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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.


Soccer's Bright Future

Sam Snow


There are positive changes taking place for soccer in the USA. Here are two of them worthy of special mention.

Youth Members Technical Leaders Work Group

Not long ago the technical directors of the AYSO, MLS Youth, SAY Soccer, U. S. Futsal, U. S. Club Soccer, U. S. Soccer, USSSA and US Youth Soccer began meeting to devise plans for improving the youth soccer landscape to the betterment of the American player. Never before has such a group been assembled. It is quite exciting to see the teamwork among all of the members of this auspicious group of soccer leaders.

Three meetings have taken place to date. The group plans to meet on a quarterly basis. The outcome of the meetings already held has been an inclusion statement and commitment by all of the organizations, recommendations to member clubs and leagues on implementing the change with player registration to birth year, discussions on increasing coaching education opportunities and last but most certainly not least the creation of a standard set of modified Laws of the Game for Zone 1 under the new small-sided games format. Those modified rules are now being vetted by a select group of leaders in the referee ranks. Soon the rules will be published for the soccer public to use. Beginning this summer take a look on the websites of any of the organizations noted above to find the modified Laws of the Game for soccer for children in the 5 to 12 year old age groups.

National Soccer Hall of Fame

Yesterday, May 5, I had the privilege to attend the ground breaking ceremony for the new National Soccer Hall of Fame. America has a rich soccer history dating back to the mid-1800s. The Hall of Fame will house artifacts and tell the story of soccer in our nation from many different levels of the game. The Hall is being built into the south end of Toyota Stadium the home of FC Dallas. That gives the Hall a central location in the USA and a chance for soccer fans attending the multitude of soccer events in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex a chance to visit.

During the groundbreaking ceremony the newest class of inductees into the Hall of Fame were announced. Brandi Chastain, Don Garber and Shannon MacMillan were honored yesterday with the announcement. Brandi was in attendance and participated in the groundbreaking. You can read more about the event here:


Figure 1 Front entrance off of Main Street at the South Gate of Toyota Stadium


Figure 2 The view from the field of the expanded south end of the stadium and the National Hall of Fame



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Up and Coming

Susan Boyd

Last weekend, I drove past the city park where my kids, Bryce and Robbie, regularly played soccer. As I expected on a spring weekend morning, the three full-sized fields and four smaller ones were covered with young players either in the midst of a match or preparing to begin. However, all of these eager participants flocking across the soccer pitches weren’t kicking a ball. They were flinging it with lacrosse sticks. Then last night I drove past the high school where the football field lights were blazing not for a spring scrimmage but in order to illuminate an interscholastic boys’ lacrosse match. The proliferation of this century’s old sport has now become rampant in the United States. Where much of our interaction with lacrosse had been news reports a decade ago about the Duke men’s team, we can now watch matches regularly on cable sports channels and read reports on high school and college competitions in the sports section. Even one of my grandsons has gone over to the lacrosse side.

Soccer has enjoyed a special status as the new and growing sport in the U.S. over nearly three decades. It began when the U.S. Men’s National Team qualified for the 1990 World Cup, the first time since 1950. Interest grew when the U.S. won the bid to host the 1994 World Cup, bringing international attention and teams to our shores. This was followed by the formation of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1996. Since 1990, youth involvement in soccer has increased 89 percent with over three million registered players as a component of the 24 million men, women, and children participants in 2014, second only to China. According to 2015 Pew research, soccer is now the fourth-most watched sport ahead of ice hockey, auto racing, tennis and golf. With an average turnout of 19,000 at MLS games, America ranks eighth in the world for attendance at first division soccer matches, ranking ahead of soccer-obsessed Argentina and Brazil. The women’s game has seen not only phenomenal growth but equal success. There were 318 women’s college teams in 1991, which increased to 959 in 2009. The Women’s World Cup has been hosted by the U.S. twice in 1999 and 2003. In the 1999 Women’s World Cup, the U.S. Women’s National Team beat China to win the title before a crowd of 90,000. This event still ranks as the best attended women’s sporting event ever. In 2011, 8.2 percent of adults listed soccer as their favorite sport. Even when the U.S. loses, the team pulls in huge audiences. The men’s 2-1 loss to Belgium in the 2014 World Cup had 24.5 million viewers, which compares favorably to last year’s NBA finals that averaged 15.5 million, the World Series that averaged 14.9 million and the Stanley Cup that pulled in under 5 million. Soccer has come of age in the United States, and with the continued growth of MLS, which also attracts major European soccer stars, the sport should continue to enjoy a bright and expanding future.

However, no status is ever secure, and lacrosse has begun to nip at soccer’s heels. According to US Lacrosse, the sport’s governing body in America, participation has grown from 254,000 players in 2001 to 773,000 players in 2014—a 300 percent increase. Youth players doubled from 2006 to 2009, and in 2014, lacrosse was the fastest growing sport in high school, increasing 28 percent for boys and 31 percent for girls. Likewise, the number of college programs has increased from 247 in 2009 to 339 in 2014 for the boys and 319 to 443 for the girls. There are two professional North American lacrosse leagues and both are indoor. Major League Lacrosse recently expanded to eight franchises and now has a contract with ESPN3 to stream every league game. The National Lacrosse League has nine franchises and plays in Canada and the U.S. Its primary popularity is in Canada where box lacrosse is the official summer sport of our neighbors to the north. Just as soccer took off once a significant professional league began in the U.S., lacrosse will need its own strong foray into the professional ranks in order to build a loyal fan base. Adding to the hype are international competitions overseen by the Federation of International Lacrosse, which holds World Championships every four years for men, women, and U-19 players. US Lacrosse can boast of a record 27 wins at the World Championships since 1974.

The blossoming of a new sports option for our kids should always be welcomed. The more choices kids have, the more likely they are to find something that excites their passions and gets them out and moving. Lacrosse costs more than soccer for equipment but is still relatively affordable for all families, especially when clubs help organize equipment swaps. As college teams increase and kids can find role models in the sport to inspire them, the future does look bright for lacrosse. However, this growth brings some complications with it, and that is primarily competing for resources. This brings me back to those lacrosse sightings I had this past week. Just as soccer had to carve out space from football, now lacrosse will be carving out space from soccer. There’s only so much groomed green space available and, even worse, precious few indoor facilities. The freedom to practice and compete should be limitless, but restricted resources means fierce competition now spills from the pitch into municipal recreation scheduling offices. Trying to find ways of fairly subdividing these patches of green can lead to some sharp conflicts and sour grapes.

As one sport surges, it’s not unusual for other sports to decrease. This is especially true when the sports share aspects. Kids could find the movement and purpose of lacrosse to be similar enough to soccer to spur some crossover. Just as moving off the ice onto the pitch can come naturally to hockey players, so too soccer players might find the addition of sticks to their scoring arsenal equally enticing. Such shifting of allegiances makes clubs nervous because they survive on increasing their membership, not losing it. These shifts can elicit hostilities while increasing recruiting, which is supposed to be forbidden. As we begin the spring tryouts for soccer teams across the U.S., frustrated coaches may be seeing some players siphoned off by competing sports and others by rival soccer clubs. It’s an uncomfortable situation which works against the “for the kids” policy that youth sports promotes. Clubs need to fill rosters just to meet payrolls and expenses, but they also need winning teams in order to sell the club in the future to parents looking for success, so they must retain and locate what they consider to be quality players. It’s a tough balancing act – giving all players a fair shake while having to keep an eye on the power of the roster. Throw in losing kids to other sports and you can end up with a toxic situation. In some cases, coaches will promise these players that they can play both sports and not have to come to all practices and even games. That’s dangerous because it creates a double-standard that has glaring problems. My sons faced the pull between football and soccer and several of their teammates got “deals” in order to play both sports, which only created resentment and uneven results. Now kids may feel a pull between soccer and lacrosse with the same offers of “dual citizenship.” Finding a way to navigate this prickly course will remain an important aspect of making youth sports fun and fair for all.

No one should be leery of a new sport on the horizon. Kids benefit from a variety of choices because development, size, skills, and interests are so varied among pre-teens and even into high school. It’s really great when a child can find a sport that fit his or her particular attributes to a tee. Hopefully, physical education programs in elementary schools will offer a couple of weeks of exposure to lacrosse so kids can discover if that’s where they see themselves. The point of youth sports is to improve fitness and bring another level of fun to kids’ lives, and youth team sports are meant to encourage collaboration and develop friendships. So we should all applaud this upsurge in lacrosse. However, along with that, parents need to be mindful of the pitfalls. We can help facilitate cooperation among the field sports in order to make the use of our resources fairly available and help restrict in-fighting. We also need to encourage our kids not to straddle sports in the same season but learn to face the tough choices everyone has to make throughout life. We can and should be open to all the possibilities for youth sports, even as we hold a special place in our hearts for soccer, and help our young players to navigate those options. We want our kids to build great memories while improving their health and fitness. We can score goals in either sport.

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Playing Down a Player

Sam Snow

“I’m coaching youth soccer. The league has given me a team with one less player than the rest. Subs will be impossible, what strategy in game time do you recommend? I’ve tried to get this fixed but they’re not going to give me another player. Is there a certain formation that best suits a team when they’re field a player down?”

If a team is playing down a player or two it is generally easier then to play with fewer forwards in the team formation. Visually and physically it is a little easier to go forward from the back than the opposite. Play with a full complement of defenders, try to do the same in the midfield line of the team and then play with only one or two forwards.

The team will need to drop off most of the time when defending to give good cover in its own half of the field. The team may need to concede pressure on the ball in the opponents’ half of the field when defending.

When on the attack, the team will need to move the ball quickly, so lots of one and two touch passing. If most passes are played to each other’s feet as opposed to open space then the physical demand on the players is manageable. If too many passes are made into open space, thus requiring lots of running to catch the ball, the team will be exhausted sooner rather than later.

The coach of a youth team that is playing down must be mindful of the health of the players. Be sure they get lots of water and if needed even play down further in order to take a player off now and then for a rest. The players’ safety and health is more important than the match outcome.

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Clear as Mud

Susan Boyd

I had my annual eye exam, which isn’t really the point of this blog but comes as way of explanation. I had to have my eyes dilated, so while the drops took effect, I was handed a copy of the large print Reader’s Digest in the meantime. I don’t usually read that magazine, but I’m glad I had it thrust at me. There was a contest for humorous family anecdotes, and the winner struck me as encapsulating so many of our collective youth soccer experiences. A father took his son to soccer practice, and for the second week in a row, he was the only player on the field. Frustrated, the father told his son to tell the coach that this was unacceptable. The boy rolled his eyes at his dad and stated, “He’ll just say the same thing he said last week.” “Which was?” “Practice is now on Wednesday, not Tuesday.” I’m positive we’ve all been there in some form or another.

I’ve often watched a coach call together her team. She kneels down with all the young, earnest players listening intently to every word as she carefully explains the tactics the team should execute. They all nod agreement as the coach rises, claps her hands, and says, “Let’s go.” The team scatters like dry leaves swirling chaotically around the pitch and immediately lose all sense of order, direction and purpose. The coach tries to stay positive, but she is obviously frustrated. The problem is that those clear instructions weren’t really clear. Without the context of experience and maturity, telling kids to stay goal-side, check to, and give and go has all the clarity of a foreign language spoken backwards. We’re lucky if kids shoot the ball in the right goal. Developing a language that kids will understand, remember, and use when playing soccer becomes the predominant part of any coaching. The task is complicated by short attention spans, an inability to comprehend the importance of any discussion, and the dependence of English on idiomatic speech.

All too often, reason gets lost in translation from the kid’s eye view to the adult’s. It’s not just that kids are by definition irresponsible or naïve. It’s really that they live in a different contextual world than we do, and they are bound to literal translations in more ways than we are. Over the years we’ve come to understand the subtleties of idioms and allusions while our kids take them at face value. When a child says she can’t find her favorite toy, and a father tells her, “Look hard. Leave no stone unturned,” he shouldn’t be surprised to find her in the yard picking up rocks. A coach who admonishes his U-8 team to “step up your game” might find all his players marching on the pitch. We take for granted that the concepts we understand are the same for our kids. That boy in the anecdote probably thought “Okay the team is showing up on Wednesday, but my dad brings me on Tuesday, which annoys the coach but that’s how we do it.” Or he might just have forgotten to let his father know about the change because one day is as good as another in his limited experience with time. We adults can think we’re making ourselves clear, but the clarity is definitely in the eye of the beholder.

Consider some of the idioms we use every day and how easily they could be misinterpreted by a young player. The phrase, “hang in there” could end up confusing players who’ve been told not to swing on the goals. Encouraging kids to “go the extra mile” might have them in tears thinking they have to run another mile. How about telling a player “In the long run, you upped your game?” Does that mean they have to run a long time? Is there a downed game? Are they only good when they are running? Tell a team proudly that they should win their game “hands down” might mean they think they have to keep their hands at their sides. How confusing is it to tell a team they lost because they dropped the ball, when none of them picked it up except the goal keeper who’s supposed to pick it up and then drop or throw it? Discussing how a team should regroup by telling them to go back to square one will leave them befuddled since there are no squares to return to. If we chastise a player by telling him he was caught with his pants down, we shouldn’t be surprise to see him clutching at his shorts. Urging a player to hit the back of the net might find him behind the goal. We can’t be surprised when telling a team at half time that they started the game on the wrong foot that they all raise their hands to find out which foot they should start with. At the end of a tough loss, a team is told they have to face the music. The problem is that no music is playing.

It becomes worse when we mix sports idioms, which are confusing on their own and even more so when paired with soccer. When a team hears from a coach in June that they are “skating on thin ice,” we can’t expect them to comprehend what is being said. If the coach asks his team who is losing, 3-0, if he should “throw in the towel,” they have no idea how to answer appropriately. A pep talk before a game where the coach tells her squad that their commitment will be tested because this is where the “rubber meets the road” only leave the kids wondering what rubber (the ball perhaps) and why hitting a road. Encouraging a team to go for the whole nine yards will probably leave them wondering where those yards could be found on the pitch. Admonishments to come out swinging can be interpreted to use one’s fists rather than to give it one’s all.

We take for granted that everyone will understand certain words, phrases and instructions, but for young players, that’s not always possible. Kids take things very literally until they learn the subtleties and nuances of language later in their development. Language is difficult to learn, but we also have to remember that just because we know the common sense aspects of life, our kids may not. If a coach tells them information, they don’t understand that parents don’t learn the information unless the kids pass it on. Parents may have to look through notes stuffed in a backpack for information. Just because a kid knows how to tie her shoe doesn’t mean she knows how to lace it. Teaching our children how to do laundry involves lots of taken for granted moments like separating laundry, water temperatures, amount of soap, and what to line vs. tumble dry. It took a few pink-tinged undershirts and shrunken sweaters for the boys and I to figure out that they had no clue about what I intuitively knew. Something as simple as putting the lid on the blender before you turn it on isn’t innately understood by our kids. Flushing a paper towel down the toilet doesn’t set off mental alarms to a 10-year-old (or even a 14-year-old as we discovered the hard way). There are dozens of times a day that parents realize their kids just don’t get it, and the situations may range from running with scissors to sticking a fork in the toaster to putting batteries in backwards. It’s a wonder kids don’t burn down the house or blow up the microwave (as our daughter did quite spectacularly) by heating up a burger wrapped in foil. Life is filled with intangibles that can only become known by either instruction or experience, and often kids require both.

In this complex world of electronics we often think our children understand them better than we do. However, that fact only seems to be true where games or social media are concerned, and even then they use poor judgment because they can’t conceive of the far-ranging consequences. Otherwise we have to understand that our kids enter this world as blank slates that have to discover how things work, what words mean, and what consequences there will be going forward. We can’t assume anything when it comes to a child’s understand of the world. Nevertheless, it’s difficult not to make assumptions because we’ve already internalized the meanings and the behaviors. We get surprised regularly. That surprise has been the basis of Art Linkletter’s show Kids Say the Darndest Things and half of the America’s Funniest Home Videos and YouTube moments. Just a few weeks ago a viral video showed a 3-year-old boy freaking out because the GPS announced “bear right,” and he thought they faced imminent danger. Our children’s confusion can be both frustrating and entertaining. It’s best if we can keep a sense of humor when our kids react with total bewilderment or wrong-headed behavior, because it will be a while before the fog lifts.

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