Check out the weekly blogs

Coaches Connection - Get Connected!

Online education from US Youth Soccer

Clubhouse

Clubhouse Sweepstakes

US Youth Soccer Twitter

Check out the national tournament database

Sports Authority

Marketplace

Wilson Trophy Company

RS Banner

Happy Family

Print Page Share

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". 

 

Making the Right Choice

Susan Boyd

I like to read the numerous youth soccer forums available online. Several of them are geographic specific and some are general, but all seem to ask similar questions. During these months of tryouts, many of the queries focus on which travel team clubs would be the best choices. The transition from recreation to select has to be one of the most traumatic rites of passage for a child based on what these forums spin out with their threads. Parents see the choice they make as a do or die option that can affect the rest of their child's life, which isn't surprising given the propaganda. Trying to find answers that aren't self-serving for a club or a group of players can be difficult since you can't easily find impartial information out there. As someone who has been through it with two children and now several grandchildren, I can vouch for the brambles on the journey.

If you look on club websites you will read about the number of state, regional, and national championships they have achieved, the number of players who went on to college soccer, the level of the coaching staff, and the testimonials of previous players and parents. The credentials of a club are important to examine, but you need to do so with a critical eye. Clubs ebb and flow, so championships likewise ebb and flow. Achieving a national championship in 1990 isn't necessarily an endorsement of the club's quality in 2011. 

As a parent selecting a club, you need to do the same research you would do to find a good day care or school. You need to visit practices, talk to parents on the sideline, and watch how players interact with one another and the coach. Are practices well-organized and controlled? Do the drills seem to be busy work or have a purpose? Is there a good balance among fitness, individual skills, and team tactics? Does the issue of winning come up often? Is the coach respectful and firm? Does the club have a history of significantly changing the teams' rosters year after year? What are the coaching credentials of the staff? How many teams are they each responsible for? Do they have an assistant coach? How often do they miss coaching the team because of conflicts?
           
Remember that clubs are in the business of surviving. Survival depends on two things: money and reputation. For most clubs, reputation means lots of wins, lots of championships, connection to major programs such as US Youth Soccer's National League or USSF's Developmental Academy, and lots of players going on to play college soccer.   The better the reputation, the more money the club should be able to make, which can translate into attracting better coaches, creating better facilities, and receiving invitations to top tournaments and competitive leagues. 

Parents looking for a top soccer experience for their children should consider these factors as significant and beneficial. However, parents should also keep in mind that maintaining that reputation means that most clubs won't value their loyalty towards their players as more important than attracting even better players at their expense. Choosing a club at U-11 doesn't necessarily translate into a long-term, harmonious relationship with that club. And being rejected by a club at U-11 doesn't mean that three years later the club won't welcome your child in with open arms.
           
Teams also dissolve, so that, through no fault of you or your child, you may need to find a new club at U-15 or U-16 because your club no longer has a viable team at that age level. Therefore, your determination of a club team can take into consideration what the club will offer many years hence to your player, but shouldn't be the only consideration. Robbie was lucky enough to play on a team from U-9 through U-14 which stayed together as primarily the same group for those six years with the same coach for five of those years. I credit that team and coach with developing Robbie's strong team tactics and his abilities to play off the ball. Having the same group meant that they could develop both trust and strong interplay. Stability of a team creates wonderful opportunities for a child and I would encourage parents to put a strong emphasis on clubs which attempt to maintain a team's stable roster since they are placing importance on development of both individual and team skills.
           
Ultimately, the success of a soccer player won't be based directly on his or her team's success. Certainly winning teams attract the best players and the best competition which serves the development of a player well. But if the club constantly shifts the roster to "collect" the best players in the hopes of creating a mega-team, then the emphasis is on winning and not on development. As I've often mentioned, the future success of a player is in his or her ability to fit in with a team of players who understand the dynamics of playing on a team. As a player moves up the ladder of competition from club to high school to college to professional, the worth of a player isn't just his or her ability to score goals or run fast down the field. A player has to be able to be a cog in a well-oiled team machine and to understand his or her role as the coach instructs it.   So, finding a club that focuses on both individual and team development will be important for your child's future development.
           
Parents need to understand that players can advance without being on the "it" team. And even more importantly, that being on the "it" team doesn't insure that the player will advance or want to advance. Robbie played for four years on a team that was ranked in the top three in the country. Out of that roster only 1/3 of the players now play college soccer. Some players didn't want to play past high school, some tried college soccer and found it wasn't to their liking, and some were cut from their college team. 

We can't predict if our children will find college sports to their liking and we certainly can't predict if injury or other limitations will affect their opportunity. Therefore, choose your team with some eye to the future, but primarily with an eye to the present. Let the team be a comfortable and happy fit for your child. Make sure you don't overextend yourself financially and time-wise. Keep all your family members and commitments in perspective. Most importantly, remember that it really isn't an irreversible decision. If things aren't working out, make a change come next year's tryouts. Your child's own determination to succeed will ultimately be the biggest factor in any future accomplishments along with your support.
 

U-10 Travel Soccer?

Sam Snow

Travel soccer at the U10 age level?

So often it is the questions and comments I receive from members of US Youth Soccer that provide useful content for this blog. Here's one more and this time we talk about the U-10 age group.

Our local youth soccer association is dealing with a youth development conundrum with which we hope you can assist. During the past years, we have read many US Youth Soccer technical papers regarding youth development recommendations. Although the assortment of subjects about which advice is given is vast, some of the basic principles, for the younger ages, that we have gleaned from many of these papers are:

1.)    At the "in-house" (i.e., games only against teams within the community) ages (U-6 to U-10) minimize the emphasis on winning, emphasize fun, and teach through fun games, small-sided scrimmages, etc.

2.)    At these in-house ages, emphasize comfort with the ball (i.e., dribbling ability, good touch, etc.).

Our current problem has to do with our U-10 in-house age group. We strongly feel that, at this age, winning should still be de-emphasized and skill development and fun emphasized. In the past 5-7 years, there has been a push to start to "travel" (i.e., travel to play against other communities) at this age U-10 group. In fact, we see that there is a drive, nationwide, to travel at even younger ages! We feel that when teams begin to travel and play against other communities, the emphasis to win is also increased; whether a coach willingly does this, or not. This simply is because of greater pressure from the parents, players, coaches, etc. to beat other communities. Because of this, we also believe that short cuts are more apt to be taken to win a game (i.e., booting the ball up field to the big forward rather than trying to dribble or work the ball up field). Therefore, we have continued to argue against travel at the U-10 level so that our kids can continue to develop during the U-10 level in an environment where winning is not as much of an importance.

The other side's counterpoint is that in-house soccer at the U-10 level is not fun (i.e., not as exciting because of the lower emphasis on winning) so we are losing some kids that are quitting as a result. In order to attempt to address this concern, we have tried to make the U-10 age level more fun by entering the US Youth Soccer Kohl's American Cup, conducting an end-of-season U-10 in-house tournament, bringing in the Pittsburgh Riverhounds or Classic/Cup team DOC's to conduct about half of the U-10 trainings, etc.

Would you please comment and let us know whether we are on the right track and whether we need to modify what we are doing? 

You are indeed on the right track. While travel for the U-10 age group outside of the club is not forbidden, if travel does occur it should be to events that focus on player performance first and outcome of the match second, or even not at all. One such program I suggest you look to for ideas and methods is being run by North Carolina Youth Soccer.

Please also note the directive from the US Youth Soccer Board of Directors from their meeting on March 5, 2011.

2.         The Board encouraged the Coaching Committee to continue to develop an outline for implementation of "academy" programs for players at U-10 and that focus and information regarding skill development be included.

Here too, are a few of the Position Statements from the 55 state associations Technical Directors which pertain to the question.

Age of competitive play

While it is acknowledged and recognized that pre-teen players should be allowed to pursue playing opportunities that meet both their interest and ability level, we strongly discourage environments where players below the age of 12 are forced to meet the same "competitive" demands as their older counterparts therefore we recommend the following:

1.            50% playing time
2.            no league or match results
3.            8 v 8 at U-12

Festivals for players under 10

We believe that Soccer Festivals should replace soccer tournaments for all players under the age of 10. Festivals feature a set number of minutes per event (e.g., 10 games X 10 minutes) with no elimination and no ultimate winner. We also endorse and support the movement to prohibit U-10 teams from traveling to events that promote winning and losing and the awarding of trophies.

Finally here's an excerpt from the soon-to-be released US Youth Soccer Player Development Model.

"NO U-10's should be involved in competitive tournaments or tryouts. Play Days, Jamborees or Festivals where U-10's all get a participation award are fine.

U-10 players should –

1.      Not be exposed to tryouts
2.      Not be labeled 'rec' or 'competitive'
3.      Not be allowed to go to tournaments where there is a winner"

Thank you very much for the feedback, very informative. The problem at our youth association is that our parents are pushing hard for our U-10's to travel in the state league where there are league and match results.  We feel this is unnecessary and causes coaches to take short cuts to win instead of placing more of the emphasis on player development. For that reason, we would like to keep our U-10's playing in our in-house league.

The biggest push to travel is not so much from the players, but from the parents who want to see their kids play like little pros. Little do the parents realize that they are doing more harm than good by ramping up the competitive pressures at such an early age. We feel that there will be plenty of time, in the kids' older years, when we can play to win championships. Any further information you might have on the subject would be very welcome.

You are absolutely right that it tends to be more the adults than the kids who want to push the results oriented environment sooner than later with 10-year-old children. That is contrary to the approach taken by U.S. Soccer and US Youth Soccer. It is also contrary to the research in sports sciences and specifically Long-Term Player Development (LTPD). Take a look at the magazine Olympic Coach, Spring 2004, Volume 16, Number 1 from the U. S. Olympic Committee for the details on LTPD. Also read on the US Youth Soccer website an article that speaks to this topic of too much too soon. Since many adults do not know the timeline for the development of a soccer player they want to push the matter too quickly. To develop a player properly requires patience on the part of the adults.
 

Double Drama

Susan Boyd

I'm pretty sure most of us have had this experience. We're ready to leave the house for soccer practice, or we may have just arrived at the fields, and suddenly there is a complete and inexplicable meltdown on the part of our child. One second we were laughing about the way the dog begged and the next second our child is screaming and flailing uncontrollably. Our queries go unanswered except for a rise in the pitch of the screams. Whatever is the matter will have to wait for discovery until things calm down.

Last summer the big meltdown was because my granddaughter didn't like her pink socks. When I figured it out, I got a pair of adult white socks for her. They extended up to her waist and the heel flopped several inches out the back of her cleat, but her fashion concern wasn't with fit; it was with hue. Robbie went crazy once because he became acutely aware of the label on his shorts rubbing on the small of his back. He rolled on the ground clutching his back and howling in a perfect imitation of Linda Blair in "The Exorcist". I have seen kids lose it over seeing a bee, bringing the wrong water bottle, dropping a cracker on the ground, or believing a goose on the far side of the field was going to attack.

Psychologists could read a lot into these monumental collapses generated by such little worries, citing extreme anxiety over competition or insecurity over separating from parents. Anxiety may play a role, but in my many years of observations and personal experiences, most kids seem to have one or two of these meltdowns during the course of their adolescence that spring from minor issues and resolve into complete peace. Parents shouldn't be too quick to react in a way that feeds into the behavior lending it more importance than it deserves. In other words, don't connect it to the activity by asking loaded questions such as "are you scared to go?" or "do you hate soccer?" Certainly, weekly reluctance to run out to teammates could be a signal that the child isn't ready for that much independent play or that something is amiss in the dynamics with teammates and coaches. You can judge that best by watching practices. But the occasional meltdown seems to be a rite of passage for most young players fed by exhaustion, sugar crashes, and growth spurts.

Once I put white socks on Siobhan and clipped the waistband tag from Robbie's shorts, peace and joy quickly followed, and they trotted gleefully out to the soccer field. Making the proper diagnosis necessary to resolve the situation involved several minutes of listening to syllables exhaled during hysteria and connecting the dots. But once I said, "Do you want different socks?" the siren shut off instantly, there was a relieved nod of the head, and tears gave way to a smile. In most cases the reason for the chaos is innocuous but nearly impossible to ascertain. It requires deciphering that foreign language of sobs which have variable pronunciations. But once discovered, the answer assures tranquility without drama.
Speaking of drama, FC Barcelona and Manchester United will play out an old rivalry in a new venue. On May 28, the teams will meet at Wembley stadium in London for the UEFA Championship. They have met twice before for a UEFA championship, 1991 with Man U triumphing in Sir Alex Ferguson's first European championship with the squad, and again in 2009 with Barcelona taking the cup. They have played one another outside of the championship ten times sharing three wins apiece and taking draws on the remaining four. Obviously the teams are well-matched and should offer a spectacular competition on May 28.

I encourage you to watch the match with your children. Use the experience to both enjoy a great soccer contest and to understand more about the game. Have each viewer pick a player to watch exclusively during the game to see how the player moves off the ball and how that player creates plays. Also study the referees, especially when it comes to offside calls and out of bound balls since these situations cause the most confusion. Take note too of the physicality of the play. Watching the best of the best play gives viewers the opportunity to really get to know the game. Students of the game are usually better players of the game. The match can be seen on FOX television at 2:00 p.m. ET (match begins approximately 2:45 p.m.). You don't need any special sports package or even cable package to see the game, so it's a perfect opportunity for everyone to be able to watch. The pageantry prior to the game rivals the Super Bowl hype and Wembley offers a dramatic venue with its giant arch. Make this drama your Memorial Day weekend tradition!
 

Lack of concern in all sports

Sam Snow

One of the hindrances to the development of American soccer players is over-coaching during a match. Far too many coaches do it and far too many club directors and team parents accept it. Players in their late teens have probably learned to tune out the vociferous coach if they have one. Younger players are less likely to have learned that skill yet. Of course, it's a sad comment to acknowledge that players must learn to tune out a loud mouth coach.

So how have I come to this discussion? Well it stems from a brief e-mail exchange with a club coach and the Technical Director in New Jersey. Take a quick read:

Club coach: Rick, any thoughts as to when the rules of the game may extend unsportsmanlike conduct to coaches? As a youth coach, I often sit in my chair on the sideline and listen to the guys next me trying to give themselves a heart attack. I usually talk to my players when I sub them. It never occurred to me that the other coach yelling would be a problem for my players until I asked one of my players why they chose to make the play they did, they said all they can hear is the other coach yelling and it confused them. I started asking my players and all the way up from U-8 to U-14 have the same issue. If the other guy is loud, then they get distracted. My favorite is when a coach 'yells let it go' for a ball to roll out of bounds and my player stops. I think it is a natural reaction for kids. I know everyone says the parents are an issue and I believe that too, but I think the other coach barking is the same thing as a player from the other team barking in someone's ear. I would love to see the debate on that one.

State coach: Unfortunately these are the remnants of the "over coaching and directing" culture of youth sports-- we have no control over what the opponent's coach does; technically the referee should put the ca bash on that -- could be interpreted as over coaching. I tell the players to only respond to my voice and the referee's whistle.

Indeed over-coaching is a cultural habit in American youth sports with soccer not being an exception. Parents and club administrators not only allow it, but in many cases expect it because they think that's what coaching is. All of us need to work constantly to educate clubs that it is in fact poor coaching if the coach is joy sticking the players around the field. It means that he or she has done a poor job of coaching during training sessions if the players have not been taught to think for themselves.

State coach: It is just unbelievable how the children that Coach D describes in his email stop like the power switch has been turned off when they hear the other coach's voice!

Now why do the parents and administrators put up with over-coaching during a match? Because so many think that's what good coaching is. We all need to make a concentrated effort to educate parents of young players and club directors that the better coaches tend to be the ones who sit and observe during most of the match. Yes, they will yell a few comments and reminders during the match. But they are not the puppet master trying to control every move from the technical area. I would begin my education campaign within a club by sharing an article in Youth Soccer Insider by Claudio Reyna, U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director. 

Claudio Reyna: 'Coaches should sit down', by Mike Woitalla - Thursday, April 21, 2011

This discussion began with the sharing of a blog on the general lack of concern about the player has seeped into all levels of sport. Enjoy and share.

An article to reflect upon your coaching ethics and values…