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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.

 

Guidelines for Heading in Soccer

Sam Snow

Not long ago an article hit the World Wide Web that speaks to the alleged dangers of heading the ball in soccer. The article was brought to my attention by Rick Meana, Technical Director for New Jersey Youth Soccer and Andy Coutts, Director of Technical Education for Minnesota Youth Soccer. Here’s the article:http://yourlife.usatoday.com/health/story/2011-11-29/Heading-a-football-could-lead-to-brain-damage/51463474/1.
 
I am not qualified in medicine, so I use the findings of FMARC (Fifa Medical and Research Center) and the U.S. Soccer Sports Medicine Committee to understand the risks of any soccer technique. Here is a document that I hope you will use to educate coaches on the progression for teaching heading in soccer.
 
Concerning the specific article mentioned above here’s the feedback from Don Kirkendall, member FMARC:
 
"I saw a different news item about this topic, too. Remember, that this is a presentation and presentations don't go through the rigor of peer review anywhere near the level of critique of a journal publication. Based on what I've read, my first inkling is that it won't get published. Here are the primary factors that a reviewer has to ask of every paper they review:
 
History: What do the subjects bring into the study? Don't care how detailed the interviews were, they were asking questions about a lifetime of soccer, heading exposure, injuries. FMARC data shows that players forget about half their injuries from that year. This is about a lifetime. I bet if you surveyed players about how many times they headed the ball during a match vs. what was captured on film the results would be remarkably different. History is a HUGE issue with this project. And I haven't even brought up learning disabilities, alcohol, non-sports head injury, non-head injuries, or drug intake. Plus, players this age paid little attention to concussions when they were half their age, so how many did they have? The only accurate answer is "...that I can recall". Hardly firm data.
 
Maturation: This is about changes over the course of a study. Not as critical here, but this group is making conclusions about the adult brain based on something that may have happened before the brain had matured.
 
Testing: Oral interviews using a 'detailed' questionnaire (that from another media outlet). One might wonder about the validity of the Q and A. Were the questions 'leading' the subject on one direction or another? Given the emotions surrounding this topic, this probably needs to be considered.
 
Instrumentation: MRI is getting very good; a question could be that it is finding variants that have little or no effect. Sort of like the right handed pitcher with a crooked left pinkie; a variant of no consequence.
 
Statistical Regression: Tendency for extreme scores to migrate toward the mean. Basketball team shoots 75% one game is due for a 25% game soon. Not sure this would be as much of an issue as other topics.
 
Experimental Mortality: Subjects who are included in the study fail to complete it-they drop out, move, die, get sick or hurt, etc. How were the subjects selected? What were the inclusion and exclusion criteria? Any bias in selection stacks the deck one way or another.
Selection-Maturation Interaction: are subjects selected because they have a tendency to gain (or not to gain) much during the study.
 
Hawthorne Effect: People behave differently when they know they are being studied. This has been shown to be an issue in concussion research. Mention the word, and people are on edge, so to speak.
 
Those are just the 'standard' items that can lead to an alternative hypothesis for the results. I haven't even approached the actual data and interpretation of the data. We'll have to wait this one out. Stick with the FMARC data for now. Sorry for going on about the peer review process. But the popular media will run with this without doing due diligence."
 
 

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Cracking coaching's final frontier

Sam Snow

Gary Williamson, Technical Director for North Texas State Soccer sent this article to me.  My initial response to Gary: "Nice article…not news to us since we’ve taken this approach since the mid 1990’s.  Good to see the rest of the world catching up to soccer in America!"  Perhaps a bit patriotic, but we do indeed do some very good things in soccer in our nation.
Never-the-less as I read the article these connections seemed clear to me.
 
1.      This approach is similar to the one espoused by Horst Wein (2005 US Youth Soccer Workshop presenter).
2.      Coach Wein’s approach seems to be in the same vein as what is taught in the National Youth License devised by Fleck, Quinn, Carr, Stringfield and Buren.
3.      All three approaches have a common root in the Teaching Games for Understanding approach developed by Almond, Bunker and Thorpe.  Rod Thorpe was a presenter at the 2005 US Youth Soccer Workshop.
4.      I draw the conclusion that we are ahead of the curve.  While we should be proud of that fact we have not penetrated this coaching philosophy and methodology deeply into grassroots soccer.  We have had success, yes.  But we should be further along after 15 years of work.  How do we impact on a much, much broader basis the coaches, administrators, parents and referees engaged with players in Zone 1 in the U.S. Soccer Player Development Pyramid?

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What Sport Means in America research report

Sam Snow

US Youth Soccer members participated in this survey that was conducted by the United States Anti-Doping Agency in December 2009 through January 2010. There is an executive summary that starts on page 7 and finishes on page 9. The data confirms many of the details that US Youth Soccer has collected over the years.
 
A few interesting points from my first review:
 
1.       Coaches rank as the top influence in youth sports
2.       Parents cite personal and social values when describing the hopes for their children’s participation
3.       "…when sport is no longer fun, children and youth are more likely to stop participating."
4.      "…believe the top qualities that sport actually does reinforce are competitiveness and winning."

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Changing the soccer education paradigm

Sam Snow

This presentation is thought provoking: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms.html. With just a little bit of extrapolation on your part you can make the connections between the youth academic environment and the youth soccer environment. As I viewed the clip these dots connected for me:
 
  • If we cannot predict the future for education or finances then what makes us think we can do so in soccer? Why do we insist on the lunacy of selecting younger and younger children for "elite" soccer? Can we show a little maturity and patience by waiting to give them that player development pathway when they are teenagers?
  • Can we embrace and use to our benefit the soccer cultural diversity we have here? Can we – should we – foster a variety of styles of play which then gives the American player versatility? Can soccer be "globalized" here? Or is it already happening despite us?
  • Is doing what we did in the past in schools the equivalent of us pursuing drills during training and joy stick coaching during matches? If we carry on with coaching in the manner of #3 passes to #5 and #7 makes an off-the-ball run to receive a pass from #5 are we really going to develop players who can think for themselves or simply be robots in pattern play?
  • If we doggedly stay with our past approaches to the youth soccer experience will children continue to drop-out of the sport? The sports structure of America was designed in an age now past. There’s an old saying that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. Interestingly Eton College had no adult coaches. Eton students were members of the privileged who were expected to become leaders of their country. Since one of the things that leaders do is organize things, the kids were expected to organize their own games, which they did. In the United States, youth sports evolved with greater mass participation. The goal of the nation’s influence was to turn non-elite youth into "compliant factory workers" (cookie cutter soccer players). It is not surprising that youth sports in the United States started as a highly organized activity with adults in charge and kids expected to do as they were told and perform on command. In many ways, things have not changed all that much.
  • The comment on social structure in the presentation might correlate to our super clubs or volunteer clubs. Are they not a sport infrastructure of a fledgling soccer nation – not the one we are today?
  • In our current mode are the smart people the elite players, coaches, referees and administrators and the non-smart people the recreational masses? Do we have players in the non-smart group who could grow into talent?
  • Boring stuff = drills at training sessions and kick-n-run tactics at matches. All reflective of pouring the game into children like Ritalin. Letting the game grow naturally is messy and takes longer, but I think we improve the average player in this way.  In the words of Rinus Michels if you want to improve the élite player then raise the level of the average player.
  • Is the aesthetic experience the ‘beautiful game’?
  • Is not so much of what goes on in youth soccer the factory line approach? If instead we take a somewhat more "artistic" approach we could produce creative players.

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