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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.

 

Club Joint Effort

Sam Snow

I have the good fortune to regularly exchange ideas on youth soccer with many coaches and administrators across our nation. One recent exchange was with a club director of coaching whose club is in the Central Illinois Youth Soccer League. His initial statement to me was this:
 
"Many of the directors of coaching and presidents of clubs in our league have been talking over the past few months about a way to get the best players in our clubs some higher level training and playing experience.  We have embraced the idea that Claudio Reyna (Youth Technical Director for U.S. Soccer) put forth to work together, not against each other to try to provide the best opportunities for our players (Us vs. The World!).  The CIYSL Elite is a new program we are looking to start where we will take the top U-15 to U-18 players from clubs in central Illinois and bring them together for training once a month over the winter, then take a group of players and train for a week or two and compete in a high level tournament together.  We have arranged for the players to be coached by local central Illinois college coaches so they are getting some of the best training available in the area.
 
I was wondering if you could help me out with showing the parents of our clubs the benefits of this type of program.  Do you have any sort of promotional material from US Youth Soccer? Or would you be willing to give me some quotes that we could use on our promotional material?
We are looking for support promoting the following areas:
 
1. We want to work together as a soccer community, not one club vs. another, to provide the best opportunities for our players to develop. (Us vs. The World!)
 
2.  We need to create a competitive, challenging environment for our top players to constantly test them and push them to improve.   Pooling all of the U-15 to U-18 players from central Illinois will allow us to create this type of playing environment for those top players.
 
3. This program is not to "poach" players and form one super-team in central Illinois, but simply to provide those players a chance to get additional higher level playing opportunities while still playing with their local club team.
 
I would love to hear any feedback, suggestions, improvements you have regarding our idea.  As I mentioned, we are simply trying to find a way to help develop our kids into the best soccer players possible, and hope this will assist them in doing so. 
 
Thanks in advance for all of your help!  I really appreciate you taking the time to help out!"
 
 
I was involved in US Youth Soccer Region meetings at the time so my first reply was this:
 
I'll be back with you shortly with more information, but right off I think that part of what you are accomplishing is also the objective of the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program.  So it seems logical that part of the pathway for elite players is into US Youth Soccer ODP.  Take a look to get these players in the ODP program in Illinois as soon as possible.  Here's the link for your state: http://www.illinoisyouthsoccer.org/ODP.htm.
 

The club director responded with:
 
"Thank you for getting back to me so quickly, I really appreciate the response!  The ODP system is something we encourage all of our players to get involved with, and I know our club has a number of players who are involved in this system.  This model of ODP was something we saw that worked well and we have used many ideas from this.  I know that many DOCs were looking to get some of their players additional higher level playing as well as participation in ODP.  Due to our demographics and geography, I know we have many players involved in ODP, but also some high level players who simply cannot commit to ODP.  For some players, they cannot because of finances, and some because of the long travel.  The CIYSL Elite is hopefully an additional opportunity for these players to get involved and play against some higher level competition.  We are hoping to have this at very minimal cost to families, as well as hold training in central Illinois.
 
Let me assure you it is not the goal of this program to replace ODP or to take players away from this program.  I am a strong supporter of this program and would love to see all of our top players participate in ODP.
 
I appreciate you taking the time to help out and any information you can send me would be great!"
 
 
My follow up comments were:
 
I'm glad to read that the players and coaches do participate in US Youth Soccer ODP.  I also understand the challenges of travel and costs.  I applaud the effort you and the other coaches are making to provide a challenging training environment for the players.  In a number of places across the country some clubs and coaches are making similar efforts.  This is especially true outside of large metropolitan areas where the pooling of talent (players, coaches and administrators) is necessary in order to compete at the top levels of play.  It is nothing more than the law of averages as small to medium size soccer communities are more likely to improve and compete with large soccer communities when they cooperate.  The idea that we can compete with one another on the field of play during a match, but join our efforts at all other times is actually the essence of true competition.  There are three key components in setting up the right environment for teenaged elite players to develop.  In an order of priority they are:
 
1.      Quality teammates
2.      Quality opponents
3.      Quality coaches
 
By the clubs in your area pooling your talents you are now able to act on these three components.  Understanding the definition of competition helps to guide the effort to band your resources together.
 
·         Competition: the process of competing; a contest between competitors
·         Competitor: one that competes
·         Competitive: characterized by competition
 
One cannot compete without a fellow competitor.  It is then through quality competition that the players and coaches will learn clearly their strengths and weaknesses.  Without fellow competitors that learning environment is not possible.  That you are coming together to create a healthy environment to raise your level of competition makes good sense.  It then is not an us versus them situation for the players in the pool.  They all need each other to play with and against in order to improve.
 
I've attached one file for you that gives the coaches some guidelines for the right philosophy for the training sessions you are planning.  Please do not hesitate to let us know if the US Youth Soccer Coaching Department can be of further assistance to you.

Training Sessions for Teenaged Soccer Teams [pdf]

Comments (0)

 

Tom Fleck

Sam Snow

On Christmas Eve Tom Fleck died. Dr. Fleck was my mentor since we met in 1980. More importantly he was a fast and true friend.

Doc, as he was known to many, had battled dementia for several years. His recent passing is actually a blessing and something for which I'd been praying. Doc was 74 years old when he passed away.

If you would like to know more about Dr. Fleck's influence on soccer in America then follow any of the links listed below.

I want to tell you about the man and the influence he had on me and the opportunities he gave me to grow as a young coach. In 1980 I attended my first NSCAA convention in Houston. In addition to coaching at the college level I was coaching in the camp business during the summers. My boss in the camp business had set up meetings during that convention with two heavy hitters in soccer and asked me to escort them to the meetings. One coach was Charles Hughes, the director of coaching for The Football Association then. I of course knew of him having read his books and watched the films he had produced. The other coach was Tom Fleck, whom I didn't know previously – boy were things about to change for me.

The gist of the meeting with Tom was to hire him away from the Philadelphia Fury to be the head coach for the camp business. Fortunately that came to pass. I then began a long collaboration and friendship with Tom.

Right away I learned in the camp business with Tom not only how to run the training sessions and the adjustments I needed to make with different age groups, but also how to interact with the camp administrators and the parents of the campers. Soon I was put into the leader role of some camp sessions. Tom always knew when to push you a bit further in your own development. He had a real talent there as he often put people into growth situations that even they didn't yet know they were ready. He was always teaching and guiding.

That continued when I had the chance to be his assistant coach with the U14 boys in the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program for Florida Youth Soccer. Soon after Tom's appointment as the head coach of that State Select Team he was hired as the Director of Coaching for Florida Youth Soccer, a job that perhaps only five or six state associations had at the time. Once again the growth opportunities expanded as I worked closely with Tom in coaching education (state and national coaching schools), ODP, hosting Army clinics and U.S. Soccer functions, conducting sessions at the state AGM along with Walt Chyzowych, Bob Gansler and many other coaching luminaries. We even hosted the NSCAA convention in Orlando in 1983. Tom was the president of the NSCAA at the time and one of his ideas was to formalize the pick-up games that coaches had been playing in the hallways for years. Behind the hotel was an open grass lot. Tom had me organize the games and register teams. Ron Quinn and I painted lines for two fields. But we had no goals. Tom suggested that I go talk to this new company called Kwik Goal and that's when I made a new friend out of Andy Caruso. The tournament was a hit and has been a part of the NSCAA convention since. It's now known as the Walt Chyzowych Memorial 4-A-Side Tournament.

Tom work publically and behind the scenes to grow soccer in the USA. From his role as the first Youth Director of U.S. Soccer, to assisting with the founding of US Youth Soccer, to national meetings at Cocoa Expo to plan stages of development of the game and ending with the design of the National Youth License the Doctor was in!

Beyond the professional growth I experienced with Tom he made me a part of his family. I am forever grateful for the friendship and love that he and his family gave to me over the years. The sharing of some holidays with the Fleck family are fond memories for me. As I said Tom was not only a mentor, but also a close friend. I am indeed lucky to have known him.

Thank you for indulging me this personal moment in this web blog forum. Perhaps now you know a little more about one of the fathers of youth soccer in our country. For more please visit the web site of the Dr. Thomas Fleck, Jr. Foundation: http://www.drfleckfoundation.com/.

Comments (2)

 

Heads Up

Sam Snow

Over the last fifteen years there have been studies conducted on the physical and mental impacts of heading. Nothing is conclusive at this time. Consider this from the U.S. Soccer Sports Medicine Committee:
 
"At Present, there are many gaps and inconsistencies within the medical literature regarding the safety of heading in soccer. The impact of purposeful heading is linear which is less severe than rotational impact. …Head injuries during soccer are more likely to be from accidental contacts such as head-ground, head-opponent, or the rare head-goalpost. …. At this point in time, it is premature to conclude that purposeful heading of a modern soccer ball is a dangerous activity."
 
So most head injuries in soccer are from the head impacting something other than the ball. The human skull is surprisingly tough. Head injuries from the ball occur when the technique is done incorrectly. Here lies the real problem. Many coaches teach heading incorrectly or not at all. So many players head the ball wrong and this could cause injuries or inaccurate or poorly paced headers.
 
When should players start? Introduce heading in the U-10 age group. Teach heading to score and to clear in the U-12 age group both standing and jumping. Teach heading to pass, backwards heading (flicks) and diving headers in the U-14 age group. These recommendations by age group are the average, middle of the bell-curve so to speak. A few players may start some of these techniques earlier, especially if they have older siblings playing. Others will start later, as their confidence grows.
 
Early experiences can be painful if a careful progression in building up confidence is not applied. When introducing the technique of heading the ball for the first time I suggest you start with a Nerf type soccer ball or an underinflated volleyball. Gradually work your way up to a fully inflated soccer ball. Begin with juggling with the head so that the player controls the pace, height, frequency of repetition, movement, etc.   Next go to head juggling with a partner. A good group game for heading is Toss-Head-Catch. In this practice activity the ball is being served from the hands, so the force is less than a crossed ball and is more accurate. The increased accuracy will allow for more repetitions of correct headers.
 
The whole body is used to head the ball. The movement begins with the legs, the movement of the core muscles throws the trunk and upper body forward and the head, from the neck upwards, follows through quickly. The position of the forehead to the ball determines its flight path.
 
The earliest and most elementary lesson about heading is never let the ball hit you. Go out and meet it, and make contact with the front part of the forehead where the skull is the thickest. You must attack the ball! You hit it, not the other way around. The main surface of contact is of course the forehead. The ball must be struck, not cushioned. The neck and back muscles should be rigid to generate power. The part played by the eyes is important! Although it is likely that the reflex blinking action causes the eyes to be closed at the moment when the ball is struck by the forehead, players should be encouraged to watch the ball right onto the forehead. Only by doing so can a player time the actual heading movement accurately. There need be no fear of danger to the eyes since they are well protected by the heavy bone structure immediately above them.
 
There is no better feeling in soccer than beating an opponent in the air to plant a header in the net. Once you have done it, there is a hunger to do it again. It is a spectacular way of scoring goals, or come to that of stopping them. Defensively it is a great thrill in consistently clearing the ball in the air, beating opposing forwards, and establishing control. The young player who adds heading to his or her armory of skills will go far in the game.
 

National Championship Series Notes

Sam Snow

In 2009 I attended two of the region stage tournaments of the US Youth Soccer National Championship Series as well as the national finals. I made a report on the events that was given to the state association Technical Directors and the U.S. Youth Soccer ODP Regional Head Coaches. The intent is to use the notes of our playing trends to improve our standard of play. Here is an excerpt from that report. I hope that it will cause discussion among the coaches in your circles, thus having a positive impact on player development.

Technique
Receiving the ball out of the air is still an issue even though it was identified and discussed in coaching schools from 2000 and onward.  Why then is this an issue now?  Clearly clubs are not working on this technique.  The skill of receiving the ball out of the air is more of a challenge with girls.

Sometimes the field surface is compacted and hard yet players allow the ball to bounce which kills the timing of support and off the ball runs.

First attacker on break-away type runs should learn how to do a stutter run to lose markers.
Players need to make more adjustments to rain soaked fields with flicks (feet & head), chipping, lift the ball with foot to flick, etc.

At corners almost every player has hips square to the ball.  Beginning at U10 we must teach players to angle the hips to see the ball and the field.

In general we need more guile on the ball with simple feints.

Tactics
Goalkeeping ebb and flow can improve.  All of the goalkeepers play out of the goalmouth, up to the edge of the penalty area and some of them beyond it which is good.  But few make angle (lateral) adjustments.  Teach them to keep their bellybutton in a straight line with the ball and the center of the goalmouth.  Is this deficiency because we don't train goalkeepers with the team enough for them to gain a better tactical reading of the game?

Trend: off the ball runs (players B and C) get ahead of the winger (player A) with the ball or level with the dribbler, which means the cross tends to land behind the runners (once player A dribbles from position A1 to A2).  Runs tend to be straight instead of curved.

alt

Tactical goal kicks continue to be a shortcoming – contributing to this problem is the inability of goalkeepers to hit an accurate goal kick.  This free kick restart must be placed accurately.

alt

Organized, tactical group defending is rare.  Most defending is individual pressure on the ball.  Players do talk on marking assignments which is a strong base on which to build tactical defending.

When defenders win the ball there are moments to build the attack out of the back which the players have the talent to do.  This moment of play needs to be emphasized more by the coaches.  When a fullback gets the ball midfielders and forwards are not making runs toward the ball to give short pass options so booting the ball is left as the main option.

Tactical flank play dictates players knowing when to pass backwards in order to go forward.  Our players currently force the ball forward at incorrect tactical moments.  We kill space on the attack before we are ready to play into it.

When defending against a free kick the defenders often drop into the goal area and block their own goalkeeper's path to the ball.

Support runs get ahead of the ball carrier and on the wrong side of the opponent so combinations are not possible.  Too often we are so anxious to go forward that the attack doesn't have enough numbers around the ball to keep a sustained attack going.  We are still looking for players who can put their foot on the ball and change the game tempo.

With better 1 vs. 1 defending more attacks would falter.  There is too much stabbing and diving in by the first defender.

Most attacks bypass the midfield line in the team and occasionally the fullback line too.  Attacks get strung out with too many long passes.  This style results in individual or pairs attack and consequently individual and some pairs defending.  Tactical group (block) defending is rare at best.  If the attack built more through the lines in the team then tactical defending is required of the opposition.  The entire level of play is improved subsequently.

Of course with every team there is a need for team leaders.  They and other key players have a real impact on the team and the game.  Some of these personalities are evident in the National Championship Series matches.  Yet there needs to be more of them.  Certainly having such leaders in a team often depends on the personalities of the players and there are times when no natural leaders are within a team.  Yet more leaders can be developed when coaches give more control of the match over to the players and then hold them accountable for their actions.  Coaches need to spend time through the season encouraging leadership by the players.

Play in the U17 – U19 boys was typified by more testosterone than tactics – leading to constant turnovers of possession. However, at the N.C.S. Finals with some exceptions these age groups played a lot of possession soccer.  It was gratifying to see teams playing the ball out of the back through their midfielders and outside backs to maintain possession.  Another positive improvement was seen by goalkeepers marshaling their penalty area and working with defenders to maintain possession when transitioning from defense to attack.  Some of the keepers helped their team maintain possession by quality throws and drop-kicks.

On a couple of occasions it was seen that parents cheered good play by any player on their team – wonderful, positive team culture.  Further, it is noted that the over whelming majority of spectators were worthy of the phrase 'good sports'.  In one instance coaches of team A cheered for a wonderful save by the goalkeeper of team B even though the score was 0-0 at the time.  The reaction of those coaches showed a respect for the game!