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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.

 

Versatile Players

Sam Snow

Is there an article, blog post, or statement dealing with the positioning of U11-U12 players over the course of a season, or a year? I coach in a couple of different frameworks, but in one framework I just encountered a clash of sorts with a town administrator. This U12 girls' team plays in a results-oriented league with playoffs in the spring. I stated in an initial email to the team that my approach to playing U11-U12 players is to play them everywhere with equal time, and not just one position per game but one position over several successive games then moving to a new position for several successive games. For example, one player might play left forward for three games, then she will move to right back, for three games, and so on, such that the year ends with her having played in every position for a period of a few weeks. I've already lost this fall 2011 team because of this stated philosophy since the town administrator, overseeing the set of town U12 girl's teams, disagrees with this approach. He feels that, especially in a results-oriented league, with playoffs, and especially with respect to the keeper, that U11-U12 players should not be exposed to all the positions in this way. I feel strongly about playing U11-U12 players in all the positions in the way I stated previously, even in a results-oriented league. However, it occurred to me that I have not read this anywhere as a recommendation or directive from US Youth Soccer. I'm afraid now that I might be taking a stance on something that is without foundation so to speak. If there is any relevant reference material it would be helpful to know of it. I have looked but haven't found any.

I replied stating that I think that with the U12 age group you can have a player preform in all defensive positions before moving that player to the midfield line or the forward line.  So, rather than play right fullback for three matches and then move to center forward, the move could be to center or left fullback.  Once a player has played all positions (roles) in one line on the team (defender, midfielder and forward) move that player to the next line on the team.  For example, a player who has performed all positions in the defender line then moves to the midfield line and later to the forward line.

We believe that through the U14 age group players should be exposed to all of the positions in a team, including goalkeeper.  However, beginning with U12 and then on into the U13 and U14 age groups the players could begin to function 50% of the time in one particular line in the team; i.e., goalkeeper, defender, midfielder or forward.

The intent is to help the players learn about positioning over role specific positions.  By playing all of the positions in a team they better learn the principles of play and the particular tactics that go with each position on a team.  This well rounded approach to development will aid them greatly when they begin to specialize in a few positions beginning in the U15 age group.

Finally, it must be noted that this versatility will aid the players not only in making the cut on future teams (club, high school, college and pro), and it also helps them to be more adaptable to new team formations. Top notch soccer teams can play more than one team formation, requiring adaptability by the players. For example read this article on Barcelona which can change from 4-4-2 to 3-4-3.  http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/jonathan_wilson/09/05/barcelona.343/index.html
 
"One of the big issues we face in educating coaches--is allowing [their] players to [play] non-position specific [roles]. Here we have arguably the best team in the world--full of flexible midfielders," says Paul Shaw, Coaching Education Director for Virginia Youth Soccer. The article supports, albeit some thought has to be given to make the connection, our approach that  girls U13 - U15 playing for US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program should have a 3-4-3 and the same for the boys in the U13 - U14 age groups.
 
I have always said that in US Youth Soccer ODP I am looking for two types of players, goalkeepers and field players.  If you are a field player then I expect you to be versatile and be able to play two or more positions.  In my 32 years as an ODP coach there have constantly been center midfielders turned into outside midfielders, defenders and wingers.  Yet another reason for us to continue to teach that kids should be exposed to playing all positions through the U14 age group.
 

Passback Tour

Sam Snow

This past Saturday I had the pleasure to work at a U.S. Soccer Foundation Passback clinic in Dallas. Here's some background on the program in case you are not familiar with it.
The U.S. Soccer Foundation's Passback Tour, brought to you by Nestle Pure Life, features a series of free soccer clinics for youth in underserved communities.

The Passback Tour provides:
-Soccer clinics that emphasize the importance of healthy lifestyles
-Interactive health-hydration booths for families of youth participating in the soccer clinics
-Connections for families with local soccer programs that will help children achieve the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity daily

Through the Foundation's Passback Program, new and gently used soccer gear is collected by organizations, teams, clubs and individuals, then redistributed across the globe to help underserved communities play the Beautiful Game. Soccer is a unifying force that brings together people of all ethnicities and has the power to open doors, hearts, and minds of those who play.

Since its inception, the Passback Program has collected and distributed over 750,000 pieces of soccer gear. However, there is always more that can be done. We hope that you can help us reach our ultimate goal of collecting and distributing 1 million pieces of equipment.

The dedication to the Passback Tour has allowed us to enrich lives through soccer and provide desperately needed equipment to hundreds of people who don't have the means to get equipment on their own. We truly appreciate all of our "Passback Stars" hard work and dedication to the Program. Find out how you can jump on board to this unique opportunity that allows people to reach out and connect to their community. Share the Equipment, Share the Game!

Dr. John Thomas spearheaded the event along with the help of David Edwards, Health Educator for the Diabetes Health and Wellness Institute – An Affiliate of Baylor Health Care System and Brian Gonzales, Founder & President of Good Football, a Sport & Development Group, www.goodfootball.org. The clinic was held at the facilities of the Diabetes Health and Wellness Institute. Many thanks go to their staff for making the facility available for free, as well as having several of their staff members assist with registration and service to the attendees.

The boys and girls who attended the clinic ranged in age from 5 to 12 years old. Some had played the game before and some were new to soccer. We laid out 10 grids and then split up the kids by ages with appropriate age groups in each grid. The clinic was conducted in two 1 hour sessions. At the first session, while it was still below 100 degrees, we had 125 kids attend. At the second session, as the temperature rose to 100+ degrees (that it has been in Dallas all summer long), we had 80 kids out playing the game. Helping Dr. Thomas and me with the coaching was Tom, a North Texas State Staff Coach and quite a few North Texas State Soccer ODP players. 

The ODP players were paired up and each pair was given a grid to run training activities and small-sided games with the kids. It was fun watching the ODP players, who are quite accustomed to being on the other side of the ball as players, in a training session now taking on the coaching role. After they got their balance in their new role, several of them did quite well. I can tell you that there are a few future coaches among them

Dr. Thomas and I ran the ODP players through how to conduct the training activities before the kids arrived. A few of the ODP players worked both sessions and thus committed themselves to a three hour stint at coaching youngsters in 90+ degree heat. In fact, it got hot enough during the day that 10 balls popped. I can honestly say that I had not seen that happen before – soccer ball spontaneous combustion!

Outstanding training activities were provided by Vince Ganzberg from his Human Development program for Indiana Soccer which has the goal of "Raising the Bar for Indiana's Youth through Soccer." If you would like to have a copy of the booklet with the activities we conducted and more, just contact the Indiana Soccer office or me and a copy of the booklet will be E-mailed to you.

Thanks go out to Charles Dickson for the photos of the North Texas State Soccer ODP players coaching the kids during the two sessions. Impressively, another 900 pictures were taken of the kids. https://picasaweb.google.com/108080080971659636875/ODPVolunteers?authkey=Gv1sRgCIOMyq_knJXxogE The US Youth Soccer marketing department also, provided premium give-away items for both Youth Soccer Month and Soccer Across America.

If you ever have the chance to be involved in a Passback clinic or any Soccer Across America event, I urge you to do so!
 

Goalkeeping begins at U-10

Sam Snow

I had the following interaction with a coach in Florida not long ago:
 
Sam, can you send me some good articles or a comment on why we should play without goalies at U-8? I am trying to influence a club to change to this format.
 
The U-8 age group is still in an egocentric phase of psychological development, which tells us that we should allow these children to run and chase the ball, to be in the game – not waiting at the end of the field for the game to come to them. It is more important at this age that they chase the game. Children this age want to play with the toy (the ball) and they need to go to where the toy is to be fully engaged.
 
Consider also this passage from the Ajax youth development plan: "It is typical for the 8 to 10 age group that each child plays for himself rather than combining with the others. In addition, children move towards the ball and not away from it, and are inclined to play the ball forward and not to the side or backwards."
 
Emotionally, a 7 year old cannot make the distinction between himself the goalkeeper and himself the child. So when a goal is scored, and all of the adults groan out loud, he blames himself for the goal being scored. It's no wonder then that they begin to shy away from playing in goal.
 
Please remember that visual tracking acuity is not fully developed until around age 10. This visual ability impacts a person's capacity to track a moving object over a long distance or when in the air. This is one of the physiological reasons we wait until the U-10 age group to introduce the position of goalkeeper.
 
In conclusion, here is a pertinent section from the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model:
 
Why no keeper until U-10?
 
Here is the Position Statement of the 55 State Association technical directors on the position of goalkeeper:
 
"We believe goalkeepers should not be a feature of play at the U-6 and U-8 age groups. All players in these age groups should be allowed to run around the field and chase the toy – the ball. For teams in the U-10 and older age groups, goalkeepers should become a regular feature of play. However, young players in the U-10, U-12 and U-14 age groups should not begin to specialize in any position at this time in their development."
 
The analysis of most soccer experts is that small-sided games for young children are most beneficial for learning basic motor skills, basic rules and the fundamental concepts of the game. They also learn how to interact with their peers within a game involving a ball. What is not supported is the use of goalkeepers in this format. Children want to run, kick the ball and score goals. Every child should experience the triumph and success of scoring a goal. They don't do well when told to stand in one place. If the action is at the other end of the field, a young goalkeeper will find some other activity to hold his or her attention.
 
Young children have great difficulty visually tracking moving objects, especially if they are in the air. Most children younger than 10 are very reactionary in their movement behavior and will duck or throw hands in front of the face if the ball comes toward the head. Anticipating where the ball might be played is a skill that has not yet developed and that does not really develop until age 9 or 10. Prior to age 9, visual tracking acuity is not fully developed. Players have difficulty accurately tracking long kicks or the ball above the ground. Beginning at approximately age 10, one's visual tracking acuity achieves an adult pattern.
 
Striking the ball at a small target accurately is a challenge for all children. Goalkeepers restrict the opportunities to score goals to a select few players. Young children stuck in goal will not develop goalkeeping skills and are more likely to get hit with the ball than actually save it.
 
It is important to wait until children are better able--physically, mentally and emotionally--to handle the demands of being a goalkeeper. There are no goalkeepers in the 3v3 and 4v4 format through age 8; goalkeeping is then introduced in the 6v6 format beginning at age 9. This still allows plenty of time for children to grow up and be the best goalkeepers they can be. Thus most likely keeping them engaged in playing soccer for many years to come. Once players take on the goalkeeper role, they tend to grow in the position through three general stages. Those stages are shot blocker, shot stopper and finally goalkeeper.
 
The shot blocker stage is one where the goalkeeper simply reacts to shots after they have been taken. He or she tries to get into position to make saves and this is sometimes merely blocking a shot and not making a clean catch. The attacking role of the shot blocker is usually just a punt of the ball downfield.
 
At the shot stopper stage, a player has progressed to not only making saves after a shot is taken but also being able to anticipate shots. With this improved ability to read the game, the shot stopper gets intobetter positions to make saves and begins to stop shots from being taken in the first place. The shot stopper now comes out on through balls and collects them before a shot is taken. The shot stopper also cuts out crosses before opponents can get to the ball. The shot stopper comes out in one-on-one situations and takes the ball off the attacker's feet. The shot stopper can deal with the ball both before and after a shot is made. Distribution with some tactical thought on the attack is also developing for the shot stopper.
 
The goalkeeper stage is the complete package. The goalkeeper is highly athletic and physically fit. The goalkeeper is mentally tough, composed and confident. The goalkeeper has the full set of skills for the role to both win the ball (defending techniques) and to distribute the ball (attacking techniques). A full-fledged goalkeeper is indeed the last line of defense and the first line of attack. A goalkeeper not only makes saves but contributes to the attack with tactical and skillful distribution of the ball. The goalkeeper is physically and verbally connected to the rest of the team no matter where the ball is on the field. A first-rate goalkeeper is mentally involved in the entire match and is therefore physically ready when the time comes to perform.
 
Thank you, I believe we have success. This one is for the kids. I am here to tell you all the tact and education in the world, won't keep some from wanting to hang me high. I informed them of the rule. I suggested they should change. I thought a compromise could help lead them in the right direction, at least.I included our rules committee chair into the matter. I forwarded her response, because the board wantedto know if it was mandatory. While I was awaiting her response I sent Sam's response along. I also included my District Commissioner in the matter. I had her full support. Ultimately this was the board's decision. Tonight the registrar told me she's making two more teams and moving to this format. The one argument I heard was this was a progressive club and they wanted to be able to train goalies in prep for U-10 competition. They may hate me but, the kids win. All is good.
 
 
The logic that one needs to have the U-8 age group play goalkeeper in order to be prepared for the introduction of the position at U-10 is flawed. By the same unfounded logic, we should have 14-year-olds drive cars in preparation for when they are actually allowed to do so at age 16. If we allow this encroachment mentality to take hold, rather than showing adult patience and long-term development perspective, then the club would soon have keepers at U-6 in preparation for U-8 which they mean to actually be in preparation for when the position is introduced at U-10. Furthermore it tells me that the adults involved underestimate the children's ability to learn the new skills and concepts of play when they move into the U10 age group. Why does the club lack faith in its own players?
 
This is a classic slippery slope. The approach is also indicative of a mindset of children's soccer being a spectator sport for the adults; which it is not! Youth soccer is for the players, not the spectators. If the spectators want the thrill of a sporting spectacle then go watch a MLS, WPS or college match.
 

Get In The Game

Sam Snow

For several years US Youth Soccer has had advertisements for TV and other mediums called "Get Out and Get in the Game". The idea was to promote young people to get outside play soccer and interact with their friends. I have the same idea in mind for coaches. No, I don't mean coaches going to play soccer; although that would be a good thing. I mean for coaches getting involved in the political game.

Now before you panic coaches, I'm not saying you should run for an elected position; although that's not a bad idea either. What I mean is for coaches to get involved in the decision making process for policies and by-laws. The thought of coaches getting themselves involved with the decision makers comes to my mind since this weekend is the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of US Youth Soccer. The AGM is held in conjunction with the Finals of the National Championships Series (NCS). Both the NCS Finals and the AGM are took place in Phoenix last week. Check out the US Youth Soccer web site for great video clips and stories on the Finals.

As to the AGM and coaches involving themselves in the decision making process, I have always advocated that coaches do so. I hear too many coaches complain about the decisions made at the AGM of their club or state association, but they never made any effort to participate. When I was the Technical Director for Louisiana Soccer I encouraged the club directors of coaching to attend the state AGM and speak up on issues that impacted the playing environment. A few of the club coaches took up the challenge and voiced their thoughts at the meetings. Even though they did not have a vote, usually the club president had that right, having coaches there and speaking on the proposals helped to sway the decisions being made.

It is that kind of involvement as a leader in a club or a state association in which coaches should participate. Do not become a politician. Let the administrators make the business decisions that are necessary to operate clubs, leagues and associations. Do, however, get involved in the decision being made that impacts players and coaches. If you do not get in the game then you have no right to complain about the outcome. Some coaches say that soccer decisions are being made by non-soccer people. Well where are you? If you want decisions made by "soccer people" then get yourself to those meetings. So come on coaches, Get Out and Get in the Game!