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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.

 

Typical Challenge in Player Development

Sam Snow

I recently had this inquiry from a youth coach with a typical challenge in player development. Perhaps it is one you have faced too.
 
"Hopefully you can help with a question I have that no one has been able to answer.  My U-13 boy's team has just moved to Premier in our state.  I can see that many of the players could benefit immensely with some sort of a development program that they can do on their own time each day as we don't have the capacity to hold daily practices.  Do you know of any programs I could send home with them to help with the technical aspects of the game? Thanks for your help."
 
The best development program for players that age will involve getting them to tell you a skill they think they need to improve.  By having them reflect on the skill they want to improve upon for each individual means they are much more likely to really work at it.  Only if they are self-motivated will they put in the time and effort on their own to work on that skill.  The intrinsic motivation to improve will give them a better chance to raise their game to play in the premier level of competition.

When the players each tell you the skill they want to improve then give them 10-15 minutes at the beginning of your next training session to work on that skill on their own.  You can go from player to player and help them on that skill if they ask for assistance.  When you allocate that time at the beginning of one training session per week you also have a chance to evaluate if they are improving on the skill; if an individual is not improving then you can give more direct coaching to that player.  It may also show you who is working on their own at home and who needs more guidance and motivation to do so.

To help motivate the players explain to them why you are asking them to work on their skills at home and how it fits into the game for them.  Tell them that the objective is to improve technical speed, consistency, touch and timing, eye-foot coordination as well as being able to recognize the way the ball spins and how various body parts react to it.  Training activities should be demonstrated to the kids at the training sessions by the coaches.

Regularly encourage the players to practice on their own or with a friend or two and try out new skills.  This is the time to experiment and become comfortable with the ball.  Practice can also be a good time to improve their personal fitness.  Please note that there's a difference between practice and a training session.

Training players do with the team and coach and practice they do on their own or with one or two friends.  If players want to become really good at soccer then they need to practice.  Training with the team, even a few times a week, may not be enough.  So practice at home or in the neighborhood with other kids or maybe even at school if there's a chance to do so.

The things players practice are what they can do on their own.  That could be juggling, playing the ball against a wall (someplace without windows), dribbling (make a slalom course) and maybe some physical fitness too.  Here are some examples for the kids:

Wall Ball: knocking the ball against a wall gives the chance to practice several skills.
  • Passing (put an X on the wall and try to hit it with your pass.  Vary your distance from the wall and your angle to the X).
  • Receiving (as the ball comes off the wall control it with different parts of your body: inside of the foot, thigh, top of the foot and so on).
  • Heading (see how many times you can head the ball against the wall without it touching the ground.  How about trying the same things as you did in passing, but now with headers)?
  • Shooting (hit the X.  Try some shots off the ground and some when the ball is in the air).
  • Throw-in (hit the X).
  • Goalkeeping (try different types of throws and hit the X).
  • Goalkeeping (try out different catches as the ball rebounds from the wall.  Vary the height of the ball).
 
Tips on Passing
  • Point the toes of the foot you are standing on towards your target
  • Keep the knees of both legs slightly bent
  • Keep the ankle of your kicking leg locked so that your kicking foot is steady
  • Lean slightly forward to keep the path of the ball level
  • Keep your eyes on the ball
Tips on Receiving
  • Get your body in line with the path of the ball
  • Keep the knees of both legs slightly bent
  • Relax the body part receiving the ball upon contact with the ball
  • Exhale
  • Keep your eyes on the ball
Tips on Heading
  • Get yourself in line with the flight of the ball
  • Keep the knees of both legs slightly bent
  • Strike the ball with the forehead at the hairline
  • Keep your mouth shut with your tongue and checks out from between your teeth
  • Keep your eyes on the ball
Tips on Shooting
  • Approach the ball at a slight diagonal angle
  • Point the toes of the foot you are standing on towards your target
  • Lean over the ball
  • Point the toes of your kicking foot down and curl them back inside of your shoe to make a firmer striking surface of your foot (kind of like making a fist)
  • Keep your eyes on the ball
Tips on the Throw In
  • Stand with your hips facing where you want the ball to go
  • Firm grip on the ball with the tips of your thumbs just touching behind the ball
  • Hold the ball with your fingertips
  • Follow through on your throw for improved accuracy and distance
Tips on Keeper Throws
  • Hold the ball comfortably in your hand and release it off the fingertips
  • Stand with your hips facing where you want the ball to go
  • Keep knees of both legs slightly bent
  • Keep your head steady and facing your target
  • Follow through on your throw for improved accuracy and distance
Tips on Keeper Catches
  • Get your body in line with the path of the ball
  • Watch the ball all the way to your hands
  • Keep your knees and elbows slightly bent
  • Spread your fingers as wide as you can as you catch the ball for a safer grip
  • Relax and exhale as you catch the ball and absorb it
 
 

Circuit Training

Sam Snow

The circuit training method to improve fitness and technique is a unique way for the coach to achieve a number of objectives simultaneously.  It also gives the coach a chance to enliven the training routine.  A circuit consists of a number of stations at which different exercises are to be performed.  It can be set up on the pitch or indoors, using a variety of equipment—cones, flag posts, benches, for example.  An imaginative coach will be able to design a circuit on which fitness and technique training can be combined (economical training).  The number of stations in a circuit is determined on the basis of the players' previous training and ability levels.  It is important for the players to perform to the best of their abilities at each station, so jog between stations to lower the breathing and pulse rates, yet stay on the move.  A thorough warm-up should always precede the exercises.  Explain to the players how to execute the exercises at each station before beginning.  Occasionally the coach will put a time limit for the entire circuit to be completed and other times not.

The circuit can be set up to run clockwise or counterclockwise.  The players can go through the circuit in pairs or singles.  When the focus is on fitness then pairs may work best so the partners can push one another.

The circuit system is intended for use over a period of one month, with gradual increases in the number of repetitions and the length of time spent at each station.  However, the coach may also wish to use the circuit for a change of pace during the season or when weather conditions impede other activities.  During the off-season, circuit exercises may be performed daily, especially when the team is unable to train together or to begin training at the same time.  The circuit allows players who arrive late to begin working out without requiring the immediate attention of the coach.

For more information, read the full article here.
 

Water

Sam Snow

Water - 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. {This likely applies to half the world's population.} In 37% of Americans, the thirst mechanism is so weak that it is often mistaken for hunger. One glass of water shuts down midnight hunger pangs for almost 100% of the dieters studied in a University of Washington study. A lack of water is the number one trigger of daytime fatigue. Preliminary research indicates that eight to ten glasses of water a day could significantly ease back and joint pain for up to 80% of sufferers. Drinking five glasses of water daily decreases the risk of colon cancer by 45%, plus it can slash the risk of breast cancer by 79%, and one is 50% less likely to develop bladder cancer. Water also transports nutrients, oxygen and waste products throughout the circulatory system and is necessary for bodily functions. Everyone should drink at least six to eight glasses of fluids daily.

Fluids are an extremely important part of a soccer player's diet. You need fluids to regulate your body temperature and prevent over-heating. Drinking more fluids rather than fewer can help prevent over-heating. Fluids can include water, juices, or sports drinks. If large amounts of sweat are lost during soccer training and competition, you may become dehydrated which can cause poor performance and increase your risk of heat-related illness. By the time you're thirsty, you've already lost important fluids and electrolytes and might be dehydrated. So remember to stick to the golden rule – drink before, during and after activities. Drinks with caffeine are diuretics and cause the body to excrete fluids rapidly.

Coaches should never deny a request for water. Replacing lost fluids is critical. Cold water is best. The body absorbs cold fluids FASTER than ones at room temperature. A fluid's sugar content and volume also affect how quickly it is absorbed. When it is your turn to bring drinks to the match bring 10-K, Quick-Kick, Gatorade or other drinks that will replace the electrolytes in the body. Do not give your players salt tablets. Replacing fluids, not salt is important. Even if the weather is cool, your players will need plenty of fluids to ward off the chances of dehydration. Bring water to all outdoor activities year round to insure a happy, healthy and active year for your players.

Even mild dehydration will slow down one's metabolism as much as 3%. A mere 2% drop in body water can trigger fuzzy short-term memory, trouble with basic tactics, and difficulty focusing on the match or on ball skills.   A 1% loss of water from the body causes a 10% drop in performance levels. Soccer players should drink fluids before, during, and following training and competition to reduce dehydration. Frequent urination is a better sign than thirst that you have had enough to drink.

When you play soccer you work up a sweat! That means you're going to lose fluids fast. Research shows that if you put those fluids back, you feel re-energized and can keep playing. Remember these guidelines when preparing to play. Based on your size, you may need to drink more—but always drink until you're satisfied—and remember to take a few extra gulps for added power.

                Before a match: 4 to 8 ounces
                During a match: 4 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes
                After a match: 16 ounces

Drink plenty of fluids like Gatorade and water the night before and the morning of the match to keep well hydrated. The faster your body can soak up fluids, the quicker you will be re-energized and back in the match! Research shows that a sports drink like Gatorade puts back the fluids and electrolytes you lose during training or play. Consumption of fluids or foods containing moderate levels of carbohydrate and salt will help you recover from training and/or competition.

A simple way to determine how much fluid to drink is to weigh yourself before and after a workout or match to find out your ""sweat rate."" The weight loss will be almost entirely the amount of fluids that should be replaced. Drink at least 16 ounces for every pound you lose during activity. Also take the pinch test. Put your hand in front of you (palms down) and pinch the skin on the back of your knuckles. If you are well hydrated, the skin should snap back when you let go. If it stays pinched for several seconds, you may need fluids.
 

Meetings

Sam Snow

How to Encourage Participation
Too many soccer volunteers spend too much time at too many meetings. Here are some ways a leader can cut down on inefficient meetings.
Begin the meeting on time. The more you do this, the easier it becomes to get people there for the start. Have minutes and agendas available as attendees enter, do not waste time passing them out. Ask people to review them before the meeting begins.
Introduce new people, and tell why they are there.
Review and approve minutes---but do not read them aloud. Presumably, all attendees can read.
Review the agenda; revise it if necessary. Each agenda item should have a time frame allotted to it. Emphasize that you will be sticking to each time slot.
Encourage participation by recognizing each speaker. Do not allow one or two people to monopolize discussion. Do not allow the discussion to wander. Be assertive in cutting people off, and moving items along.
Be directive. Intervene to ask clarifying questions: Is this a request for answers or a call for a vote?
Handle questions. If answers are unavailable, delay action and appoint someone to gather the necessary information for the next meeting.
End the meeting by having people leave with a sense of accomplishment. Review actions taken; highlight accomplishments; review what is to be done, and by whom. Arrange the next meeting time and place, then formally close with a word of optimism. And do so on time.
Participation by more than just a few people should be encouraged at meetings.