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.


Tryouts in Youth Soccer

Sam Snow

Recently I received this note from a youth coach.
Mr. Snow,
I have been working with a recreational soccer organization the past two years. We have been focused on player development and getting all of the kids out there involved. Our program is over 60 percent Under-8, with the rest spread out over the U-10, U-12, and U-14 ranks.
After this past season, parents of one team of U-8 boys complained that they didn't think that all three U-8 boys' teams in our organization were balanced amongst each other even though they all had nearly identical records. Long story short, the parents are demanding a tryout scheme be step up before spring soccer starts.
There are three USSF certified coaches in the organization and we keep telling the parents and the organization's Board members that the idea of having tryouts for U-8 in a recreational league is silly, but no one seems to be listening to us. Is there anything that the US Youth Soccer Association may have in writing we can show them that may drive this point to them home? We have been having great success by focusing on Player Development and working with all of the kids on all of the skills. The three of us coaches that have gone through training think that the idea of tryouts on such a young age will hurt the program overall because it implies a win at all cost mentality.
Hello Coach,
The 55 state Technical Directors agree with your stance and have stated so in the Position Statements.  Here are the ones pertinent to your situation.
The intent is to use small-sided games as the vehicle for match play for players under the age of 12.  Further we wish to promote age/ability appropriate training activities for players' nationwide.  Clubs should use small-sided games as the primary vehicle for the development of skill and the understanding of simple tactics.  Our rationale is that the creation of skill and a passion for the game occurs between the ages of six to 12. 
With the correct environment throughout this age period players will both excel and become top players or they will continue to enjoy playing at their own levels and enjoy observing the game at higher levels.  A small-sided game in match play for our younger players create more involvement, more touches of the ball, exposure to simple, realistic decisions and ultimately, more enjoyment.  Players must be challenged at their own age/ability levels to improve performance.  The numbers of players on the field of play will affect levels of competition.
Children come to soccer practice to have fun.  They want to run, touch the ball, have the feel of the ball, master it and score.  The environment within which we place players during training sessions and matches should promote all of these desires, not frustrate them.
•     We believe that players under the age of six should play games of 3 v 3.  This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate playing environment.  No attempt whatsoever should be made at this age to teach a team formation!  These playing numbers should be implemented by September 1, 2009.
•     We believe that players under the age of eight should play games of 4 v 4.  This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate playing environment.  Players in this age group can be exposed to a team formation at the start of the game, but do not be dismayed when it disappears once the ball is rolling.  The intent at this age is to merely plant a seed toward understanding spatial awareness.  These playing numbers should be implemented by September 1, 2009.
•     We believe that players under the age of ten should play games of 6 v 6.  This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate playing environment.  The coaching of positions to children under the age of ten is considered intellectually challenging and often situates parent-coaches in a knowledge vacuum.  Additionally, premature structure of U-10 players into positions is often detrimental to the growth of individual skills and tactical awareness.  This problem is particularly acute with players of limited technical ability.  We also believe that the quality of coaching has an impact on the playing numbers.  We recommend that parent-coaches would best serve their U-10 players by holding a Youth Module certificate.  These playing numbers should be implemented by September 1, 2009.
•     We believe that players under the age of twelve should play games of 8 v 8.  This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate environment.  The U-12 age group is the dawning of tactical awareness and we feel it is best to teach the players individual and group tactics at this age rather than team tactics.  These playing numbers for the U-11 age group should be implemented by September 1, 2011.  These playing numbers for the U-12 age group should be implemented by September 1, 2012.
To maximize player potential, we believe that State Associations and progressive clubs should work to expose their better coaches, who should hold the ""Y"" License, to their youngest players.  It is also seen as important that mentoring programs be established for community soccer coaches to improve the quality of youth soccer training.
The developmental approach emphasizes the growth of individual skills and group tactical awareness.  We feel too much emphasis is placed on ""team"" play and competition in the preteen years.  We believe in an inclusion model for preteen players.  From this perspective, the goal of youth soccer programs at all levels is to include players in matches at an age when experience is more important than outcome.
Further options for players in their teen years that are not interested in competing at the highest level, but still have a love for the game should be created.  Perhaps older teen coed teams or high school based teams on a recreational basis.
While it is acknowledged and recognized that preteen players should be allowed to pursue playing opportunities that meet both their interest and ability level, we strongly discourage environments where players below the age of twelve are forced to meet the same ""competitive"" demands as their older counterparts therefore we recommend the following:
1.    50% playing time
2.    no league or match results
3.    8 v 8 at U-12
      We believe that Soccer Festivals should replace soccer tournaments for all players under the age of ten.  Festivals feature a set number of minutes per event (e.g., 10 games X 10 minutes) with no elimination and no ultimate winner.  We also endorse and support the movement to prohibit U-10 teams from traveling to events that promote winning and losing and the awarding of trophies.
I also recommend that you cite the information from the U.S. Soccer document Best Practices to educate your club membership.  I suggest you also contact your state Technical Director who will be able to provide you with further guidance.

Number of Matches Per Day

Sam Snow

A parent of a youth soccer player recently had this inquiry: ""What are US Youth Soccer's guidelines or rules for member associations to follow when considering limits of games per day for players?  Is there any sanction for coaches that try to ask their players to play four games in one day?""
Here's my reply,
Both US Youth Soccer and U.S. Soccer concur in our recommendations for no more than one match per day.  Here is the Position Statement from the state Technical Directors on the matter:

We believe that the optimal playing and learning environment includes participating in no more than two matches per week.  We also believe that players should not compete in more than one full match per day and no more than two full matches per weekend.  There must be a day of rest between full-length matches.  We strongly oppose the practice of scheduling regular season and/or make-up matches in a manner that results in four full matches in the same week.  Modified FIFA rules apply: no reentry per half for the U-14 and younger age groups and no reentry after substitution for the U-15 and older age groups.  In addition, we believe that players should not compete in more than 40 playing dates in a calendar year.  Players must have one full month off from all soccer activity.
Related to this topic is this Position Statement:
We believe that excessive play at competitive tournaments is detrimental to individual growth and development, and can serve to reduce long-term motivation.  Do not multiple matches being played on one day and one weekend have a negative effect on the quality experience and development of the individual player?  Further far too many playing schedules include so many tournaments and matches that there is never an ""off season"".  We believe that players under the age of 12 should not play more than 100 minutes per day, and those players older than 13 should not play more than 120 minutes per day. 

We also recommend to tournament managers and schedulers:
- The players should be allowed ample rest between matches.
- That all tournament matches be of the same length and that no full-length match be introduced during play-off rounds.
- Kick-off times allow players a reasonable opportunity to prepare for competition.  This encompasses rest and recovery, nutrition and adequate time to warm-up and stretch after traveling a long distance in addition to taking into consideration extreme environmental conditions.
I also recommend that you and your coach read the Best Practices document from U.S. Soccer.



Typical Challenge in Player Development

Sam Snow

I recently had this inquiry from a youth coach with a typical challenge in player development. Perhaps it is one you have faced too.
"Hopefully you can help with a question I have that no one has been able to answer.  My U-13 boy's team has just moved to Premier in our state.  I can see that many of the players could benefit immensely with some sort of a development program that they can do on their own time each day as we don't have the capacity to hold daily practices.  Do you know of any programs I could send home with them to help with the technical aspects of the game? Thanks for your help."
The best development program for players that age will involve getting them to tell you a skill they think they need to improve.  By having them reflect on the skill they want to improve upon for each individual means they are much more likely to really work at it.  Only if they are self-motivated will they put in the time and effort on their own to work on that skill.  The intrinsic motivation to improve will give them a better chance to raise their game to play in the premier level of competition.

When the players each tell you the skill they want to improve then give them 10-15 minutes at the beginning of your next training session to work on that skill on their own.  You can go from player to player and help them on that skill if they ask for assistance.  When you allocate that time at the beginning of one training session per week you also have a chance to evaluate if they are improving on the skill; if an individual is not improving then you can give more direct coaching to that player.  It may also show you who is working on their own at home and who needs more guidance and motivation to do so.

To help motivate the players explain to them why you are asking them to work on their skills at home and how it fits into the game for them.  Tell them that the objective is to improve technical speed, consistency, touch and timing, eye-foot coordination as well as being able to recognize the way the ball spins and how various body parts react to it.  Training activities should be demonstrated to the kids at the training sessions by the coaches.

Regularly encourage the players to practice on their own or with a friend or two and try out new skills.  This is the time to experiment and become comfortable with the ball.  Practice can also be a good time to improve their personal fitness.  Please note that there's a difference between practice and a training session.

Training players do with the team and coach and practice they do on their own or with one or two friends.  If players want to become really good at soccer then they need to practice.  Training with the team, even a few times a week, may not be enough.  So practice at home or in the neighborhood with other kids or maybe even at school if there's a chance to do so.

The things players practice are what they can do on their own.  That could be juggling, playing the ball against a wall (someplace without windows), dribbling (make a slalom course) and maybe some physical fitness too.  Here are some examples for the kids:

Wall Ball: knocking the ball against a wall gives the chance to practice several skills.
  • Passing (put an X on the wall and try to hit it with your pass.  Vary your distance from the wall and your angle to the X).
  • Receiving (as the ball comes off the wall control it with different parts of your body: inside of the foot, thigh, top of the foot and so on).
  • Heading (see how many times you can head the ball against the wall without it touching the ground.  How about trying the same things as you did in passing, but now with headers)?
  • Shooting (hit the X.  Try some shots off the ground and some when the ball is in the air).
  • Throw-in (hit the X).
  • Goalkeeping (try different types of throws and hit the X).
  • Goalkeeping (try out different catches as the ball rebounds from the wall.  Vary the height of the ball).
Tips on Passing
  • Point the toes of the foot you are standing on towards your target
  • Keep the knees of both legs slightly bent
  • Keep the ankle of your kicking leg locked so that your kicking foot is steady
  • Lean slightly forward to keep the path of the ball level
  • Keep your eyes on the ball
Tips on Receiving
  • Get your body in line with the path of the ball
  • Keep the knees of both legs slightly bent
  • Relax the body part receiving the ball upon contact with the ball
  • Exhale
  • Keep your eyes on the ball
Tips on Heading
  • Get yourself in line with the flight of the ball
  • Keep the knees of both legs slightly bent
  • Strike the ball with the forehead at the hairline
  • Keep your mouth shut with your tongue and checks out from between your teeth
  • Keep your eyes on the ball
Tips on Shooting
  • Approach the ball at a slight diagonal angle
  • Point the toes of the foot you are standing on towards your target
  • Lean over the ball
  • Point the toes of your kicking foot down and curl them back inside of your shoe to make a firmer striking surface of your foot (kind of like making a fist)
  • Keep your eyes on the ball
Tips on the Throw In
  • Stand with your hips facing where you want the ball to go
  • Firm grip on the ball with the tips of your thumbs just touching behind the ball
  • Hold the ball with your fingertips
  • Follow through on your throw for improved accuracy and distance
Tips on Keeper Throws
  • Hold the ball comfortably in your hand and release it off the fingertips
  • Stand with your hips facing where you want the ball to go
  • Keep knees of both legs slightly bent
  • Keep your head steady and facing your target
  • Follow through on your throw for improved accuracy and distance
Tips on Keeper Catches
  • Get your body in line with the path of the ball
  • Watch the ball all the way to your hands
  • Keep your knees and elbows slightly bent
  • Spread your fingers as wide as you can as you catch the ball for a safer grip
  • Relax and exhale as you catch the ball and absorb it

Circuit Training

Sam Snow

The circuit training method to improve fitness and technique is a unique way for the coach to achieve a number of objectives simultaneously.  It also gives the coach a chance to enliven the training routine.  A circuit consists of a number of stations at which different exercises are to be performed.  It can be set up on the pitch or indoors, using a variety of equipment—cones, flag posts, benches, for example.  An imaginative coach will be able to design a circuit on which fitness and technique training can be combined (economical training).  The number of stations in a circuit is determined on the basis of the players' previous training and ability levels.  It is important for the players to perform to the best of their abilities at each station, so jog between stations to lower the breathing and pulse rates, yet stay on the move.  A thorough warm-up should always precede the exercises.  Explain to the players how to execute the exercises at each station before beginning.  Occasionally the coach will put a time limit for the entire circuit to be completed and other times not.

The circuit can be set up to run clockwise or counterclockwise.  The players can go through the circuit in pairs or singles.  When the focus is on fitness then pairs may work best so the partners can push one another.

The circuit system is intended for use over a period of one month, with gradual increases in the number of repetitions and the length of time spent at each station.  However, the coach may also wish to use the circuit for a change of pace during the season or when weather conditions impede other activities.  During the off-season, circuit exercises may be performed daily, especially when the team is unable to train together or to begin training at the same time.  The circuit allows players who arrive late to begin working out without requiring the immediate attention of the coach.

For more information, read the full article here.
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