Monday, November 16, 2009
Good Games Can Be Planned. Great Games Just Happen.
The three main phases of seasonal planning are preseason, season and postseason. The youth soccer coach must also take into account other activities in which the player is engaged. These include school and extracurricular functions, other sports, the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program, family and social functions, religious events, Youth Soccer Month, etc. These activities will influence the player's soccer experience in one fashion or another.
The Game is the Best Teacher – MAYBE
The game does indeed teach players by showing them their strengths and weaknesses. However, too many matches in the player's schedule becomes a hindrance to development. You must strike the right balance between the number of matches played per season, the number of training sessions per season and time off.
As a coach, you need to have a schedule for the season. A seasonal plan should begin at the end. So devise your schedule from the last possible event the team could attend in that soccer year. For the U-8 team, this is likely an end of the year jamboree or soccer festival, or perhaps just the last play day on the schedule. For the U-18 team the last event could be the finals of the US Youth Soccer National Championships. Whatever the last event is plan from there back to the beginning of the season. In this way you can now see the scope of the steps you will need to take to develop the players to culminate at the final seasonal event. Take into account match days, training days, regeneration training days, specialty training, holidays, major school events (final exams for example), planned days off and tournaments. The schedule must also reflect the rhythm of training. Following are one month schedule samples that could apply to childhood, pubescent and adolescent teams.
Planned time off is vitally important to avoid over-scheduling and the fallout of overuse injuries and mental burnout. Both the players and the coaches need time off to 'recharge the batteries' and come back to soccer reinvigorated; it's possible to have too much of a good thing.
Club and high school coaches need to work together for the sake of the players on dovetailing their seasons. A week or two off between seasons for the year-round players will avoid burnout. After a little rest and relaxation you will get back a player fully charged and ready to give 100 percent. If this formula is not followed then players giving a fraction of their full potential will become the norm.
Clubs and coaches must plan a reasonable soccer year calendar for each age group. Certainly the U-6 schedule should not have the same intensity, duration and frequency of activity as the U-16 schedule. Beware of the too much too soon syndrome. A symptom of the syndrome is the more is better mentality. For positive player development that will last for decades, a balanced approach must be taken to the soccer calendar. The list below covers the areas within the planning concept for which you are responsible in preparing a team to compete. All four components of soccer - fitness, psychology, tactics and technique - are incorporated into these areas and some will overlap from one area to the next.
o Peak at championship time
¤ Short-term and long-term development goals
¤ Rhythm of training 
¤ Over-training or under-training
¤ Tournaments – must be few and far between; you need to be very selective about when your team participates in a tournament and why
¤ Burnout – mental and physical
¤ Overuse and chronic injuries
There are two principles of learning in physical education that you should consider in the seasonal plan for skill improvement. Your plan for training sessions each month should reflect these principles:
Principle of Distributed Practice - In general short periods of intense practice will result in more learning than longer, massed practice sessions.
Principle of Variable Practice - Block practice aids performance while variable practice aids in learning. Variable practice causes an increase in attention.
Plan your practice and practice your plan.
 A training session should go from low to medium to high to medium to high to low in the physical exertion demanded from the players – once exhausted little learning occurs.
 The misguided notion that if beginning soccer at age 5 is good then 3 or 4 is a head start. The same flawed logic often is used in beginning try-outs too soon.
 The misapplied idea to increase training from one hour to two or double the number of matches from fifty to one hundred.
 The rhythm of a season should have a balance to the level of competition – peaking with the most challenging matches at season's end.