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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.

 

Communication

Sam Snow

Communication between state associations and the soccer clubs around a state is of critical importance.    Continual improvement is necessary for soccer to prosper in United States. All aspects of communication are equally important. 
 
Further the communication must come not only from the state association to the clubs, but also from the clubs to the state association. The clubs that will need the most help with communication are the smaller ones who do not currently have paid administrators and/or coaches. The clubs with employees still need assistance and guidance, but not quite as much as the clubs run 100 percent by volunteers.
 
Here are ways that the state association and the local soccer clubs can improve communication with their members.
 
-News Releases – TV, radio and print
 
-Newsletter
 
-Bulletin board at the soccer fields
 
-Voice Mail telephone service
 
-Semi-annual coaches meetings at the club
 
-Annual referees meetings at the club
 
-Annual one day workshop for team managers held locally at the club
 
-Internet - website and an e-mail account.
 
-Monthly faxes with news and information on upcoming events
 
-Clubs, as well as the state association, use state newsletter
 
-Tournaments at the clubs can be better used to inform the soccer public about upcoming local, state, regional and national events
 
-League matches can serve the same function as the local tournaments to share news
 
-State tournaments can be used to inform the public about soccer events for the following soccer year
 
-Referee and coaching courses
 
-State Coaching Symposium - club coaches meeting in conjunction
 
-Annual General Meeting - club coaches meeting in conjunction
 
-State Business Meeting - club coaches meeting in conjunction
 
High school, college and professional soccer matches - information in game programs and announced over the public address system
 
Ultimately for any of these forms of communication to work the soccer family in a state must work at it. Systems of communication can be put into place, but they will not be effective if the players, administrators, referees, coaches and parents do not take advantage of it and work at improving communication within their team.
 

Shift changes

Sam Snow

Here's a question from a parent of a young player:
 
"I have a relatively minor question regarding appropriate shift time, not playing time in my daughter's Under-10 Recreation Traveling team (6v6).  My daughter will be nine shortly. With 10 players on the roster, each shift of five moving players is playing about 12 -15 minutes at a time and it seems as though the young ladies are becoming tired quickly.  The last team we played changed shifts about every five to six minutes...By the way, our coach is new and has never coached any organized sport before though she has a local high school soccer player helping out...
 
Is there a recommended time-per-shift at this age?"
 
Shift changes can actually hinder the players learning how to play the game.  Wholesale substitutions change the rhythm of the game and end up with the game being played at a helter skelter pace, often with little in the way of quality tactics.  When the pace of the game is too fast the match deteriorates into kick and run soccer.  For the beauty of the game and to put young players into an environment to learn the game it is better to substitute players one or two at a time.  Since the Under-10 age group is playing halves for the first time (see the Modified Rules for Under-10 at /coaches/RulesSmallGames/) it is a learning experience for the players, coaches and parents.  All of those folks now need to begin learning the rhythm of the game.  The players are being asked for the first time to think about how to pace themselves.  That of course may be impossible to do if the adults surrounding the field are yelling for the players to constantly run at full pace, something which professional teams do not do.
 
The children will naturally become tired, but learning when to run, jog, walk or stand is part of the tactics of the game.  Shift changes do not allow players to learn this tactical part of soccer as they are told to run hard for ten to fifteen minutes and then come off.  That approach can win matches at Under-10 but will cause you to lose them at older and higher levels of play.  It may require a bit more work during the match for the coach to keep track of 50 percent playing time for each child at the game that day, but that is a bit more in tune with the coach's job during a match than telling the players on the field what to do.
 
 
 

Heading

Sam Snow

Recently I had a club director ask for information on the do's and don'ts of heading in the Under-6 and Under-8 age groups. In order to help educate the members of his club he wanted to know the latest thoughts on the subject. These sorts of questions, whether they are on a technical topic such as this one or a tactical question, come up now and then. The tendency from either a coach in a club or parents of players on a team is to want to teach advanced skills or tactics to young players. The logic usually is that well it's part of the game and they will need to learn it. True…but not today.
 
By this approach the logic could be extended to say that since kids will someday be driving a car then you should have your 6-year-old practice driving back and forth in the driveway. This flies in the face of common sense. So to the question of teaching heading to Under-6 and Under-8 players - put simply … DON'T!
 
Soccer players do indeed need to learn how to head the ball. It is an important and unique skill in the game. To execute the skill correctly though requires some developed athleticism and ability to read the flight of the ball in the air. US Youth Soccer recommends that heading be introduced at the earliest in the Uner-10 age group.  Young children have great difficulty tracking moving objects, especially if they are in the air.  Most will duck or throw hands in front of the face if the ball comes toward the head.  Children younger than 10 are very reactionary in their movement behavior.  Anticipating where the ball might be played is a skill that has not yet developed.  This ability does not really develop until age nine or 10.  Prior to age nine visual tracking acuity is not fully developed.  Players have difficulty accurately tracking long kicks or the ball off of the ground.  Beginning at approximately age 10, one's visual tracking acuity achieves an adult pattern.  Even then it will take years to reach a point of being able to precisely determine the height, pace, curve and spin of a ball in the air.  How many high school players mistime headers?  There is no need to be in a rush to teach heading skill to children.  Just like geometry in school they get to it in time.
 
Heading the ball is a difficult skill to learn. When should players start? Introduce heading in the Under-10 age group. Teach heading to score and to clear in the Under-12 age group both standing and jumping. Teach heading to pass, backwards heading (flicks) and diving headers in the Under-14 age group. These age groups recommendations are the average, middle of the bell-curve so to speak. A few players may start some of these techniques earlier, especially if they have older siblings playing. Others will start latter, as their confidence grows.
 
Players who can make exact passes with the head, who can save dangerous situations at their own goal by heading the ball away and who can make use of chances at the opponent's goal by means of lightning quick headers are indispensable to their team. The ball can be headed from a standing position, on the run or by jumping up to the ball with one or both legs; the ball can be headed forwards, i.e. in the direction the player is facing, to the side and even behind.
 
Early experiences can be painful if careful progression in building up confidence is not applied. When introducing the technique of heading the ball for the first time, I suggest you start with a Nerf type soccer ball or an underinflated volleyball. Gradually work your way up to a fully inflated soccer ball. Begin with juggling with the head so that the player controls the pace, height, frequency of repetition, movement, etc.   Next go to head juggling with a partner. A good group game for heading is Toss-Head-Catch. In this activity the ball is being served from the hands, so the force is less than a crossed ball and is more accurate. The increased accuracy will allow for more repetitions of correct headers.
 
The whole body is used to head the ball. The movement begins with the legs, the movement of the stomach muscles throws the trunk and upper body forward and the head, from the neck upwards, follows through quickly. The position of the forehead to the ball determines its flight path.
 
Here are the key coaching points for the basic header:
 
Head: chin tucked in, neck stiff, never close the eyes. It is important to watch the flight of the ball until the moment of impact.
 
Upper body: brought back early into the curved position – and then snapped forward. Contact is made with the ball when the body is perpendicular to the ground.
 
Legs: bent at the knees to support the forward thrust.
 
Area of contact: middle of the forehead, sometimes the side of the forehead, never the temples or the top of the head.
 
Among young players there is a physical barrier to overcome when talking about heading and that is simply fear. The earliest and most elementary lesson about heading is never let the ball hit you. Go out and meet it, and make contact with the front part of the forehead where the skull is the thickest. You must attack the ball! You hit it, not the other way around.  The main surface of contact is of course the forehead. The ball must be struck, not cushioned. The neck and back muscles should be rigid to generate power. The part played by the eyes is important! Although it is likely that the reflex blinking action causes the eyes to be closed at the moment when the ball is struck by the forehead, players should be encouraged to watch the ball right onto the forehead; only by doing so can a player time the actual heading movement accurately. There need be no fear of danger to the eyes since they are well protected by the heavy bone structure immediately above them.
 
There is no better feeling in soccer than beating an opponent in the air to plant a header in the net. Once you have done it, there is a hunger to do it again. It is a spectacular way of scoring goals, or come to that of stopping them. Defensively it is a great thrill in consistently clearing the ball in the air, beating opposing forwards and establishing control. The young player who fails to add heading to his or her armory of skills will never go far in the game.
 

Indoor Soccer

Sam Snow

Coach Snow,

In our community, we are having friendly debates/discussions on the pros and cons of playing indoor soccer and more specifically using the walls or not. This has been a topic for discussion in many of the areas I have been in my coaching career.  I was hoping you could help me out with this topic by locating a previously written article(s) about the topic or have one of the higher ups use this topic in one of their blogs.
 
Having US Youth make a statement or share their opinions helps out a lot. I visit the US Youth Soccer website daily to read up on articles of interest and curiosity and have added the links to your blog site on ours.

Thank you for all that you do!
 
Coach Jeff Ginn
-------------------------
 
Hi Jeff,
 
This seems like a healthy debate for a club to have.  The general consensus of the state Technical Directors is that for development purposes the futsal version is preferred over the indoor soccer version played inside a hockey rink using the walls.  Yet if no other soccer playing option is available in some climates during inclement weather then indoor soccer using the walls is better than not being able to play at all, perhaps for several months in some locales. 
Below is the section on indoor soccer from the Player Development Model being written by US Youth Soccer.  The full document will be made public at the 2009 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop in San Jose next March.  The portion reprinted below is from the first draft, so revisions may or may not be made.

One of the beauties of soccer is that the game can be played anywhere the ball can roll.  Indeed playing in a variety of conditions helps to develop more well-rounded players.  So a mix of outdoor and indoor soccer along with some variety in the type of playing surface, size of the field and type of ball used will have a positive impact on ball skills and clever play.
 
Soccer on the beach is not only great fun but certainly impacts the players' skills and physical fitness.  Players are more likely here to experiment with more acrobatic skills too.
 
At times the weather conditions dictate that soccer go indoors for some time.  Coaches must take this fact into consideration in the curriculum for player development for the club.  You could play indoor soccer inside a hockey rink type playing area using the boards or Futsal.  Some indoor facilities are large enough that fields are set up and may allow even up to 11-a-side matches.  All of these options keep players active in the game.  The same basic skills, tactics and knowledge of the game as the 11 vs. 11 outdoor game occur indoors.  Yet Futsal may offer the best compliment to player development.  One of the benefits of this version of soccer is that it can be played indoors or outside, on a dedicated Futsal court or tennis court or basketball court, so the options of where to play are better.  Young players exposed to playing Futsal show a greater comfort on the ball along with more intelligent movement off the ball.
 
The priority in Futsal is to motivate players in an environment that is conducive to learning.  The more pleasure kids derive from their participation, the more they wish to play and practice on their own.  While their instinct to play is natural, their affection and appreciation for soccer must be cultivated in a soccer rich environment.  Futsal is the foundation to such goals because it: [i]
Allows players to frequently touch the one "toy" on the field, namely, the ball.  In a statistical study comparing Futsal to indoor arena soccer with walls, players touch the ball 210% more often.
Presents many opportunities to score goals and score goals often.  With limited space, an out of bounds and constant opponent pressure, improved ball skills are required.
Encourages regaining possession of the ball as a productive, fun and rewarding part of the game {defending}.
Maximizes active participation and minimizes inactivity and boredom.  Action is continuous so players are forced to keep on playing instead of stopping and watching.
Provides a well organized playing environment with improvised fields.  Without a wall as a crutch, players must make supporting runs when their teammates have the ball.
Reflects the appropriate role of the coach as a Facilitator.  With all the basic options of the outdoor game in non-stop action mode, players' understanding of the game is enhanced.
Players enjoy the challenge of playing a fast-paced-fun-skill-oriented game that tests their abilities.  Allows the game to be the teacher!
 
 


[i] United States Futsal Federation