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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.

 

TOPSoccer in Florida

Sam Snow

Well, it was a great day this past Saturday in Boca Raton, Fla., where a US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer coaching course was hosted by Florida Youth Soccer. The host club, Soccer Association of Boca Raton, did a wonderful job with the facilities and their hospitality was really first class. I always enjoy teaching this course and this one was no exception. The people involved were truly dedicated to the TOPSoccer mission and they gave up their time and money to continue their own education so that they can improve their efforts to the TOPSoccer players.

As you may know, the US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer coaching course is a four hour long coaching course introducing coaches to working with TOPSoccer players. US Youth Soccer and its State Associations are working diligently to grow the game of soccer in America. Within the disabled athlete community alone we can increase our playing numbers by 500,000. Part of that effort is to have more soccer clubs offer TOPSoccer to the disabled athletes in their community. Florida Youth Soccer is taking on this effort and has now conducted their first US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer coaching course under the direction of Dean Frost, Chair of the Florida Youth Soccer TOPSoccer Committee, and Virgil Stringfield, Associate Director of Coaching-Educational Services for Florida Youth Soccer.

Forty-six coaches, administrators and TOPSoccer Buddies attended the course. Candidates came from across all parts of Florida and one coach attended the course from as far away as Philadelphia, Penn. That coach was Mike Barr, the Technical Director for Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer. This is another State Association poised to make new inroads by expanding TOPSoccer among their members. The classroom sessions were engaging with good discussion and sharing among the candidates and myself. We had to dodge the rain a bit when we got out to the field, but a great session on the field with TOPSoccer players and the course candidates took place.

One of the key points that came from the field session, and our discussion back in the classroom closing session, was to train these players to the mainstream of youth soccer as much as one can. We should only modify the training sessions and the game of soccer itself when truly needed. The candidates felt that too often coaches and administrators start off with the game and training at too low of a level with the focus being on what the players cannot do rather than what they CAN do. The players will show you what they can do on the soccer field. We coaches just need to be a bit more patient and let the game within the child come to the surface.

If your club does not yet offer the TOPSoccer program to its community please talk to your State Association about getting this rewarding program up and running in your club. There are many resources for administrators and coaches to help you run a successful TOPSoccer program, you just need to step up and take advantage of these services. I hope to see you at a US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer coaching course in the near future.

For more information on US Youth Soccer's TOPSoccer Program, click here.
 

A little look behind the scenes

Sam Snow

There are two recent events that I can tell you about today which you may find of interest. The first was my time at the US Youth Soccer ODP Girls Thanksgiving Interregional event in Coral Springs, Fla. Three age groups participated; players born in 1993, 1994 and 1995. The event was well done, as is always the case and the staff and players even did a good job with adjusting to a complete rain out one day. Now you can read about the matches on the US Youth Soccer Web site and you can see videos with game footage and interviews too. But here are a few things that went on behind the scenes. 
 
First, you have to really admire the dedication to the game by the players and staff who spend Thanksgiving day away from home and family to play soccer. Granted the soccer is very good, with nice fields and warm weather, but still having Thanksgiving dinner in a hotel ballroom with 240 other soccer junkies is quite the commitment. Add to the equation during the week the players had training as well as matches and team meetings. The staff also had additional meetings with the youth National Team coaches, regional coaches and me. Both of those coaches meetings proved to be productive as we unify our efforts to provide a quality US Youth Soccer ODP experience for all participants.
 
Secondly, I have to give a lot of credit to the hard work the age group coaches did with their players. They had a couple of training sessions with them, managed matches, held full team meetings with video analysis from the match played earlier in the day, but they also held individual meetings with every player. Both the team head coach and assistant coach met with each player on the team and gave her a detailed individual critique of her strengths and weaknesses as a player. They then planned goals with each player to make improvements in designated aspects of her game. Wow! Now that's commitment and attention to detail! I don't know of any other youth soccer program in our nation where the staff accomplishes so much and gives so much to the players in a week's time. So, a big pat on the back to all of the US Youth Soccer ODP Regional Staff Coaches.
 
The second event I can tell you about is the lunch meeting I had today along with Matt Moran, Gordon Jago and Randy Jones. Matt is the membership services specialist for US Youth Soccer. Gordon is the executive director and Randy is the tournament director for the Dallas Cup. The Dallas Cup has been running for 31 years now and is considered the premier youth soccer tournament in the world for boys.
 
The four of us met today and discussed the presentation that Gordon and Randy will make at the 2010 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop in Fort Worth, Texas next February. They will present Managing a Successful Tournament. The insights they will provide on getting and keeping volunteers, building a strong referee group who ask you if they can come back each year, sponsor involvement, community outreach and much more will be of interest to those involved with running a tournament of any size. For example, I was amazed to find out that they have 300 volunteers each year and the majority come back year after year after year. Their tournament is 350 days of work and then 12 days of matches. I know you will learn a lot from these gentlemen on ways you can make your tournament a better experience for all involved.
 
I look forward to seeing you in Fort Worth in February! 
 

Grassroots Soccer

Sam Snow

Recently I've had some correspondence with Nick Levett from the The Football Association. Nick is the National Development Manager for Youth and Mini-Soccer in England. He had inquired about the status of Small-Sided Games in the U.S.A. So, I thought you'd be interested to read of the progress being made on this topic from both sides of the pond.

Hi Sam,

I hope you are well and enjoying the delights of fall setting in.  

I have now officially started a new job as National Development Manager (Youth and Mini-Soccer) and looking into a number of things that probably cross paths with your role. The main two areas of work that are going to be driving my attention are around formats of football and a competition strategy in England. We have a number of issues with pitch sizes, numbers of players per team in different age groups as well as trying to be creative to approach dealing with the birth bias challenges!

For example, we now have every format of football on offer for children from 7 years of age including Manchester United playing 4v4 in their Academy, grassroots mini-soccer offering 5v5/6v6/7v7, most professional clubs playing 8v8 from U-9 to U-11, then we have 9v9 as an option from U-11 to U-13, but most people choose to play 11v11 from U-11….!!! We have a bit of a mix!

What's the current situation in the U.S.? Do grassroots and professional clubs play the same structure at the same age groups? What does your Association recommend and how well does this get delivered at a local level? What age do your grassroots teams start to play in leagues for points and trophies?

Interested to hear your thoughts on this one!

Best wishes, Nick
 
Here's my response.

Hi Nick,

Congratulations on the new job and I'm sure you are working diligently getting the new responsibilities underway.

We are having many of the same issues you are in regard to Small-Sided Games (SSG). One of our challenges is that our national governing body, U.S. Soccer, has not mandated SSG. However they do endorse the playing format for U-12 and younger. Take a look at the Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States document via this link.  U.S. Soccer is now making an effort to implement these Best Practices nationwide.

Also look at the SSG Resource Center on the US Youth Soccer web site via this link.  The National Program Overview will show you how we are doing on implementation. For largely political reasons, we do not yet have uniform implementation nationwide. Although it must be stated that the hurdles are not just political as many folks are convinced that children will not learn how to play 11-a-side football if they do not do so by the U-12 age group. There are other reasons too for the reluctance to embrace SSG, such as "well in my country when I was a lad we played 11v11 football and we were just fine." They could be from Scotland, Argentina, Italy, or England, you name it they're here. The only problem is they are unaware of the changes going on in their former homeland.

Now, to the professional clubs, the system of them having youth teams is much less prevalent here than in Europe; so a few of the MLS teams have youth teams, but not all. WPS is a new league and they cannot afford to sponsor youth teams right now. Some of the youth teams with pro teams do play SSG, but most simply follow the local formats. However some of the clubs, such as FC Dallas, have taken on an internal development approach. Their manual is attached to this message for you (Editor's note: if you would like a copy of this manual just drop me an E-mail note and I'll send a copy to you).

When do our grassroots clubs begin to play for trophies? It varies by state association. For the majority that begins at U-12, but some do begin at U-10. We are trying to move everyone to U-12, but with other youth soccer organizations in the country competing with us in the market place it makes it doubly difficult to make such changes. If you will remind Les Howie (Editor's note: Les Howie is the Head of Grassroots Coaching for The FA) and Jamie Houchen (Editor's note: Jamie Houchen is the Acting Head of FA Learning for The FA) to ask me about these topics when they come to our 2010 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop next February I can get into more detail.

Regards, Sam
 
And finally Nick's latest reply.

That's great Sam, thanks for the information. I'll have a read through with interest. I think we are heading towards a bit of a climax in England where we need a national look at the children's football system from all of football; not just grassroots but to include volunteers, administrators and the professional game. A radical look at implementing a modern and child-based system is needed.

And if you have any closed-minded English coaches you come across that need some 'homeland' updating I'm happy to help!

Best wishes, Nick
 

Seasonal Planning

Sam Snow

Good Games Can Be Planned. Great Games Just Happen.

The three main phases of seasonal planning are preseason, season and postseason. The youth soccer coach must also take into account other activities in which the player is engaged. These include school and extracurricular functions, other sports, the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program, family and social functions, religious events, Youth Soccer Month, etc. These activities will influence the player's soccer experience in one fashion or another.

The Game is the Best Teacher – MAYBE

The game does indeed teach players by showing them their strengths and weaknesses. However, too many matches in the player's schedule becomes a hindrance to development. You must strike the right balance between the number of matches played per season, the number of training sessions per season and time off.

As a coach, you need to have a schedule for the season. A seasonal plan should begin at the end. So devise your schedule from the last possible event the team could attend in that soccer year. For the U-8 team, this is likely an end of the year jamboree or soccer festival, or perhaps just the last play day on the schedule. For the U-18 team the last event could be the finals of the US Youth Soccer National Championships. Whatever the last event is plan from there back to the beginning of the season. In this way you can now see the scope of the steps you will need to take to develop the players to culminate at the final seasonal event.  Take into account match days, training days, regeneration training days, specialty training, holidays, major school events (final exams for example), planned days off and tournaments. The schedule must also reflect the rhythm[1] of training. Following are one month schedule samples that could apply to childhood, pubescent and adolescent teams.

Planned time off is vitally important to avoid over-scheduling and the fallout of overuse injuries and mental burnout. Both the players and the coaches need time off to 'recharge the batteries' and come back to soccer reinvigorated; it's possible to have too much of a good thing.
Club and high school coaches need to work together for the sake of the players on dovetailing their seasons. A week or two off between seasons for the year-round players will avoid burnout. After a little rest and relaxation you will get back a player fully charged and ready to give 100 percent. If this formula is not followed then players giving a fraction of their full potential will become the norm.

Clubs and coaches must plan a reasonable soccer year calendar for each age group. Certainly the U-6 schedule should not have the same intensity, duration and frequency of activity as the U-16 schedule. Beware of the too much too soon syndrome[2]. A symptom of the syndrome is the more is better mentality[3]. For positive player development that will last for decades, a balanced approach must be taken to the soccer calendar.  The list below covers the areas within the planning concept for which you are responsible in preparing a team to compete. All four components of soccer - fitness, psychology, tactics and technique - are incorporated into these areas and some will overlap from one area to the next.

¤ 
Periodization
          o   Peak at championship time
¤ Short-term and long-term development goals
¤ Rhythm of training [4]
¤ Over-training or under-training
¤ Tournaments – must be few and far between; you need to be very selective about when your team participates in a tournament and why
¤ Burnout – mental and physical
¤ Overuse  and chronic injuries

There are two principles of learning in physical education that you should consider in the seasonal plan for skill improvement. Your plan for training sessions each month should reflect these principles:

Principle of Distributed Practice -
In general short periods of intense practice will result in more learning than longer, massed practice sessions.

Principle of Variable Practice -
Block practice aids performance while variable practice aids in learning. Variable practice causes an increase in attention.
 
Plan your practice and practice your plan.


[1] A training session should go from low to medium to high to medium to high to low in the physical exertion demanded from the players – once exhausted little learning occurs.
[2] The misguided notion that if beginning soccer at age 5 is good then 3 or 4 is a head start. The same flawed logic often is used in beginning try-outs too soon.
[3] The misapplied idea to increase training from one hour to two or double the number of matches from fifty to one hundred.
[4] The rhythm of a season should have a balance to the level of competition – peaking with the most challenging matches at season's end.