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.

 

Street Soccer In War Zone

Sam Snow

This entry is from Andrew Breithaupt. He is a district coach for US Youth Soccer ODP Europe in Stuttgart, Germany.  He holds the “D” License and the National Youth License.  Andrew had a recent trip to Kosovo and had this to say upon his return.

“Kosovo is small country in the Balkans about the size of Wisconsin that most people know nothing about. The country and its people continue to recover from one of the worst civil wars in Europe since World War II.

Recently, I traveled to Kosovo providing humanitarian aid. In a remote area where we were working was a bunch of kids hanging around all day. They watched the entire day while their families herded around the livestock they owned.

The kids had a single torn up old soccer ball that barely held air while they kicked it around. I turned around at the gate as the ball accidentally hit my feet while passing by. I played it back and they motioned for me to join them playing. I dropped my gear and jumped into the play, work boots and all. For the next 30 min we played and played. They didn't speak a bit of English but that just didn't matter, all we needed was the ball and the game. 

Parents in the US often worry about turf fields not being open enough, the newest $200 cleats being sold out, or their child not getting to start the match every game. These kids had one torn up ball among them, some only had an old pair of Crocs on their feet, and one had no shoes at all.  We played on a gravel road with giant tank track ruts on both side and a ditch. The goals were a couple rocks drug over. There was no out of play, they played thru the ditches, gravel, and even boulders like they were just another defender. A couple of them would make an ODP team no question and probably never had a day of training in their life. They just played the game and laughed.

They really put the essence of the game into perspective for me in a way I'd never thought.  It was an experience I'll never forget.”

Stree Soccer Blog

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Player Development - Coaching Technique

Sam Snow

Continuing with a series of postings that highlight free coaching documents form US Youth Soccer here is an excerpt from the Skills School Manual. There is also a full DVD that goes with this manual. Some of the video clips from that DVD are posted on the US Youth Soccer YouTube channel.

Coaching Technique

The game will show you what the player needs to practice.

In this manual the coach will find the basics of all ball skills. From this core set of techniques the growing player will be able to add on many variations and subtleties to the techniques. This fact most likely applies to players fifteen years of age and older as they fully mature athletically and come to understand how to use a variety of skills in varying game situations. Do not let the developing player’s game become obsessed with frills or skills that, while useful, are used rarely. Be competent in the basic orthodox techniques first. But once that standard has been reached then embroider the player’s skills with the less orthodox techniques as they are serious, positive skills which will help the team and not just please spectators.

During the first fourteen years of a young player’s career the coaching emphasis must be on technique. The actual execution of a movement is always in the realm of technique. The challenge of “when and why” to use a movement is one of tactics. In this manual the focus is the “how to”; that is on technique. Technique is the body’s mechanical execution to affect the ball; for example receiving, catching, shooting, dribbling, deflecting, etc. It is one of the four components of the game and leads to ball skill. Skill is being able to execute a technique under the pressure of opponents in tight space and most likely on the move. Without ball skill a player cannot execute tactics. Some players will:

  • be able to do a technique in an activity but fail to apply it as skill when under pressure from opponents
  • be competent with the ball but not outstanding
  • be technical but not skillful, while others will be skillful but not technical
  • be capable of executing some skills against one level of opponent but not another

 

Players gain more trust and respect for a coach who can help them improve their technique. The result is confident use of new skills in matches. Motivated players spend time working on their skills. Players will appreciate the importance and thrill of learning new techniques and refining existing ones if the coach creates the proper training environment. Then the players begin to equate fun with improvement.

Novice coaches often find themselves in a Catch 22 at training sessions. They can influence young players by helping them develop techniques, but some coaches don’t know enough about the techniques they are teaching to offer relevant advice.

The execution of a technique is broken down into three phases:

PREPARATION – the movements leading up to contact with the ball.

  • focus on the feet first as they will impact what happens with the rest of the body and they must get the body to the ball
  • look at the distribution of body weight (body posture), the angle of the approach to the ball, the position of the body and limbs in relation to the ball, the position and steadiness of the head, the position and shape of controlling surfaces and the rotation of the body into contact with the ball
  • eyes on the ball

 

CONTACT – the placement of the feet and the posture of the body upon contact with the ball.

  • look for the distribution of body weight and how it impacts balance
  • observe the hip and shoulder positions, the position of the supporting leg(s), the contact point with the ball and the movement of the limbs
  • eyes on the ball

 

FOLLOW THROUGH – the movement occurring after contact with the ball.

  • again focus on the distribution of body weight and posture
  • is the follow through complete or halted too soon
  • eyes on the ball

 

Technique should be taught in a progressive manner throughout a player’s career. Every technique coached at one age must be reinforced at the next age. Techniques taught at 6 and Under (6-U) must be reinforced at 8 and Under (8-U), 10 and Under (10-U), 12 and Under (12-U) and 14 and Under (14-U). What was learned at a previous age group or groups must be refined at the next age group. During the childhood years of soccer the general progression of the child’s experience with the ball is for the 6-U age group ~ manipulating the ball, for the 8-U age group ~ propelling the ball and for the 10-U age group ~ mastering the ball.

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Youth Tryouts

Sam Snow

Hello Sam,

We are approaching the time of year again, I was wondering as to your thoughts on running tryouts? In the past we have run 2 hour sessions over 2 days with the majority of the tryout being drill based. As I am sure you can guess some players look totally competent in the drill, but seem to struggle in game formats. I am a believer that if the player can show their ability during a drill it is at least a base to build on. However, a lot of the coaches in my club want success by winning so they only want the best players, we have a relatively small club and sometimes there are not enough players to make a second tier team so it’s only the best players or the ones the coaches see as the fastest or most athletic that make it. I feel we lose a few technically gifted players each year because of this. I am the club trainer and only advise the coaches who have the last say on who makes it and who doesn't. I was hoping you may be able to suggest a more appropriate format with the right balance of small sided games and drills. Is it better to focus on more game related activities or should we be running the regular unopposed drills to see how the players look without pressure? And how much should we balance the two?


Hello Coach,

I want to be clear from the outset that all soccer clubs must look for players with a good soccer brain first and foremost. Athletic ability is indeed important, but it comes in fourth after that good soccer decision making brain, quality ball skills, a good soccer personality and then athleticism.

In general I believe that try-outs should not begin until the U13 age group. That’s the broad statement, meant for player retention in soccer and the overall health of our sport. Now once we get into holding tryouts much depends on the level of play. So a player trying out in the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program will be expected to have good ball skills so we jump straight to match related activities after a warm-up. So no drills are done with this caliber of player.

At a less talented level of play some drills may be in order to assess technique in an isolated situation. However this is more of a need for coaches who have difficulty assessing talent in game-like situations. So the use of drills tends to be used by inexperienced and/or less knowledgeable coaches.

The more talented coach will use games-based activities to evaluate players since the quality of the players’ performance in all four components of the game will show up in those situations. So from small-sided activities like 2v2 to uneven number games, 5v3 for example, to a full match an experienced coach can fully assess players’ capabilities.

In regard to the evaluation of athletic ability the more scientific the measurements the better the data will be. This is a realm where the facts speak for themselves and no subjective evaluation is necessary. Use standard fitness tests but ones that are age appropriate. For example the Beep Test should be done with players 16 or older only.

Whenever I evaluate players I have a short checklist in mind, but it is one that is prioritized.

1.            Technical speed and consistency

2.            Decision making (tactical awareness)

3.            Attitude/personality

4.            Athletic ability

Then within each of those components I will look at further details but much of that will depend on the age group and level of play. Certainly I will assess an 18-year-old player harder than a 13-year-old on tactical decisions made in the course of a match.

Match Play

Things to consider

  • range of technique
  • quality of opposition
  • understanding of role
  • quality of decisions
  • assertiveness / imposing themselves on the game
  • leadership / role model
  • ongoing assessment (over multiple matches)
     

In the end the most important factor in player evaluation is the trained eye of the evaluator.

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Prevent Soccer ACL Injuries: Quick Tips for Coaches

Sam Snow

Prevent Soccer ACL Injuries: Quick Tips for Coaches

By Dr. Steve Grosserode DPT and Dr. Jared Vagy DPT 

The ACL and Injury

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury rates are high in youth soccer and have been increasing the past 20 years. These injuries have serious effects on the lives of players, teams and coaches. The ACL connects the thigh bone to the shin bone, helping to prevent twisting and bending of the leg. However, if too much twisting or bending happens at the leg, injury can occur even if there is no contact. In fact, non-contact injuries are responsible for over 70 percent of injuries. 

Trying to figure out what causes these injuries can be confusing. ACL injuries are often blamed on factors that coaches and players cannot control. These factors can be bone structure, hormones or even gender. What is usually neglected is a key reason for injury that we can control: misaligned movement.

 

Misaligned Movement Can Lead to Injury

What is misaligned movement? The human body is like a machine similar to a car. When a car's alignment is off it begins to have wear and tear, perform poorly and then ultimately it will break down. Our bodies are no different. If the body's alignment is off during athletic movement, the body can experience wear and tear, perform poorly and eventually get hurt. Just like we are trained to operate a car skillfully, soccer players need to be trained to move properly. This starts with correcting misaligned movement patterns. 

It is important for coaches to know that just like each player has different skills and abilities, each player has a different way of moving. Certain players may even demonstrate misaligned movement. 

There are many types of misaligned movements. Coaches should watch out for a common misaligned movement that leads to ACL injury: the knee collapsing inward (image 1). Research shows that players who suffered an ACL tear demonstrate a greater amount of knee collapse. The knee can collapse inwards during fundamental movements in soccer. These movements include planting, decelerating and changing directions at high speeds. 

Fortunately, there are exercises that can help to correct misaligned movement. Just as a doctor may prescribe specific medications to treat different illnesses, coaches can let the player know what's going on and give specific exercises for homework to help correct the specific misaligned movement pattern. We will focus on the exercises that help players who demonstrate the misaligned movement called knee collapse (image 1). 

                                                  

5 6

 

(Left) shows the knee collapsing inwards.                 (Right) shows proper knee alignment.

 

 Prevent Knee Collapse with Glute Exercises and Cueing

Glute strengthening and coach's guided instructions (cueing) to move correctly is often overlooked in injury prevention and player development. The glute muscles are the main muscles that control the knee from collapsing inwards. Weakness of these muscles can lead to misaligned movement and injury. It is essential to use the glute muscles to keep the knee in proper alignment especially during planting, decelerating and changing directions (image 2). 

Coaches can help by telling players when they demonstrate this misaligned movement of knee collapse and cue them to keep their knee out while using their glute muscles. Coaches can also assign corrective exercise homework. An excellent way to activate the glute muscles is with a resistance band wrapped above the knees. The glute muscles are used to press the knees against the band to align the knees. 

Perform the three exercises listed below as part of a pre-practice warm-up program to activate hip muscles to stop knee collapse, prevent injury and improve athletic performance. Use a low-resistance band and perform each exercise for 1 minute. The low resistance and long duration will allow hip muscles time to activate but not fatigue.

 Squats – 1 minute

Purpose: Activate specific hip muscles while decreasing stress on the knee.squat

 

A: Put your feet through the exercise band and wrap just above knees. Stand with feet shoulder width apart.

B: Equally bend from your waist/hip and knees. Stop when thighs are parallel to the ground. Make sure to keep knees behind and aligned with the second toe. Squeeze glut muscles upon return.

 

Side Steps – 1 minute 

Purpose: Activate side hip muscles that prevent the knee from collapsing inward.side

 

A: Put your feet through the exercise band and wrap just above knees. Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Equally bend from your waist/hip and knees into a quarter squat position. Make sure to keep knees behind and aligned with the second toe.

B: Use hip muscles to step out to the side with one leg. Slowly step the other leg in while keeping tension in the band.  

 

Monster Walks – 1 minute

Purpose: Activate specific injury prevention hip muscles while keeping proper knee alignment.Monster

 

A: Put your feet through the exercise band and wrap just above knees. Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Equally bend from your waist/hip and knees into a quarter squat position. Make sure to keep knees behind and aligned with the second toe.

B: Bring foot forward and to the side by squeezing the muscle on side of hip. Make sure you maintain tension on the band.

C: Step other foot further forward and to the side while keeping tension on the band.

D, E: Repeat 

Conclusion

Misaligned movement occurs in soccer when players perform athletic movements while the body is not aligned. While there are many different misaligned movement patterns, knee collapse is perhaps the most common and unsafe. If one of your players demonstrates knee collapse, then it is important for the coach to recognize this and tell the player how to correct. In addition, resistance band exercises such as the squat, side step and monster walk can help by activating the gluteal muscles to stop the misaligned movement of knee collapse. This improved movement can prevent injuries and maximize athletic performance. For more information on the various misaligned movements and how to correct visit: yourmovementsolutions.com 

About the Authors

Dr. Grosserode and Dr. Vagy are Doctors of Physical Therapy and co-founders of Movement Solutions. They are co-authoring the upcoming book Prevent Soccer Injury: Lifelong Player Development. Visit yourmovementsolutions.com for more youth sports injury prevention information.

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