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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.

 

Action Plan

Sam Snow

Last night a friend and coaching colleague of mine called to talk about his first Over-40 match. He said the match was going well and was becoming more and more competitive as the minutes ticked by. In the middle of the second half one of his teammates collapsed on the pitch. Everyone stopped and went to help him, a 911 call was made, and people looked for aspirin but couldn't find any. Does anyone know CPR? All hesitated, but finally did act. Before the ambulance could arrive he died of a heart attack.
 
Needless to say this greatly upset my friend. Seeing a teammate die on the field in front of you has quite an impact. The men in their forties who moments before heatedly contested a soccer game turned in an instant to a collective group working to save a comrade's life. Sports and the win at all costs mentality disappeared and life came into perspective for those adults playing in and watching this match. No matter how deep our passion for soccer may be it is after all just a game. What's most important in soccer are the people in soccer.
 
As our conversation went on last night my friend said that the man who is his assistant coach with the U14 team they coach was also playing in this match. The situation caused them to talk to each other about what they would do if something catastrophic happened during one of their training sessions or matches. So we discussed having an action plan. Every coach MUST have an action plan for injuries and emergencies. This is both risk management and first aid in nature.
 
Most coaches are quite good about having a first aid kit at practice and games. Is it checked regularly to be sure it is stocked correctly? Is it always with the coach's equipment? Everyone today has a cell phone and the coach must have his or hers near the first aid kit. It may not be a long run back to the car to use your phone in an emergency, but by having the phone with you on the field you can make the 911 call sooner and you can stay with the players to manage the situation. So the coaches must have a plan. If a serious injury or an emergency occurs who will call and direct emergencies services? Who will be the first aid giver? Who will supervise the rest of the players? Do you have an emergency contact for the injured person? Do the players, coaches, parents, team manger or anyone with the team have ICE in their phone? Where do we go in case of a sudden thunderstorm? What is our plan in case of heat stroke? Obviously there can be more questions to ask and answer in your action plan. The coaches and team manager need to have this discussion and make a plan. Part of the plan is a survey of the skills of the parents of a youth team. Who has medical qualifications of any sort? How might the other adults be able to assist the coaches in a real emergency?
 
One other thing that came up in our conversation last night is that coaches taking coaching courses may tune out a bit when the presentation is made on prevention and care of injuries and risk management. The thought goes through the head of many candidates of yes, yes that's fine now can we get on with going to the field to work on tactics? The coach is not fully in the moment during the course when crucial information is being presented that will assist the coach when an emergency occurs. So not only should a coach take coaching courses to learn more about soccer but also attend a first aid and CPR course. When that person collapses on the field with a heart attack is not the time to lament not having gone to the course.
 
The bottom line my friends is to be prepared to the best of your ability and have an action plan!
 

Short- or Long-Term Solutions

Sam Snow

I spent the morning here on Presidents Day watching some good Under-18 and Under-16 matches. Overall the level of play is good, although there is still too much run and gun style of offense. In all I saw 15- and 17-year-olds play like…well like teenagers. There's nothing terribly insightful about that except that they play an awful lot like the teenagers of 15 years ago. Our style of offense over the last 15 years has settled into a linear game; lots of passes north/south or east/west. Straight line passes…not many diagonal passes or diagonal dribbles or diagonal off the ball runs.

Consequently, the defending tends to be one-on-one or recovery runs onto through balls. Not a whole lot of block defending or team defending tactics is being demonstrated. And all of this is from some of the best club teams in the country that I watched today. This is not to say that it was all high level kickball. A few matches, and a few moments in other matches, were good soccer. But why is that we are no more sophisticated in our skills or tactics than 15 years ago?

Why is it that now considerable effort is being focused on level 2 of the U.S. Soccer player development pyramid? Well certainly these players deserve the attention and effort being put into their development as future professional and national team players. This is fine as it helps strengthen the fabric of our game in the USA. Yet it seems to me to be a short-term solution to a long-term challenge. Trying to considerably improve the game of a 17-year-old may be a little too late in the player development timetable. Even for a 15-year-old the odds are beginning to lean towards what you have now in playing tendencies is what the player will have five years from now.

The energy and money should instead be poured into level 1 of the player development pyramid. These are the childhood and pubescent players. If we considerably improve their soccer environment then the odds improve for us to develop talented players. This will take time though to see the fruits of the labor. Ten years? Twenty years? A generation? This means the adults must be patient. That's quite a challenge for some and doesn't always fit into a political agenda. However the only way the USA will produce truly world class soccer players is with long-term player development. So the money and effort should go into raising the standard of coaching at the recreational level. Parent education on player development within a team sport must be delivered every season in every soccer park in the nation. If we are truly serious about competing internationally then get the best coaches we have working with preteen players now. When we improve the early soccer experiences of these young players then more of them will stay with soccer. If we reduce the drop-out rate then our number of participants increases and the odds then improve for us to produce more high caliber players.

Ask any house builder and they will tell you that the walls and roof are quite important but that the single most important part of the building is the foundation. With a solid foundation we will support our game for generations to come.
 

The Second Soccer Boom

Sam Snow

Our first soccer boom was earmarked by quantity. It was in fact explosive growth. So much so that to a significant extent the boom was uncontrolled. The first soccer boom brought soccer into the mainstream.
 
The second soccer boom has begun. It's not as loud or obvious as the first, but make no mistake that it is underway. This soccer boom is more controlled. Well perhaps it can be. But only if we decide now to control and direct it. The second soccer boom will be driven more by professionals and less by volunteers. This is not to say that volunteers are no longer a part of the team. Volunteers have been, are and will always be vitally important to the fabric of our game. Yet today's soccer boom is driven by professional administrators, professional coaches and professional referees. These professionals work today in many levels of the game. The numbers who earned qualifications and make a living in the game will increase as American soccer continues to evolve. Know though that the supporting hand for the professionals will be the volunteers. We are a team after all!
 
If quantity is the legacy of the first soccer boom then what do we hope will be the legacy of the second? For what will current soccer leaders be known? Quality!
 
We have the numbers. What shall we do with them? We have numbers of players, of fields, of team managers and of coaches. We even have good numbers of referees, supportive media and giving businesses; although we never have quite enough in these realms. We now have the infrastructure and means. So we must now act quickly, decisively and clearly to chart our future. The core tenant of our policies guiding us into the future shall be quality.
 
Quality in our decision making.
Quality in our programs.
Quality in our products.
Quality in our services.
Quality in our leadership.
 
Because of the World Wide Web a vast amount of soccer information is within easy reach of anyone in the world. No longer is the dissemination of soccer information largely controlled by centralized organizations such as FIFA, U.S. Soccer or US Youth Soccer. So what will distinguish us from so many other soccer resources? Quality and research. This educationally sound and research based approach must permeate not only our products, but also our policies, procedures and indeed our foundation for decision making.
 
We separate ourselves from the pack by our quality as well as by the humility and integrity for which we are already known. To further influence the American game we must share this vision and act jointly with our members. To accomplish such a lofty goal we must build our team.
 
Our team is the men and women of character among the state associations and clubs. Regardless of the role they play these individuals collectively allow us to design a bright future for generations of American soccer participants.
 
This future is embodied in the second American soccer boom. Our first American soccer boom occurred during the last thirty years of the 20th century. The foundation of that boom was built up by decades of soccer in ethnic enclaves and our universities and high schools. The catalyst for the boom was a small, but significant interest in professional soccer by a handful of investors and media. The flagship of the boom was the North American Soccer League. The energy source behind the boom? Moms and Dads! Volunteers who started soccer clubs, who built fields, who prodded authorities to support soccer programs in an ever-growing number of communities and schools. Without these parents the Beautiful Game in America would remain hidden in those ethnic neighborhoods and a campus here and there. Thanks to those volunteers we now have millions playing the game in almost every community of our nation.
 
What will be our legacy?
 

Travel and Representing

Sam Snow

My work requires a good bit of travel throughout the USA.  My family and friends comment that it’s a great way to see the country.  Well it has been a chance to see airports, hotels and the soccer fields that now dot the countryside.  I do occasionally get to sightsee a little and there is so much our country has to offer.

I must say though that what the travel affords me is the opportunity to meet the wonderful people involved in the beautiful game.  Keep in mind that those people are not just the ones on those soccer fields I mentioned. 

Often they are fellow travelers, airline crew, hotel and restaurant workers or even the taxi driver.  I’ve gotten into conversations with flight attendants who are volunteer coaches or administrators or the parents of players in US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP) or TOPSoccer.  I’m impressed by how many Americans now have some connection to soccer.  So here’s my final thought of this little meandering of mine. 

Those of us who represent the game as professional coaches, administrators or referees must carry ourselves well.  If you are being paid any amount of money to referee, coach or administer soccer then you are a professional in our sport.  Those of us in that boat must be cognizant that we are always being judged when in public.  We represent American youth soccer and our appearance, demeanor, words and actions reflects upon the sport and all of us in that boat with you.  Let us then strive to set and met high standards for ourselves.