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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.

 

Physicality

Sam Snow

Here is a comment I received about the physicality of soccer in the youth game in America and my response.

As we are drawing to the close of the spring season, I wanted to re-iterate my concerns over how physical the youth game is here in the US. In your previous responses, you've acknowledged the problem and advised that the solution is multi-faceted (parents, coaches and referees). I do not disagree. But my recent experience is that this is going to have to be driven in the short term from the referees. There are simply too many parents and coaches already in place that ignore the coaching education and leadership you are providing on player development. 

Way too many of the teams I encounter are being driven by coaches and parents that seem to have a strong desire to turn soccer into American Football (or at the very least use physical play to negate skill and intimidate younger or smaller teams). My boys are getting beat up and are not enjoying matches and tournaments to the extent that they should. I depend on the referee to protect them and to preserve their ability to enjoy the game by enforcing the spirit of Law 12. The excuse that players at the U-11/12 age can't control their bodies adequately to play within Law 12 is simply not correct in most cases and shouldn't apply anyway. I am working very hard to implement the player development model set forth by USYSA and USSF, but I need some protection for my players so that they enjoy the competition without having to resort to retaliation (which I do not allow) to protect themselves (or even the playing field). All I am asking is that referees in youth matches enforce Law 12 at the physical level of the better professional leagues (i.e. EPL, La Liga, Serie A - perhaps referees should watch some of these matches...). We rarely get that treatment now. The typical youth match I have seen gets progressively more physical (and dangerous) as the game goes on because the larger team discovers that the referee is not willing to enforce Law 12. 

I believe this issue is the single biggest problem with youth soccer in the US. I realize that referee education is not within your realm of supervision or management. However, I know that you are well respected in the U.S. soccer community and that is why I am asking for your help. And again, I agree that coaches and parents must step up as well - but from a practical standpoint, the referee is going to have to force a significant majority to do so by managing the game in accordance with Law 12.

Thanks so much for your time and consideration.

Your point is well stated on the over physicality of some youth soccer play. And yes, indeed some coaches and players make up for a lack of skill by simply being more physical or even intimidating in the way that they play. You are also right that the solution does not lie with referees alone. Referees, coaches, club/league administrators and most importantly parents must work together to improve the standard of play. But when it comes game time the actions of the players when it comes to infractions of the Laws of the Game are mostly up to the players themselves to control. However, young players must be taught how to play skillfully and intelligently with resorting to athleticism last and never to intentional foul play. The teaching of the players comes from the coaches predominately. However, referees do have a role to play. They can teach the Laws of the Game and Fair Play to the players by enforcing the rules. Also, when players are in their preteens they should explain the calls they make to the children to aid them in learning the rules for their age group. So in other words, all of these groups of adults: referees, coaches, administrators and parents, have a role to play in the teamwork to improve the American youth soccer experience.

Now, having said all of that I think that your next step is to solicit the aid of your state director of instruction and the state technical director to address the situation in your league. I also suggest that you engage with your club president and director of coaching so that, as a club, you may take on this issue within your own club. Then let the league or state association take on the matter with youth soccer across Arkansas.
 

Recovery Time

Sam Snow

Does US Youth Soccer have any requirements or recommended practices as to how much time should be scheduled between games during a tournament? We had an incident with one of our recent tournaments with a real short recovery time between games and are contemplating adding a recommendation/requirement to our policy and would like to stay consistent with US Youth Soccer. Please advise. Thanks!

US Youth Soccer does not have a policy on this matter.  However the state Technical Directors do have a pertinent position statement.

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.  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 12 should not play more than 100 minutes per day and those players older than 13 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.
Additionally, U.S. Soccer's Best Practices document also urges a proper rest period between matches in a tournament.  I suggest also that it is a risk management issue regarding injuries.  Without time to recuperate between matches, fatigued players will make poor decisions, execute skills sloppily and move in a less controlled way.  Anyone of those impacts can lead a player to clumsy play and bad timing of moves that could injure that player or an opponent.  Furthermore, there's a hydration and nutrition need to refuel after the strenuous exercise of a soccer match.  We are told by the American College of Sports Medicine that at least 24 hours is needed to replenish the body's nutrients to a level needed for competition.  Even to digest easily digestible food will take at least three hours.  So, I think you should aim for a minimum of four to six hours between matches if at all possible.  Most of the State Association tournaments try to schedule only one match per day for a team.
The players should be allowed ample rest between matches.
 

Indiana Soccer

Sam Snow

Last Friday, I arrived in Indianapolis, Ind. to work with the members and staff of Indiana Youth Soccer. I spent four days covering a number of events. The weekend included everything from the US Youth Soccer National Championship Series, Indiana State Championships, to staff meetings to US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer and then of course the 2010 World Cup. So, with such a broad scope of soccer events, I have a variety of observations to share with you.

On Friday evening, I meet with the director of coaching, Dan Kapsalis; executive director, Tom Geisse; coaches and several board members of the Pike S.C., which includes the Indy Burn. We spent 90 minutes talking about the resources available to both new and experienced coaches. We also discussed player development and how the club can include the Best Practices and the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model into the curriculum of the club. It is encouraging to have clubs working at the continued growth of experienced coaches and administrators in the club.   

On Saturday morning we held a class session for TOPSoccer Buddies. The TOPSoccer Buddies train and play alongside the players in TOPSoccer and provide them with physical, psychological and emotional assistance as needed. The class was a good mixture of teenagers and adults attending the session to become a TOPSoccer Buddy. Indiana Youth Soccer is making the effort to grow TOPSoccer in the state and this is step one. After a good class session and lunch with those attending the class and the players who had just arrived we went to the field for a training session.

Over the weekend, the 2010 US Youth Soccer Indiana State Championships took place at the Lawrence Soccer Park where the state office is located. Even with inclement weather, the matches took place and were of a good standard. It was enjoyable to see the U-12 age group playing 8-a-side and the tactics they were able to pull off on an age appropriate sized field. One aspect stood out and is one of those "only in America" moments which is wonderful to witness. Don Rawson is the executive director for Massachusetts Youth Soccer and used to hold the same position with Indiana Soccer. His family has not yet all moved to Massachusetts, so Rawson was in town and volunteered to referee matches. Where else but in our beautiful country would you see the executive director of one State Association referee matches (both in the center and on the line) for another State Association. Additionally, he helped to put up and take down banners, tents, tables, chairs – in other words the grunt work that takes place at every tournament. What a great American soccer family we have.

On Sunday, after watching more of the Indiana State Championships, the state technical director, Vince Ganzberg and I attended the Chris Akunda Memorial Soccer Match. Here's an excerpt from the thank you letter from the Akunda family 

"Yesterday was a touching day for many reasons. The first reason was the amazing turnout for the Chris Akunda Memorial Soccer Game. We had over 46 players come to play in the game and maybe even more spectators! The amazing group of young (and older) soccer players represented many different soccer groups in our state and came together to honor their fellow teammate, Chris.  There were players of all ages from our own Fishers Soccer Club, players from ODP, Carmel, Noblesville and Westfield teams, players who are no longer playing in travel soccer, but knew Chris, the three trainers who have worked with our team the last three years, Vince Ganzberg, from Indiana Youth Soccer, Sam Snow from US Youth Soccer, family and friends, and of course, Chris's Dad, Eric.  We can't imagine a better tribute to Chris than to have such a variety of people come out to play soccer in his honor."" 

What a wonderful example of the soccer family coming together to celebrate the life of a fellow competitor and to enjoy the beautiful game.

Finally, on Monday I met at the state office with the instructors of the state coaching courses for Indiana Youth Soccer for continuing professional development. We went over how to teach in the "D" license course, the new upcoming curriculum for the "E" certificate course, fully implementing Best Practices in the state and the upcoming on-line portion of the two state Youth Module courses. We worked on how to make classroom presentations and how adults learn. It was a bonus when Dr. David Carr, co-author of the National Youth License course, was able to join us and discussed initiatives that he and Coach Ganzberg are doing to grow the game with children who are not currently engaged with soccer. Look soon for a wonderful program called Human Development being launched by Indiana Youth Soccer.

So you can see it was a full four days, but always worthwhile and exciting to see our game grow on so many levels.
 

Specialize in One Sport?

Sam Snow

The executive director for US Youth Soccer, Jim Cosgrove, was interviewed for an article for the May issue of SportsEvents Magazine on the issue of kids specializing in one sport -- and sometimes a single position – at a very young age (8-13). I think you'll be interested in the questions and comments.
 
1. Are you seeing a lot of kids specializing in one sport at an early age? If so, has this been increasing, decreasing or stayed about the same over the past few years?
JC: Yes there are children being asked to specialize in one sport and even one position early in their careers. My educated estimation is that the number of kids specializing early has increased over the last five years as participation in youth sports has increased over that time.
 
2. If you are seeing this trend, why do you think it is happening?
JC: The trend occurs because parents and/or coaches believe it will accelerate the youngster's development. They use examples from individual sports such as golf or gymnastics where early specialization can be appropriate and they apply that model to team sports. All team sports are classified as long-term development sports, so children should not specialize in only one sport until perhaps the late teenage years.
 
3. What do you consider to be the pros and cons of early specialization in sports?
JC: I cannot think of any pros to early specialization. The cons include poor athletic development, over-use injuries, emotional exhaustion and psychosocial burn-out. The too much-too soon syndrome also causes a jaded attitude toward the sport to develop by the mid to late teens.
 
4. At what age is specialization a good thing?
JC: Sports specialize too early in an attempt to attract and retain participants. 17-years-old and beyond is appropriate for specialization in a single sport. For soccer, position versatility is still important even at this age and especially for field players.
 
5. Can you provide some common sense recommendations to parents (and kids) who may believe that by focusing on one sport at a young age they will get college scholarships or become professional athletes?
JC: Approximately 2% of youth soccer players will earn a college scholarship to play soccer. Let your child play soccer to his or her content without an expectation for the big payoff of an athletic scholarship – there's much more money available for academic scholarships than athletic ones.
 
In conclusion, sports can be classified as either early or late specialization. Early specialization sports include artistic and acrobatic sports such as gymnastics, diving, and figure skating. These differ from late specialization sports in that very complex skills are learned before maturation since they cannot be fully mastered if taught after maturation.

Most other sports are late specialization sports. However, all sports should be individually analyzed using international and national normative data to decide whether they are early or late specialization.  If physical literacy is acquired before maturation, athletes can select a late specialization sport when they are between the ages of 12 and 15 and have the potential to rise to international stardom in that sport.

Specializing before the age of 10 in late specialization sports contributes to:
• One-sided, sport-specific preparation
• Lack of ABC's, the basic movement and sports skills
• Overuse injuries
• Early burnout
• Early retirement from training and competition

For late specialization sports, specialization before age 10 is not recommended since it contributes to early burnout, dropout and retirement from training and competition (Harsanyi, 1985).