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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on USYouthSoccer.org every Monday.  A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom". 

 

The Hook

Susan Boyd

Youth sports in general promote discipline, fitness, teamwork and most importantly, fun.  Soccer specifically has the added dimension of being a world-wide sport, which connects its players to a broad spectrum of cultures, languages and traditions.  Whether you’re lucky enough to travel overseas and play soccer or watch it on TV, you can connect immediately to a country through the experience of soccer.  The power of soccer has channeled into country, continent and world competitions, bringing together both players and fans to celebrate the game.  Soccer is being used in a more significant capacity.  Several organizations around the world are using soccer as a tool to empower the youth of countries where there has been political and economic upheaval.  Most of these groups run on a shoe-string budget and depend on the monetary and equipment donations from fellow soccer players around the world.

In Cambodia, the Salt Academy uses soccer to help eradicate human trafficking by bringing young girls into soccer leagues where they can be protected. The Salt Academy also helps them become strong, exceptional athletes with the self-esteem to resist the lure of recruiters.  This Mighty Girls program has expanded into three border provinces in Cambodia.  The girls play in leagues similar to those our own kids join with designations of U12 and up.  Recently their U15 girls’ team won the first Cambodian National Tournament, and their U14 team won an International Tournament.  In addition to the football training, the academy promotes high educational standards in hope of graduating many of the girls on to a university.

Project Congo takes girls from the dangerous and impoverished villages in the center of warfare and tribal traditions, which subjugate and terrorize women.  The project seeks to educate girls so they can graduate high school, something only a small percentage of females accomplish in the Congo.  It uses soccer to build self-esteem and will power, giving the girls tools to move ahead socially and educationally in an independent manner.  The project seeks sister teams in the US to help sponsor and support the teams in the Congo.  Soccer creates this connection between two cultures that normally have no connection.  Sponsoring a team can offer a US girls’ team a fantastic opportunity to learn their own lessons in altruism and social awareness.

The Give N Go Project provides soccer equipment to orphanages around the world.  According to their website, there are 143 million abandoned children in the world.  Since soccer is the most popular sport in the world, the organization can connect with these children through the sport.  They provide reconditioned used gear, new gear and clinics for orphanages and occasionally for foster children in the United States.  They use the clinics to impact these children’s lives to strive for excellence in all they do.  They encourage the kids to work as hard in the classroom as they do on the pitch.  They also want the children to develop pride through the ownership of their own soccer equipment and through success in soccer. 

Grassroots Soccer takes a different approach to using soccer.  The idea behind the program is to teach African kids about HIV/AIDS through various soccer drills.  The goal is to reduce the incidence of the disease in Africa by helping kids understand how it can be contracted and how to avoid it.  As Michelle Obama said about the program "The solution lies within us. . .and soccer is the hook." Presently it operates in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia, with satellite programs in Ethiopia, Kenya and even Guatemala to name just a few.  The program was founded by former soccer players, Dr. Tommy Clark and Ethan Zohn, who both played professionally in Zimbabwe.  When they saw the devastation of AIDS in that country, they decided that they could use soccer as the means to educate and stem the course of the disease.

Soccer Without Borders in Granada, Nicaragua works with girls ages 7 – 19 to develop recreational opportunities equal to those available to their male peers, and to offer strong support which the girls might not find in their community.  Recently the program expanded to Uganda (soccerwithoutborders.org/Uganda).  There it works with both refugee and national youth to train them in soccer.  Since Uganda has opened its borders to those displaced from the Horn of Africa and Sudan due to economic and political problems, the border villages have huge refugee populations, which face language and religious barriers, but most importantly have lost educational opportunities.  The SWB program attempts to provide these opportunities to both refugees and nationals as well as offer soccer training at least twice a week to give the kids some fun and some discipline that they can carry over into the classroom.  The main campus is in the capitol Kampala, from which teams go to the borders to conduct clinics and support schools in the area. The agency also works in Oakland, Calif. to provide the same type of support for recently arrived refugee and immigrant youth.  Since soccer carries great importance in the lives of these immigrants, it is a means to bring youth together in a safe environment and develop skills both on and off the field to help them assimilate into the US on the field, and in the classroom.

These groups are just the tip of the iceberg of programs using soccer to connect with youth and to help them build a future.  As Give N Go states on its mission page, "the childhood you have determines the adult you will be."  Therefore using soccer as the hook to draw in young people these agencies can build on the skills, pride and love they have in soccer to translate into the same things for education, self-esteem and self-discipline.  Soccer is being used to protect young women from sexual abuse, to teach young people to avoid AIDS and to become stronger students.  The language of soccer translates into everyday life.  The same discipline you need to develop a particular soccer move can be used to learn the times table.  The joy you bring to the sport can be brought to appreciating literature.  Even more importantly, we can join with our fellow soccer brothers and sisters in making these dreams come true through our donations both in equipment and monetary or by adopting a team to support financially and vocally with letters and videos.  Soccer can be a bridge to the rest of the globe. 

 

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Coach your kid in soccer

Sam Snow

Here are five fundamentals to coaching your own child in soccer. Ditch the over-the-top act for a style that will keep your kid happy and engaged.
 
Level the playing field

Sit your child down and ask if you can "join the team." You’ll probably get an emphatic "yes." The point is to let the kid know you’re both on the same side.
 
Be consistent

When critiquing play, always lead by citing something commendable ("Great job dribbling up field!") before giving feedback ("Now try to keep your head up"). Finish positively with another  encouraging comment ("You’ll get it, keep working hard!").
 
Look beyond your kid

If you’re not a coach, hang out with other parents. Their comments (like "That was a sweet pass" or "They’re crowding the ball") can help you lose the tunnel vision for your child and see the whole team.
 
Stoke inspiration

If you see your child’ motivation starts to drag, whip up a game at home to focus on skills while still having fun. For kicking strength, tack up a target on a brick wall and see if he can hit it with the ball. For ball control, offer them ice cream for stringing together five juggles.
 
[Editor’s note: Intrinsic rewards (praise, acknowledgement, fulfillment from hard work) are better long-term motivators than extrinsic rewards, which tend to lose their positive affect in time.]
 
Discipline privately

No kid responds well to public scolding, so if yours is acting out or not being a team player, pull her aside; then you can switch to parent mode. Explain why it’s important that she accept the consequences for her actions just like any other teammate does. Don’t make a scene. If she’s not receptive, say you’ll finish the talk at home – but try to avoid mixing at-home disciplinary tactics with on-the-field ones.
 
Sources: Jimmy Nielsen, goalkeeper for Sporting Kansas City; Larry Lauer, Ph.D., of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University

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Pick Your Moment

Susan Boyd

 Last weekend I went to three baseball games for two of my grandsons. Once again I was able to witness the nasty side of parenting. I’m not sure what brings out the monster in parents when it comes to youth sports. I imagine it comes from their own unrealized dreams, the anxiety that their child won’t be a success as measured by rather arbitrary standards and their natural competitive instincts. As events unfold, some parents see themselves as the answer to problems or the augmenter of abilities. In each case, they usually end up overwhelming their own child and in many cases the entire team. The impulse to just tweak one thing the player is doing or help her understand a more complex play is considerable and difficult to resist. I have to admit, when I saw my grandson constantly leaping back from every pitch, I spoke up and told him to stand in there and swing. He did, and he got his first hit of the season. But I usurped the coach’s job (and one coach is my son-in-law, so a double blunder), and I didn’t let the natural course of events create the right atmosphere for Archer to learn. I was at that game; I may never be at another game. But his coaches will be there for all of them.

In addition to my own foible, I unfortunately saw parents going into the dugout and pulling their child out for a discussion. They would even walk a long distance away from the dugout, so the coach would occasionally pop out and ask, "Where’s Cory?" The disruption to the team was only surpassed by the confusing instruction the child received. Dad would say stand back in the batter’s box and the coach would say move up. During the team’s defensive time on the field, several parents were shouting directions to their individual sons pulling focus away from the game. For most of these kids, developing any focus on the game is a huge accomplishment. When the ball is hit to a player, he/she has a dozen options. So a coach is ecstatic when the fielder exercises even the worst one of the options because it shows that the kid was at least listening! But when a parent is looking for perfection, he or she will shout out the best option, take their kid out of the zone and end up causing more harm than good. Even if the kid knew what was best, having the distraction of the shouted instruction could create that significant moment of hesitation costing the team an out.

To make matters worse, parents often use a language that is unfamiliar to the players. I wrote a blog once about the confusing terms players hear from their coaches and their parents. As adults we understand what these terms mean, but for an eight year old they may as well be Greek. A dad shouting to his daughter "Check to!" knows it means move to the player with the ball. However, most young players only know the more common meanings of "check." Naturally, she can’t understand why her dad is asking her to check out the passer. Or in baseball, had I told my grandson to "stop bailing"; he would have looked at me with total bewilderment. We parents have to both learn a different form of communicating when kids are younger and less experienced, but more importantly we need to learn when to communicate.

Yelling at the referee creates another negative for our children and their teams. We need to maintain decorum at all times, no matter how frustrated we get at the officiating. In one grandson’s game, the umpire was calling anything a strike that crossed the plate. He didn’t care if it was 20 feet over the plate or bounced directly on the plate. At first the parents were dumbfounded, but by the second inning they were ferocious as pitch after pitch they witnessed each of their little darlings being struck out unfairly. But the umpire was consistent for both teams, and the game got its full six innings done before time was up. No coach suggested that his pitchers throw purposely high or low. So the pitchers were actually trying to hurl accurately. There were hits, and there were runs. Nevertheless some parents felt that derogatory comments to the umpire would somehow rectify the situation. Had their own children said those things . . . well you get it. The example being shown wasn’t shining.

Despite some negatives, I saw special moments. When a kid who obviously wasn’t used to being struck out heard "Strike three," he began to have a meltdown. The coach went out to him, brought him into the dugout and signaled his dad over. His dad simply gave him a hug and a kiss on the top of the head and then walked away. I’m sure the coach was prepared for an extended episode of tantrum, but with a calm, non-judgmental hug and kiss, the situation was diffused. After a hard loss, where the team was leading 7-0 and ended up losing in the last inning 8-7, there were parents giving advice and critiquing the game. There were many more parents giving a warm hug and handing out praise for well-executed plays, or simply offering their condolences. Most kids will forget a loss and even a major win in a matter of minutes. After all, there are snacks or lunch or some other activity on the horizon. So dwelling on extended post-game analysis will usually result in more boredom than learning. A wise parent keeps it short and sweet no matter the outcome.

We have to resist fulfilling our idea of what a game should be, and leave the game to the ones playing and the ones coaching. I know how hard that is. As soon as I impulsively shouted out to my grandson, I wished I could swallow the words. I may have solved an immediate problem, but what other ones did I create? What will happen when he gets hit by a pitch, and Gramma’s admonition to "Stand in there" sounds like she wants him to get hurt? Who should he be trusting to give him baseball advice? It certainly shouldn’t be a woman who hasn’t swung a bat in a decade. I encouraged the players, but otherwise held my tongue the rest of the weekend. It’s not easy. We see a problem, we want to solve it. We see struggles, we want to alleviate them. We see mistakes, we want to rectify them. But a game or a practice is not the appropriate venue. So take some notes mentally or actually, and then broach the subject when it is just you and your child. We can be the parent that makes life less stressful for everyone, especially our children.

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Speed of play

Sam Snow

Jeff Cade, the Technical Director at Nevada Elite FC, asked the question below of a few colleagues.
 
The phrase speed of play is used in almost every training session. For the most part, the coaches are using it in the sense of increasing the overall speed of the session or game. I do not disagree with the phrase being used in this sense. However, I have spoken to many coaches recently and have come to understand that speed of play to them is the recognition of the tempo of the game. They feel speed of play is the ability to follow and change the rhythm of possession vs. counter vs. combination. What do you see in the actual meaning of speed of play?
 
Greg Maas, Technical Director for Utah Youth Soccer had this to say:
 
Speed of play is common soccer jargon. In short, I regularly ask players what ‘speed of play’ means to them and here's a few of the consistent responses I often get:
 
·         Play faster or quicker
·         Communicate
·         Move more
 
I will then ask level two or three questions, such as, "Can you help me to understand what you mean by playing faster or quicker?" Or, "What's another way we can get the ball from point A to point B more effectively?" This line of questioning often provides answers closer to what I am looking for (no particular order or preference).
 
Some of the answers given include:
 
·         Limiting touches on the ball; playing one or two touch
·         Recognizing when to pass and when to dribble
·         Improving the pace (weight of the pass) of the ball or recognizing the correct type of pass to make (balls to feet versus balls to space)
·         Combining with each other to create better attacking options
·         Changing direction and the point of attack  
·         Movement off of the ball in support of the ball or to unbalance the opposition
·         Decision making on and off of the ball — making quicker, more effective and efficient decisions
·         Recognizing and exploiting numerical advantages on the field
Here are the factors involved in speed of play for an individual:
·         Mental: perceptual speed, anticipation speed, decision making speed and reaction speed
·         Physical: movement speed (without the ball) and action speed (with the ball)
 
To me, it first involves cognitive speed and then speed of producing the motor skills necessary to produce the proper technique needed based on one’s tactical decision.
 
Therefore, it is much better to set up situations in training where the players solve the problems and make most of their own decisions. It is also vital to hammer technique. When this technique is used, the motor skills pathways for performing technique become second nature. The player can then become efficient at possession, penetration, or combine as they ‘quickly’ make the decision mentally/tactically to perform an action (technique) in a given situation.
 
Think of Messi—he isn't big, but he is a magician because he thinks five steps ahead and can anticipate an opponent’s reaction. He has great reaction speed and has unbelievable movement without the ball and even better action speed with the ball. Marta, in the women's game, is another example that can be used (except she is very left footed, which maybe hurts my example a bit).
 
I believe speed of play as a group or team can be defined better as understanding the tempo of the game.
 
Carrie Taylor, girls Director for the Vancouver Whitecaps
 
One of my favorite sayings is, "The beauty of the game is in its simplicity." Quite simply to me, speed of play is how quickly players make decisions. The decisions to pass, dribble, move with the ball, and move off the ball—how quickly do I make those decisions? One-and two-touch passing can affect the speed of play, but ultimately to make a one or two touch pass is still a decision. A player’s technical ability also needs to be considered. Player's with lesser technical ability will struggle to make quicker decisions because the lack of technique does not allow for technical proficiency to make quick decisions, thus affecting the speed of play. What does that mean? The technical level of a player and a team will most certainly affect the speed of play. Therefore, teams should spend a fair amount of time on the technical aspects of the game. If players are more technical, the game itself creates the speed of play.
 
"The game is the great teacher." You can spend as much time as you want on the speed of play with your team, but if they lack the technical ability that team and those players will only achieve a certain degree of speed of play. This can be affected by how well a team is able to put pressure on them as a team and on the individual players.
 
Does speed of play have to do with the tempo of the game, changing the point of attack or how quickly we counter? To me, those are all end products of speed of play. How quickly we change the point of attack, how quickly we counter and at what speed we play are all decisions we make. For example, if you watch Barcelona, sometimes the tempo of the game is very slow and methodical when they have possession and even if the other team tries to high pressure them. They still are able to keep a calm, very slow and methodical tempo; however, and the decisions they make are done quickly to keep that tempo. When Barcelona possesses, even at a slow tempo, the midfielders and backs still only take one or two touches, even when under high pressure. Usually, the biggest change in tempo is displayed as they get forward and combine. Much of the interplay is one and two touch right to goal, usually ending in a great finish. It takes a lot of technique to play that way. But all the way to the goal, decisions are being made to play one or two touch. If you cannot play that way technically, then players usually take an extra touch which can slow the speed of play causing a player to get caught in possession and thus losing possession of the ball. I believe the same holds true for the changing the point of attack and counter attack. The technique of the players and team determines the speed of attack. The better the technique, the quicker the decision can be made to counter or change the point of attack. Plain and simple, poor technique means slower decisions, and slower speed of play.
 
It all comes down to technique, technique, technique. And when you are done, work on technique some more! I don't care how hard you try and make your teams or players understand, speed of play, tempo, changing the point of attack, counter attacking or whatever it may be. If the players don't have the technique they will to achieve only a limited level of speed of play.
 
Eddie Henderson, Heat FC Nevada - Technical Director
 
Playing quickly when needed. Put a foot on the ball when needed. Understanding when to use one touch and when to dribble or hold to slow it down. Overall recognition.
 
 Kai Edwards, Head Coach Women's Program - St. Mary's College
 
There have been thought provoking question and responses so far. In education, this is considered an inquiry of the highest level, above basic knowledge and comprehension, falling into the critical thinking category. My background prior to my current position was as an honors geometry teacher for 13 years. So here is my addition to the very insightful and spot on responses so far by the Coaches. Basically hoping to put another layer on the information....
 
By Definition:
 
·         Speed = Swiftness of action
·         Of = Derived or coming from
·         Play = moving or operating freely within a bounded space
 
How can this apply to the game of soccer? Well, does understanding and executing the angles matter in speed of play? Angles matter not only in attack, but also in defense and transition.
 
Angles of/to:
 
·         First touch to solve pressure
·         The pass to penetrate or keep possession
·         Strike on goal with higher scoring percentage
·         Cross to a more dangerous chance on goal
·         Support in attack above and below the ball
·         Runs to unbalance the opposition and get on the end of the pass
·         Transition to attack opening more time and space
·         Counterattacking runs – straight or curled
·         Transition to defense getting back behind the ball to protect the goal or immediate pressure
·         Deny passing channels and space to move forward
·         Recovery run
·         GK - Make the save
·         GK - Distribution
 
Another way to add onto the speed of play topic would be, "How quickly can you take advantage of the angles of success in the game of soccer?"

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