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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.

 

Food for thought for soccer leaders

Sam Snow

OK, after I watched this video the educator in me took over and it strikes me that our decision makers, of every capacity, would benefit from viewing this clip; be those leaders at the national, state or local level.  I am sure that in one fashion or another we all will be involved in the development of the American game. So here’s the food for thought…
 
I want to share with you the latest Sir Ken Robinson talk:
http://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_revolution.html.
 
I am enjoying this one – it helps that Sir Robinson is such an engaging speaker. I think that we should share this not only with our coaches, but our administrators too. Is not youth soccer in America at a point of needing revolution thus allowing us to evolve?
 
From what is taught in the National Youth License coaching course he touches on the Flow State Model and on the deleterious effect of drills. In paraphrasing one of his comments I see how player development is an organic process. We cannot fully predict the outcome. You can only create the conditions under which players can flourish.
 
So in watching the clip closely I feel that if one can think about the education of players, coaches, referees, administrators and parents in the youth soccer context as Sir Robinson speaks about academic education, then one can see the parallels to the daily environment of youth soccer.
 
The take away message from Sir Robinson’s talk is that we have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process, it's an organic process. You cannot predict the outcome of human development; all you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish. I believe that this is the approach we should take in our efforts to impact the continuing development of participants in youth soccer.

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Playing doctor by not playing the child

Sam Snow

The team mom/parent of a player states through an email that her son won’t attend the soccer game due to his bronchitis. The following practice, the player shows up and I ask if he is still sick. The player states to me, "A little. I am still on antibiotics and can’t run." As a coach, what should I do?

The foremost obligation of any team coach is the well-being of the players. So, for the sake of the ill player and the rest of the team too, the player in question should remain at home until fully recovered. This is not an injury from which he is recovering, but an illness. That illness could be contagious, so the coach must not put the rest of the team at risk of catching bronchitis.
 
On the one hand, it is praiseworthy that the player wants to attend training even though he might not be ready to participate. He is being supportive of the team. That is a good attitude for a coach to reinforce. However, the desire is misplaced in this instance. First, the player should remain at rest until fully recovered. Second, he should not put anyone on the team at risk of catching his illness.
 
Too often, though, whether it is an illness or an injury, players come back to training and matches too soon. Returning to training before full recovery means inefficient training and the likelihood of injury. If a player has been injured severely enough or was ill enough to see a physician, then the coach MUST have a written release from the doctor. Once the player is back to the team, he must not play in a match until the coach feels the player is 100 percent ready to play. This means the coach must first have the player go through training sessions to evaluate his rehabilitation. The coach can control the strenuousness and amount of contact in a training session, but he or she does not have that control over a match. It is very important that a player eases back into full action gradually after illness or injury.
 
Sometimes the player and/or the parents will push too soon to have the player back in training and matches. Do not succumb to that pressure. Club administrators must support the decision of the coaching staff to put the player back into match play at the right time. If a player is not fully rehabbed then soccer participation could lead to chronic illness or injury. The adults involved in the situation must take the long-term perspective that it is better to miss a few matches, than to resume active play too soon, which could be detrimental to the player. The general rule of thumb is to err on the side of caution.

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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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