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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.

 

No. 2 Goalkeeping

Sam Snow

We believe that goalkeepers should not be a feature of play at the U6 and the U8 age groups.  All players in these age groups should be allowed to run around the field and chase the toy, a.k.a – the ball.
 
For teams in the U-10 and older age groups goalkeepers should become a regular feature of play.  However, young players in the U-10 and U-12 age groups should not begin to specialize in any position at this time in their development.
 

Playing numbers for Small-Sided Games

Sam Snow

The intent is to use Small-Sided Games as the vehicle for match play for players under the age of twelve. Further we wish to promote age/ability appropriate training activities for players' nationwide. Clubs should use small-sided games as the primary vehicle for the development of skill and the understanding of simple tactics. Our rationale is that the creation of skill and a passion for the game occurs between the ages of six to twelve. With the correct environment throughout this age period players will both excel and become top players or they will continue to enjoy playing at their own levels and enjoy observing the game at higher levels. A Small-Sided Game in match play for our younger players create more involvement, more touches of the ball, exposure to simple, realistic decisions and ultimately, more enjoyment. Players must be challenged at their own age/ability levels to improve performance. The numbers of players on the field of play will affect levels of competition. Children come to soccer practice to have fun. They want to run, touch the ball, have the feel of the ball, master it and score. The environment within which we place players during training sessions and matches should promote all of these desires, not frustrate them.
·         We believe that players under the age of six should play games of 3 vs. 3. This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate playing environment. No attempt whatsoever should be made at this age to teach a team formation!
·         We believe that players under the age of eight should play games of 4 vs. 4. This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate playing environment. Players in this age group can be exposed to a team formation at the start of the game, but do not be dismayed when it disappears once the ball is rolling. The intent at this age is to merely plant a seed toward understanding spatial awareness.
·         We believe that players under the age of ten should play games of 6 vs. 6. This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate playing environment. The coaching of positions to children under the age of ten is considered intellectually challenging and often situates parent-coaches in a knowledge vacuum. Additionally, premature structure of U-10 players into positions is often detrimental to the growth of individual skills and tactical awareness. This problem is particularly acute with players of limited technical ability. We also believe that the quality of coaching has an impact on the playing numbers. We recommend that parent-coaches would best serve their U-10 players by holding a U-10/U-12 Youth Module certificate.
·         We believe that players under the age of twelve should play games of 8 vs. 8. This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate environment. The U-12 age group is the dawning of tactical awareness and we feel it is best to teach the players individual and group tactics at this age rather than team tactics.
 
 

Player-Centered Training

Sam Snow

Guided Discovery

The traditional way sports have been taught is with the coach at the center of attention. The coach told the players what to do {command style} and expected them to produce.   With the command style, the coach explains a skill, demonstrates the skill and allows the players to practice the skill. In contrast to 'reproduction' of knowledge in the coach-centered approach, the guided discovery approach emphasizes the "production" of new talents. The approach invites the player to think, to go beyond the given information and then discover the correct skills. The essence of this style is a coach-player connection in which your sequence of information and questions causes responses by the player. The combination of information and question by you elicits a correct response, which is discovered by the player. The effect of this process leads the player to discover the sought tactic or technique. Guided discovery simply means that you raise questions and provide options or choices for the players, guiding the players to answer the questions for themselves because they become curious about the answers. The novice player in a command style setting thinks too much about what they are trying to do, a form of paralysis by analysis. Instead if you guide the players in a player-centered training environment then they gradually become capable of holistic thinking in their soccer performance.

 Holistic thought is opposed to the analytical type of thinking. Analysis means to divide the whole into parts which can be studied more closely. Holistic thinking considers the thing as a whole. Soccer performances {training sessions and especially matches} are better suited to holistic than analytical treatment because they involve an integrated set of movements which must all happen at the same time. There simply is not enough time during a match to perform each of the movements separately and then string them together. Holistic thinking has been linked anatomically to functions carried out in the right hemisphere of the brain. The brain has both a right and left hemisphere connected by a bundle of nerves called the corpus collosum. The right hemisphere coordinates movements and sensations associated with the left side of the body and the left hemisphere does the same for the right side of the body. In addition, the left hemisphere is known to control analytical thinking, which includes verbal expression, reading, writing and mathematical computation. The functions associated with the right side of the brain are nonintellectual ones or those having to do with sensory interpretation, coordination of movement, intuitive or creative thinking and holistic perception of complex patterns. This hemisphere can grasp a number of patterns simultaneously.[i]

Sports tradition has emphasized left-side brain functions to the exclusion of the other. We acquire pieces of knowledge one at a time. In soccer, the traditional coach teaches separate points of technique, ignoring the 'flow' needed in actual performance. Some coaches use the holistic approach. In soccer we draw upon right-hand brain capabilities of holistic perception, rhythm, spatial relationships, and simultaneous processing of many inputs. Left brain functions are largely uninvolved. Novice players often go wrong in trying to control their movements with a constant, specific internal awareness. They engage the left-brain functions of analysis and sequence to interfere with holistic coordination of physical movement, which is a right-brain function. Obscuring a player's awareness with too many instructions {over-coaching} will make him or her so preoccupied that he or she can't 'chew gum and run at the same time!' It's called 'paralysis through analysis'.

It is often argued that effective coaching is as much an art as it is a science. Guided discovery in coaching soccer is a balance of the two. In a broad sense our coaching style of the American soccer player must move away from the 'sage on the stage' to the 'guide on the side'.

""I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.""
 Confucius
 



[i]
How Psychosocial Sport & Play Programs Help Youth Manage Adversity: A Review of What We Know & What We Should Research by Robert Henley, Ph.D.; Ivo Schweizer, M.A.; Francesco de Gara, M.A.; Stefan Vetter, M.D. at the Centre for Disaster and Military Medicine, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
 

From a US Youth Soccer ODP parent

Sam Snow

More often than not in this blog you hear my thoughts on various soccer matters and occasionally I am able to share with you the perspective of other coaches or players and today the thoughts of a soccer dad whose oldest child is now venturing into the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program.

Hey Sam – as a former ODP State level player, current youth club coach and competitive adult player I've now entered the world of being an ODP parent. I had my daughter recently tryout for the North Texas State ODP team and the wave of emotions as a dad is crazy. From the initial technical skills evaluation, to the 1 vs. 1 battles to Small-Sided Games and then 11 vs. 11 games, each step of the way it's all about one's own ability in each activity. I found myself evaluating my daughter to hopefully give a little bit of advice between training sessions, but what I realized through the 2-3 month evaluation process is that a kid either has it right now or they don't. I learned to focus on the experience more so than 'making the team' and quite honestly I think my care free demeanor helped my kid relax through the process. Before each session I would tell her "good luck and just play the way you play"…she'd smile and head to her group. She was asked to participate in the sub-Regional which gave her an opportunity to play 11 vs. 11 against the other girls that have already 'made' the travel team. Everyone on her team was under further evaluation for invite to the Regional Camp. This created a big opportunity for stress, but I kept telling myself that the more stressed I act, the more she'll feel it…the first 2 games we had the whole family out to watch and she didn't have her best games, but again she's competing against the best of the best and we headed home and didn't really talk about the games. The next morning we left the family home, showed up to the fields, I gave the same 'good luck and just play the way you play' comment and off she went. Late in the game with the score tied 0-0 she had a nice follow up, tap in goal to give her team the lead and minutes later as time was expiring she was played a nice through ball of which she hit with her off foot, far post for her 2nd goal and the 2-0 win. She was smiling ear to ear and after that final game and the coaches gave the 'we'll let your parents know' speech, she gave me a big hug and off to the swimming pool we went. That's when I concluded, either the kids have it right now or they don't. Making the Regional Camp would be great, but it's not worth the stress or anxiety for the kids if they're not ready yet. This is a long journey and keeping my daughter excited and passionate is more important than anything else right now. I told her she did her best and I'm very proud of her efforts…if it's good enough, she'll travel to the camp and if not we'll just have to work hard and give it another shot next year with kids closer to her age (she's December '98, trying out for '97 birth year).

She got the e-mail invitation to the Regional Camp and she's happy as can be to be included. I'm hoping she can learn from the older girls at the Camp and again, if she's ready, then who knows…maybe she'll make the 'Regional' team.

Just thought I'd share my experience, as others may be going through the same emotional wave and to keep it all in perspective that they're still kids and enjoy the experience as this is not the be all end all and they have many years to grow into themselves as players.