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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.

 

A word from a player

Sam Snow

Now and then we adult leaders in the game need to hear from and listen to the players. Here is a portion of a letter written by a 15-year-old player to parents in her State Association. So let's listen up…
 
During my nine years of experience, I have noticed numerous parents on the sidelines who do not always act as role models for their children when it comes to sportsmanship. I believe it is a parent's responsibility to instill in their child the importance of good sportsmanship and offset the "win at all costs" philosophy. To encourage parents to act responsibly, I would like to see the state leadership team consider having parents sign a contract before each season begins.
 
Soccer is a team sport and parents need to understand that and encourage their child to be a team player. There have been too many times when a parent only wants his or her child to succeed or be the best, which does not support a team environment. As an example, I have seen where a parent will pay their child for every goal they score. This encourages the child to try and only score goals, as opposed to passing to another player that may have a better shot at making a goal. While scoring goals is certainly important, playing defensively to ensure the other team does not is just as important. No position on the soccer field is more important than another. If parents are reminded of this in the contract, they can help their child actively participate in a cooperative and coordinated effort on the part of the team working together towards their common goal.
 
The sport of soccer is naturally competitive so parents can tend to get a bit high strung and say or yell things on the sidelines that are not appropriate. For example, there are times when a parent may not agree with the call a referee has made, and will berate and yell at that referee to the point he or she is asked to leave the sidelines. Parents must remember to demonstrate respect for coaches, players and referees and never openly berate, criticize, tease or demean anyone involved in the game. As a player, I can assure you that if a parent says something on the sidelines, we do hear it on the field. Children do learn from their behavior, so it is important they set a positive example.
 
In addition, parents need to be humble, trust the coach and admit that the way they think a child should play or a coach should teach is not the only way a child can learn. Each year I have played, there are always parents who seem to not support the team because they spend the entire game instructing the players from the sidelines. This confuses the players and really undermines the efforts of the coaches. Parents need to be reminded that they should avoid confusion when cheering on the sidelines. Including some examples of what parents should and should not say in a contract will encourage positive behavior. Hearing positive encouragement is always more motivating to me than being told to "shoot" or "pass it" when I am playing.
 
These are just a few of the areas that could be addressed in a sportsmanship contract. I do not think parents intentionally demonstrate behavior that is not sportsman like. If they are required to review what their role is for the soccer season, and then sign an agreement, it will serve as a friendly reminder what their responsibility is as a parent of a player. In addition, if you receive complaints regarding a particular parent's behavior, you have documentation that the parent agreed to behave according to the sportsmanship guidelines and take action if he or she continues behaving inappropriately.
 
I truly believe this will encourage positive support on the sidelines from parents both during games and at practices. If players receive positive encouragement and are taught sportsmanship at a young age, they will be able to model that behavior as a player or observer today and in the future.
 

Video Anaylsis

Sam Snow

There are an increasing number of products on the market for video analysis. More soccer coaches are using this software and many coaches have been using video analysis for a number of years. So here are some facts on how to use video analysis in a productive manner.
 
Please keep in mind that the use of video to help players improve is best done with players who can conceptualize what they are viewing. That is they can watch themselves and self-analyze and they can mentally see themselves doing the skill or a tactical action in a match. This capacity of conceptualization begins to emerge once the player is capable of abstract thought. Generally that growth in the cognitive process occurs around age twelve. Prior to that age if kids want to watch themselves on video let them just watch the film without comment and to come and go from it as they please.
 
Video analysis of team and individual performance should be consistently used with this age group. The analysis should be developed around problem solving discussions. An exchange of questions and answers between you and the players and between the players themselves will be productive. In general video analysis should be used immediately following the activity when the player has a kinesthetic feeling for the action. Video feedback can have its best impact during training sessions where review followed by immediate repetition of the action can take place in a coach-controlled situation. The player should be encouraged to give an active response, be it verbal or physical, thus becoming involved in the learning process. Players should be allowed to work at their own pace. Do not force or rush their use of the media.
 
Initially, each viewing session should isolate small units, such as a specific skill or game play. Short viewing periods plus your analysis should be followed by an attempt to correct as well as improve upon performance. Correction should be positive, not negative. The player must receive rapid feedback regarding the correct action and technique. The correct movements must be over learned by repeated practice. Avoid getting in the way of the players' learning process and interaction with the material. Stop talking and listen. Do not fill the players' minds with details; let them think and analyze for themselves and guide them in reaching a conclusion only when they reach an impasse.
 
Beware the excessive use of slow motion or stop action. It has been found that speed of movement is also quite specific to individual performance, and too much viewing of complex movements performed at excessively slow speeds may upset the player's sense of timing and coordination- his or her internal 'model' of what he or she is doing.
 
A final word of advice: video analysis demands that you understand the mechanics of soccer. No longer will guesswork be allowed – the instant replay of video leaves each analysis open to question. Knowledge of key movement cues that contribute positively to the players' performance is now essential. Watch the US Youth Soccer DVD Skills School | Developing Essential Soccer Techniques for assistance in this area. Also use as a reference the Skills School Manual from US Youth Soccer.
 
Encourage your players to watch high level soccer regularly. As they watch these matches they should focus on the group play around their position. The US Youth Soccer Show on Fox Soccer Channel is a good opportunity to see players like themselves. Players should be able to mentally insert themselves into the position and think how they may benefit from what they are observing.
 

Save the Date

Susan Boyd

Spring finds most states are in the midst of their US Youth Soccer State Championships. Winners earn the opportunity to compete in their US Youth Soccer Regional Championships with an eye towards advancing to the National Championships. Unfortunately spring also brings unpredictable weather that disrupts carefully crafted championships schedules. Add to that all the activities that fill April, May and June, prom, finals, graduations, service projects, field trips, bat and bar mitzvahs and confirmations, and you end up with a tangle of frustratingly impossible scheduling.

So far Robbie hasn't played a single State Championship game either as scheduled or completely. Rain storms devastated fields and lightning brought one game to a halt before the 90 minute mark. His team is due to play their final round robin game on Monday, but the weather reports are for rain and lightning, so we hoping for the best and expecting the worst.   That's because once the schedule has to change, team administrators find themselves in an alternate universe called "no way." Any of you who have been team administrators know this land well. 

First you have to send out the email that cancels the game and await the emails that border on accusing you of personally ordering the inclement weather just to mess up everyone's calendar. I liken it to the pilot of a plane announcing that the wings don't seem to be attached properly so the flight to Orlando will be delayed and the majority of people nearly storm the cockpit demanding the plane take off any way. This is the same group who undoubtedly complain that planes should be safer.   The usual reason for cancellation is weather. Sometimes game day is beautiful, but the rain the night before made the fields unplayable, which only makes the howls more strident. 

Once it all calms down it's time for the reschedule emails. These usually involve first figuring out three or four possible dates for the rematch and then emailing both your team members and the opponents. Trust me, President Carter negotiating the Camp David Accord between Sadat and Begin didn't have as complicated a time as any team administrator trying to reschedule a game. The older the team, the harder it becomes. By high school you are bucking proms, senior trips, graduations, final papers, and finals in general. Since team members attend a variety of schools nothing is parallel so nothing is easy. Plus there are always those teammates who never respond and then, once a date is agreed upon, announce that they can't possibly play that day. When the flurry of emails has settled and a date declared, everyone holds their breath that the weather will cooperate.

Despite these roadblocks, all games manage to be played with minimal input from the State Association level. This speaks to both the flexibility and amiability of soccer managers, coaches, parents and players. People do bend, do compromise, and do facilitate, so that even the most complex, backs-up-against-the-wall deadline gets completed. Soccer can be civil off the field, at least at the youth level.

I have to say I love the State Championship. Last year Bryce's team won and went to the US Youth Soccer Region II Championship which was in our backyard down in Rockford, Illinois. This year it's in Sioux Falls, S.D., which would be a wonderful road trip. However, I'm not sure Robbie's team can win this year. They are primarily graduating seniors and as such have little interest in anything that doesn't involve a game console and sleeping late. So motivating them to practice and play isn't always easy. I think Robbie's coach has the patience of Mr. Rogers and the implacability of Ryan Seacrest. Maybe he goes home and throws darts at squirrels to take out his pent up frustration, but on the field he never shows it.

In Wisconsin Memorial Day weekend is the main date for State Championship with central locations for the games. Because Robbie's team has graduating seniors they couldn't play most of their games this weekend because at least a third of them are graduating. So they'll just play the Monday games. But that means we'll still get to experience some of the celebration that surrounds the event. I definitely encourage players and families to take some extra time to watch other games, visit any of the vendors on site, and enjoy the chance to compete at a top level. Likewise, if the Regional or National Championship is within easy driving distance you should plan to spend a day or two at the venue. These competitions provide families with the opportunity to see a variety of teams and discover what talent can be found outside of their own neighborhoods. It's also a chance to reconnect with teammates from the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program. Win or lose these championship events bring out the best players, the best soccer, and the best games, so long as they can all get scheduled.
 
2009 US Youth Soccer National Championship Series Dates
Region I
Village of Barboursville, W.Va.
July 2-7, 2009

Region II
Sioux Falls, S.D.
June 20-24, 2009

Region III
Frisco and Plano, Texas
June 18-24, 2009

Region IV
Lancaster, Calif.
June 15-21, 2009

US Youth Soccer National Championships
Lancaster, Mass.
July 21-26, 2009
 

New League

Sam Snow

Now and then a group will attempt to start a new league in a state, across a few states or an entire region and on the rare occasion nationwide. On one hand it's good that folks are looking to improve the soccer environment. On the other hand the group may be biting off more than they can chew. Still folks will surge forward confident that they have it all sorted out. They write a plan, begin a budget, put down some ideas on a schedule, and perhaps even write some league rules. This information ends up in a document making the process slightly more formal.

Usually there are some unrealistic expectations in the document of their ability to underwrite the costs involved to the teams as the money has to come from somewhere.  It'll just end up being a hidden cost in the club (player) dues and the league will have to require money from the clubs to participate.  Groups who think they can do it better often are sure they can get sponsorships, but they rarely have a professional background in sports marketing to know the realities of getting cash from sponsors, especially in a bear market and a recession.

Additionally. simply organizing a league to help develop players hits only at the surface of player development.  The assumption that a league and set competition alone will deeply impact players is naïve and tells us they do not understand the complexities of player development.  Development for teenaged players MUST hit, in order, three key factors:
  1. The quality of your teammates
  2. The quality of your opponents
  3. The quality of your coaches
The answer is not, nor has it ever been more matches, but more quality training (review please U.S. Soccer Best Practices).  Therefore the most important environment to be improved is within the club.  More and better training is the key to developmental success.  However that's not as sexy to sell to the customers (parents) as are matches.  Yet what the consumers (players) need are top notch teachers (coaches) who can really help each individual player improve.  Coaches of that caliber are rare!

If a group hopes to find elite players for their clubs, colleges or the youth National Teams then they can cast only a small net if they are really covering all of the lodging, meal, ground transportation and staff costs.  This means many players in many parts of the country will be overlooked.  If it were possible to cover all of the expenses and still cast a large net to find every possible Olympic caliber player then U. S. Soccer and US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program would already be doing so. It's unsophisticated to think the national governing bodies would not be making such efforts if it was currently possible.

Instead of creating new variations of existing programs we must focus on improving those programs already in motion. Yes let's look at new ideas, but concentrate our work on improving our current soccer culture.