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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.

 

International Travel

Sam Snow

Elite players in soccer have an opportunity that participants in other sports do not have to the same extent, travel. Given the truly global nature of soccer with 202 countries as members of FIFA an American soccer team could literally go anywhere in the world and have a match. Players and staff must be flexible and adaptable to both on the field situations and away from the pitch. Some young elite players have their international careers derailed by their inability to manage the off the field aspects of foreign travel. Here are a few of the adjustments the 1994 and 1993 boys' teams in the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program had to make while competing in Italy last week.

Using locker rooms and showers at the match venue was a new experience for many of the kids. Very few, if any, youth soccer complexes in the USA have locker rooms or showers. Our youth soccer players are in the habit of changing into their game uniform at home or the hotel, then ride back dirty after the match. Using the locker room and changing, as well as showering, in front of teammates were new experiences for all of these players. While it took some prodding and they were reluctant they did adapt to this new aspect of European soccer customs. Good preparation perhaps for high school, college and professional soccer where locker rooms are the norm.

They also learned that at game time, the subs put on training bibs and go to the bench first. The starting eleven line up, first the captain then the goalkeeper, defenders, midfielders and forwards, with the other team and march to center field to line up on either side of the officials to then wave to the crowd and be acknowledged. From here they go directly to their positions on the field to kick-off the match. They do not return to the bench, so this means that warm-ups or water bottles or other personal items must be taken to the bench by the reserve players and staff. This also means that the coaches must have their act together and get across to the players everything they need to in the locker room before exiting for the pitch.

The players also had to adjust to a Mediterranean diet and being 14-years-old this was a major adjustment for some. A few of the kids were unable to adapt and their intake of a balanced diet suffered. This of course caught up with them on the field for the energy to play at a high pace for a full match. Begging for french fries was an indicator to the staff that the players need more guidance on an athlete's diet back home. They did adapt to the time zone and a change in their sleep routine. This was merely adjusting to a five hour change in time zones which they did after the first two days.

A great aspect of foreign travel for our soccer players is the chance to experience a different culture; to broaden their horizons both in soccer and life experiences. Of course a piece of that experience is languages other than English. Players and staff should learn some of the language for the country they will visit before going. One interesting aspect of the language experience is not speaking the same language as the referee. Of course tone of voice and body language still come across if you are cutting loose on the referee. It may seem a small thing but not the being able to understand the language of the referee means the players really do need to understand the universal signals used by referees for the calls made during a match. This is another consideration for the coaches of elite players to teach to their teams.

Well, these are just a few examples of the versatility needed by select players and their staff. However, there are more to consider such as, altitude, weather and field conditions. The point for coaches here is to know that you must teach the players proper off the field habits that will impact their match performance. The more versatile the players and staff the more positive will be the experience of international soccer travel.
 

Fair Play

Sam Snow

Yesterday I was in Milan, Italy at the San Siro stadium. I watched Inter Milan play against Palermo. Inter won the match 2-1 in front of 40,000 spectators. Those watching included the 1993 and 1994 US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program Region I boys' teams and staff. The match was skillful, quite tactical and in the second half it was played at a fast and entertaining pace. Three distinct times during the match the teams displayed an unwritten rule of the game. It is a rule which more of our coaches should teach their players.
 
When a hard injury occurs and it is seen by the players that the injured player or players will not get up then the team with the ball intentionally kicks the ball out over the touchline. Once the ball is out of play then the referee may allow onto the field the first aid staff. They may now attend to the injured player or players. When the match resumes the team taking the throw-in throws the ball back to the other team's defensive third and they do not challenge the ball until the other team has the ball under control. So team A has kicked the ball into touch so that aid can be given to an injury. In a return act of Fair Play team B puts the ball back into play with a throw-in and gives the ball back to team A. Fair Play – be a good sport! This act occurred in a Serie A match where big money is on the line. Inter Milan played the ball out and Palermo gave it back. This was one instance of Fair Play.
 
In the other two cases players had horrific collisions with both players collapsing to the ground and then no movement at all. The referee immediately stopped the match and called on the first aid personnel. When hurt players don't move it's a real red flag; sometimes writhing is a good sign. When play resumed with a drop ball the team that didn't have possession of the ball at the time the match was stopped stood passively at the drop ball and let the opponent kick the ball to a teammate; an act of Fair Play by team A. Mind you too that team B kicked the drop ball back toward their end of the field to a supporting teammate. This act occurred in the Palermo and Inter match.
 
During the same match a second serious collision occurred with again the referee instantly halting play. This time at the drop ball the opponent didn't even stand near the drop ball and allowed the team who had been in possession to play the drop ball completely uncontested. In this last case it was Palermo in possession and they played the drop ball back to a supporting teammate; an impressive bit of sportsmanship for a team that was losing 2-1 at the time.
 
Now if professional teams in one of the best leagues in the world where millions of dollars are at stake can display Fair Play why not our youth teams? So whose job is it to instill Fair Play into our youngsters? First and foremost it's a responsibility of the parents. Then of course the coaches must teach and demonstrate sporting ethics. Once the adults set the right example then it is up to the players to live up to the standard.
 

Once you know it all

Sam Snow

This past weekend I attended the 2nd annual state coaching symposium for the Wyoming State Soccer Association. The symposium weekend included the coaching session, both classroom and demonstrations. There was also a state assignor course for referees, US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program training for the boys and girls and the Annual General Meeting for the state association. It was a weekend packed with wonderful soccer activities and folks from all around the state joined in the fun. This is quite impressive given the geographic size of Wyoming and the distances people must travel to participate in any soccer activity.
 
Two weeks ago, I was in Maryland working with coaches at the Icebreaker clinic. In both cases, and in states that are 1,600 miles apart, volunteers and paid coaches took the time and made the effort to continue developing their coaching craft. I was impressed and pleased by the commitment of these coaches to learn more about the game and how to coach. These are the sort of folks upon whom the game grows. They do not assume they know it all just because they have played the game or coaches for a number of years. They are eager to learn more and actively seek insights from other coaches. The dedication of these coaches to continually improve themselves so that they can coach other people's children is remarkable. They sacrifice time from their own families and jobs to do something good for the soccer community. All of these coaches, especially the volunteers, should be applauded!
 
The experience of the coaching clinics and symposia brings up the question of who's coaching our kids. Too often clubs accept a warm body to coach because they are often in dire need of a coach for a team. Yes, we do need coaches for the teams so that the kids can play, but why do we allow some to continue to coach without any coaching education. As a parent we would not send our children to a school where the teachers had no qualifications to teach. Parents are the customers of a soccer club in that they pay the fees. The players are the consumers of a soccer club as they partake of the services of a soccer club. The players are the ones in the club in order to receive a soccer education.
 
The leaders of a soccer club have an obligation to the consumers to push the coaches in the club to continually improve their craft. The customers of the club should expect and demand this effort from the club. If we raise through education the abilities of the average coach then we directly raise the caliber of play in the USA. We quite likely then also keep more kids playing soccer longer into their teenaged years. So for a soccer club the continuing education of its coaches and administrators means better retention of the consumers and therefore the customers too. This can only improve the health of soccer.
 
It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.
-John Wooden
 
 

East-West-South

Sam Snow

I had the pleasure to watch a US Youth Soccer Region I league match this weekend. Two U17 boys teams put on a technically sound and athletic game. But tactically it was not the game it should or could have been. Like too many American youth teams the attacking movement was too linear. Often this is seen when teams play forward too soon and too often. It is a game that becomes full field kickball. That approach to offense in our youth game is recognized not just by the run n' gun style, but also by regular turnovers of possession. Both teams do it and so chances at scoring rely too much on the through ball.
 
Now with these two U17 teams the issue was not an over-reliance on through balls to generate offense. In fact being skillful players they were able to posses the ball to build attacks. What became the tactical downfall in the game was too much possession. Passes were still being made laterally on the field and chances for penetrating passes were missed. The teams had moments when they played possession for the sake of possession. The moments when a pass could be made going forward to be a threat to the opposing defense were missed. Tactical vision leading to recognizing the moment to go at goal was not developed to the extent it should have been for such a good group of players.
 
Tactically speaking there are only two types of passes in a soccer match. They are possession passes and penetrating passes. The trick of quality soccer is finding the right balance between the two types of passes. Technically there are many ways to make these passes. Further there are only two tactical reasons to make possession passes. One is to relieve pressure when the opponents are pressing you hard. The other reason is to create angles and space to make a penetrating pass. The last reason is why passes are made east, west and south; in order to be able to go north. While soccer fields are laid out with the goals on the north and south ends of the field from a tactical perspective we train players to think that square or lateral passes are east-west and back passes are south (towards your own goal) and north is towards the opponents goal. Hence east-west-south passes are possession passes and north passes are penetrating passes.
 
While occasionally a team will play possession (keep-away) soccer when they are leading as a ploy to eat up the clock, the main reason for possession play is to create the opportunity to penetrate into the attacking third. Once in the attacking third then look to strike at goal quickly.
 
So the take away message for me from that league match was to teach our players when and why to play possession soccer and when and why to play penetration soccer. Both must be done during a match and the player who can anticipate play rather than just react to what just happened is the one who can make good decisions on penetration or possession.