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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.

 

Effective Communicators

Sam Snow

Successful Coaches are Effective Communicators

For players to become self-reliant you must not micromanage the game for them.  As a player-centered sport, some coaches become disillusioned as they learn that they are the 'guide on the side' and not the 'sage on the stage'.  In many sports, the coach makes crucial decisions during the competition.  This coach-centered perspective has been handed down to us from other sports and coaching styles of past generations.

"Talking too much is a big danger for a coach.  The words get lost in the wind." – Sir Alex Ferguson

In soccer, players make the primary decisions during the match.  The coach's decisions are of secondary importance.  The ego-centric personality will find coaching soccer troublesome.   During the match you can call out some general reminders, 'mark up' for example, but for the most part remain quiet.  But do indeed yell out praise, loudly!  For the most part, sit and silently observe the match.  It's your players who should be heard the most during a match. 

Now, some team supporters will think that you are not coaching if you are not constantly talking, so you will have to educate them on why this chatter diverts players' attention.  Team supporters too often have their view of the match colored by the professional model and by a view of coaching that is portrayed in the sports media.  In a coach-centered sport with frequent stoppages in play and time-outs, the coach takes on a direct role during the game.  Soccer does not stop except for a serious injury and half-time, so the coach has only an indirect role during the match.

You should attempt to have players play for an extended period of time.  The players are thus asked to solve their own problems on the field instead of having the coach make substitutions in order to solve the problem for them.  Coaches should not 'platoon players' in and out of games in order to wear an opponent down.  Unlike most team sports, soccer is a player's game, not a coach's game.  Substitutions allow for all players to play and will speed development for a greater number of players.  You should decide before the match or tournament what the policy will be regarding substitutions – then stick to it.

One outcome of sensible substitutions and less talk by the coach during matches is room to grow for the players.  In this fertile game environment some of your players will grow as team leaders.  This will begin with a player directing one or two players and, in time, the entire team.  Leaders will guide and inspire the team from within.

"Over-coaching is the worst thing you can do to a player." – Dean Smith

I recommend reading the recent article in Youth Soccer Insider [link].
 

April showers

Susan Boyd

Getting that spring soccer schedule in your hand can be pretty exciting. First of all it indicates that the season is about to start, and after a winter, where for a whole bunch of soccer has been crammed into a turfed warehouse smelling of sweaty gym socks, we're like boarded horses ready to frolic across the fields. Second, it means we can finally put our soccer plans on the calendar. Third, we can look forward to watching our kids play. Last night my husband brought the boys' spring schedule home, which precipitated all kinds of preparations. Besides filling in the calendar, I had to begin thinking about the soccer box. Over the course of the winter I end up pulling things from it because I run out of paper towels and toilet paper, and or I need clean towels to dry off the dogs' muddy feet. So it's time to take an inventory. It's also a time for some anxiety. For those of you enjoying your first spring season, you're in for a roller coaster ride.
 
Let's start with that schedule. Use pencil on your calendar. Every date that you think you have a game, think again. One spring season the boys' teams only played one game on the date scheduled. First, second, and third there's the weather. First the weather affects the fields. You can wake up on game day with the temperature in the 50's, the sun shining, and the sky completely cloud free, only to get the phone call that the rainstorm the night before rendered the fields unplayable. Now the scramble to reschedule begins. It would be relatively easy if this was the only game that had to be rescheduled, but second, the weather affects the game. Spring brings showers. If it's raining badly, games will have to be canceled. It's not just the rain, but the temperature. Little bodies don't retain heat that well, so being drenched in 40 degrees creates health issues. Third, weather affects the length of games. Showers can turn into storms with the attendant lightning. Guidelines say that any thunder means that players need to take shelter until 30 minutes from the last clap of thunder. That means games can go well past their allotted time.   Therefore, games that stretched to later in the day, when the lightning and rain are finally gone, may be canceled because they encroach on previously scheduled games or because the referees couldn't hang around having other commitments on other fields.
 
So be prepared to be flexible. Chances are very good that no matter what part of the country you live in you'll be rescheduling those spring games. Even tournaments face the difficulties of weather related problems. We've traveled hundreds of miles to spend most of the tournament closed up in our hotel trying to prevent pick-up games in the hallways and forming a bond with the pizza delivery person. This rescheduling becomes a nightmare the older the kids get because you run into school dances, field trips, graduations, confirmations, bar and bat mitzvahs, varying spring breaks for team members, and ACT/SAT tests. So be kind to your team manager/administrator. I've been there, done that. I can attest to it being one of the most difficult jobs in the world. There's nothing more demoralizing than finally settling on a rescheduled date only to wake up that morning to claps of thunder and heavy precipitation.   The perception of an "unplayable" day quickly changes as kids grow older. A 45 degree day with some spritzing can trigger phone calls, "Are we playing?" when our kids are eight and a deluge with gale force winds finds everyone at the field on time when our kids are fourteen. We quickly adjust what we consider "bad" weather once we realize the consequences of being too fragile. 
           
So how do you prepare to face the elements? Get your "soccer box" in shape. Every box should contain: paper towels, toilet paper, plastic bags including gallon and 33 gallon sizes, extra soccer socks, extra shin guards, ball pump, extra underwear, hats, gloves, first aid kit (that includes scissors), rain gear, umbrellas, hand warmers, mylar "astronaut" blankets, terry towels, blankets, and water. Add a chair to ensure a place to sit. I have my heated Tempachair that I love and the same company makes a portable heated bleacher seat. But any chair will do. I even have a chair that has a "roof"" so I don't have to hold an umbrella. If the sidelines are ridiculously muddy, you can use one of those 33 gallon plastic bags to put on the ground and keep your feet dry. The soccer box ensures that anything I might need at the fields I have readily available. 
 
Finally, work out with the team how people will get contacted for cancellations. Be sure that you give the team manager any and all numbers where you can be reached. Before the season have each team member write down all his or her conflicts dates so that the team manager can reschedule without having to go back to the team every time to check on availability. There will never be a perfect reschedule – someone will have a conflict – but teams can only do the best they can in these circumstances. Be sure to have some empathy for the difficult task of rescheduling that your team manager has to go through. It's a no-win situation in every circumstance. Coaches hate it because they usually coach more than one team so have multiple disruptions. Referees are difficult to reschedule because remaining available dates get overfilled with games. Players have to sacrifice other activities. Parents have to adjust to new surprises weekend after weekend. Field schedulers have to squeeze games in around practices and limited daylight hours. Everyone has to work together because unfortunately the weather doesn't like to play nice. Be grateful for the spring flowers because showers are inevitable.
 

Competitive Coaches in Academies

Sam Snow

What would you expect your competitive coaches to realistically do for the youth/Academy division of a club?

I have had those paid coaches take charge of a younger age group. So, let's say it's the head coach for the U-17 premier division team in the club. I would have that coach also be in charge of the U-11 age group coaches in the club. He or she would provide three sample lesson plans each month to those U-11 coaches in the club. He would also run one demo session per month for all of the U-11 coaches using one of the club's U-11 teams. The team used for the demo session would change each month. I also require this competitive coach to go to the U-11 matches at home at least one time each month to assess not only the play of the U-11 kids, but also the behavior and game management of the coaches.

Another approach is to have the paid coaches work with several different age groups. For example a coach could work with a U-10, U-13 and U-17 team. This gives continuity to the developmental philosophy since the coach lives the need to develop the younger age groups in preparation for an older age division. The approach also gives the coach a broader experience, thus also developing the coaching staff from within the club.

Finally, no matter the club structure and whether the coaches are paid or volunteer, it is best to rotate coaches every two years. The players grow from the varied experiences of being exposed to different coaches with different styles and approaches to playing the game. Both players and coaches get into routines if they stay together for too long. By rotating the coaches, the coaches have the opportunity to work with either gender, several age groups and levels of play. 
 

Time for March Madness!

Susan Boyd

Do we all have our brackets filled out? Have our favorite teams made the bracket? Did we finally hook up cable just so we could get Tru TV and see every game? And in so doing, how many of us are actually intrigued by "Big Brian The Fortune $eller" now that we've seen the promos a hundred times? How much sleep (and/or work) are we missing to watch all the games? College basketball is the real Fortune $eller.

I wonder when we'll have that intensity for November/December Madness. See, right there is the first problem. The College Soccer Cup runs over two months so we can't create some promotional catch phrase like November Nuttiness (too many syllables anyway) or December Derangement that covers the entire event. There is a bracket with the familiar Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four. So that part of the equation works. The part that works the least is interest. Sports fans haven't yet caught on to the love of soccer the way they have with basketball or football. At least, briefly, ESPN televised the bracket selection without the major hoopla (pun intended) of the basketball brackets. But there is no tier of cable stations showing "every game, every goal."

Such limited college exposure can make the sport seem forgettable, even useless. It's no wonder that many parents discourage their children from participating past the first few years of youth soccer. They see no future in it. With visions of televised games and possible endorsement deals dancing in their heads, parents can quickly forget why 99.9% of kids play a sport. For fun. That's a novel idea, I know. We are inundated with images of slow motion lay-ups and stadiums filled with over 100,000 fans. That's the college sports experience we want for our kids. Not some field buried on the fringes of campus with rickety wooden bleachers scantily covered by a few hundred fans. We are thinking bigger picture – like the wide screens at the sports bars during March Madness.

The reality, of course, is that only a very small percentage of youth players in any sport advance to playing college sports. My sons' high school this year won three state championships so they had a lot of talent. Out of 600 boys who played varsity sports about fifteen signed letters of intent in all sports. That's 2.5%. And as the NCAA ads declare, most college athletes will go pro in something other than sports. So picking a sport solely with an eye towards any advanced play, even high school sports, doesn't make much sense. I agree the difference between going to a high school soccer game and a high school football game can be depressing. But playing something they love gives kids a great sense of pride, a strong self-image, and satisfaction for succeeding at something they enjoy. Girls have always had the problem of getting the same attention for their sports' prowess as the boys. Therefore they recognize better how important playing for passion can be.

The great thing about soccer is how the sport fits so well with players who aren't on the fringes of the developmental bell curve. Basketball you need to be tall, fast, and big. Football you need to be big, fast, and tall. Baseball/Softball you need to be fast, big, and tall. Soccer you need to be fast, smart, and durable. The problem for all the other sports is that you often don't discover if your son or daughter fits the extreme physical demands of those sports until they hit puberty or even later. Therefore they either invest a lot of their youth training for a sport where they physically begin to fall behind, or they find out too late that they have the physical attributes for the sport. Soccer accepts anyone so long as they can develop a "soccer brain" and have the fitness to endure long stretches of running. It's a perfect sport for an athlete of average build.

Of course if we lived in Mexico, or England, or Ghana there'd be no question that our kids played the number one sport. We'd have no worries about their sport being respected, televised, and endorsed. On the downside, we would have to deal with more competition – every kid wants to be a soccer star in most of the rest of the world. So we should actually count ourselves lucky that our kids were smart enough to choose a sport that still has room to grow and can appreciate the dedication of its players to a sport that isn't rich with fans and money. We may not get a month dedicated to watching the best youth players compete, but we have an entire year to watch our kids enjoy themselves.