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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.

 

Advice to a fellow coach

Sam Snow

Hi Sam,
I have a question about formations, especially the back players.  I coach recreation Under-12 girls and we play 11 vs. 11.  All of the other teams have their four back players stand at the 25 yard line and wait for the ball to come to them.  I encourage my back players to get involved and get forward as much as the game will allow.  We have lost every game so far and our parents are requesting that we do the same because we're not winning.  Is this the way youth recreational soccer is supposed to be? Most of the girls on my team played for a different coach last year and she instructed her backs to stay 25 yards in front of the goal.
 
What do I do?  Please advise.
 
Thank you,
Jack
---------
 
Hello Jack,
 
Please do resist the urgings of the parents and instead educate them on why your approach is the correct one.  In the National Coaching Schools, one of the tactical concepts we teach is called compactness.  Essentially this means a team should move up field as a unit on the attack and move back into their half of the field to defend.  We expect everyone on the team to be involved in the attack and everyone on the team to be involved in defending.  Even with the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program we look for players who have the versatility to be involved on 'both sides of the ball' as the saying goes.  So we look for talented well-rounded players who can both defend and attack.
 
The approach of telling fullbacks to not move forward beyond a 25 yard mark is inhibiting those players from learning how to play the game. 
 
Coaches take this action for a variety of reasons.  Among those reasons are a lack of understanding of the tactics of soccer or a fear of failure.  Soccer, like basketball, is a game where the team moves together around the playing area.  Imagine a basketball team where some players are told to never cross the halfway line for the fear of the opponents scoring; that indeed would be a poorly played game of basketball.
 
What's most important in your situation is to teach the players about positioning.  The idea here is the distance and angles that teammates take between each other during the match.  Those distances and angles constantly change as the ball and players move around the field.  It requires anticipation and game sense from the players.  When children as young as 12-years-old are learning the sport of soccer they will make mistakes in regard to positioning.  This is simply the learning process in action.  However those mistakes may mean lost scoring opportunities in front of the opponents' goal and giving away scoring opportunities to the other team in front of your goal.  This creates fear among the coaches and supporters who often value the score line more than a well played game.  This is the fear of failure component I mentioned earlier.  Regularly the adults involved in youth sports fear losing more than the players do.  Yet winning, losing and tying are part of learning how to play the game.
 
So your challenge now is to balance short-term and long-term objectives.  For the short-term work on the team learning to respond quickly when the ball is lost to the opponents to sprint back into good defensive positions - and here I mean the entire team.  For the long-term objective work on the concept of positioning, which in the end is more important than learning positions.
 
Do not hesitate to let us know if the US Youth Soccer Technical Department can be of further assistance.
 
Keep Kicking,
Sam
 

Active Coaching and Playing Up

Sam Snow

Active Coaching No. 16
 
We believe that top-level coaches, particularly those in administrative positions, such as club and state directors and national staff coaches must remain active practitioners.  In order to gain respect and proactively affect change it is essential that coaches in leadership positions are current in their knowledge and constantly evolving their craft.  In addition:
  • Soccer continues to evolve rapidly and nowhere more dramatically than at the youth level in the United States.  Coaches must have practical contact with the newest trends and be well positioned to proactively test new theories against existing models.
  • Many coaching directors in the United States are in their 20's and 30's and still developing their personal philosophy and pedagogy.  If these talented young coaches are removed from their fertile learning environment before gaining the lessons of experience, the short- and long-term impact on the next generations of players will be sorely felt.
  • Personal growth stagnates without constant challenge.  Each new training session is an opportunity to reaffirm or reassess existing soccer knowledge, beliefs and pedagogical skills.  Each level of play provides unique coaching challenges and, in order to service the needs of players and coaches at every level, practical and ongoing contact with players of all ages and abilities is essential.
  • Top club coaches are influenced by actions, not words.  To gain the confidence and respect of these coaches, it is important for the coaching director to demonstrate their knowledge and skills as a field coach.  Without respect, the possibilities for positive growth and evolution within the top leagues and clubs are severely hamstrung.
  • The director of coaching is often uniquely placed to vertically integrate the technical, tactical, physical and psychological insights gleaned from the regional and national teams programs.  Often, these messages can only be delivered through contact with players; this is particularly the case at the area and state Olympic Development Program levels.
  • One of the most important messages in the coaching education process is that coaching skills evolve with use and erode through inactivity.  This message is true of both experts and beginners.  Coaching directors must be seen to practice what they preach.
  • The motivation for coaches to administrate can be found in the rewards of the field.
  • The vast majority of soccer coaches within the United States are parents with no formal background in the sport.  The coaching director must serve as a role model and inspiration for this population by conducting clinics and workshops and by learning to appreciate and focus the unique challenge of the parent/coach experience.  This process is practical, ongoing and very demanding.
  • The director of coaching must remain connected and sensitive to the balance of competitive pressures that influence those players striving to reach the top level and those coaches making a living from the game.  Competition is a necessary and important element in sport and society.  Without periodic re-exposure to the stresses of intense competition, coaches in leadership positions can easily lose touch with the balance between the theoretical and the practical: X's and O's must always be grounded in the reality of the playing level.
 
Playing Up No. 17
 
The majority of clubs, leagues and district, state or regional Olympic Development Programs in the United States allow talented, younger players to compete on teams with and against older players.  This occurs as a natural part of the development process and is consistent throughout the world.  Currently, however, there are isolated instances where the adult leadership has imposed rules or policies restricting the exceptional, young player from ""playing up.""  These rules vary.  Some absolutely will not allow it. Others establish team or age group quotas while the most lenient review the issue on a case-by-case basis.  Associations that create rules restricting an individual player's option to play at the appropriate competitive level are in effect impeding that player's opportunity for growth.  For development to occur, all players must be exposed to levels of competition commensurate with their skills and must be challenged constantly in training and matches in order to aspire to higher levels of play and maintain their interest in and passion for the game.
 
When it is appropriate for soccer development, the opportunity for the exceptional player to play with older players must be available.  We believe that ""club passes"" should be adopted as an alternative to team rosters to allow for a more realistic and fluid movement of players between teams and levels of play.  If there is a concern regarding the individual situation, the decision must be carefully evaluated by coaches and administrators familiar with the particular player.  When faced with making the decision whether the player ought to play up, the adult leadership must be prepared with sound rationale to support their decision.  Under no circumstances should coaches exploit or hold players back in the misplaced quest for team building and winning championships, nor should parents push their child in an attempt to accelerate to the top of the soccer pyramid.  In addition, playing up under the appropriate circumstances should not preclude a player playing back in his or her own age group.  When the situation dictates that it is in the best interests of the player to do so, it should not be interpreted as a demotion, but as an opportunity to gain or regain confidence.
 
Some rationale for the above includes:
 
Pele played for Brazil in his first World Cup as a seventeen year old; Mia Hamm earned her first call to the U.S. Women's National Team when she was fifteen.  Exceptionally talented young players playing with older players have been an integral part of the game since its inception.  Certainly, a player that possesses soccer maturity beyond that of his or her peers should be encouraged to ""play up"" in order that his or her development as a player is stimulated.
 
The playing environment must provide the right balance between challenge and success.  The best players must have the opportunity to compete with and against players of similar abilities.  Players with less ability must be allowed to compete at their own level in order to enjoy the game and to improve performance.
 
In conclusion the development of players and advancement of the overall quality in the United States is the responsibility of every youth coach, administrator and policymaker in this country.  It is our obligation to provide an environment where every player is given the opportunity to improve and to gain the maximum enjoyment from their soccer experience and ultimately, what is best for the player.
 
Original document compiled by Dr. Tom Turner, Director of Coaching and Player Development for the Ohio Youth Soccer Association North.
 
Supplemental documentation compiled by Sam Snow, Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer.
 

Coaching Priorities, League Play and Matches per Year, National Championship Series, Professional Li

Sam Snow

Priorities of Coaching No. 12
We also recommend the prioritization of events by coaches:
- Objectives are identified and a season plan is developed that balances training, competition and rest and recovery.
- The interest of the player must be dictated by the quality of scheduling and the choice of events.
- Entering all the possible competitions/tournaments available can have a long lasting negative impact on basic skill and fitness development.
- A systematic approach will maximize the chances of achieving peak performance by bringing players to peak form for important competitions and minimize the chances for over-training, over-use injuries and burnout.
- We recommend the following training session to match ratios:
U6-U8                          1:1
U10-U12                      2:1
U14-U19                      3:1
- In order for an athlete to adapt (improve technical, tactical and psychological components) there must be periods of low intensity activity or complete rest interspersed with periods of high intensity activity.
- ""More is not better.""  Quantity alone does not improve quality; soccer should be a test of skill not survival.
- Practicing or playing in matches where players are ""going through the motions"" due to fatigue or lack of interest reinforce bad habits and retard development.
- Sound nutrition and ample rest allow for more rapid recovery from intense activity.

League Play and Matches Per Year No. 13
We believe that the optimal playing and learning environment includes participating in no more than two matches per week.  We also believe that players should not compete in more than one full match per day and no more than two full matches per weekend.  There must be a day of rest between full-length matches.  We strongly oppose the practice of scheduling regular season and/or make-up matches in a manner that results in four full matches in the same week.  Modified FIFA rules apply: no reentry per half for the U14 and younger age groups and no reentry after substitution for the U15 and older age groups.  In addition, we believe that players should not compete in more than 40 playing dates in a calendar year.  Players must have one full month off from all soccer activity.

National Championship Series Competition No. 14
We believe that, in order to be consistent with the final stages of the competition, the national tournament for the top players should adopt a no reentry rule for state and regional level play.

The Professional Link No. 15
We believe that the professional level plays a necessary and vital role in the growth and development of youth and amateur soccer.  In all soccer cultures, the professional level serves to provide for the vertical movement of top players and creates the conditions for national heroes to emerge.  The professional influence also accounts for much of the indirect education that permeates soccer societies.  Television ratings and paid attendance have a significant local and national impact on media perception and civic response.  We feel that promoting professional soccer is foundational to all professional coaching positions.
 
 

Competition and Tournaments

Sam Snow

Festivals for players Under-10 No. 9
 
            We believe that Soccer Festivals should replace soccer tournaments for all players under the age of ten. Festivals feature a set number of minutes per event (e.g., 10 games X 10 minutes) with no elimination and no ultimate winner. We also endorse and support the movement to prohibit U10 teams from traveling to events that promote winning and losing and the awarding of trophies.
 
 
State, Regional and National Competition for Under-12s No. 10
 
            We believe that youth soccer is too competitive at the early ages, resulting in an environment that is detrimental to both players and adults; much of the negative behavior reported about parents is associated with preteen play. The direct and indirect pressure exerted on coaches and preteen players to win is reinforced by state "championships" and tournament "winners." We therefore advocate that, in the absence of regional competition for under 12's, state festivals replace state cups. We also strongly recommend that with regard to regional and national competition the entry age group should be U14.
 
Tournament Play No. 11
 
            We believe that excessive play at competitive tournaments is detrimental to individual growth and development, and can serve to reduce long-term motivation. Do not multiple matches being played on one day and one weekend have a negative effect on the quality experience and development of the individual player? Further far too many playing schedules include so many tournaments and matches that there is never an "off season." We believe that players under the age of twelve should not play more than 100 minutes per day, and those players older than thirteen should not play more than 120 minutes per day. 

We also recommend to tournament managers and schedulers:
The players should be allowed ample rest between matches.
That all tournament matches be of the same length and that no full-length match be introduced during play-off rounds.
Kickoff times allow players a reasonable opportunity to prepare for competition. This encompasses rest and recovery, nutrition and adequate time to warm-up and stretch after traveling a long distance in addition to taking into consideration extreme environmental conditions.