Check out the weekly blogs

Online education from US Youth Soccer

Clubhouse

Play for a Change

Play for a Change

US Youth Soccer Intagram!

Check out the national tournament database

Sports Authority

Marketplace

Wilson Trophy Company

Happy Family

Nesquik

Capri Sun

Play Positive Banner

Print Page Share

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.

 

Role of Competition in Soccer Development

Sam Snow

I’ve jested with my colleagues from time-to-time that part of our job in youth soccer is to rock the boat. Don’t tip it over, but do rock it now and then. The objective of rocking that boat is to get folks attention on a particular matter. So here goes – let’s rock the boat.

The topic of competition in the development of a soccer player is one that could be a semester long course in a university, so suffice it to say that a short blog posting won’t cover all of the possible discussion points. I do hope that it stimulates conversation among you and your coaching colleagues.

Let me open the discussion with these thoughts.

Competition = 1. The act or process of competing; 2. A contest between rivals. From the Latin competere, meaning to seek together, to come together, agree or be suitable.

So from the start we need other soccer players to have a game in order to compete. Competition in the development of a soccer player is first and foremost self-competition; improving upon your best. Secondarily that competition is with others in order to once again improve upon your best.

Competition exists in all of youth soccer, in all age groups and in every level of play; often though, people think that competition only exists in outcome-based matches, leagues or tournaments. That has lead us to the unfortunate labels we’ve put on ourselves of recreational soccer and competitive soccer. There are more similarities between those two player development pathways than differences. Below is a slide from a presentation that I made at the 2014 US Youth Soccer Workshop.

NYL

The goal of showing the similarities of youth recreation soccer and youth competitive soccer was to show that they are largely the same thing. The biggest differences that I see between the two are the quality of coaching and the quality of soccer being played.

Part of the message that we deliver in the “Y” License is that all youth soccer is recreational – by definition. Until the players receive a paycheck for their soccer talents they are in fact amateur players. All amateur soccer is recreational. I tell the coaches to imagine a ball dropped between two 6-year-olds and watch them compete. Do the same thing with two 19-year-olds and the same thing will happen. That 1 vs. 1 will simply look quite different when performed by the 19-year-olds than when done by the young children. Yet both pairs of players are competing. So the conclusion is that all youth soccer is competitive. The difference is the age appropriateness of that competition. We then draw out the fact that we in youth soccer do ourselves a disservice by labeling two houses of youth soccer as ‘rec’ or ‘comp’ when in fact both exist under the same roof.

The discussion then is not whether competition has a place in the development of a soccer player for it clearly does. The debate is on when do use the score of the match as the primary measure of development. The following discussion ensued not long ago between a high school coach who is also on US Youth Soccer ODP region staff, a State Association technical director [he was looking for resources as he was battling the movement in his state association to start U8 travel teams], technical staff within U. S. Soccer and the NSCAA and two college professors who are “A” License coaches and instruct in the national coaching schools.

“I am part of a committee that is researching the role of competition in development ---I was wondering if you had any documents or studies about youth sports  say starting at age five on up –if competition can/does play a role and how much, and when  -- is competition detrimental to development, etc.?”  - High school coach

“I have attached three research articles that may aid his attempt to curb U8 Travel/Select soccer. There are some elements in these that can aid him. The summary of these documents for me is that the environment has to be sound and educational. If the environment is beneficial for long term athletic development then youth development shall prevail. I know we had this problem too here in my home state. Still do. Basically, he needs to get the clubs on board with him if he can. You can always have him call Bobby Clark from Notre Dame who told me when we were going through the same fight that "Kids spend too much time in cars today". He then said that basically children shouldn't travel one way more than the length of the game. We have so many children playing why the need to travel so far. I found that very insightful. Then ask how many of these children are still in car seats?  How many of these children still can't tie their shoes? I spent a lot of time tying shoes for our U8's. Maybe that is specific to my state? I guess the real question he should ask is:  Show me where it is better for them to put them in a travel/select environment when they are seven here in America? Maybe there is real evidence.  If there is, I haven't seen it. To be fair though, each child is different and it should be up to the clubs to make the right decision for that specific case.” – U. S. Soccer technical staff

“This is all good stuff, but I'm not sure it addresses their primary question: At what age and to what degree should children engage in competition? This of course also depends on our definition of competition. But perhaps the more accurate question is at what age can children successfully participate in organized team sport? And how does the structure influence their child's development.”  – College [Midwest] professor

Perfect point!  Sam, this is a bit to my point to from yesterday – defining competition.  Competition isn’t inherently bad as it is frequently spontaneous with kids.  For me, the real issue is how kids perceive competition and more importantly how adults and others are framing and working with kids in competitive endeavors. – College [West] professor

“At the heart of this issue, is the "level of insanity" that the parent-coaches and parents bring to the competitive games at U8. I obviously understand that measuring this in a concrete and scientific way is impossible. This being said, and with such huge numbers leaving the game by 13, I wish we could prove the relationship between specific behaviors and their effects (beyond doubt). My belief is that the move to competitive U8 games, that mirror the attitudes and behaviors shown by their U10, U12, etc... counterparts will simply mean we lose more players even younger. Will our clubs be looking at 70% leaving by 10 years old? – State Association technical director

“Be brave, if you win the fight, some other organization will endorse it and pick up the registrations. So be clear on the principle, be clear on how much stomach for the "fight" and try to educate rather than legislate to the solution.  – NSCAA technical staff

Here then is my final thought.

As has been pointed out, I believe the matter about which to educate the adults is not competition per se, but outcome based youth soccer. The fact is that ALL of our youth soccer players are recreational players and they ALL are competitive players. Until they are paid professional players, recreation and competition are one in the same. The only thing that changes is the level of play.

The issue at hand instead is putting young players into outcome (results) oriented soccer environments and when should that experience begin. The adults want soccer that is a spectacle. They want it for themselves and most care little about the players. This is why so many adults rush to having tryouts, earned playing time, won/loss records, team standings, promotion and relegation and championships at earlier and earlier ages. Some of those folks ignorantly think that earlier is better for player development. They need to be educated on the facts. Some folks want this environment early in a soccer player’s life so that they can charge the parents more money sooner in the player’s soccer timeline. They must be taught a new business model. Some adults want children to compete before they have learned how to play the game. They need continuing education.

The challenge before us, as I see it, is parent education. Youth soccer in our country is not driven by coaches or administrators, referees or even the players. Parents drive youth soccer in the USA. If we want to improve our soccer culture we must undertake massive parent education. That would be best lead by the USOC and involve every Olympic sport, not just soccer. I may not be helping your immediate needs, but I am confident that you understand that the encroachment of over-competitiveness into younger and younger age groups is a cancer in youth sports. It is one that we must collectively work to cut out. As rants go this is a short one, but I think the issue of misguided adult expectations in youth soccer is at the heart of everything we are doing.

Comments (5)

 

Soccer is Like School

Sam Snow

When I make a presentation to a club or in discussion with coaches at a coaching school, I often make the connection that a young soccer player’s growth in the game is VERY similar to their growth as a student. The timeline to high quality performance is about the same, in their twenties. The variety of types of learners (players) and teachers (coaches) is about the same and the need for clear communication with parents is the same.

I’ve found that the academic analogy works well with most adults. They know that their second grader isn’t ready for Geometry; other mathematics must be learned first. Pick any subject and there is a foundation that must be learned before going on to advanced study. Grammar school children are not ready for college academics. Those same children are not ready to play the adult version of soccer. Both academic and athletic development take decades to achieve.

Club leaders must work on club management through a dedicated player development model. The analogy would be to speak of the many years of schooling, with continuous "training", starting with the basic building blocks prior to a kid being ready to enter the job market and compete for jobs.

The business connection of a school and a youth soccer club reflect one another as well. Both are not for profit organizations. Yet they must have a sound business plan to keep the doors open in order to achieve their mission. The mission of the school is the academic development of the student. The mission of the club is the soccer development of the player. Remember, we’re talking about the same kid here. For most of the day that kid is a student in school and later in the same day he or she is a player in the club. But who’s the customer and who’s the consumer is different in both settings.

At the school and the club the parents are the customer in that they pay the costs involved. The consumer is the student at school – academic matriculation. The consumer at the club is the player – soccer matriculation. In the youth soccer club setting there is clearly a difference between the customer and the consumer.

It’s roughly twenty years to end up with a college or post-graduate degree and the time line is the same for the majority of players to high level soccer performance.

Comments (1)

 

Finding the Right Balance

Sam Snow

I am a parent from Southern California and I have question.

I was wondering if you have done a story in the past or possibly consider a future story regarding the clash between Club Soccer and High School Soccer. What do the experts say about practicing twice a day? Once at high school and then at club practice? My daughter plays on a team heading to National League in 3 weeks, we asked our high school coach to let our daughter sustain from high school practice (contact drills) until she returns from North Carolina.

My daughter played varsity (goalkeeper) as a freshmen last year and was injured at high school practice. She missed nearly 90% of the high school season. I was watching high school practice last year when she was injured. The previous high school coached was running a Keeper vs Field player (One-on-One) drill for nearly an hour. As time went on the field players became more reckless. So this year as a sophomore we do not want to take a chance of our daughter getting hurt.

 

Coaches of elite players absolutely must educate the player and the player’s parents on striking the right balance of activity. It is also very helpful when that player’s coaches are all involved in the discussion. Connecting those coaches is the responsibility of the player. We are mistaken when we think that a teenaged player has boundless energy and therefore can play in multiple demanding soccer events. No athlete has inexhaustible energy. All athletes need recovery time from strenuous events (matches, tournaments or demanding training sessions).

The coaches of high performance players are well aware that the player is on more than one team and to act as if that’s not the case is very selfish of them. The coach who really cares about the individual player, as well as the team performance, will take into account the physical and mental demands on a high performance player who is being asked to play the most number of minutes in every match on the schedule and is likely on more than one team not only in a year, but perhaps in a season. The coach who sees the big picture will give the player good counsel on when to take time off, will put that player in regeneration sessions as it fits that players soccer schedule (even if that’s out of synch with the rest of the team) and will reach out to the player’s parents to give them facts on proper sleep, hydration, days off and nutrition for the player under heavy demands.

The coach who is interested in the player’s long term career in soccer as well as performance in the immediate season will also reach out to those other coaches to work on a sensible schedule for the high performance player. Coaches who only care about their team’s performance to the exclusion of all else will not do any of the steps just described.

It is the well-educated coach who is more likely to make the balanced decision with the player. For example the three slides below are from the U.S. Soccer “E” and “D” license coaching courses and they speak directly to over training and over playing a player or team.
 

snow1

 

snow2


snow3

Coaches have an obligation to make well informed decisions that affect players’ health.

Comments (0)

 

Coed Soccer

Sam Snow

Thoughts on coed soccer training sessions and games between club, state and national coaches…

My name is Ed Leon and I'm the Director of Coaching at NSA Premier in Illinois.  I just wanted to get your opinion on some observations I have made with coed training.

My son, a U16, and daughter, a U15 player, train once per week in a coed environment. Both teams are high level and have tremendous technical skills. Currently during the indoor season, we've been doing cross fit type training (body weight only) and then playing coed futsal. It is a controlled environment and the boys are extremely respectful and aware of the physiological differences between themselves and the girls. The teams are selected on a boy, girl, boy, girl fashion and are balanced.

My general observations:

  • The two teams are great friends and have formed close bonds.
  • I've noticed an increased speed of play with the girls when they play only girls. They are far more aggressive as well, without being reckless.
  • On the boys’ side, I've noticed the boys are willing to experiment more with their 1v1 skills, maybe because they feel they have time to do it, whereas when they play boys of their own caliber, they combine more and depend on working together as a unit. However, if they need to go 1v1, they can do it, in part because of their futsal training with the girls and keeping those technical skills sharp.
     

As we transition outdoors, hopefully, if the weather improves in Chicago, we plan to maintain the once per week coed training environment. The emphasis will be more on the 7v7 thru 11v11 topics. I hypothesize that we will continue to see similar results as we have during the indoor season, improved speed of play and technical 1v1 mastery.

I hope you can provide me with further suggestions to improve our training environment for our players.



Hi Ed,

Thanks for your note.  I think what you are doing with coed soccer is a great format.  I am sure the kids get many benefits from the training you are providing.  I am sure they learn both intrinsic (leadership, communication, etc.) as well as the more obvious extrinsic (ball skills, tactics, etc.) from each other.

As you transition to outdoor play this spring may I suggest that you follow predominately a 7v7 format as you note below, so that the sheer athleticism of the boys (speed, strength, etc.) doesn't become their solution to each tactical dilemma the girls will give them.  Occasionally though do play 11-a-side.  By keeping that format a unique experience the kids will value it more when it comes around.

Ed, I imagine there are indeed other clubs across the nation doing a similar format for coed soccer, but I've not had any reports from them. I’ve asked the 55 state association technical directors to find out from them if they have clubs doing anything along these lines.

Sam



Sam,

Thanks for taking the time to respond in a thoughtful and thorough manner. I will certainly take your advice on keeping it more on 7v7 and have the boys rely less on their physicality. I'm always curious to learn what others are doing to help our kids develop as players and people. With what I've observed with my two older kids, I started using the same format this winter with my U12 daughter and my U11 boys. Very cool stuff from soccer to socialization. I will follow that into the spring season too.

Ed Leon



Ed:

My experience here in Arkansas has been very similar to yours. I first noticed that our 11v11 adult leagues were small, and consisted almost exclusively of young men who had grown up playing the game at least past the high school level.  Our 7v7 adult leagues, on the other hand, were thriving, and featured a much better mix of men and women as well as a broader mix of playing levels. A very high percentage of our 7v7 adults never played the game until they had children of their own, so this was proof to me that we have to use small-sided games to introduce novice players to the game, regardless of their age.

As Sam pointed out, the 7v7 format does a great deal to neutralize the physical advantages that males have over females, and it shifts more of the game toward the technical and tactical aspects.  The other big benefit I've seen is that players are physically much closer to each other in 7v7, which leads to much greater social interaction than you see in 11v11.

I would differ from Sam in that I would reserve the 11v11 games for gender-specific play at the U13 and older levels.  I recall that the US Women's National Team played a series of scrimmages against the La Jolla Nomads U16 Boys back in 1999, during their training camp ahead of the 1999 Women's World Cup that they went on to win. The boys beat them comfortably (3-0, from what I remember) in those scrimmages, because they could simply kick and run past the women even though the women were tactically and technically superior. This was useful for the women to improve speed of play, but it certainly is not the kind of thing that makes much sense to do on a regular basis, because it will lead them to change the way they play (in a negative way) over time. Keep in mind that most of the '99ers grew up playing as the only girl on a boys team for significant portions of their childhood -- we lost that when the numbers grew to the point where gender-specific became possible, and I think there is a need to bring some of that integration back. The Germans currently select a few of their top girls to train with their top boys at their regional training centers (comparable to our ODP training sites across the US), so they obviously see a need for this, too.

Because of these observations, we introduced 7v7 coed divisions to our recreational leagues here in Little Rock three years ago. We still haven't convinced enough clubs to take advantage of this division, but it has been very beneficial for those teams that have participated. I have also incorporated two coed training sessions for my oldest players during our ODP Winter Training Segments, which allowed me to reduce the travel demands on some of my players while also taking advantage of the effects you've noted below. Again, I have to choose my training topics wisely for these sessions (to focus mostly on technique), but it has been well-received by the players thus far.

One final extension of this concept I'd offer is to ensure that you have your female coaches working with your boys just as much as you have male coaches working with your girls (to the extent that you have staff to do so). My ODP coaching staff is still 3/4 male, but all my women work just as many sessions with the boys as they do the girls. I've found this to be valuable for both players and coaches in their development, and it is something that I feel should be done much, much more across the country.

If you'd like another take on this idea, see Pia Sundhage's recent comments...

http://www.businessinsider.com/pia-sundhage-answer-coach-men-2014-3

Robert Parr, Director of Coaching - Arkansas State Soccer Association



Robert,

That's great feedback. I do agree with you on the introduction of coed environments; controlled of course, but coed. The more I hear, the more I'm convinced that this is the direction we need to look. As you mentioned, a key X factor for the 99ers was involvement with boys. I can really see the difference in how my daughters play due to their involvement with my older son and the boys. I guess this would be analogous to resistance training. By simple stress adaptation, you become stronger and faster.
 

You make a lot of sense with recommending small-sided as the way to go; however, if you keep the 11v11 games as a true mix of boys and girls on each team, you counter balance the impact of male vs female physiological differences. Also, as coaches, we have the power to ensure that physical strength is not the only means to beat the girls. I would suggest placing strong restrictions such as limited touches or everyone has to touch the ball before you can score, or whatever.
 

I will keep you posted on our progress and sometimes old school is the best way to move into the future. We can artificially replicate the 99ers experience. Maybe call the method, Project 99ers? Let's keep talking so we stay cutting edge.

Ed


 

I do use the co-ed training with my U14 boys and girls on a U12 field and they absolutely love it.

Steve Kehm, Technical Director – South Dakota State Soccer

Comments (0)