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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.

 

Thoughts from "Vision"

Sam Snow

I could not have expressed these thoughts better myself. Here are comments from a youth coach on the stair-step approach to soccer for youth players from Horst Wein (a US Youth Soccer Workshop presenter in 2006 by the way) and the US Youth Soccer document "Vision". The last line is a question for you to contemplate.

Since the moment I first read Horst Wein's "Developing Youth Football Players" in 2007, he has been one of my biggest youth soccer coaching influences and inspirations.  My youth coaching philosophy is heavily "Horst Wein-ian" influenced.  He's helped to bolster my self-confidence and intelligence, and help me to put aside my ego, tap into my humility, and try to be the kind of youth coach who is perceptive enough of my youth players to recognize when I must be flexible and adapt, change, modify and experiment in order to attempt to meet their ever changing and unique needs.

I really liked your "Vision" article.  I'll share it with my team and forward it to my club's president and some of the other coaches I know.  It should be mandatory reading for every youth soccer coach and should be part of every coaching course/license/certificate curriculum.  The best coaches I've met and worked with live and work the "Vision".  The coach I try to be lives and works the "Vision".

It's a shame that some of those who run our youth soccer organizations and/or teach coaching courses all over the country, often give lip service to, or don't understand/believe or use the many important topics and concepts you cover in your article.  Their programs, players, and youth soccer in the U.S. suffer for their lip service and rubber stamping.

You may be familiar with the English FA's skills assessment program called "Soccerstar Challenge"   (http://www.fa-soccerstar.com/).   I like the utility of the individual tests for establishing a player's baseline and being able to show personal improvement through the season.  However, I think the "stars" comparison rating system of each individual's scores against the scores in the "Soccerstar Challenge" database is interesting but not very useful to me.

Too many children don't get the chance to develop or grow their potential for playing, and/or enjoying soccer because there are not enough "Vision" and "Horst Wein-ian" adults and coaches who can help them begin to realize this potential.

Could you be one of the coaches who can help them?

If you would like to receive a copy of the Vision document then just drop me a line and I'll be glad to send a copy to you.
 

Team Rankings

Sam Snow

Just like the Laws of the Game, our approach to governing the youth soccer environment has shades of grey. There is a wide range of players to whom we have an equal responsibility. That responsibility is to provide to them through the best of our abilities a youth soccer culture which allows them to strive toward their own full potential. Finding the right balance of black or white or grey is a daily challenge for everyone involved in soccer beyond a casual experience. Here's an exchange I had some time ago as an example.

Dear Coach Snow,

I just received the December Kwik Kicks email. I do not understand why US Youth soccer is promoting the top 30 youth clubs honored by Soccer America.

I have been coaching youth soccer for over 20 years; have attended most of the US Youth Soccer, US Soccer and NSCAA licenses and certificates. I recently completed my National Youth License. The one thing that to me as a coach and administrator of a youth club is getting parents and coaches with US Youth Soccer's philosophy of everyone should play, winning is not as important as inclusion. Many of us have been dismissed by clubs for trying to convey that message to parents and board members.

When I see Soccer America's top clubs are based on winning national championships, and US Youth Soccer to print it tells me maybe even US Youth Soccer needs open up their eyes. I have witnessed these types of teams, and even today I see those teams playing to win, coaching fear and intimidation to get the most out of their players. I do not believe that is a healthy way to run club, and US Youth Soccer should give absolutely no credence to an award by a soccer magazine. I have been trying for 20 years to get people to change, I've had some success but this will not help me.

In response:

US Youth Soccer has always stood by our motto of The Game For All Kids.

Mission Statement
US Youth Soccer is non-profit and educational organization whose mission is to foster the physical, mental and emotional growth and development of America's youth through the sport of soccer at all levels of age and competition.

So the players, teams and clubs which end up being recognized by Soccer America are part of the team so to speak. In that regard, we are inclusive of all member clubs. That inclusiveness in no way diminishes our commitment to improving the youth soccer experience. The work that you do contributes to that goal. By involving all clubs in our collective efforts we can better shift the soccer landscape to one where players are respected even while they strive to play for a national championship or to simply play a pickup game.

We agree with you that coaches should not compel their players' performance being using fear or intimidation. This is where the continuing education of parents, administrators and coaches is of paramount importance. I am glad that you are a part of that effort given your commitment to coaching education.

Finding the right balance with winning and development is also a challenge at times. Some folks have interpreted the US Youth Soccer position of inclusion to mean that winning is not important. STRIVING to win is always important. Teaching players to try their best is not only a soccer lesson, but a life lesson too. Our teams should always try to play their best and try to win the match. However this effort to win must not be at the detriment of the players. This means coaches, even with teams in the highest level of play, need to develop the entire team. This gives the team bench strength. A wise coach knows that at some point in a season you'll need the reserve players to come up strong. That means they need meaningful playing time during the year. To develop the team to win the coach needs to develop all of the players in training sessions. By all means play to win, but how you win, how you play is of crucial importance.
 

Developmentally Appropriate

Sam Snow

One aspect of the National Youth License and the U6/U8 Youth Module and the U10/U12 Youth Module courses we emphasize, since it impacts all age groups, is the idea of training and game-day appropriateness for an age group.  So, here's the definition of developmentally appropriate.
 
How does the term developmentally appropriate relate to youth soccer?

Developmentally appropriate refers to the type of training and match environment children are put into and the coaching methods used. Young players, 19-years-old and younger, must be exposed to a proper environment in order to develop. Further, that environment must be suitable for the age and the level of play. The environment for a 12-year-old premier team player and a recreation-plus player will be different because the level of expectation of the player and coach will be different. Expectations will be based on the level of play. Additionally, the environment of training for a 12-year-old will be different than that of a six-year-old, since again the expectations will be different.

For example, youth academy rules for the Premiership clubs in England, boys between ages 9 and 12 must live within one hour traveling distance of the club; between 13 and 16, it's one and a half hours. Different age groups equals different expectations and what is then appropriate.

"They play small-sided games - we let them play.  The coach doesn't keep stopping them, I don't want to hear the coach's voice all the time. It's all about enjoyment at that age, we want them to come back," says Tony Carr, the director of the youth academy at West Ham United in London. He asks, "I have a question - Do we perhaps put too much emphasis on competition and winning too young? But I don't have an answer." (1)

Indeed the emotional impact coaches have upon children must also be developmentally appropriate. Too much pressure to win matches, tournaments and trophies too soon will cause undue distress, then burn out and then drop out. This is the number one reason players quit soccer by age 13!

The coach and parents must also consider their social and cognitive rates of development. From Jean Piaget (note below)  we have learned that this development goes through set stages. ALL players go through the stages. No stage is skipped and each player goes through those stages at different rates.

Technique is at the top of the list of the components of soccer to teach to children. Learning how to do things with the ball is great fun. Playing with the "toy" is the driving force behind participation for most youngsters. Work on ball skills must also be developmentally appropriate to the age group.

"Developmental acquisition of sophisticated movement abilities is a complex phenomenon that begins during the prenatal period and continues through adulthood. …Motor skills are refined from early, gross actions to highly coordinated and complex movements. This developmental trend of simple to complex and gross to fine is the basis of all motor development theory. Sequential acquisition of motor abilities can best be understood utilizing a "stage" model. …Motor development can be divided into two main periods: the preskill and skill refinement phases. …Behavioral characteristics from one level are utilized to build more advanced skills later in the continuum. It is important to note that a deficit in one stage of the developmental process will tend to influence acquisition of more complex skills." (2)

The stages are: preskill phase, reflexive stage, sensory integration stage, fundamental movement pattern development, skill development phase, skill refinement stage, skill performance stage and skill deterioration phase (time to start coaching).

To conclude, "Most young children are not ready for competition organized by adults. They need opportunities and activities in which they can develop and improve basic skills, but not external pressure to perform beyond their developmental abilities. When children do begin to play forms of adult games, modifications will be necessary. …the soccer field does not have to be regulation size and it is not necessary to play with the same size ball the pros use. Nothing is "holy" about the games big people play, but the games should not be modified to the degree that skill is not a requirement. Placing too many people on a team or making too few or too many rules can spoil the game for almost everyone. …Sports offerings should be based on children's needs and level of development. Activities that lead the participant to a higher level of action are the best from a developmental standpoint." (3)

1) Paul Gardner, Youth Soccer London-style, Soccer America, May 1, 2000, p. 7.
2) Russell Pate, et al., Scientific Foundations of Coaching, New York, CBS College Publishing, 1984, pp. 184-190.
3) Billie Jones, et al., Guide To Effective Coaching, second edition, Dubuque, Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1989, p. 68
 
Piaget, Jean (1896-1980), Swiss psychologist, best known for his pioneering work on the development of intelligence in children. Born in Neuchâtel, Piaget studied and carried out research first in Zürich, Switzerland, and then at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he began his studies on the development of cognitive abilities. Piaget wrote extensively on child development.

In his work, Piaget identified four stages of a child's mental growth. The sensorimotor stage lasts up to age 2; a child's gaining motor control and learning about physical objects marks it. In the preoperational stage, from ages 2 to 7, a child is preoccupied with verbal skills. In the concrete operational stage, from ages 7 to 12, a child begins to deal with abstract concepts. Finally, in the formal operational stage, ages 12 to 15, a child begins to reason logically and systematically. 
-Encarta® 98 Desk Encyclopedia © & 1996-97 Microsoft Corporation.
All rights reserved.  
 
 

Parents ask: Is it too much?

Sam Snow

I often receive inquiries from coaches, administrators and parents involved with the youth soccer scene. Some of the issues provide the opportunity to share information that is of interest to a large number of people. Here's one such exchange.

"As parents of a soccer player, we hear different opinions regarding the kind and number of tournaments our team should attend during any given year, as well as the age when boys are seriously looked at for college soccer recruitment purposes. We would like input from experts like you in this matter.

Our team is U-14 and this year we have gone or plan to go to tournaments in Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Edmond and Tulsa. There is a strong suggestion to attend a tournament either in Las Vegas or Phoenix in the spring. We would like to know your opinion about attending all these different tournaments. How many do you think are necessary for the development of the team, considering the current ranking of our team? Some parents think that there are college soccer recruiters at big tournaments such as the ones in Vegas or Phoenix and this is a good enough reason for our U-14 team to attend. They say recruiters are already looking at 8th graders and they will remember them five years from now. Do you know when serious recruitment begins?"

The good news is that the overwhelming majority of college coaches of men's teams are not recruiting 8th graders. Some of these college coaches will look at high school sophomores but the real recruiting is with juniors and the deal is sealed with seniors. So those college recruiters may indeed be at big tournaments, but they are not watching the U-14 matches.

Now as to the number of tournaments a U-14 team should attend it is approximately two in the fall and two to three, including the state cup, in the spring. Here is the Position Statement from the 55 state association Technical Directors on tournaments in youth soccer.

TOURNAMENT PLAY # 11
       
We believe that excessive play at competitive tournaments is detrimental to individual growth and development, and can serve to reduce long-term motivation. Do not multiple matches being played on one day and one weekend have a negative effect on the quality experience and development of the individual player? Further far too many playing schedules include so many tournaments and matches that there is never an "off season." We believe that players under the age of twelve should not play more than 100 minutes per day, and those players older than thirteen should not play more than 120 minutes per day.
       
We also recommend to tournament managers and schedulers:
  • The players should be allowed ample rest between matches.
  • That all tournament matches be of the same length and that no full-length match be introduced during play-off rounds.
  • Kick-off times allow players a reasonable opportunity to prepare for competition. This encompasses rest and recovery, nutrition and adequate time to warm-up and stretch after traveling a long distance in addition to taking into consideration extreme environmental conditions.
"Thank you so much for your valuable answers; I have forwarded them to all team parents. That won't make me very popular because many are convinced that recruiters will be looking at our team at this young age. Regarding the number of tournaments, it seems like we are going to more tournaments than it is recommended. My question is this: Is there anything parents can do to make a team follow the recommendations from the US Youth Soccer? We have a good coach and we believe his intentions are good, but what can be done when the coach is exceeding the number of tournaments and most parents go along with that, some because they feel we have to support the coach no matter what and others because they don't want to go against the crowd? We want our son to continue to play, but we find ourselves having to go along with decisions that are not based on facts or recommendations from experts and that may even be detrimental in the long run, as you state in your article. Our son does not really have any other choice where we live, he is already on the best team of his age cohort in this town and the team placed second in the state in the spring. My husband and I have suggested we travel less and train more, but this has not had an echo."

Parents should be involved in their child's soccer education just as they are with the academic education. So attend parent meetings, set up meetings with the coaching staff (similar to a parent-teacher conference) and speak to the club administration about the policies and philosophy of the club. Ask for information on the policy for the number of matches and tournaments by age group, for example.

The problem with too many tournaments and/or matches is that it isn't really what parents should pay the soccer club for as the end objective for their child. The focus should be on the training sessions. Just as the focus at a good school is more on the lessons than the examinations. You don't want your child at a school where they take test after test after test and get very few lessons. That's the issue with many soccer clubs. The matches are the tests and the training sessions are the lessons. I am sure that the staff at your state association would be glad to assist your club with any of the aspects of a well-designed club.