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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.

 

The standards you get are the standards you set

Sam Snow

I coach a soccer team made up of 13 and 14 year old boys. I have a couple of players that are "bratty." They want to do what they want; they roll their eyes when being coached or whistle when the coach is talking to them. Should I give in to them or kick them off the team?
 
On a number of different levels, the early teens are a challenging age group to coach. It is a normal part of this age to test and push the limits of those with authority over them – parents, teachers and yes, soccer coaches too. Nevertheless, when it comes to team behavior coaches should follow this saying, "The standards you get are the standards you set."
 
In this instance I would not go to either extreme of giving in to them or cutting them from the team. The next time one of them behaves inappropriately in front of the team, coaches or team manager, then immediately pull that player aside individually and address the matter directly. The head coach must make it clear to the player what behaviors are unacceptable in the culture of the team. Do not punish the player at this time. Be matter of fact in the tone you take and with your body language. Your goal here is twofold. First, you must begin to modify the player(s) behavior; and secondly, you want to keep the player(s) in the team. If the player(s) act out again during that training session or match, then remind the player of what had just been discussed. Be consistent in your expectations of the players. But don’t harp on it either. Don’t take the misbehavior personally—it is kids testing limits. That testing is sometimes a youngster’s way of finding out if this adult authority figure really does care about them.
 
If the inappropriate behavior continues after a week or two of the coach addressing it directly with the player, then ask the parents to be involved in the next discussion with the player. Ask the parents to support mature behavior by their child so that it benefits the team, respects the staff and aids in the growth of the player.
 
If the behavior still does not improve, involve the club director of coaching and/or the club president in the discussion with the player and parents. After that step is taken and if the misbehavior continues then, the club makes the decision to release the player from the club. This is the final step and hopefully all options have been exhausted before dropping a youth player. Our overarching goal in all of youth soccer must be to keep kids in the game for a lifetime.
 
I think another analysis of the inappropriate behavior should be reflection by the coach on the training methods being used. The seed of the problem could be poor coaching and/or management of the training environment. Sometimes young players act out when the coach fails to avoid the three L’s: lines, laps and lectures. Coaches should avoid these actions during a training session. When these actions are present in a training session it is not only inefficient use of training time, but it is also boring. The kids came to training to play soccer. They did not show up to stand with the coach and talk about soccer, stand in a long line waiting to kick the ball one time and then go to the back of the line or to run laps around the field. They came to training to PLAY soccer! When coaches move away from drills in training sessions and instead use game-like activities then the players are fully engaged physically and mentally. The challenges of game-like activities and the problem solving situations they present are not only fun, but they help players develop to a higher level of soccer. Take it a step further and have the players who have been acting out to be the leaders in some of the activities. Ask them questions during the training session that cause them to think deeply about the game, give them leadership responsibilities and challenge the limits of their talents. When the abilities of these players are met with an appropriate soccer challenge then it is likely that the misbehavior will disappear.
 
A coach can tell the difference between a drill and an activity by using the activity checklist. Whenever you put together a lesson plan for a training session ask yourself these questions:
 
  • Are the activities fun?
  • Are the activities organized?
  • Are the players involved in the activities?
  • Is creativity and decision making being used?
  • Are the spaces used appropriate?
  • Is the coach’s feedback appropriate?
  • Are there implications for the game?
 
Soccer is easy to teach to children because many of them already know a good deal about it and many simply enjoy the sport. Simple principles, professional organization, appropriate incentives, and unlimited encouragement—-any coach worth the name can hardly fail. Even more important, he or she will gain enormous gratification from the pleasure and satisfaction gained by the children.

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Street Soccer Day

Sam Snow

September is Youth Soccer Month. A new feature of the month this year is the inaugural Street Soccer Day that will be held Wednesday, September 5th. If you have been through the National Youth License course you know that "street soccer" is a session in that coaching course. A while back one of the course candidates suggested the idea of a national street soccer (pick-up game) day. I thought it was a great idea. We have designated the first Wednesday of Fun week as Street Soccer Day. Each week of Youth Soccer Month has a different focus; in order they are: Fun, Family, Friendship and Fitness.
 
The plan for Street Soccer Day is for clubs all across the United States to set apart this day as one where players come in to have pick-up games. This set up can be as organized or unorganized as the club desires. Clubs can even set it up to be a Play Day (which has evolved into the Human Development program - http://www.soccerindiana.org/education/hd.aspx) as envisioned by Vince Ganzberg, former Technical Director for Indiana Soccer. Another way could be to simply encourage coaches to step aside at training sessions that day and let the players take charge. Regardless of how the club sets up the day, the idea is to give the game back to the players. Part of the thrill for the players is in knowing that other players just like them, all across the country, are having a game just like theirs.
 
Street Soccer Day will grow in time just as the idea of Youth Soccer Month has grown with state associations, clubs, high schools, colleges and professional teams. Imagine the improvement that will be made in youth soccer as the nation uniformly focuses on this day as the kick-off to a player centered soccer year. I know that for this year the notice is short, but please do all that you can to encourage teams in your club to join in the celebration of Street Soccer Day.

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Choose the right sport

Sam Snow

My colleague Rick Meana, Technical Director for New Jersey Youth Soccer, passed along a Position Statement from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. The document is called Choosing the Right Sport and Physical Activity Program for your Child. It gives parents a check list of questions to ask themselves, and of a club or a high school, when choosing a place for their child to play a sport. You can read the full Position Statement here: [LINK].
 
As I read the article I put myself into the mind of a club director of coaching asking him or herself, "Well as a parent asks these questions of me what would be my answers?" My next thought was that this would be a good exercise for a soccer club to do as a bit of self-analysis. The approach would be that the pertinent leaders of a soccer club would refer to each section of the Position Statement and during the 2012-2013 soccer year answer the questions and support the comments. At the end of the year those leaders should take a short retreat to review their findings about their club. In what areas did the club come out strong? In what areas were there weaknesses? In answering those two fundamental questions the club leaders then could finish the retreat by devising an action plan for the 2013-2014 soccer year.
 
Just think what a healthy organization your club could be if it did this type of exercise once every five years or so!

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Lawn Chair Communication

Sam Snow

We are all familiar with the phrase, ‘heard it through the grapevine.’ In youth soccer the most powerful grapevine for the sharing of information are the lawn chairs. The lawn chairs are of course the spectators along the touchlines at a match. The majority of those spectators at a youth soccer game are the parents of the players on the field. During those matches and the training sessions, the lawn chairs talk to one another. Sometimes the information shared among those adults about the soccer happening in front of them is correct, but more often than not it is incorrect or only partially correct.
 
Good information is shared via web sites and other electronic means by clubs and leagues as well as state and national associations. But, the most meaningful way to share information among humans is face-to-face conversation. Since the lawn chair grapevine is so predominate in youth soccer communication, clubs should plan to use it advantageously. Coaches should spend a minimum of five minutes at every training session talking to the parents. The information shared could be simply housekeeping items, or it could be explaining the training approach and specifically about the development of the players. If coaches spent five minutes at the end of the last training session prior to a match telling the parents to cheer for the players on the specific items they have been working on at training during the week, then the game day atmosphere would be positive and productive.
 
On the day of a match the team manager and/or administrators from the club should spend time walking among the lawn chairs to give out correct information. Club leaders communicating directly with their customers will build club loyalty as well as keep the membership well informed. On every single game day administrators must visit different fields at the club and spread the word. Then go to the end of the grapevine, opposite to where you began, to hear how the information has been shared. If the message you sent is now off the mark, then start your communication process over at that opposite end of the grapevine. Eventually the proper information is shared. Personal communication is the most powerful tool club leaders have to mold the culture of the club.
 
The lawn chair grapevine can be the source of misinformation or the club’s best communication source
– you decide.

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