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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.

 

Speed of play

Sam Snow

Jeff Cade, the Technical Director at Nevada Elite FC, asked the question below of a few colleagues.
 
The phrase speed of play is used in almost every training session. For the most part, the coaches are using it in the sense of increasing the overall speed of the session or game. I do not disagree with the phrase being used in this sense. However, I have spoken to many coaches recently and have come to understand that speed of play to them is the recognition of the tempo of the game. They feel speed of play is the ability to follow and change the rhythm of possession vs. counter vs. combination. What do you see in the actual meaning of speed of play?
 
Greg Maas, Technical Director for Utah Youth Soccer had this to say:
 
Speed of play is common soccer jargon. In short, I regularly ask players what ‘speed of play’ means to them and here's a few of the consistent responses I often get:
 
·         Play faster or quicker
·         Communicate
·         Move more
 
I will then ask level two or three questions, such as, "Can you help me to understand what you mean by playing faster or quicker?" Or, "What's another way we can get the ball from point A to point B more effectively?" This line of questioning often provides answers closer to what I am looking for (no particular order or preference).
 
Some of the answers given include:
 
·         Limiting touches on the ball; playing one or two touch
·         Recognizing when to pass and when to dribble
·         Improving the pace (weight of the pass) of the ball or recognizing the correct type of pass to make (balls to feet versus balls to space)
·         Combining with each other to create better attacking options
·         Changing direction and the point of attack  
·         Movement off of the ball in support of the ball or to unbalance the opposition
·         Decision making on and off of the ball — making quicker, more effective and efficient decisions
·         Recognizing and exploiting numerical advantages on the field
Here are the factors involved in speed of play for an individual:
·         Mental: perceptual speed, anticipation speed, decision making speed and reaction speed
·         Physical: movement speed (without the ball) and action speed (with the ball)
 
To me, it first involves cognitive speed and then speed of producing the motor skills necessary to produce the proper technique needed based on one’s tactical decision.
 
Therefore, it is much better to set up situations in training where the players solve the problems and make most of their own decisions. It is also vital to hammer technique. When this technique is used, the motor skills pathways for performing technique become second nature. The player can then become efficient at possession, penetration, or combine as they ‘quickly’ make the decision mentally/tactically to perform an action (technique) in a given situation.
 
Think of Messi—he isn't big, but he is a magician because he thinks five steps ahead and can anticipate an opponent’s reaction. He has great reaction speed and has unbelievable movement without the ball and even better action speed with the ball. Marta, in the women's game, is another example that can be used (except she is very left footed, which maybe hurts my example a bit).
 
I believe speed of play as a group or team can be defined better as understanding the tempo of the game.
 
Carrie Taylor, girls Director for the Vancouver Whitecaps
 
One of my favorite sayings is, "The beauty of the game is in its simplicity." Quite simply to me, speed of play is how quickly players make decisions. The decisions to pass, dribble, move with the ball, and move off the ball—how quickly do I make those decisions? One-and two-touch passing can affect the speed of play, but ultimately to make a one or two touch pass is still a decision. A player’s technical ability also needs to be considered. Player's with lesser technical ability will struggle to make quicker decisions because the lack of technique does not allow for technical proficiency to make quick decisions, thus affecting the speed of play. What does that mean? The technical level of a player and a team will most certainly affect the speed of play. Therefore, teams should spend a fair amount of time on the technical aspects of the game. If players are more technical, the game itself creates the speed of play.
 
"The game is the great teacher." You can spend as much time as you want on the speed of play with your team, but if they lack the technical ability that team and those players will only achieve a certain degree of speed of play. This can be affected by how well a team is able to put pressure on them as a team and on the individual players.
 
Does speed of play have to do with the tempo of the game, changing the point of attack or how quickly we counter? To me, those are all end products of speed of play. How quickly we change the point of attack, how quickly we counter and at what speed we play are all decisions we make. For example, if you watch Barcelona, sometimes the tempo of the game is very slow and methodical when they have possession and even if the other team tries to high pressure them. They still are able to keep a calm, very slow and methodical tempo; however, and the decisions they make are done quickly to keep that tempo. When Barcelona possesses, even at a slow tempo, the midfielders and backs still only take one or two touches, even when under high pressure. Usually, the biggest change in tempo is displayed as they get forward and combine. Much of the interplay is one and two touch right to goal, usually ending in a great finish. It takes a lot of technique to play that way. But all the way to the goal, decisions are being made to play one or two touch. If you cannot play that way technically, then players usually take an extra touch which can slow the speed of play causing a player to get caught in possession and thus losing possession of the ball. I believe the same holds true for the changing the point of attack and counter attack. The technique of the players and team determines the speed of attack. The better the technique, the quicker the decision can be made to counter or change the point of attack. Plain and simple, poor technique means slower decisions, and slower speed of play.
 
It all comes down to technique, technique, technique. And when you are done, work on technique some more! I don't care how hard you try and make your teams or players understand, speed of play, tempo, changing the point of attack, counter attacking or whatever it may be. If the players don't have the technique they will to achieve only a limited level of speed of play.
 
Eddie Henderson, Heat FC Nevada - Technical Director
 
Playing quickly when needed. Put a foot on the ball when needed. Understanding when to use one touch and when to dribble or hold to slow it down. Overall recognition.
 
 Kai Edwards, Head Coach Women's Program - St. Mary's College
 
There have been thought provoking question and responses so far. In education, this is considered an inquiry of the highest level, above basic knowledge and comprehension, falling into the critical thinking category. My background prior to my current position was as an honors geometry teacher for 13 years. So here is my addition to the very insightful and spot on responses so far by the Coaches. Basically hoping to put another layer on the information....
 
By Definition:
 
·         Speed = Swiftness of action
·         Of = Derived or coming from
·         Play = moving or operating freely within a bounded space
 
How can this apply to the game of soccer? Well, does understanding and executing the angles matter in speed of play? Angles matter not only in attack, but also in defense and transition.
 
Angles of/to:
 
·         First touch to solve pressure
·         The pass to penetrate or keep possession
·         Strike on goal with higher scoring percentage
·         Cross to a more dangerous chance on goal
·         Support in attack above and below the ball
·         Runs to unbalance the opposition and get on the end of the pass
·         Transition to attack opening more time and space
·         Counterattacking runs – straight or curled
·         Transition to defense getting back behind the ball to protect the goal or immediate pressure
·         Deny passing channels and space to move forward
·         Recovery run
·         GK - Make the save
·         GK - Distribution
 
Another way to add onto the speed of play topic would be, "How quickly can you take advantage of the angles of success in the game of soccer?"

Comments (2)

 

It’s Not Russian Roulette

Susan Boyd

Wednesday May 9, NBC’s Rock Center did a report on the increase in serious concussions among female soccer players. In a promo for an upcoming segment, an earnest reporter asked a father why he allowed his daughter to continue playing a game when he knew she faced serious injury. His chagrined and flustered reply, "Well she loves playing. I don’t want to stop her from doing something she loves." Buzz – wrong answer. This is exactly the type of sound bite with which news agencies make hay. It not only makes parents seem irresponsibly immune to the dangers surrounding sport, but creates the impression that whatever it takes to succeed, including a life-altering brain injury, we should go ahead and tolerate it in the name of sport. Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I have addressed the issue of concussions several times. I readily acknowledge that concussions, and particularly repeated concussions, can be a life-altering injury but we aren’t sending our children out to play Russian Roulette on the field.
 
The good news is that despite the rise in concussions among young female soccer players, the actual numbers are in the hundreds. With 3 million registered players, US Youth Soccer has the largest number of youth players in the United States. Roughly 48 percent of these are girls, or 1.4 million. Even if the number of girls with serious concussions reached 1000 a year that translates to only .0007 percent, hardly a number to consider wholesale changes to the game.
 
The players interviewed for the Rock Center report represented the extremes. All had suffered at least three concussions. Most were unable to concentrate for only three hours in school and one girl had to have her room bathed in blue light and eat dinner by candle light to avoid migraines. They also all admitted they didn’t leave games after suffering their first concussion because they either didn’t want to appear weak or the team needed them. I’ve read where experts tell us that recovering from a concussion takes at least a week of no rigorous activity and definitely no rough contact. But time and again players, parents, coaches and referees ignore this advice. According to the research cited in the Rock Center piece, girls are slightly more prone to being concussed due to longer, thinner necks and weaker neck muscles. Therefore, any head injury, no matter how slight it appears at the moment, needs to be considered serious enough to be removed from the game. If there is any black out at all, even for a few seconds, it requires immediate removal and a medical follow up.
 
The report did point out why injured girls play even with the threat of serious brain trauma. As one girl stated, "When I was forced to quit soccer I lost my identity, my social life, my friends and my joy." Parents will often experience the same loss on a different level. They develop friendships and a social life with the other parents of teammates, so the entire family can experience a loss.
 
Possible head injuries are a part of any sport, although soccer can have what is considered a higher than average incident rate due to both headers and other collisions during the game. Therefore, no one should take this report by NBC lightly. We just need to have some perspective. There exist safeguards to protect players from the first time they approach the ball to their waning adult competitive days. We need to be sure these safeguards are applied regularly and consistently. This job for making sure players stay safe falls primarily on referees and coaches, then on parents and finally on the players. First, referees need to control games carefully for the youngest players. Elbows to the head and neck need to be an immediate card and dismissal from the field. Excessively rough play needs to be stopped with a zero tolerance policy for any players. Any injury to the head means that the player must leave the game for the rest of the game–no exceptions. If a player blacks out, then immediate medical attention must be arranged. Coaches need to prepare their players for these policies and then support them. It’s difficult in a big game with the score tied and only three minutes left to pull your best striker for a possible head injury, but we all have to look long term, not at the immediate gains. Parents need to support coaches and referees in both controlling rough play and in removing players from the field either for rough play or for injury. These policies ensure that players think twice before that overly aggressive hit to the back of the head and players can have long and productive soccer careers.
 
One suggestion made by NBC was for headers to be banned under the age of 12. Brandi Chastain, the former Olympic and World Cup star of the U.S. Women’s National Team, disagreed strongly. She felt that headers were a beautiful and inherent part of the game which shouldn’t be eliminated from the younger players’ repertoire. Besides, players naturally go with their head for any ball above their chest. It would be a difficult ban to not only enforce, but justify.
 
If players choose to wear a head guard, it’s important that everyone support their decision. It is not a sign of weakness or a silly piece of equipment. Parents should encourage your players not to make fun of any player who elects to wear a head guard. Coaches support the decision even if you don’t see the point. Players also need to be honest about how they are feeling. If a hit makes you woozy, then let the coach know and take yourself out of the game. If the coach establishes prior to the season that he or she wants any player with a possible head injury to pull out, then it makes the decision easier for the player. Parents, let your player know that you will be proud of her if she realizes she’s not quite right and asks to sit out.
 
Our kids aren’t asking to test their reflexes by hitting the springs on bear traps. They are playing a game that has been around for decades and will be around for decades more. Unlike the baited question of "Why let your daughter play a game that you know is dangerous for her?" leaving the poor parent to stutter and stumble around a response that just makes them look irresponsible and uncaring, the real question should be "What are you doing as a parent to make soccer even safer for your daughter?" That’s an answer that doesn’t yield the kind of fear-based reporting we see all too often, but does offer some real help to the viewers. We can’t eliminate concussions, but we can develop strategies that diminish the number of concussions and diminish the severity of those concussions. Most importantly we need to take any hit to the head, neck, or back seriously and err to the side of caution when we suspect some brain involvement. The idea is to watch our kids play in lots of games not just win one significant game. The idea is to have our kids enjoy their passion safely.
 
US Youth Soccer offers a number of free online concussion resources. Click the link to learn more http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/news/concussion_resources_from_cdc/
                              

Comments (0)

 

Soccer Mom’s Day

Susan Boyd

This will be the first Mother’s Day in twelve years that we haven’t been at the soccer fields. I never felt badly that we couldn’t attend yet another brunch because, to tell the truth, I preferred watching the boys play over lukewarm scrambled eggs and soggy hash browns. The real meaning of Mother’s Day for me was sharing the day with my family and doing what we loved – soccer.
 
I imagine many of you will be in the same situation come Sunday. Spring soccer season is usually abbreviated by seasonal showers and soggy fields, so dry weekend play dates become a precious commodity not to be wasted with some sentimental holiday. Thus you gather up the chairs, blankets and umbrellas and head out to the fields delighted to watch your son or daughter play a game they really love while you cheer them on. Even if the weather isn’t ideal, the experience can be.
 
For five years, the coach of Robbie’s team made sure that each boy handed his mother a carnation after the game win or lose. That’s a very special memory for me. Despite their obvious embarrassment for what they considered an intimate gesture (especially when they got older), they each trotted across the field and handed mom a flower and received a hug in return. I doubt I would have gotten either at a fancy brunch. But within the family of the soccer team and the openness of the soccer field, Robbie and his buddies felt uninhibited enough to show and receive love publicly.
 
Another Mother’s Day game Bryce’s team unfurled a sign at the end of the game that said "Thanks and Have a Happy Mother’s Day!" They had decorated the poster and signed their names. We all got our pictures taken behind the sheet with both the full team and all the moms as well as individual photos. It made for a very special and unexpected memory.
 
When the boys were really young we actually arranged for a special mom/son soccer game on Mother’s Day. We met at the local elementary school and played a game for more than an hour. Then we had donuts and coffee and visited while the kids continued to play. It was overcast and not very warm, but somehow we managed to extend the experience for nearly three hours. There were lots of siblings, grandparents and friends who joined us. So we decided to play a round robin tournament with the boys winning the whole competition (without us even trying to let them win). Normally it might have been demoralizing to lose to a bunch of 8 year olds, but that day it was just fun. Some families actually had the proverbial bunch reservations and blew them off because the day was going so well. It definitely was a special Mother’s Day.
 
I don’t even want to suggest that soccer families have to make lemonade out of lemons because the past Mother’s Days weren’t something to be pitied. Should your son’s or daughter’s team be scheduled to play on Mother’s Day then center your celebration around the game. Turn the brunch into a team outing by going to a pizza place or an all-you-can-eat buffet. Or go to a baseball field and share a family softball game. Play Frisbee golf. Build a bonfire, have a sing-a-long and make s’mores.
There are so many ways to celebrate that don’t require dressing up and reservations.
 
Like I said, this Mother’s Day will be the first in a long time without a soccer game, but I will actually be with my grandsons in Columbus, Ohio. So this Mother’s Day I’ll be at two youth baseball games. Same outcome, different sport. I wouldn’t have it any other way! 

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TOPSoccer Coaching

Sam Snow

In all ranks of coaching, the new coach often uses the training activities found in materials from US Youth Soccer, U.S. Soccer and State Associations completely as written.  That is, the coach often doesn’t make adjustments to the activity.  It may help the players in a training session activity for a grid to be larger or for there to be fewer opponents, for example.  Another concept for novice coaches to learn is the difference between drills and activities.  Essentially activities are game-like and require some problem solving by the players.  Drills do not make such demands upon the players, even though the game of soccer certainly does.
 
So, coaches going through the US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer coaching course often have the same learning curve challenge.  Like some other coaches, they want to fall back on drills as they think that activities are too difficult for the players.  Well if a coach doesn’t extend the players, then those players stagnate in their development.
 
As a coaching educator, I think the problem with drills over activities is more with the coaches than the players.  In this regard, the TOPSoccer course is no different than teaching a Youth Module course and getting coaches away from drills.  As the state TOPSoccer course is being delivered more often by the State Associations we are educating a group of coaches who in many instances have coached in isolation and now are being asked to move out of their coaching comfort zone.  Again, no different than other coaching education.  The difference now is that we have TOPSoccer participants who are not accustomed to main stream soccer approaches being used in their world.  They are resistant to the mainstreaming of some of the approaches taken in coaching TOPSoccer players.  I want us to think of these kids as soccer players just like any other group of kids playing the game.
 
Auke Wiersma, chair for Region I TOPSoccer and a coaching course instructor for New Jersey Youth Soccer adds these thoughts:
 
This is a coaching ‘problem’ not a players ‘problem.’ It all comes down to how you present the activity to the TOPSoccer players.
 
Agreed, an activity (drill...) that the players are accustomed to initially will result in a better outcome, but should never prevent the coach from trying a new activity. YOU ARE CHEATING ON THE TOPSOCCER PLAYERS!
 
We should encourage coaches to keep on offering their drills on a regular basis for good flow of the training session. However, depending -somewhat- on the condition of the players, it is not bad to take the TOPSoccer players a bit out of their comfort zone. THIS ALSO HAPPENS IN REAL LIFE! It might not sound politically correct, but the special needs population is too protected in a sense of what they can, or worse cannot do! Challenging the special needs athlete at many different levels is healthy and should be encouraged!
 
Drills (..... bad word in the world of coaching) that the players feel comfortable with will become boring even for the TOPSoccer player, and I haven't mentioned the parents yet. They will also see that their son or daughter is going through the drills time and time again. They want their child to be challenged as well. When their child makes progress or overcomes a challenge (technically, tactically, physically or psycho-socially), can you imagine how proud they feel?! Boring = not learning and we want our TOPSoccer players to learn as much as possible.
 
In my experience as an Adapted Physical Education teacher for over 8 years and as a soccer coach, I can tell that players, as well as parents, will become frustrated when the same activities are offered over and over again, even in the world of special needs education. Frustration equals not learning, and we want our TOPSoccer players to learn as much as possible. I have heard many times: "Basketball, again? Rope skipping again?" The day that we started a rock climbing program in the school I worked at was the most exciting day of my tenure there! A new activity and an activity that definitely takes the special needs students out of their comfort zone.
 
We should keep on encouraging (like we do in the course) the novice, as well as the more experienced, TOPSoccer coach to offer activities that promote players decision making and creativity, just like we (should) do in mainstream soccer. Challenge the players like in mainstream soccer, this is what they want! Make a new activity exciting for the player! The thought that the TOPSoccer players can't handle change is a general statement and should be more specified per player. Some of them might indeed have more problems with it then others, but keep on trying to get the player involved regardless of ability.
 
The TOPSoccer player, let alone the TOPSoccer parent, doesn't want to be treated differently. This happens enough outside soccer already. The TOPSoccer parent can be a "normal" parent for an hour, so don't baby their child if you don't have to! The parents will see that and still feel that their child gets special treatment due to the child’s condition, many players feel the same.
 
This brings me back to the first point I made: It's a coaching problem. The question is how does, or should, the coach present a new activity so that the player becomes interested. Does the coach have enough patience and understanding to realize that the activity might not work out the first time (or two or three)? Is the coach able to analyze and adapt and make the activity more difficult or easier? Those are the first questions the coaches should ask before we make up an excuse for or about the players. Yes, the same questions a coach should ask in mainstream soccer.
 
In the TOPSoccer course the question is asked whether coaching TOPSoccer is different than coaching mainstream soccer. My answer is: "NO!" the only difference is patience and the ability of the coach to analyze the activity and adapt to the needs of the TOPSoccer player where needed and not disregard a new activity because it is easier (for the coach).
 
Soccer is still soccer, whether you are talking TOPSoccer or Champions League socce;, a ball, opponents, teammates, parents, coaches, goals etc. Once on the field we are all the same, people that love to coach or play the beautiful game!
 
"I can do that (myself)! Let me try! Look Coach, I'm doing it!" is what we want to hear and see on the TOPSoccer field.

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