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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.

 

U-10 Travel Soccer?

Sam Snow

Travel soccer at the U10 age level?

So often it is the questions and comments I receive from members of US Youth Soccer that provide useful content for this blog. Here's one more and this time we talk about the U-10 age group.

Our local youth soccer association is dealing with a youth development conundrum with which we hope you can assist. During the past years, we have read many US Youth Soccer technical papers regarding youth development recommendations. Although the assortment of subjects about which advice is given is vast, some of the basic principles, for the younger ages, that we have gleaned from many of these papers are:

1.)    At the "in-house" (i.e., games only against teams within the community) ages (U-6 to U-10) minimize the emphasis on winning, emphasize fun, and teach through fun games, small-sided scrimmages, etc.

2.)    At these in-house ages, emphasize comfort with the ball (i.e., dribbling ability, good touch, etc.).

Our current problem has to do with our U-10 in-house age group. We strongly feel that, at this age, winning should still be de-emphasized and skill development and fun emphasized. In the past 5-7 years, there has been a push to start to "travel" (i.e., travel to play against other communities) at this age U-10 group. In fact, we see that there is a drive, nationwide, to travel at even younger ages! We feel that when teams begin to travel and play against other communities, the emphasis to win is also increased; whether a coach willingly does this, or not. This simply is because of greater pressure from the parents, players, coaches, etc. to beat other communities. Because of this, we also believe that short cuts are more apt to be taken to win a game (i.e., booting the ball up field to the big forward rather than trying to dribble or work the ball up field). Therefore, we have continued to argue against travel at the U-10 level so that our kids can continue to develop during the U-10 level in an environment where winning is not as much of an importance.

The other side's counterpoint is that in-house soccer at the U-10 level is not fun (i.e., not as exciting because of the lower emphasis on winning) so we are losing some kids that are quitting as a result. In order to attempt to address this concern, we have tried to make the U-10 age level more fun by entering the US Youth Soccer Kohl's American Cup, conducting an end-of-season U-10 in-house tournament, bringing in the Pittsburgh Riverhounds or Classic/Cup team DOC's to conduct about half of the U-10 trainings, etc.

Would you please comment and let us know whether we are on the right track and whether we need to modify what we are doing? 

You are indeed on the right track. While travel for the U-10 age group outside of the club is not forbidden, if travel does occur it should be to events that focus on player performance first and outcome of the match second, or even not at all. One such program I suggest you look to for ideas and methods is being run by North Carolina Youth Soccer.

Please also note the directive from the US Youth Soccer Board of Directors from their meeting on March 5, 2011.

2.         The Board encouraged the Coaching Committee to continue to develop an outline for implementation of "academy" programs for players at U-10 and that focus and information regarding skill development be included.

Here too, are a few of the Position Statements from the 55 state associations Technical Directors which pertain to the question.

Age of competitive play

While it is acknowledged and recognized that pre-teen players should be allowed to pursue playing opportunities that meet both their interest and ability level, we strongly discourage environments where players below the age of 12 are forced to meet the same "competitive" demands as their older counterparts therefore we recommend the following:

1.            50% playing time
2.            no league or match results
3.            8 v 8 at U-12

Festivals for players under 10

We believe that Soccer Festivals should replace soccer tournaments for all players under the age of 10. Festivals feature a set number of minutes per event (e.g., 10 games X 10 minutes) with no elimination and no ultimate winner. We also endorse and support the movement to prohibit U-10 teams from traveling to events that promote winning and losing and the awarding of trophies.

Finally here's an excerpt from the soon-to-be released US Youth Soccer Player Development Model.

"NO U-10's should be involved in competitive tournaments or tryouts. Play Days, Jamborees or Festivals where U-10's all get a participation award are fine.

U-10 players should –

1.      Not be exposed to tryouts
2.      Not be labeled 'rec' or 'competitive'
3.      Not be allowed to go to tournaments where there is a winner"

Thank you very much for the feedback, very informative. The problem at our youth association is that our parents are pushing hard for our U-10's to travel in the state league where there are league and match results.  We feel this is unnecessary and causes coaches to take short cuts to win instead of placing more of the emphasis on player development. For that reason, we would like to keep our U-10's playing in our in-house league.

The biggest push to travel is not so much from the players, but from the parents who want to see their kids play like little pros. Little do the parents realize that they are doing more harm than good by ramping up the competitive pressures at such an early age. We feel that there will be plenty of time, in the kids' older years, when we can play to win championships. Any further information you might have on the subject would be very welcome.

You are absolutely right that it tends to be more the adults than the kids who want to push the results oriented environment sooner than later with 10-year-old children. That is contrary to the approach taken by U.S. Soccer and US Youth Soccer. It is also contrary to the research in sports sciences and specifically Long-Term Player Development (LTPD). Take a look at the magazine Olympic Coach, Spring 2004, Volume 16, Number 1 from the U. S. Olympic Committee for the details on LTPD. Also read on the US Youth Soccer website an article that speaks to this topic of too much too soon. Since many adults do not know the timeline for the development of a soccer player they want to push the matter too quickly. To develop a player properly requires patience on the part of the adults.
 

Double Drama

Susan Boyd

I'm pretty sure most of us have had this experience. We're ready to leave the house for soccer practice, or we may have just arrived at the fields, and suddenly there is a complete and inexplicable meltdown on the part of our child. One second we were laughing about the way the dog begged and the next second our child is screaming and flailing uncontrollably. Our queries go unanswered except for a rise in the pitch of the screams. Whatever is the matter will have to wait for discovery until things calm down.

Last summer the big meltdown was because my granddaughter didn't like her pink socks. When I figured it out, I got a pair of adult white socks for her. They extended up to her waist and the heel flopped several inches out the back of her cleat, but her fashion concern wasn't with fit; it was with hue. Robbie went crazy once because he became acutely aware of the label on his shorts rubbing on the small of his back. He rolled on the ground clutching his back and howling in a perfect imitation of Linda Blair in "The Exorcist". I have seen kids lose it over seeing a bee, bringing the wrong water bottle, dropping a cracker on the ground, or believing a goose on the far side of the field was going to attack.

Psychologists could read a lot into these monumental collapses generated by such little worries, citing extreme anxiety over competition or insecurity over separating from parents. Anxiety may play a role, but in my many years of observations and personal experiences, most kids seem to have one or two of these meltdowns during the course of their adolescence that spring from minor issues and resolve into complete peace. Parents shouldn't be too quick to react in a way that feeds into the behavior lending it more importance than it deserves. In other words, don't connect it to the activity by asking loaded questions such as "are you scared to go?" or "do you hate soccer?" Certainly, weekly reluctance to run out to teammates could be a signal that the child isn't ready for that much independent play or that something is amiss in the dynamics with teammates and coaches. You can judge that best by watching practices. But the occasional meltdown seems to be a rite of passage for most young players fed by exhaustion, sugar crashes, and growth spurts.

Once I put white socks on Siobhan and clipped the waistband tag from Robbie's shorts, peace and joy quickly followed, and they trotted gleefully out to the soccer field. Making the proper diagnosis necessary to resolve the situation involved several minutes of listening to syllables exhaled during hysteria and connecting the dots. But once I said, "Do you want different socks?" the siren shut off instantly, there was a relieved nod of the head, and tears gave way to a smile. In most cases the reason for the chaos is innocuous but nearly impossible to ascertain. It requires deciphering that foreign language of sobs which have variable pronunciations. But once discovered, the answer assures tranquility without drama.
Speaking of drama, FC Barcelona and Manchester United will play out an old rivalry in a new venue. On May 28, the teams will meet at Wembley stadium in London for the UEFA Championship. They have met twice before for a UEFA championship, 1991 with Man U triumphing in Sir Alex Ferguson's first European championship with the squad, and again in 2009 with Barcelona taking the cup. They have played one another outside of the championship ten times sharing three wins apiece and taking draws on the remaining four. Obviously the teams are well-matched and should offer a spectacular competition on May 28.

I encourage you to watch the match with your children. Use the experience to both enjoy a great soccer contest and to understand more about the game. Have each viewer pick a player to watch exclusively during the game to see how the player moves off the ball and how that player creates plays. Also study the referees, especially when it comes to offside calls and out of bound balls since these situations cause the most confusion. Take note too of the physicality of the play. Watching the best of the best play gives viewers the opportunity to really get to know the game. Students of the game are usually better players of the game. The match can be seen on FOX television at 2:00 p.m. ET (match begins approximately 2:45 p.m.). You don't need any special sports package or even cable package to see the game, so it's a perfect opportunity for everyone to be able to watch. The pageantry prior to the game rivals the Super Bowl hype and Wembley offers a dramatic venue with its giant arch. Make this drama your Memorial Day weekend tradition!
 

Lack of concern in all sports

Sam Snow

One of the hindrances to the development of American soccer players is over-coaching during a match. Far too many coaches do it and far too many club directors and team parents accept it. Players in their late teens have probably learned to tune out the vociferous coach if they have one. Younger players are less likely to have learned that skill yet. Of course, it's a sad comment to acknowledge that players must learn to tune out a loud mouth coach.

So how have I come to this discussion? Well it stems from a brief e-mail exchange with a club coach and the Technical Director in New Jersey. Take a quick read:

Club coach: Rick, any thoughts as to when the rules of the game may extend unsportsmanlike conduct to coaches? As a youth coach, I often sit in my chair on the sideline and listen to the guys next me trying to give themselves a heart attack. I usually talk to my players when I sub them. It never occurred to me that the other coach yelling would be a problem for my players until I asked one of my players why they chose to make the play they did, they said all they can hear is the other coach yelling and it confused them. I started asking my players and all the way up from U-8 to U-14 have the same issue. If the other guy is loud, then they get distracted. My favorite is when a coach 'yells let it go' for a ball to roll out of bounds and my player stops. I think it is a natural reaction for kids. I know everyone says the parents are an issue and I believe that too, but I think the other coach barking is the same thing as a player from the other team barking in someone's ear. I would love to see the debate on that one.

State coach: Unfortunately these are the remnants of the "over coaching and directing" culture of youth sports-- we have no control over what the opponent's coach does; technically the referee should put the ca bash on that -- could be interpreted as over coaching. I tell the players to only respond to my voice and the referee's whistle.

Indeed over-coaching is a cultural habit in American youth sports with soccer not being an exception. Parents and club administrators not only allow it, but in many cases expect it because they think that's what coaching is. All of us need to work constantly to educate clubs that it is in fact poor coaching if the coach is joy sticking the players around the field. It means that he or she has done a poor job of coaching during training sessions if the players have not been taught to think for themselves.

State coach: It is just unbelievable how the children that Coach D describes in his email stop like the power switch has been turned off when they hear the other coach's voice!

Now why do the parents and administrators put up with over-coaching during a match? Because so many think that's what good coaching is. We all need to make a concentrated effort to educate parents of young players and club directors that the better coaches tend to be the ones who sit and observe during most of the match. Yes, they will yell a few comments and reminders during the match. But they are not the puppet master trying to control every move from the technical area. I would begin my education campaign within a club by sharing an article in Youth Soccer Insider by Claudio Reyna, U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director. 

Claudio Reyna: 'Coaches should sit down', by Mike Woitalla - Thursday, April 21, 2011

This discussion began with the sharing of a blog on the general lack of concern about the player has seeped into all levels of sport. Enjoy and share.

An article to reflect upon your coaching ethics and values…
 

Questions that Matter

Susan Boyd

I heard it again the other day, "That coach isn't giving my son enough playing time."   We've all been there with our sons and daughters, watching the team struggle while our child sits on the bench.   We're normal parents who see our kids through those rose-colored glasses of pride and anticipation, unable to believe that everyone else doesn't see the same abilities and potential. That pride can be a dangerous thing if it leads us to an angry confrontation with the coach. It's important to remember that a myriad of elements goes into any coach's decision about who to play, what position to use a player, how much to play someone, what tournaments to attend, what skills need to be worked on, and how best to convey those skills to the players.
           
Before it even gets to the point of wanting or needing to talk to a coach, parents can help eliminate some of the issues by understanding all the club policies as they relate to player concerns. Most clubs will soon begin registration for fall recreational teams and tryouts for their select programs, so this is a great opportunity to make sure that your child joins a club where the philosophies and policies are most in line with your expectations. For example, what are the playing time policies of your club? If your child is on a recreational team, then playing time should be evenly split among players no matter their skills or their years with the club. Make sure that policy is clearly stated in the club materials, so there won't be any confusion. If the team is a select team, there may still be some playing time minimums that the club will enforce. Also you should check with your league and your state association to determine if they have any policies that member clubs need to adhere to. That will give you a basis for discussion if you believe the coach is ignoring those policies.
           
However, I always encourage the player to talk to the coach first rather than have the parent do it, which can be intimidating for most youth players. Nevertheless, it's a good idea to start there and then if the coach appears to dismiss the concern it opens the door for parents to become involved. I know that coaches always respect the players who try to resolve their issues with the team or the coach, so encourage your child to approach the coach on his or her own. Some issues, however, do require the input of the parent, especially when they affect family concerns such as travel and expense.
           
Before you sign with a club, pin down the coach or the team manager on what the financial obligations will be. It's easy to put in the club literature that the team attends three tournaments a season, but if you're a team in Wisconsin, there's a big difference between tournaments in the state and tournaments in Florida or California or even Ohio. Once you're signed with the team, it's difficult to refuse to attend a tournament that requires airfare, especially when the parents around you are thrilled with the idea. So be sure you understand what ""travel tournament"" means before you place your child on a team. Make sure that all expenses are detailed up front; ask about uniform costs, travel, shared expenses such as lodging for coaches and bus drivers at tournaments, team dinners at tournaments and any mandatory team expenses such as soccer bags, warm-ups, and team dues. These questions should be asked of coaches and club by parents. As long as players need to pay for their training, their parents should have a detailed accounting of what it will cost them.
           
Other issues can be anticipated prior to signing for a club. Attend a few practices of the coach you expect to play under to see how sessions are conducted and if you have any problems with those practices. It's no secret that coaches can be salty in their language and occasionally downright menacing in their directions. Just like you shouldn't expect to change a spouse's behavior, you're not going to change a coach's behavior, so if you are uncomfortable with a coach, find another one. Once your child joins a team there will be very little you can do about how a coach conducts him or herself. You can also check out how many players at your son's or daughter's position are already on the team and what formation the coach uses. If there are four forwards on the team already and the coach uses a single forward, chances are pretty good that playing time for most of the forwards will be limited. And expect that if your son or daughter becomes the newest player on the team that there will be a probationary period resulting in limited playing time.
           
Finally, if you do need to talk to the coach about an issue, stay focused on the issue and don't get personal. Very few of us have as much experience coaching soccer as your child's soccer coach. So trust the coach to see the big picture of which your child is a part. If you truly question the coach's ability to coach then you need to find a new coach – again you're not going to change the coach to your liking. If you think your child is being treated unfairly as compared to others on the team, then again you're better off finding a different team and coach. Be sure that you are also not missing the forest for the trees. If players want to improve they need to possess the basic skills of soccer, the most basic of which is first touch. This means the player can receive the ball on any part of his or her body and move it quickly to their foot without sending it away for an opponent to snap up. Your coach may be working on your child to develop and retain an excellent first touch or some other significant skill before adding the element of competition which could result in developing bad habits. Not playing in a game doesn't necessarily translate to not being considered a good soccer player. Development means taking certain steps and taking them in order. So give the coach time to explain without needing to be defensive against your attack. Ask why rather than why not.
           
Shortly after Robbie switched teams, his new team was playing for the National Championship. We were behind 1-0. Robbie was a forward and had been on the sidelines the entire game. One of our forwards had hurt his hamstring earlier in the week and could barely run, but he remained in the game as the team struggled to overcome their deficit. The coach, who went on to coach in the MLS, made the difficult choice between injured experience and healthy unknown.   He decided that keeping someone in there who understood the team dynamics and tactics and was a known leader would be the best to lift the team even with an injury. In the tournament we had won two games with that injured player to bring us to the championship, so overall it appeared to be a wise decision despite the outcome. Still, Robbie's frustration at not being given a chance to contribute and the team's and parents' frustration at the loss did bring up immediate doubts of the coach's choice. Eventually everyone let the moment pass and no one talked to the coach. That kind of restraint is difficult but necessary. I definitely urge parents and players to remember that they will need lots of bridges so be careful which ones they risk burning.