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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.

 

Youth Tryouts

Steve Prince

Hello Sam,

We are approaching the time of year again, I was wondering as to your thoughts on running tryouts? In the past we have run 2 hour sessions over 2 days with the majority of the tryout being drill based. As I am sure you can guess some players look totally competent in the drill, but seem to struggle in game formats. I am a believer that if the player can show their ability during a drill it is at least a base to build on. However, a lot of the coaches in my club want success by winning so they only want the best players, we have a relatively small club and sometimes there are not enough players to make a second tier team so it’s only the best players or the ones the coaches see as the fastest or most athletic that make it. I feel we lose a few technically gifted players each year because of this. I am the club trainer and only advise the coaches who have the last say on who makes it and who doesn't. I was hoping you may be able to suggest a more appropriate format with the right balance of small sided games and drills. Is it better to focus on more game related activities or should we be running the regular unopposed drills to see how the players look without pressure? And how much should we balance the two?


Hello Coach,

I want to be clear from the outset that all soccer clubs must look for players with a good soccer brain first and foremost. Athletic ability is indeed important, but it comes in fourth after that good soccer decision making brain, quality ball skills, a good soccer personality and then athleticism.

In general I believe that try-outs should not begin until the U13 age group. That’s the broad statement, meant for player retention in soccer and the overall health of our sport. Now once we get into holding tryouts much depends on the level of play. So a player trying out in the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program will be expected to have good ball skills so we jump straight to match related activities after a warm-up. So no drills are done with this caliber of player.

At a less talented level of play some drills may be in order to assess technique in an isolated situation. However this is more of a need for coaches who have difficulty assessing talent in game-like situations. So the use of drills tends to be used by inexperienced and/or less knowledgeable coaches.

The more talented coach will use games-based activities to evaluate players since the quality of the players’ performance in all four components of the game will show up in those situations. So from small-sided activities like 2v2 to uneven number games, 5v3 for example, to a full match an experienced coach can fully assess players’ capabilities.

In regard to the evaluation of athletic ability the more scientific the measurements the better the data will be. This is a realm where the facts speak for themselves and no subjective evaluation is necessary. Use standard fitness tests but ones that are age appropriate. For example the Beep Test should be done with players 16 or older only.

Whenever I evaluate players I have a short checklist in mind, but it is one that is prioritized.

1.            Technical speed and consistency

2.            Decision making (tactical awareness)

3.            Attitude/personality

4.            Athletic ability

Then within each of those components I will look at further details but much of that will depend on the age group and level of play. Certainly I will assess an 18-year-old player harder than a 13-year-old on tactical decisions made in the course of a match.

Match Play

Things to consider

  • range of technique
  • quality of opposition
  • understanding of role
  • quality of decisions
  • assertiveness / imposing themselves on the game
  • leadership / role model
  • ongoing assessment (over multiple matches)
     

In the end the most important factor in player evaluation is the trained eye of the evaluator.

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Prevent Soccer ACL Injuries: Quick Tips for Coaches

Sam Snow

Prevent Soccer ACL Injuries: Quick Tips for Coaches

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

The ACL and Injury

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

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

 

Misaligned Movement Can Lead to Injury

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

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

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

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

                                                  

5 6

 

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

 

 Prevent Knee Collapse with Glute Exercises and Cueing

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

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

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

 Squats – 1 minute

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

 

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

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

 

Side Steps – 1 minute 

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

 

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

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

 

Monster Walks – 1 minute

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

 

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

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

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

D, E: Repeat 

Conclusion

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

About the Authors

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

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Project Play Summit

Sam Snow

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Player Development

Sam Snow

I want to share with you excerpts from a few US Youth Soccer documents that are great resources to any youth soccer coach. All of the documents can be downloaded for free from the US Youth Soccer website. To kick off, here is the introduction to the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model – Spatial Awareness.

 

A Progression for Coaching the Tactical Use of the Field of Play through Concepts of Space

This paper is not an analysis of individual, group or team tactics. Nor it is a discussion of systems of play. Instead it provides the youth coach with an age appropriate approach to teaching players concepts of concrete and abstract spaces on the field of play. As players mature at judging distances and angles on the field in relation from themselves to the ball, goals, opponents, field markings, teammates and corner flag posts then tactical decision making within the Principles of Play improves. This document provides coaches with developmental markers to be used within a thorough curriculum for player development, such as the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model.

All concepts, Principles of Play and specific tactics need to be learned in well planned and properly conducted training sessions. Look to the Coaches page on the US Youth Soccer website for session plans on these topics and more.

Soccer, like all team sports, involves both elementary and sophisticated tactics. Of primary importance is coaching players in the concepts of the game – known as the Principles of Play. Of secondary importance is coaching specific tactics to execute the Principles of Play. Gradually broadening players’ awareness of space and the use of space on the field will lead to more enjoyable and attractive soccer. The general Principles of Play and the division of the field help clarify tactics for the beginning player and competent coach. Within the zones of the player development pyramid from the U6 age group to the U19 age group, coaches should stair step players into elevated awareness of tactical tenets. Beginning with general concepts, coaches should progress players' knowledge to specific tactics in exact areas of the field. While it is true that knowledge of the theory of the game helps the player to choose the right tactics that tactical ability depends on equally developed theoretical knowledge and practical experience. Neither theory nor practice can replace the other.

Understanding the characteristics of the age groups will help coaches be realistic about the tactical ideas that youth players can comprehend. However, do not be locked in by the age group while coaching the Principles of Play. Take a step by step approach toward awareness of space and the use of space on the field of play. When players can grasp the concepts then teach them. If the players are not ready for a tactical idea then wait until the next season.

A recommended approach helping players progress along the developmental pathway is the use of ‘street soccer’ games. In these games clubs could mix the age groups and/or genders to provide for a richer learning environment. Another option is to use the ‘academy approach’ for an age group. In this approach the players are not on a fixed team roster, but remain in a pool of players. Those players then move between training groups dependent on their developmental needs at the time. More details are available on the US Youth Soccer website on both possible approaches to enhanced player development.

The Laws of the Game can be used as one of the tools in helping players improve their spatial awareness. Start young players understanding of the soccer field first with the actual markings on the ground; i.e., boundary lines, halfway line, etc. As they move up in age groups there will be new markings on the field for them to learn such as center circle, penalty area and so on. By the time they are in the U12 age group all of the markings from a senior soccer field will be seen.

Beginning with the U6 age group use maze games, and then beginning with the U10 age group add in target games, to help players get into the habit of lifting their head to see the field. In training sessions use dots, disks and cones to mark tactical spaces on the field in order to literally ‘paint the picture’ for the players. As players learn about the marks on the field of play they can be introduced to some concepts about the field that will impact how they play the game. For the youngest players it starts with understanding our half of the field and the other team’s half of the field. Progress this understanding by introducing abstract concepts about spaces on the soccer field kicking off with the channels on the field and concluding with the mental picture of the field as almost a graph paper grid layout.

While the first concept of space on a soccer field is horizontal, the halves of the field, the next to be introduced are the vertical spaces known as channels. Next to be taught to players are the horizontal spaces of the thirds. Finally, we end with subdividing the channels and thirds.

You can download the full document here: http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/us_youth_soccer_releases_spatial_awareness_coaching_guide/

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