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.


Precious Moments

Sam Snow

Casey Mann, Executive Director of Nebraska State Soccer, shares his thoughts in this week's Coaches Blog:

Youth sports is nuts. Youth sports is out of control. Crazy parents, Obsessed Coaches, and a whole lot of innocent kids simply along for the ride. Dare you try to work in this culture, to administer in it, and to navigate your way through its volatile landscape, and you quickly become forced to build an emotional shell around you in order to survive. Soon nothing excites you, and nothing surprises you. You just keep plugging away, day after day.

Yet every so often, youth sports can remind you of the power and beauty playing games has on all of us, and to do so in a way that stops the crazy and whacked out win-at-all-costs culture dead in its tracks.

My son’s team was short players, so they asked him to play in goal. I was a goalkeeper and my son enjoys goofing around in the back yard every once in a while pretending to be a goalkeeper, but his interest has never gone beyond Butler Avenue. So when coach emailed, he reluctantly said yes. My son is a nervous-nanny as it is, and so the minute he hit “send” and accepted the role, his anxiety exploded. “Is Tayte going to be there? Will I have any defenders? I’m scared!” … and topped all off by the answer he was so fearfully dreading most of all …. “Who do we play?”  St. Wenceslaus. “St. Wenceslaus? They are 8th graders, they are huge!”

Yet, his interest in trying to play goalkeeper “for-real” was evident too, as I went to jump in the car and he was already in his (his dad’s) goalkeeper jersey, with gloves on, spitting and dumping water on the gloves to get them sticky and ready.

I am sure it was an eternity for him until the match kicked off, but when it finally did, it was neat as a father to see his soon look the part of something I used to be. After the mandatory pics texted to family, the game got underway. I will admit that I was prepared for anything, mistakes, confusion, some good and some bad. So when the first attempt on him in the game was a breakaway and he came sliding out in a collision and stuffed it, I was excitedly amused. Not two minutes later, he made a wonderful save on a set piece. Good enough for the coach of the other team to shout, twice, “Nice save keeper.”

At this point, my emotions and interest went from semi-detached and disconnect to hopeful and curious. I went in to the match hoping to sneak in a few moments to read in the car, to not wanting to miss a moment. I wasn’t competitive for him, just excited and engaged and all of a sudden things mattered. There was hope. There were possibilities. I am sure there was a little voice somewhere in my head whispering “Who knows, maybe with a little training…?”

I tried to be reasonable and put things in context. This was a rec soccer game, it was one half of play, and there was a long way between this moment and stardom, but when we are not careful, it is in these moments that we as parents start to project our own emotions, visions, and ideas onto our children’s games. That little voice gets a bit louder, a bit more decisive, and because it is shrouded in the best of intentions, we take that voice as a good thing. Who doesn’t want their child to be successful, to be a star, to succeed?

But here’s where, if we just let it, youth sports can show us that the games are not meant for us as parents to project our visions onto it, but for us cherish and embrace the lessons it gives all if us. The game is wonderful, whether that be baseball, soccer, or football, but the game is wonderful because it is simply the framework for everything else in life. Teamwork, competitiveness, adversity. It’s all there. We can’t control it, but we can learn from it.

And so for son and father, the second half began. A few saves, a few crosses, and my son seemed to be on his way to a shutout in his first match as a goalkeeper. He was all over the place. And as he would come sliding out for a save on a cross, block a shot, or punt the ball downfield, my hopes began to slowly replace my earlier indifference. And then it happened. The moment I won’t soon forget and will forever be thankful for.

With about 2 minutes to go the other team took a decent but routine shot that sailed at Keagan. Seemingly in position, the ball slipped through his hands and into the goal. His team lost 1-0. For a kid who was hesitant about playing in goal, and only sometimes loves the sport, there was still a part of me that knew this was an important moment for him.

In a moment frozen in time for me, he was smiling as he walked off the field and once into the car … started bawling, and all the while, I was loving every minute of this. Not the anguish my son was in, but the moment to be there for him, to connect, to tell him stories of when I made mistakes and dropped balls for goals. For all the dreams, hopes, and futures that youth sports focuses on, this moment with my son was real, it was here and now, it was raw, and it was true. For all the drama I deal with, for all in this business that forces me to put up a shell, this small moment cracked it wide open again.

I am so thankful for it, thankful for a mistake, for a loss, because it gave me a moment with my son to connect. It was what sports are supposed to do. It allowed me to be dad, to support, and to be there for him in HIS moment, and use my past to TEACH him. There was no PROJECTING anything on him, no futures, no glories, just a dad and son in a tough but true moment, a moment we will both be better for and may never have gotten to had he caught the ball.

If youth sports are a fast track highway to some glorified future, I am glad for the moments on the off-ramp where things slow down and you can enjoy life with your child.

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Player Development - General Tactics

Sam Snow

I encourage all coaches to take advantage of the free documents and newsletters on the US Youth Soccer website. Here then is an excerpt from the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model – Spatial Awareness.

Tactics in General

Tactics may be defined as the art of planned and rational play, adjusted to meet game situations in the best way possible. Tactical awareness, to some extent, is a matter of talent (mental and physical); it can be developed to a considerable degree by suitable activities, coaching and age appropriate training.

A player’s tactical ability and experience can be judged by the extent to which the player can use both practical and theoretical knowledge in match play. Tactical experience is relative to age, individual characteristics and the soccer environment in which a player grows.

As players grow through the zones in the player development pyramid they internalize game concepts. Understanding soccer has a lot to do with recognizing and using space on the field, whether attacking or defending. Tactical examples are given throughout the document of how players can learn to utilize space on the field. Using space on the field requires intelligent movement and positioning. It is said that 98% of the game at the top level is spent without the ball -- various ‘locomotor’ movements, etc. Off-the-ball movement is at the heart of quality soccer.

Soccer players need to learn when to run and when to not run. There are times when it is tactically correct to not run. They also need to learn at what angle to run. Far too many American players run constantly in straight lines on the field. Coaches must teach players when to make straight runs and when to make diagonal, square and bent runs. Of course these runs could be forward or backward on offense or defense.

Players must also learn about the timing of runs, when to start and when to stop. With a novice player most off-the-ball runs start too early so the player is marked up once he or she arrives in the space where he or she hopes to meet the ball. Directly incorporated to the timing of runs is the pace of the run. Recovery runs on defense are probably going to be all out. Tracking runs on defense will have to match the pace of the opponent being marked. Many, but not all, attacking runs without the ball will start off slow or at a moderate pace and then accelerate at the last moment darting past an opponent to meet the pass.

Two factors must evolve for youth players to intentionally use off-the-ball runs. Psychosocially they must grow out of the ego-centric phase. Additionally, they must mature in their ability to estimate distance and angle. Over time, these factors improve with players thus leading to the possibility of meaningful off-the-ball runs.

You can download the full document here:

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Player Development - Measuring Development

Sam Snow

This entry will continue with excerpts from US Youth Soccer documents that address player development. The Vision document is a good overarching statement and philosophy that is worthwhile for any youth soccer stakeholder to read. It begins with this simple question…

How do we measure the development of a single player?

Indeed how do we measure player development? Too often in America a professional sports model is used in measuring youth sports success. Youth soccer is not immune to this misapplied standard. For soccer the situation is made worse by a desire of many adults to use measuring tools from other sports. In fact it is maddening to many adults that soccer is not as black and white as with some sports in judging successful play. Many team sports played in our nation are statistically driven and coach centered. Soccer is neither of those!  Indeed just like the Laws of the Game our sport has many shades of grey within it  As a player centered sport some coaches become disillusioned as they learn that they are the ‘guide on the side’ and not the ‘sage on the stage’. Too many soccer coaches bring a “Pattonesque” attitude to the youth sport environment. This coach-centered perspective has been handed down to us from other sports and coaching styles of past generations.

In many sports the coach makes crucial decisions during the competition. In soccer players make the primary decisions during the match. The coach’s decisions are of secondary importance. The ego-centric personality will find coaching soccer troublesome. The other significant group of adults at a youth soccer match is parents. They too often have their view of the match colored by the professional model and by a view of "coaching" that is portrayed in the sports media  Although it is changing, the majority of parents watching their kids play soccer have never played the game.  In fact the statistics show that most of today’s parents never played any team sport. So their only exposure on how to measure sporting success is gleaned from the sports media. The sports media predominately report on adult teams at the college and professional levels. These adult measurements of team performance should not and cannot be applied to youth sports.

The analogy can be made to a youngster’s academic development in preparation for work in the adult business world. While the child is in primary and secondary school the corporate world measurements of success are not applied. Those business assessments are not yet appropriate because the school-aged student does not yet have the tools to compete in the adult business environment. The knowledge and skills to be a competitor in business are still being taught and learned. This holds true in soccer as well!

Soccer is an adult game designed by adults for adults to play. Adults enjoy the game so much that we have shared it with our children. Yet adults err when we bring our adult performance and outcome based thinking into the developing player’s world.

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Stop the Ls


In the National Youth Coaching Course we talk about avoiding the three L’s during a training session. Those three L’s are Lines, Lectures and Laps. The cartoon below, in its own way, says it all. You see kids in school who have been listening to lectures, so why would a coach do that to them after school at soccer practice? The rule of thumb for all coaches, at all levels of soccer, is talk less and play more.


In the cartoon you also see the boy daydreaming about a drill of dribbling through the cones. The odds are the rest of his teammates are in a line at the end of the line of cones waiting for their turn to dribble through them. Boring! Ideally, no lines of players in a training session, but if there’s no way around it then at least keep it to several short lines of players – say three max.

Finally, in the cartoon you see the boy awakened from his daydream by his teacher (who when wearing shorts and out on a soccer field is known as the coach). The youngster is sure that he’ll be punished by running laps. Frequently coaches use running as a punishment for misbehavior during a training session. Some coaches have even used running as a punishment for an entire team at the end of a match if the team did not meet the coach’s expectations of performance. For the individual and the team using running as a punishment hurts team morale more than it solves any behavior problem. First of all, soccer is a game that requires a lot of running. You have to like running to play the game. Why give something so integral to the sport a negative connotation both mentally and emotionally for the players? This is just the opposite of what the coach should be trying to achieve in developing a team. If punishment is needed for misbehavior then there are many other options the coach could use other than running as punishment. Soccer coaches should never use running as a punishment!

Coaches, let’s unite to stamp out the three L’s in youth soccer!

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