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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.

 

Coach your kid in soccer

Sam Snow

Here are five fundamentals to coaching your own child in soccer. Ditch the over-the-top act for a style that will keep your kid happy and engaged.
 
Level the playing field

Sit your child down and ask if you can "join the team." You’ll probably get an emphatic "yes." The point is to let the kid know you’re both on the same side.
 
Be consistent

When critiquing play, always lead by citing something commendable ("Great job dribbling up field!") before giving feedback ("Now try to keep your head up"). Finish positively with another  encouraging comment ("You’ll get it, keep working hard!").
 
Look beyond your kid

If you’re not a coach, hang out with other parents. Their comments (like "That was a sweet pass" or "They’re crowding the ball") can help you lose the tunnel vision for your child and see the whole team.
 
Stoke inspiration

If you see your child’ motivation starts to drag, whip up a game at home to focus on skills while still having fun. For kicking strength, tack up a target on a brick wall and see if he can hit it with the ball. For ball control, offer them ice cream for stringing together five juggles.
 
[Editor’s note: Intrinsic rewards (praise, acknowledgement, fulfillment from hard work) are better long-term motivators than extrinsic rewards, which tend to lose their positive affect in time.]
 
Discipline privately

No kid responds well to public scolding, so if yours is acting out or not being a team player, pull her aside; then you can switch to parent mode. Explain why it’s important that she accept the consequences for her actions just like any other teammate does. Don’t make a scene. If she’s not receptive, say you’ll finish the talk at home – but try to avoid mixing at-home disciplinary tactics with on-the-field ones.
 
Sources: Jimmy Nielsen, goalkeeper for Sporting Kansas City; Larry Lauer, Ph.D., of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University

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Pick Your Moment

Susan Boyd

 Last weekend I went to three baseball games for two of my grandsons. Once again I was able to witness the nasty side of parenting. I’m not sure what brings out the monster in parents when it comes to youth sports. I imagine it comes from their own unrealized dreams, the anxiety that their child won’t be a success as measured by rather arbitrary standards and their natural competitive instincts. As events unfold, some parents see themselves as the answer to problems or the augmenter of abilities. In each case, they usually end up overwhelming their own child and in many cases the entire team. The impulse to just tweak one thing the player is doing or help her understand a more complex play is considerable and difficult to resist. I have to admit, when I saw my grandson constantly leaping back from every pitch, I spoke up and told him to stand in there and swing. He did, and he got his first hit of the season. But I usurped the coach’s job (and one coach is my son-in-law, so a double blunder), and I didn’t let the natural course of events create the right atmosphere for Archer to learn. I was at that game; I may never be at another game. But his coaches will be there for all of them.

In addition to my own foible, I unfortunately saw parents going into the dugout and pulling their child out for a discussion. They would even walk a long distance away from the dugout, so the coach would occasionally pop out and ask, "Where’s Cory?" The disruption to the team was only surpassed by the confusing instruction the child received. Dad would say stand back in the batter’s box and the coach would say move up. During the team’s defensive time on the field, several parents were shouting directions to their individual sons pulling focus away from the game. For most of these kids, developing any focus on the game is a huge accomplishment. When the ball is hit to a player, he/she has a dozen options. So a coach is ecstatic when the fielder exercises even the worst one of the options because it shows that the kid was at least listening! But when a parent is looking for perfection, he or she will shout out the best option, take their kid out of the zone and end up causing more harm than good. Even if the kid knew what was best, having the distraction of the shouted instruction could create that significant moment of hesitation costing the team an out.

To make matters worse, parents often use a language that is unfamiliar to the players. I wrote a blog once about the confusing terms players hear from their coaches and their parents. As adults we understand what these terms mean, but for an eight year old they may as well be Greek. A dad shouting to his daughter "Check to!" knows it means move to the player with the ball. However, most young players only know the more common meanings of "check." Naturally, she can’t understand why her dad is asking her to check out the passer. Or in baseball, had I told my grandson to "stop bailing"; he would have looked at me with total bewilderment. We parents have to both learn a different form of communicating when kids are younger and less experienced, but more importantly we need to learn when to communicate.

Yelling at the referee creates another negative for our children and their teams. We need to maintain decorum at all times, no matter how frustrated we get at the officiating. In one grandson’s game, the umpire was calling anything a strike that crossed the plate. He didn’t care if it was 20 feet over the plate or bounced directly on the plate. At first the parents were dumbfounded, but by the second inning they were ferocious as pitch after pitch they witnessed each of their little darlings being struck out unfairly. But the umpire was consistent for both teams, and the game got its full six innings done before time was up. No coach suggested that his pitchers throw purposely high or low. So the pitchers were actually trying to hurl accurately. There were hits, and there were runs. Nevertheless some parents felt that derogatory comments to the umpire would somehow rectify the situation. Had their own children said those things . . . well you get it. The example being shown wasn’t shining.

Despite some negatives, I saw special moments. When a kid who obviously wasn’t used to being struck out heard "Strike three," he began to have a meltdown. The coach went out to him, brought him into the dugout and signaled his dad over. His dad simply gave him a hug and a kiss on the top of the head and then walked away. I’m sure the coach was prepared for an extended episode of tantrum, but with a calm, non-judgmental hug and kiss, the situation was diffused. After a hard loss, where the team was leading 7-0 and ended up losing in the last inning 8-7, there were parents giving advice and critiquing the game. There were many more parents giving a warm hug and handing out praise for well-executed plays, or simply offering their condolences. Most kids will forget a loss and even a major win in a matter of minutes. After all, there are snacks or lunch or some other activity on the horizon. So dwelling on extended post-game analysis will usually result in more boredom than learning. A wise parent keeps it short and sweet no matter the outcome.

We have to resist fulfilling our idea of what a game should be, and leave the game to the ones playing and the ones coaching. I know how hard that is. As soon as I impulsively shouted out to my grandson, I wished I could swallow the words. I may have solved an immediate problem, but what other ones did I create? What will happen when he gets hit by a pitch, and Gramma’s admonition to "Stand in there" sounds like she wants him to get hurt? Who should he be trusting to give him baseball advice? It certainly shouldn’t be a woman who hasn’t swung a bat in a decade. I encouraged the players, but otherwise held my tongue the rest of the weekend. It’s not easy. We see a problem, we want to solve it. We see struggles, we want to alleviate them. We see mistakes, we want to rectify them. But a game or a practice is not the appropriate venue. So take some notes mentally or actually, and then broach the subject when it is just you and your child. We can be the parent that makes life less stressful for everyone, especially our children.

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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?"

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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/
                              

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