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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.

 

Overuse

Sam Snow

During my flight to the US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer Region I symposium in Newark, Del., this weekend I read a report in Pediatrics, Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The article, written by Dr. Joel Brenner, was Overuse Injuries, Overtraining and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes. I want to share with you some excerpts from this article as they are directly applicable to our youth soccer scene.
 
"Overuse is one of the most common etiologic factors that lead to injuries in the pediatric and adolescent athlete. As more children are becoming involved in organized and recreational athletics, the incidence of overuse injuries is increasing. Many children are participating in sports year-round and sometimes on multiple teams simultaneously. This overtraining can lead to burnout, which may have a detrimental effect on the child participating in sports as a lifelong healthy activity. One contributing factor to overtraining may be parental pressure to compete and succeed.
 
"An overuse injury is microtraumatic damage to a bone, muscle or tendon that has been subjected to repetitive stress without sufficient time to heal or undergo the natural reparative process. Overuse injuries can be classified into four stages: (1) pain in the affected area after physical activity; (2) pain during the activity, without restricting performance; (3) pain during the activity that restricts performance; and (4) chronic, unremitting pain even at rest. The incidence of overuse injuries in the young athlete has paralleled the growth of youth participation in sports. Up to 50 percent of all injuries seen in pediatric sports medicine are related to overuse. The risks of overuse are more serious in the pediatric/adolescent athlete for several reasons. The growing bones of the young athlete cannot handle as much stress as the mature bones of adults. Other reasons include susceptibility to traction apophysitis or spondylosis, rotator cuff tendonitis, etc.
 
"How much training is too much? There are no scientifically determined guidelines to help define how much exercise is healthy and beneficial to the young athlete compared with what might be harmful and represent overtraining. However, injuries tend to be more common during peak growth velocity, and some are more likely to occur if underlying biomechanical problems are present.
 
"The American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness recommends limiting one sporting event activity to a maximum of five days per week with at least one day off from any organized physical activity. In addition, athletes should have at least two to three months off per year from their particular sport during which they can let injuries heal, refresh the mind, and work on strength, conditioning, and proprioception in hopes of reducing injury risk. In addition to overuse injuries, if the body is not given sufficient time to regenerate and refresh, the youth may be at risk of 'burnout'."
 
The overtraining (burnout) syndrome can be defined as a series of psychological, physiologic, and hormonal changes that result in decreased sports performance. Common manifestations may include chronic muscle or joint pain, personality changes, elevated resting heart rate and decreased sports performance. The pediatric athlete may also have fatigue, lack of enthusiasm about practice or competition, or difficulty with successfully completing usual routines. Prevention of burnout should be addressed by encouraging the athlete to become well rounded and well versed in a variety of activities rather than 1 particular sport. The following guidelines are suggested to prevent overtraining/burnout:
 
1.       Keep workouts interesting, with age-appropriate games and training, to keep practice fun.
2.       Take time off from organized or structured sports participation one to two days per week to allow the body to rest or participate in other activities.
3.       Permit longer scheduled breaks from training and competition every two to three months while focusing on other activities and cross-training to prevent loss of skill or level of conditioning.
4.       Focus on wellness and teaching athletes to be in tune with their own bodies for cues to slow down or alter their training methods.
 

US Youth Soccer ODP Championships Talk

Sam Snow

This past weekend the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program Championships took place here in Frisco, Texas, at Pizza Hut Park. The fields were great, the weather was good and the level of play was high. 
 
Along with the Championships, Dr. John Thomas, Coach Dave Rubinson and I conducted a Coaches Connection symposium. The symposium included two class sessions, match analysis of three of the ODP matches and a training session run by Oscar Pareja, Director of Player Development for FC Dallas and his U-16 boys' team. Plus the coaches, administrators and players got to watch the FC Dallas versus Chicago Fire match. In all it was a great soccer weekend.
 
John Thomas, Dave Rubinson and I watched all of the US Youth Soccer ODP Championship matches over the weekend. All of the matches were good quality and the final for the 1993 Boys between Cal South and Oklahoma was riveting! As the three of us watch the players in the matches we also look at the coaches. We observe how they handle warm-up, bench management, substitutions, tactical adjustments, halftime talk, injuries and cool-down. 
 
One crucial coach and player interaction stood out for us – communication. The state select team coaches at this event were models of professional standards in this regard. There was none of the constant yapping from the coach as is heard around so many soccer fields. By and all there was no micromanaging of the players on the field and there was little chatter from the coach to the referees. So while a good standard of match coaching was displayed it can still go up another notch. In this regard for many coaches a new skill must be learned.
 
The information that coaches gave to the players during the run of play was appropriate, at the right moment and just what the team needed for the game situation. Halftime talks were mostly a talk by the coach or coaches and only a little bit of response by the players or small groups of players discussing with the coach the second half game plan. The information given by the coaches at halftime was again right on the money, but tended to be a monologue and not a dialogue. So here's the point. To improve understanding by the players in the team plan for the next half or during the flow of the match and for the players to buy into the plan they must have a hand in devising the plan. Certainly these players of high caliber, good experience and 15 to 17 years old are quite capable, when given the chance, to contribute to the game strategy. After all it is the players who must execute the game plan. If they are just passive receivers of the game plan, as opposed to active co-designers of the game plan, then the likelihood of consistent execution of the game plan diminishes.
 
As an example while watching a 1993 Girls match with Virginia and Minnesota a corner kick was taking place. The coach of the attacking team called out to the players on some positioning adjustments to help keep good team shape in case of a counterattack from the corner kick. The information he gave was good, the players adjusted and the timing of talking to the players was right. However, the players simply followed orders called out by the coach. Instead the coach could have asked a key defensive player to fix the positioning of the team. Then the player takes over commanding teammates and adjustments are made. In the end this is far more efficient and quicker as the players will be able to talk to each other and make adjustments without waiting for information from the middle man, the coach. 
As these talented players move up to even more competitive levels of the game with large crowds watching and the players unable to hear the coach from the bench internal team communication is a must.
 
With halftime the talks should be a dialogue from the get go. Ask the players for a defensive adjustment they think the team should make, discuss it and the coach sums it all up for the team. Then do the same for the attack. Now the players and coaches have jointly come up with the second half game plan. By involving the players they are now thinking tactically and the plan will be much clearer in their minds, which means execution of the plan will improve. When players are accustomed to this approach the coach will find that the players are talking about what to do in the second half as they walk off the field from the first half. Their mental focus on the match will improve.
 
The new skill coaches must learn is to take a player centered approach in training and in matches. Both training sessions and matches are learning opportunities for the players and coaches. The coach will need to learn a bit about the use of guided questions in matches as a continuation of guided discovery coaching in training sessions. The final objective is to give the game over to the players!
 

Relive Pain with PRICE

Sam Snow

If you experience a sprain or strain while playing soccer, a method known as PRICE is a good way to relieve pain and reduce swelling. After a few days of the PRICE method, most sprains, strains, pulls and tears should begin to heal.
 
Try the PRICE method for your next injury.
 
Protect: Protect the injured area from further injury by using braces or crutches.
 
Rest: Rest the injured area by discontinuing painful activity.
 
Ice: Cold packs – either an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables – can provide short-term pain relief as well as reduce swelling by limiting the blood flow to the injury.
 
Compression: Wrapping an elastic bandage snugly around the injured area can decrease swelling and speed up the healing process. (Wrap towards the heart.)
 
Elevation: If possible, keep the area elevated above the level of the heart to help reduce swelling.
 
When to See a Physician
Although every injury situation is different, if the player is not able to withstand the pain or the ability to move is limited, then a visit to a physician is in order. Pain and swelling that last a few days without getting better are other indications that a physician should evaluate the injury.
 

Rare Meeting

Sam Snow

It is rare to have such a meeting; well actually it likely never occurs anywhere other than the United States, as occurred last Wednesday. The annual State Technical Directors meeting took place at the 2009 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop. But this year's meeting was special with the addition of the U.S. Men's National Team head coach, Bob Bradley joining us. Coach Bradley spoke to the State Association Technical Directors on the current status of the U.S. Men's National Team and how the team is performing. A great dialog took place among the coaches as we spoke about player development and international competition. It was clear that many of the challenges club coaches face in developing youth players and improving team performance are also faced by the National Team staff. So no matter what the level of play is there's always room for improvement.
 
We finished off the morning session with reports from the US Youth Soccer Technical Department and the Coaching Committee. The best was yet to come in the afternoon session.
 
Joining the coaches in the afternoon were several state association presidents and executive directors, as well as luminaries from US Youth Soccer and U.S. Soccer. The afternoon meeting began with Larry Monaco, president of US Youth Soccer; Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer; Jim Cosgrove, executive director of US Youth Soccer; Dan Flynn, general secretary of U.S. Soccer, Bob Bradley, head coach of the US Men's National Team; Kevin Payne, chair of the U.S. Soccer Technical Committee; John Hackworth, Development Academy Technical Director for U.S. Soccer; Jay Berhalter, assistant general secretary of U.S. Soccer; Hugo Perez from the U.S. Soccer staff; Kati Hope, manager of the U. S. Soccer Coaching Department; four of the U.S. Soccer National Staff Coaches; Jeff Tipping, Director of Coaching for the National Soccer Coaches Association of America; Robin Russell, from the UEFA Technical Staff and three US Youth Soccer ODP regional head coaches. It is easily said that almost every real mover and shaker in American soccer was in that room last Wednesday afternoon. So what did we talk about? The national implementation of the recommendations and guidelines in the book Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States. The document is currently available for download or hard copy purchase at http://www.ussoccer.com/articles/viewArticle.jsp_280734.html. Both US Youth Soccer and U. S. Soccer are promoting and urging soccer clubs all across our nation to put into action the Best Practices philosophy! Ultimately, the document helps to organize a body of work originally created by many current and former U.S. Soccer coaches as position statements regarding club soccer or as curriculum for coaching education courses. It serves as a compilation of what U.S. Soccer considers to be an appropriate and responsible approach to developing soccer players.
 
At the core of "Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States" is the belief that there is not just "one way" to teach soccer to players, nor is there just one style of coaching. These player development guidelines highlight that there is a broad spectrum of styles and methods for how everyone experiences the game. Some of these factors come from a player's background, while some of them are a product of a player's own personality.
 
At the youth and junior levels, however, there is a set of fundamental principles that should be considered by anyone coaching soccer. The starting point of these principles is that young soccer players require a certain amount of uninterrupted play, which allows them to experience soccer first hand. These young players should be allowed the opportunity to experiment, and with that, succeed and fail. A coach's long-term goal is to prepare a player to successfully recognize and solve the challenges of a game on his or her own. It is vital that the coach approaches soccer with this in mind.
 
It was clear by the end of our meeting last Wednesday that the coaches and administrators in attendance agreed with the goals and objectives within the Best Practices document. We hope you will join us and do your part to fully implement these principles!