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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.

 

Developmentally Appropriate

Sam Snow

One aspect of the National Youth License and the U6/U8 Youth Module and the U10/U12 Youth Module courses we emphasize, since it impacts all age groups, is the idea of training and game-day appropriateness for an age group.  So, here's the definition of developmentally appropriate.
 
How does the term developmentally appropriate relate to youth soccer?

Developmentally appropriate refers to the type of training and match environment children are put into and the coaching methods used. Young players, 19-years-old and younger, must be exposed to a proper environment in order to develop. Further, that environment must be suitable for the age and the level of play. The environment for a 12-year-old premier team player and a recreation-plus player will be different because the level of expectation of the player and coach will be different. Expectations will be based on the level of play. Additionally, the environment of training for a 12-year-old will be different than that of a six-year-old, since again the expectations will be different.

For example, youth academy rules for the Premiership clubs in England, boys between ages 9 and 12 must live within one hour traveling distance of the club; between 13 and 16, it's one and a half hours. Different age groups equals different expectations and what is then appropriate.

"They play small-sided games - we let them play.  The coach doesn't keep stopping them, I don't want to hear the coach's voice all the time. It's all about enjoyment at that age, we want them to come back," says Tony Carr, the director of the youth academy at West Ham United in London. He asks, "I have a question - Do we perhaps put too much emphasis on competition and winning too young? But I don't have an answer." (1)

Indeed the emotional impact coaches have upon children must also be developmentally appropriate. Too much pressure to win matches, tournaments and trophies too soon will cause undue distress, then burn out and then drop out. This is the number one reason players quit soccer by age 13!

The coach and parents must also consider their social and cognitive rates of development. From Jean Piaget (note below)  we have learned that this development goes through set stages. ALL players go through the stages. No stage is skipped and each player goes through those stages at different rates.

Technique is at the top of the list of the components of soccer to teach to children. Learning how to do things with the ball is great fun. Playing with the "toy" is the driving force behind participation for most youngsters. Work on ball skills must also be developmentally appropriate to the age group.

"Developmental acquisition of sophisticated movement abilities is a complex phenomenon that begins during the prenatal period and continues through adulthood. …Motor skills are refined from early, gross actions to highly coordinated and complex movements. This developmental trend of simple to complex and gross to fine is the basis of all motor development theory. Sequential acquisition of motor abilities can best be understood utilizing a "stage" model. …Motor development can be divided into two main periods: the preskill and skill refinement phases. …Behavioral characteristics from one level are utilized to build more advanced skills later in the continuum. It is important to note that a deficit in one stage of the developmental process will tend to influence acquisition of more complex skills." (2)

The stages are: preskill phase, reflexive stage, sensory integration stage, fundamental movement pattern development, skill development phase, skill refinement stage, skill performance stage and skill deterioration phase (time to start coaching).

To conclude, "Most young children are not ready for competition organized by adults. They need opportunities and activities in which they can develop and improve basic skills, but not external pressure to perform beyond their developmental abilities. When children do begin to play forms of adult games, modifications will be necessary. …the soccer field does not have to be regulation size and it is not necessary to play with the same size ball the pros use. Nothing is "holy" about the games big people play, but the games should not be modified to the degree that skill is not a requirement. Placing too many people on a team or making too few or too many rules can spoil the game for almost everyone. …Sports offerings should be based on children's needs and level of development. Activities that lead the participant to a higher level of action are the best from a developmental standpoint." (3)

1) Paul Gardner, Youth Soccer London-style, Soccer America, May 1, 2000, p. 7.
2) Russell Pate, et al., Scientific Foundations of Coaching, New York, CBS College Publishing, 1984, pp. 184-190.
3) Billie Jones, et al., Guide To Effective Coaching, second edition, Dubuque, Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1989, p. 68
 
Piaget, Jean (1896-1980), Swiss psychologist, best known for his pioneering work on the development of intelligence in children. Born in Neuchâtel, Piaget studied and carried out research first in Zürich, Switzerland, and then at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he began his studies on the development of cognitive abilities. Piaget wrote extensively on child development.

In his work, Piaget identified four stages of a child's mental growth. The sensorimotor stage lasts up to age 2; a child's gaining motor control and learning about physical objects marks it. In the preoperational stage, from ages 2 to 7, a child is preoccupied with verbal skills. In the concrete operational stage, from ages 7 to 12, a child begins to deal with abstract concepts. Finally, in the formal operational stage, ages 12 to 15, a child begins to reason logically and systematically. 
-Encarta® 98 Desk Encyclopedia © & 1996-97 Microsoft Corporation.
All rights reserved.  
 
 

Survival skills

Susan Boyd

If I haven't already made it abundantly clear I hate winter. Yesterday I had to shovel the driveway, deck, and front walkway three times. When a fourth dusting came down, I threw in the shovel and let the snow sit white, powdery, and glazed on my traffic areas. After driving over it several times with tires holding road salt I now have gray, slushy tracks that look ugly and make walking the dogs a wicked adventure. As I type this a new dusting has begun. I don't believe it will ever end. The temperature refuses to get above 26 degrees, so there's no hope that the snow cover will disappear naturally. Anyone who asks why Christmas lights stay up until April hasn't lived in the Midwest. I can't put a ladder up safely and I can't maneuver tiny wires and hooks with gloves on. So my home is festive until the hyacinths come up.

The tough part about winter is the lack of "live" soccer. I can go to the indoor venues and catch some games, but those have all the ambience of putting my head in a basket of sweaty socks. I enter the soccer warehouse building with its glaring fluorescent glow, and sit on metal bleachers that place me on eye level with the field or stand on a catwalk over the action. Seeing old friends mitigates the institutional feel of the event, but we are all buried in our winter gear and not always so easily recognizable. Indoor soccer for the uninitiated races wildly with lots of banging on the walls, hard and sudden strikes, and corner pile-ups. If soccer is formula one racing, then indoor soccer is a stock car rally. When the boys were younger they used to go in the basement in the winter and play indoor soccer slamming one another against the concrete block walls. I'm not sure how either survived without losing teeth. Even though indoor soccer doesn't give me a true soccer fix, most kids love it. Girls and boys alike have the chance to let it all hang out with the rowdy abandon of feral children. Since most games are played at night, we parents have the benefit of totally drained youngsters to pour into bed.

I can also go watch our local professional indoor club, the Milwaukee Wave. They offer lots of specials to make going to a game an affordable family outing. The speed of the game takes your breath away. Since not all communities have professional teams, you can search out local clubs whose majors teams play in an indoor league. Those games are usually free and have the same speed of play. Just use your search engine to explore "adult indoor soccer leagues" or "professional indoor soccer" to discover what's available in your area.

For the youngest players many clubs sponsor indoor clinics at local school gyms. Despite the same closed in, fluorescent lit environment, kids love the chance to stretch their muscles when the ground outside is slick, slushy, and inhospitable. I love watching the kids slide into the Pugg nets to make a goal and dribble their balls through the cones as they try to control their motion on a slick wood floor. They also flail a few soccer balls into the basketball hoops just for good measure.   The phrase "controlled chaos" comes to mind during these clinics. Most coaches recognize that the kids need the run and screech time as much as they need the training. In winter kids can sled, snowboard, or ski but they have to put up with the restrictions of winter outerwear and bursts of activity followed by trudges back up the hill. Ice skating, especially indoors, can offer some of the same continuous freedom of movement, but can be expensive. Soccer mini-clinics cost less than $50 for around six sessions and, other than the ball, the gear is just what they would wear to go outside and play in the summer.

Winter offers another activity – looking up soccer camps for the summer. Between January and March clubs, academies, pro teams, and colleges begin announcing their camps. Selecting the right one from dozens of appealing possibilities can be daunting. So it's not a bad idea to spend part of that enforced indoor time to download brochures, talk to friends, and have your kids give you their wish lists. I'll do a blog later about camps but now would be a good time to get all the info together. Attending soccer camp requires some delicate scheduling in order to preserve your own family vacation, other camps, and, of course, summer soccer leagues. A fun soccer camp can go a long ways to keeping a player interested in soccer. Although he or she may not become a select player their interest translates into continued play meaning continued exercise and fun, which remain the main benefits for the majority of youth players. That's why winter's such a bummer – it interrupts that activity. We just need to be persistent and creative to find soccer buried in the snow and ice. If anglers can drag sheds out on a frozen lake, drill a hole, and fish, then I think soccer players can be just as inventive to insure they survive the winter.
 

Soccer Creed

Susan Boyd

While the U.S. Postal Service promises "neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor the winds of change, nor a nation challenged, will stay us from the swift completion of our appointed rounds. Ever," we all know it applies only to mail already sitting in local post offices. The recent blizzard along the East Coast illustrates that any mail delivery involving planes, trains or buses from destinations outside of the blizzard won't be possible. Once mail delivery became dependent on more than horses and walking, it could only be as reliable as Mother Nature and the Federal Aviation Administration allows.

Simple slogans can't address the domino effect that weather has on our lives. We experience it all the time with our kids – will there be school closures, will we get to our vacation, will they cancel soccer practice? In 2006 Bryce and I were due to drive down to St. Louis for the Final Four tournament. Mother Nature once again didn't cooperate, pounding the middle section of America with a blizzard that shut down everything from Milwaukee to Denver. I was fully prepared to make the seven hour drive knowing it would probably be twice that with the snow, but as the blizzard became more and more intrusive, fewer and fewer teams could find their way to St. Louis so that eventually the tournament was canceled and only the NCAA College Cup was held. While I was disappointed Bryce couldn't be scouted that weekend, I was relieved to miss out on "slip-sliding away."

When the Final Four tournament was canceled in 2006, the organizers scrambled to find indoor space where any teams that had made it to the tournament could play in "pick up" games where any college coaches who did manage to get to St. Louis could still see players for recruiting purposes. Which goes to show if they come it will run. I was just in Orlando during the Disney Soccer Showcase Tournament. The tournament for the boys was due to begin the day after the snows in the northeast began. Luckily the stories I heard were of teams that got out of New York City or Boston or Philadelphia on the last flights before the airports shut down, so Disney only had two teams not make it. Had the snow fallen 12 hours sooner, the organizers would have faced a huge rescheduling mess. But there would have been a tournament.

That tenacity to play no matter what gives soccer a bulldog image. I've attended games where the fans had to sweep the lines free of snow, where sand bags held back flood waters just feet away from where I was sitting, where the artificial turf was so hot that the ARs' soles melted, and where we had so many lightning delays that the game took four hours to play. Now I know a few other sports carry the same postal service "can do" attitude and play in any weather, but American football players have the advantage of more clothing and rugby players are generally even crazier than soccer players. 

Like the postal service, soccer will play in snow, rain, heat, gloom of night, and winds. We can't always guarantee that the weather will let us get to the game, but once there, the show will go on. During one lightning delayed game we parents had to surround the field as best we could with our cars and illuminate the field for the last 15 minutes in order to get the game completed. A quick trip to a local store yielded enough hats, gloves, and blankets to keep the team warm during a sudden snow storm in Fort Wayne. Mother Nature can prove to also be the Mother of Invention when it comes to getting a soccer game in. Parents new to soccer quickly learn that they shouldn't ask if there will be practice no matter what they see outside their windows. If the fields are too muddy, the play will move to the parking lot or a different field, but it will go on.  Seasoned parents know to keep a broom, shovel, tarp, gloves, hats, and blankets in the car. Hand and foot warmers only complement the preparations. 

While the weather doesn't always cooperate, the soccer creed says that practices and games will go on.  It's a grand tradition that dates back to the original postal motto written by Herodotus in the 5th century B.C. In describing the ancient Persian courier service he writes that nothing will stop them from accomplishing their "appointed course with all speed." Watch any excited 6- year-old soccer player leap onto the pitch under blustery grey skies, and you'll realize that the weather is merely an afterthought. What matters is playing and playing means having fun. So bundle up, grab an umbrella, and enjoy the ride, if you can out of the driveway.
 

Parents ask: Is it too much?

Sam Snow

I often receive inquiries from coaches, administrators and parents involved with the youth soccer scene. Some of the issues provide the opportunity to share information that is of interest to a large number of people. Here's one such exchange.

"As parents of a soccer player, we hear different opinions regarding the kind and number of tournaments our team should attend during any given year, as well as the age when boys are seriously looked at for college soccer recruitment purposes. We would like input from experts like you in this matter.

Our team is U-14 and this year we have gone or plan to go to tournaments in Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Edmond and Tulsa. There is a strong suggestion to attend a tournament either in Las Vegas or Phoenix in the spring. We would like to know your opinion about attending all these different tournaments. How many do you think are necessary for the development of the team, considering the current ranking of our team? Some parents think that there are college soccer recruiters at big tournaments such as the ones in Vegas or Phoenix and this is a good enough reason for our U-14 team to attend. They say recruiters are already looking at 8th graders and they will remember them five years from now. Do you know when serious recruitment begins?"

The good news is that the overwhelming majority of college coaches of men's teams are not recruiting 8th graders. Some of these college coaches will look at high school sophomores but the real recruiting is with juniors and the deal is sealed with seniors. So those college recruiters may indeed be at big tournaments, but they are not watching the U-14 matches.

Now as to the number of tournaments a U-14 team should attend it is approximately two in the fall and two to three, including the state cup, in the spring. Here is the Position Statement from the 55 state association Technical Directors on tournaments in youth soccer.

TOURNAMENT PLAY # 11
       
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 twelve should not play more than 100 minutes per day, and those players older than thirteen 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.
"Thank you so much for your valuable answers; I have forwarded them to all team parents. That won't make me very popular because many are convinced that recruiters will be looking at our team at this young age. Regarding the number of tournaments, it seems like we are going to more tournaments than it is recommended. My question is this: Is there anything parents can do to make a team follow the recommendations from the US Youth Soccer? We have a good coach and we believe his intentions are good, but what can be done when the coach is exceeding the number of tournaments and most parents go along with that, some because they feel we have to support the coach no matter what and others because they don't want to go against the crowd? We want our son to continue to play, but we find ourselves having to go along with decisions that are not based on facts or recommendations from experts and that may even be detrimental in the long run, as you state in your article. Our son does not really have any other choice where we live, he is already on the best team of his age cohort in this town and the team placed second in the state in the spring. My husband and I have suggested we travel less and train more, but this has not had an echo."

Parents should be involved in their child's soccer education just as they are with the academic education. So attend parent meetings, set up meetings with the coaching staff (similar to a parent-teacher conference) and speak to the club administration about the policies and philosophy of the club. Ask for information on the policy for the number of matches and tournaments by age group, for example.

The problem with too many tournaments and/or matches is that it isn't really what parents should pay the soccer club for as the end objective for their child. The focus should be on the training sessions. Just as the focus at a good school is more on the lessons than the examinations. You don't want your child at a school where they take test after test after test and get very few lessons. That's the issue with many soccer clubs. The matches are the tests and the training sessions are the lessons. I am sure that the staff at your state association would be glad to assist your club with any of the aspects of a well-designed club.