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Sam's Blog is a bi-weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Coaching Director for US Youth Soccer.

 

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!

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Youth Tournament Soccer

Sam Snow

I received this question from the US Youth Soccer Facebook page from a parent in Manassas, Virginia.
 
"Hi, my family is new to youth tournament soccer so I wanted to check something out. The kids played 4 half games yesterday. Today, depending on seeding, they will play one to 3 full length games. Is this standard? These kids play really hard and I question the safety of this. Is this just standard in soccer...3 hours of hard play in one day? I saw kids playing on sore feet after 2 hours yesterday. These kids are playing in Herndon today and I'm just concerned we will have a lot of unnecessary injuries, but maybe I don't know the sport."
 
While the tournament situation described is not standard it does not surprise me given the number of bad decisions by adults in youth soccer. At the most teams should play one full match per day at a tournament. Even that is too much stress on the body if games take place for consecutive days. The human body needs 48 to 72 hours to fully recover from strenuous exercise. This is why you see at least three days between matches in the Olympics and the World Cup. The State Association Technical Directors of US Youth Soccer have released this Position Statement on tournaments.
 
TOURNAMENT PLAY
 
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.
Here are two related Statements from the national State Association Technical Directors.
 
FESTIVALS FOR PLAYERS UNDER 10
 
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 U12’S
 
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.
 
 

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Ranking youth players is often more than a number

Sam Snow

Recently an online registration company announced it will begin to rank U9 to U11 teams. Right up front here’s my take on that – bad move! Fortunately the soccer public responded immediately and loudly against such a move. From our Men’s National Team head coach to Soccer America magazine to state and club coaches the pushback was strongly against the ranking of such young teams.
 
I am sure though that many adults will jump at the chance to have their U12 and younger teams ranked. Why? Bragging rights and revenue streams. Those are the only two reasons that otherwise reasonable adults would sell out the kids. Not to mention stalling the growth of the game in the USA.
 
The players will have been sold out since they will be robbed of the incentive to improve. After all, why have a growth mindset and a strong work ethic when you’ve been told you’re number 1 in the nation at the tender age of ten. Good soccer coaches, administrators, moms and dads know that to help young players improve their skills you praise their effort not the outcome. [Read the book Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck for more information on the growth mindset.]
 
Players are already disrupted in their development continuum by jumping from club to club. Rankings at such young ages will exacerbate the problem. This outcome will happen when soccer club customers (parents) quickly change from club A to club B as soon as club B goes up in the rankings with their U9 to U1_ teams. Buyer beware! Choosing the right soccer club for young players (consumers) is more complicated than picking your new refrigerator. Yet many parents will research the new fridge more thoroughly than the club; even though the development of a young soccer player is far more complex than the features on a refrigerator.
 
The aspect of the decision to offer national rankings for U9 to U11 teams being about money is obvious. The registration company will only rank teams in the events with which the company is affiliated; i.e., creation of a revenue stream.
 
A club that buys into ranking systems is also looking for a deeper revenue stream. They hope that by achieving a high ranking they’ll attract more players (consumers) along with their parents (customers). Let’s be clear, rankings have nothing to do with player development.
 
Rankings themselves are dubious at best. The only ranking that can be valid is one in a league with head-to-head competition. Even the FIFA rankings of national teams are a guessing game. No national team coach thinks the world rankings are absolute. I spent six years on the NCAA Men’s Soccer Committee. At the end of the college soccer season we had to rank teams to sort out the post season bids for the NCAA national championships. We considered head-to-head competition, common opponents and strength of schedule. We had three different mathematical formulas to help with those evaluations. We had six to eight hour long conference calls to sort it all out. Ranking college teams who hadn’t played each other wasn’t easy. And this was evaluating teams with adult players on them, not children’s teams.
 
In short, ranking preteen teams is not only a fruitless effort; it can be one that hinders the healthy growth of players and clubs. Just say NO to rankings!
 
 
What is your opinion on rankings? Are 9-year-olds too young? What about 13-year-olds? We want to hear from you, so let us know what your feelings are about ranking youth players by commenting on this article.
 

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Behavior Modification Through Exercise

Sam Snow

"My son is 9-years old and participates on our local soccer team. His coaches use "corrective conditioning" (push-ups, running, frog jumps) for bad behavior or poor performance. How do I convince the coaches that they can get optimal response/performance without using corporal punishment?"
  • Punitive coaching rarely works for the betterment of the player or the team, especially in youth sports. To use physical exercise as punishment with 9-year-olds is just wrong! The kids need exercise – yes, but in a healthy approach.
  • Even college and professional athletes are not given corporal punishment as the result is poor morale, not improved drive and determination by the players.
  • Exercise should be presented in a positive fashion with youngsters. Not only for the immediate effect on their soccer performance, but also their life-long health, we want exercise to be a positive experience. Using exercise as a punishment gives a negative connection to the experience. Exercise is then likely to be avoided by the children as they age. So both for the short-term and the long-term the negatives outweigh the positives of "corrective conditioning".
  • Bad behavior during a training session is often the fault of the coach. Misbehavior by children can occur on the soccer field when they are bored. Boredom usually stems from the use of drills instead of game-like activities. So if a coach wants to avoid the kids being unfocused and perhaps misbehaving, then shun drills in a training session. While we’re at it lets also dismiss the 3 L’s – Lines, Laps and Lectures.
  • Poor performance by a 9-year-old in a match is to be expected. Let’s be realistic – they are only 9! Soccer, like all team sports, is a long-term developmental sport. Players in soccer peak in their match performance in their 20’s and early 30’s. The adults need to be patient with the game-day performance of children whose life span is still counted in single digits.
  • Fitness improvement must come from playing many game-like activities in a training session.
  • The bottom line is that sports are supposed to be fun for kids. They are not little adult professional players. Always ask them to try their best, but live with the outcome of the match. They’ll get over it and so must the grown-ups. Be sure they give it their all (that’s a life lesson as well as a soccer one) while letting the joy of the game infuse them.

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