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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.

 

Too Young to Travel?

Sam Snow

Recently a 'soccer dad' wrote to me asking about the appropriate age at which to begin travel soccer. That age varies across the nation to a degree, but certainly by the U-12 age group many soccer clubs have teams that travel to other cities and perhaps even other states to play. Now, a trip to another state with a bunch of 11-Year-Olds may not seem like a big deal if you live in Rhode Island, but what if you live in Alaska or North Dakota where that trip is quite a long way. So one consideration is the distance and, therefore, the time and cost involved.

Also to consider is the physical and emotional stress on the kids if they are too young for soccer road trips. Factor the adults' expectations for results into the psychological environment in which the kids are now playing. Some, but not all, adults will suddenly want more wins as the 'R.O.I.' for having made the trip.

Central to the discussion, purely on the soccer side, is to consider if the players are ready technically, tactically and physically to undertake playing matches on the road, which even at the adult level of soccer is more demanding.

Finally, we must remember that soccer is a long-term development sport. Since players do not peak until their late twenties or early thirties there doesn't seem to be a need for a rush to travel soccer. Furthermore, I am of the opinion that we should unfurl the full soccer experience gradually to young players. Let's always have something new in soccer on the horizon for them. We have a tendency in youth soccer to give them everything early on, and then there's little for them to look forward to in the soccer world.

So, here's my exchange with a parent asking for some advice to be able to make an informed decision for his child's soccer experience.

Coach: travel team guidelines

Hello, was hoping to find some guidelines on kids participating in travel teams. When should kids really starting traveling out of state for soccer tournaments? Is 4 years old too young? Is 10?  What are the guidelines being provided to our clubs across the country?

There are not any mandated policies for travel. However, US Youth Soccer coaching education recommends that kids not begin to travel until the U-10 age group. That travel should be within a 100 mile radius of the home club. In this way, the kids are getting some variety of games, but without overnight stays and all of the time and expense to the family. For the U-12 age group some out of state travel is fine. Again, time and expense are justified to make that travel to a state bordering the home state of the club. Also, as long as it is not overdone, travel within your US Youth Soccer Region is fine too. For the U-14 to U-19 age groups travel nationwide is fine. However, clubs must be sure to consider the time away from school and cost to the player's family. International trips for U-14 and older is fine too. Such a trip has greater significance if it is an occasional event for the players - once per year or two at the most.

Sam, this is very helpful, thank you! I currently coach a U-9 Girls team, and my oldest daughter plays for a U-11 Girls team. Her team is looking to travel in November to Texas, but I am of the opinion and have decided that this is not best for our family or daughter. Her team has plenty of competition right here in Colorado, and can easily get travel experience with some longer distance in-state tournaments. I wish some of these clubs were not so eager to take our young players to out of state tournaments. From my perspective this only perpetuates the "win at all cost attitude" so many are discussing these days, but doing very little to change. It's more about club promotion and less about developing players.

Your note is indeed helpful. Would you mind if I shared this with my club? I'm assuming U-11 would be treated similar to U-12. In our state of Colorado all the "crazy competitiveness" starts at U-11. The more guidance US Youth Soccer can provide our state organizations and the clubs, the better the soccer community will be for all.

Thanks again for your insights. I'm going to keep your name for the future as I am the parent of a "warrior girl," trying to do right by her.

Indeed the push to play more and more begins too soon in American youth soccer. All of the adults be they parents, coaches or administrators, contribute in some way to that mentality. Please do not hesitate to let us know if the US Youth Soccer Coaching Department can be of further assistance to you.

Let me close this week with drawing your attention to a very good article for parents who have children playing soccer. The FREE content for soccer parents is available at: http://soccerparentadvice.blogspot.com.
 

Parent education issues

Sam Snow

From the state Technical Directors' Position Statements here is information on the part of parents in youth soccer.
 
Parent Education Issues No. 8

We believe that parents should be required to sign and comply with a Code of Conduct. We also believe that proactive and ongoing parent education should be the responsibility of every club and league. We urge clubs to put the US Youth Soccer Principles of Conduct into the hands of the parents associated with their club.
 
Please also take a look at the information for soccer moms and dads in the parents section of the US Youth Soccer web site.
 

Transition

Sam Snow

For your reading this week is an excerpt from the soon-to-be-released Player Development Model from US Youth Soccer.
 
Transition is the most important moment in soccer; the moment in the match when individual players switch their player role in the game from defense to attack or attack to defense. Transition is acquired first by an individual player, then a group of players and then the team.
 
This moment of transition occurs first as mental recognition of the situation and then a decision that initiates physical action. The faster the recognition-decision-action connection is made the more impactful will be a player's performance. Only once individual players are quickly making the transition from one phase of play to the next, will it be possible for a team to execute quick and skillful transition from defense to attack or vice versa.
 
If transition does not happen fast enough for a player or team then they are always a step or two behind the action. The speed of a player's transition is based on their tactical awareness. Tactical awareness is being mindful of where you are on the field, as well as the location of the ball, your teammates and opponents. It's the ability to read the game – to anticipate what will happen next and not merely reacting to what just happened. In some soccer circles this tactical awareness is called insight. In American soccer, we refer to this level of mental focus and tactical awareness as being soccer savvy.
 
Your players have no chance of becoming soccer savvy players if they are simply cogs in the team wheel. Players who are over-coached in matches become robotic in their performance and cannot make tactical decisions fast enough. Slow decision making leads to reaction players instead of anticipation players. The over-coaching comes from not only coaches, but spectators too. They constantly yell out to the players what to do and when to do it. This further hinders a player's decision making, as spectators are typically a step behind the action – the pace of the game is quicker than their words conveyed. This environment of coaches and parents making soccer decisions for the players during a match has lead to an American soccer weakness in transition. Too many of our players are not tactically aware, thereby being slow in transition. To become an anticipation player who is quick in transition requires a healthy soccer environment in which to grow. That environment requires less coaching during matches and better coaching during training sessions. That training environment should lead to self-reliant players who think and communicate for themselves during a match.
 
The foundation to a good soccer environment in your club is a well planned and consistently executed player development curriculum. From this foundation, you can build a club with a positive soccer culture.
 
 

Risk Management

Sam Snow

A stance from the State Associations Technical Directors on background checks for coaches:
 
Risk management No. 7
We believe all coaches involved in youth soccer should be subject to background checks and that coaching licenses be required as part of the risk management process.  We also believe that each coach should be issued a registration card, certifying that they have completed the risk management process and have attained the required coaching certification.