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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.

 

Genders Practice Together

Sam Snow

Here's an interesting question from a youth coach and the follow up comments on the advantages and disadvantages to separating genders for skill sessions.

First some background: I am preparing for a presentation to an east Texas soccer association who have asked me to help them form an Academy program. I am trying to convince them that an "academy" model that does not form teams, that does not add games to the players' schedules, that does not exclude those who cannot afford it or those who cannot "compete," that is financially accessible to everyone, and that is focused on both players and coach development is the way forward. As such, I am proposing a plan that will offer once weekly skill and athletic development sessions to each of the Association's players in the U-6 through U-10 age groups (coaching education will accompany the sessions). I have been toying with the idea of offering these sessions as coed sessions, and have been trying to find some sources that would argue against this, but I have been unsuccessful so far. Thus far, I have determined the following from my reading:

•Because there are so few cognitive differences between the sexes, keeping both genders together would not necessarily pose any sort of comprehension issues for the players;

•Because the girls will probably be more mature than the boys at this age, but because the boys will probably be a bit more naturally athletic, it would pose each group with some nice physical challenges when they compete against each other (on equally mixed teams in games ranging from 3 v 3 for the youngest ones to 8 v 8 for the oldest group);

•Each gender, but specifically the boys, might be able to glean some ideas on gender issues from the sessions, particularly that the girls can do many, many things just as well or better than they can;

•Because the boys would probably be a bit more naturally athletic and a bit more technical, they might be able to provide the girls with a peer model from whom they can copy and learn technical and physical things;

•I think that mixing the groups would start to provide some unity and some community to the youth soccer scene, the absences of which I think can negatively impact the youth soccer experience;

•The information in the "Y," "Youth Modules," and "E" courses would suggest that mixing genders for U-6 and U-8 is fine, and would probably be beneficial for both groups, but that U-10 might be a stretch.

The consensus, then, would seem to be that there are many benefits and few negatives to coed groups in the U-6 and U-8 age groups, but that this might not hold true in the U-10 age group.
What would be your suggestions on this issue?                                                                                                                
1. Would you recommend offering coed soccer and athletic skills sessions for the U-6 and U-8 age groups?

2. Would you think that coed sessions would necessarily be better than single gender sessions in terms of what is right for the players and in terms of what is right for the Association?

3. Do you think that coed sessions are a practical solution?

Well you've done some good research on the matter and you have found, as we have, that having boys and girls train together on movement education and ball skills in the U-6 and U-8 age groups works just fine. Indeed, based on the mixed gender U-12 training session I witnessed recently in Indianapolis as done by Ian Mulliner, the Technical Director for Illinois, it is not a problem at that age either.

You are correct though that some separation of the genders for soccer training has psychosocial reasons to be gender specific beginning with the U-10 age group. Still, having the genders in joint training sessions in the U-10 and U-12 age groups from time to time is beneficial.

Several years ago I attended a seminar for National Youth License instructors and had to answer a question, among others, on this topic. Here's the question and my answer.
 
Are there gender differences in fundamental motor skills apparent in children under the age of 10?

There is little difference in the athletic abilities of children ten-years-old and younger other than the normal differences between children in maturation rates.  In fact it is often a good idea to have boys and girls on the same team, even perhaps through puberty.

"What are the differences between a boy and a girl before the onset of puberty?  Obviously there are some, but not as many as some people believe.  More dissimilarities, other than the basic sex characteristics, can be found within each sex rather than between the two.

At birth, girls tend to be slightly shorter and lighter than their male counterparts, but these differences soon disappear.  During their childhood years there are no significant differences in their heights and weights.  Girls mature faster; at age six their body cells are about a year nearer maturity than those of boys at that age, and at age 12 or 13 they are two biological years ahead.

Even though there are relatively few biological differences, boys generally score higher on many performance tests.  …it has been found that three through six-year-old boys are better at selected throwing, jumping and running skills than are girls of the same age.  It is not known whether these differences are based entirely on developmental characteristics, or whether social pressures and expectations for girls have limited their activity, resulting in lower scores. There is no reason, on the basis of being female, why girls cannot participate in sports and develop a high degree of skill.

Boys and girls can play with or against one another; the primary concern is that the group be performance-matched and size-matched.

Research has shown that girls who play mostly with boys or in coed groups are more likely to be sports participants when they become women.  When girls have the same expectations and experiences that boys do, the performance gap will narrow." 1

Socially, cognitively and emotionally, children all develop at different rates.  There can be as many differences here within a gender as between the genders.  Physiologically and anatomically there is little difference between children under the age of 10.

"As a general rule, children are able to participate in vigorous exercise training with little risk to health. Nonetheless, sports medicine specialists have advised that certain precautions be taken in conducting sports and exercise programs for children.  Most of the concern derives from the fact that the child's skeleton is immature and undergoing rapid growth.  During this period the skeleton is vulnerable to injuries that if not properly diagnosed and treated can cause permanent damage.

…Many sports medicine authorities believe that the physical well being of young athletes is most likely to be threatened in sports programs that involve a high level of psychological stress.  Of particular concern is parental pressure.  In the absence of excessive pressure, children are unlikely to harm themselves in an athletic training situation.  Consequently, efforts should be made to educate parents and other adults regarding the potential risks and benefits of sports participation for children. Youngsters may benefit from the discipline involved in athletic conditioning and from a modest level of competitive stress.  But there is little to gain and much to lose when overzealous adults pressure young children to train and compete in an excessively stressful environment.  Youth sports should always be conducted with the young athlete's long-term well-being as the first priority." 2

1 Billie Jones, et al., Guide To Effective Coaching, second edition, Dubuque, Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1989, pp. 72-73

2 Russell Pate, et al., Scientific Foundations of Coaching, New York, CBS College Publishing, 1984, pp. 326-327
 

Not Exactly Nostradamus

Susan Boyd

Most pundits like to consider the year in review during this season and with a new decade beginning the review can extend back to 2000. I'd rather look forward – primarily because I don't have that good of a memory and I'm too lazy to do any research. So I'd like to make some predictions about soccer for the coming year.

First, I predict the U.S. Men's National Team will advance out of their bracket during the World Cup this June in South Africa. I also predict I won't be attending. I looked up a few packages for the World Cup and discovered that unless I had been a "retired" CEO for some of the failed banks and brokerage firms last year I couldn't hope to come up with enough money to attend. Most tour packages including airfare begin at $5000 per person. Of course for that price you only get one ticket to one game. Just for fun, since I couldn't afford Economy, I check on First Class. After all, if I can't attend, I may as well not attend on the highest level, which begins at $25,000. I've needed a tooth implant for the past five years which will cost me $1600 after insurance. Every time I get that much money together I have some child related expense. So even if I decided to remain toothless and deprive my children of their education, that $1600 would only take me somewhere over the Atlantic. I'll also go out on a limb and predict that I won't be attending the World Cup in 2014 in Brazil unless I win the lottery which I have been predicting I'll win for the last two decades.

Second, I predict that youth soccer will grow by at least 2 percent this year which is a pretty safe prediction given the fact that high school soccer has grown 72 percent in the past ten years compared to football, basketball, and baseball at 3.4 percent, 5.1 percent, and 7 percent respectively as reported by American Soccer History (http://homepages.sover.net/~spectrum/).   Also our local soccer store opened a new branch last year. I figure any business that expands in last year's economy has to be based on a fairly strong growth curve. Now I just need someone to do a survey to prove me right.

Third, I predict we'll see another major shift in youth soccer training and competition in the next two to three years. In the 12 years my sons have been in youth soccer they have seen the formation of US Club Soccer, the Y-League, Regional League, Red Bull League, USSF Development Academy, and the US Youth Soccer National League. Some new variations on those programs or entirely new programs will arrive on the youth soccer scene to further confuse parents and complicate decision-making. While most changes look good on paper, in practice they end up with lots of bumps requiring either refinement or complete overhauls. Once soccer gets to the numbers here it enjoys in other countries, we'll be able to develop a nationwide training and development model which will provide all youth soccer players with convenient, consistent, and significant opportunities to advance to the higher levels of the sport. For the time being, youth players are well-served by programs supported through US Youth Soccer Association and their local state Soccer Associations. While development isn't perfect, it does exist with identification programs such as US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program and increasingly stronger requirements for coaches' training and licenses.

Finally, I predict that youth soccer will continue to provide players with a great forum for physical fitness, mental development, and fun. There's nothing to compare to watching a six year old streaking towards the goal, shooting, and scoring. The joy on her face can't be erased by the fans' knowledge that she streaked the wrong direction! When kids run on that field, begin to kick the ball around, and discover that they can actually look just like the pros they see on TV, the pride and pleasure are priceless. I think the real allure of soccer comes from how easily anyone can play the game. You don't really need any equipment. Many kids around the world don't even have a ball. As long as players have an open area with something round to kick, they can play soccer. This is a sport that comes from the heart of the player. So I predict the more we play, the more we'll love the game.
 

Why No Keeper until U-10?

Sam Snow

Here is the Position Statement of the 55 state association Technical Directors on the position of goalkeeper.

We believe that goalkeepers should not be a feature of play at the U-6 and U-8 age groups. All players in these age groups should be allowed to run around the field and chase the "toy," a.k.a – the ball. For teams in the U-10 and older age groups, goalkeepers should become a regular feature of play. However, young players in the U-10, U-12 and U-14 age groups should not begin to specialize in any position at this time in their development.
 
The analysis of most soccer experts is that small-sided games for young children are most beneficial for learning basic motor skills, learning basic rules and fundamental concepts of the game. They also learn how to interact with their peers within a game involving a ball. What is not supported is the use of goalkeepers in this format. Children want to run, kick the ball and score goals. Every child should experience the triumph and success of scoring a goal. They don't do well when told to stand in one place. If the action is at the other end of the field, a young goalkeeper will find some other activity to hold his or her attention.

Young children have great difficulty tracking moving objects, especially if they are in the air. Most will duck or throw hands in front of the face if the ball comes toward the head. Children younger than ten are very reactionary in their movement behavior. Anticipating where the ball might be played is a skill that has not yet developed. This ability does not really develop until age nine or ten. Prior to age nine visual tracking acuity is not fully developed. Players have difficulty accurately tracking long kicks or the ball above the ground.  Beginning at approximately age ten one's visual tracking acuity achieves an adult pattern. 

Striking the ball at a small target accurately is a challenge for all children. Goalkeepers restrict the opportunities to score goals to a select few players. Young children "stuck in goal" will not develop goalkeeping skills. Young players are more likely to get hit with the ball than to actually "save it."

It is important to wait until children are better able to physically, mentally and emotionally to handle the demands of being a goalkeeper. There are no goalkeepers in the 3 vs. 3 and 4 vs. 4 format through age eight and then introduce goalkeeping in the 6 vs. 6 format beginning at age nine. This still allows plenty of time for children to grow up and be the best goalkeepers they can be and most likely keep them engaged in playing soccer for many years to come. Once players take on the goalkeeper role they tend to grow in the position through three general stages. Those stages are shot blocker, shot stopper and finally goalkeeper.

The shot blocker stage is one where the goalkeeper simply reacts to shots after they have been taken. He or she tries to get into position to make saves and these literally are sometimes merely blocking a shot and not making a clean catch. The attacking role of the shot blocker is usually just a punt of the ball downfield.

At the shot stopper stage a player has progressed to not only making saves after a shot is taken but also being able to anticipate shots. With this improved ability to read the game the shot stopper gets into better positions to make saves and begins to stop shots from being taken in the first place. The shot stopper now comes out on through balls and collects them before a shot is taken. The shot stopper also cuts out crosses before opponents can get to the ball. The shot stopper comes out in one-on-one situations and takes the ball off the attacker's feet. The shot stopper can deal with the ball both before and after a shot is made. Distribution with some tactical thought on the attack is also developing for the shot stopper.

The goalkeeper stage sees your player with all of the talents of the shot stopper and then some. The goalkeeper is the complete package. The goalkeeper is highly athletic and physically fit. The goalkeeper is mentally tough, composed and confident. The goalkeeper has the full set of skills for the role to both win the ball (defending techniques) and to distribute the ball (attacking techniques). A full-fledged goalkeeper is indeed the last line of defense and the first line of attack. A goalkeeper not only makes saves but contributes to the attack with tactical and skillful distribution of the ball. The goalkeeper is physically and verbally connected to the rest of the team no matter where the ball is on the field. A first-rate goalkeeper is mentally involved in the entire match and is therefore physically ready when the time comes to perform.[i]

So from U-10 to U-19 teach players when they are in goal to follow these rules.

Cardinal Rules of Goalkeeping [ii]

1.      
Go for everything!
You may not be able to stop every shot that comes your way, but if you make the attempt you will find that you are stopping shots you never before thought possible. You will also have the personal satisfaction that at least you made the attempt and your teammates will be more forgiving even if you miss.

2.      
After a save – get up quickly!
If you have gone to the ground to make a save get back on your feet as fast as possible. Look for a fast break distribution or to direct your teammates into position to receive a build-up distribution. This aspect is particularly important if you are injured. You cannot show weakness, you may tend to your injury after you have started the counterattack. This will particularly intimidate your opponents and raise the confidence in your teammates.
 
3.       Do not be half-hearted --- 100% effort!
Every time you make a play it must be with all of your ability. If you go half way you will miss saves and injure yourself.

4.      
Communicate loudly!
You must constantly give brief instructions when on defense. When your team is on the attack, come to the top of your penalty area or beyond and talk to your teammates and offer support to the defenders. Be mentally involved in the entire match, no matter where the ball is.

5.      
No excuses! No whining! Just get on with the match.
If a goal is scored against you, a corner kick is given up or the shot is a near miss, do NOT yell at your teammates even if it's their fault. Do NOT hang your head; kick the ground or the post if it was your fault. During the match is no time to point fingers or make excuses. The play is over, it's ancient history; get on with playing the remainder of the match. Focus on what lies ahead!


[i] Wait Until They're Ready by Dr. David Carr; 2000
[ii] Cardinal Rules of Goalkeeping by Winston Dubose and Sam Snow; 1979
 

Warm-up and Cool-down

Sam Snow

Over the last two years I have made a point of attending matches at the US Youth Soccer National Championship Series, the US Youth Soccer Presidents Cup and the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program Championships. At those tournaments, coaches and tournament organizers need to provide for appropriate warm-up and cool-down for the teams. By and large this is being done for the warm-up, but not for the cool-down. 

Impacting the physical performance was the warm-up, cool-down and off the field habits. While all of the warm-up routines seemed to be well conceived and executed, a few were far too long. A 45 minute warm-up is not needed in heat and humidity. Cool-down was not done at all in some cases and only moderately in other cases. A proper cool-down of about 20-30 minutes is in order at this level of play and in summer conditions. It was noted that some teams took massages away from the fields as a part of their regeneration, which is recommended to all teams.

At all venues appropriate space must be designated for team warm-up and cool-down. With so little time between matches the game field itself is not always available to meet these needs. A part of venue selection and layout must be adequate and safe areas blocked off for team preparations. At the end of a match the teams need to complete a cool-down and the two teams coming on need to continue their warm-up. The teams in the cool-down phase should adequately hydrate, then move their gear to the touchline beside the end quarter of the field and then conduct the cool-down in the area designated in the diagram below. The teams in the warm-up phase have the rest of the pitch to use. The teams in the cool-down phase may use the designated area for ten minutes and then clear that space for the teams in the warm-up phase.

alt