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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.

 

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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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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