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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.

 

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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Soccer's Bright Future

Sam Snow

BLOG_Soccer’sBrighterFuture

There are positive changes taking place for soccer in the USA. Here are two of them worthy of special mention.

Youth Members Technical Leaders Work Group

Not long ago the technical directors of the AYSO, MLS Youth, SAY Soccer, U. S. Futsal, U. S. Club Soccer, U. S. Soccer, USSSA and US Youth Soccer began meeting to devise plans for improving the youth soccer landscape to the betterment of the American player. Never before has such a group been assembled. It is quite exciting to see the teamwork among all of the members of this auspicious group of soccer leaders.

Three meetings have taken place to date. The group plans to meet on a quarterly basis. The outcome of the meetings already held has been an inclusion statement and commitment by all of the organizations, recommendations to member clubs and leagues on implementing the change with player registration to birth year, discussions on increasing coaching education opportunities and last but most certainly not least the creation of a standard set of modified Laws of the Game for Zone 1 under the new small-sided games format. Those modified rules are now being vetted by a select group of leaders in the referee ranks. Soon the rules will be published for the soccer public to use. Beginning this summer take a look on the websites of any of the organizations noted above to find the modified Laws of the Game for soccer for children in the 5 to 12 year old age groups.

National Soccer Hall of Fame

Yesterday, May 5, I had the privilege to attend the ground breaking ceremony for the new National Soccer Hall of Fame. America has a rich soccer history dating back to the mid-1800s. The Hall of Fame will house artifacts and tell the story of soccer in our nation from many different levels of the game. The Hall is being built into the south end of Toyota Stadium the home of FC Dallas. That gives the Hall a central location in the USA and a chance for soccer fans attending the multitude of soccer events in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex a chance to visit.

During the groundbreaking ceremony the newest class of inductees into the Hall of Fame were announced. Brandi Chastain, Don Garber and Shannon MacMillan were honored yesterday with the announcement. Brandi was in attendance and participated in the groundbreaking. You can read more about the event here: http://friscoblog.dallasnews.com/2016/05/soccer-icon-brandi-chastain-helps-break-ground-for-new-hall-of-fame-museum-at-friscos-toyota-stadium.html/

FCD1

Figure 1 Front entrance off of Main Street at the South Gate of Toyota Stadium

FCD2

Figure 2 The view from the field of the expanded south end of the stadium and the National Hall of Fame

 

 

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Playing Down a Player

Sam Snow

“I’m coaching youth soccer. The league has given me a team with one less player than the rest. Subs will be impossible, what strategy in game time do you recommend? I’ve tried to get this fixed but they’re not going to give me another player. Is there a certain formation that best suits a team when they’re field a player down?”

If a team is playing down a player or two it is generally easier then to play with fewer forwards in the team formation. Visually and physically it is a little easier to go forward from the back than the opposite. Play with a full complement of defenders, try to do the same in the midfield line of the team and then play with only one or two forwards.

The team will need to drop off most of the time when defending to give good cover in its own half of the field. The team may need to concede pressure on the ball in the opponents’ half of the field when defending.

When on the attack, the team will need to move the ball quickly, so lots of one and two touch passing. If most passes are played to each other’s feet as opposed to open space then the physical demand on the players is manageable. If too many passes are made into open space, thus requiring lots of running to catch the ball, the team will be exhausted sooner rather than later.

The coach of a youth team that is playing down must be mindful of the health of the players. Be sure they get lots of water and if needed even play down further in order to take a player off now and then for a rest. The players’ safety and health is more important than the match outcome.

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Chemistry

Sam Snow

There’s an old song by The Who called “The Kids Are Alright.” The paper below titled Chemistry proves that the song tile still rings true. It was written by a high school sophomore. Her team has undergone some changes this year, and while the players have reacted positively, some of the parents have been unable to show positive encouragement and support for their children now that they are in a more holistic learning environment. One that emphasizes learning and development over winning at all costs. After a recent training session, her coach saw her carrying a schoolbook along with her backpack, and along the spine of the book was "Chemistry." He asked her if she had the time, would she write a small piece about her team’s chemistry and what, if any, problems she saw with it and how she would solve those problems by incorporating "Chemistry". When she read it to her teammates they absolutely loved it, as did her coach.

 

Chemistry

Chemistry, a branch of science that studies the composition and properties of matter and the changes it undergoes. When one juxtaposes chemistry and a soccer team, the two end up being quite similar. In chemistry, there are millions of particles that make up a cell; on a similar note, within a soccer team there are multiple players and layers that make up a team. One may believe that my soccer team may be going through a phase change, considering the team used to be something that was so solid but now has “melted”. A scientific explanation of this phenomenon may be as tensions rise within the parents, “heat/steam is given off” which has caused the team to diminish or melt. In order for a chemical reaction to work productively and efficiently, the goal of a soccer team, everybody must be on the same page. If one thing is off, the chemical reaction will not proceed because it is not at equilibrium. To make the team/reaction run smoothly again, temperatures may need to be dropped among the parents and tensions must cease to exist. I believe the team needs to return back to its solid phase in which it has a defined shape and all the particles/players are in strict order. Currently I believe the team is in a liquefied state where the particles are not compact and seem distanced. If the team can find a way to return back to its original solid state then I believe that we will be successful, yet again.

In soccer, as well as chemistry, bonds are broken. Bonds in soccer are broken when friendships, teams and trust in one another diminishes. In chemistry, bonds are literally broken amongst molecules. When breaking up a bond, energy needs to be put back into the compound. It seems to me as if everyone on the team, players and parents, have lost sight of what really is important (just enjoying the game), and have put in so much excess energy in the wrong direction, which in turn has caused bonds to break within the team. If there are hopes of rekindling these broken bonds, everyone needs to make a joint effort to use their energy in a positive way to help redirect the direction of the team. If we all work cohesively as a single unit, stable covalent bonds will be formed among the team and we will soon be a functioning compound.

On a non-scientific note, in order to help change the direction this team is going, we must:

  • Put our differences aside and play like a team on the field
  • Make an improved effort of getting to know each other individually
  • Forget about drama among the parents and turn the negative energy from the parents into positive energy for the game
  • We all must come ready to play at every game; we cannot pick and choose when we want to play
  • At practice, we need to stay focused because what we do at practice will translate to the game
  • Everyone must make their best effort to attend every practice because if people are continuously not coming, this will throw off team chemistry because you will not know what we have been learning at practice

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