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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.

 

Taking a knee

Sam Snow

This week's question concerns the irregular habit of all of the players on the field of play taking a knee when another player goes down with an injury.

Hey guys, I'm currently coaching a girls U8 travel team. I've played soccer as a kid, played in college, managed a junior college men's team as well as trained club teams in the New York Hudson Valley area. Currently a concern for my team is understanding that taking a knee for an injured player is not required but a courtesy. Personally I don't agree with taking a knee and would rather group the players together, reiterate where they are in the game and clap for the player. The players also get tight and are more likely to cramp. I'm not sure I never did it and don't think it's disrespectful not to take a knee.

The action to take knee when a player is injured is not required in the Laws of the Game. However, it has become a bit of a local habit in some youth soccer circles (a spillover from gridiron football). The better procedure would be that if the referee has stopped the match for an injury to have the rest of the players to go to the touchline in front of their team bench, but do not leave the field of play, and get a drink of water. If the coach is not involved with the care of the injured player, then he or she may have a BRIEF word with the players (during this moment in the game the coach must remain in the technical area). But a coach must be very careful here to not get across more than one point. Too many coaches talk too much. It is more effective with children to be concise. Of course, if the injured player needs to come off the field, then the other players should recognize her or him with applause. This form of fair play should be expected of your players whether the injured player is from your team or the opposing team.

The action of recognizing with applause the injured player if she or he must come off is a stronger public showing of being good sports than taking a knee. Hopefully, the players are taught that they do not need to stop automatically if a player is injured. The game plays on unless the referee calls for an injury time out. Having said that, it is also incumbent on the coach to teach players that if a player is badly injured and the referee has not seen the player on the ground and has not stopped play then the players should play the ball out over the touchline.

The team in possession of the ball should put the ball out of bounds. The referee can then let on the medical staff to care for the injured player. Once play is resumed with a throw-in for U-10 and older teams or a pass-in for U-6 and U-8 teams, the team awarded the restart should give the ball back to the opponents if they were the team who played the ball out to care for an opposing injured player. If the team who played the ball out of bounds did so for their own injured player then the team taking the throw-in or pass-in may keep possession, but should put the ball back into play by sending it back toward their defensive third. Fair play then resumes from there.

Of course THE most respectful recognition of the injured player is not applause or taking a knee but a personal kind word from one player to another.
 

Team Captain

Sam Snow

Not long ago I was asked about the process of selecting a team captain in youth soccer. The question and comments were this:
 
I have been coaching youth soccer since I was in college back in 1983. I have taken the National Youth Soccer Course, have various other certifications and regularly attend coaching clinics. I have coached several Travel Teams and recreational teams from ages ranging from U6 to U18. I also coached an adult Women's recreation team for six years until two years ago when I stopped coaching. Nevertheless, I am still my town's youth soccer club's vice president. I currently manage my 14 year-old daughter's Travel Team, but I am not the coach. I have a son who plays high school soccer and a younger daughter who plays both U11 Travel and Premiere soccer.
 
In my twenty-seven years of coaching, I have never appointed or had elections for team captains. Instead I have always used a game captain approach beginning around the U11 age group to reward improved play and to give all the children a taste of being a game captain during the season. While I have researched and I understand the utility and benefits of having team Captains at the high school level and above, I firmly believe that it is inappropriate in youth soccer. Recently, my daughter's U11 Travel Coach held elections and appointed two team captains based upon this vote. Her Premier Team does not have Team Captains, but uses a similar game captain approach that I use.
 
All of the parents of the children on the team were very surprised that the coach did this. Indeed, they are all looking to me for direction based on my experience and as the club's vice president on whether to approach the coach about our collective disagreement with the use of Team Captains. I have always also believed that other than when asked by the coach that I do not interfere with a coach's decision unless in my role as a board member to enforce disciplinary action. I am very interested in US Youth Soccer's views on the use of team captains in youth soccer and whether you can direct me to some articles on the subject.
 
US Youth Soccer does not have an official policy on identifying or selecting the team captain or captains. We feel the decision is up to the club to make. If the club does not have a policy in place for the various age groups in the club on the function and selection of captains then the club director of coaching should devise one. From the US Youth Soccer Coaching Department we recommend giving all of the players the opportunity to be the captain at least once per season not just in matches but in training sessions too. That should take place with the U8 to the U14 age groups. The U6 age group does not need team captains in any manner. The U16 and older age groups should have captains voted upon by the players and accredited by the coaching staff. I like these suggestions from Eric McGrath.
 
How to Pick Captains for a Soccer Team
By Eric McGrath, eHow Contributor
 
When looking to create a good team bond from a disparate group of soccer players, it is a good idea for the coach to select good captains in order to maintain discipline in the group, to relay tactical developments during a game, and to keep movement from exercise to exercise as efficient as possible. This article looks at some ideas on selecting the right personnel for this important role in any soccer team.
 
Look within the group for natural leaders. Sometimes these players will lead quietly by example with their behavior and level of play; other times they will be strong vocal personalities. Either way, these personality types will be the most obvious choice for a captaincy.
 
Decide whether the team will have one captain or many captains…
 
Decide whether the captains, if more than one, will be co-captains or a head-captain and a vice-captain. Again, the larger the squad, the more sensible it is to delegate leadership to more than one person. Conversely, for a smaller squad, it probably makes sense to have two co-captains or one head captain and a vice-captain.
 
Observe all possible candidates for captain's roles, and judge them on their presence in the team, the reaction of their teammates towards them, and the methods they use to exert their natural authority on their teammates.
 
Once a decision has been reached, announce the captains at an opportune time when every player is present. Explain the reasons why the specific player or players were chosen, and make sure everyone on the team supports the decision.
 

Coaching Ball Skills

Sam Snow

I get asked some great questions about our beautiful game and I enjoy the dialog. So, here's a discussion on coaching ball skills I've had with a youth coach.
 
I have been looking at the Skills School: Fundamental Ball Skills document. I have also read that the focus should be on technical, not tactical at the younger ages. How does one use the games and activities method of practice - for example, for U-6 players - and at the same time teach those players shooting, dribbling, balance, running, jumping and movement education? For example, the document says basic running mechanics must be taught and reinforced as part of movement education in the U-6 and U-8 age groups and those motions can be reinforced during warm-up or cool-down activities with the U-10 and older age groups. Do the games teach the skills or should they be coached; if the latter, when and how?
 
I'm glad you've had a chance to read over the Skills School manual, I hope you have enjoyed it. Actually, there is a shared focus on both technique and tactics from U-6 to U-19 that is the essence of the games-based approach. That approach is best learned through reading the material on the website for Teaching Games for Understanding: http://www.tgfu.org/. Now, of course the "tactics" for U-6 are very simple - which goal to shoot at and at which one to block shots. Tactics for that age group also includes where is the field and beginning to understand the concept of boundary lines. The teaching of tactics and how to use ball skills to pull off your tactical ideas gradually progresses to quite complex levels by the U-19 age group. We want coaches to teach ball skills in game context as well as some rehearsal of the body mechanics of ball skills as a separate component of training. The teaching of balls skills when done in game-like activities gives the kids notions on how those skills can be used. The problem for American players over the last 30 years has been that we teach ball skills in an isolated way (drills) and then using them in the right moments in a match eludes many youngsters. Or some coaches have gone too far the other way and only play games and take little or no time to teach skills. As with most things, it is striking the balance that creates the best environment for development.

Part of the idea of using game-like activities is that a novice coach can use just the activity, not say anything, and the activity will teach the players. However, the same activity in the hands of a more knowledgeable and experienced coach can go further with some well-timed coaching points and guided discovery questions.

Now, as to movement education, we can incorporate those movements into warm-up, cool-down and inside many activities during the training session. Our coaches of U-12 and younger players need to accept that they are now the physical education teacher as well as the soccer coach. This is needed for our kids since so many schools have reduced or eliminated P.E.

A good deal more of these methods of coaching and age appropriate training will be presented in the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model.
 
Thanks, I followed everything in your email and I knew and agreed with most of it. One thing you said that I want to understand, should the entire practice be games that teach the kids or is there a part of practice that should involve "some rehearsal of the body mechanics of ball skills as a separate component of training" as your e-mail states? If so, what does that part of practice look like and when during practice should it occur and how much time and how often?
 
There's not really a set formula to each training session. Yes, the majority of training should be within game-like activities and then free play (match). This is especially true for the U-12 and younger age groups. That approach continues to hold true for teenage players but the need for functional training increases.

So- your questions of when during a training session, how much time and how often to rehearse the mechanics of ball skills is not one easy to answer with a set formula. Frankly, deciding when the players need that type of work is the art of coaching as opposed to the science of coaching. That answer though is troublesome to those who think analytically...they feel comfortable with set patterns. I find it interesting that some coaches want a predictable pattern to training soccer players, yet the game itself is organized chaos. When do things go as planned during a soccer match? We must train our players and our coaches to be flexible and to think on their feet - literally and figuratively.

So back to ball skill mechanics, I can teach those within the context of a game-like activity. Using proper questions and some modeling gets the point across to most kids. Another way to help improve ball skills that is underutilized by our clubs is mixed age group training. We are far too sterile in our training environment. We should have more instances of the U-9 and U-10 players training together instead of separately. And the U-10 team should training with the U-11 team now and then. I do not mean scrimmage one another but mix the players together and train. One of the wonderful aspects of player development in the Hispanic soccer culture is teenagers training with and playing with adult players. We need a LOT more of that in mainstream soccer!
 
I appreciate all the time and thinking that went into your response. On the training across age groups, while that may be a good idea, as a practical matter I am less concerned about different ages in organized practices and I would like to see content that helps explain how to create opportunities for free play, supervised but unstructured, street (or park or neighborhood) soccer, that involves a wider age range - and I will want your views on how wide a range is okay.
 
Well, when it comes to pick-up games, the older the players get the wider the age range can be. There was very good logic behind the traditional age groupings in youth soccer of U-6, U-8, U-10, U-12, U-14, U-16 and then U-19. The difference in psychomotor, psychosocial and cognitive development is significant prior to late adolescences and early adulthood. These three domains of human development impact soccer players in technique and tactics. Fitness improves as athleticism develops and under proper fitness training by knowledgeable P.E. teachers and some coaches.   (Most youth soccer coaches are insufficient in their knowledge of physical education to tailor the lesson plan to the needs of an age group, much less an individual. That deficiency is not confined to volunteer coaches.)
Clearly, the differences in the four components of the game and the three domains of development are distinctly different between a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old for example, or a 15-year-old and a 19-year-old. So, a range of two to maybe three years in pick-up games is acceptable from a risk management perspective up through early adolescences at approximately age 15. Once into the late teens and early adulthood the age range can and should expand.

Saying that, having talented adult players, who know how to control their emotions, could play in pick-up games with all of our kids from age 5 to 19. The kids do enjoy it when the adults play with them from time-to-time, but NOT all the time. Remember that one of the core ideas behind having pick-up games is giving the game back to the players. However, having a soccer talented adult play with the kids occasionally can provide great examples for the young player. This is in concert with the theories of Lev Vygotsky. He was a Russian psychologist (1896-1934) who advocated that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition. "Zones of proximal development" defined the limits of learning. So the practical application of this theory in pick-up games is older players participating among younger players.

So, how to fit street/pick-up soccer into clubs? Well, many of them are already doing so. They tend to be the clubs that have had coaches who have gone through the NYL and they take the lessons taught in the course on street soccer and apply them to their team or the entire club. Many of our US Youth Soccer ODP coaches do the same at Olympic Development Program camps - even to the extent of mixing players from different states onto teams.

These clubs have educated the players' parents and the board of directors on the benefit of pick-up games. This is a crucial step so that the adults can understand how they are getting their bang for their buck. Of course, once the kids play and return home fully enthused about the experience all resistance from the adults ends.

In the National Youth License course there is a classroom presentation on "street soccer", which is directly followed by the candidates going onto the field and playing in the set up described. The session on the field ends with a review and critique of the session by the candidates and instructors.
 

U-10 Travel Soccer?

Sam Snow

Travel soccer at the U10 age level?

So often it is the questions and comments I receive from members of US Youth Soccer that provide useful content for this blog. Here's one more and this time we talk about the U-10 age group.

Our local youth soccer association is dealing with a youth development conundrum with which we hope you can assist. During the past years, we have read many US Youth Soccer technical papers regarding youth development recommendations. Although the assortment of subjects about which advice is given is vast, some of the basic principles, for the younger ages, that we have gleaned from many of these papers are:

1.)    At the "in-house" (i.e., games only against teams within the community) ages (U-6 to U-10) minimize the emphasis on winning, emphasize fun, and teach through fun games, small-sided scrimmages, etc.

2.)    At these in-house ages, emphasize comfort with the ball (i.e., dribbling ability, good touch, etc.).

Our current problem has to do with our U-10 in-house age group. We strongly feel that, at this age, winning should still be de-emphasized and skill development and fun emphasized. In the past 5-7 years, there has been a push to start to "travel" (i.e., travel to play against other communities) at this age U-10 group. In fact, we see that there is a drive, nationwide, to travel at even younger ages! We feel that when teams begin to travel and play against other communities, the emphasis to win is also increased; whether a coach willingly does this, or not. This simply is because of greater pressure from the parents, players, coaches, etc. to beat other communities. Because of this, we also believe that short cuts are more apt to be taken to win a game (i.e., booting the ball up field to the big forward rather than trying to dribble or work the ball up field). Therefore, we have continued to argue against travel at the U-10 level so that our kids can continue to develop during the U-10 level in an environment where winning is not as much of an importance.

The other side's counterpoint is that in-house soccer at the U-10 level is not fun (i.e., not as exciting because of the lower emphasis on winning) so we are losing some kids that are quitting as a result. In order to attempt to address this concern, we have tried to make the U-10 age level more fun by entering the US Youth Soccer Kohl's American Cup, conducting an end-of-season U-10 in-house tournament, bringing in the Pittsburgh Riverhounds or Classic/Cup team DOC's to conduct about half of the U-10 trainings, etc.

Would you please comment and let us know whether we are on the right track and whether we need to modify what we are doing? 

You are indeed on the right track. While travel for the U-10 age group outside of the club is not forbidden, if travel does occur it should be to events that focus on player performance first and outcome of the match second, or even not at all. One such program I suggest you look to for ideas and methods is being run by North Carolina Youth Soccer.

Please also note the directive from the US Youth Soccer Board of Directors from their meeting on March 5, 2011.

2.         The Board encouraged the Coaching Committee to continue to develop an outline for implementation of "academy" programs for players at U-10 and that focus and information regarding skill development be included.

Here too, are a few of the Position Statements from the 55 state associations Technical Directors which pertain to the question.

Age of competitive play

While it is acknowledged and recognized that pre-teen players should be allowed to pursue playing opportunities that meet both their interest and ability level, we strongly discourage environments where players below the age of 12 are forced to meet the same "competitive" demands as their older counterparts therefore we recommend the following:

1.            50% playing time
2.            no league or match results
3.            8 v 8 at U-12

Festivals for players under 10

We believe that Soccer Festivals should replace soccer tournaments for all players under the age of 10. Festivals feature a set number of minutes per event (e.g., 10 games X 10 minutes) with no elimination and no ultimate winner. We also endorse and support the movement to prohibit U-10 teams from traveling to events that promote winning and losing and the awarding of trophies.

Finally here's an excerpt from the soon-to-be released US Youth Soccer Player Development Model.

"NO U-10's should be involved in competitive tournaments or tryouts. Play Days, Jamborees or Festivals where U-10's all get a participation award are fine.

U-10 players should –

1.      Not be exposed to tryouts
2.      Not be labeled 'rec' or 'competitive'
3.      Not be allowed to go to tournaments where there is a winner"

Thank you very much for the feedback, very informative. The problem at our youth association is that our parents are pushing hard for our U-10's to travel in the state league where there are league and match results.  We feel this is unnecessary and causes coaches to take short cuts to win instead of placing more of the emphasis on player development. For that reason, we would like to keep our U-10's playing in our in-house league.

The biggest push to travel is not so much from the players, but from the parents who want to see their kids play like little pros. Little do the parents realize that they are doing more harm than good by ramping up the competitive pressures at such an early age. We feel that there will be plenty of time, in the kids' older years, when we can play to win championships. Any further information you might have on the subject would be very welcome.

You are absolutely right that it tends to be more the adults than the kids who want to push the results oriented environment sooner than later with 10-year-old children. That is contrary to the approach taken by U.S. Soccer and US Youth Soccer. It is also contrary to the research in sports sciences and specifically Long-Term Player Development (LTPD). Take a look at the magazine Olympic Coach, Spring 2004, Volume 16, Number 1 from the U. S. Olympic Committee for the details on LTPD. Also read on the US Youth Soccer website an article that speaks to this topic of too much too soon. Since many adults do not know the timeline for the development of a soccer player they want to push the matter too quickly. To develop a player properly requires patience on the part of the adults.