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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.

 

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.
 

Player Development Manual excerpt

Sam Snow

The US Youth Soccer state Technical Directors, the Coaching Committee and the Technical Department are writing a Player Development Model to supplement the U.S. Soccer Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States. The Player Development Model will give clubs a sound curriculum for the development of players from the U-6 to the U-20 age groups. The Player Development Model will be distributed to the US Youth Soccer membership in the near future. Here now for you is an excerpt from the document.

WHAT IS SOCCER?
The beauty of the game is in its simplicity. Within a given set of rules there are two teams who compete to score goals against each other. Each team consists of eleven (or fewer) individuals who must use their abilities to combine cohesively while trying to win the game. It's hard to play simple.

Simplicity is GENIUS!

"Soccer is an art not a science and the game should be played attractively as well as effectively. Soccer is a game of skill, imagination, creativity and decision making.  Coaching should not stifle, but enhance those elements."
Bobby Howe

There are over 5,400 US Youth Soccer clubs across the nation. Each of those clubs has the obligation to provide its members the opportunity to play the game while learning and growing as individuals. The opportunity to participate follows both of the major player development pathways of recreational or select soccer. The recreational pathway includes the US Youth Soccer Presidents Cup and TOPSoccer. The select pathway includes US Youth Soccer Regional Leagues and the National League; the National Championship Series and the Olympic Development Program.

A club must have a model for the development of all players. True player development occurs when each player's daily training and playing environment is of the highest quality. If this environment is consistent, with a clear vision of what lies ahead for the players, development is maximized. To this end a club must have a business plan for staff growth, facilities management and implementation of programming within the club. A club must build, maintain and expand its facilities as one element of the formula to meet this obligation. The club must also provide for the ongoing education of the administrators, coaches, parents and referees, who are the four pillars supporting youth soccer. The core for planned development is a sound curriculum.

"You must love the game and want to share with the players a certain way of life, a way of seeing football."
Arsène Wenger
 

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.