconsin Youth Soccer Association Olympic Development program. The pay wasn’t great, but it was enough to help out with our travel expenses, allowing us to go as a family to most away tournaments.  Some parents in our club took part-time jobs at places like the Hallmark store or the local grocery to earn just enough to cover expenses associated with select soccer.

There are actually scholarships out there to cover costs for soccer players. Most are sponsored by the clubs themselves. An internet search with the keywords “scholarships for soccer club fees” produced information and applications for scores of club teams. Adding a regional keyword like your city or your state should help narrow the search. Locating a club which offers financial assistance can help a family locate the most financially responsible options for try-outs. Additionally many of the ethnic clubs underwrite their select teams so that club fees can be more on the youth recreational level rather than the stratosphere of most select clubs.  When Bryce played for United Serbians, our fees for the year were only $150 which included coaching and uniforms. We paid extra for tournaments and travel. Occasionally clubs can apply for community grants to provide scholarships for their players. Checking those out and writing up a grant for your club could end up returning big dividends.

Generally scholarships only cover training fees and not travel, so families need to find ways to afford those costs. There’s economy in numbers. We parents need to help one another out by sharing the expenses. Players can travel with other players and share hotel rooms. We usually had at least two other teammates with us on every trip. Putting three or four boys in one room greatly reduced the costs for families and “car-pooling” to tournaments saved many families from the expensive costs of driving just their own child to an event. The team can get together for meals and order pizzas to eat in the lobby or sub sandwiches between games, reducing the food costs substantially. Even better a group of parents might grocery shop and buy the makings for sandwiches once arriving at the tournament. Getting bulk sports drinks from a big box store also saves money.  If a team must fly, have a parent coordinate a group rate for the team. This can be a substantial savings over regular airfares. Groups can be as small as ten, so a soccer team would certainly qualify for these special rates. Arranging for 15 passenger vans when you land is often far less expensive than every family renting separate vehicles.   These large vans are also good for those longer road trips saving on transportation costs.

Finally soccer equipment can be very expensive, especially with the quarterly release of the latest professional soccer player sponsored cleats. However, if you need to keep costs down you can turn to organizations like Goodwill and Salvation Army who generally have a rather large selection of soccer boots. They won’t be the fanciest pair around, but they’ll grip the turf just as well. I would avoid used shin guards as there are concerns about fungus. But you can get relatively inexpensive shin guards at stores like Wal-Mart, Dick’s or Sports Authority. You don’t need the FIFA or MLS branded pair. Clubs can help expenses by sticking with the same uniform for as long as possible. Every fall they can sponsor a uniform exchange where players who have outgrown their kit can pass it down to younger players. Old numbers can be removed and changed at the local soccer store for a nominal fee, so no need to worry in that regard. The exchanges could also include balls, goalie gloves, warm-ups, and bags. There’s no need to break the bank to be outfitted to play.

My friends with kids who play hockey and football have far greater equipment costs than we ever did. In fact, when I saw what the gear for a hockey goalie cost I quickly maneuvered my boys away from the sport. Overall progressing in any sport translates into more costs. If a player is passionate, it’s difficult to ask him or her to give up the game. Therefore we parents have to find a way to pay for it all. My one caveat is to caution against expecting to “recoup” the costs through a college scholarship. You’d be better off putting all the money you spend on soccer into a college savings program. That’s not to say kids won’t earn scholarships – many will – but the reality of these scholarships is that they won’t cover tuition much less room, board, books, and incidentals. And if your player attends a private school or an out-of-state institution then the scholarships will often make just a puny dent in the expenses. In reality we all need to decide what we can comfortably afford, and then we need to stick to that budget. It may mean choosing a less “successful” club to make some savings. Don’t worry about that. Top soccer players have come from all types of clubs and programs. Ultimately it is the individual player’s determination, skill and attitude that dictates how far he or she will go and not how loose a parent’s purse strings are.

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A Brief History of Soccer

Susan Boyd

A Brief History of Soccer

This sport our children play preceded them by at least 2,000 years,  and some historians say 3000 years. Historical evidence of “kick ball” has appeared independently in dozens of geographic areas that had no economic, political or religious overlaps. It has survived wars, pestilence, political upheaval, famine, drought and innumerable natural disasters. Only wrestling possibly predates this sport, which like wrestling is a relatively simple with minimal equipment needs. Given that soccer isn’t complex, it’s really not so remarkable that it developed early in so many cultures across a variety of topographies and lasted so long.

Evidence of soccer can be found in the archeology and recorded histories of China, Japan, Egypt, Greece, Meso-America and Australia. The earliest documentation of football was found in images on the Egyptian tomb of Baqet III (2500 B.C.E.) which depict young girls kicking around a ball. Generally the advent of any sport can be traced to the training of a country’s military. In Japan circa 1000 B.C.E. a game called Kemari arose to train soldiers’ agility and battle tactics. A field formed by four trees at the corners (cherry, maple, pine and willow) contained a contest played with teams of two to 12 players kicking a ball filled with sawdust. The first evidence of soccer in China appeared during the Tsin Dynasty (255-206 BC) with a game called Tsu-Chu, which literally translates as “kick ball”, which was played by soldiers who had to maneuver a leather ball through opponents into a small hole in a net strung between two poles. Amazingly, the first “international” football competition can be traced to a Kemari team playing against a Tsu-Chu team in 50 B.C.E. In some countries play also included the use of hands, which was true in Rome with the game Harpastum where combatants attempted to possess the ball as long as possible by playing “keep away” rather than driving down to a goal. The Greeks had a game called Episkyros which more closely resembled rugby but involved far more foot control. Native American tribes Algonquin and Powhatan played a game called Pasuckuakohowog, which translates as “they gather to play ball with the feet”. The game was played on the beach with goals a mile apart and teams of up to 100. It’s believed that the Pilgrims participated as part of befriending the tribes. Indigenous people of Australia competed in Marn Grook. Native Americans and Aborigines were isolated cultures who spontaneously developed the sport.

Modern soccer has its roots in Great Britain. In the 9th century entire towns would participate in kicking a pig’s bladder around the city center. These contests became so heated and violent, that they often resulted in injury and death. Alarmed by the increasing violence, King Edward III decreed in 1331 an end to the sport in England. Nearly 100 years later King James of Scotland issued the same decree for his nation. Nevertheless, this kicking game continued to be played, albeit less publicly. In fact it was a favorite sport for prisoners who had often lost their hands as punishment for the crime of theft. Queen Elizabeth I, still alarmed by the violent nature of the game, threatened footballers with a week in jail and then a penance in church. The first official rules for Italian football (called calico) were developed by Giovanni Bardi in 1580, which eventually formed the rudiments of modern soccer rules.  Finally in 1605, soccer was declared legal again in Great Britain. Rules were not standardized until 200 years later in 1815, when Eton College established a set of rules based partially on those Bardi developed. The Eton rules were further revised and standardized by Cambridge, leading to the system our kids play by today. This ushered in the era of modern soccer and eventually that world-wide governing agency FIFA.

The first English Football Association was formed in 1863. By this time soccer was also being played quite regularly in North America, especially in the Northeast and among the Ivy League Schools.  Surprisingly it wasn’t until the Rugby Association broke off into its own group that the rules of soccer were revised in 1869 to prohibit any use of hands except by the goal keeper. After that revision and the establishment of the penalty kick in 1888, most changes have been minor to help standardize the game world-wide. The bellwether mark in modern football was the formation of FIFA in 1904 with delegates from seven European countries. The first World Cup soon followed in 1930 comprising 13 teams. Now football was off and running into the international phenomenon it is today.

We in the United States came somewhat late to the party, even though we had played some form of the game since the early 1800’s.  We began with two governing bodies for professional soccer:  United States Football Association (USFA) (now known as United States Soccer Federation - USSF) and American Soccer League (ASL). These two leagues competed for recognition by FIFA, and USFA eventually won FIFA’s support.  However, the battles between the groups escalated when the National Challenge Cup was created. The competition organized by the USFA regularly occurred during ASL’s off-season, making it nearly impossible for that league to field a team. Additionally ASL had most of their teams operated by Major League Baseball owners who wanted a closed league model just like baseball, which meant only a limited number of franchises would be in the league at the top level, and it would be the same teams every year regardless of their records. USFA wanted to run their league like the European open system where there were several league tiers and teams could be relegated to a lower tier or advanced to a higher tier based on their records. The conflict of these systems made it difficult to create a play-off system for the National Cup since ASL had a set number of teams who all expected to participate, and the USFA had an open system that allowed teams from minor leagues to possibly go all the way to the finals. The ASL had also been sanctioned by FIFA for signing European players to their teams who were still under contract to their European teams. Suffering from financial and Public Relations woes, ASL finally stopped the “soccer wars” by rescinding all their attempts to become the premier league in the United States.

Unfortunately the settlement between the USFA and ASL came on the cusp of the Great Depression. Unable to financially field competitive teams and find fans willing to pay to see soccer matches even the National Challenge Cup dissolved. However it would reappear later at the Lamar Hunt Open Cup, which has been won several times by amateur adult club teams. The factor that saved soccer was the large immigrant populations particularly in the Northeast and the Midwest, who created ethnic soccer clubs who were amateur but played regional games that attracted large crowds. Even today these clubs continue to provide a strong base for amateur soccer in America. As the country improved, organizers once again hoped to promote professional soccer in the United States. In 1968 the National Association of Soccer Leagues was organized and the league remained viable until 1984 when several factors lead to the final dissolution of the league in 1985. Luckily college soccer had grown in popularity and strength during this time and college players were looking to play professionally in their own country. In 1993 Major League Soccer (MLS) was formed with ten teams as part of the deal to have the 1994 FIFA World Cup in America. The MLS played its first season in 1996 ultimately expanding to 20 teams with most now playing in soccer-specific stadiums.

The explosion of men’s soccer was nearly dwarfed by the burst of women on the American scene. Attempts have been made to create a professional league for women with only limited success, but national women’s soccer has been amazing. The U.S. Women’s National Team has won three World Cups and two Olympics. Women put America on the world soccer stage in a way the men still struggled to do. In fact, the women’s team is the only American soccer team to ever win the World Cup. Despite limited professional opportunities to advance their skill levels and training, women players have put in the work on their own and signed with foreign professional teams to play when they can.  Two professional leagues have folded since 1991. However in 2012 the National Women’s Soccer League was formed, playing its inaugural season in 2013. It has gotten some good backing as fans want to watch their favorite National Team players on a regular basis. There are now ten teams, which is how the MLS started. Since great professional soccer facilities now exist across the United States, the women have benefitted from that infrastructure, making it easier to maintain and market the league. They are still belt-tightening financially with salary caps of only $200,000, but the league seems to be growing and succeeding.

The youth level of soccer has had several off-shoots. USSF is the umbrella organization for all soccer in America. United States Youth Soccer Association began in 1974 and now has over 3 million youth players. US Youth Soccer sponsors the Olympic Development Program (ODP) which works to identify players to ultimately play on U.S. Soccer Youth National Teams, from which players will be developed for the Men’s and Women’s National Teams. ODP concentrates on selecting individual players from clubs all over the country to play on state, regional and national teams. USSF also formed a Developmental Program which establishes a training protocol that member clubs agree to follow for coaching their teams. These member clubs compete in four regions in the US, and National Team coaches regularly attend matches and tournaments to identify players for further development. Youth soccer has gained from the strength of adult soccer but now adult soccer is advancing from the influx of well-trained, passionate youth players.

Soccer has lasted over the eons primarily because, despite its present-day professionalism, media promotion, and sophistication, the sport requires only one thing – a ball. Therefore it can be played by anyone rich or poor, educated or not, urban or rural and young or old. Our children can take pride in being part of such a rich history, playing a game that has off-shoots such as beach soccer, soccer tennis, futsal and indoor which all use the same basic skills. When Robbie traveled to Kenya to study public health systems, he always had a crowd of kids surrounding him when he produced his soccer ball. The players were often barefoot, the grass knee high, and the goals two rocks marking the goal mouth, but the joy and language were universal. Soccer has a history that isn’t just tied to our own experiences, but makes us citizens of the world.

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