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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.

 

Double Edge Sword

Sam Snow

Our organization in youth soccer is a double edged sword for us. On one side our organizational abilities have helped us grow the game of soccer in the USA dramatically over the last 35 years. Because of the efforts of innumerable people, most of them volunteers, we have soccer in communities where the sport never existed 40 years ago. We have millions of youngsters playing the game and we have millions of alumni from the youth soccer ranks who have now reached adulthood. Hundreds of thousands of adults participate in youth soccer as referees, coaches and administrators. Businesses support soccer like never before. Soccer on television is at an all-time high viewership. Because of our organizational abilities both private and public soccer complexes have sprouted up across the nation. The quality of many of those facilities is truly outstanding. Jobs in soccer have grown from a cottage industry to a true business and on a large scale. In many ways due to American organizational skills we have in only one generation become a soccer nation.
 
Look at the number of colleges now with intercollegiate teams – the number of professional teams is healthy – American players are being exported to other nations to play in the pro ranks. Our national teams regularly qualify for international events and we are always competitive. In every measure of the game our skill at organizing the game has nurtured the growth of the game.
 
Yet on the other side of the sword our organizational skills get in the way of player development. In the desire to be organized many adults cannot step aside now that the game is moving on its own. Too many adults interfere too much in the player's game. At the youngest ages we adults need to be less involved in telling the children how to play the game. Our role now is simply to be the taxi drivers, game-time setters, grass mowers and otherwise let them play without our adult expectations weighing upon their small shoulders. So can we adults instill a school physical education approach and mentality into our youth soccer world? We now have a professional team franchise mentality permeating all that our kids experience in the sport. Those adult results orientated perspective in fact hinders the development of our players. We could and should have even more players than we do qualified to play college soccer and beyond.
 
Now don't tell me that we cannot change this attitude because it is ingrained in our American culture. People say the same thing 30 years ago that soccer would never make it here since it was not part of our mainstream sports culture and clearly that has changed. We can and must change the mentality of the adults involved with youth soccer. Yes it may take 30 years, but so be it!
 

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).