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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.

 

TOPSoccer Coaching

Sam Snow

In all ranks of coaching, the new coach often uses the training activities found in materials from US Youth Soccer, U.S. Soccer and State Associations completely as written.  That is, the coach often doesn’t make adjustments to the activity.  It may help the players in a training session activity for a grid to be larger or for there to be fewer opponents, for example.  Another concept for novice coaches to learn is the difference between drills and activities.  Essentially activities are game-like and require some problem solving by the players.  Drills do not make such demands upon the players, even though the game of soccer certainly does.
 
So, coaches going through the US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer coaching course often have the same learning curve challenge.  Like some other coaches, they want to fall back on drills as they think that activities are too difficult for the players.  Well if a coach doesn’t extend the players, then those players stagnate in their development.
 
As a coaching educator, I think the problem with drills over activities is more with the coaches than the players.  In this regard, the TOPSoccer course is no different than teaching a Youth Module course and getting coaches away from drills.  As the state TOPSoccer course is being delivered more often by the State Associations we are educating a group of coaches who in many instances have coached in isolation and now are being asked to move out of their coaching comfort zone.  Again, no different than other coaching education.  The difference now is that we have TOPSoccer participants who are not accustomed to main stream soccer approaches being used in their world.  They are resistant to the mainstreaming of some of the approaches taken in coaching TOPSoccer players.  I want us to think of these kids as soccer players just like any other group of kids playing the game.
 
Auke Wiersma, chair for Region I TOPSoccer and a coaching course instructor for New Jersey Youth Soccer adds these thoughts:
 
This is a coaching ‘problem’ not a players ‘problem.’ It all comes down to how you present the activity to the TOPSoccer players.
 
Agreed, an activity (drill...) that the players are accustomed to initially will result in a better outcome, but should never prevent the coach from trying a new activity. YOU ARE CHEATING ON THE TOPSOCCER PLAYERS!
 
We should encourage coaches to keep on offering their drills on a regular basis for good flow of the training session. However, depending -somewhat- on the condition of the players, it is not bad to take the TOPSoccer players a bit out of their comfort zone. THIS ALSO HAPPENS IN REAL LIFE! It might not sound politically correct, but the special needs population is too protected in a sense of what they can, or worse cannot do! Challenging the special needs athlete at many different levels is healthy and should be encouraged!
 
Drills (..... bad word in the world of coaching) that the players feel comfortable with will become boring even for the TOPSoccer player, and I haven't mentioned the parents yet. They will also see that their son or daughter is going through the drills time and time again. They want their child to be challenged as well. When their child makes progress or overcomes a challenge (technically, tactically, physically or psycho-socially), can you imagine how proud they feel?! Boring = not learning and we want our TOPSoccer players to learn as much as possible.
 
In my experience as an Adapted Physical Education teacher for over 8 years and as a soccer coach, I can tell that players, as well as parents, will become frustrated when the same activities are offered over and over again, even in the world of special needs education. Frustration equals not learning, and we want our TOPSoccer players to learn as much as possible. I have heard many times: "Basketball, again? Rope skipping again?" The day that we started a rock climbing program in the school I worked at was the most exciting day of my tenure there! A new activity and an activity that definitely takes the special needs students out of their comfort zone.
 
We should keep on encouraging (like we do in the course) the novice, as well as the more experienced, TOPSoccer coach to offer activities that promote players decision making and creativity, just like we (should) do in mainstream soccer. Challenge the players like in mainstream soccer, this is what they want! Make a new activity exciting for the player! The thought that the TOPSoccer players can't handle change is a general statement and should be more specified per player. Some of them might indeed have more problems with it then others, but keep on trying to get the player involved regardless of ability.
 
The TOPSoccer player, let alone the TOPSoccer parent, doesn't want to be treated differently. This happens enough outside soccer already. The TOPSoccer parent can be a "normal" parent for an hour, so don't baby their child if you don't have to! The parents will see that and still feel that their child gets special treatment due to the child’s condition, many players feel the same.
 
This brings me back to the first point I made: It's a coaching problem. The question is how does, or should, the coach present a new activity so that the player becomes interested. Does the coach have enough patience and understanding to realize that the activity might not work out the first time (or two or three)? Is the coach able to analyze and adapt and make the activity more difficult or easier? Those are the first questions the coaches should ask before we make up an excuse for or about the players. Yes, the same questions a coach should ask in mainstream soccer.
 
In the TOPSoccer course the question is asked whether coaching TOPSoccer is different than coaching mainstream soccer. My answer is: "NO!" the only difference is patience and the ability of the coach to analyze the activity and adapt to the needs of the TOPSoccer player where needed and not disregard a new activity because it is easier (for the coach).
 
Soccer is still soccer, whether you are talking TOPSoccer or Champions League socce;, a ball, opponents, teammates, parents, coaches, goals etc. Once on the field we are all the same, people that love to coach or play the beautiful game!
 
"I can do that (myself)! Let me try! Look Coach, I'm doing it!" is what we want to hear and see on the TOPSoccer field.

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The Game Within the Child

Sam Snow

The cornerstone of the player development model and the coaching methods advocated by US Youth Soccer and its members is the philosophy of The Game within the Child.  The phrase was coined by Dr. Ron Quinn.
 
The idea that The Game within the Child is not so much about finding the right sport for a youngster as it is saying that the game, whatever game it may be, is already inside of each kid.  So in time they find the sport that best suits them.  Then the craft of coaching is to help the game come to the surface, so to speak.  Let’s say a child is 7-years-old and plays soccer, baseball and basketball.  Each of those games is already inside of the child, but to different degrees.  The right sport environment and the right coach help the game come to the surface in the child and that game becomes part of the person.  How much of each of the three sports is in that 7-year-old will vary from child to child.  The sport that is best suited to the child and the sport to which the child is best suited usually comes out between the ages of 10 to 15 years old.  So the kid plays all three sports when young, but narrows it down to one or two in the teenage years.  The odds are that one of those sports the player excels at and the others not quite so much – well unless you were Deion Sanders.
 
Let’s say though in this case that soccer ends up being the number one sport for our youngster in question.  The art of coaching would be for the coach to help a lot of soccer that is already in the person, to rise up and be honed.  Fundamentally, the concept is that rather than force a sport into a child, let’s bring out the game that is already in there.  How much of a particular game is in each child will vary individually.  Even once the person chooses their number one sport the amount of the game in them, and thus the level in the game to which they will rise, varies with each person.  They are not all destined to be professional players.  Our final goal with all young players is to help the soccer within them come to the surface to the degree that they want to be involved with our sport for a lifetime.

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George Kuntz - Hawaii Youth Soccer

Sam Snow

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to visit the Hawaii Youth Soccer Association.  While I was there I conducted a U6/U8 Youth Module, met with club directors of coaching, assisted with state trials for the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program and I met with the state association board of directors.  During my visit I was able to interview George Kuntz the Technical Director for Hawaii Youth Soccer.  I hope you enjoy our chat:
 

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Ready for Spring

Sam Snow

 Across the USA youth teams are getting into their spring season.  So this is a good time for coaches to refresh themselves on the major points of the prevention and care of injuries.  A coach first and foremost must do what he or she can to reduce the likelihood of injury.  The factors over which a coach has some control include:
 
  • Condition of the field
    • Uneven surface
    • Holes in the ground
    • Rocks, glass, sticks or anything else other than grass and dirt
    • Hazards next to the field
      • Team benches
      • Sidewalks
      • Fences
      • Parking lot
      • Street
      • Lake, stream, etc.
  • Anchor the goals
  • Be aware of weather conditions
    • Shelter nearby in case of dangerous weather
    • Adjust or cancel the training session in extreme heat or cold
  • Access to water
    • Pre and post training and match hydration
  • Player equipment
    • Shoes fit properly
    • Shin guards are in good condition
    • Clothing appropriate for the climate
  • Player fitness
    • Proper physical fitness for the age group and the time in the season
  • Design of training activities
    • Length of training session appropriate to the age group
    • Not too many vigorous activities in a row
      • Proper water/rest breaks
  • Time of day of training sessions and matches commensurate with the age group
  • Proper teaching of techniques
 
Keep in mind please that soccer is a contact sport, so some injures will occur.  Fortunately, most soccer injuries are relatively minor; sprains, scrapes, contusions and strains.  However, some sever injuries do occur such as lacerations, tears to soft issue (ligaments, muscles or tendons), bone fractures and concussions.  Coaches need to have an action plan for the occurrence of a severe injury.  Who will apply immediate first aid?  Who will call and guide emergency services?  Who will supervise the other players?  Who will manage the reactions of the spectators?
 
Coaches and team mangers need to discuss and rehearse their action plan now at the beginning of the season.  I also suggest that one or more of the adults who are regularly with the team take a sports first aid safety course.  All of the staff should take the free on-line concussion course: http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/news/story.asp?story_id=5962.
 
The soccer season is a fun time for all involved.  Let’s also keep everyone safe and sound!

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