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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.

 

Coed Soccer

Sam Snow

Thoughts on coed soccer training sessions and games between club, state and national coaches…

My name is Ed Leon and I'm the Director of Coaching at NSA Premier in Illinois.  I just wanted to get your opinion on some observations I have made with coed training.

My son, a U16, and daughter, a U15 player, train once per week in a coed environment. Both teams are high level and have tremendous technical skills. Currently during the indoor season, we've been doing cross fit type training (body weight only) and then playing coed futsal. It is a controlled environment and the boys are extremely respectful and aware of the physiological differences between themselves and the girls. The teams are selected on a boy, girl, boy, girl fashion and are balanced.

My general observations:

  • The two teams are great friends and have formed close bonds.
  • I've noticed an increased speed of play with the girls when they play only girls. They are far more aggressive as well, without being reckless.
  • On the boys’ side, I've noticed the boys are willing to experiment more with their 1v1 skills, maybe because they feel they have time to do it, whereas when they play boys of their own caliber, they combine more and depend on working together as a unit. However, if they need to go 1v1, they can do it, in part because of their futsal training with the girls and keeping those technical skills sharp.
     

As we transition outdoors, hopefully, if the weather improves in Chicago, we plan to maintain the once per week coed training environment. The emphasis will be more on the 7v7 thru 11v11 topics. I hypothesize that we will continue to see similar results as we have during the indoor season, improved speed of play and technical 1v1 mastery.

I hope you can provide me with further suggestions to improve our training environment for our players.



Hi Ed,

Thanks for your note.  I think what you are doing with coed soccer is a great format.  I am sure the kids get many benefits from the training you are providing.  I am sure they learn both intrinsic (leadership, communication, etc.) as well as the more obvious extrinsic (ball skills, tactics, etc.) from each other.

As you transition to outdoor play this spring may I suggest that you follow predominately a 7v7 format as you note below, so that the sheer athleticism of the boys (speed, strength, etc.) doesn't become their solution to each tactical dilemma the girls will give them.  Occasionally though do play 11-a-side.  By keeping that format a unique experience the kids will value it more when it comes around.

Ed, I imagine there are indeed other clubs across the nation doing a similar format for coed soccer, but I've not had any reports from them. I’ve asked the 55 state association technical directors to find out from them if they have clubs doing anything along these lines.

Sam



Sam,

Thanks for taking the time to respond in a thoughtful and thorough manner. I will certainly take your advice on keeping it more on 7v7 and have the boys rely less on their physicality. I'm always curious to learn what others are doing to help our kids develop as players and people. With what I've observed with my two older kids, I started using the same format this winter with my U12 daughter and my U11 boys. Very cool stuff from soccer to socialization. I will follow that into the spring season too.

Ed Leon



Ed:

My experience here in Arkansas has been very similar to yours. I first noticed that our 11v11 adult leagues were small, and consisted almost exclusively of young men who had grown up playing the game at least past the high school level.  Our 7v7 adult leagues, on the other hand, were thriving, and featured a much better mix of men and women as well as a broader mix of playing levels. A very high percentage of our 7v7 adults never played the game until they had children of their own, so this was proof to me that we have to use small-sided games to introduce novice players to the game, regardless of their age.

As Sam pointed out, the 7v7 format does a great deal to neutralize the physical advantages that males have over females, and it shifts more of the game toward the technical and tactical aspects.  The other big benefit I've seen is that players are physically much closer to each other in 7v7, which leads to much greater social interaction than you see in 11v11.

I would differ from Sam in that I would reserve the 11v11 games for gender-specific play at the U13 and older levels.  I recall that the US Women's National Team played a series of scrimmages against the La Jolla Nomads U16 Boys back in 1999, during their training camp ahead of the 1999 Women's World Cup that they went on to win. The boys beat them comfortably (3-0, from what I remember) in those scrimmages, because they could simply kick and run past the women even though the women were tactically and technically superior. This was useful for the women to improve speed of play, but it certainly is not the kind of thing that makes much sense to do on a regular basis, because it will lead them to change the way they play (in a negative way) over time. Keep in mind that most of the '99ers grew up playing as the only girl on a boys team for significant portions of their childhood -- we lost that when the numbers grew to the point where gender-specific became possible, and I think there is a need to bring some of that integration back. The Germans currently select a few of their top girls to train with their top boys at their regional training centers (comparable to our ODP training sites across the US), so they obviously see a need for this, too.

Because of these observations, we introduced 7v7 coed divisions to our recreational leagues here in Little Rock three years ago. We still haven't convinced enough clubs to take advantage of this division, but it has been very beneficial for those teams that have participated. I have also incorporated two coed training sessions for my oldest players during our ODP Winter Training Segments, which allowed me to reduce the travel demands on some of my players while also taking advantage of the effects you've noted below. Again, I have to choose my training topics wisely for these sessions (to focus mostly on technique), but it has been well-received by the players thus far.

One final extension of this concept I'd offer is to ensure that you have your female coaches working with your boys just as much as you have male coaches working with your girls (to the extent that you have staff to do so). My ODP coaching staff is still 3/4 male, but all my women work just as many sessions with the boys as they do the girls. I've found this to be valuable for both players and coaches in their development, and it is something that I feel should be done much, much more across the country.

If you'd like another take on this idea, see Pia Sundhage's recent comments...

http://www.businessinsider.com/pia-sundhage-answer-coach-men-2014-3

Robert Parr, Director of Coaching - Arkansas State Soccer Association



Robert,

That's great feedback. I do agree with you on the introduction of coed environments; controlled of course, but coed. The more I hear, the more I'm convinced that this is the direction we need to look. As you mentioned, a key X factor for the 99ers was involvement with boys. I can really see the difference in how my daughters play due to their involvement with my older son and the boys. I guess this would be analogous to resistance training. By simple stress adaptation, you become stronger and faster.
 

You make a lot of sense with recommending small-sided as the way to go; however, if you keep the 11v11 games as a true mix of boys and girls on each team, you counter balance the impact of male vs female physiological differences. Also, as coaches, we have the power to ensure that physical strength is not the only means to beat the girls. I would suggest placing strong restrictions such as limited touches or everyone has to touch the ball before you can score, or whatever.
 

I will keep you posted on our progress and sometimes old school is the best way to move into the future. We can artificially replicate the 99ers experience. Maybe call the method, Project 99ers? Let's keep talking so we stay cutting edge.

Ed


 

I do use the co-ed training with my U14 boys and girls on a U12 field and they absolutely love it.

Steve Kehm, Technical Director – South Dakota State Soccer

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Progression of Small-Sided Games

Sam Snow

Across the nation and around the world soccer clubs have already made the change or are in the process of making the change to small-sided games (SSG) for preteen age groups. If your club hasn’t already made the modification then it’s behind the times. This change in soccer culture is an acknowledgement of societal impacts on sport, especially in the nations within CONCACAF and UEFA.

In the USA, the move to SSG is advocated by the United States Olympic Committee, U. S. Soccer, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, American Youth Soccer Organization, Soccer Association for Youth and of course US Youth Soccer.

US Youth Soccer has promoted SSG in the early 1980’s. The initial effort was to change U8 soccer from 11 vs 11 on a full size field and with a full size goal to something saner for the players. The result was 8-a-side soccer.  Since then the game has evolved and the need for SSG is more poignant than ever. Beginning in 2000, US Youth Soccer has advocated a stair step approach for youth players into the adult version of soccer.

Here is the logic behind our progression of 3 vs 3 to 8 vs 8 and eventually 11-a-side. Our work on SSG began under the direction of Dr. Tom Fleck in the 1980s.  With a doctorate in primary school education, Dr. Fleck wanted to modify soccer so that it made more sense to young players and to novice coaches who had not ever played soccer themselves. Keep in mind that in the 1980s perhaps 95% of our coaches had never played the sport that they now found themselves coaching. We needed a format that made sense to them and to very young players. We could not say to a 6-year-old just go play with other kids in the neighborhood or with a parent, because none of them were playing the sport.

We recommend 3 vs 3 for the U6 age group. Given the ego-centric nature of 5 and 6-year-olds, to account for parallel play and for there to be some notion of soccer shape we settled on 3-a-side without goalkeepers for this age group.

We recommend 4 vs 4 for the U8 age group. Still no goalkeepers – let all of the kids be near the ball and chase it up and down the pitch. The ego-centric approach to soccer has improved, but not much, so let’s keep the numbers small. Also with 4-a-side it makes it easier to teach partner play and for the kids to understand it. Finally, the purists like these numbers as it theoretically allows for width and depth for the attacking team.

We recommend 6 vs 6 for the U10 age group. The position of goalkeeper is now introduced to the game. Small group play is now possible and 6-a-side allows for various combinations of triangles around the ball. For the less experienced and/or knowledgeable coach 6-a-side allows for a formation without a midfield line in the team, so it is easier to understand for the coach and young players. However, a more knowledgeable and experienced coach may introduce a midfield line into the game for the advanced group of young players.

We recommend 8 vs 8 for the U12 age group. There is now a midfield line in the team. We think that adding two more field players into the team is enough for children this age to absorb (cognitively and psychosocially) and actually be able to use in a match. The coaching emphasis now is on large group tactics. The State Associations, along with US Youth Soccer, started working on implementing SSG for the preteen age groups in the 1990s. Many of the State Associations have already established 8-a-side for the U12 age group, which is a fulcrum age group.

In a nutshell, this is how we have come to this place on the player development pathway.

SSG

Figure 1 From the Player Development presentation in the National Youth License coaching course

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Playing in Stressful Matches

Sam Snow

A youth coach wrote in with these comments and question:

"A few of the boys I coach in soccer (U13) tend to feel the stress when playing highly competitive games in Division I. Despite trying to reassure them and instill confidence, they tend to freeze up and not play fluidly. This causes them to make mistakes, which only makes the situation worse – they then further lose confidence in their abilities and the cycle continues. When they play games that aren’t high stakes they relax, have fun, and play well. That helps restore some of their confidence. I try and use those low stakes games as examples for them but it doesn't seem to make a difference. I've also tried positive visualizations (having them picture in their minds & speak out loud how they will play) which has helped a little at times. Do you have any advice to help reach these boys? I know they can do it – they don’t seem to know it though. Thanks!"

The scenario described with young players who are learning how to compete is not unusual. That the coach is already practicing visualization is a wonderful step toward helping the players cope with game day stress. I suggest adding to the self-talk and team talk the mantra of the US National Teams – respect everyone, fear no one.

Learning to play against quality competition is an ongoing effort with players moving up in the levels of play. Just look at the first day of matches of the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup with the successes of Martinique and Panama. In two matches, the lower ranked team knocked off the higher ranked team. This U13 team could draw inspiration from such performances.

Here are a few suggestions to build up the team’s performance and confidence:

  • Play training matches versus older teams. Play three 25 minute periods. In this way the coach can change the lineup and/or formation between each period. The coaches should be the referees during this training match so that they can speak to players during the run of play. Playing against a team that is one or two years older will help the younger team to deal with a faster game both physically and mentally. When they then go back to a match versus their own age group the game speed will seem easier to manage.
     
  • In training sessions, play more two touch and one touch small-sided games (2 vs. 2 up to 8 vs. 8) to get the players accustomed to thinking and playing faster.
     
    • Speed of play is mostly mental (tactical decision making) and secondarily physical (technical speed and physical movement). In training sessions, build the team up to a full field game of two touch for a 10 minute stretch. The coach might have to gradually increase the length of time literally one minute per training session.
       
  • Continue training on visualization. Now add a trigger word.
     
    • Develop a refocusing technique helps to trigger mental focus to a controlled state of mind. The trigger word helps the player to forget about a mistake just made or to calm oneself just before a stressful moment, such as taking a corner kick. Practice the trigger word by spelling it out in one’s mind during the day of the match. Try the word “support”, which is important for all players to do for their teammates whether attacking or defending and regardless of their position in the team formation. Even during the match when a player senses distress then spell “support” out in the mind and/or say it out loud. The use of the word “support” is a great example of the effective use of a self-talk trigger word used to remain focused during difficult moments in the match.
       
    • Self-talk refers to the internal dialogue that occurs in one’s mind, such as the instructions or encouragement that a player gives to oneself. Players’ thoughts occur often and are very automatic; for this reason rather than trying to eliminate all thoughts during a match a coach should try to work with players on managing their thoughts. When players begin to doubt themselves or tell themselves what “not” to do, it tends to lead to poor performances and mistakes. By having a go-to trigger word, it gives the player the skill needed to counter their unproductive thoughts. By replacing the negative talk with their trigger word, they are able to remain focused on the skills needed to be successful.
       
  • During a match, point out to the players the small victories they are achieving:
     
    • A pass well received
       
    • A tackle made for possession
       
    • An intelligent off-the-ball run
       
    • Good communication with a teammate
       
    • Constantly looking around the field for tactical cues
       
    • Tactically good positioning
       
    • Acts of good sportsmanship

 

  • Remind them that their anxiety stems from their competitive drive. That’s a good thing. Now refocus that drive onto individual performance, not on the outcome of the match.

    • Did I make positive comments to my teammates throughout the match?

    • Did I consistently make recovery runs when we were defending?

    • Did I work hard to move to be in the right place to support my teammates?

    • Did I consistently visualize myself making good passes/distribution to my teammates?

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Interview with Tom Sermanni

Sam Snow

 

Coaches, administrators and parents please take a moment and watch this video interview with Tom Sermanni, head coach of the USA Women’s National Team. 

 

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