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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.

 

Vision

Sam Snow

I recently sent a coach a copy of the Vision document which gives facts on youth soccer player development and how we can measure improvement.  He had this to say after he had read it.

"Thanks for the article. I believe very strongly that coaches are incredibly influential in the lives of each and every player. We are not there to merely teach them how to pass and dribble, but more importantly, [know that] soccer can be a vehicle in which to teach life skills and characteristics that will enrich their lives and their future. Most players do not have the opportunity to play professional sports. It is therefore imperative that personality traits have been developed that will set them apart, and aid their growth as a teenager and then as an adult."

Here are a few samples from the Vision document.

Indeed how do we measure player development? Too often in America a professional sport model is used in measuring youth sports success. Youth soccer is not immune to this misapplied standard. For soccer the situation is made worse by a desire of many adults to use measuring tools from other sports. In fact, it is maddening to many adults that soccer is not as black and white as with some sports in judging successful play. Many team sports played in our nation are statistically driven and coach centered. Soccer is neither of those! Indeed, just like the Laws of the Game, our sport has many shades of grey within it.

The analogy can be made to a youngster's academic development in preparation for work in the adult business world. While the child is in primary and secondary school the corporate world measurements of success are not applied. Those business assessments are not yet appropriate because the school-aged student does not yet have the tools to compete in the adult business environment. The knowledge and skills to be a competitor in business are still being taught and learned. This holds true in soccer as well!

If you would like to receive a copy of the Vision document then just drop me a line and I'll be glad to send a copy to you.

Well now, it's off to the 2010 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop.  This is an annual exchange of information for coaches, administrators and referees.  And then of course, the stories we can all tell about our life in youth soccer.  I hope to see you in Ft. Worth, Texas this week.
 

Workshop in Fort Worth

Sam Snow

Next week the 2010 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop will take place in Fort Worth, Texas. This annual convention for coaches, administrators and referees offers a wonderful opportunity for the 900,000 administrators, coaches and referees (most of whom are volunteers) to come together in one location to exchange information and ideas on youth soccer in the U.S.

Most folks who attend likely don't realize the work that goes into pulling off such an event. Planning begins several years ahead with the selection of the city and venue for the event. Many factors go into the selection process including the spaces for demo sessions and classes.

The nitty gritty for each Workshop begins a year out and, of course, picks up pace as we get closer to the opening day. The host State Association where a Workshop is held is a key player within the team that makes each Workshop a success. The State Association promotes the event with its members, gets volunteers to assist with a multitude of tasks, and through its clubs, gets the players for each of the demonstration sessions. The quality of each Workshop is credited to the host State Association and the US Youth Soccer staff. The national office staff puts in hundreds of hours to drive an event that is a service to our referees, coaches, administrators and members.

I'd like to give you some insights to many of the first-rate presenters who will be available to you at the 2010 Workshop & Coaches Convention in Fort Worth. For our coaches, referees and administrators, there'll be sessions that will educate and inspire. We'll have sessions for the technical development of mainstream players, select players and special needs players. The presenters include the US Youth Soccer Technical Department. Alongside us in the coaching tracks are Jeff Tipping, the NSCAA director of coaching; Dr. Don Kirkendall from the University of North Carolina and FIFA's Medical Assessment and Research Centre; Gary Williamson, technical director for North Texas Soccer; Dan Gaspar, head coach for men at the University of Hartford and goalkeeper coach for the Portugal Men's National Team; Oscar Pareja, FC Dallas director of player development, plus many more outstanding American coaches.

For our colleagues in officiating and administration, some of the top class clinicians are Larry Monaco, president of US Youth Soccer; Rodney Kenney; Alfred Kleinaitis; John Kukitz, chairman of the Soccer Start Committee; Todd Roby, US Youth Soccer director of communications; Dr. Dan Freigang; Charlie Kadupski among many others.

With help from many of the North Texas soccer clubs, we'll have on hand some wonderful young players to assist the coaches in showing you the best in the craft of coaching. Plus the very popular Kick Zone for local players to come and try out their skills. FC Dallas players will join you there!

Did I mention the Awards Gala with the presentations of the Dr. Thomas Fleck Award, Coach of the Year honors and more? There will be exhibits, meetings, sharing of information and experiences along with new and old friendships. Join us for a fabulous time with those who support and guide youth soccer in our country.
 
At the Workshop there's something for everyone!  The sessions are first rate and aimed at the needs of youth soccer. Check out the sessions and clinicians here.
 

Chairs and candy

Susan Boyd

Despite a 24 hour snowfall and the incumbent shoveling, this was actually a pretty good week. The Winter Olympics are here, I got to spoil everyone for Valentine's Day, and the chair of my dreams showed up on my doorstep. As you may know, I am constantly on the quest for the ultimate soccer chair. It's not enough that it be portable, it has to have cup holders, arms, places to store my papers and magazines, even possess a "roof" to protect from the sun and rain. But several months ago I came across a chair in a catalog that was perfect for the type of soccer we play here in Wisconsin: Refrigerator Soccer. This chair had portability, an attached flap with three pockets, a fold-out hard tray with a huge cup holder, and most amazingly of all, a heated seat!   There was a battery that you charged, placed in a small pocket and attached to wires in the seat that provided a gentle warming. You could also choose between high and low temperatures. It had both a home charger and a car charger so you could recharge it during tournaments.

Imagine my delight when the manufacturer sent me one to try out. It arrived this past week and has been set up in my family room where various people have been testing it. Everyone agrees it's ideal for the spring/fall soccer season and those winter practices outdoors. Even the dogs approve, curling up in the gentle warmth of the chair and abandoning their usual perch on the back of the couch where the sun warms them. I love the tray that extends because I usually have several items I need to set out: keys, cell phone, tournament program, sons' jewelry that has to be removed before play, and a drink. The sturdy yet light weight aluminum frame folds up like a flat sandwich board with handles on the arms making it very portable. It has a nice wide seat and sits firmly off the ground so I can hop in and out much easier than the sunken sling back chairs of yore. The Tempachair is manufactured by Prairie Sales, LLC (www.tempachair.com).   Check it out – especially those of you who watch soccer AND ice fish! And thank you to Prairie Sales for making my quest for the perfect chair complete.

This week I also sent out Valentine's Day packages filled with the most abominable junk imaginable, and I know with all the kids I'll be a hero and with all the parents I'll be a scoundrel. But Valentine's Day is the holiday I spoil youngsters with Nerds, candy necklaces, satellite wafers, pixy sticks, candy hearts, wax bottles, and other sweets whose ingredient lists simply read: sugar and artificial flavors and colors. Each product's appearance may change, but they're all derivatives of the same formula. These candies for all their agelessness end up being an exotic treat for many youngsters. So instead of the usual carrot sticks, granola bars, and orange slices that make up after-practice or after-game snacks, once a year I'll pull out the candy jar for a sugar indulgence like no other. I also don't have to worry about peanut, egg, gluten, and milk allergies because the factories which fabricate these goodies have never been within miles of anything considered part of the food pyramid.

These treats provide a nostalgic trip back to when I was seven or eight years old. My brothers and I used to walk or ride our bikes to the Rexall Drug Store at the bottom of our hill for a candy run. Each of us would have up to a quarter in our pockets to spend in the days when candy bars were a nickel and penny candy really meant a penny. We'd buy the most horrific stuff certain to rot our teeth, destroy major internal organs, and dim the brain. We needed the sugar high just to get back up our hill, a mile of switchbacks along a wooded and canyoned asphalt ribbon. Our dad, the dentist, further complicated the situation, so naturally we had to keep our stash a secret. But it was bliss on a spring day to sit outside in the tire swing and spin around while cracking my teeth on Atomic Fireballs.

There's a party store in our town that sells these forbidden delicacies along with party favors like plastic yo-yos, army men, ponies, and other useless "not recommended for children under three" toys. The treats rest colorfully in bins in the back of the store, and three to six bikes can be seen daily leaned on the brick wall, their owners inside perusing the candy bins. Just like I did as a kid, the boys and girls crowd around making high level financial decisions based on how much money they have, the weight of the candy, how long it lasts, and if they can share any items. In one trip they have learned budgeting skills, cost versus benefit analysis, and cooperative purchasing tactics. I relate these stories because in this day of internet threats, Amber alerts, food recalls, and homeland security, it's good to know that some of the simpler bucolic albeit unhealthy things in life haven't changed.  

Now the government wants to ruin even this experience. It's not enough to educate us about the effects of sugar on the diets and dental health of our children. Common sense tells us that candy doesn't grow on trees, so it's not likely to be healthy for us. But we recognize that we supplemented our own healthy lifestyle with an occasional sugar binge and lived to tell about it. This new government study goes further in heaping on the guilt. It suggests that children who have a sweet tooth are more likely to have alcohol and drug abuse problems than children who don't. So now when I bring a jar full of artificially colored sugar shapes to the soccer field, I'm actually contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Years later if one of those tiny soccer players ends up in rehab, she can point to that watershed moment in her life when Mrs. Boyd leaned over and whispered, "take as many as you like." At least I will now do so from my heated chair with the jar set conveniently on the pull up tray.
 

Everything I learned about soccer

Susan Boyd

I learned by watching. I'll admit to playing soccer while attending a German high school, but it was a coed physical education class and the main purpose of our activity was to waste as much time as possible, stay as clean as possible, and sneak out as soon as possible to a cafe. But that's also the time I began to watch soccer both on TV and at the stadium which was a short walk and streetcar ride from my apartment. In Germany impressing a boyfriend meant having a passion for or at least feigning a passion for soccer. But watching soccer had little to do with learning the rules or appreciating the tactics. Instead I simply learned the various stereotypes about the sport that my friends held: Italian players were drama queens, English players were cry babies, French players had no grit, and German players were intelligent, strong, and unfairly penalized by foreign referees.

Throughout the subsequent years I would watch a game now and again, but it was difficult to catch a game on TV when in the United States. Every four years I did watch the World Cup finals, but until I had children playing soccer I didn't make a real investment in watching or understanding the game. And youth soccer, particularly before players reach age 12, doesn't mirror the way the game is played internationally. Unfortunately, I and most of the parents I knew thought we understood the game perfectly; so well in fact that that during any game we felt obliged to teach soccer to the referees, the coaches, and our own children.

Many parents aren't students of the game. This is somewhat understandable because we are just now getting to the parental generations who have actually played soccer in large numbers. Yesterday was the Super Bowl with something like 100 million viewers, most of them Americans. There's a substantial parent contingent who regularly watches, may have played, and understands the positions and strategy of football. Same goes for baseball and basketball. But in the U.S., soccer hasn't yet arrived at that level. Nevertheless, we parents owe it to our kids to immerse ourselves in a quick study of the game and to provide an atmosphere at home where soccer is part of the regular sports viewing. Our children need to be proud of the sport they play and they need to know that their parents consider it a significant and worthy endeavor.

As my boys progressed in soccer and understood the game far better than I did, the chatter from parents became not only annoying but downright interference. When one 10-year-old girl passed by the parental hordes shouting and instructing the players, she put her finger to her lips and exclaimed, "Settle down!" That's when I realized I needed a soccer education. I bought a FIFA rule book and studied it. I also began to watch more and more games both live and on TV. We bought season tickets to the local indoor soccer team which gave me a further education and an opportunity to talk about soccer together as a family. We regularly watched EPL and La Liga games together which afforded me the opportunity to learn about individual international players and my sons' assessments of their abilities.

Knowing that a ball isn't out of bounds until every millimeter of its surface is out or the difference between a goal kick and a corner kick doesn't qualify as understanding the game. Because soccer appears to be a fairly simple game, we parents may convince ourselves there isn't much to learn. Pass the ball by kicking it down the field and then kick it into the goal. Defend by trying to steal the ball and by stopping the ball going into the net. However, there's a complex sophistication of how those actions are achieved that ultimately creates the sport that has captured most of the world's attention. Every choice made on the field has geometric outcomes leading to further options. Additionally, learning individual players and the skills they bring to the game can enhance a viewer's experience. Just as baseball managers will have the outfield shift to accommodate a batter's style and power, so too a soccer coach will adjust how a team attacks or defends based on the opposition's player roster.

I would like to challenge youth soccer clubs to offer soccer education for parents. It could build membership because if parents appreciated the intricacies of soccer they'd be more likely to encourage their sons and daughters to stay with the sport.   Since many parents stick around to observe practices, it makes sense for coaches to incorporate them into the practice. Anything from a simple explanation, "These drills help players learn how to overlap," to bringing out the chalkboard and showing how a particular formation is expected to work will make parents feel less like an intrusion and more involved. Robbie had a coach who would regularly address the parents and explain what was going on. I learned so much listening to him and certainly learned to appreciate his coaching decisions since I understood better how he arrived at them. He taught me what a flat-back-four defense was by holding up four fingers and indicating how they operated together down the field.

My boys still correct me regularly when I make comments while watching a game. And they are far more educated as to players, teams, rivalries, and rankings than I ever will be. But over the years I've become much more adept at being a knowledgeable soccer mom rather than just a means of transport to a game and a nuisance on the sidelines. It also means that soccer gives our family a basis for sharing. Bryce will often come downstairs in the morning to announce the latest trades or injuries, and I am proud to say that I know who he's talking about 60 percent of the time. That's definitely progress over the last decade when my soccer familiarity consisted of Pele, Mia Hamm, and a goal is the ball in the net.