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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.

 

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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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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