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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.

 

Practice Players

Sam Snow

The youth soccer experience is supposed to be all about the players, not coaches, administrators, referees or parents. The portion below in bold is a response from a coach to a parent. The italic portion is the ensuing comments and question from the parent to this office. The ending includes my thoughts on the matter.
 
"Also, I wanted to clarify what a "practice player" is and what our, the coaches, plans for the practice players. Right now we have five practice players going for the last roster spot. We will train for two weeks and then at the end of the two weeks, the other coaches and I will discuss who we will give the last roster spot to. For the remaining four players that did not get a roster spot, the coaches and I will offer the player to stay on as a practice player, which means you attend practices and if we need you for a tournament/game due to other players out of town/injuries, we will be able to suit you up for that tournament/game. I am not expecting practice players to purchase jersey tops. That will be coming out of the team budget, which we will be purchasing 2 extra jersey tops. I will expect if you agree to be a practice player, for the practice player to purchase their own socks, shorts and practice shirt. Warm ups and bags will be optional for practice players. If you decide that a practice player is not something you want to do then please discuss that with me and we can assist you in finding another team to play on."
 
Can I get information on the "practice player" concept? I’m trying to educate myself on this format. Is this a common practice in youth club soccer? No one I’ve talked to has heard of this format in youth soccer before. Four players were placed in this category at the end of tryouts. A fifth player was added since tryouts in the first of March.
 
These are 15 year old boys and they are not happy and the parents are not happy either! The boys just want to be on a team. They selected a team they wanted to try out for and then they are told they have to wait and have a secondary tryout when practices start up. What I think is even worst [sic] this is a Select team, NOT a premier team. This forces the boys to decide to wait for practice to begin, and if they don’t make it they have to scramble to find another team.
 
The other issue I has is four boys went to tryout and became practice players. A fifth boy was added just recently that did not make tryouts. Again, I think this is unethical and unfair to the four boys that made it to tryouts and still want a shot to be on this team.
 
Shouldn’t the coach finalize his decision so that boys can move on and look for other teams to play on? Keeping them in limbo is not fair to them and stereo-types [them] with the rest of the team. I always believed youth soccer is for player development but watching my nephew go through this and hearing the parents’ frustrations, I question the coaches and club’s mission for positive player development.
 
What a short-sighted idea. This is like a pro team buying up players that they don’t really plan to play, but they don’t want the other teams in the league to have them. It means the kids sit on the bench and never have the fun of actually playing soccer. It strikes me as a procedure with only the club’s bottom line in mind. The situation is absurd and has no place in youth soccer or youth sports in general. I like that the coach offers to help find another team for those who do not want to be a practice player, and I think that should be the first step for any player who doesn’t make the cut onto the first team. Find or create another team for these kids!
 
And that ladies and gentlemen is one of the shorter answers you’ll ever get out of me.
The real bottom line – LET THE KIDS PLAY!

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In-house teams

Sam Snow

The topic at hand here is possible approaches to the format for in-house teams.
 
I am writing this to inquire about your philosophies when it comes to the organization of In-House teams. I am attempting to institute a better balanced In-House program by having our team placements done more randomly, rather than teams being formed by family and friends. In our current set up, teams can rarely change from year to year.
 
I feel that it will be best for the player's overall development to have the opportunity to play with new teammates and coaches each season...but I am getting a lot of push back on this idea.
 
I was hoping you could share your thoughts with me on what is the most effective way to organize recreational players into teams so that our club can develop more well-rounded skillful players.
 
The most common method of team formation for in-house teams is to redistribute a portion of the players each year. I think though the teams should be reshuffled every two years, if the club has teams at such a young age. The preferred method of player development for Under-10 and younger teams is to have player pools for training. The approach is generally known as ability based grouping. The players can then be moved from group to group thus providing the best growth for their needs at that point in time. So you could have a group A, group B and group C for example and the players would move from group to group as needed. The groups can have matches within the group and then also between the groups. The makeup of the teams for these matches can change as the coaches see the need to help players develop.
 
Spectators are not keen on this approach because they feel it offers them less viewing pleasure on match day since there is less of an 'us' versus 'them' setting. The adults need to be reminded that the youth soccer game is about the players not the spectators, coaches or referees. However, the parents can now focus on their child's individual development. This will lessen the drive for team results measured by goals for and against, won-loss record, etc. The adults need to be reminded that the youth soccer experience is about the players just as elementary school is about the students. At school they learn academics. At the club they learn soccer. In both settings they are students.
 
Here are some pertinent notes from U.S. Soccer:
 
UNITED STATES SOCCER FEDERATION BEST PRACTICES FOR COACHING SOCCER IN THE UNITED STATES
 
PRE ACADEMY LEVEL:
U-6 through U-12 age groups
U-6: K and 1st graders
 
Soccer at these ages should be discouraged in any form other than as a fun activity for kids that happens to include a soccer ball. There should be groups of players rather than teams. Fees should be nominal. Attendance should be optional. Creating a joyful environment is mandatory. 
 
GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF WHAT SHOULD BE HAPPENING IN MATCHES
 
U.S. Soccer recommends that there be no organized matches at this age. Consistently set up mini games at practice for your kids to compete with and against each other, according to their age.
 
U-8: 1st and 2nd Graders
 
U. S. Soccer recommends that there be no organized matches at this age. Consistently set up mini games at practice for your kids to compete with and against each other, according to their age. There will be no need to keep score or even be very involved, except to enjoy the players and their effort and joy. Every player should look forward to opportunities to have the ball at his or her feet and to score. It is the coach’s responsibility to encourage this fear-free culture. For the 7- and 8-year-old groups, these games should only be seen as another fun activity that happens to include a soccer ball. They are not ready for specific soccer type information and there should be no emphasis on team concepts or positions. They will have plenty of opportunities to play in "real soccer games," as they get older. Most of the information from coaches during these times will pertain to each player’s individual relationship with the soccer ball — to want it, how to find it, deal with it, feel more comfortable with it, keep it close, etc.
 
Please also take a look at the academy set up for the U10 age group on the North Carolina Youth Soccer web site: http://www.ncsoccer.org/home/default.asp?menu_category=Academy.

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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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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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