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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.

 

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. 
 

Build Culture Excellence

Sam Snow

Occasionally I am asked questions about the club environment. Most of those questions are about problems such as dealing with belligerent coaches or the blind eye that club administrators turn when a team is winning but deeper life lessons are not being taught.

Sometimes though, the question is about how can our club improve what we are doing? Here's one such question that came across my desk.

How would you help build and create a culture of excellence? E.g. training, uniforms, standards, expectations?

I think the culture begins with the leaders in the club.  That will be the top administrators and coaches, and certainly having the full board of directors on board is a major plus; they must walk the talk, so to speak, when it comes to the club's mission statement and philosophy.  The next most important group to get on track to create a culture of excellence is the parents.  There is no doubt this is challenging and a never-ending aspect of the culture, but in the end it is the most important.  The parents influence all others in the club; players, coaches and administrators – in that order.

Working with the parents regarding the sporting experience of children though is an area still largely ignored by clubs. Most still believe the priority for their efforts is player development. That once was the case, but not today. The reality is that the number one priority is education of the soccer parent. That education is not necessarily about the tactics of the game or the rules for the age group. It certainly isn't about how to raise children. No, it's about the environment at matches, the either positive or infamous ride home, the understanding of the long term goals of youth soccer participation and it's about the management of adult expectations of the return on investment. It is about being a supportive group for the youth soccer experience. Clearly the majority of parents fall into exactly that category as evidenced by the large numbers of young people playing the game all across our nation. The Parents section of the US Youth Soccer website has quality resources for clubs and parents: /parents/. I encourage you to take advantage of the free materials and guidance there.

For a culture of excellence then to be understood and embraced by the club members the leaders must LEAD. Begin that endeavor by following these objectives of leadership. An interesting way to think about leadership in a succinct manner:

Leadership Characteristics:
-           Take accountability for results
-           Create direction and focus
-           Set the bar high
-           High energy level
-           Always willing to try new things
-           Unleash energy and talent in operations
-           Self-driven
-           Prioritize speed

Some of these elements become challenging when they are out of our direct control.  For those that are in our control, we can embrace them as they help us make forward strides and have significant impacts.

I'll close with one of my favorite passages from a quality sports leader which is taught in the National Youth License coaching course.

"There are many people, particularly in sports who think that success and excellence are the same thing and they are not the same thing. Excellence is something that is lasting and dependable and largely within a person's control. In contrast, success is perishable and is often outside our control… If you strive for excellence, you will probably be successful eventually… People who put excellence in first place have the patience to end up with success… An additional burden for the victim of the success mentality is that he/she is threatened by success of others and resents real excellence. In contrast, the person fascinated by quality is excited when he/she sees it in others."

Joe Paterno – Penn State football coach – 1990