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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 adidas Workshop

Sam Snow

In a short while the 2008 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop will take place in Pittsburgh.  Most folks who attend likely don't realize the work that goes into pulling off such an event.  Planning begins several years ahead with the selection of the city and venue for the event.  Many factors go into the selection process including the spaces for demo sessions and classes.

The nitty gritty for each Workshop begins a year out and of course picks up pace as we get closer to the opening day.  The State Association in the state where a Workshop is held is a key player in the team that makes each Workshop a success.  The State Association promotes the event with its members, gets volunteers to assist with a multitude of tasks and through its clubs gets the players for each of the demonstration sessions.  The quality of each Workshop is credited to the host State Association and the US Youth Soccer employees. The national office staff put in hundreds of hours to drive an event that is a service to our referees, coaches and administrators.

At the Workshop there's something for everyone including the players at the Kick Zone.  The sessions are first rate and aimed at the needs of youth soccer.  Check out the sessions and clinicians here. I'll be back with more on the Workshop next week.  I look forward to seeing you in Pittsburgh!
 

A Parent's Agony

Susan Boyd

A few weekends ago our youngest son participated in a workshop where he was put in the weakest group. The experience brought back to me all those waves of anxiety I have felt over the years with my kids in sports as they attended workshops, Olympic Development training, tryouts for teams, and team practices. As hard as I tried to keep my emotions in check, I couldn't help reading something into every placement. I also know from watching the body language of those around me that I wasn't the only one either uncomfortable or delighted with what I saw. Our natural impulse as parents is to make life as pain-free and as positive as possible for our kids. Yet sports has a nasty habit of thwarting that impulse because of its competitive and selective nature. Success at sports demands its pound of flesh no matter how good a player may be. If a player is marginal in any way, then success requires extra and even creative effort. As parents there is little if anything we can do to mitigate this path other than to be supportive during the journey, sympathetic during setbacks, and offering restrained praise during success. 

As a former program administrator with the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program I have experienced my share of player and parent disappointment. Whenever I sent out the letters to those who didn't make the state pool, I knew the emails and phone calls I would get in return. Having been there, done that, I, like Bill Clinton would say, definitely felt their pain. Unlike a bad grade in a subject, not making a team is out and out rejection and that's a bitter pill to swallow. We parents don't see our children as rejects, and our aim is to see them succeed. But trying out has only two outcomes: making the team or not making the team. Putting ourselves in that vulnerable position can result in deep heartache. Even worse, most players experience this at a relatively young age. While we can hope that it toughens them up for inevitable rejections later in life, it's no fun to see them in pain.

Our youngest daughter had the dream of earning a varsity letter in a high school sport. While proud of her dream, her father and I also knew it had little chance of succeeding since she never trained in any sport and up until her junior year hadn't participated in any high school sport. But she was adamant. She was going to be a swimmer. As the varsity tryouts approached, I did my best to prepare her for the inevitable rejection while still appearing to be supportive of her dream. I doubt I did a very good job since the two were nearly mutually exclusive. We talked about which events she would tryout for and what times she would have to achieve to be among the top four or five. She decided on the butterfly and the breast stroke. As far as I knew, she could do both, but I had never seen her do them. The two days of tryouts were torture for me. I didn't want her to feel foolish or a failure, but I knew that she couldn't be among the top swimmers since she never had trained. I decided to bake chocolate chip cookies for her and placed a box of tissues on the kitchen table.

She arrived home with her hair still wet and her suit still on under her clothes. So I assumed she had dressed quickly to escape from the experience. "So. . .how did it go?" I prepared for the floodgates to open. "Great! I made the team." "You did" – I tried not to put a question mark at the end by having my voice rise up in incredulity and instead put an exclamation point there as if I knew she would succeed. But I think I actually said, ""You did?" without being able to help myself. "Yeah. . .I did." "What event?" "Well. . ." and here's where I learned a big lesson about wanting something bad enough to make it happen. It seems she was definitely not butterfly or breaststroke material, but in the end the coach had no one to swim the 1,000, so if Shane was willing to do that event she could be on the team. She got her wish, the coach and team got the necessary points at each meet from someone swimming the 1,000, and I got to sit in a chlorine spa every week cheering on my daughter for 20 laps.

Not every tryout has such a unique and happy ending, but the main reason this one did was because the force behind it was Shane herself. I try to remember that whenever I see our boys struggling. Ultimately my role is simply that of support. The decision to try or not to try belongs to the boys. The ability to succeed lies in their talents and drive. Whenever I sit on the sidelines and watch them ride the bench I complain to anyone in range, but I don't say a word to the coach. That's the boys' job. When they get placed in the weaker group, then they have to figure out how to resolve that dilemma or live with it. When they don't get on a team, they have to decide will they try again. As parents we can serve as sounding boards for our kids as they try to figure it all out and we can offer advice, but we have to let the battles be theirs alone. To succeed in such a highly competitive arena as sports players have to have the inner drive. Mom and dad can't smooth everything over and they can even make things worse. 

When our oldest son got an offer to play soccer at the University of San Francisco, he wavered on accepting. As a parent I wanted to tear my hair out because naturally all those years of sitting out in the rain and snow, traveling to exotic locales like Ft. Wayne, Indiana and Collinsville, Illinois, and paying thousands of dollars for the privilege made me want to sign the papers myself and force him to go. But I had to also take a step back and realize that my 17 year old was making a decision about living 1,500 miles from home, leaving his girlfriend, going where he knew no one, and facing the rigors of competing for his spot on a Division I soccer team. While at face value, he should have been leaping at the opportunity, I respected that this was a huge decision. In the end, he took the opportunity with the caveat that he could fly home whenever he had a free weekend. I knew that was a pretty good deal because he probably wouldn't have any free weekends, but he didn't need to know that! It had been his dream to play Division I soccer, so he made the decision to make the dream come true. He made the decision. And his success or failure at that decision will lay 100% with him.    

Of course that didn't stop me from agonizing this past season when he didn't play a single minute – but that's my job!
 

Tournamentitis

Sam Snow

Tournamentitis
 
True it's not a real word, but it does convey the condition of too many tournaments on the American soccer scene. Indoor, outdoor, 3-a-side or 11v11 on almost every weekend of the year there are hundreds of tournaments of one type or another taking place across the land. They are for old and young and every level of play.
 
Tournaments started as a means to supply games for teams when there were far fewer teams than today. The distance between the teams often meant that the investment in time and money to get to another soccer club caused everyone to maximize the effort by playing lots of games. These tournaments began in earnest in the 1970s. Clearly the number of soccer clubs has grown dramatically since then. The distance between teams has become closer simply because of the proliferation of teams in town after town. Yes geography still plays a major role in the way we manage soccer in the USA. The size of the country will not change and distance's impact on time and cost for travel will not change. What has changed and will continue to change is the distance between the home grounds of clubs.
 
In the 1980s tournaments took on another focus. They became the main revenue stream for many clubs. Proceeds helped to build facilities, greased the wheels of local governments and business to support soccer by their financial impact on a community. The profits made even helped to create jobs within the clubs for administrators and coaches. Certainly many positive types of fallout from tournaments have aided in the growth of soccer in our nation.
 
Yet the dominant place of tournaments in youth soccer is a double edged sword. Often teams participate in tournaments for poor soccer reasons or no soccer reason at all. When a team plans to play in a tournament they must ask: who, where, when and why. Teams should indeed play in tournaments to get exposed to a different style of play or a different level of competition. With young teenaged teams it can be part of learning how to play on the road. For older teams the chance at regional and national level competition can also provide for scouting opportunities by college and professional coaches. In any case the number of tournaments must be balanced with the rest of the team's schedule of training sessions and matches. There can be too much of a good thing.
 
The most talented players tend to play the most matches (100+) and are generally the least rested. By virtue of the number of matches played (and the minutes played therein) the most talented players tend to be under-trained (ideal 5:1 ratio; 10,000 hour rule – Istvan Balyi Ph.D., et al). Most of our elite players never learn how to train in a professional manner.
 
With so many tournament matches in two or three days players go into survival mode and play in third gear. Seldom, except perhaps in the semi-final match, do they give 100% when on the field. This means our competitive players never learn how to play in a professional manner.
 
Mental and physical exhaustion leads to poor play, typified by kick-n-run soccer. These factors may also contribute to injuries as players who make late decisions get into tight situations and maybe bad tackles, unnecessary fouls, poor tactical positioning on the field and so forth.
 
To avoid the malady of tournamentitis a coach must carefully plan the season with a good balance of tournaments, league matches and training sessions. In closing here is the Position Statement from the 55 state association Technical Directors on the topic of tournament play.
 
We believe that excessive play at competitive tournaments is detrimental to individual growth and development, and can serve to reduce long-term motivation. Do not multiple matches being played on one day and one weekend have a negative effect on the quality experience and development of the individual player? Further far too many playing schedules include so many tournaments and matches that there is never an ""off season."" We believe that players under the age of twelve should not play more than 100 minutes per day, and those players older than thirteen should not play more than 120 minutes per day. 
 
We also recommend to tournament managers and schedulers:
• The players should be allowed ample rest between matches.
• That all tournament matches be of the same length and that no full-length match be introduced during play-off rounds.
• Kick-off times allow players a reasonable opportunity to prepare for competition. This encompasses rest and recovery, nutrition and adequate time to warm-up and stretch after traveling a long distance in addition to taking into consideration extreme environmental conditions.
 

Principles of Learning Motor Skills

Sam Snow

At the 2008 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop & Coaches Convention the new DVD – Skills School, Developing Essential Soccer Techniques will be released.  Here then is an excerpt from the Technical Manual that will accompany the DVD.  I look forward to seeing you in Pittsburgh.
Principles of Learning Motor Skills
Principle of Interest
A player's attitude toward learning a skill determines for the most part the amount and kind of learning that takes place.
 
Principle of Practice
Practicing the motor skill correctly is essential for learning to take place.
 
Principle of Distributed Practice
In general short periods of intense practice will result in more learning than longer, massed practice sessions.
 
Principle of Skill Specificity
A player's ability to perform one motor skill effectively is independent of his/her skill ability to perform other skills.
 
Principle of Whole–Part Learning
The complexity of the skill to learn and the player's ability determines whether it is more efficient to teach the whole skill or break the skill into component parts.
 
Principle of Transfer
The more identical two tasks are the greater the possibility that positive transfer will occur.  Practice conditions should match the conditions in which the motor skill is going to be used.
 
Principle of Skill Improvement
The development of motor skills progresses along a continuum from least mature to most mature.  The rate of progression and the amount of progress within an individual depends upon the interaction of nature and nurture.
 
Principle of Feedback
Internal and external sources of information about motor performance are essential for learning to take place.
 
Principle of Variable Practice
Block practice aids performance while variable practice aids in learning.  Variable practice causes an increase in attention.