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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on USYouthSoccer.org every Monday. A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom." 
 
 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.

 

What a Messi

Susan Boyd

Tuesday night the United States got schooled in the beautiful game - how the world (and specifically Argentina) plays it and how much we have to learn.  It was all led by a striker named Lionel Messi who will celebrate his 29th birthday two days before playing in the final of the Copa America Centenario.   Messi set the tone in the third minute with a perfect pass to Esquiel Lavezzi.  With all the US defenders pulled forward, Lavezzi received the ball and charged forward.  In one move he was suddenly one on one with goalkeeper Brad Guzan who seemed stunned to see the player ready to unload and reacted far too late to stop the shot.  In the 32nd minute Argentina was awarded a free kick outside the box.  Calmly retying his shoe before shooting, Messi sent the ball into the upper right corner striking a miniscule window between the crossbar, Guzan’s hand, and the upright.  It was a shot worthy of the century and also secured Argentina’s career scoring record for Messi.  In the second half, Guzman couldn’t hold onto a stopped shop, and with second effort Argentina scored.  Then Messi assisted in the waning minutes on a fourth humiliating goal.  As Jurgen Klinsmann, the US coach said, “Our players could just feel in every position on the field they were better than we are.”  He was stating the obvious for anyone watching the match.

Given the US population pool as compared to most of the other confederation nations, we should be far more dominating.  However the US obviously still has a long way to go in developing its male players.  For example, the US Men’s National Team (MNT) failed to qualify for the Olympics this year.  Since Olympic soccer players must be 23 or younger, this disappointment calls into question our youth development.  Our young squad just wasn’t ready for the level of competition they faced.  There is evidence of improvement.  The MNT has had some significant wins since 1991 and has made the knockout rounds in several international tournaments such as World Cup and FIFA Confederation Cup, feats not achieved since 1930.  Our biggest glory came in the 2009 Confederations Cup when the US beat Spain 2-0 in the semi-finals.  At the time, Spain was ranked 1st in the FIFA World rankings with 35 undefeated games including a run of 15 consecutive wins which ended with the US victory.  This was the first and only finals in a full-international competition that the US has achieved since the 1930 World Cup.  There we defeated England in the group round and ultimately went on to win third, our highest finish for a World Cup.  Our major achievements recently have come in our CONCACAF Gold Cup competitions which include five wins and four runners-up.  However in the 2015 Gold Cup the US was defeated by Jamaica in the semi-finals and then lost to Panama in penalty kicks in the 3rd place match.

Now comes the Copa America Centenario, a competition that encompasses CONCACAF and CONBEMOL, FIFA’s South American confederation.  The US did well against its CONCACAF competitors of Costa Rica and Ecuador, winning decisively, but did less well with CONBEMOL members, losing to Colombia, and barely hanging on against Paraguay.  Then they met the Messi-driven train that is the Argentine National Team, and all our weaknesses were on display.  We couldn’t pass, we couldn’t win 50/50 balls, we couldn’t possess, and considering the score, we certainly couldn’t defend.  Watching Messi move quickly to an advantageous position when off the ball and making pin point passes or shots when he had the ball presented a stark contrast to America’s best players who looked befuddled and disorganized.  A herd of deer on Interstate 95 at night wouldn’t have looked more dazed in the headlights than our team when faced with the brilliance of Messi and his teammates.

The good news, if there is any, comes with the youth who are beginning to fill the ranks of the MNT roster.  Despite our inability to qualify with our younger players for the Olympics, we do have several promising members under 25 who are on the full MNT roster including Christian Pulisic who is just 17.  Additionally players on the U-23 and U-19 squads are developing into strong forces, all of them playing internationally on professional teams around the world in addition to their MNT commitments.   We have a distance to go before we can consistently claim to be among the world’s best soccer nations, but as we chip away at our confederation competitors we are also gaining confidence and experience that will translate down the line to a stronger team.   We will face Colombia again in the Copa America third place match which will have been played the Saturday before this blog posts.  Perhaps we can redeem our CONBEMOL performances with a brilliant match.  In the meantime we will continue to build the MNT on the shoulders of our young players.

This is both the promise and the power of youth soccer.  Every player now at the top levels of soccer began as a youth player in a local club.  Many have amazing stories of how they grew from youth club players to national team players.  Like most youth players, Messi began to play soccer when 4 years old with his brothers and cousins and had his father as his first coach.  At age 6 he joined the youth club of his hometown’s professional squad, Rosario’s Newell’s Old Boys.  When he turned 11 he was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency that threatened to end his developing soccer talent.  The disease required an expensive and long-term medical treatment.  Ironically it was his disease which, rather than thwarting his dreams, actually led him to a top club.  When his parents’ health insurance benefits ran out, the family, recognizing his talent, sought a soccer club which would sign their son for development while also continuing to pay for his treatments.  Club River Plata, a top club in Argentina, wanted to sign Messi, but didn’t have the funds for his treatments.  Messi’s father had relatives in Spain, near Barcelona, so he reached out to their club.  At first reluctant to sign such a young foreign player, they ultimately relented.  Messi proved to be an amazing investment.  He incredibly led the youth team to a triple win of their league, the Spanish Cup, and the Catalan Cup in his first full year playing.  He scored 36 goals in 30 games.  Despite an offer to play for Arsenal in the English Premier League, he chose to remain with Barcelona and became a powerhouse player for the club and for the Argentine National Team.

While few players have the natural soccer gifts that Messi possesses, every youth player has the potential to play at the highest levels should he or she have both the passion and the determination.  Most players who make either the MNT or the Women’s National Team (WNT) cite as the most important factor their willingness to work through every roadblock and to find ways to play no matter what.  Certainly many kids dream of a professional career as they idolize a favorite player.  As parents we need to nurture those dreams while making sure our children find joy in the journey.  Watching Messi play Tuesday night was a speedy reality check.  Few people in the world can master soccer the way he has, meaning that only a few will ultimately reach that level of ability.  Nevertheless, having someone like Messi or Ronaldo or Carli Lloyd as a role model can be a significant influence in a child’s life giving him or her something to strive for.  Ultimately most kids will play soccer for the fun of it and the benefits of conditioning and learning to be part of a team.  Whenever I go to watch a youth game it’s humbling to consider that the future stars of soccer are right now buzzing around a U-8 or U-10 field learning to control their dribbles and emulating as best they can the fancy step-over moves they see the adult players use.  The powerful, exhilarating play we have been witnessing this summer with Copa America and UEFA Euro 2016 grew from players born in some cases less than two decades ago.   

The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) oversees the various US National Teams.  It is charged with forming, growing, and maintaining the youth development programs in America.  Over the last decade the USSF has instituted some significant changes in order to hopefully improve the means to identify and train top players around the United States.  They established the boys’ Development Academy which is an association of top youth clubs and MLS affiliated youth clubs in order to create a more consistent training program with unified goals and outcomes.  Next year they plan to do the same for girls.  The Academy supplements the Olympic Development Program (ODP) which began in 1977 and was expanded and refined from 1979 to 1982 (when a girls’ program was added) into a format which exists up to the present.  Boys and girls join through their State Youth Soccer Associations and attend a state camp where players are identified and invited to a regional camp where they are further evaluated and possibly recommended for National camp.  Players who belong to a Development Academy team don’t go through ODP as they are identified within the Academy.  There are five years in which players can try out for the state teams.  It isn’t unusual for a player not to make a state team one year but then do so in subsequent years and vice versa.  Age groups can vary state to state, but in general kids will be eligible to participate when they are 12 until they are 17. 

We have far to go with the Men’s program, but we can also take pride in successes, albeit inconsistent.  We no longer have to wax poetic about a 1930 series of matches because we can take pride in our contemporary play.  We’re a huge nation which deserves to have a world top ten soccer team.  I have no doubt that as our youth players have more and more training opportunities and can emulate our own national soccer heroes, we’ll break through those rankings and join the world’s elite.

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Prevent Soccer ACL Injuries: Quick Tips for Coaches

Sam Snow

Prevent Soccer ACL Injuries: Quick Tips for Coaches

By Dr. Steve Grosserode DPT and Dr. Jared Vagy DPT 

The ACL and Injury

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury rates are high in youth soccer and have been increasing the past 20 years. These injuries have serious effects on the lives of players, teams and coaches. The ACL connects the thigh bone to the shin bone, helping to prevent twisting and bending of the leg. However, if too much twisting or bending happens at the leg, injury can occur even if there is no contact. In fact, non-contact injuries are responsible for over 70 percent of injuries. 

Trying to figure out what causes these injuries can be confusing. ACL injuries are often blamed on factors that coaches and players cannot control. These factors can be bone structure, hormones or even gender. What is usually neglected is a key reason for injury that we can control: misaligned movement.

 

Misaligned Movement Can Lead to Injury

What is misaligned movement? The human body is like a machine similar to a car. When a car's alignment is off it begins to have wear and tear, perform poorly and then ultimately it will break down. Our bodies are no different. If the body's alignment is off during athletic movement, the body can experience wear and tear, perform poorly and eventually get hurt. Just like we are trained to operate a car skillfully, soccer players need to be trained to move properly. This starts with correcting misaligned movement patterns. 

It is important for coaches to know that just like each player has different skills and abilities, each player has a different way of moving. Certain players may even demonstrate misaligned movement. 

There are many types of misaligned movements. Coaches should watch out for a common misaligned movement that leads to ACL injury: the knee collapsing inward (image 1). Research shows that players who suffered an ACL tear demonstrate a greater amount of knee collapse. The knee can collapse inwards during fundamental movements in soccer. These movements include planting, decelerating and changing directions at high speeds. 

Fortunately, there are exercises that can help to correct misaligned movement. Just as a doctor may prescribe specific medications to treat different illnesses, coaches can let the player know what's going on and give specific exercises for homework to help correct the specific misaligned movement pattern. We will focus on the exercises that help players who demonstrate the misaligned movement called knee collapse (image 1). 

                                                  

5 6

 

(Left) shows the knee collapsing inwards.                 (Right) shows proper knee alignment.

 

 Prevent Knee Collapse with Glute Exercises and Cueing

Glute strengthening and coach's guided instructions (cueing) to move correctly is often overlooked in injury prevention and player development. The glute muscles are the main muscles that control the knee from collapsing inwards. Weakness of these muscles can lead to misaligned movement and injury. It is essential to use the glute muscles to keep the knee in proper alignment especially during planting, decelerating and changing directions (image 2). 

Coaches can help by telling players when they demonstrate this misaligned movement of knee collapse and cue them to keep their knee out while using their glute muscles. Coaches can also assign corrective exercise homework. An excellent way to activate the glute muscles is with a resistance band wrapped above the knees. The glute muscles are used to press the knees against the band to align the knees. 

Perform the three exercises listed below as part of a pre-practice warm-up program to activate hip muscles to stop knee collapse, prevent injury and improve athletic performance. Use a low-resistance band and perform each exercise for 1 minute. The low resistance and long duration will allow hip muscles time to activate but not fatigue.

 Squats – 1 minute

Purpose: Activate specific hip muscles while decreasing stress on the knee.squat

 

A: Put your feet through the exercise band and wrap just above knees. Stand with feet shoulder width apart.

B: Equally bend from your waist/hip and knees. Stop when thighs are parallel to the ground. Make sure to keep knees behind and aligned with the second toe. Squeeze glut muscles upon return.

 

Side Steps – 1 minute 

Purpose: Activate side hip muscles that prevent the knee from collapsing inward.side

 

A: Put your feet through the exercise band and wrap just above knees. Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Equally bend from your waist/hip and knees into a quarter squat position. Make sure to keep knees behind and aligned with the second toe.

B: Use hip muscles to step out to the side with one leg. Slowly step the other leg in while keeping tension in the band.  

 

Monster Walks – 1 minute

Purpose: Activate specific injury prevention hip muscles while keeping proper knee alignment.Monster

 

A: Put your feet through the exercise band and wrap just above knees. Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Equally bend from your waist/hip and knees into a quarter squat position. Make sure to keep knees behind and aligned with the second toe.

B: Bring foot forward and to the side by squeezing the muscle on side of hip. Make sure you maintain tension on the band.

C: Step other foot further forward and to the side while keeping tension on the band.

D, E: Repeat 

Conclusion

Misaligned movement occurs in soccer when players perform athletic movements while the body is not aligned. While there are many different misaligned movement patterns, knee collapse is perhaps the most common and unsafe. If one of your players demonstrates knee collapse, then it is important for the coach to recognize this and tell the player how to correct. In addition, resistance band exercises such as the squat, side step and monster walk can help by activating the gluteal muscles to stop the misaligned movement of knee collapse. This improved movement can prevent injuries and maximize athletic performance. For more information on the various misaligned movements and how to correct visit: yourmovementsolutions.com 

About the Authors

Dr. Grosserode and Dr. Vagy are Doctors of Physical Therapy and co-founders of Movement Solutions. They are co-authoring the upcoming book Prevent Soccer Injury: Lifelong Player Development. Visit yourmovementsolutions.com for more youth sports injury prevention information.

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Summer of Soccer

Susan Boyd

Right now, you could plop yourself down in front of the television and watch a world-class soccer match most days — beginning at 8:30 a.m. ET and continuing every two-and-a-half hours until 10:30 p.m. ET — as Copa America Centenario and UEFA Euro 2016 dovetail with one another. Copa America concludes June 26, while UEFA Euro 2016 continues to July 10. While I don’t suggest foregoing most of the summer parked indoors with a remote and a big screen, I do want to encourage parents and youth players to share several of these matches. They are an excellent opportunity to see how complex and fast the best tactical soccer unfolds. Copa America can be seen on Fox networks, and ESPN broadcasts and streams Euro 2016. While waiting for an airplane on June 11, I was able to watch the U.S. play Paraguay on my computer. Technology is awesome.

Americans are used to weeks and weeks of play-off competitions in every sport, beyond the regular seasons of football, basketball, baseball and hockey. Adding to the professional sports schedules, we can also watch hours of collegiate games. On average fans spend 8.5 hours a week viewing sports, according to a 2013 study. That compares to an average overall TV habit of five hours a day. Using those numbers, sports makes up nearly 25 percent of our video consumption. Young players develop their interest and ultimately their passion for a sport by watching teams who perform at the top levels. It’s that interest, which inspires a player and supports him or her when times are rough. When players immerse themselves in watching matches, they develop a keen sense of how tactics evolve in the course of a competition. They can key in on a particular player or position to watch how he or she reacts both on and off the ball. As young players mature, so will their sophistication when it comes to understanding the game and their role in it. Unfortunately soccer players have been at a disadvantage for many years because soccer hadn’t snagged a huge portion of sports broadcasting. Therefore, players had a better chance of watching any other sport than soccer. However, over the last ten years broadcasters have put a greater emphasis on “the world’s game.”

In 2013, NBC signed a three-year deal with the English Premier League to air 196 matches each season, with 20 matches being broadcast on NBC and the rest on NBCSports, CNBC and USA. This year, they doubled down on their commitment with a new six year deal, penning a $1 billion contract with the EPL. Compare that to ESPN’s yearly fee of $1.9 billion just to air several NFL games. For NBC, this soccer contract is a bargain. With sports accounting for 37 percent of all TV ad spending, NBC is delighted to secure a large niche of soccer broadcasting. Fox, who began their off-shoot cable channel as Fox Sports World in 1997, broadcast mostly rugby and Australian rules football with a slowly growing soccer schedule until 2006, when it shifted to Fox Soccer, dropping all other sports. However, it lost the rights to the EPL to NBC, and eventually moved all soccer to Fox Sports 1 and 2 — turning Fox Soccer into FXX, a second entertainment channel to FX. Fox has the rights to several college soccer matches and all CONCACAF games, including the Copa America. Where Fox will now shine is their contract with FIFA for World Cups 2018 and 2022 and the Women’s World Cup in 2019, plus several FIFA U-20 and U-17 World Cups. ESPN has focused on UEFA and will share MLS with Fox.

This increase in soccer coverage means that events the rest of world knew and looked forward to, such as the FA Cup and the FA Community Shield in England and the various other major European leagues like the Budesliga (Germany), Ligue 1 (France), and Serie A (Italy), could be seen by American audiences. Since the United States is a country of immigrants, it makes sense that there will be a large pool of viewers for a myriad of soccer programming. The tremendous success of the Premier League contract for NBC has spurred other networks to look closely at what soccer communities exist in the US that would support a broader schedule of matches. For example UEFA covering Europe is one of the six confederations of FIFA. CONMEBOL is the South American confederation and is competing with North America’s CONCACAF teams in this year’s Copa America. CAF is the African confederation and AFC is the Asian confederation. All of these have Cups which help determine World Cup qualifiers and international country team ranking and these Cups are of interest to soccer fans from those continents and beyond. Therefore more and more of these events are coming to American television, which serves to highlight the significant influence of the sport around the world. As youth players become more and more exposed to the highest levels of the sport, they begin to understand what they need to achieve and how to reach those standards, just as young NBA fans learn from watching LeBron James pivot to avoid a defender.

What else this summer do we parents and our children have to look forward to?  How about the Olympics?  That schedule runs from Aug. 3-20. Young players can watch the best of both men’s and women’s soccer, although the U.S. Under-23 MNT failed to qualify for this Olympics. Nevertheless, there will be plenty of great soccer to relish. The U.S. Women’s National Team will be defending their Olympic title from London 2012 while introducing new players to American fans. Naturally, all the other sports of the Olympic competition will be worthy of our attention, but this will be a great time for young female soccer players to embrace old and new soccer icons while plunging for a month into the sport.

For fans of English soccer, the Premier League will begin Aug. 13 following the FA Community Shield game on Aug. 7, which pits the winner of the FA Cup (Manchester United) against the winner of the EPL (Leicester City). Leicester City is a Cinderella story, a team who was given 5,000-to-1 odds of winning the League (worse odds than Kim Kardasian becoming President). The club had never won the Premier League title in their 132 years and barely escaped relegation last season. However, they succeeded utilizing an incredible defense, who committed just 10 defensive errors all season, only one of which resulted in a goal. The offense came through when needed, racking up nine 1-0 games (11 is the record) to keep Leicester at the top of the bracket from April forward.

While our kids should be outside in summer practicing the game they love, taking a few hours to enjoy some of the top level soccer being played by the professionals enhances both their investment in and understanding of the game. Our children will appreciate sharing these events with us which helps acknowledge the activity they enjoy. We can all benefit as we watch and learn more about soccer - its history, its impact, its stars and its execution. The level of athleticism and commitment during these contest is intense and impressive. Our young players will find so much they can ascend towards and so many reasons to try. It’s important that they experience the power and universal standing of soccer in order to appreciate the special place they occupy in this phenomenon while finding a player they like or a country they support and watching those matches. It can be a special summer joining the world-wide soccer fellowship.

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Project Play Summit

Sam Snow

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the second annual Project Play Summit in Washington, D.C. More than 450 leaders at the intersection of sport, youth, and health attended the summit which is beginning to guide a revolution if you will in the way Americans participate in sports. The 2016 Project Play Summit, details are worthy of the time to be read and videos viewed by all youth soccer leaders. If you have not already done so then please read the seminal Project Play report, Sport for All, Play for Life: A Playbook to Get Every Kid in the Game. Project Play's latest report, "State of Play: 2016”, will soon be released and I will be sure to share it with you.

Here are a few of my bullet point notes from several presentations –

  • Inclusion increases the pipeline of participants
  • Only five states in the USA require physical education
  • 0 to 60 is a new program with the goal of 60 minutes of activity per day for all children
    • A mental and physical health crisis is upon us due to a lack of movement/play involvement
  • Clubs must ask kids what they want
    • Coaches need to ask players what they want on a quarterly basis
  • NCAA research shows that 2/3 of soccer players have specialized in just soccer by age 12. This trend is proving to be detrimental to college level performance by those players.
  • Coaches – use video games to help participation and performance
  • Some communities have become play deserts
  • Get kids into sport to learn social skills as well as sports skills
  • Many of the speakers’ messages reminded me of the ancient Greek saying of – A Sound Mind in a Sound Body
  • Physical literacy is mental, social and physical
    • In soccer physical literacy activities must be required through age 12 (Zone 1)
    • An extra effort must be made with the girls
    • Parents and coaches should be examples of an active lifestyle. Those adults should get out and play soccer with the kids once a month
       

No matter what the sports related event is that I attend, I am always impressed with the number of soccer folks in attendance and the Project Play Summit was no exception. At this Summit I spoke with Skye Eddy Bruce, Wylie Chen, Scott Dane, Paco Espinosa, Ed Foster-Simeon, Stephanie Gabbert, Tom Gross, Dave Guthrie, Bethany Henderson, Mike Hoyer, Sheri Huckleberry, Ted Kroeten, Lori Lindsey, Marc Maxey, John O’Sullivan, Richard Pavlick, Tab Ramos and Tom Turner. I think that you’ll be interested in comments on the Summit from a few of them.

 

Skye Eddy Bruce (Soccer Parenting.com) - I wrote a SoccerParenting.com post with my thoughts from the Summit – which you will find in the link below.

http://soccerparenting.com/2016/05/23/project-play-project-parent/

Stephanie Gabbert (Director of Development - Colorado Storm) - I think a key component in this movement is the willingness of the stakeholders involved to make these ideas and strategies happen. There were many 'preaching to the choir' moments with a large room full of people nodding their heads in unison. But many of these strategies and changes require economic investment from varying sources, including government, corporations, and individuals. Finding ways to help fund these amazing strategies is just as important as the concepts themselves.

Dave Guthrie (Executive Director - Indiana Soccer) - The information and data presented at the summit confirmed that the US is experiencing a “sedentary crisis” that is having a significantly, unfavorable impact on people, families, and communities; and is straining the very fabric that supports our society. The research shared quantified the ANNUAL cost of the “sedentary crisis” as over $35 billion in direct medical costs; $57 billion in productivity losses and 33 million years of life lost.  The crisis, as daunting as it is, becomes even more disturbing when one considers that the health condition of youth in the US continues to deteriorate; 30.3% of 6-12 year olds in 2008 were considered to be healthy to an active level as compared to only 26.6% in 2015.  The good news is that US Youth Soccer and the thousands of community-based, member organizations possess a viable, affordable solution to the “sedentary crisis”.  The next steps are to identify, educate, and secure a commitment from stakeholders to provide access for ALL youth; in order to affirm and secure that “The game IS for all kids”. The question remains; will US Youth Soccer lead?

Dr. Sheri Huckleberry (Assistant Professor of Coaching Education at Ohio University)  - We need to tell our story and cultivate the future of coaching educators. We can make the difference!  We can set an example! If we work together I know youth sports, physical activity and play will thrive. 

Ted Koreten (Artistic Director of Joy of the People) - The first rule of free play is...you don't talk about free play; the second rule of free play is...you don't talk about free play. I liked that the studies showed that kids with the best physical literacy came, not from multi-sport athletes, but the kids in the poorest demographic--these kids also showed the fewest rates of overuse injuries. The great paradox we have to solve is that in order for free play to work it can only be for fun. If we try to do it to improve it will not work.

John O'Sullivan (Founder, Changing the Game Project) - I was struck by the statistics on health outcomes simply by getting kids moving 30-60 minutes a day. Soccer is the perfect sport for this, as it can be played anywhere, anytime, with any number of kids. All you need is a space and a ball. Yet we seem to be creating so many barriers to entry through costs, travel and commitment so very young. Our sport should be the perfect gateway sport to a life of activity.

 

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