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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.

 

Lessons from USA vs. Argentina

Sam Snow

Well, of course, last night we all watched the U.S. Men's National Team play against the number one national team in the world, Argentina. There are so many things for us to take away from the match. Indeed there are even a few items to take away from what we did before this match. 
 
Let's start with three in a row against some of the very best in the world, Argentina, England and Spain; all in preparation for 2010 World Cup qualifying matches for us here in CONCACAF. This is a great sign of the health of our sport.
 
Number one, USSF has the financial wherewithal to arrange such matches, which cost a pretty penny. Second it is clear that we have the confidence and foresight to take on very good teams in preparation for World Cup qualifiers. This states indirectly that we want the experience that pushes our players and staff to their limits and helps them to grow beyond those limits. Further it tells every other team in CONCACAF how serious we are about qualifying for South Africa. These are the circumstances leading up to and surrounding last night's match.
 
Now, as to the match itself it was good to see us play a rather complete game. We went forward and attacked and created good scoring chances. That's a highly significant fact given the caliber of the Argentinean team. The U.S. squad did this with a mix of veterans and youngsters on the field. Bob Bradley showed real confidence in his personnel to give a good number of new faces to our National Team playing time in a high level match. This is great preparation for the depth of our team that no doubt will compete in South Africa in 2010. Yes, our play was a bit choppy at times, but I believe that's normal for most National Teams which get little time together to gel as a team. We are still in the testing phase of our pool of players. Several of them tested very well yesterday.
 
Now mind you it was a friendly and doesn't count in qualification or a league standing, although it will influence our FIFA ranking. Yet Coach Bradley and his staff took some chances with their approach to the match. Those chances were worth any possible risk given the experience gained and lessons learned. I wonder how many youth coaches actually plan such events for their developing players. How many adults involved with youth soccer will recognize what our National Team staff did which is that many of the players on the full Men's National Team are still quite young developing players?
 
Several players for the USA came into the match as subs. It's a real challenge to a player to step into a match already underway and get instantly into the flow of the game and literally up to match speed. In your development of your youth players do you intentionally set up these experiences? One of the great lessons from the World Cup winning team of France 1998 was the preparation of the team by Aime Jacquet and his staff. One aspect of which was that every player on the team experienced being a starter, coming on as a substitute and being taken off. In this way the team was mentally prepared for any mix of players in the lineup. Does your team while on the road to the US Youth Soccer National Championship Series take such an approach?
 
Late in the match the USA had a player ejected and found themselves playing a man down against the number one ranked team on the planet. Now I'm sure that as a coach, you have experienced your team playing a man down at some point. Did you prepare for such an experience? Have you taken your team through that scenario during a training session or a practice match with another team in your club? Waiting until the situation arises in a league match is not preparation. So in training run the players through situations of playing numbers up and numbers down and how do they adjust tactically and the possible repositioning of the personnel on the field.
 
Those are just two of the occurrences from yesterday's match that also occur in youth matches now and then. Coaches need to put into their curriculum for player and team development these types of scenarios and teach players and staff how to handle them.
Well, of course, last night we all watched the U.S. Men's National Team play against the number one national team in the world, Argentina. There are so many things for us to take away from the match. Indeed there are even a few items to take away from what we did before this match. 
 
Let's start with three in a row against some of the very best in the world, Argentina, England and Spain; all in preparation for 2010 World Cup qualifying matches for us here in CONCACAF. This is a great sign of the health of our sport.
 
Number one, USSF has the financial wherewithal to arrange such matches, which cost a pretty penny. Second it is clear that we have the confidence and foresight to take on very good teams in preparation for World Cup qualifiers. This states indirectly that we want the experience that pushes our players and staff to their limits and helps them to grow beyond those limits. Further it tells every other team in CONCACAF how serious we are about qualifying for South Africa. These are the circumstances leading up to and surrounding last night's match.
 
Now, as to the match itself it was good to see us play a rather complete game. We went forward and attacked and created good scoring chances. That's a highly significant fact given the caliber of the Argentinean team. The U.S. squad did this with a mix of veterans and youngsters on the field. Bob Bradley showed real confidence in his personnel to give a good number of new faces to our National Team playing time in a high level match. This is great preparation for the depth of our team that no doubt will compete in South Africa in 2010. Yes, our play was a bit choppy at times, but I believe that's normal for most National Teams which get little time together to gel as a team. We are still in the testing phase of our pool of players. Several of them tested very well yesterday.
 
Now mind you it was a friendly and doesn't count in qualification or a league standing, although it will influence our FIFA ranking. Yet Coach Bradley and his staff took some chances with their approach to the match. Those chances were worth any possible risk given the experience gained and lessons learned. I wonder how many youth coaches actually plan such events for their developing players. How many adults involved with youth soccer will recognize what our National Team staff did which is that many of the players on the full Men's National Team are still quite young developing players?
 
Several players for the USA came into the match as subs. It's a real challenge to a player to step into a match already underway and get instantly into the flow of the game and literally up to match speed. In your development of your youth players do you intentionally set up these experiences? One of the great lessons from the World Cup winning team of France 1998 was the preparation of the team by Aime Jacquet and his staff. One aspect of which was that every player on the team experienced being a starter, coming on as a substitute and being taken off. In this way the team was mentally prepared for any mix of players in the lineup. Does your team while on the road to the US Youth Soccer National Championship Series take such an approach?
 
Late in the match the USA had a player ejected and found themselves playing a man down against the number one ranked team on the planet. Now I'm sure that as a coach, you have experienced your team playing a man down at some point. Did you prepare for such an experience? Have you taken your team through that scenario during a training session or a practice match with another team in your club? Waiting until the situation arises in a league match is not preparation. So in training run the players through situations of playing numbers up and numbers down and how do they adjust tactically and the possible repositioning of the personnel on the field.
 
Well, of course, last night we all watched the U.S. Men's National Team play against the number one national team in the world, Argentina. There are so many things for us to take away from the match. Indeed there are even a few items to take away from what we did before this match. 
 
Let's start with three in a row against some of the very best in the world, Argentina, England and Spain; all in preparation for 2010 World Cup qualifying matches for us here in CONCACAF. This is a great sign of the health of our sport.
 
Number one, USSF has the financial wherewithal to arrange such matches, which cost a pretty penny. Second it is clear that we have the confidence and foresight to take on very good teams in preparation for World Cup qualifiers. This states indirectly that we want the experience that pushes our players and staff to their limits and helps them to grow beyond those limits. Further it tells every other team in CONCACAF how serious we are about qualifying for South Africa. These are the circumstances leading up to and surrounding last night's match.
 
Now, as to the match itself it was good to see us play a rather complete game. We went forward and attacked and created good scoring chances. That's a highly significant fact given the caliber of the Argentinean team. The U.S. squad did this with a mix of veterans and youngsters on the field. Bob Bradley showed real confidence in his personnel to give a good number of new faces to our National Team playing time in a high level match. This is great preparation for the depth of our team that no doubt will compete in South Africa in 2010. Yes, our play was a bit choppy at times, but I believe that's normal for most National Teams which get little time together to gel as a team. We are still in the testing phase of our pool of players. Several of them tested very well yesterday.
 
Now mind you it was a friendly and doesn't count in qualification or a league standing, although it will influence our FIFA ranking. Yet Coach Bradley and his staff took some chances with their approach to the match. Those chances were worth any possible risk given the experience gained and lessons learned. I wonder how many youth coaches actually plan such events for their developing players. How many adults involved with youth soccer will recognize what our National Team staff did which is that many of the players on the full Men's National Team are still quite young developing players?
 
Several players for the USA came into the match as subs. It's a real challenge to a player to step into a match already underway and get instantly into the flow of the game and literally up to match speed. In your development of your youth players do you intentionally set up these experiences? One of the great lessons from the World Cup winning team of France 1998 was the preparation of the team by Aime Jacquet and his staff. One aspect of which was that every player on the team experienced being a starter, coming on as a substitute and being taken off. In this way the team was mentally prepared for any mix of players in the lineup. Does your team while on the road to the US Youth Soccer National Championship Series take such an approach?
 
Late in the match the USA had a player ejected and found themselves playing a man down against the number one ranked team on the planet. Now I'm sure that as a coach, you have experienced your team playing a man down at some point. Did you prepare for such an experience? Have you taken your team through that scenario during a training session or a practice match with another team in your club? Waiting until the situation arises in a league match is not preparation. So in training run the players through situations of playing numbers up and numbers down and how do they adjust tactically and the possible repositioning of the personnel on the field.
 
Those are just two of the occurrences from yesterday's match that also occur in youth matches now and then. Coaches need to put into their curriculum for player and team development these types of scenarios and teach players and staff how to handle them.
 

New State Course

Sam Snow

US Youth Soccer has delivered a new coaching course to the 55 state associations. The course is for coaching in The Outreach Program for Soccer (TOPSoccer). The TOPSoccer coaching course is a state association delivered four hour course.  The course is three hours of classroom work and one hour on the field.  The field session is done with the instructor and candidates, so no players are required for that portion.  There are PowerPoint presentations and group breakout work during the classroom session.   Our broad goal with the course is to get more folks involved in coaching TOPSoccer players and to increase the number of participants nationwide in this program.
 
The materials for the course have been delivered to the state associations. Those whom the Association will designate as instructors of the TOPSoccer course must first earn the certificate. This will provide continuity for the instructors. This is the standard operating procedure for all of our coaching education, you have to actually hold a certificate or license before you will be considered as a possible teacher of the course. So to get the course off the ground US Youth Soccer is conducting regional symposia for TOPSoccer administrators and coaches. The course will be delivered during the symposium. Check your region's web site for the details on the TOPSoccer symposium in your region.
 
Please note that the region symposium is NOT an instructors' course.  Many folks may attend the symposium and earn the TOPSoccer coaching certificate but they are not automatically a state instructor of the course.  Who teaches the course within each state association is to be decided by the state Technical Director.  Candidates who successfully complete the course will earn a certificate issued by the state association. Then for those who have earned the certificate continuing education for TOPSoccer coaches and administrators will take place at regional symposia.
 
Here are the topics covered in the course. 
       Why People Play Soccer
       Players' Challenges
       Qualities of Coaches
       Prevention and Care of Injuries
       Risk Management
       Communication
       Ideas for Coaching
       Characteristics of well-selected games and inclusion activities
        Organizing a training session
 
The course objectives include:
  1. Apply existing coaching skills and experiences to meet the needs of players with disabilities
  2. Establish basic communication skills
  3. Appropriate safety and medical considerations
  4. How do we modify activities to include all players
  5. Demonstrate coaching methods
 
Remember that we all have disabilities, in some of us they show!
 

Teaching Games for Understanding

Sam Snow

Recently I attended the fourth International Conference for Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) in Vancouver, Canada. Over 300 people from 26 countries were in attendance to exchange research, new ideas and to make professional connections. Some of the attendees are physical education teachers and some are coaches. All of them recognize the validity of the approach of teaching athletes how to play a sport through the use of games that get them to think and thereby have a 'feel' for the sport. We already advocate the use of game-like activities in training for soccer. We teach much of the games approach in the U.S. Soccer National Youth License course that is delivered by US Youth Soccer. Here for you then is a sampling from my notes from the conference.
 
To teach well within the method of TGfU the coach must know the topic very well. Consequently our coaches who should be able to use this method the best are the most experienced and educated ones. The experienced coach shapes the game. If it's a good game then learning will take place – observational learning. However, even relatively novice coaches can use portions of the TGfU approach in their training sessions. 
 
If a coach has any doubt about what he's doing then he'll fall back on what he already knows; his previous knowledge and experiences. These tools are usually then the command style with a drill approach to coaching. Those approaches when used predominately in soccer training tend to produce robotic players. They are technically competent, but not masterful and they are adequate tactically, but not savvy. The guided approach within the TGfU model tends to develop players who are more intuitive (tactical awareness) about their sport.
 
TGfU = Games Sense and Games Concept
 
Tactical Awareness = core principles of play, problem solving, guided discovery with a coaching method of "Don't tell me – show me."
 
What are the stages of tactical development? How do they lead to tactical awareness? It begins with physical activity which leads to intrinsic motivation so the practice environment is of huge importance. The TGfU approach produces greater intrinsic motivation over the skills based approach. Girls respond well to the task approach and boys prefer an ego orientated environment. In other words the performance versus outcome culture in sports. Part and parcel with our sports culture is the belief of many coaches that skills must come before tactics when in fact we could approach soccer from the other direction. This is the idea of developing soccer literacy with our players. Some traits of being soccer literate include playing with poise, confidence and enthusiasm. Within the concept of soccer literacy are the metacognitive processes of critical thinking, problem solving and decision making. Key goals of soccer literacy include enhancing overall performance, enjoyment, creativity and autonomy. The skills based approach to coaching soccer had focused on block practice. In the games-like approach that US Youth Soccer advocates skills practice is done in a random practice fashion. The immediate effects of practice (random or block) are similar, but long-term retention shows lasting affects with the random approach. Children report that games (random) as more stimulating than drills (block).
 
 

Under-10 Motivation and Consistency

Sam Snow

Last week I received a question from a parent, after she had read the Vision document, regarding one or two issues in the Under-10 age group.  The thoughts were fairly common and I thought you may like to read the questions and my responses as they may assist you in your local youth soccer efforts.
 
Thanks for your quick response!  Any advice or suggestions on motivating kids (10-year- old girls) to work their hardest in games?  Do you find that at this age the children are still pretty inconsistent?  If you have any info or articles to point me to I would greatly appreciate it!
 
Well here goes a stab at your questions which could in fact take on quite a bit of depth.  Here though is a short version for you that I hope will be beneficial.
 
It is indeed natural for children this young to be inconsistent in their performance in sports.  For that matter so are adult professional players.  The difference between a professional soccer team and a Under-10 team is simply that the pros make fewer mistakes, but they do make mistakes.  Don't fret about inconsistent play with this age group.  It's normal for a team to have highs and lows in match performance.
 
Now as to the work rate for Under-10 kids start with recalling how you played soccer when you were 10.  Odds are it was play for play's sake not for a result or league standing.  Let's be clear too that physiologically these are children not adolescents.  In fact peak athletic performance takes place in early adulthood, the twenties and thirties.  So for 10-year-olds there's still a low ceiling to their athletic performance.  The adult concept of work rate is driven by the desire to win.  Kids like to win but playing is more important.  They are engrossed in the process of play not the outcome.  Still coaches and parents should encourage kids to try their best.  Ten- year-olds can understand this idea to a degree.  They can get the broad scope but the details are foggy.  The ability of players to understand and execute consistent play with a good work rate will grow over many years.  These traits should be gradually nurtured by coaches and parents.
 
Please do not hesitate to let us know if US Youth Soccer can assist your club further.