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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.

 

Soccer is Like School

Sam Snow

When I make a presentation to a club or in discussion with coaches at a coaching school, I often make the connection that a young soccer player’s growth in the game is VERY similar to their growth as a student. The timeline to high quality performance is about the same, in their twenties. The variety of types of learners (players) and teachers (coaches) is about the same and the need for clear communication with parents is the same.

I’ve found that the academic analogy works well with most adults. They know that their second grader isn’t ready for Geometry; other mathematics must be learned first. Pick any subject and there is a foundation that must be learned before going on to advanced study. Grammar school children are not ready for college academics. Those same children are not ready to play the adult version of soccer. Both academic and athletic development take decades to achieve.

Club leaders must work on club management through a dedicated player development model. The analogy would be to speak of the many years of schooling, with continuous "training", starting with the basic building blocks prior to a kid being ready to enter the job market and compete for jobs.

The business connection of a school and a youth soccer club reflect one another as well. Both are not for profit organizations. Yet they must have a sound business plan to keep the doors open in order to achieve their mission. The mission of the school is the academic development of the student. The mission of the club is the soccer development of the player. Remember, we’re talking about the same kid here. For most of the day that kid is a student in school and later in the same day he or she is a player in the club. But who’s the customer and who’s the consumer is different in both settings.

At the school and the club the parents are the customer in that they pay the costs involved. The consumer is the student at school – academic matriculation. The consumer at the club is the player – soccer matriculation. In the youth soccer club setting there is clearly a difference between the customer and the consumer.

It’s roughly twenty years to end up with a college or post-graduate degree and the time line is the same for the majority of players to high level soccer performance.

Comments (1)

 

Finding the Right Balance

Sam Snow

I am a parent from Southern California and I have question.

I was wondering if you have done a story in the past or possibly consider a future story regarding the clash between Club Soccer and High School Soccer. What do the experts say about practicing twice a day? Once at high school and then at club practice? My daughter plays on a team heading to National League in 3 weeks, we asked our high school coach to let our daughter sustain from high school practice (contact drills) until she returns from North Carolina.

My daughter played varsity (goalkeeper) as a freshmen last year and was injured at high school practice. She missed nearly 90% of the high school season. I was watching high school practice last year when she was injured. The previous high school coached was running a Keeper vs Field player (One-on-One) drill for nearly an hour. As time went on the field players became more reckless. So this year as a sophomore we do not want to take a chance of our daughter getting hurt.

 

Coaches of elite players absolutely must educate the player and the player’s parents on striking the right balance of activity. It is also very helpful when that player’s coaches are all involved in the discussion. Connecting those coaches is the responsibility of the player. We are mistaken when we think that a teenaged player has boundless energy and therefore can play in multiple demanding soccer events. No athlete has inexhaustible energy. All athletes need recovery time from strenuous events (matches, tournaments or demanding training sessions).

The coaches of high performance players are well aware that the player is on more than one team and to act as if that’s not the case is very selfish of them. The coach who really cares about the individual player, as well as the team performance, will take into account the physical and mental demands on a high performance player who is being asked to play the most number of minutes in every match on the schedule and is likely on more than one team not only in a year, but perhaps in a season. The coach who sees the big picture will give the player good counsel on when to take time off, will put that player in regeneration sessions as it fits that players soccer schedule (even if that’s out of synch with the rest of the team) and will reach out to the player’s parents to give them facts on proper sleep, hydration, days off and nutrition for the player under heavy demands.

The coach who is interested in the player’s long term career in soccer as well as performance in the immediate season will also reach out to those other coaches to work on a sensible schedule for the high performance player. Coaches who only care about their team’s performance to the exclusion of all else will not do any of the steps just described.

It is the well-educated coach who is more likely to make the balanced decision with the player. For example the three slides below are from the U.S. Soccer “E” and “D” license coaching courses and they speak directly to over training and over playing a player or team.
 

snow1

 

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Coaches have an obligation to make well informed decisions that affect players’ health.

Comments (0)

 

Coed Soccer

Sam Snow

Thoughts on coed soccer training sessions and games between club, state and national coaches…

My name is Ed Leon and I'm the Director of Coaching at NSA Premier in Illinois.  I just wanted to get your opinion on some observations I have made with coed training.

My son, a U16, and daughter, a U15 player, train once per week in a coed environment. Both teams are high level and have tremendous technical skills. Currently during the indoor season, we've been doing cross fit type training (body weight only) and then playing coed futsal. It is a controlled environment and the boys are extremely respectful and aware of the physiological differences between themselves and the girls. The teams are selected on a boy, girl, boy, girl fashion and are balanced.

My general observations:

  • The two teams are great friends and have formed close bonds.
  • I've noticed an increased speed of play with the girls when they play only girls. They are far more aggressive as well, without being reckless.
  • On the boys’ side, I've noticed the boys are willing to experiment more with their 1v1 skills, maybe because they feel they have time to do it, whereas when they play boys of their own caliber, they combine more and depend on working together as a unit. However, if they need to go 1v1, they can do it, in part because of their futsal training with the girls and keeping those technical skills sharp.
     

As we transition outdoors, hopefully, if the weather improves in Chicago, we plan to maintain the once per week coed training environment. The emphasis will be more on the 7v7 thru 11v11 topics. I hypothesize that we will continue to see similar results as we have during the indoor season, improved speed of play and technical 1v1 mastery.

I hope you can provide me with further suggestions to improve our training environment for our players.



Hi Ed,

Thanks for your note.  I think what you are doing with coed soccer is a great format.  I am sure the kids get many benefits from the training you are providing.  I am sure they learn both intrinsic (leadership, communication, etc.) as well as the more obvious extrinsic (ball skills, tactics, etc.) from each other.

As you transition to outdoor play this spring may I suggest that you follow predominately a 7v7 format as you note below, so that the sheer athleticism of the boys (speed, strength, etc.) doesn't become their solution to each tactical dilemma the girls will give them.  Occasionally though do play 11-a-side.  By keeping that format a unique experience the kids will value it more when it comes around.

Ed, I imagine there are indeed other clubs across the nation doing a similar format for coed soccer, but I've not had any reports from them. I’ve asked the 55 state association technical directors to find out from them if they have clubs doing anything along these lines.

Sam



Sam,

Thanks for taking the time to respond in a thoughtful and thorough manner. I will certainly take your advice on keeping it more on 7v7 and have the boys rely less on their physicality. I'm always curious to learn what others are doing to help our kids develop as players and people. With what I've observed with my two older kids, I started using the same format this winter with my U12 daughter and my U11 boys. Very cool stuff from soccer to socialization. I will follow that into the spring season too.

Ed Leon



Ed:

My experience here in Arkansas has been very similar to yours. I first noticed that our 11v11 adult leagues were small, and consisted almost exclusively of young men who had grown up playing the game at least past the high school level.  Our 7v7 adult leagues, on the other hand, were thriving, and featured a much better mix of men and women as well as a broader mix of playing levels. A very high percentage of our 7v7 adults never played the game until they had children of their own, so this was proof to me that we have to use small-sided games to introduce novice players to the game, regardless of their age.

As Sam pointed out, the 7v7 format does a great deal to neutralize the physical advantages that males have over females, and it shifts more of the game toward the technical and tactical aspects.  The other big benefit I've seen is that players are physically much closer to each other in 7v7, which leads to much greater social interaction than you see in 11v11.

I would differ from Sam in that I would reserve the 11v11 games for gender-specific play at the U13 and older levels.  I recall that the US Women's National Team played a series of scrimmages against the La Jolla Nomads U16 Boys back in 1999, during their training camp ahead of the 1999 Women's World Cup that they went on to win. The boys beat them comfortably (3-0, from what I remember) in those scrimmages, because they could simply kick and run past the women even though the women were tactically and technically superior. This was useful for the women to improve speed of play, but it certainly is not the kind of thing that makes much sense to do on a regular basis, because it will lead them to change the way they play (in a negative way) over time. Keep in mind that most of the '99ers grew up playing as the only girl on a boys team for significant portions of their childhood -- we lost that when the numbers grew to the point where gender-specific became possible, and I think there is a need to bring some of that integration back. The Germans currently select a few of their top girls to train with their top boys at their regional training centers (comparable to our ODP training sites across the US), so they obviously see a need for this, too.

Because of these observations, we introduced 7v7 coed divisions to our recreational leagues here in Little Rock three years ago. We still haven't convinced enough clubs to take advantage of this division, but it has been very beneficial for those teams that have participated. I have also incorporated two coed training sessions for my oldest players during our ODP Winter Training Segments, which allowed me to reduce the travel demands on some of my players while also taking advantage of the effects you've noted below. Again, I have to choose my training topics wisely for these sessions (to focus mostly on technique), but it has been well-received by the players thus far.

One final extension of this concept I'd offer is to ensure that you have your female coaches working with your boys just as much as you have male coaches working with your girls (to the extent that you have staff to do so). My ODP coaching staff is still 3/4 male, but all my women work just as many sessions with the boys as they do the girls. I've found this to be valuable for both players and coaches in their development, and it is something that I feel should be done much, much more across the country.

If you'd like another take on this idea, see Pia Sundhage's recent comments...

http://www.businessinsider.com/pia-sundhage-answer-coach-men-2014-3

Robert Parr, Director of Coaching - Arkansas State Soccer Association



Robert,

That's great feedback. I do agree with you on the introduction of coed environments; controlled of course, but coed. The more I hear, the more I'm convinced that this is the direction we need to look. As you mentioned, a key X factor for the 99ers was involvement with boys. I can really see the difference in how my daughters play due to their involvement with my older son and the boys. I guess this would be analogous to resistance training. By simple stress adaptation, you become stronger and faster.
 

You make a lot of sense with recommending small-sided as the way to go; however, if you keep the 11v11 games as a true mix of boys and girls on each team, you counter balance the impact of male vs female physiological differences. Also, as coaches, we have the power to ensure that physical strength is not the only means to beat the girls. I would suggest placing strong restrictions such as limited touches or everyone has to touch the ball before you can score, or whatever.
 

I will keep you posted on our progress and sometimes old school is the best way to move into the future. We can artificially replicate the 99ers experience. Maybe call the method, Project 99ers? Let's keep talking so we stay cutting edge.

Ed


 

I do use the co-ed training with my U14 boys and girls on a U12 field and they absolutely love it.

Steve Kehm, Technical Director – South Dakota State Soccer

Comments (0)

 

Progression of Small-Sided Games

Sam Snow

Across the nation and around the world soccer clubs have already made the change or are in the process of making the change to small-sided games (SSG) for preteen age groups. If your club hasn’t already made the modification then it’s behind the times. This change in soccer culture is an acknowledgement of societal impacts on sport, especially in the nations within CONCACAF and UEFA.

In the USA, the move to SSG is advocated by the United States Olympic Committee, U. S. Soccer, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, American Youth Soccer Organization, Soccer Association for Youth and of course US Youth Soccer.

US Youth Soccer has promoted SSG in the early 1980’s. The initial effort was to change U8 soccer from 11 vs 11 on a full size field and with a full size goal to something saner for the players. The result was 8-a-side soccer.  Since then the game has evolved and the need for SSG is more poignant than ever. Beginning in 2000, US Youth Soccer has advocated a stair step approach for youth players into the adult version of soccer.

Here is the logic behind our progression of 3 vs 3 to 8 vs 8 and eventually 11-a-side. Our work on SSG began under the direction of Dr. Tom Fleck in the 1980s.  With a doctorate in primary school education, Dr. Fleck wanted to modify soccer so that it made more sense to young players and to novice coaches who had not ever played soccer themselves. Keep in mind that in the 1980s perhaps 95% of our coaches had never played the sport that they now found themselves coaching. We needed a format that made sense to them and to very young players. We could not say to a 6-year-old just go play with other kids in the neighborhood or with a parent, because none of them were playing the sport.

We recommend 3 vs 3 for the U6 age group. Given the ego-centric nature of 5 and 6-year-olds, to account for parallel play and for there to be some notion of soccer shape we settled on 3-a-side without goalkeepers for this age group.

We recommend 4 vs 4 for the U8 age group. Still no goalkeepers – let all of the kids be near the ball and chase it up and down the pitch. The ego-centric approach to soccer has improved, but not much, so let’s keep the numbers small. Also with 4-a-side it makes it easier to teach partner play and for the kids to understand it. Finally, the purists like these numbers as it theoretically allows for width and depth for the attacking team.

We recommend 6 vs 6 for the U10 age group. The position of goalkeeper is now introduced to the game. Small group play is now possible and 6-a-side allows for various combinations of triangles around the ball. For the less experienced and/or knowledgeable coach 6-a-side allows for a formation without a midfield line in the team, so it is easier to understand for the coach and young players. However, a more knowledgeable and experienced coach may introduce a midfield line into the game for the advanced group of young players.

We recommend 8 vs 8 for the U12 age group. There is now a midfield line in the team. We think that adding two more field players into the team is enough for children this age to absorb (cognitively and psychosocially) and actually be able to use in a match. The coaching emphasis now is on large group tactics. The State Associations, along with US Youth Soccer, started working on implementing SSG for the preteen age groups in the 1990s. Many of the State Associations have already established 8-a-side for the U12 age group, which is a fulcrum age group.

In a nutshell, this is how we have come to this place on the player development pathway.

SSG

Figure 1 From the Player Development presentation in the National Youth License coaching course

Comments (1)