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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.

 

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!
 

Appropriate Field

Sam Snow

Last week the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy held a tournament at Pizza Hut Park, which is the location of the US Youth Soccer national office. I was able that week to watch some great matches. I was also able to share a meeting with Claudio Reyna, Youth Technical Director; Tony Lepore, Director of Youth National Team Scouting; and Asher Mendelsohn, Director of Referees, Coaching Administration and Development Academy Programs.

We had good discussions on coaching education and aspects of player development in the USA. One facet of player development on which we all agree is that players twelve years old and younger should play small-sided games. But what must be further addressed is that often the field on which these small-sided games are played are too large for the age group. There's little point to the match if the field is so large that the players must play kick-n-run simply to cover the yardage. When the field is too big then quality soccer only makes a rare appearance.

For real soccer to happen in a small-sided game for players in the Under-6, U-8, U-10 and U-12 age groups then the field must be of the appropriate dimensions. The right size field makes it possible for players to dribble, pass and shoot in realistic situations on realistic parts of the field. As they get into the U-12 age group then the tactical possibilities in the game grow for the players when on the right size field.

So the right environment for preteen players must be a smaller field with an adjusted size goal and smaller ball. The length of play must be shorter and the number of players on the field must be less than eleven-a-side. Here are the national recommendations for the proper size ball and field by age group.

Age Appropriate Ball Sizes
Age group
Ball size
Circumference
Weight
U-6 and U-8
3
23-24 inches
11-12 ounces
U-10 and U-12
4
25-26 inches
12-13 ounces
U-14 to U-18+
5
27-28 inches
14-16 ounces

 
US Youth Soccer Recommended Field Dimensions
Age Group
Length x Width (yards)
U-6
25 x 20
U-8
35 x 25
U-10
55 x 40
U-12
80 x 55
U-14
100 x 65
U-16
110 x 70
U-18+
120 x 75
 
 

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.