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Sam's Blog is a bi-weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Coaching Director for US Youth Soccer.

 

US Youth Soccer Region I Premier League finals

Sam Snow

This past weekend I attended the US Youth Soccer Region I Premier League finals at the Kirkwood Soccer Club in Newark, DE. Both boys and girls competed in the Under-14 to the Under-19 age groups. I went to these matches to make a technical analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the players in each age group. Well despite heavy rain the day before the matches the fields were in great shape. The local volunteers did a great job of hosting the event and getting the fields ready for top notch competition.
 
I observed quite a few aspects of performance with the players and their coaches. By and large the coaches were quite professional in their conduct. Only a few over coached from the bench or repeatedly got in the ref's face. Yet that is still too many and as professionals we can do better! My only other critique in this space on the coaching is the observation that while warm-ups were very well done the cool-downs were quite suspect; if they happened at all. Given that the teams all had second match on the Sunday this crucial part of regeneration must not be overlooked!
 
Briefly in this blog I'll touch only on two aspects of the players' areas for improvement. First is the question of why we feel that we need to play so fast? Frequently in these matches the players tried to perform beyond their technical speed. These were good players mind you! Yet too often for players of this caliber they lost the ball easily due to rushing their play. Going hand in hand with this shortcoming was the lack of any tactical change in the rhythm of play. We need players who know when and why to put their foot on the ball and change the pace of the game.
 
So one other item among several for us to address in our player development is the way players act or in fact don't act at a goal kick. Consistently when a goal kick was being taken all of the field players stood still waiting for the ball. Of course this was fine for the defenders who simply stood next to their mark. For the attackers though this stagnant approach makes creating an attack much more difficult. By being still with a defender on you means every goal kick is a 50/50 ball. If instead they made runs to create space and shake markers then the odds of generating a good attack improve.
 
Well there are a few observations on aspects of the American game that we can improve.
 
 

Classic History

Susan Boyd

While parked at Robbie's soccer practice last week, I overheard a group of girls discussing various radio stations while they pulled on their socks and cleats. "I swear you have to listen to 95.4. It is the coolest." "What kind of music?" "Well it's mostly classic rock with some modern music too." "What kind of classic?" "You know, like Justin Timberlake." 

I felt so old. If Justin Timberlake is classic rock, what would you call Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young? The Rolling Stones would have to be Baroque. I wonder what Justin would think about being labeled as classic rock?   I feel like I should enroll him in meals on wheels and get him a life alert pendant just in case he falls. Justin is younger than my oldest daughters. I can feel my bones disintegrating like the dust in a sarcophagus discovered by Indiana Jones.

And speaking of Indiana Jones, he's back – nearly 70 years old and still flying on ropes to land on trucks and rushing through tombs to avoid booby traps. The franchise is a classic, but even Colonel Sanders didn't pretend to be (I'll be gracious here) forty-five. The movie will make millions – that's a given – but hopefully it won't encourage a generation of centenarians to believe they can save the world with a whip and a wry smile. I'd hate to see 70 year old men playing out scenes from the film without benefit of wires, foam pads, make-up, and good lighting. Like all the teens who tried the stunts from "Jackass the Movie," I trust we won't have emergency rooms filling up with AARP Indy wannabes.

Nevertheless we are playing longer and harder than ever. It's not unusual to have 60 even 90 year olds running marathons, participating in iron man competitions, and pursuing an active lifestyle long after reaching the "classic" stage. I have to attribute a portion of that longevity of performance to the strong emphasis on sports over the past thirty years, especially for women who got access to more and more college level sports with the passage of Title IX in 1972 and then Jimmy Carter's push for adherence to the law in 1979.

When I was in high school girls were restricted to tennis (which most played through a tennis club), gymnastics and volleyball. Gym or P.E. was limited to rhythmic gymnastics, calisthenics and laps around the gym. We were excused once a month from activity with a discrete note from our mothers. A few schools had track and field programs for girls, but the major sports role for a girl in high school was cheerleading or being on the dance team. I grew up in Seattle, so I had the benefit of ski slopes just 45 minutes from home. I latched on to skiing with a vengeance. It was my only athletic release. Twenty years after my graduation from high school, my own daughters were participating in high school sports with nearly unlimited possibilities. My sister-in-law went to Harvard on a rowing scholarship in the 1980s. While living in Minneapolis, my younger daughter bought season tickets for the WNBA Lynx in their rookie year 1999, exactly thirty years after I graduated from high school. The athletes who paved the way are probably all "classics" now at least by character if not by age. Many of them didn't get the college scholarships or professional contracts female athletes can achieve now, but it didn't stop them from their passion.

So those girls giggling on the grass and nonchalantly readying themselves for soccer practice come from a brief, but momentous history of sports growth both for women and men in America. It's significant to remember that despite limited opportunities, great female athletes managed to break onto the scene – Babe Didrikson, Althea Gibson and Gertrude Ederle. But until the 70s, they had to limit their college sports to intramurals and outside clubs. In soccer, in particular, opportunities abound for both female and male players who can choose recreational, high school, club, semi-pro, college and professional soccer teams. The demise of the women's professional soccer league left a void for women, but I have no doubt it will be filled again as the sport expands and those girls discussing music last week seek more chances to perform. Soccer helps players begin a journey down the road of improved health, extended activity and good habits. Sometimes you need some classics to appreciate the modern. 
 

Transitions

Susan Boyd

I've been displaced by a cadre of painters who invaded my home for a much needed sprucing up. I'm happy to have them working to update the twenty year grunge from the hallway and dining room, but it means I have to give up my office during the day. I have moved my laptop to the family room, across from the 52"" shrine known as the plasma TV. The temptation to sneak a peak at daytime television proves too much, especially since we are on day four of what was suppose to be a two day project. I have now become intimately acquainted with Price is Right" shouting out prices and saying things like, "He's an idiot" when someone doesn't know the cost of a golfing lamp. I can tell anyone what Gold Bond Foot Powder sells for and that a bumper pool table costs more than a drum set. These are valuable life skills.

This proves that we can develop a rabid interest in anything, so long as we end up in the middle of it.  

Case in point: soccer. Many soccer parents barely knew the rules when they signed their sons and daughters up for the sport. Now every Saturday and Sunday finds them on far-flung fields, cheering the team on and dedicating their bank accounts to paying for the privilege. Suddenly they can explain "off-side," know the teams remaining in the UEFA Cup, and can quote David Beckham's contract salary with the LA Galaxy (well probably even non-soccer fans can do that!). Even those who had a passing interest in soccer before their children started playing can find that interest both heightened and broadened. The other night we sat transfixed by a high school soccer game between two schools not even in our state. But, it was soccer and it was on the TV.

Being in the position of having so selective and intense an interest, I end up in danger of not being able to do even rudimentary socialization. The other day I met a mom whose son plays lacrosse. I told her my boys played soccer. We stared in panic at one another on the verge of avoiding eye contact and running away from one another. It was a bit like running into my gynecologist just an hour after an exam. What do you say in a situation like that? "Thanks for warming up the instruments?" Luckily we were at a school auction, so with some deft adjustments, we were able to shift gears from sports to fundraising. We talked about what we would bid on and whether or not the Goldendoodle puppy would really sell. We carefully avoided talking about sports since there would be too many awkward pauses.

Next week, hopefully, I will have my office back and I'll return to my schedule of writing every morning. I will probably go through some withdrawal from "The Price is Right" and find myself shouting out prices in the grocery store for a day or two. But eventually it will pass. The very fact that I have to move on got me thinking about what I am going to do when soccer doesn't occupy most of my waking hours. I am literally months away from not having to commute to Chicago three or four days a week. Robbie is a year away from going to college. He'll play soccer in college like his brother, but I don't have to be the attendant any longer. They will have coaches and captains who see to it that they get up at 6 a.m. and go to practices. They'll have handlers to arrange travel plans and get them to the fields for the games. They will have freshmen players to do their uniform laundry. All I will need to do is mesh each soccer schedule so I can get to a few games each season.

So what will I do with all those hours not dedicated to thinking about, planning for, participating in, and talking about soccer? I don't know. But it seems to me a bit like compounding the "empty nest" syndrome, which is a cruel punishment for all those years of dedication. As parents we'll all face this quandary later, if not sooner. Certainly parents have kids who come to them at some point and say, "I don't like soccer anymore." The structure of the months and years will need to be replaced by another structure. Yet, I don't really see it as tragic, though I'm sure it could be a very sad moment. The truth is everything in our lives is in its own way fleeting. My baby girls now have children. My three foot tall son is now 6'3"" and my catatonic son is the life of the party. Even my hallway is no longer crimson and green flowered wallpaper. I wish my car was more fleeting, but with nearly 190,000 miles I think I will be buried in it. 

We spend our lives adjusting, going with the flow, discovering new interests, and giving up old dreams to pursue new ones. When I was at my grandson's game, I loved the sense of déjà vu in setting up my chairs on an abbreviated sideline and watching the "flies to honey" play of the kids. But I don't think soccer is my grandson's real sports calling. When I watched him at baseball practice right after his soccer game, I had to begrudgingly admit that the kid had an arm, which isn't the same advantage in soccer. He also seemed brighter, happier and more confident. So perhaps baseball will become my next sport's obsession. Then again, I have four other grandchildren who will find their own paths and love for me to cheer them on.   I just hope they don't choose long distance swimming. That's one déjà vu I can do without.
 
 

Improving your non-dominant foot

Sam Snow

Recently a coach sent this question to me:
 
þ What's the best advice, drill or technique you can offer to players to improve their skills with their off foot?
 
Being able to play the ball with both feet is just as important in soccer as being able to do so with both hands in basketball. It is important for soccer players to be adequately skillful with the non-dominant or ""off"" foot. To become skillful with the non-dominant foot merely requires some self-discipline and mental focus on the part of a player. Some players, especially around 8 to 12 years of age will react with an ""I can't"" response when asked to play with the non-dominant foot. At this point the attitude of the coach is crucially important as the confidence to work on new ball skills and to overcome the fear of failure can be set for better or worse. The coach must respond patiently by asking the player to say ""I'll try"" and then looking for any improvement to praise. Here are some practice ideas:
 
  • When practicing ball skills on your own, such as dribbling through cones or passing and receiving against a wall, do twice as many repetitions with the non-dominant foot as you do with the dominant foot.
  • The two-color sock game is a fun way to develop skills with the non-dominant foot in a match. Pick one day per week as the day when all players on your team wear one light colored sock and one dark colored sock. During a scrimmage all players must play the ball only with the non-dominant foot (light colored sock). If a ball is played with the dominant foot an indirect free kick is given to the defending team. The two sock colors make it easy for the players and coaches to see which foot is being used.
  • With the same idea have goalkeepers wear a different type or color of gloves to distinguish the dominant and non-dominant hands.
  • When practicing ball juggling begin to ask the players to lift the ball from the ground with the non-dominant foot to start juggling. Be patient as often even their body balance will be poor when playing the ball with the non-dominant side.
  • Conduct a scrimmage and put one or two players on their non-dominant side of the field. So righties go on the left side of the field and lefties go on the right. Do this though with only a few players at a time so that the natural rhythm of the game is not diminished.
  • Play soccer tennis where only the non-dominant foot can be used. So you can set the game up on the field using low nets or team benches or a couple of trash cans with tape or rope strung between the two cans.
  • Play a regular volleyball game where only the non-dominant hand can be used to spike the ball or to serve it.
 
The best approach for a club is to have a well designed curriculum for player development. A core principle of the curriculum being that from Under-6 onward kids are encouraged to use both sides of the body for dribbling, passing , receiving, shooting, throwing, deflecting and catching. In this way the actions are natural movements for the growing player. For the older player (Under-17 and older) the goal is to be good with the non-dominant side and ""magic"" with the dominant side.