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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.

 

Active Coaching and Playing Up

Sam Snow

Active Coaching No. 16
 
We believe that top-level coaches, particularly those in administrative positions, such as club and state directors and national staff coaches must remain active practitioners.  In order to gain respect and proactively affect change it is essential that coaches in leadership positions are current in their knowledge and constantly evolving their craft.  In addition:
  • Soccer continues to evolve rapidly and nowhere more dramatically than at the youth level in the United States.  Coaches must have practical contact with the newest trends and be well positioned to proactively test new theories against existing models.
  • Many coaching directors in the United States are in their 20's and 30's and still developing their personal philosophy and pedagogy.  If these talented young coaches are removed from their fertile learning environment before gaining the lessons of experience, the short- and long-term impact on the next generations of players will be sorely felt.
  • Personal growth stagnates without constant challenge.  Each new training session is an opportunity to reaffirm or reassess existing soccer knowledge, beliefs and pedagogical skills.  Each level of play provides unique coaching challenges and, in order to service the needs of players and coaches at every level, practical and ongoing contact with players of all ages and abilities is essential.
  • Top club coaches are influenced by actions, not words.  To gain the confidence and respect of these coaches, it is important for the coaching director to demonstrate their knowledge and skills as a field coach.  Without respect, the possibilities for positive growth and evolution within the top leagues and clubs are severely hamstrung.
  • The director of coaching is often uniquely placed to vertically integrate the technical, tactical, physical and psychological insights gleaned from the regional and national teams programs.  Often, these messages can only be delivered through contact with players; this is particularly the case at the area and state Olympic Development Program levels.
  • One of the most important messages in the coaching education process is that coaching skills evolve with use and erode through inactivity.  This message is true of both experts and beginners.  Coaching directors must be seen to practice what they preach.
  • The motivation for coaches to administrate can be found in the rewards of the field.
  • The vast majority of soccer coaches within the United States are parents with no formal background in the sport.  The coaching director must serve as a role model and inspiration for this population by conducting clinics and workshops and by learning to appreciate and focus the unique challenge of the parent/coach experience.  This process is practical, ongoing and very demanding.
  • The director of coaching must remain connected and sensitive to the balance of competitive pressures that influence those players striving to reach the top level and those coaches making a living from the game.  Competition is a necessary and important element in sport and society.  Without periodic re-exposure to the stresses of intense competition, coaches in leadership positions can easily lose touch with the balance between the theoretical and the practical: X's and O's must always be grounded in the reality of the playing level.
 
Playing Up No. 17
 
The majority of clubs, leagues and district, state or regional Olympic Development Programs in the United States allow talented, younger players to compete on teams with and against older players.  This occurs as a natural part of the development process and is consistent throughout the world.  Currently, however, there are isolated instances where the adult leadership has imposed rules or policies restricting the exceptional, young player from ""playing up.""  These rules vary.  Some absolutely will not allow it. Others establish team or age group quotas while the most lenient review the issue on a case-by-case basis.  Associations that create rules restricting an individual player's option to play at the appropriate competitive level are in effect impeding that player's opportunity for growth.  For development to occur, all players must be exposed to levels of competition commensurate with their skills and must be challenged constantly in training and matches in order to aspire to higher levels of play and maintain their interest in and passion for the game.
 
When it is appropriate for soccer development, the opportunity for the exceptional player to play with older players must be available.  We believe that ""club passes"" should be adopted as an alternative to team rosters to allow for a more realistic and fluid movement of players between teams and levels of play.  If there is a concern regarding the individual situation, the decision must be carefully evaluated by coaches and administrators familiar with the particular player.  When faced with making the decision whether the player ought to play up, the adult leadership must be prepared with sound rationale to support their decision.  Under no circumstances should coaches exploit or hold players back in the misplaced quest for team building and winning championships, nor should parents push their child in an attempt to accelerate to the top of the soccer pyramid.  In addition, playing up under the appropriate circumstances should not preclude a player playing back in his or her own age group.  When the situation dictates that it is in the best interests of the player to do so, it should not be interpreted as a demotion, but as an opportunity to gain or regain confidence.
 
Some rationale for the above includes:
 
Pele played for Brazil in his first World Cup as a seventeen year old; Mia Hamm earned her first call to the U.S. Women's National Team when she was fifteen.  Exceptionally talented young players playing with older players have been an integral part of the game since its inception.  Certainly, a player that possesses soccer maturity beyond that of his or her peers should be encouraged to ""play up"" in order that his or her development as a player is stimulated.
 
The playing environment must provide the right balance between challenge and success.  The best players must have the opportunity to compete with and against players of similar abilities.  Players with less ability must be allowed to compete at their own level in order to enjoy the game and to improve performance.
 
In conclusion the development of players and advancement of the overall quality in the United States is the responsibility of every youth coach, administrator and policymaker in this country.  It is our obligation to provide an environment where every player is given the opportunity to improve and to gain the maximum enjoyment from their soccer experience and ultimately, what is best for the player.
 
Original document compiled by Dr. Tom Turner, Director of Coaching and Player Development for the Ohio Youth Soccer Association North.
 
Supplemental documentation compiled by Sam Snow, Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer.
 

Coaching Priorities, League Play and Matches per Year, National Championship Series, Professional Li

Sam Snow

Priorities of Coaching No. 12
We also recommend the prioritization of events by coaches:
- Objectives are identified and a season plan is developed that balances training, competition and rest and recovery.
- The interest of the player must be dictated by the quality of scheduling and the choice of events.
- Entering all the possible competitions/tournaments available can have a long lasting negative impact on basic skill and fitness development.
- A systematic approach will maximize the chances of achieving peak performance by bringing players to peak form for important competitions and minimize the chances for over-training, over-use injuries and burnout.
- We recommend the following training session to match ratios:
U6-U8                          1:1
U10-U12                      2:1
U14-U19                      3:1
- In order for an athlete to adapt (improve technical, tactical and psychological components) there must be periods of low intensity activity or complete rest interspersed with periods of high intensity activity.
- ""More is not better.""  Quantity alone does not improve quality; soccer should be a test of skill not survival.
- Practicing or playing in matches where players are ""going through the motions"" due to fatigue or lack of interest reinforce bad habits and retard development.
- Sound nutrition and ample rest allow for more rapid recovery from intense activity.

League Play and Matches Per Year No. 13
We believe that the optimal playing and learning environment includes participating in no more than two matches per week.  We also believe that players should not compete in more than one full match per day and no more than two full matches per weekend.  There must be a day of rest between full-length matches.  We strongly oppose the practice of scheduling regular season and/or make-up matches in a manner that results in four full matches in the same week.  Modified FIFA rules apply: no reentry per half for the U14 and younger age groups and no reentry after substitution for the U15 and older age groups.  In addition, we believe that players should not compete in more than 40 playing dates in a calendar year.  Players must have one full month off from all soccer activity.

National Championship Series Competition No. 14
We believe that, in order to be consistent with the final stages of the competition, the national tournament for the top players should adopt a no reentry rule for state and regional level play.

The Professional Link No. 15
We believe that the professional level plays a necessary and vital role in the growth and development of youth and amateur soccer.  In all soccer cultures, the professional level serves to provide for the vertical movement of top players and creates the conditions for national heroes to emerge.  The professional influence also accounts for much of the indirect education that permeates soccer societies.  Television ratings and paid attendance have a significant local and national impact on media perception and civic response.  We feel that promoting professional soccer is foundational to all professional coaching positions.
 
 

She Plays Like a Girl

Susan Boyd

The other day at Robbie's high school game, his team mate's little sister was a ball girl. She wore her soccer uniform with socks carefully rolled up to her knees and shorts nearly down to her knees. She took her job seriously and jogged up and down the sidelines following the action keenly and tossing the players a ball when needed. I don't know her age, but I'm guessing it wasn't more than nine. Yet in the heat and over the course of 80 minutes she fulfilled her responsibilities completely. She never wavered in her focus. I was impressed by her intensity and knowledge of the game. Naturally it doesn't hurt to have older siblings who play soccer. There's a certain amount of learning through the osmosis of observation. But lots of kids at her age would have eventually lost interest in the game and spent the time kicking the ball at the fence.

Girls' soccer continues to grow despite the paucity of opportunities after college. While my sons and their friends have hundreds of possibilities to play soccer outside of club, high school, and college, girls have limited access to professional and amateur soccer. The one bright spot is that there are more college scholarships available for girls than for boys. So at least girls have the chance to see more of their college costs offset. But the number is still small enough that no one should count on a significant dent made on overall college expenses. 

Despite the demise of the Women's United Soccer Association, other leagues have moved in to fill the void. Besides amateur leagues that exist in various states such as California and Georgia, there's the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL) www.wpsl.info which transition's into the Women's Professional League (WPS) www.womensprosoccer.com and the USL's W League http://wleague.uslsoccer.com.   It's a kick to go on these websites and see players profiled with multiple honors and extensive experience in the sport. Because women soccer players need to train from a young age year-round and push themselves competitively if they want to advance in the sport, their resumes rival the top male players for depth and expertise. Girls need to be able to play internationally, to have top training, and to have access to facilities and teams.

I saw an ad for the WNBA this season that really tickled me. The narrator played off the misconceptions of many people that women's sports can't generate the same excitement, power, and professionalism that men's sports do. So the narrator says (and I'm paraphrasing), "Women are too delicate to take a hit" while clips of players going hard for the ball and shoving competition out from under the basket are played. The narrator continues "The game is all about simple two point plays" while clips of amazing shots far outside the 3 point line or strong drives into the paint and up to the basket roll over the speech. "Girls don't understand the strategy" while film of great, smart moves flash on the screen. "You'd be bored to tears to attend a WNBA game" as a player drives towards the camera, leaps into the air, stuffs one into the basket and lands facing the camera with a fierce look of accomplishment.

I think they need to market women's soccer in the same way. This past week I saw a game between the women of Santa Clara and UCLA. The match was contentious and close. In one play a UCLA forward pushed the ball ahead of her and barreled towards the SC keeper, Meagan McCray, who just saved the ball by stretching, but left herself open and vulnerable. In an instant she was kicked full force in the face. Play stopped and the trainers worked on the keeper who was obviously shaken up and bloodied. But McCray returned to play and held No. 2 ranked UCLA to a 0:0 tie in two overtimes. That's a woman who is not only physically but also mentally tough. That type of perseverance and stamina makes women's soccer not only exciting, but engaging.

While the U.S. Soccer program powers continue to seek a way to make US men's teams competitive in world competition, US women have steadfastly continued to improve their game, win top events including the World Cup and the Olympics, and provide strong role models for young female athletes. They don't get the huge paychecks for professional play, they use the same development system that they used when Mia Hamm started, and they don't get the press that the men's teams do. Yet women soccer players continue to deliver big on the pitch. When I saw that girl focused on being the best ball girl she could be for a high school game I knew that grit and devotion got women where they are in the sport. They don't need much except our support and increased opportunities after college where they can strut their stuff. Check out the schedules of your local college women's teams or any of the pro and semi-pro teams on the websites I've listed, and take your daughter and your son to a game!
 

It's Never Too Late

Susan Boyd

I hate to be late. I go crazy when I'm late, which makes my family crazy. I admit I probably have an unhealthy addiction to time, but at least I let my window panes stay dirty and the dust bunnies peacefully multiply under the furniture. So I have a few good qualities.

But here we are with just two days left in National Youth Soccer Month, and I haven't even mentioned it. The website has had some good articles, games, profiles, and promotions for the month, but not one blog from me. I'm going to say that I planned this; that I wanted to create a bridge from National Youth Soccer Month into the rest of soccer playing months ahead. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Soccer can be found in nearly every country of the world, even tiny Caribbean islands and South Pacific atolls. Celebrating September as National Youth Soccer Month barely scratches the surface of the widespread appeal of and attention to soccer. For most countries in the world, national pride is closely aligned with success or failure on the soccer pitch. While we should observe a month that focuses on all the benefits and enjoyment soccer provides, we should also use the month as a springboard to discovering and participating in the many ways soccer infuses our lives. After all, we spend most weekends watching our kids play, so we have already committed to a nearly year-round soccer attention.

There's a great book, "How Soccer Explains the World," by Franklin Foer, that offers an enticing theory that most of the world's social, economic, and political events can be connected to soccer. While some of the arguments require a suspension of basic geopolitical tenets, the book nevertheless tantalizes the reader with thought-provoking examples of the parallels between soccer and the development of the planet's history. However, since my life has been overtaken by soccer, I'd like to think I've astutely selected the main moving force of the world's advancement rather than just an obsession. That way, every time I attend a game I can claim lofty social and historical motives. Somewhere in the great circle of life, your child's Under-8 game is affecting social change: the proverbial fluttering wings of a butterfly affecting the climate.

Even without these elevated standards, soccer can positively affect lives. Soccer teaches parents and children alike to accept defeat with graciousness and to win with humility. Soccer provides an avenue to interact with our children lovingly and candidly. Soccer offers physical and mental benefits. Soccer crosses all cultural, social, and economic strata without regard to any of them as limiting factors. Soccer can be played by both genders, old and young, and players with physical challenges. Soccer doesn't require any equipment; players can manage with an open area and a cantaloupe if necessary. Soccer brings people together and it can separate them. As the t-shirt says: "Soccer is Life."

So despite National Youth Soccer Month approaching its final days, I'm hoping that the spirit which infused the celebration will continue throughout the year. Make it your goal (don't groan) every month to do something special as it relates to soccer. Try to catch a national team game, any age both men and women, either live or on TV. Go to your local college to see a game. Spend a few hours in the backyard practicing juggling with your player. Hold a soccer birthday party. Make it a point to congratulate every player on your child's team with a positive comment about his or her play. Donate time to TOPSoccer to help kids with physical challenges play the game. Collect your neighborhood's old soccer gear and give to a local charity or to the U.S. Soccer Federation Passback Program. Pick something each month to make soccer special. In that way you guarantee that soccer will influence the world, and more importantly will influence your life.