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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.


Lopsided Match

Sam Snow

The score was 5-0 in favor of my team. So it’s time for a change in game strategy.

Many coaches struggle with how to keep a run-a-way match in check. Some coaches will play all of the “second string” players, some will put kids in positions they don’t frequently play, some will impose restrictions on how the team scores — such as only from crosses, etc. Here’s another idea for coaches in approaching this situation that occurs too often in youth soccer.

Tell your team: "You must work to get the kid on our team who has never scored in a match a goal now. If that kid scores then we go to the teammate who’s only scored once and get that player a goal. And so on with the player who has scored only two goals in a career — on and on. But what if time elapses and the team has not succeeded in helping that teammate who has never scored a goal to put one in the back of the net?

Then that’s the first team assignment in the next match. When that match is and against whom we are playing is immaterial. The match could be against a fierce rival, for the state cup final or against the last place team. The outcome of that match is less important than the lesson to be learned by the players — we accomplish a team assignment together. No matter how hard it may be or how long it may take, our team pulls together to achieve that challenge.

That mentality — and to meet that challenge — will take confidence and conviction. Most especially, the will to “stick to your guns” must come from the coach. There will be pressure in that next match from some parents, perhaps some players and maybe even from club officials to not require the team to accomplish the challenge given in a previous match. No, many folks will want the new game strategy to be only about that particular opponent.

There’s an old saying that sports build character. This challenge might build character in the players and staff — it most certainly will reveal it!

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Arrested Development

Susan Boyd

The World Cup celebrates some of the loftiest ideals in sport. Countries that have long traditions of distrust meet each other on the field and play with dignity and poise, shaking hands and exchanging jerseys when the battle is over. It helps that many opposing players in the World Cup are teammates on professional teams before and after the event, so strong connections are already established. We expect to see the highest level of decorum, and referees have been directed to issue cards for dissent. When Cristiano Ronaldo was called offside during the U.S. – Portugal game, he shrugged his shoulders and with a wry pinch gesture indicated that it couldn’t have been by much. Even though Portugal needed a win with its back up against the wall, Ronaldo kept his cool. We’ve seen a few meltdowns, but for the most part the matches have only seen cards for rough play, which has always been a part of the game.  Even Clint Dempsey, who was kicked in the face during the U.S. – Ghana match, agreed that it happened because of the zeal of a player to control the ball in the frenzy of a game with tremendous importance. The wounded have populated the pitch like an episode of the Walking Dead. Yet players and fans accept these injuries as part of the game. Well, almost every injury.            

During the Uruguay – Italy match, Luis Suarez, for no apparent reason and away from the ball, bit the shoulder of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. No card was issued, and a livid Chiellini pulled down his jersey neckline to reveal clear bite marks on his left shoulder. The event was bizarre to say the least, made even more inexplicable because this is the third biting incident involving Suarez, who has served a seven game ban in 2010 and a 10 game ban in 2013. His vampire antics last week have cost him dearly with a ban from his next nine international matches and a four-month suspension on top of that. My youngest daughter bit her nursery school classmates and nearly got expelled. Luckily, we were able to squash the behavior in the nick of time. When two of my grandsons were just 17 months and 14 months old sharing some happy moments on the living room floor, the tranquility was broken when the older suddenly leaned over and bit his cousin on the back totally unprovoked. I think the collective gasp of “no” scared him straight because it never happened again. We expect our kids to have these incidents as either the instigator or the victim, but we also expect the episodes to end before they learn to read. We don’t imagine we’ll see a major player in the soccer world still learning to control his jaws at age 27.             

Social media exploded with parodies, nasty comments, name-calling, and arm-chair analysis. News organizations weren’t sure what tone to take reporting the story. Laughable? Serious? Incredulous? ESPN commentators could barely talk about the game, which Uruguay eventually won, because the behavior of one player overshadowed his team’s success. Ruud Van Nistelroy, the former Dutch national player, stammered his words and shook his head in disbelief while describing his disappointment. Clearly he couldn’t fit his mind around the assault. His anger at Suarez was barely contained in describing how this stain affected a world-wide audience of youth players. He argued that Suarez needed to adhere to a higher standard as a role model in the sport. He wondered how we tell our young people to practice decorum and good sportsmanship when they see boorish and dangerous behavior at matches. Kids do pay attention to and model our actions.             

I’ve been at youth games and have seen some disturbing conduct: Players punched in the stomach, tripped during the handshakes, and verbally and racially abused, along with temper tantrums, insubordination to the referees, taunting and attacking parents on the sidelines, and refusing to play. No wonder Ruud was worried. As well he should be because all of these incidents were perpetrated by adults, not youth players. I’ll never forget talking to fellow parents following a U-10 game and having a set of keys whizz past my face and smack into the parent next to me. Our team had won the game, and the opposing coach thought we had cheated, so in a tantrum, impulsively and regrettably attacked us with the only weapon he had. At a tournament, Robbie’s coach, so frustrated with the refereeing, called his team off the field and forfeited the match. This was in Florida, and we had traveled at great expense from Wisconsin to the tourney. Besides the embarrassment of being connected to the team who quit, there were the economic ramifications. I know how powerful the drug of winning can be, morphing a reasonable person into a pouting, shouting monster. But adults are supposed to be emotionally developed enough to avoid such immaturity. Just as my daughter and grandson acquired the self-restraint to stop biting, grown-ups (implying we’ve reached the pinnacle of maturity) should be able to control impetuous bad behaviors.            

The administering of past bans on playing and the threat of a worse ban didn’t seem to be sufficient to thwart Suarez’ actions. That’s the most difficult thing to understand. His bite wasn’t done as retaliation, defense or control. It was a visceral, nearly primitive outburst. He targeted and went after the guy. Why he would risk his career and reputation to lash out in this way has to be what truly befuddled Van Nistelroy. I feel the same befuddlement when I witness adults in youth sports behaving badly. For example, a mother marched onto the field in the middle of a U-6 game to poke the 12-year-old referee in the chest while verbally badgering him. His crime? Not calling a foul that affected her child. She wouldn’t relent in her attack, which went on for 15 or 20 minutes. In the end, the police were called and she was charged with assault. Those of us who witnessed the debacle could only shake our heads as she was led away handcuffed. Apparently her sense of fairness had been abused to the point of clouding rational thought. I can’t figure out how any of it was worth it. Her daughter was left sobbing uncontrollably as she watched the police arrest her mother on a lovely spring day that should have been joyful. The lesson is that we need to rise above our own petty insults during any match and control our reactions. It really shouldn’t be that difficult — we tell our kids to count to 10, and we should take our own advice.               

I love watching the World Cup because usually I can see exciting soccer played aggressively, yet decently. I groan during mistakes, cheer for exemplary play, and bite my nails as the clock ticks down. Despite a 1-0 loss to Germany, the U.S. managed to make it to the round of 16, thanks to Portugal’s defeat of Ghana. It was the least Portugal could do after scoring a last minute goal against us to tie the game. Instead of clear advancement, we were in the dizzying world of statistical analysis with dozens of scenarios depending on confusing variables controlling our fate. In the end, it all worked out. Uruguay also advanced, but without the assistance of Suarez it fell in the Round of 16. By his immature actions he let his national teammates down in their most important soccer contest. Rather than remembering a hard fought march to the Round of 16, Uruguay will be remembered as the team with the biting guy. None of us demand nobility from soccer adults, but we do expect normal controlled behavior. Whenever we feel the urge to lash out at a match, we should step back, take a deep breath, look at all the young eyes that are watching us and tell ourselves we’re better than that.

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World Cup by the Numbers

Susan Boyd

When this blog is posted we will have completed 11 days of the World Cup and the end of the second round of group play. Some fascinating facts have already emerged promising new amazing statistical memories.  The U.S. finally beat Ghana, 2-1, in their third encounter in as many World Cups.  Previously, Ghana had been the spoiler to the U.S. team’s dream of the finals defeating our team ironically 2-1 each time.  Our first match win included the fifth fastest goal in World Cup history at the 32 second mark by Clint Dempsey, and John Brooks, a substitute, became one of the youngest US players to score in a World Cup game.              

All the excitement over the month-long tournament translates into significant viewership.  Records have been set both around the world and especially in the United States. What feeds the uptick in viewership is both a growing interest in the sport and options in television and streaming video.  ESPN and Univision broadcast all the World Cup games and the Watch ESPN app allows for viewing on the go.  We were at a soccer tournament last weekend, but got to see every game thanks to the stream.  The numbers are encouraging.  ESPN had 11.1 million viewers for the US-Ghana game and Univision (and sister stations) had 4.8 million viewers for nearly 16 million total.  Adding to that number were 1.4 million on the Watch ESPN app and 1.7 million on Univision’s stream.  ESPN is up 23 percent over the 2010 World Cup and Univision is up an amazing 48 percent.               

Monday’s match between U.S. and Ghana compares favorably with many of the concurrent sporting events.  The Stanley Cup finals on the previous Friday had just 6 million tuning in.  Sunday the NBA final between San Antonio and Miami attracted 17.9 million viewers.  Soccer has a way to go before eclipsing American football.  However consider that the average television audience for the Jets - Giants NFL game last year was a 14.1 share in New York City compared to that city’s 14.4 share for the US – Ghana game.  In 2013 the NFL averaged 17.6 million viewers per televised game, which nearly parallels the audience for the US – Ghana match.  Of course several games are offered on any given weekend day, so total audience could be three or four times that amount.  However if we look at the average U.S. audience for all World Cup games thus far, we are near the 5 million mark.  The Super Bowl drew 111 million US fans, while the 2010 World Cup finals had 24 million American viewers.  If this year’s numbers hold up, this World Cup final promises to have an even bigger U.S. audience.  World-wide it’s expected that this year’s World Cup finals will have over 800 million fans watching.              

Controversy over the costs of hosting a World Cup became particularly acute for this contest because of the displacement of many impoverished Brazilians, not to mention the construction of stadiums in locales where they will never be fully utilized again.  Stadium construction and upgrades cost over $3.5 billion with the additional costs of infrastructure, security, housing, transportation, and media soaring to over $14 billion.  Sadly much of the promised projects which would have improved the quality of life in the long term for the cities hosting matches have not materialized.  Tram lines, highway improvements, and links between city transportation and national transportation were canceled.  Manaus, a city deep in the Amazon, cannot be reached by roads.  The citizens had hoped that some of their isolation would be mitigated by infrastructure improvements, instead they have a gigantic stadium which no local team would ever fill.  To be fair, Brazil is also hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics, so many of these expenses cover that event as well.  But Brazilians complain that hospitals don’t have beds, schools are short on supplies and books, highways are inadequate for traffic, and public transportation is spotty and expensive. They argue that money should be spent there rather than for “monuments” which will never be properly enjoyed.  Additionally citizens complain that the money doesn’t stay in Brazil but gets funneled into FIFA’s coffers, and the jobs that preparations supported will be gone in July.  These staggering costs would probably not be true should the US ever host since we have been actively building soccer-specific stadiums and our American football stadiums could easily accommodate games in the summer when football is on hiatus.  Nevertheless, Brazil highlights the argument that people need to be careful of what they wish for.              

Speaking of costs, what does it cost to attend the World Cup? “Plenty” is the answer. Package deals were probably the best way to go because they provided airport transfers, travel around the country to various host cities, meals, rooms, and, of course, tickets.  You could purchase packages to follow a team throughout group play, packages for a particular host city, packages for the round of 16, packages for the quarter- and semi-finals, packages for the final game, and any combination of these.  The least expensive would be for a particular host city since there would not be added transportation around a country as huge as Brazil, but even these went for around $3500 to $5000 a person.  Depending on the team country you wanted to follow the packages had a huge sliding scale with the US, Brazil, England, Spain, and the Netherlands commanding the highest prices starting at $6500 and climbing to $12,000.  Any one of the three tiers of finals cost dearly in the range of $10,000.   If you want a hotel room in Rio for the finals be prepared because most hotels are requiring a six to eight day stay at around $450 a night for a three-star hotel (on a scale of five).   No matter that only one of the four quarter-final matches on July 4th will be played in Rio and nothing again until the final on July 13.  If you wanted to take your chances on creating your own “package” count on $1,800 for airfare, $2,000 for the cheapest rooms for a week, tickets beginning at $90 if you were lucky enough to snag the ones off the FIFA website early and up to several thousand dollars for ticket brokers, and transportation to get to venues that are all at least 500 miles apart and some with a 2000 mile separation, and food, which will be the least of your expenses.           

How many fans will be paying these prices?  According to FIFA at the last World Cup in 2010 in South Africa nearly 3.2 million fans attended the 64 matches with an average of just over 49,000 per match.  These fans consumed 750,000 liters of beer and 390,000 hot dogs at the venues.  Over six million additional fans participated in viewing parties at 16 sanctioned sites around the world.  Those who had to watch from home had the benefit of 245 channels spread across 204 countries with a world-wide viewership of 715 million for the final match.  FIFA anticipates over 3 million at the Brazil tournament with over a half million coming from outside the country.  The US alone purchased 200,000 tickets for matches.  That number doesn’t include the thousands of US soccer fans who traveled to Brazil to watch the matches at viewing sites that don’t require tickets.


Every World Cup wouldn’t be complete without firsts and mosts that come up throughout the month.  Landon Donovan was hoping to be the first American male to play in four World Cups, but two players, Antonio Carbajal (Mexico) and Lothar Matthaus (Germany), have played in five World Cups. Brazil has played in every World Cup which began in 1930 and Brazilian Mario Zagallo holds the honor of being only one of two who have won the World Cup as both a player and a coach. Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer is the other. Brazil holds the most titles with five and national player Ronaldo (not to be confused with Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo) has the most goals, 15, in his World Cup career.   Germany has played in the most World Cup matches (100 as of their June 16 match vs. Portugal) and Brazil has the most World Cup goals (210).  The fastest goal ever scored was 11 seconds by Turkey’s Hakan Sukur in 2002 against South Korea.  In this tournament Spain set the dubious record of being the only reigning World Cup champion to be mathematically eliminated before playing its last group play match.   Only two World Cup finals have been decided by shoot-outs:  1994 when Brazil beat Italy and 2002 when Italy beat France. If you want to consider costs, the first team to withdraw from the World Cup because they couldn’t afford the entry fee was Sri Lanka in 1978. In 2002, the World Cup had the first (and only) cohosts with South Korea and Japan who were also the first Asian hosts.  Moreover, 2002 was the first time that the quarter-finals had teams from five continents:  Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America.  Brazil has finished in the top 16 in every single tournament.  Germany ties Brazil with the most top eight finishes with 16 each and with the most finals reached with seven each.  The difficulty of achieving a championship can be demonstrated with the fact that only two teams, Brazil and Italy, have consecutive wins with the streak ending at two.  Netherlands has the debatable honor of being the team with the most top two finishes (3) and never being champion.  Pele holds the record as the player with the most championships – three.  The only host team eliminated in group play was South Africa.  Germany just celebrated playing the most World Cup matches reaching 100 this week.


We use statistics to predict how a contest might be resolved. Yet what we see on paper doesn’t necessarily translate to the pitch.  Still it’s fun to learn what countries have traditionally done well, how the history of the game has evolved.  For example draw finals games before 1978 were simply replayed rather than decided with shoot-outs and FIFA used the drawing of lots to decide knockout round ties.  The strength of certain countries can’t be assured by past performances, as Spain has sadly learned.  Likewise the USA benefitted from an outcome which was not predicted based on our past matches with Ghana. We are witnessing the growth of soccer’s popularity in America as well as our admission into the brotherhood of world-class teams who have pedigrees we can’t ignore.  Whether you think of soccer as an exciting sport or a deeply significant, nearly religious experience, we have to admit that World Cup fever is worth contracting every four years if only for the chance to feel the thrill of victories, the heart-pounding tension of close games, and expectations that are either realized or dashed.  For a month, the world joins together to celebrate through battles that don’t end in lost territory, dangerous attacks, or casualties, unless of course you use these as an analogy to explain how the U.S. beat Ghana — we took over their field territory, we made successful attacks to come out victorious, while suffering the loss of Jozy Altidore and the injury of Clint Dempsey.  Still a skirmish like that provides a safe, exciting way to support our patriotism.

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Soccer as a Social Force

Susan Boyd

With the World Cup dominating the news for the next two weeks, the event can be viewed as unifying nations with a variety of cultural, religious and political differences peacefully under the umbrella of a world-wide sport. People bond within and between nations celebrating victories and agonizing over defeats, sharing the experiences within the soccer community. Yet soccer unifies the world in a much more significant way — as a force for social good. Just looking at host country, Brazil, people are aware of the issues that come with the clash between the haves and the have nots. So against the backdrop of festivity, we all pause to acknowledge how much work needs to be done in every country represented at the World Cup. Football is played all over the world in the most remote and underprivileged areas and as such has become an instinctive pathway to reach groups that might otherwise distrust the intrusion of aid and workers to their communities. Soccer also provides a means to inspire and collect contributions to promote better health, sanitation, safety, education and housing. While our children play the game they love, they also have the opportunity to make an impact on the needs and disadvantages of their football brothers and sisters around the world.         

US Youth Soccer provides a number of grants and programs to groups in the U.S. to enable soccer in communities throughout America. In tandem with Liberty Mutual, a grant is offered to clubs who take a quiz on how to play safely and reasonably. This “Responsible Sports” grant can be won by any team who registers and then has as many members as possible take the quiz. The top 15 clubs can earn a $2,500 grant to be used to offset the costs of uniforms, equipment and upgrades for the club. The program gives all members of the club an opportunity to easily help out. US Youth Soccer also provides TOPSoccer, which uses volunteers to provide soccer for children with disabilities. Participants can learn the sport no matter what assistance they may need. Larger balls, volunteers to help push wheel chairs, firm surfaces for players using walkers, and guides for children with visual issues bring the sport to all kids who have the passion to play. United States Soccer Foundation sponsors the Passback Program, which collects good used soccer equipment to share with players who don’t have the resources to play.   Clubs and state associations can provide collection sites through USSF and get help sending that equipment to the proper locations. Players can contribute jerseys, shorts, shoes, balls, shin guards and goals.         

Several private organizations use the 2014 World Cup as a backdrop to promote their causes. The World FC Project planned a trip from Chicago, Ill., to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, passing through the 10 American countries that are participating in the World Cup to bring soccer to underserved areas in these nations. They want to use the passion for futbol “as a tool for social change.” Street Child World Cup in association with Save the Children recognizes that millions of children around the world survive solely on the streets of their cities. The parent organization, Street Child United, has brought together 19 teams from various countries around the world made up of street children to play in a World Cup prior to the big event. Their aim is “to provide a platform for street children to be heard, to challenge negative stereotypes of street children and to promote the rights of street children.” Walk to the World Cup is a project created by three English football fanatics who are walking from Mendoza, Argentina to Porto Alegre, Brazil (the southern-most World Cup site) a journey of 1966 kilometers.  The idea is to raise enough money to construct a well in drought-ridden Bahia Brazil. 

There are also soccer –related charities that offer players a chance to contribute simply by playing. Kick for Hope sponsors tournaments whose proceeds are used to provide water to areas in the form of wells and bathrooms. Simply by entering the tournaments and playing, kids are participating in projects to help around the world. Your own team and club can organize juggling contests, dribbling competitions, and tournaments from which all monies go to a soccer charity. These can be a fun way to give back and also give a club some welcome media attention.  Create your event and then send out press releases to all news organizations in your area. They are always looking for “feel good” stories.  If you organize these events before or during tryouts you might even get a residual benefit of luring more players to your club.  A little creativity can result in big rewards for both your club and for soccer charities around the world. When sponsoring or selecting a tournament consider attaching yours to a charity or looking for a tournament with a charitable connection. It’s a great way to make soccer a force for improvement in the lives of children all over the world.                     

There are also soccer sponsored charities to which you can give directly. Charity Ball purchases new balls to be hand-delivered to children around the world. It was founded by a youth player, Ethan King, who has played soccer in South Africa and the U.S.  He accompanied his father on several trips throughout Africa to help repair water wells and saw firsthand how desperately kids in the villages wanted to play soccer but were thwarted by the lack of a proper ball.  For each $25 contribution a new ball will be purchased and delivered to children in developing countries. Challenger Sports, headquartered in Kansas City raises money through camps, an academy, and tournaments as well as direct donations to provide all the equipment necessary to play soccer for under-sponsored groups in both the United States and around the world, particularly in Central and South America and Africa. In a grassroots effort to introduce and support soccer in areas without resources Challenger Sports also provides coaching clinics for volunteer parents through a partnership with the National Soccer Coaches Association of America educating over 3000 volunteer coaches in 2011.  Through soccer they also educate players in war-torn countries about the dangers of unexploded land mines. Mazamba encourages exchanges with American and African soccer youth using the sport to promote education, cultural understanding, and building political bridges. Football 4 Africa is a British organization who uses soccer in Britain and Africa to promote fundraising to build schools in Africa. They recently completed their first school and are now collecting for a second to be built.  Soccer can attract kids to educational settings which they might otherwise bypass, so Football 4 Africa provides donated soccer kits to children in villages to encourage them to get an education along with the fun of playing the sport.                     

We are lucky to have lots of supporting organizations to help our kids compete. These groups establish leagues, tournaments, and scouting opportunities that undeveloped countries don’t have.  The World Cup brings together the best soccer players around the planet, many of whom had the good fortune to have come up through a strong development program, while other players had less support.  Additionally there are millions of kids who may have tremendous skill but due to poverty, isolation, and malnutrition don’t have the chance to grab the brass ring. Soccer can be a conduit not only to athletic accomplishments but to the opportunities for the basic necessities of life.  Using football to reach out to communities around the world takes the language of play to unite us in a common cause.  When Robbie was in Kenya to do relief work in malaria prevention he played soccer in every location he visited.  While he and the kids didn’t speak the same language they communicated through the game.  He gained their trust and friendship by simply kicking around a ball.  And through those friendship he was able to earn the trust of parents to teach them about using mosquito tents.  You can go to any vacant lot, alley, or field in the world, start juggling a ball, and have a dozen people ready to participate in a pick-up game.  That’s the universal power of soccer to attract people and in that attraction lies a social force beyond the game.

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