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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.

 

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.
 

Spring Season Fitness

Sam Snow

As we move into the spring season many players must regain their fitness levels in order to compete in the spring league, US Youth Soccer National Championships, regional leagues and beyond. So for your teenaged players here are some soccer specific exercises that impacts fitness, ball skill and mental toughness. Please make no mistake that these are drills, not activities. There is a place for drills in practice, which is different from a training session. Practice should be done with teenage and adult players as a supplement to training sessions.
 
1.            KEEPER FITNESS: need four cones, one ball and one server. Set the keeper at the center point and place the cones ten yards apart from him/her (one in front, one in back and one to each side). The keeper runs to each cone, but always faces forward. The keeper then works on forward and backward sprints as well as lateral movement. He/she must return to the center before going to the next cone. The server is behind the front cone with the ball and the keeper always faces the server. The server may throw the ball to the keeper at anytime and should vary the times of the throws. The keeper catches the ball and throws it back to the server all while in stride. One set is going to all four cones and finishing in the center. The number of sets and the work to rest ratio depends on the keeper's current fitness level and age.
 
2.            FIELD PLAYER FITNESS: need two cones and one ball. Set the cones ten yards apart. Player sprints with the ball to a cone. When he/she reaches a cone he/she cuts (spin turn) the ball and sprints to the other cone. Spin turn with both feet, alternating. Duration is 30 seconds to one minute.
 
3.            FIELD PLAYER FITNESS: Need four cones and one ball with three players per set of cones. Set one cone at a starting point, another fifteen yards ahead, then the other two set ten yards away, but parallel to one another and one yard apart. Player at the start cone dribbles the ball at speed to second cone fifteen yards away, when he/she reaches it he/she passes the ball through the two cones ten yards away (pass while dribbling). The instant the player passes he/she must sprint to receive his/her own pass behind the two cones. The cones may latter be replaced with a teammate to pass to and a defender to pass around.
 
4.            FIELD PLAYER FITNESS: one ball and two players standing fifteen yards apart from one another. One player serves a ball on the ground about eight yards out. The other player sprints to the ball and one touch passes back to the server. He/she then jogs back to the starting point and repeats, completing ten repetitions per set and then switches roles. This provides for a one to one work to rest ratio.
 
5.            FIELD PLAYER FITNESS: three players, one ball. Two players stand twenty yards apart and the third player in the center. Same drill as No. 4 above only the player in the center never stops sprinting between servers. Duration is thirty seconds to one minute. A one to two work to rest ratio for this vigorous drill.
 
6.            TEAM FITNESS: relay drill-six players and one ball per line. Legs spread; front player rolls the ball through the legs to the back player, who stands five yards off the end of the line. He/she picks up the ball and sprints out front to a cone set ten yards in front of the line. After passing the cone he/she sprints to the front of the line and repeat the procedure. A team wins by getting all six of their players through before the other team.
 
7.            TEAM FITNESS: same format as No. 6 above only the ball goes under and over. First player hands the ball under through the legs; next player hands the ball over his/her head to the player behind him/her. The last player in the line gets the ball and sprints up and around the cone and then back to the front of the line. Repeat until all six players have sprinted.
 

Overuse, Part II

Sam Snow

I hope you found the snippets of information from the article - Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes from the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics to be interesting. So while the thoughts evoked from last week's blog are still on your mind here is a final entry from you from that professional article.
 
"Overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout among child and adolescent athletes are a growing problem in the United States. Although inactivity and obesity are on the rise, the number of children and adolescents who participate in organized or recreational athletics has grown considerably over the past 2 decades. It is estimated that 30 to 45 million youth 6 to 18 years of age participate in some form of athletics. Sports participation is more accessible to all youth, from recreational play and school activities, to highly organized and competitive traveling teams, to pre-Olympic training opportunities.
 
"Weekend-long sports tournaments for soccer, baseball, or tennis are common across the country.   Often, these athletes are actively participating at least 6 hours each day in their sport and are exposed to the associated weather elements for an additional 2 to 3 hours. The risks associated with these events include heat-related illness, nutritional deficiencies, overuse injuries (e.g., multiple games over a 48-hour span), and burnout from having a lack of ""free time.""  Research examining the possibility of fatigue contributing to an increased injury risk in the tournament situation does not exist, but the general overtraining-prevention guidelines outlined earlier [last week's blog] should also apply.
 
"Single-sport, year-round training and competition is becoming more common for children and adolescents. A focus on participating in 1 sport, or single-sport specialization, to improve, advance, and compete at the highest level may drive youth to participate for long hours daily on 1 or more teams at a time. This is common in soccer, baseball, and gymnastics. The motivation behind this over involvement may be induced by the child or parent. As more young athletes are becoming professionals at a younger age, there is more pressure to grab a piece of the ""professional pie,"" to obtain a college scholarship, or to make the Olympic team. Most young athletes and their parents fail to realize that, depending on the sport, only 0.2% to 0.5% of high school athletes ever make it to the professional level. Yet, youth continue to specialize in 1 sport while participating on multiple teams and risk overuse and/or burnout if there is no break from athletics during the year. Young athletes who participate in a variety of sports have fewer injuries and play sports longer than those who specialize before puberty.
 
"Well-rounded, multisport athletes have the highest potential to achieve the goal of lifelong fitness and enjoyment of physical activity while avoiding some of the pitfalls of overuse, overtraining, and burnout provided that they participate in moderation and are in tune with their bodies for signs of overuse or fatigue. Many youth will play multiple sports throughout the year either simultaneously or during different seasons. Multisport athletes are at risk of overuse injuries if they do not get sufficient rest between daily activities or if they do not get a break between seasons.
 
"The ultimate goal of youth participation in sports should be to promote lifelong physical activity, recreation, and skills of healthy competition that can be used in all facets of future endeavors. Education of parents, athletes, and coaches must be part of the plan to promote fun, skill development, and success for each individual athlete. Skilled young athletes must be mentored carefully to prevent over participation, which may affect them physically as well as psychologically. Unfortunately, too often the goal is skewed toward adult (parent/coach) goals either implicitly or explicitly. The parent often hopes the child will get a scholarship, become a professional athlete, or fulfill the parents' unfulfilled childhood dreams. It is best to identify and focus on the child's motivation and goals to provide guidance."
 
1.       Encourage athletes to strive to have at least 1 to 2 days off per week from competitive athletics, sport-specific training, and competitive practice (scrimmage) to allow them to recover both physically and psychologically.
 
2. Advise athletes that the weekly training time, number of repetitions, or total distance should not increase by more than 10% each week (e.g., increase total running mileage by 2 miles if currently running a total of 20 miles per week).
 
3. Encourage the athlete to take at least 2 to 3 months away from a specific sport during the year.
 
4. Emphasize that the focus of sports participation should be on fun, skill acquisition, safety, and sportsmanship.
 
5. Encourage the athlete to participate on only 1 team during a season. If the athlete is also a member of a traveling or select team, then that participation time should be incorporated into the aforementioned guidelines.
 
6. If the athlete complains of nonspecific muscle or joint problems, fatigue, or poor academic performance, be alert for possible burnout. Questions pertaining to sport motivation may be appropriate.
 
7. Advocate for the development of a medical advisory board for weekend athletic tournaments to educate athletes about heat or cold illness, over participation, associated overuse injuries, and/or burnout.
 
8. Encourage the development of educational opportunities for athletes, parents, and coaches to provide information about appropriate nutrition and fluids, sport safety, and the avoidance of overtraining to achieve optimal performance and good health.
 
9. Convey a special caution to parents with younger athletes who participate in multigame tournaments in short periods of time.
 

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.