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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.

 

The Game Within the Child

Sam Snow

The cornerstone of the player development model and the coaching methods advocated by US Youth Soccer and its members is the philosophy of The Game within the Child.  The phrase was coined by Dr. Ron Quinn.
 
The idea that The Game within the Child is not so much about finding the right sport for a youngster as it is saying that the game, whatever game it may be, is already inside of each kid.  So in time they find the sport that best suits them.  Then the craft of coaching is to help the game come to the surface, so to speak.  Let’s say a child is 7-years-old and plays soccer, baseball and basketball.  Each of those games is already inside of the child, but to different degrees.  The right sport environment and the right coach help the game come to the surface in the child and that game becomes part of the person.  How much of each of the three sports is in that 7-year-old will vary from child to child.  The sport that is best suited to the child and the sport to which the child is best suited usually comes out between the ages of 10 to 15 years old.  So the kid plays all three sports when young, but narrows it down to one or two in the teenage years.  The odds are that one of those sports the player excels at and the others not quite so much – well unless you were Deion Sanders.
 
Let’s say though in this case that soccer ends up being the number one sport for our youngster in question.  The art of coaching would be for the coach to help a lot of soccer that is already in the person, to rise up and be honed.  Fundamentally, the concept is that rather than force a sport into a child, let’s bring out the game that is already in there.  How much of a particular game is in each child will vary individually.  Even once the person chooses their number one sport the amount of the game in them, and thus the level in the game to which they will rise, varies with each person.  They are not all destined to be professional players.  Our final goal with all young players is to help the soccer within them come to the surface to the degree that they want to be involved with our sport for a lifetime.

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In my Easter bonnet

Susan Boyd

 It has become a tradition to find a beautiful and new outfit to celebrate not only Easter, but also the arrival of spring. We love to showcase our style and just feel good wearing new duds. Soccer players aren’t immune to wanting to flaunt some fancy threads and they are helped in this endeavor by the uniform manufacturers. Every company has built-in redundancy with all uniforms, which generally have a shelf life of three years before the style is retired. If you join a club in the final year of a uniform’s existence then you’ll find yourself making two full uniform purchases in one year.
 
I know parents want to make their soccer dollars stretch as far as possible, so they will often purchase uniforms a size larger with the hopes that the uniform will last a couple years. That’s a great idea so long as the club isn’t preparing to change uniforms that year. Spring is the season when clubs make that decision for the fall. Before you buy any new uniform, especially one too big, make sure the club isn’t going to switch in a couple of months. Most clubs would be happy to keep the same style forever. Uniforms are a way of identifying player attached to a club. And clubs understand that parents would rather not be buying entirely new kits every year or so. But their hands are tied because the manufacturers have figured out that only by retiring styles can they encourage clubs to outfit the entire crew in new gear.
 
It’s a good idea to find out when your club is going to switch to new styles. First of all it helps with your budgeting by letting you know that purchasing a full kit with warm-ups, jackets, and bags on the cusp of a uniform change could be very costly. Second, you should have some input to the switch. Most clubs are sensitive to how expensive all the extra gear can be, so they attempt to find uniforms that will go with past warm-ups. They will find gear bags that look similar to the older bags. But it’s a good idea for you to check and to suggest that your club try to stay as close to past gear as possible. Also clubs might not be mindful of their female players when choosing uniforms. Many white uniform jerseys can be too transparent for girls who are uncomfortable with their bras showing through. The cut of some shorts may not be appropriate for a girl’s figure. Therefore it’s not a bad idea to be sure that both the boys and the girls in the club try on samples of uniform choices and take part in the decision. Finally, clubs will do their players a great service if they have players of different heights and weights try on samples, especially of warm-ups, and record which size they selected based on these parameters. I’m sure you have all sat there with the uniform order form in your hands and agonized on sizes. Even better would be if the club could have samples in all sizes available for players to try on. Occasionally the venue that is supplying the uniforms will have samples that you can go to the store and try.
 
Even after getting new uniforms, the old ones don’t have to go to waste. Clubs could organize a sale where old uniforms are sold to the recreational teams in the club giving the rec teams the same club identification that the select teams have. Clubs should also provide a drop-off place for old uniforms, cleats and gear twice a year, and then take it to locations and organizations which collect the gear for both national and international youth teams. For example, US Soccer Federation sponsors the Passback program along with several corporate sponsors including Eurosport, who founded the program. US Youth Soccer partners with USSF to support Passback. You can also ask your State Association if they are sponsoring a collection of soccer equipment and coordinate your club’s collection to coincide. Another national organization is Peace Passers, an organization to which teams can ship gear free of charge. They provide you with the shipping partner to use. Also, check around your community to see if there are organizations in need of gently used soccer gear. Some churches have overseas programs where they outfit full youth teams and are looking for 18-21 uniforms of the same design. Someone in your club may have a relative serving in Afghanistan or other overseas locations and can distribute soccer equipment to youth players there. Likewise there may be a relative in the Peace Corps or on a mission who would be delighted to offer soccer uniforms to the children they work with. Encourage your club to have a designated board member for donations who can run a twice-yearly program to both collect and distribute the used uniforms, shin guards, cleats and balls that players no longer use.
 
We all love to dress up. Our young soccer players are no different. We know how much they love getting new uniforms, even as we lament having to open up the purse strings yet again. With a few safeguards, we can give our kids the new uniforms they love without breaking the bank and can set the club up as an outlet for donating the old ones. This spring’s renewal might show itself on the pitch next fall both in your town and, with your donations, around the world. 

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George Kuntz - Hawaii Youth Soccer

Sam Snow

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to visit the Hawaii Youth Soccer Association.  While I was there I conducted a U6/U8 Youth Module, met with club directors of coaching, assisted with state trials for the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program and I met with the state association board of directors.  During my visit I was able to interview George Kuntz the Technical Director for Hawaii Youth Soccer.  I hope you enjoy our chat:
 

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Relax

Susan Boyd

We’re a nation of winners. We create competition everywhere just so we can declare ourselves the winner. We beat the guy at the light so we can be ahead of him for the next six blocks, no matter that 2,000 cars covered those same six blocks ahead of us. We won the battle of the light! We push our shopping cart just a bit faster and ignore the lady coming from the right so we can go through the check out first. We brag about the deal we got buying our car, do a victory dance as our bracket succeeds, and challenge co-workers to their opinion on the best restaurant. We can’t stand to be vanquished in anything. Unfortunately we can carry this obsession over to our kids’ games to the point of ridiculousness. We take any loss personally, as if the victory gods purposefully slighted us. The results of this intensity can be at best embarrassing and at worst violent.
 
This past month, two disturbing events occurred in youth sports. Following a sixth grade basketball game, the father of a boy on the losing team barreled through parents and children to attack the coach of the winning team. With barely any warning and without a word he jumped on the coach, punched him and bit off a portion of his ear. Spectators were stunned. In fact the teams were meeting in the center of the court to shake hands following the game. The father literally knocked several children to the ground in his rush to attack the coach. To add irony to the incident, this occurred following the finals for the Catholic Youth Organization. This was a game for 12-year-olds which would have ended up a simple asterisk in the memory bank of the participants. Now it will forever be the incident where children felt bullied, witnessed an act of horrific violence and left dazed and confused by the outcome of a simple game.
 
A few weeks previous to this incident, a father was arrested at his daughter’s hockey game for directing a laser pointer into the eyes of opposing players, in particular into the eyes of the opposing goal keeper. He gives new meaning to the phrase "sixth man." Following the game, players complained of headaches and spots in their eyes. While he was removed when the score was 1-1, his daughter’s team went on to win the high school state game 3-1. Officials decided that his behavior didn’t affect the overall outcome of the game, but many parents and players disagreed arguing that the laser affected the eyesight and perspective of players for most of the game and that his actions demoralized players. No matter the upshot of his behaviors, they were completely unacceptable. Right now his daughter’s team’s victory is hollow and tainted by his actions. They can’t completely celebrate, nor can they carry with them the positive memory of a significant accomplishment. Hopefully the daughter wasn’t complicit in her father’s plan, but she will always be under suspicion. The joy she should have felt participating in and winning the state finals will never be hers.
 
Most of us won’t be driven to these extremes. But we can recognize the impulse. We’ve all been at a game where our emotions have stirred to the point of anger. We’ve witnessed parents from opposing teams getting into it during a game or parents taking on referees. When a war of words between a parent and the opposing coach erupted across the field of an Under-10 game, the coach heaved his keys at the parent hitting him square in the face. A mother at a U-8 tournament game was so incensed at the referee that she ran onto the field and began poking him in the chest. The referee was 12 and the mother was arrested for assault! A father recognized another father from a previous meeting of two teams and the two continued the battle they had begun at that game resulting in both of them throwing blows. If we perceive unfairness in the officiating, dirty play, or find our team being slaughtered, we naturally feel the frustration and anger associated with those events. We’re already in a heightened emotional state because of the competition unfolding before us. And, of course there’s that pesky drive to always be winning.
 
In my case I’ve learned I have to be seated when I go to my sons’ soccer games. If I am up and wandering I release my inner Bobby Knight. Each of us has to find the way we can curb our emotions at games. Open enthusiasm is appreciated; open aggression is not. When you consider that frequently these parental outbursts occur at youth games, it seems even more ridiculous that these tantrums are happening. Most pre-teen players are off to some other interest and conversation minutes after losing a game. Their disappointment is quickly replaced by more immediate concerns such as where they’re going for lunch or who they can have over to play. It seems we adults are the ones hanging on to what happened during the game. We may need to internalize the mantra "It’s only a game" in order to shake off our frustration and discontent. Recently, I had the boys clean out their bedrooms and asked them to pack up their memories since they had both moved out. I was shocked to find they had gathered up their trophies, medals, and ribbons from competitions previous to high school and thrown them out. As they said, "We can’t even remember what tournaments these things go to!" If those wins mean so little now, the losses have to be completely insignificant. What we all took so seriously has faded into oblivion. For those few truly significant contests, I hope win or lose they would be remembered fondly and without drama. In the end most of our players will eventually end up playing soccer for fun on the weekends with a bunch of friends rather than for intense competition and certainly not as a profession. Rather than focusing on the outcome of the games, we should be focusing on the play of the games – what did our child do well, what was amusing, what was exciting? If we do that, we’ll probably live longer and without a criminal record.
 
 

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