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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.

 

New League

Sam Snow

Now and then a group will attempt to start a new league in a state, across a few states or an entire region and on the rare occasion nationwide. On one hand it's good that folks are looking to improve the soccer environment. On the other hand the group may be biting off more than they can chew. Still folks will surge forward confident that they have it all sorted out. They write a plan, begin a budget, put down some ideas on a schedule, and perhaps even write some league rules. This information ends up in a document making the process slightly more formal.

Usually there are some unrealistic expectations in the document of their ability to underwrite the costs involved to the teams as the money has to come from somewhere.  It'll just end up being a hidden cost in the club (player) dues and the league will have to require money from the clubs to participate.  Groups who think they can do it better often are sure they can get sponsorships, but they rarely have a professional background in sports marketing to know the realities of getting cash from sponsors, especially in a bear market and a recession.

Additionally. simply organizing a league to help develop players hits only at the surface of player development.  The assumption that a league and set competition alone will deeply impact players is naïve and tells us they do not understand the complexities of player development.  Development for teenaged players MUST hit, in order, three key factors:
  1. The quality of your teammates
  2. The quality of your opponents
  3. The quality of your coaches
The answer is not, nor has it ever been more matches, but more quality training (review please U.S. Soccer Best Practices).  Therefore the most important environment to be improved is within the club.  More and better training is the key to developmental success.  However that's not as sexy to sell to the customers (parents) as are matches.  Yet what the consumers (players) need are top notch teachers (coaches) who can really help each individual player improve.  Coaches of that caliber are rare!

If a group hopes to find elite players for their clubs, colleges or the youth National Teams then they can cast only a small net if they are really covering all of the lodging, meal, ground transportation and staff costs.  This means many players in many parts of the country will be overlooked.  If it were possible to cover all of the expenses and still cast a large net to find every possible Olympic caliber player then U. S. Soccer and US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program would already be doing so. It's unsophisticated to think the national governing bodies would not be making such efforts if it was currently possible.

Instead of creating new variations of existing programs we must focus on improving those programs already in motion. Yes let's look at new ideas, but concentrate our work on improving our current soccer culture.
 

Speed and Agility

Sam Snow

Recently, I received a good question from a club director that I think may be of interest to a number of coaches across the nation working with youth players.
 
Does US Youth Soccer have any literature/guidelines regarding at what age it is appropriate for players to start speed and agility training?
 
I do not have a paper which speaks directly to this topic. However we do know from our colleagues in exercise physiology that there's no point to speed training until the body is mature enough to respond to the training.  This means after the child has reached Peak Height Velocity (PHV). Endurance or speed training becomes effective at 12 to 18 months after PHV, which is about 13 years, 6 months for boys and 11 years, 6 months for girls. Significant results are realized for boys at about 15 years of age and for girls at about 14 years of age and vary with each individual's physical development.
 
One practical solution is to use the onset of PHV as a reference point for the design of optimal individual programs with relation to 'critical' or 'sensitive' periods of trainability during the maturation process. Prior to the onset of PHV, boys and girls can train together and chronological age can be used to determine training, competition and recovery programs. 
The average age for the onset of PHV is twelve and fourteen years for females and males respectively. The onset of PHV is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors, including climate, cultural influences and social environment. 
The onset of PHV is a reference point that provides valuable information for training the players' energy systems and central nervous system, regardless of chronological age. Using simple measurements, PHV can be monitored and training can be related and optimized to exploit the critical periods of trainability. This approach can enhance the development of short and long-term individually optimized training, competition and recovery programs such as the optimal window of accelerated adaptation to stamina (endurance), strength, speed, skill and suppleness training – or the five S's of training and performance. It should be pointed out that all energy systems are always trainable, but during the so-called 'critical' periods accelerated adaptation will take place if the proper volume, intensity and frequency of exercise are implemented.
 
What are important to train in childhood are balance, agility, and coordination through a movement education approach. You can also begin to work on form (correct body posture and controlled movement) beginning at U-10. Teaching proper running and jumping mechanics is far more important in the U-10 and U-12 age groups than the speed of a sprint or the height of a jump. Those factors will show up once the child reaches adolescence. Biologically adolescence ranges from age 15 to 23, with each player coming into and finishing adolescence at their own rate. Here are some facts on speed training once they have reached late puberty or early adolescence.
 
·         Pure speed- the ability to cover the distance between two points in the shortest amount of time.
·         Technical speed- the ability to perform skills at speed.
·         Mental speed- ability of the player to be aware of all factors, conditions and options inside and outside of the game.
 
At any level, speed separates the outstanding players from the average... So, soccer speed training sessions should play a major role in your training. Speed in soccer can be quite complex. It certainly entails more than just running fast. When you talk about speed in the game, here are some of the attributes that will make for better players...
 
•             Quick speed off the mark
•             Quick acceleration over 10-15 yards
•             Good speed endurance
•             Speed in possession of the ball
•             Quickness of feet or agility
•             The ability to quickly change direction
•             The ability to execute skills quickly
•             Last but not least... speed of thought
 
You can see from the above that good 100 yard sprinters don't necessarily have the attributes to be quick soccer players. And by the same token some players who are not typically fast runners can excel in soccer if they have sharp feet and quick speed of thought. Remember that old phrase...'The first 10 yards are in your head.'
 
Absolute speed or the ability to run fast is determined by a number of factors - the obvious one being genetics. But if a player has been blessed with less than favorable sprinting genes don't worry too much. A good soccer speed training program will improve the efficiency of the muscle fibers (if not the type or amount of them) and that will make players faster. So, one goal of your soccer speed training schedule should be to increase their sprinting power - particularly their acceleration and speed off the mark. Soccer players rarely sprint more than 50 yards in a straight line.
 
A second, and equally important, goal is to increase your speed endurance. Speed endurance training significantly improves physical recovery after a bout of repetitive sprints. The body's ability to remove lactic acid increases which can make such a difference to a player's game.
 
Thirdly, a soccer speed training program should improve agility, foot speed and reaction time. Exercises to improve agility don't tend to be physically taxing. The emphasis is on short, sharp movements of a high quality.
 
Finally, incorporating a ball into some of the speed and agility drills is important to make all those gains in speed transferable to the field of play.
 
As for speed of thought, that's one that we can begin to train at U-6 through game-like activities and using guided discovery in the coaching method. Coaches need to attend the National Youth License coaching course to learn more in these areas.
 

Argentine Football Association (AFA)

Sam Snow

Well I continued my visit in Argentina with a tour and meeting with the staff at Estudiantes. The facility is impressive with a dozen fields, swimming, tennis, and golf, indoor facilities with locker rooms and dorms and administrative offices. The discussion with the staff included the possibility of US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program players and coaches being able to stay and work with Estudiantes for an extended period. I will let you know how this possibility works out in a future blog.
 
The next day, we were taken on a private tour of the Boca Juniors facilities and we were allowed to observe the second team and youth teams in training. In the afternoon we toured the training facilities of the Argentine Football Association (AFA). We were guided on the tour by Mr. Ruben Moschella. The facilities include eight first class fields, one beach soccer field, dorms, cafeteria, exercise rooms, health centers, Futsal indoor center and offices. While in the building reserved for the full national team we meet the son-in-law of Diego Maradona, head coach of the Men's National Team. He handles all of the administration for Coach Maradona's work with AFA. We had to quickly leave that building as Diego was on his way to the facility and does not like to have anyone there when he is in the building. It was interesting watching him drive onto the complex and up to the building at 60 miles per hour; I think he believes his is a Formula 1 driver. Even though we had to leave one building on the complex we continued our tour. We ended in the main cafeteria and met there with Mr. Hector Elizondo. He refereed the first and last match at the 2006 World Cup and is now in charge of the instruction of FIFA referees in CONMEBOL and CONCACAF. By trade he is a special physical education professor at a university. He was very interested in our TOPSoccer brochure printed in Spanish. Overall the tour was enjoyable and we made good connections with AFA personnel.
 
On the next to last day of my stay in Buenos Aires I was able to meet with Juan Grondona, the first vice president of FIFA and the president of the AFA. We discussed the possibility of an exchange between AFA and US Youth Soccer. The door was opened by Mr. Grondona for coaches and referees from AFA to visit us to pass along their information on the education of referees and coaches and for us to share with them our methods. We will also look into the possibility of American coaches attending education sessions with AFA at their training center. Again I will let you know in a future blog on how this possibility develops.
 
This was a productive trip for US Youth Soccer and our members. We will grow this soccer relationship in Argentina. I urge all of you involved in any way with the beautiful game to explore the world as everywhere you go soccer is part of the culture.
 

Buenos Aires Trip

Sam Snow

Right now I am in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The purpose of the trip is a series of meetings with Estudiantes, Boca Juniors and the Argentina Football Association to discuss their approaches to youth player development, coaching education and the advancement of referees. The first meeting will be today as you read this blog with Estudiantes. But Sunday was a wonder soccer day.
 
Along with Jerry Matlak, Mike Strickler, Bill Buren and Virgil Stringfield, all from the Florida Youth Soccer Association we went to La Bombonera, home stadium of Boca Juniors. The match today was with River Plate, the Super Clasico. The Boca Juniors versus River Plate match is one of the most renowned derbies in soccer across the world. The atmosphere was incredible with thousands of people jumping up and down in unison and singing team songs. Confetti filled the air along with smoke bombs and steamers. Click here to see a 30 second video I shot at the game.
 
The match ended in 1-1 after Boca went ahead at the 59th minute. So this year neither team earned the bragging rights for this derby. On Saturday, we watched a match of lesser renown, but also interesting and entertaining. It was between Gimnasia and Rosario Central. This was a match with both teams fighting to keep from relegation into the second division. With a tie Rosario would stay up and Gimnasia needed a win to stay in the first division. Again the fans brought wonderful energy and excitement to the stadium. When 5,000 fans jump in unison on wooden bleachers it is literally a moving experience!
 
After watching both of these matches and then speaking with the other coaches on this trip one of our observations of the skills of the Argentine players compared to Americans is heading. Most of our heading is to strike at goal from a cross or to clear it while defending. Most of the heading we saw in these two matches was to pass. The headers were flicks and straight on headers to put an air ball down to the feet of a teammate. It was clear that heading the ball in Argentina is a finesse skill as well as a powerful one if necessary. So how good is the skill with these players? Even as I write this blog I am watching sports center and a soccer tennis game is on of 2 vs. 2. Two of the players are youth players from Racing and the other two are sports announcers in dress shoes and suits. They are playing on a marked field in the TV studio… final score 11 to 9 for Racing. When the sports casters have heading skills better than most of our coaches then you can be sure the skill is a serious part of the soccer development culture.
 
That fact was borne out today in our visit to the training facilities for Estudiantes where among the dozen soccer fields were several areas marked off for soccer tennis. If we have youth soccer clubs playing soccer tennis at all then it tends to be a defensive approach. With the Argentinean players, it is a possession and attacking game with the passes over the net being only from headers.
 
So in looking at another soccer culture, we see an area we can improve. Heading can have as many variations as passing. It is a skill where we could be quite talented given the athletic ability of our players. So coaches let's teach this one, but with finesse as well as power…just like good passing.
 
I'll have more from Argentina in my next posting on the US Youth Soccer blog next week.