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Sam's Blog is a bi-weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Coaching Director for US Youth Soccer.

 

Strategy for National Development

Sam Snow

Last week I attended the U.S. Soccer + SPARQ Player Development Summit on the Nike campus in Beaverton, OR. There were 150 coaches and administrators in attendance to learn firsthand about the U.S. Soccer Curriculum. The Summit lasted for two and half days, proving to be quite productive. 

The Summit opened with a friendly match between the U-18 Men's National Team (MNT) and the Portland Timbers. It's always nice to open a soccer event with some quality soccer. From their performance, there's no doubt we'll see some of the U-18 MNT players in MLS in the near future.

Once we were settled in for the Summit we had the pleasure of listening to Dan Coyle, the author of The Talent Code. Hearing the author give us the ideas he had behind writing the book was interesting, learning more about the potential that everyone has to grow their talent was inspiring. We learned more about the role of adversity in talent growth (overcoming challenges), the hard work that must go into becoming topnotch in any endeavor, that talent is a continuous construction process, the need to put older players into the view of younger players (role models and inspiration), the 10 year rule (10,000 hours of deliberate practice and play) and more. I wonder how many youth soccer coaches put in 10,000 hours of study and practical experience into developing their craft of coaching?

The second day of the Summit began with Claudio Reyna giving us the reasons behind the U.S. Soccer Curriculum. It points us toward a national style of play. It gives clubs a curriculum for development to supplement the Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States document. The Curriculum can be found in sections and in whole via this link: http://www.ussoccer.com/Coaches/Coaching-Education/Coaching-Home.aspx.

Following Coach Reyna's presentation of the Curriculum, a presentation was made by Paco de Miguel on the fitness component in high level training sessions for older adolescent players. That afternoon Mr. de Miguel demonstrated exercises done in a manner challenge both fitness and technique using the U-18 MNT players. His session was followed by Brian McBride conducting a session on technical functional training for strikers. The majority of these three sessions was aimed at the Developmental Academy coaches in attendance so the practical sessions were all right on the money for U-18 and older players.

The afternoon concluded with an opportunity for questions and answers with the day's presenters. Many good questions were asked with mostly quality answers. However little was discussed about Zone 1 and the aspects of the Curriculum aimed at our youngest players.

A member breakout meeting was held that evening for coaching education. The meeting was chaired by Dave Chesler, U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Education and Scott Flood, U.S. Soccer Manager of Coaching Programs. Other representatives of U.S. Soccer included Dan Flynn, General Secretary and Claudio Reyna, Youth Technical Director. The US Youth Soccer Coaching Committee attended the meeting as well as representatives of other youth organizations. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time that U.S. Soccer had held a meeting with its members directly on coaching education. The meeting was well received and productive. The meeting covered the current initiatives in coaching education, specifically:

a)     
A.I.M. current course sequence ( Assess + Integrate Curriculum + Modify)
b)      Evaluate, expand and develop instructional staff
c)       Connect with members
d)      Identify key technical and education leaders (member organizations)
e)      Focal points in education of coaches (member organizations)

There is a desire by the organizations represented to better coordinate the coaching education offerings for soccer in America. In the near future, you will see an expansion of offerings from U.S. Soccer, US Youth Soccer and their state associations. Another example of improved cooperation on coaching education, Paul Payne, President for the NSCAA, and I are speaking to have the two organizations conventions complement one another on the themes for coaching development that are offered.

On the final day of the Summit we were given an in-depth presentation by SPARQ. That theory session was followed by a very useful field session on fitness training in a practical way for soccer. For coaches of teenaged players the information delivered should be used consistently in their seasonal training plan.

The U.S. Soccer Curriculum will be laced into the "E" to "A" License courses. The National Youth License curriculum for Zone 1 remains largely unchanged. I think at this time, aspects of the Curriculum specific to the Zone 1 age groups of U-6 to U-12 need some revision. I think the aspects of the Curriculum pertaining to Zones II and III are very good and I encourage clubs to utilize that information immediately.

I am quite pleased to have our national governing body, U.S. Soccer, step up and take a leadership role with a game plan for player development. This Curriculum along with Best Practices and the materials produced for coaches by US Youth Soccer should supply both paid and volunteer youth soccer coaches with guidance on the appropriate environments for players aged 5 to 19. In time, I think that foundation will help American soccer clubs create a healthy soccer culture.

There is more communication taking place between the coaching departments of U.S. Soccer and US Youth Soccer (representing the 55 state associations) and this is bearing fruit already. Naturally there will be challenges to face along the way. The attitude today is to work together on those challenges; in other words teamwork. No one organization can shift the American soccer landscape alone. We are moving forward!

Representing US Youth Soccer at the summit were myself and:

- Dr. David Carr, co-author of the National Youth License
- Dr. Lew Atkinson, Delaware Youth Soccer Technical Director and US Youth Soccer Region I representative
- Ian Mulliner, Illinois Youth Soccer Technical Director and US Youth Soccer Region II representative
- Mike Stickler, Florida Youth Soccer Technical Director and US Youth Soccer Region III representative
- Mike Smith, Oregon Youth Soccer Technical Director and US Youth Soccer Region IV representative
- Gary White, Washington Youth Soccer Technical Director
- Steve Hoffman, California Youth Soccer – South Technical Director and U.S. Soccer Women's Task Force member
- Jay Hoffman, Region I US Youth Soccer ODP Boys head coach
 

Connecting Divisions of Play

Sam Snow

Not long ago, a club director asked this question of me: How would you tie in the youth and the competitive division?

Is there a difference? I know that there is, but more people involved in youth soccer need to understand that it is all competitive. It's just different levels of competition. Toss a ball out in front of two 5-year-olds and they will compete in their own way for the ball. Toss out a ball in front of two 15-year-olds and it will look different than when the 5-year-olds competed for the ball, but it is still competition. Now do the same exercise with two 25-year-olds and you'll have an even more refined picture of 1v1 competition. Still, for each of those ages, over 10 year increments, they are competing at their current level of play.

So tying in divisions of players within the club? Well, I think it has a lot to do with the planned movement of coaches between age groups and levels of play over the years. Even if it is only for a few training sessions, having the coaches work with different levels of play and/or age groups helps the players and the coaches to grow. Furthermore, we should have more mixed ages, genders and levels of play in some of the training sessions. If you take two U-14 teams which play in different levels of play and have them mix together and training together within the club once every four to six weeks then they will all learn and improve in some way from the experience. There will be a better transition then for 2nd division players moving up to 1st division. This approach also builds club unity and identity.

Additionally, our U-16 and older teams should play with adult teams occasionally. The speed of play, tactical level and mental toughness will all be up several notches. That's provided, of course, that the adult team is not beginners themselves. To further the development of the American player we need older teenagers playing with and against adults from time-to-time.
 

Effective Communicators

Sam Snow

Successful Coaches are Effective Communicators

For players to become self-reliant you must not micromanage the game for them.  As a player-centered sport, some coaches become disillusioned as they learn that they are the 'guide on the side' and not the 'sage on the stage'.  In many sports, the coach makes crucial decisions during the competition.  This coach-centered perspective has been handed down to us from other sports and coaching styles of past generations.

"Talking too much is a big danger for a coach.  The words get lost in the wind." – Sir Alex Ferguson

In soccer, players make the primary decisions during the match.  The coach's decisions are of secondary importance.  The ego-centric personality will find coaching soccer troublesome.   During the match you can call out some general reminders, 'mark up' for example, but for the most part remain quiet.  But do indeed yell out praise, loudly!  For the most part, sit and silently observe the match.  It's your players who should be heard the most during a match. 

Now, some team supporters will think that you are not coaching if you are not constantly talking, so you will have to educate them on why this chatter diverts players' attention.  Team supporters too often have their view of the match colored by the professional model and by a view of coaching that is portrayed in the sports media.  In a coach-centered sport with frequent stoppages in play and time-outs, the coach takes on a direct role during the game.  Soccer does not stop except for a serious injury and half-time, so the coach has only an indirect role during the match.

You should attempt to have players play for an extended period of time.  The players are thus asked to solve their own problems on the field instead of having the coach make substitutions in order to solve the problem for them.  Coaches should not 'platoon players' in and out of games in order to wear an opponent down.  Unlike most team sports, soccer is a player's game, not a coach's game.  Substitutions allow for all players to play and will speed development for a greater number of players.  You should decide before the match or tournament what the policy will be regarding substitutions – then stick to it.

One outcome of sensible substitutions and less talk by the coach during matches is room to grow for the players.  In this fertile game environment some of your players will grow as team leaders.  This will begin with a player directing one or two players and, in time, the entire team.  Leaders will guide and inspire the team from within.

"Over-coaching is the worst thing you can do to a player." – Dean Smith

I recommend reading the recent article in Youth Soccer Insider [link].
 

Competitive Coaches in Academies

Sam Snow

What would you expect your competitive coaches to realistically do for the youth/Academy division of a club?

I have had those paid coaches take charge of a younger age group. So, let's say it's the head coach for the U-17 premier division team in the club. I would have that coach also be in charge of the U-11 age group coaches in the club. He or she would provide three sample lesson plans each month to those U-11 coaches in the club. He would also run one demo session per month for all of the U-11 coaches using one of the club's U-11 teams. The team used for the demo session would change each month. I also require this competitive coach to go to the U-11 matches at home at least one time each month to assess not only the play of the U-11 kids, but also the behavior and game management of the coaches.

Another approach is to have the paid coaches work with several different age groups. For example a coach could work with a U-10, U-13 and U-17 team. This gives continuity to the developmental philosophy since the coach lives the need to develop the younger age groups in preparation for an older age division. The approach also gives the coach a broader experience, thus also developing the coaching staff from within the club.

Finally, no matter the club structure and whether the coaches are paid or volunteer, it is best to rotate coaches every two years. The players grow from the varied experiences of being exposed to different coaches with different styles and approaches to playing the game. Both players and coaches get into routines if they stay together for too long. By rotating the coaches, the coaches have the opportunity to work with either gender, several age groups and levels of play.