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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.

 

Guidelines for Heading in Soccer

Sam Snow

Not long ago an article hit the World Wide Web that speaks to the alleged dangers of heading the ball in soccer. The article was brought to my attention by Rick Meana, Technical Director for New Jersey Youth Soccer and Andy Coutts, Director of Technical Education for Minnesota Youth Soccer. Here’s the article:http://yourlife.usatoday.com/health/story/2011-11-29/Heading-a-football-could-lead-to-brain-damage/51463474/1.
 
I am not qualified in medicine, so I use the findings of FMARC (FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Center) and the U.S. Soccer Sports Medicine Committee to understand the risks of any soccer technique. Here is a document that I hope you will use to educate coaches on the progression for teaching heading in soccer.
 
Concerning the specific article mentioned above here’s the feedback from Don Kirkendall, member FMARC:
 
"I saw a different news item about this topic, too. Remember, that this is a presentation and presentations don't go through the rigor of peer review anywhere near the level of critique of a journal publication. Based on what I've read, my first inkling is that it won't get published. Here are the primary factors that a reviewer has to ask of every paper they review:
 
History: What do the subjects bring into the study? Don't care how detailed the interviews were, they were asking questions about a lifetime of soccer, heading exposure, injuries. FMARC data shows that players forget about half their injuries from that year. This is about a lifetime. I bet if you surveyed players about how many times they headed the ball during a match vs. what was captured on film the results would be remarkably different. History is a HUGE issue with this project. And I haven't even brought up learning disabilities, alcohol, non-sports head injury, non-head injuries, or drug intake. Plus, players this age paid little attention to concussions when they were half their age, so how many did they have? The only accurate answer is "...that I can recall". Hardly firm data.
 
Maturation: This is about changes over the course of a study. Not as critical here, but this group is making conclusions about the adult brain based on something that may have happened before the brain had matured.
 
Testing: Oral interviews using a 'detailed' questionnaire (that from another media outlet). One might wonder about the validity of the Q and A. Were the questions 'leading' the subject on one direction or another? Given the emotions surrounding this topic, this probably needs to be considered.
 
Instrumentation: MRI is getting very good; a question could be that it is finding variants that have little or no effect. Sort of like the right handed pitcher with a crooked left pinkie; a variant of no consequence.
 
Statistical Regression: Tendency for extreme scores to migrate toward the mean. Basketball team shoots 75% one game is due for a 25% game soon. Not sure this would be as much of an issue as other topics.
 
Experimental Mortality: Subjects who are included in the study fail to complete it-they drop out, move, die, get sick or hurt, etc. How were the subjects selected? What were the inclusion and exclusion criteria? Any bias in selection stacks the deck one way or another.
Selection-Maturation Interaction: are subjects selected because they have a tendency to gain (or not to gain) much during the study.
 
Hawthorne Effect: People behave differently when they know they are being studied. This has been shown to be an issue in concussion research. Mention the word, and people are on edge, so to speak.
 
Those are just the 'standard' items that can lead to an alternative hypothesis for the results. I haven't even approached the actual data and interpretation of the data. We'll have to wait this one out. Stick with the FMARC data for now. Sorry for going on about the peer review process. But the popular media will run with this without doing due diligence."

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It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To

Susan Boyd

We’ve all experienced the situation. Our son or daughter has prepared for the BIG game. We invite relatives to come watch. Anticipation runs high. This is going to be fun. Our child doesn’t start, but that’s not necessarily unusual, we know he or she will be called in soon. The minutes tick away and turn to quarter hours, then it’s half-time, and still no movement from the bench. Eventually, as the time dwindles, our player is called onto the field, but after only the minimum amount of time required for "equal" play our child is brought back to the bench. The game ends. The amount of anxiety over a team win gets replaced by the anxiety of "will she play?" We watch the coach keenly to see if she looks over to the bench. Our hearts sit like lumps in our throats and leap whenever the coach approaches the bench and talks to the players. "It has to be soon," we believe. But all hope is dashed as the time tick, tick, ticks to its final whistle.
               
One time we traveled to Cincinnati for a tournament for Robbie. He had been playing really well, so we expected he would play most of the game or possibly even start. We invited our daughter, her husband and their two small boys to come watch since they lived only two hours away in Columbus. The tournament was in March, and we awoke that first day to a rather nasty snowstorm and temperatures in the teens. But it would all be worth it to watch Robbie play. We sat on metal benches and watched an entire game where Robbie sat across from us on his own metal bench. The grandkids froze, heck, we froze. Deana and family had to head home after the game, so it was a frost-bitten disappointment all around. 
               
The amount of emotion invested in the game, the level of anxiety over waiting for our player’s participation, and the bitter taste left in our mouths afterward make for an extremely tense ride home. No matter how great your player may be, I guarantee you’ll have at least one, and most likely several, of these frustrating games. We don’t have any insight into what the coach is thinking. We also don’t usually have any knowledge of what might have gone on in practice that ended up warranting a "benching." All we see is the evidence of a decision that hurts and confuses. How can we handle these experiences? 
               
First of all, don’t start the conversation at the field, on the way to the car, or on the trip home unless your child brings it up. Let all emotions cool down. While it may seem futile, finding something positive to say would be a good idea. Don’t patronize, but find a general positive you can offer such as "this field was in great shape" or "I liked the way you passed to Billy." If your child voices the opinion that he didn’t care if they won, or that the coach is a jerk, then you should address the concern. Ask why and then listen as long as it takes to vent. The hurt your player feels is not only natural, but deserved. Add to that embarrassment if friends and relatives came to watch her performance and you can understand why the pain is intense. Listen carefully for clues as to why your child didn’t play. For example, she might say, "Just because I was hanging on the goalposts, the coach benched me" or "Everyone made fun of Molly, not just me. I don’t why I got picked on for that." Keep track of those clues for a later discussion. For now, it’s important just to focus on the bad feelings and helping smooth those over.
               
Second, avoid knee-jerk reactions. Your child may threaten to quit the team as that is a natural reaction to the perceived humiliation. But it is not okay for you to suggest that. In the first place, quitting is never a solution to a tough situation. The lesson our children need to learn is one of persevering through and overcoming adversity. It is also important to remember that most state soccer associations have rules about quitting a club mid-season that include that the club doesn’t have to release a player to another club until the season is over. That would mean that if your child quit, he or she could be without a team for several months. At the very least, staying at the club that isn’t playing your child is preferable to sitting at home because the player still gets the benefit of practices. So, cooler minds need to prevail when the discussion of quitting comes up.
               
Third, when things have calmed down you can find out from your player if he was aware of any reason the coach wouldn’t play him. Chances are your player knows something. He was either warned during a practice or found out just before the game what was going to happen. Sometimes it can be something as innocent as the coach believing the team could win with a weaker line-up on the pitch and was giving players who usually sat a chance to play. However, if it was an important game, then the reason is more significant. Most coaches want to field the best team possible, so decisions on who to play and who not to play are made with careful consideration. If the coach had to invoke some type of consequence on your player, your son or daughter may not want to fess up to it. Hopefully you can discover what happened eventually from their comments or confessions. If you drive the carpool, listen to what the kids are talking about in the backseat. It’s amazing how much you can learn just by listening. "Coach really got mad at you yesterday." "Yeah, he thought I wasn’t paying attention, but I was." Occasionally players can be benched for having too many yellow cards since many leagues have a limit and coaches don’t want anyone to hit that limit.
               
Finally, if you feel the situation was totally fickle, then have your player talk to the coach. You can stand nearby for moral support, but the conversation should be between coach and player. Only if you feel that the coach isn’t taking your child’s concern seriously should you consider approaching the coach yourself. Like any "Get Out of Jail Free" card, you need to use this tactic sparingly. Pick your moment/battle wisely. Coaches don’t like getting hammered by parents since coaches make their decisions based on factors, which may not be obvious to someone outside the framework of the team. If you do talk to the coach keep questions open-ended and not accusatory. Ask, "I noticed you didn’t play Megan on Sunday. Is there something she can do to improve her playing time?" Don’t ask, "How come you didn’t play Megan when she has been working really hard and got two goals in the last game?" Putting the coach on the defensive only insures he or she won’t be on your side.
               
There’s nothing worse than throwing a party where the guest of honor is a no-show. The guests you invite all look at you for explanation, and you usually don’t have one to give. If your child doesn’t play in the game, let everyone who came know that you and your child are grateful they supported the team by attending. Don’t offer any half-baked excuses just that this was the game your player sat out and you hoped the guests would come back for another game. As frustrating as the experience can be, it is important to focus on the team aspect of the sport. While we all profess to be supporters of the team, it’s also a reality that if our child didn’t play on the team we probably wouldn’t be attending the games. So naturally we want to see our kids play. And if we invite guests, then we want to have cake and ice cream and throw confetti.

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Tripping Out

Susan Boyd

I’m trying to organize a trip to Niagara Falls to include my kids and grandkids. Guess what? It’s a dismal failure. Why? Those pesky sports schedules leave no room for everyone to travel at the same time. I know you’ve all faced this dilemma. I used to have a calendar that I color-coded, which I thought would make discovering a particular schedule at a glance a breeze. All it managed to do was make my calendar a rainbow blur. There was soccer, baseball, camps, all-star games, tryouts, and many split into select and "fun" teams. Robbie and Bryce played in a Latino soccer league in the city, did local baseball and travel baseball, had their select team, did regional league, and for one season added futsol. When my relatives would ask when I was coming to visit, I would say 2025. I never had to worry about boredom in the summer, only about gas prices.
 
So when is it overkill? How do you fit vacations and downtime into your summer? We teach our kids about commitment and want to take all of our commitments seriously. Teams depend on our children’s involvement to insure a strong team performance. When we start filling out those team forms, usually as early as January, we rarely have game and practice schedules to help guide our decisions. Suddenly we get swallowed up into the maelstrom that is summer sports. We also get the guilt from coaches, parents and teammates if we even hint that we might miss a game or two so we can whitewater raft in Colorado. Even our own kids will chime in with their complaints that they can’t miss certain games as they are pivotal to making championships. Add into the mix unknowns, such as: Will a team make the US Youth Soccer State Championships? Regionals? And, ultimately, Nationals? So, we have to leave those dates open until our kids’ participation is either assured or ended.
 
Parents can exercise three options. First, you can be proactive by establishing one week in the summer that will be family time for vacations. I have found that centering this around July 4 might insure missing very few games as lots of programs avoid scheduling games and practices within a few days on either side of the holiday. Of course, that week will be the most crowded and expensive for travel, but it is also the time least likely to cause conflicts. No matter what week you pick, let the clubs, teams, coaches, and anyone else in a position to be affected know that your child won’t be available during that time. Then the powers that be can decide if they can live with that arrangement or not. Once they agree to it, the matter should be closed and there shouldn’t be any guilt trips as the time nears. If they don’t agree, then you’ll have to decide what’s more important: family time or team time. The choice will be yours and your child’s. Whatever you decide, you will know that you acted with integrity without surprising the team with a sudden decision to miss a week.
 
Second, if you can’t decide so early in the year when you might be able to take a vacation, then be sure to inform the team the moment you decide if your child is going to miss time. Remember that all of life is a balancing act, and many decisions end up being the lesser of two evils. You have a right to make family plans and if those conflict with team plans it’s unfortunate but not tragic. Don’t let anyone guilt you into questioning your decision. In the long run, this will be a tiny blip on the trail of life. It seems remarkably important at the time, but believe me, after decades of youth sports in our family I can’t even tell you losses and wins, but I can tell you about a great family trip like the "fort" trip we made down the East Coast or the time we explored Key West. Who knows five years down the road if your child will still be playing even if you both are passionate about it now?
 
Third, you can organize a trip around a travel team’s away tournaments. We have made some really memorable vacations using tournaments as an excuse to visit an area. In fact, several years ago we got to explore Niagara with the boys because they were guest playing in a national Croatian soccer tournament 30 miles outside of Niagara in Hamilton, Ontario. There was a memorable tournament in Indianapolis where we were able to visit an amazing Children’s Museum, the NCAA Hall of Champions, Amish towns and other significant historical sites in Indiana. We went down two days earlier and stayed an extra day after most of the tournaments thereby avoiding missing team games and practices. Robbie’s team played at Disney World, which was a fabulous combo trip. The only downside is that it may not fit in with the schedule of your other players.
 
I’m hoping my daughter and son-in-law in Ohio agree to let their sons miss a few practices, so they can join us in Niagara. But I will definitely respect their decision not to do that. I know how difficult it is to balance lessons about commitment, family demands and schedules. Each family has to decide how to prioritize for themselves without regard to anyone else’s pressures. It will be difficult because I really want all the cousins to get together. However, that’s my dream, which doesn’t necessarily fit into their reality. I’m hopeful, but I’m also prepared to smile and say, "I understand."
 
Life is short and family lasts forever, so my message would be to focus on creating family memories outside of sports. While I am an avid supporter of youth sports, I also know that they can overtake your life to the point that they choke out other worthwhile activities. I appreciate the life lessons of camaraderie, commitment, collaboration, winning and losing with dignity, and maintaining a regimen of exercise that sports offer our children. I do think that sports can be an enhancement to how we raise our children, but they shouldn’t be the primary activity, especially if other children in the family are not participating. Family time that benefits everyone should take a priority over individual activities at least once a year. Time to decompress, get reacquainted outside the demands of daily family life and build family memories should be emphasized. It will take plenty of planning and the ability to resist outside pressures, but as the decades pass, these will be the moments that stand out in our children’s memories and set the stage for their own family occasions. Nothing could be more satisfying, not even a soccer game.

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Metaphorically Speaking

Susan Boyd

We often use sports’ metaphors in our everyday lives. We talk about rolling with the punches, sidelining a project, throwing in the towel, doing an end run, keeping an eye on the ball, going to the mat and being saved by the bell. We may not even know which sports these phrases spring from, but we understand how to use them in conversation. It’s not unusual for sports’ idioms to be an integral part of how we express our opinions. So here’s my parents blog written with the help of (mixed) sports’ metaphors. I’ll just dive right in.
 
As parents, we can find ourselves in deep water and behind the eight ball when it comes to how to deal as our children jockey for position on their team. While our child may be in the running to make the cut, he or she may just as easily miss the cut. We then find ourselves wanting to level the playing field by encouraging the coach to appreciate the cut of our child’s jib. We know the score. Unless we keep our eye on the ball, our child can be left at the gate. If he or she is ever going to run the bases to cross the finish line, we may have to exercise a no-holds-barred approach to intervention.
 
To get our children off to a running start, we need to assess what odds are against them and then run interference by stepping up to the plate and tackling the problem. For example, we should bounce some ideas off our children, such as bat a thousand and approach any game or tryout with a full-court press. We can pump them up so that they will want to be first-string material. Develop a game plan: Encourage your children to keep an eye on the ball, know the score, and be that wild card that a coach can’t ignore. Put yourself in their corner so you can help them clear any hurdles. To have a fighting chance they don’t need to draw first blood, but they do need to be first out of the gate with a positive attitude. We can’t move the goal posts, but we can get the ball rolling by giving our children a few arrows in their quivers. Even if they have two strikes against them, our children can still paddle their own canoe and show that they have what it takes to be a big leaguer.
 
Even if your child is a dark horse, there’s no reason he or she has to be sent to the showers. Our children may need to warm the bench but when they get their chance they have to give it a run for the money. Most coaches will give all team members a fair shake. Tell your child to use every opportunity to take his or her best shot. Our kids can show that they can get the hang of playing when given the chance. It’s probably not a bad idea to go overboard. Better to let her rip rather than settle for a sub-par performance. Bowl the coach over by being a heavy hitter. 
 
Should they end up shooting an air ball, we parents need to hug the shoreline and give them shelter from the storm. Not gaining the upper hand doesn’t mean the game is over. We may need to adjust our aim and tell our kids to hang in there. When we hit a snag use our home-court advantage and let our children know that they haven’t yet hit their stride. They need to continue to take practice swings until they can play hardball with the best of their competitors and leave them in their dust. Don’t ride roughshod over your kids, but don’t pull any punches. You have a ringside seat to their dreams. Root for them. Teach them to set their sights on a goal. Some dreams may be sidelined, but other dreams will fly out of the park. As long as they continue to make waves they’ll always be major leaguers. 

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