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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.

 

Cherry Picking

Sam Snow

I had an interesting question from a parent of a youth player that steers us toward a piece of the player development puzzle.

"Why would a U-9 coach from a top program in this area allow and encourage her players to "cherry pick".  There is no offside rule in U-9, but shouldn't coaches be working to educate the players on what is going to happen when Fall League starts?  Or is it more important to get the win?  Thoughts?  Oh, as additional information, the referee is not allowed to instruct or stop the cherry picking from happening because it is a loop hole."

Telling players to "cherry pick" can indeed win games on the short term but it will delay competitive development in the long term.  A forward on a U-12 or older team who "cherry picks" will find that she is often in a poor tactical position.  Once the game becomes faster, and is played over larger fields in older age groups, the cherry picking player is disconnected from teammates who will now be unable to find her for passes.  The cherry picking forward will often be in an offside position once opponents learn how to play the 'offside trap' as a tactical ploy.  The tactical concept of compactness is much more important to present and future performance for these young players than the fleeting gains offered by cherry picking.

Finally, at elite levels of play forwards are required to contribute to defending when the other team has possession of the ball.  The cherry picker will be out of position to contribute to the team effort to get the ball back.  At elite levels of soccer when our team has the ball all players are expected to contribute to the attack and when the opponents have the ball all players are expected to defend.

U-10 Age Group - Law 11 Offside
: there shall be no offside called during these games.  This rule was put into place for the U-10 age group to make it easier for them to play a fluid game.  Furthermore, the typical 9 or 10-year-old does not understand the many situations in which offside may or may not be called.  In fact, many adults have a difficulty comprehending the shades of grey within this Law.

For the sake of keeping youngsters in the game for a lifetime, proper development through childhood and the teenage years is important.  Taking shortsighted actions such as the "cherry pick" inhibits that development.
 

Defending Corner Kicks

Sam Snow

Recently, a coach of elite female players asked these questions of several colleagues looking for thoughts and ideas…

1.      
In the women's game, what is your strategy and organization for defending corner kicks?
2.       What are your favorite activity/activities to introduce these ideas and concepts?

I replied that whether the team is female or male, one factor in defending against corner kicks that I see as a problem is the body posture of the defenders.  Most players tend to stand with their hips squarely facing the ball.  As the ball comes into the penalty area they are not in a good body posture to play a good ball out so that their clearance could become an outlet pass.  This poor body posture often leads to bad tactical positioning too as they cannot see opponents or teammates behind them. Consequently, proper adjustments to their own positioning based on the movement, or lack thereof, by other players are not made.

I teach players to stand with their hips one quarter open to the field.  In this way they can see the corner arc and the ball, as well as up field to see the movement of other players. Then, if they have the chance to connect with the ball, they should play the ball out in a manner that may help their own team start the counterattack.

Of course, being on their toes and alert mentally has a lot to offer here too.

As to training activities specifically on this matter, I simply play on a short field so we get more chances at corners and then emphasize the whole bit on hips and toes.
 

Playing Up

Sam Snow

Fairly often we are asked about players moving up in age group or level of competition. So here first is a check list of questions to be asked by the coaches, parents, administrators and the player to make a decision on whether to move up or stay put. The check list is followed by several of the Position Statements pertinent to this topic from the state association Technical Directors.

If a club is considering moving a player up then several questions need to be answered.
  1. Is the player physically capable of playing with and against older kids?
  2. Is the player socially capable of playing with and against older kids?
  3. Is the player emotionally capable of playing with and against older kids?
  4. Is the player tactically aware enough to play at a higher level of competition?
  5. Does the player have the ball skills to play at a faster and more physically challenging level of play?
  6. Does the player want to make this a permanent move, leaving behind teammates and friends?
  7. Is this what the player's parents want for the child?
  8. Are the two coaches of the two teams in agreement on this move?
  9. Is the move allowed by club and/or state by-laws?
  10. What will happen to the player in the older age group who will be displaced by the younger player moving up?
STATE ASSOCIATION TECHNICAL DIRECTROS POSITION STATEMENTS

Age of competitive play        # 4
While it is acknowledged and recognized that preteen players should be allowed to pursue playing opportunities that meet both their interest and ability level, we strongly discourage environments where players below the age of twelve are forced to meet the same "competitive" demands as their older counterparts therefore we recommend the following:
  1. 50% playing time
  2. no league or match results
  3. 8 v 8 at U12
Minimum age for play     # 5
We believe that a child must be five years old by August 1 to register with a soccer club for the soccer year September 1 to August 31. Children younger than five years old should not be allowed to register with a soccer club.

Festivals for players U-10      # 9
We believe that Soccer Festivals should replace soccer tournaments for all players under the age of ten. Festivals feature a set number of minutes per event (e.g., 10 games X 10 minutes) with no elimination and no ultimate winner. We also endorse and support the movement to prohibit U10 teams from traveling to events that promote winning and losing and the awarding of trophies.

State, regional and national competition for U-12's # 10
We believe that youth soccer is too competitive at the early ages, resulting in an environment that is detrimental to both players and adults; much of the negative behavior reported about parents is associated with preteen play. The direct and indirect pressure exerted on coaches and preteen players to win is reinforced by state "championships" and tournament "winners." We therefore advocate that, in the absence of regional competition for under 12's, state festivals replace state cups. We also strongly recommend that with regard to regional and national competition the entry age group should be U14.

Playing up       # 17
The majority of clubs, leagues and district, state or regional Olympic Development Programs in the United States allow talented, younger players to compete on teams with and against older players. This occurs as a natural part of the development process and is consistent throughout the world. Currently, however, there are isolated instances where the adult leadership has imposed rules or policies restricting the exceptional, young player from "playing up." These rules vary. Some absolutely will not allow it. Others establish team or age group quotas while the most lenient review the issue on a case-by-case basis. Associations that create rules restricting an individual player's option to play at the appropriate competitive level are in effect impeding that player's opportunity for growth. For development to occur, all players must be exposed to levels of competition commensurate with their skills and must be challenged constantly in training and matches in order to aspire to higher levels of play and maintain their interest in and passion for the game.
               
When it is appropriate for soccer development, the opportunity for the exceptional player to play with older players must be available. We believe that "club passes" should be adopted as an alternative to team rosters to allow for a more realistic and fluid movement of players between teams and levels of play. If there is a concern regarding the individual situation, the decision must be carefully evaluated by coaches and administrators familiar with the particular player. When faced with making the decision whether the player ought to play up, the adult leadership must be prepared with sound rationale to support their decision. Under no circumstances should coaches exploit or hold players back in the misplaced quest for team building and winning championships, nor should parents push their child in an attempt to accelerate to the top of the soccer pyramid. In addition, playing up under the appropriate circumstances should not preclude a player playing back in his or her own age group. When the situation dictates that it is in the best interests of the player to do so, it should not be interpreted as a demotion, but as an opportunity to gain or regain confidence.
Some rationale for the above includes:

Pele played for Brazil in his first World Cup as a seventeen year old; Mia Hamm earned her first call to the U.S. Women's National Team when she was fifteen. An exceptionally talented young player playing with older players has been an integral part of the game since its inception. Certainly, a player that possesses soccer maturity beyond that of his or her peers should be encouraged to "play up" in order that his or her development as a player is stimulated.

The playing environment must provide the right balance between challenge and success. The best players must have the opportunity to compete with and against players of similar abilities. Players with less ability must be allowed to compete at their own level in order to enjoy the game and to improve performance.

In conclusion the development of players and advancement of the overall quality in the United States is the responsibility of every youth coach, administrator and policymaker in this country. It is our obligation to provide an environment where every player is given the opportunity to improve and to gain the maximum enjoyment from their soccer experience and ultimately, what is best for the player.
 

Tips for Coaching Directors

Sam Snow

The jobs of state technical directors and club directors of coaching have many similarities. Here are a few tips about the job from some former club and state directors.

Tip 1

A successful director of coaching is innovative and very visible, reaching out to all levels of the game. A successful director of coaching connects the different levels of the game diplomatically, from recreation to the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program, helping each level to recognize their importance and the importance of the other levels.

Tip 2

Even though it has been said in many situations before, I believe that 'pick your battles' is a great tip for state technical directors. My advice is to think carefully and choose which issues really effect what should be your focus: coaching education and player development and selection. Let your board of directors do what they want on issues such as state budgets, player registration, office staffing, newsletters and many other such business related topics. I realize that some of these issues may impact your programs, but I suggest saving your voice for issues such as how players are being trained, coaching development, competition and player selection. When these important issues come up at board meetings, calmly remind the board why they hired you and then state your professional expertise as to what is best for the players and coaches you oversee.

Tip 3

The process for making the decision is as important as the decision itself. Involve critical parties in the decision making process.

Soccer people are everywhere. Passionate individuals and kids who care about the game deserve respect regardless of their title, position or background in the game. Reach out and involve anyone who desires a positive soccer experience for each individual player. 

Someone once said that great things could be accomplished if you don't mind who gets the credit. Be sure to give others, including board members and volunteers, credit for their courage and initiative.

Tip 4

Be patient, educate, persuade and then stand your ground on the issues that truly matter.

Tip 5

Coaching directors must attempt to forge positive relationships with state executive board.

Embrace the fact that a director of coaching must be successful on several fronts: communication, organization, technical and dedication to the task.