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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.

 

Consistent Performance

Sam Snow

"My son plays soccer well, when he wants to. The issue is that he is like a roller coaster and has great days, and lackluster days. How do I get more of the great days out of him?"  - Soccer Dad

Consistent match performance is a never-ending effort for players. One can watch a professional team and see dips and rises in the performance of highly talented players. This ‘ebb and flow’ of performance is a natural human characteristic. One must also consider the age and soccer experience of a player. The younger and/or the less experienced player will naturally have more obvious peaks and valleys in game day performance. Research in expert performance, in a variety of fields of endeavor, shows that it takes about 10,000 hours of training and playing to become an expert performer. The clock on the 10,000 hours toward expert performance starts ticking once a basic foundation is laid. That foundation is laid in the U6 to the U12 age groups (Zone 1 of the U.S. Soccer player development pyramid). The expert performance time line begins roughly at the U13 age group; so 10,000 hours is about 10 years of training and playing on a very consistent basis every week. This means a soccer player begins to achieve expert performance in their twenties.

Working toward consistent performance requires a player to go through trial and error as a part of the development process. To an extent ignore poor performance, but praise good performance. This is the behavior we want a player to repeat. Ask the player to replay a good move or a good training session or a good match over again in their head. This will help them imprint the performance in their mind. There is now a chance of it occurring again.

To achieve consistent performance a player must be self-motivated.  Only intrinsic motivation leads to expert abilities!

A soccer club can help establish the right environment for peak performance by continually educating the coaches, administrators and players’ parents on a proper developmental soccer culture, by providing free play (pickup game) opportunities at the club, by hosting skills school evenings, by playing small-sided games, etc.

A parent can help guide a player toward peak performance by teaching and modeling best off-the-field practices; i.e., good eating habits, proper sleep routines, deep hydration habits, personal exercise routines, etc. The parent can encourage the child to practice soccer skills at home. Parents and/or siblings can get out in the yard and play soccer with one another to deepen the passion for the game. Encourage the player to watch soccer on TV and to attend high level soccer matches in person.

But the most important motivating factor for parent to child is for the parent to let the child know that you love watching them play soccer.

Comments (2)

 

The Coachable Moment

Sam Snow

The questions that I receive from coaches across our nation provide good thoughts for us on the game.  Here are the comments and questions from a volunteer coach and my thoughts in reply.

I am a volunteer coach in a league coaching kids from U7 to U11. I have taken several coaching classes run by my state youth soccer coaching association. These classes have been very useful, but I continue to struggle with identifying the right coaching moments. I want the kids to be able to play as much as possible, but I also recognize that just choosing the right drills is not enough. I have a few questions.

How do I work on choosing the right coaching moments to interrupt? I don't want to interrupt the flow too often, but I often feel like I have spent too much time talking. How do I work on seeing the bigger picture? I often find myself focusing on the ball and fixing the issues around the ball while missing the problems further away that may have caused them.

My reply:

Finding the right coaching moment is an art. A coach will perfect that art when one reflects on each training session and thinks about those coachable moments and how did you interject with the players. With practice and personal evaluation, your skills at using the coachable moment will improve. I also suggest that you follow the steps outlined in the Coach’s Toolkit from U.S. Soccer.  The excerpt below comes from the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model.

When using a games-based approach during training much can be accomplished, through the use of guided discovery and the coach’s toolkit. The toolkit is a vehicle that allows coaches to teach, correct and influence the learning process of a player without taking away their creativity and killing the flow of the game or activity. The following are tools that can be used to progress from individual to group to team interaction:

  • Coaching in the flow – Coach from the sidelines as the training session goes on, without stopping the activity.
  • Individual coaching – One-on-one, pull a player to the side while the activity goes on.
  • Make corrections at a natural stoppage – Free kicks, ball going out of bounds, injury, etc.
  • Manipulation of the activity – For example, a four goal game to teach the players how to look both ways, switch the point of attack or shift defensively.
  • Freeze – The least desired way to teach; stopping the session to paint a picture kills the flow of the activity.
     

Determining which of these tools is best suited at a certain time of the training session is the key to making the session enjoyable while still being able to teach and learn.

Your issue on focusing most of your coaching to what is happening on or near the ball is not uncommon. You simply need to force yourself to watch the off-the-ball players during a training session. I often tell coaches that if you want to know what a player knows tactically about the game then watch them when they do not have the ball. Where are they positioned on the field? What’s their posture? Does their head move (indicates them scanning the field or ball watching)? You’ll need to also look away from the ball during matches in order to see if the team is staying compact and if the players are reading the game. You need to understand that you cannot watch the game or even a training session as a spectator would. You’ll simply miss too much of what is going on.  You will have a big impact on the players’ performance on and near the ball when you start to coach them off-the-ball.

Comments (3)

 

Two-A-Days

Sam Snow

The following comments came from our US Youth Soccer Facebook page:
 
"Do you have information 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? The situation has occurred for players on a team heading to National League in 3 weeks, so the high school coach was asked to let those particular players sustain from high school practice (contact drills) until they return from the National League weekend.

If experts do say that too much practice is harmful to young athletes, I think it would be a good idea for US Youth Soccer do a story and email that story to every high school soccer coach and Athletic Director across the entire Nation."
 
Two-a-day training for teenaged and older players has been going on for decades. Typically it’s done in the pre-season period of team preparation. I have seen it done by club teams late in the season in preparation for State Cup. That usually backfires and the team goes into cup competition with low energy reserves. Two-a-day workouts are best left to the preseason phase of team preparation.
 
Two-a-day training can work when it’s organized and conducted by one coach for players on one team. In this way the coach can properly manage the workload on the players. Only then can a proper periodization plan be prepared by the coach with varying workloads and scheduled time off for rest and recovery.
 
When players are going through two-a-day training sessions with two different teams and coaches then problems begin. The odds are that the two head coaches have not tailored their training plan for the players in this situation. The onus is on the coaches to communicate and cooperate regarding their training and periodization plans in the best interest of the players. The responsibility of the players here is to put the two coaches into contact with one another.
 
If the two coaches communicate a plan between them to have the players involved in this situation on a periodization scheme different from other players who are engaged with only one team at the time then it is possible to not exhaust the players. The coaches would need to check in with each other every week to be sure they are both still on the original plan. The fear for both coaches should be that they exhaust the players both physically and mentally. If that happens then neither team gets the best out of those players.
 
The best scenario here is for a player to play on just one team in a season. No one can go through two different training and match schedules in the same season and perform at optimum level. The higher the level of play the more demanding each match is and the more recovery time players need. In fact, it takes 72 hours to fully recover physically from highly vigorous exercise. When simultaneously playing for two teams the odds are low that proper balance in the training and match play periodization will occur.
 
For more information on periodization in soccer please attend an "E" and then the "D" license coaching course in your state soccer association.

Comments (1)

 

U8 Tournaments

Sam Snow

Please note that the Under-8 age group is not playing in tournaments nor do they all have flights or divisions of play across the USA. Indeed, most U8 teams play strictly intramural soccer (in-house; a.k.a., inside their own club). However, in some locals there is a rush to results oriented youth soccer and the questions and issues such as the one below come to being.
 
"Our U8 team attended a B, C level tournament with our C team. The host team played some of their designated B team players in all of the B games and also two for each of their C games along with their C players. Do you feel it is a skill building method to move the kids designated as B level to play against C players? And is this fair to the other teams who only brought C players?"
 
The intent of matches for the U8 age group should be to first and foremost deepen the love of the game within the children. The development of ball skills and game understanding is of secondary importance. Having players from two different levels play with and against each other can indeed be good for their development. That mixing of capabilities is what will happen when the kids have pick-up games in the neighborhood, at school or at the soccer club.
 
When the adults involved are less concerned with the score of the game and more attentive to how the kids play the game, then there’s a chance for real growth to occur; this where the question of fairness comes into discussion. Whether using a few "B" players in a "C" level match is fair stems from an outcome mindset. The mindset of the adults associated with the U8 age group should be on the process of play not the outcome of the match. While the players are aware of the score it is not the driving factor for their participation in soccer. They play, one hopes, because they enjoy the game. At this time in their soccer lives the emphasis must be on learning the game.
 
Please take a look at the U8 chapter in the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model. The information there will help to guide coaches, players’ parents and club administrators on meaningful developmental guidelines.
 
My final thought is really a question. Why are U8 players involved in a tournament in the first place? A tournament by definition is, "a championship series of games or athletic contests." So by definition, a tournament does not allow the opportunity for realistic development of such young players. They instead should participate in a soccer festival which is set up with round robin play, allows for players to play in several flights of competition and could even allow for players from different clubs to play in mixed matches. Oh, did I mention co-ed play? Give these children a fun soccer experience with a variety of levels of play and in time you’ll see their growth within the game. Now get out and play!

Comments (0)