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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.

 

Strategy for National Development

Sam Snow

Last week I attended the U.S. Soccer + SPARQ Player Development Summit on the Nike campus in Beaverton, OR. There were 150 coaches and administrators in attendance to learn firsthand about the U.S. Soccer Curriculum. The Summit lasted for two and half days, proving to be quite productive. 

The Summit opened with a friendly match between the U-18 Men's National Team (MNT) and the Portland Timbers. It's always nice to open a soccer event with some quality soccer. From their performance, there's no doubt we'll see some of the U-18 MNT players in MLS in the near future.

Once we were settled in for the Summit we had the pleasure of listening to Dan Coyle, the author of The Talent Code. Hearing the author give us the ideas he had behind writing the book was interesting, learning more about the potential that everyone has to grow their talent was inspiring. We learned more about the role of adversity in talent growth (overcoming challenges), the hard work that must go into becoming topnotch in any endeavor, that talent is a continuous construction process, the need to put older players into the view of younger players (role models and inspiration), the 10 year rule (10,000 hours of deliberate practice and play) and more. I wonder how many youth soccer coaches put in 10,000 hours of study and practical experience into developing their craft of coaching?

The second day of the Summit began with Claudio Reyna giving us the reasons behind the U.S. Soccer Curriculum. It points us toward a national style of play. It gives clubs a curriculum for development to supplement the Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States document. The Curriculum can be found in sections and in whole via this link: http://www.ussoccer.com/Coaches/Coaching-Education/Coaching-Home.aspx.

Following Coach Reyna's presentation of the Curriculum, a presentation was made by Paco de Miguel on the fitness component in high level training sessions for older adolescent players. That afternoon Mr. de Miguel demonstrated exercises done in a manner challenge both fitness and technique using the U-18 MNT players. His session was followed by Brian McBride conducting a session on technical functional training for strikers. The majority of these three sessions was aimed at the Developmental Academy coaches in attendance so the practical sessions were all right on the money for U-18 and older players.

The afternoon concluded with an opportunity for questions and answers with the day's presenters. Many good questions were asked with mostly quality answers. However little was discussed about Zone 1 and the aspects of the Curriculum aimed at our youngest players.

A member breakout meeting was held that evening for coaching education. The meeting was chaired by Dave Chesler, U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Education and Scott Flood, U.S. Soccer Manager of Coaching Programs. Other representatives of U.S. Soccer included Dan Flynn, General Secretary and Claudio Reyna, Youth Technical Director. The US Youth Soccer Coaching Committee attended the meeting as well as representatives of other youth organizations. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time that U.S. Soccer had held a meeting with its members directly on coaching education. The meeting was well received and productive. The meeting covered the current initiatives in coaching education, specifically:

a)     
A.I.M. current course sequence ( Assess + Integrate Curriculum + Modify)
b)      Evaluate, expand and develop instructional staff
c)       Connect with members
d)      Identify key technical and education leaders (member organizations)
e)      Focal points in education of coaches (member organizations)

There is a desire by the organizations represented to better coordinate the coaching education offerings for soccer in America. In the near future, you will see an expansion of offerings from U.S. Soccer, US Youth Soccer and their state associations. Another example of improved cooperation on coaching education, Paul Payne, President for the NSCAA, and I are speaking to have the two organizations conventions complement one another on the themes for coaching development that are offered.

On the final day of the Summit we were given an in-depth presentation by SPARQ. That theory session was followed by a very useful field session on fitness training in a practical way for soccer. For coaches of teenaged players the information delivered should be used consistently in their seasonal training plan.

The U.S. Soccer Curriculum will be laced into the "E" to "A" License courses. The National Youth License curriculum for Zone 1 remains largely unchanged. I think at this time, aspects of the Curriculum specific to the Zone 1 age groups of U-6 to U-12 need some revision. I think the aspects of the Curriculum pertaining to Zones II and III are very good and I encourage clubs to utilize that information immediately.

I am quite pleased to have our national governing body, U.S. Soccer, step up and take a leadership role with a game plan for player development. This Curriculum along with Best Practices and the materials produced for coaches by US Youth Soccer should supply both paid and volunteer youth soccer coaches with guidance on the appropriate environments for players aged 5 to 19. In time, I think that foundation will help American soccer clubs create a healthy soccer culture.

There is more communication taking place between the coaching departments of U.S. Soccer and US Youth Soccer (representing the 55 state associations) and this is bearing fruit already. Naturally there will be challenges to face along the way. The attitude today is to work together on those challenges; in other words teamwork. No one organization can shift the American soccer landscape alone. We are moving forward!

Representing US Youth Soccer at the summit were myself and:

- Dr. David Carr, co-author of the National Youth License
- Dr. Lew Atkinson, Delaware Youth Soccer Technical Director and US Youth Soccer Region I representative
- Ian Mulliner, Illinois Youth Soccer Technical Director and US Youth Soccer Region II representative
- Mike Stickler, Florida Youth Soccer Technical Director and US Youth Soccer Region III representative
- Mike Smith, Oregon Youth Soccer Technical Director and US Youth Soccer Region IV representative
- Gary White, Washington Youth Soccer Technical Director
- Steve Hoffman, California Youth Soccer – South Technical Director and U.S. Soccer Women's Task Force member
- Jay Hoffman, Region I US Youth Soccer ODP Boys head coach
 

On Holiday

Susan Boyd

We have two soccer games to watch tonight, the night before Good Friday. I'm guessing the powers that be decided to squeeze in as much soccer before families begin to celebrate the holiday. Here in the Midwest, we have to use our weekends frugally since so few of them are soccer friendly. We actually had three inches of ice on the ground just two days ago. It looked like a giant slushy scene from "Glee," all gooey and slurpy across the landscape. And last weekend the boys played a game in the rain which turned to snow just as the game ended. It's hard to believe that we are just eight days from May.
           
Playing games during holidays isn't unusual in youth soccer. Last May was the first Mother's Day I didn't have a game to attend. We never make plans over Labor Day weekend because I know there will be plenty of games scheduled. We have been to tournaments over Easter, Memorial Day weekend and July 4th, missed trick or treating, spent Father's Day on the road and, of course, Mother's Day on the sidelines. 
           
Youth soccer isn't meant to overtake your life, although sometimes that's exactly what it does. As youth soccer has grown in America, so have the opportunities for kids to compete. Traveling to tournaments, playing in summer leagues, indoor soccer, and multiple recreational leagues can be a benefit or a curse depending on how it all affects family dynamics. We can quickly get caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment, not considering how this will impact our lives going forward. Everything comes with a cost both in time and money, so families have to take a breath and decide how deep they want to dive. It's not unusual now for clubs to send their youngest teams to tournaments in the area, and I know from experience that many families, wanting to engage in the "full" soccer package, clamor for traveling tournaments as well. 
           
It's important to keep things in perspective. While traveling to some exotic city like Rockford, Illinois or Evansville, Indiana and staying at a Motel 6 sounds enticing, it's not always as glamorous as one might believe. And giving up other family adventures for a traveling tournament needs to take into regard everyone in the family. Once you agree to a more complicated team schedule it's rare to have it simplify. Be sure you really want and are able to handle the extra time and money costs that leaping into a traveling team entails. Adult peer pressure can be very tough to resist, especially when you've been given the opportunity to participate with the "in" crowd.
           
That adult peer pressure can also be fairly insensitive when it comes to families wanting to share significant holidays alone and not with their soccer friends. Many families take their religious celebrations very seriously and consider them an important and significant part of their children's upbringing. So teams need to be sensitive to those priorities when it comes to events like Easter and Yom Kippur. No one should make a family feel unreasonable for insisting on forgoing a soccer game for a family commemoration, nor should a family feel shy about declining to participate in a game for whatever reasons they deem fit.   Youth soccer will give way to Select soccer soon enough, so no one needs to rush the transition if they don't feel ready to do so.
           
We have always enjoyed the routine that soccer brought to our family, but we were lucky that we had two kids close in age who enjoyed the same sport. Had they had different interests, or been further apart in age, or hadn't been our last two kids, then we would probably have had very different priorities.   For the first five years of their soccer playing they were in the same club with the same tournament schedule, so our calendar was full but had a natural pairing of events that made it easy to do things as a family. For others the management of family time wasn't as easy. We all need to be accepting of the limitations that each family places on soccer playing, especially when it comes to holidays since those are the times when memories are built. Clubs can be sensitive to scheduling by avoiding religious holidays when possible.
           
Most of us want our kids to develop not only a passion for activities but a talent for them as well. When it comes to soccer, this usually means a strong year-round dedication to the sport. However, there is definitely time for families to resist the full-time commitment until they are sure it's the best decision for everyone involved. Youth soccer should be fun for everyone in the family.   The experiences of youth can only be had once, so families need to make the important decisions on what those experiences will be. Making memories whether on the soccer field or in church or at the family table should be individually directed and accepted. While being a good team member is an important part of learning commitment and responsibility, so is sharing family traditions. We each need to decide how we'll celebrate the holidays and respect the decisions those around us make. I guaranteed soccer will survive no matter what we decide.
 

What's in name?

Susan Boyd

I had forgotten how much fun the names of youth sports teams can be. Once the boys moved up to U-11 and began playing for select teams they had these sophisticated names that mirrored professional teams in England or South America. The sudden shift to "adult" names also meant a shift to "adult" uniforms, "adult" cleats, and "adult" schedules with an accompanying "adult" price tag. Gone were the days when I could write a check in the two or low three digit range. However, I just got an email with the spring soccer schedule for a grandson. His team is the Vipers, and all the happy memories of those wild team names came flooding back.
 
We had Tigers, Leopards, Eagles, Rattlers, Lightning and Jaguars. Uniform colors were hit or miss since teams got assigned the uniforms without regard to their names. Robbie's Leopard team had orange uniforms so I kept cheering them on as the Tigers, which was Bryce's team at the time and he had green uniforms. As an alternate they would use a white t-shirt with an iron-on number. The shorts were glossy satin, the socks the same color as their jerseys, and the cleats black. Life was definitely less complicated. 
 
The tradition of animal names comes from pro baseball and football. We connect to those names from both experience and comfort. Kids know about the Chicago Bears, the Florida Marlins, and the Seattle Seahawks. So it's not surprising that they naturally latch unto those labels. Without the strong tradition of soccer found in other countries in the world, they either aren't aware of or comfortable with names like Manchester United or Boca Juniors. Our tradition of team signatures usually means a trip to the zoo or the Weather Channel. Occasionally we borrow a group name such as Mariners, Oilers, or Patriots. On the limited end there's a pair of Sox, one color (Reds), a land mass (Rockies) and an aircraft (Jets).
 
Hockey teams provide some of the more innovative and fun names. These owners apparently never wanted to give up those trendy kid team names since we have Penguins, Thrashers, Predators, Flames, Avalanche, and Sabres. There are some dull names like Maple Leafs and Senators. And being a Duck doesn't really seem ferocious enough. But I think having all the standard creature names snapped up by the baseball and football contingent forced some wonderful creativity that kids could definitely appreciate. How cool would it be to hear the sidelines chanting "Go Sharks!"? If I were ten years old I'd want to be the Devils and I'd want my uniforms to be red!
 
Basketball teams follow the animal tradition, but overall their monikers tend to be more subdued: Cavaliers, Jazz, Magic. It's as if the owners felt that the arenas confined any outlandish identification outbursts. Most NBA teams don't have titles that kids would quickly appreciate. In fact most wouldn't even know what the names signify: Knicks, Celtics, Nuggets, 76ers, and Spurs. I think kids would agree that being the Nets or the Clippers doesn't strike the proper image of a terrifying opponent, although Toronto Raptors might find their name appropriated most often. Even the feverish temperature-based names like Blazers, Heat, Suns, and Rockets lack the pizzazz that a kid's sports team should carry.
 
Over the years I have found myself on the sidelines cheering "Go White" or "Go Blue" depending on the color of uniform the team wore that day. It all seems so lackluster compared to being able to cheer on lions, and tigers, and bears. Once the kids move up to those more sophisticated soccer teams, the names take on a very dignified status. They come from the traditions of grand soccer teams around the world. United, Arsenal, FC, Sporting, and Real. About half of the MLS teams adopted names that honor those long lines of soccer team identification. Most families, especially those of kids new to soccer, don't understand these traditions, so they consider the names bland. When the boys' soccer club Mequon United FC merged with the recreational club Mequon Power the new board insisted on getting rid of the United name, not understanding the cache it held in the soccer world. The merged club became Mequon Soccer Club. For many parents the name change held little concern, but for parents who understood the tradition of soccer and coaches who had come up against the team, the name change had the effect of diminishing the quality of the program in their eyes. 
 
Names shouldn't mean that much, but we have seen the battles over team name changes which can sharply divide fans, alumni and players. When Marquette University decided to abandon the name "Warriors" in favor of a more p.c. name "Golden Eagles," the battle was fierce. That's why the Minnesota Lakers became the L.A. Lakers even though Minnesota has 10,000 lakes and L.A. calls ponds "lakes". No one wanted to change the name of the franchise. We become attached to the name and invest our loyalty in the team and its title. Animal and weather related names insure that we won't offend anyone and that we can imbue the team with some ferocious qualities even as the young players prefer watching the clouds drift by. I miss those days and can't wait to cheer on the Vipers this spring and summer. I also love cheering on my sons, who incidentally now play for a team called the Panthers. They even have a "snarl" sound effect for announcements. It's almost like being on the sidelines of their first teams. Almost.
 

Connecting Divisions of Play

Sam Snow

Not long ago, a club director asked this question of me: How would you tie in the youth and the competitive division?

Is there a difference? I know that there is, but more people involved in youth soccer need to understand that it is all competitive. It's just different levels of competition. Toss a ball out in front of two 5-year-olds and they will compete in their own way for the ball. Toss out a ball in front of two 15-year-olds and it will look different than when the 5-year-olds competed for the ball, but it is still competition. Now do the same exercise with two 25-year-olds and you'll have an even more refined picture of 1v1 competition. Still, for each of those ages, over 10 year increments, they are competing at their current level of play.

So tying in divisions of players within the club? Well, I think it has a lot to do with the planned movement of coaches between age groups and levels of play over the years. Even if it is only for a few training sessions, having the coaches work with different levels of play and/or age groups helps the players and the coaches to grow. Furthermore, we should have more mixed ages, genders and levels of play in some of the training sessions. If you take two U-14 teams which play in different levels of play and have them mix together and training together within the club once every four to six weeks then they will all learn and improve in some way from the experience. There will be a better transition then for 2nd division players moving up to 1st division. This approach also builds club unity and identity.

Additionally, our U-16 and older teams should play with adult teams occasionally. The speed of play, tactical level and mental toughness will all be up several notches. That's provided, of course, that the adult team is not beginners themselves. To further the development of the American player we need older teenagers playing with and against adults from time-to-time.