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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.

 

Coach Rotation

Sam Snow

The question comes up now and then about how long a youth coach should stay with a team. So, here is the question from a club coach in Indiana.

Hi Sam,

What, in your opinion, is the correct amount of years a soccer coach should stay with and coach a team? Bearing in mind we at our club are all about player development. At the moment, our policy is three years with the option of a fourth year at the discretion of the club director of coaching, but after four years they have to revert back to a younger age group or change teams. Do you think this is right or wrong? Your advice is welcomed. I will not take your opinion as policy. Thanks.

My personal opinion is that a coach should stay with a team for two years and then take on another team. The players learn more about the game when exposed to a variety of good coaches over the years; emphasis there on good coaches. If they go from a coach who has experience and talent to a novice coach then that will not serve their developmental needs. However, if the club has a good progression of coaching talent then the players can move onto a new coach in the club every two years and benefit from learning new twists on the game from another coach. Ideally, the coaches in the club are all working from the same progressive curriculum and the U-12 coach has briefed the U-14 coach on the players moving up for example. Now, we're talking about a club that really has vision on player development. In the end, let's also keep in mind that as students, these kids get a new teacher each year and their academic progress is not hindered consequently.

Here are the comments from Vince Ganzberg, US Youth Soccer Coaching Committee Region II representative, National Staff Instructor and Technical Director for Indiana Youth Soccer.

I concur with Sam's opinion. For the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP), I move a coach every two years. I did it when I was a club DOC as well. I guess I view it like a kid in elementary school. For the most part they have a teacher for one year and then move on. Every now and again though, they will have that same teacher for another year which is fine, but after year two a new voice is often useful and beneficial.
 

30 Years at the NSCAA

Sam Snow

This past weekend I attended my 30th annual NSCAA Convention. My first one was in 1980 when another young coach and I drove from Orlando to Houston to attend the convention. If I recall correctly, there were about 800 people at that one. This year's was in Philadelphia and had about 5,000 attendees. Certainly the convention has grown in many different ways over the years. Still, it strikes me the same as being a great soccer love in. Those of you who do not clearly recall, or did not live through the 60s, can ask a baby boomer what a love in was.

I think of the NSCAA Convention as a soccer love in because it is an opportunity to see the many friends we have in the game who live in other parts of the country. Given the size of our country as our friends move around with their soccer jobs, it can be a real challenge to visit with one another. Or, perhaps like I did, they move into another level of the game. I moved from being a college coach to a youth coach and educator. So, the convention gives me a chance to visit with friends who are still in the college coaching ranks. Part of the convention for me is that reconnection with friends and colleagues in so many levels of the game.

The convention has moved from hotel ballrooms to convention center halls. The sessions have grown to full field demo areas and therefore what can be demonstrated has expanded. The range of topics in sessions on the floor and in the classroom has grown and is now quite varied. Perhaps though, it is time to coordinate that a bit more so there can be a connection between the sessions that reflect the needs of the game in the USA. Just a thought.

Is it time to reduce the number of meetings that take place so that more attention can be paid to the education sessions? For me, I just go from one meeting to the next now-a-days and do not actually get to watch many of the sessions. I would like to be able to attend more though. The convention is a business and networking scene so maybe the meetings need to take place, but are they detracting from the main purpose of coaching education?

One of the events at the convention I always enjoy is the Walt Chyzowych Memorial Fund ceremony. Talk about a Who's Who of soccer in the United States – well this is where they gather. The ceremony honors someone who has given a lifetime of service to the game as Walt did. This year the recipient was Walter Bahr, who played on the 1950 World Cup team that beat England 1-0 sending shockwaves across the football world. Walt got the assist on that goal. Many NCSAA members do not know of this ceremony but they have heard of the 4v4 tournament which bears Walt Chyzowych's name, another piece of the convention that has grown dramatically from humble beginnings.

For years the coaches had pickup games at the convention in the ballrooms or the hallways. When Dr. Tom Fleck was the president of the NSCAA he decided to formalize these games. So, in 1981 the convention was in Orlando and there was a large empty field behind the hotel (yes we needed only one hotel). Ron Quinn and I took a paint machine and made lines on the vacant lot for two 5-a-side soccer fields. I went to a guy named Andy Caruso with this new company called KwikGoal and we set up some of their goals on the field. Badda boom badda bing, we had a tournament. I signed up coaches, easy to do when there were less than a 1,000 coaches attending, and we had an afternoon of games. Boy has that tournament grown into an outstanding evening of fun games.

So, there are a few asides from a long time coaches' convention attendee. I hope to attend many more of the annual gathering of those committed to the game!

The US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop is coming up February 25-27 and I hope to see many more friends and colleagues in Fort Worth!
 

Move Up or Stay?

Sam Snow

As you may know, the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP) also takes place in Europe. The participants are American kids whose families are in Europe. Some of them are there with a parent working for an international company, some have a parent working in a U.S. Embassy, but most are military families. So that these young players can stay connected to our elite player identification and development opportunities, a group of adults (mostly military) run US Youth Soccer ODP Europe. They form "state teams" for the boys and girls and participate in the US Youth Soccer ODP Region I trials each summer.

Because most U.S. military bases in Europe are in Germany that is where most of the kids and coaches reside. So, while the "state" try-outs and much of the training takes place in Germany, there are American players scattered across Europe and they participate in US Youth Soccer ODP.

Many of the challenges of appropriate player development occur in Europe just as they do in the U.S. One of the challenges is when to move a talented player up in age groups. That decision involves the parents as well as the player and coaches. So, the question came to me this weekend from the technical director for US Youth Soccer ODP Europe about one of his players. The question was posed to him by the young man's father. Here then is the exchange:

Hey Guys / Gals

Just a quick update that "S" has been ask to start training with FC Vestsjaelland (Slagelse B&I) U-17 Division 2 next week.  I am not sure if playing four years up is normal here in Denmark ... just have to see if he has the physical strength I guess to stay with the team.  So, time will tell.  Perhaps "M" has some insight on this and comparison to German players.

Sam,

Please share your opinion with me on this issue.  This player made the US Youth Soccer ODP Region I Team and the U-14 U.S. National Pool last summer.

Sven

Hi Sven,

Moving up four years, up from puberty or early adolescence to middle or late adolescence, is a really big jump. Not only will there likely be a big physical factor of height, weight, strength, speed and power, there will also be a cognitive gap (which will impact conceptualization of tactics). I think there will also be a social disconnect of the younger player with the older players. In no other aspect of their lives will they interact, and with teenagers this is a big deal affecting acceptance in the group (team).

There's no doubt that the level of play will be a good challenge for him and one that should have a positive impact on his game. However, in moving up four years in age groups will he start, be a regular first substitute or ride the pine? If he's not playing regularly then the move up to a more competitive environment will not have done him any good; to fully develop, he needs to play as well as train. He needs also to have opportunities to be a starter, to learn how to impact the game at its beginning and also come on as a sub into the flow of the match.

So, before a final decision is made I think the player, his parents and all of the pertinent coaches should consider his readiness for this jump up four years in his psychomotor, cognitive and psychosocial current stage and future development. Regarding his soccer talents assess his technique, tactics, fitness and psychology for this new level of play.

Is it possible for him to train with the older players (perhaps once a week) and remain with his appropriate age group the rest of the time? How will he learn to be a leader and impact player if he's always the youngest player?

Sam
 

Genders Practice Together

Sam Snow

Here's an interesting question from a youth coach and the follow up comments on the advantages and disadvantages to separating genders for skill sessions.

First some background: I am preparing for a presentation to an east Texas soccer association who have asked me to help them form an Academy program. I am trying to convince them that an "academy" model that does not form teams, that does not add games to the players' schedules, that does not exclude those who cannot afford it or those who cannot "compete," that is financially accessible to everyone, and that is focused on both players and coach development is the way forward. As such, I am proposing a plan that will offer once weekly skill and athletic development sessions to each of the Association's players in the U-6 through U-10 age groups (coaching education will accompany the sessions). I have been toying with the idea of offering these sessions as coed sessions, and have been trying to find some sources that would argue against this, but I have been unsuccessful so far. Thus far, I have determined the following from my reading:

•Because there are so few cognitive differences between the sexes, keeping both genders together would not necessarily pose any sort of comprehension issues for the players;

•Because the girls will probably be more mature than the boys at this age, but because the boys will probably be a bit more naturally athletic, it would pose each group with some nice physical challenges when they compete against each other (on equally mixed teams in games ranging from 3 v 3 for the youngest ones to 8 v 8 for the oldest group);

•Each gender, but specifically the boys, might be able to glean some ideas on gender issues from the sessions, particularly that the girls can do many, many things just as well or better than they can;

•Because the boys would probably be a bit more naturally athletic and a bit more technical, they might be able to provide the girls with a peer model from whom they can copy and learn technical and physical things;

•I think that mixing the groups would start to provide some unity and some community to the youth soccer scene, the absences of which I think can negatively impact the youth soccer experience;

•The information in the "Y," "Youth Modules," and "E" courses would suggest that mixing genders for U-6 and U-8 is fine, and would probably be beneficial for both groups, but that U-10 might be a stretch.

The consensus, then, would seem to be that there are many benefits and few negatives to coed groups in the U-6 and U-8 age groups, but that this might not hold true in the U-10 age group.
What would be your suggestions on this issue?                                                                                                                
1. Would you recommend offering coed soccer and athletic skills sessions for the U-6 and U-8 age groups?

2. Would you think that coed sessions would necessarily be better than single gender sessions in terms of what is right for the players and in terms of what is right for the Association?

3. Do you think that coed sessions are a practical solution?

Well you've done some good research on the matter and you have found, as we have, that having boys and girls train together on movement education and ball skills in the U-6 and U-8 age groups works just fine. Indeed, based on the mixed gender U-12 training session I witnessed recently in Indianapolis as done by Ian Mulliner, the Technical Director for Illinois, it is not a problem at that age either.

You are correct though that some separation of the genders for soccer training has psychosocial reasons to be gender specific beginning with the U-10 age group. Still, having the genders in joint training sessions in the U-10 and U-12 age groups from time to time is beneficial.

Several years ago I attended a seminar for National Youth License instructors and had to answer a question, among others, on this topic. Here's the question and my answer.
 
Are there gender differences in fundamental motor skills apparent in children under the age of 10?

There is little difference in the athletic abilities of children ten-years-old and younger other than the normal differences between children in maturation rates.  In fact it is often a good idea to have boys and girls on the same team, even perhaps through puberty.

"What are the differences between a boy and a girl before the onset of puberty?  Obviously there are some, but not as many as some people believe.  More dissimilarities, other than the basic sex characteristics, can be found within each sex rather than between the two.

At birth, girls tend to be slightly shorter and lighter than their male counterparts, but these differences soon disappear.  During their childhood years there are no significant differences in their heights and weights.  Girls mature faster; at age six their body cells are about a year nearer maturity than those of boys at that age, and at age 12 or 13 they are two biological years ahead.

Even though there are relatively few biological differences, boys generally score higher on many performance tests.  …it has been found that three through six-year-old boys are better at selected throwing, jumping and running skills than are girls of the same age.  It is not known whether these differences are based entirely on developmental characteristics, or whether social pressures and expectations for girls have limited their activity, resulting in lower scores. There is no reason, on the basis of being female, why girls cannot participate in sports and develop a high degree of skill.

Boys and girls can play with or against one another; the primary concern is that the group be performance-matched and size-matched.

Research has shown that girls who play mostly with boys or in coed groups are more likely to be sports participants when they become women.  When girls have the same expectations and experiences that boys do, the performance gap will narrow." 1

Socially, cognitively and emotionally, children all develop at different rates.  There can be as many differences here within a gender as between the genders.  Physiologically and anatomically there is little difference between children under the age of 10.

"As a general rule, children are able to participate in vigorous exercise training with little risk to health. Nonetheless, sports medicine specialists have advised that certain precautions be taken in conducting sports and exercise programs for children.  Most of the concern derives from the fact that the child's skeleton is immature and undergoing rapid growth.  During this period the skeleton is vulnerable to injuries that if not properly diagnosed and treated can cause permanent damage.

…Many sports medicine authorities believe that the physical well being of young athletes is most likely to be threatened in sports programs that involve a high level of psychological stress.  Of particular concern is parental pressure.  In the absence of excessive pressure, children are unlikely to harm themselves in an athletic training situation.  Consequently, efforts should be made to educate parents and other adults regarding the potential risks and benefits of sports participation for children. Youngsters may benefit from the discipline involved in athletic conditioning and from a modest level of competitive stress.  But there is little to gain and much to lose when overzealous adults pressure young children to train and compete in an excessively stressful environment.  Youth sports should always be conducted with the young athlete's long-term well-being as the first priority." 2

1 Billie Jones, et al., Guide To Effective Coaching, second edition, Dubuque, Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1989, pp. 72-73

2 Russell Pate, et al., Scientific Foundations of Coaching, New York, CBS College Publishing, 1984, pp. 326-327