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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.

 

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.
 

Lack of concern in all sports

Sam Snow

One of the hindrances to the development of American soccer players is over-coaching during a match. Far too many coaches do it and far too many club directors and team parents accept it. Players in their late teens have probably learned to tune out the vociferous coach if they have one. Younger players are less likely to have learned that skill yet. Of course, it's a sad comment to acknowledge that players must learn to tune out a loud mouth coach.

So how have I come to this discussion? Well it stems from a brief e-mail exchange with a club coach and the Technical Director in New Jersey. Take a quick read:

Club coach: Rick, any thoughts as to when the rules of the game may extend unsportsmanlike conduct to coaches? As a youth coach, I often sit in my chair on the sideline and listen to the guys next me trying to give themselves a heart attack. I usually talk to my players when I sub them. It never occurred to me that the other coach yelling would be a problem for my players until I asked one of my players why they chose to make the play they did, they said all they can hear is the other coach yelling and it confused them. I started asking my players and all the way up from U-8 to U-14 have the same issue. If the other guy is loud, then they get distracted. My favorite is when a coach 'yells let it go' for a ball to roll out of bounds and my player stops. I think it is a natural reaction for kids. I know everyone says the parents are an issue and I believe that too, but I think the other coach barking is the same thing as a player from the other team barking in someone's ear. I would love to see the debate on that one.

State coach: Unfortunately these are the remnants of the "over coaching and directing" culture of youth sports-- we have no control over what the opponent's coach does; technically the referee should put the ca bash on that -- could be interpreted as over coaching. I tell the players to only respond to my voice and the referee's whistle.

Indeed over-coaching is a cultural habit in American youth sports with soccer not being an exception. Parents and club administrators not only allow it, but in many cases expect it because they think that's what coaching is. All of us need to work constantly to educate clubs that it is in fact poor coaching if the coach is joy sticking the players around the field. It means that he or she has done a poor job of coaching during training sessions if the players have not been taught to think for themselves.

State coach: It is just unbelievable how the children that Coach D describes in his email stop like the power switch has been turned off when they hear the other coach's voice!

Now why do the parents and administrators put up with over-coaching during a match? Because so many think that's what good coaching is. We all need to make a concentrated effort to educate parents of young players and club directors that the better coaches tend to be the ones who sit and observe during most of the match. Yes, they will yell a few comments and reminders during the match. But they are not the puppet master trying to control every move from the technical area. I would begin my education campaign within a club by sharing an article in Youth Soccer Insider by Claudio Reyna, U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director. 

Claudio Reyna: 'Coaches should sit down', by Mike Woitalla - Thursday, April 21, 2011

This discussion began with the sharing of a blog on the general lack of concern about the player has seeped into all levels of sport. Enjoy and share.

An article to reflect upon your coaching ethics and values…
 

How would you market a club?

Sam Snow

Q: How would you market a club; internally and externally?

I think the marketing of a club is extensive. To speak to the full scope of the task may be beyond this medium. However, here are a few thoughts. 

Externally, the club must think of point of contact with its targeted customers. So for children, it will be schools, doctors/dentists offices, religious centers, movie theaters and other business places aimed at youngsters, Chuck E. Cheese for example. Also consider parks and recreation departments, YMCA, Boys Clubs, Scouts, Police Athletic League, etc. if they are not running soccer programs themselves. Additionally, if the funds are available then advertising on billboards, newspapers, radio and local public access TV, keeping in mind that newspapers, radio and TV all also deliver over the internet.

Externally, I would also build relationships with high school and college soccer programs. If there are semi-pro and/or pro soccer franchises in the area, then work with them too.

Once a club is up and operating, then advertising on its own web site becomes quite important. Joining forces with the state soccer association on this platform can extend the reach of the club considerably. Then there are many other means to promote the club from within. It could be a fundraiser golf tournament, a holiday dance, an appreciation BBQ for the volunteer team mangers, a club night at a professional match, the club mission statement printed on bag tags for all players and team equipment, encouraging teams to go watch each other play, etc. Bottom line though is the word of mouth from player to player, parent to parent, manager to manager, etc. To get the right messages being shared requires regular communication from the club leadership.
 

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