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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.

 

Conway Testimonial

Sam Snow

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure to attend a testimonial dinner for Jimmy Conway. Jimmy has now retired as the technical director for Oregon Youth Soccer after 28 years on the job. Along the way he also coached at Pacific University and he began the men's program at Oregon State University. He also served on the staff for Region IV US Youth Soccer ODP for many years.

If you didn't know, Jimmy also played for the Portland Timbers in the North American Soccer League. And when he retired from the pro game he was an assistant coach with the Timbers from 1980-1982 and again from 2001-2005. He also played for Bohemian Football Club, Manchester City Football Club and Fulham Football Club. Jimmy was an Irish international earning 20 caps and scoring 3 goals.

Attending the testimonial with me from US Youth Soccer were John Sutter, President and Jim Cosgrove, Executive Director. In the banquet room were another 200 people who arrived at the affair from literally around the world. Those personages included Bobby Howe, Cliff McGrath, Dean Wurzberger, John Madding, Peter Mellor, Bill Irwin and Jan Smisek. Of course, Oregon Youth Soccer was represented by Ric Listella, President; Chuck Keers, Executive Director and Mike Smith, Technical Director.

Mick Hoban headed up a group of volunteers who did an outstanding job in organizing and then pulling off the golf tournament, dinner and testimonial match.

In the trivia on Jimmy that was assembled by Dennis O'Meara, there's one line I think says a lot about Jimmy as a player and a person. "From 1966 through 1980, it appears that Jimmy's name only went into the ref's book for one reason – scoring goals."

On a personal note, several years ago I attended a symposium for U.S. Soccer National Instructors for the National Coaching Schools. We of course had both class and field sessions at the symposium. During one of the field sessions held at the Air Force Academy soccer fields, Gordon Miller ran a session on 2 v 2. I was in one of those pairs and Jimmy was in the other and of course it often fell to me to cover Jimmy. If you've not seen Jimmy play I can tell you that he's really smooth with the ball, complete opposite of me. So, during the activity there were times when Jimmy dribbled straight at me showing me a bit of the ball. I'd look for my moment and would go for the ball, just to have Jim move himself and the ball ever so slightly out of my reach and then he was gone. Jimmy is eight years older than me and I thought I should be able to deal with these 1 v 1 moments. After the activity was over and Jimmy had skated past me at least four times, I went for a drink. Bobby Howe got me aside and said, "Don't worry about it Sam. Jimmy does that to full internationals." Well the only thing international about me is my passport. From those object lessons and the sessions that Jimmy conducted during that symposium I pick up many golden nuggets from the man.

I have always found Jimmy to be a class act in the coaching of our game and real gentleman off the field too. If you like to read more about Jimmy Conway, click here
 

Juggling

Sam Snow

An interesting thought was sent to me recently from Shawn Wilson concerning the skill of juggling the ball as a part of player development. I think it is a good look at juggling and opens us up for some discussion. While this matter is not a huge one in youth soccer, it does point us toward more effort in training sessions on ball skills. So the inquery was this:

I would love to hear your take on the relative importance of juggling on the thighs. I think it is over emphasized amongst youth soccer players. I see value in encouraging players to spend time with the ball, but I also think that allowing/encouraging players to demonstrate juggling that is dominated by the thighs is counterproductive to developing players with true touch and control for the game.

Now here's the passage from Shawn which prompted our dialogue:

My son recently joined a highly competitive U-11 classic team. His new coach at the first training session asked him what his juggling record is to which he told the coach "67". The coach did not give any positive feedback but instead pointed out that two players on the team are over 100, and one of which is actually over a 1,000, quite impressive indeed. Further discussion on the topic revealed that of those 1,000 touches, the vast majority (over 80 percent estimated) were with the thighs. This is not uncommon amongst youth soccer players. Juggling on the thighs is very prevalent to the point of dominating juggling, especially when a total count is the emphasis. 

My wife was observing the interaction and as the conversation continued felt compelled to point out that with our son we do not "count" thigh touches. To clarify, with my players I encourage them to use the thighs as a controlling surface but try to keep them from fixating on thigh to thigh juggling. When addressing juggling with my team I set up contests in a variety of ways. When going for simple total counts, I only allow feet and head to count, but all legal surfaces (including thighs) are in play for keeping the streak going. We also focus on juggling activities that force the player to move the ball from surface to surface on command (such as "climb the mountain" or juggling "h-o-r-s-e"). 

When my wife pointed this out to the coach, the coach got somewhat defensive and countered that, "a lot of the game is played on the thighs". Perhaps my wife should not have offered any response, but she did so in an effort to preserve my son's confidence in front of his new teammates. 

The fact is that not much of the game is played on the thighs at all. Just this morning I am watching Chelsea and Manchester United in the FA Community Shield. These are two of the best teams in the world, loaded with highly skilled players. Through 73 minutes, I observed the ball played off the thigh once. That's right, one time! Chelsea's right wing used his thigh to settle the ball to the floor near minute 26 from a pass played in the air to him. Furthermore, I have never seen a high level player move the ball from thigh to thigh in a match or even move the ball thigh to thigh while juggling or warming up. 

Ronaldinho, when in his prime, demonstrated the best ball control in the world. Viewing video of him reveals that for 2-3 minutes of juggling, he plays the ball off his thighs 1-2 times, and never does he move the ball thigh to thigh.

Perhaps, all of this comes across as a little hard core on my part. It is. But I do appreciate the skill and concentration required to juggle a ball thigh to thigh for several hundred touches. And if a young player can do this, then it should be recognized as an impressive achievement. But the point I am making is that focusing on thigh juggling to that degree is a mistake. Juggling is only valuable if it ultimately improves a player's touch (especially first touch) and control within the actual game of soccer. For this reason, young players should be encouraged to juggle primarily with their feet (preferably both feet).

Here's the response I sent:

I agree with you that juggle is a means to an end. The end being more confidence with the ball, improved balance and limb control, visually getting better at reading the spin, flight and bounce of the ball and finally to learn controlled impact with the ball to either settle or propel it (touch on the ball). Do Americans who juggle do so on the thigh too much? Quite likely so. I feel though that this issue is less of a problem than the fact that too little juggling is taught or encouraged by coaches in the first place. I think that juggling is a useful tool for improving in many of the areas mentioned above. Juggling can also be a good warm-up and/or cool-down activity. So let's get more young players out there learning how to lift the ball and then to juggle it. And yes, please encourage touches up and down the body. Even the juggling tricks, while not used in a match, help to build confidence. That confident attitude of a player's mastery of the ball is invaluable to quality match performance. Finally, on the note of one's record of juggles in a row, I do not see a practical need for anything over 100. After that record is achieved juggling becomes an end in itself and not the means to improvement in the areas mentioned in the second sentence above.
 

Build it and the game grows

Sam Snow

I'm in Albuquerque, N.M. to teach a National Youth License coaching course. We have 36 candidates in the course, and it is going quite well. The course is set up to take place over two weekends. I have stayed in the state during the week between the course weekends to work with New Mexico Youth Soccer.  

Last night we had a well-attended round table discussion with club directors and league managers. We spoke about the U.S. Soccer Best Practices document and the soon-to-be-released US Youth Soccer Player Development Model. We talked about the many resources for coaches (articles, DVDs, books) available from US Youth Soccer and how we can get those resources into the hands of recreational coaches. One of the new resources is our new DVD on coaching the principles of play in Small-Sided Games. We hope to have that disc available by the end of 2010, if not sooner. 

We discussed parent education in a soccer club and how that impacts nearly every aspect of operating a club from training sessions and tournaments to life lessons. We even conferred on growing the game in Native American reservations and pueblos. There are already small soccer clubs in many of those communities, and the State Association is teaching Youth Module coaching courses there.

Last Monday, I went with Gloria Faber, office administrator, Josh Groves, technical director, and Jim Tilley, executive director, of New Mexico Youth Soccer to visit three soccer complexes on the west side of town. Two of those complexes are brand new. They have been built by the Northwest Rio Grande League to serve thousands of players. One of the complexes has grass fields with lights and artificial fields will soon be constructed. The site will also feature training areas for the teams in the league. Check out this article on developing training grounds at your soccer complex, click here.

Tonight, I run a model training session for state staff and club coaches in the area with a U-12 team. This is going to be a blast!
 

Move up at 9?

Sam Snow

A coach from New Jersey had the following inquiry:
 
I wanted to get your opinion on a discussion we are having in our community regarding the possibility of a U-9 girl playing with the U-9 boys travel team. We are obviously split in our opinion as one school of thought is to allow her to seek her level of play regardless. The other side of the coin believes our education environments are equal for the boys and girls these days and debates whether an eight-year-old is better socially with their own gender.
After coaching a U-9 and U-10 team during the past two years, my opinion is that the 8 vs. 8 game is challenging enough for a young athlete (i.e., opponent, space, transition, technical/tactical speed) and she would find plenty of challenges in the middle of the field with her gender.

Any thoughts?
 
Here then is the response from the state association Technical Director:

Oh boy travel at U-9's...

Well, let's take a look at the 1999ers: Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy, Carla Overbeck and Michelle Akers-Stahl. All these women grew up with the game playing on boys' teams pre and post pubescent (no girls teams existed then) and probably their sharp skill is derived from those environments.
All the research shows that up until puberty it's OK to have boys and girls playing together.  Actually, in their prepubescent years girls develop faster physically than boys (girls reach puberty around nine years of age, much earlier than boys for whom it is around 10-years-old) so physically there really is no danger.  My concern in this case is the travel team situation where there are consequences for performance and the level is much more competitive than at a recreational level, so psychologically it could be an issue.  How will the girl deal with things like the social aspect, and likewise the boys as her teammates, and the opponents? Also, what if the girl is hurt? Are you willing to hear/deal with all the consequences and issues?

Professionally speaking, I would have strong psychosocial reservations about her playing in the games, but maybe train with the boys for her soccer skill development if in fact she can hold her own physically.
 
I'll add to the Technical Director comments with the thought that we tend to be too quick to move very young players up an age group or to the next level of competition.  By doing so, we often miss the chance to let that young talent be a star for a moment in their career.  To be a leader in their age group or their division means they must take on more responsibility.  This further develops American soccer talent, which must be deeper than just ball skills and athleticism.  We need to also develop team leaders who can read the game and become impact players.

Some players should move up, but not before they measure their years on Earth in double digits, so let's all hold off on the movement of children to other age groups or levels of play before the age of 10 at the very earliest.

When it is time to consider moving a youngster up then the decision must be reached only after a 360° review of the player's talent and the predicted impact on the player.  I am not against girls on boys' teams or players moving up, but I think the decision is made too hastily or without a full review in many cases across the country.  Let's keep more kids in their age group to develop soccer leaders within a team.  Train with older teams, play in coed games, have friendly matches with another competitive division, but let more of the kids stay in their age appropriate team and learn how to be tactically impactful upon the game and to be a psychological leader of their teammates.  There will be time to move them up age groups and competitive divisions when they are teenagers, which for this girl is a mere four years away.