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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.

 

A word from a player

Sam Snow

Now and then we adult leaders in the game need to hear from and listen to the players. Here is a portion of a letter written by a 15-year-old player to parents in her State Association. So let's listen up…
 
During my nine years of experience, I have noticed numerous parents on the sidelines who do not always act as role models for their children when it comes to sportsmanship. I believe it is a parent's responsibility to instill in their child the importance of good sportsmanship and offset the "win at all costs" philosophy. To encourage parents to act responsibly, I would like to see the state leadership team consider having parents sign a contract before each season begins.
 
Soccer is a team sport and parents need to understand that and encourage their child to be a team player. There have been too many times when a parent only wants his or her child to succeed or be the best, which does not support a team environment. As an example, I have seen where a parent will pay their child for every goal they score. This encourages the child to try and only score goals, as opposed to passing to another player that may have a better shot at making a goal. While scoring goals is certainly important, playing defensively to ensure the other team does not is just as important. No position on the soccer field is more important than another. If parents are reminded of this in the contract, they can help their child actively participate in a cooperative and coordinated effort on the part of the team working together towards their common goal.
 
The sport of soccer is naturally competitive so parents can tend to get a bit high strung and say or yell things on the sidelines that are not appropriate. For example, there are times when a parent may not agree with the call a referee has made, and will berate and yell at that referee to the point he or she is asked to leave the sidelines. Parents must remember to demonstrate respect for coaches, players and referees and never openly berate, criticize, tease or demean anyone involved in the game. As a player, I can assure you that if a parent says something on the sidelines, we do hear it on the field. Children do learn from their behavior, so it is important they set a positive example.
 
In addition, parents need to be humble, trust the coach and admit that the way they think a child should play or a coach should teach is not the only way a child can learn. Each year I have played, there are always parents who seem to not support the team because they spend the entire game instructing the players from the sidelines. This confuses the players and really undermines the efforts of the coaches. Parents need to be reminded that they should avoid confusion when cheering on the sidelines. Including some examples of what parents should and should not say in a contract will encourage positive behavior. Hearing positive encouragement is always more motivating to me than being told to "shoot" or "pass it" when I am playing.
 
These are just a few of the areas that could be addressed in a sportsmanship contract. I do not think parents intentionally demonstrate behavior that is not sportsman like. If they are required to review what their role is for the soccer season, and then sign an agreement, it will serve as a friendly reminder what their responsibility is as a parent of a player. In addition, if you receive complaints regarding a particular parent's behavior, you have documentation that the parent agreed to behave according to the sportsmanship guidelines and take action if he or she continues behaving inappropriately.
 
I truly believe this will encourage positive support on the sidelines from parents both during games and at practices. If players receive positive encouragement and are taught sportsmanship at a young age, they will be able to model that behavior as a player or observer today and in the future.
 

Video Anaylsis

Sam Snow

There are an increasing number of products on the market for video analysis. More soccer coaches are using this software and many coaches have been using video analysis for a number of years. So here are some facts on how to use video analysis in a productive manner.
 
Please keep in mind that the use of video to help players improve is best done with players who can conceptualize what they are viewing. That is they can watch themselves and self-analyze and they can mentally see themselves doing the skill or a tactical action in a match. This capacity of conceptualization begins to emerge once the player is capable of abstract thought. Generally that growth in the cognitive process occurs around age twelve. Prior to that age if kids want to watch themselves on video let them just watch the film without comment and to come and go from it as they please.
 
Video analysis of team and individual performance should be consistently used with this age group. The analysis should be developed around problem solving discussions. An exchange of questions and answers between you and the players and between the players themselves will be productive. In general video analysis should be used immediately following the activity when the player has a kinesthetic feeling for the action. Video feedback can have its best impact during training sessions where review followed by immediate repetition of the action can take place in a coach-controlled situation. The player should be encouraged to give an active response, be it verbal or physical, thus becoming involved in the learning process. Players should be allowed to work at their own pace. Do not force or rush their use of the media.
 
Initially, each viewing session should isolate small units, such as a specific skill or game play. Short viewing periods plus your analysis should be followed by an attempt to correct as well as improve upon performance. Correction should be positive, not negative. The player must receive rapid feedback regarding the correct action and technique. The correct movements must be over learned by repeated practice. Avoid getting in the way of the players' learning process and interaction with the material. Stop talking and listen. Do not fill the players' minds with details; let them think and analyze for themselves and guide them in reaching a conclusion only when they reach an impasse.
 
Beware the excessive use of slow motion or stop action. It has been found that speed of movement is also quite specific to individual performance, and too much viewing of complex movements performed at excessively slow speeds may upset the player's sense of timing and coordination- his or her internal 'model' of what he or she is doing.
 
A final word of advice: video analysis demands that you understand the mechanics of soccer. No longer will guesswork be allowed – the instant replay of video leaves each analysis open to question. Knowledge of key movement cues that contribute positively to the players' performance is now essential. Watch the US Youth Soccer DVD Skills School | Developing Essential Soccer Techniques for assistance in this area. Also use as a reference the Skills School Manual from US Youth Soccer.
 
Encourage your players to watch high level soccer regularly. As they watch these matches they should focus on the group play around their position. The US Youth Soccer Show on Fox Soccer Channel is a good opportunity to see players like themselves. Players should be able to mentally insert themselves into the position and think how they may benefit from what they are observing.
 

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.