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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.

 

Tryouts in Youth Soccer

Sam Snow

Recently I received this note from a youth coach.
 
Mr. Snow,
 
I have been working with a recreational soccer organization the past two years. We have been focused on player development and getting all of the kids out there involved. Our program is over 60 percent Under-8, with the rest spread out over the U-10, U-12, and U-14 ranks.
 
After this past season, parents of one team of U-8 boys complained that they didn't think that all three U-8 boys' teams in our organization were balanced amongst each other even though they all had nearly identical records. Long story short, the parents are demanding a tryout scheme be step up before spring soccer starts.
 
There are three USSF certified coaches in the organization and we keep telling the parents and the organization's Board members that the idea of having tryouts for U-8 in a recreational league is silly, but no one seems to be listening to us. Is there anything that the US Youth Soccer Association may have in writing we can show them that may drive this point to them home? We have been having great success by focusing on Player Development and working with all of the kids on all of the skills. The three of us coaches that have gone through training think that the idea of tryouts on such a young age will hurt the program overall because it implies a win at all cost mentality.
 
Hello Coach,
 
The 55 state Technical Directors agree with your stance and have stated so in the Position Statements.  Here are the ones pertinent to your situation.
 
PLAYING NUMBERS – SMALL SIDED GAMES No. 1
The intent is to use small-sided games as the vehicle for match play for players under the age of 12.  Further we wish to promote age/ability appropriate training activities for players' nationwide.  Clubs should use small-sided games as the primary vehicle for the development of skill and the understanding of simple tactics.  Our rationale is that the creation of skill and a passion for the game occurs between the ages of six to 12. 
 
With the correct environment throughout this age period players will both excel and become top players or they will continue to enjoy playing at their own levels and enjoy observing the game at higher levels.  A small-sided game in match play for our younger players create more involvement, more touches of the ball, exposure to simple, realistic decisions and ultimately, more enjoyment.  Players must be challenged at their own age/ability levels to improve performance.  The numbers of players on the field of play will affect levels of competition.
 
Children come to soccer practice to have fun.  They want to run, touch the ball, have the feel of the ball, master it and score.  The environment within which we place players during training sessions and matches should promote all of these desires, not frustrate them.
 
•     We believe that players under the age of six should play games of 3 v 3.  This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate playing environment.  No attempt whatsoever should be made at this age to teach a team formation!  These playing numbers should be implemented by September 1, 2009.
 
•     We believe that players under the age of eight should play games of 4 v 4.  This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate playing environment.  Players in this age group can be exposed to a team formation at the start of the game, but do not be dismayed when it disappears once the ball is rolling.  The intent at this age is to merely plant a seed toward understanding spatial awareness.  These playing numbers should be implemented by September 1, 2009.
 
•     We believe that players under the age of ten should play games of 6 v 6.  This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate playing environment.  The coaching of positions to children under the age of ten is considered intellectually challenging and often situates parent-coaches in a knowledge vacuum.  Additionally, premature structure of U-10 players into positions is often detrimental to the growth of individual skills and tactical awareness.  This problem is particularly acute with players of limited technical ability.  We also believe that the quality of coaching has an impact on the playing numbers.  We recommend that parent-coaches would best serve their U-10 players by holding a Youth Module certificate.  These playing numbers should be implemented by September 1, 2009.
 
•     We believe that players under the age of twelve should play games of 8 v 8.  This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate environment.  The U-12 age group is the dawning of tactical awareness and we feel it is best to teach the players individual and group tactics at this age rather than team tactics.  These playing numbers for the U-11 age group should be implemented by September 1, 2011.  These playing numbers for the U-12 age group should be implemented by September 1, 2012.
 
REALIZING PLAYER POTENTIAL    No. 3
To maximize player potential, we believe that State Associations and progressive clubs should work to expose their better coaches, who should hold the ""Y"" License, to their youngest players.  It is also seen as important that mentoring programs be established for community soccer coaches to improve the quality of youth soccer training.
 
The developmental approach emphasizes the growth of individual skills and group tactical awareness.  We feel too much emphasis is placed on ""team"" play and competition in the preteen years.  We believe in an inclusion model for preteen players.  From this perspective, the goal of youth soccer programs at all levels is to include players in matches at an age when experience is more important than outcome.
 
Further options for players in their teen years that are not interested in competing at the highest level, but still have a love for the game should be created.  Perhaps older teen coed teams or high school based teams on a recreational basis.
 
AGE OF COMPETITIVE PLAY No. 4
While it is acknowledged and recognized that preteen 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 twelve 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 No. 9
      We believe that Soccer Festivals should replace soccer tournaments for all players under the age of ten.  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.
 
I also recommend that you cite the information from the U.S. Soccer document Best Practices to educate your club membership.  http://www.ussoccer.com/articles/viewArticle.jsp_280734.html  I suggest you also contact your state Technical Director who will be able to provide you with further guidance.
 
 
 

Out-Waiting Winter

Susan Boyd

Given the view out my window, it's difficult to believe that anyone will ever be loping across the courtyard dribbling a soccer ball. The temperature is -10° with a wind chill triple that. The snow banks tower over my head as I walk the dogs who scale the banks and disappear behind them only to emerge again at the crest looking like they invaded a powdered sugar factory. Somewhere beneath this winter liability lies green pastures, furrowed keeper zones, and shadows of field lines. Nothing but time will crack this mantle. And so I wait.

In the meantime my family is undergoing horrible withdrawal from televised soccer. While on vacation in Florida (where soccer was being played) our home got extensive damage from ruptured pipes (another winter atrocity). So we have been displaced to a rental home that lacks, for the moment, cable television. We won't have cable until Wednesday so we have had to forego nearly three weeks of Fox Soccer Channel. Since Bryce is home from college, it means nearly his entire visit will have been soccer depleted.

The one bright spot has been Robbie's choice to leave his Chicago soccer team and join a local team. Some prayers are answered! Given the state of our home and my need to oversee electricians, carpenters, welders, plumbers, and city inspectors, driving five hours three or four days a week nearly brought me to me knees. However Robbie began to realize what another year of driving to Chicago meant – long hours in the car, homework done on the fly, and a social life that becomes non-existent   Nevertheless, the move to Chicago soccer had been an excellent choice, the club was amazing, and the benefits for Robbie immeasurable. But now that he has committed to a college, he felt he didn't need to sacrifice quite so much. As proud as I was of him for sticking with the sacrifices and making the most of his opportunities I was even prouder that he recognized when he needed less pressure.

To quote Garrison Keillor, we all live in our own Lake Woebegone where all the children are above average. We need to see our children in the best possible light. Battles for the front-row seats at the kindergarten winter music concert equal battles over Springsteen tickets. The paparazzi can't equal the flash power of the legions of digital cameras recording every 1/60th of a second of the 2nd grade class play. We celebrate graduation from kindergarten. We gather with all the relatives for every U6 soccer game dutifully recorded on high def memory cards. So it's natural we want to encourage, support, and facilitate our children's ascension to the highest levels of their interests. Only hindsight can insure 100% perfection, so we have to muddle through the best we can.   There are a few guidelines to help us, but for the most part we move through the process blindly.

Lots of parents go looking for a better training and exposure experience for their children. For the extremely committed and gifted player, I recommend it. Those players will play soccer for life, so nurturing their talent is no different than nurturing the talent of musician, mathematician, or writer. However, parents need to have the proper perspective to make the decision for sacrifice.   Parents need to immerse themselves in the ""culture"" of soccer. They need to watch soccer every chance they get to see what talent exists and what level of ability their own child needs to aspire to. Everyone should attend college and professional games. Parents should watch foreign soccer on the TV. It's not enough that Suzy scores four goals a game, or that Billy has a string of twenty-four shut-outs. Instead parents need to figure out if the competition is strong enough to make such statistics meaningful. Arrange for your child to guest play with some of the stronger club teams in the state. Then honestly watch your child play. If after all the testing you're convinced they have that extra something to move up to the next level, be sure that's what your child wants to do too! Forcing him to give up social contacts and possibly even grades means that he has to be totally on board. Even then, I can tell you from experience you'll face the days when you want it more than they do. After all, these are kids with all the whims and short-term attention spans that implies. You only need to look at the graveyard of handheld computer games in your drawers to verify this truth.

For those of you in the land where green never gives way to white, then mushy brown, then finally back to green, enjoy your year-round soccer and your light jackets. For the rest of us, winter is a time to be creative and find ways to enjoy soccer even in the snow. If the Packers can play in an ice bowl, why can't the MLS? In the meantime, I'll enjoy my relatively travel-free winter and look forward to my relatively travel-free spring. Oh, and I'll wait in the house on Wednesday for the cable savior to show up and connect us to TV soccer once again.
 

Expectantly

Susan Boyd

With a new year come expectations. Some expectations stay constant: safety, health, happiness. Some are new to the season: lose weight, stop smoking, get a better job.   Soccer parents have expectations too. They expect their child's team to last, they expect some wins and some losses, they expect their child to be free of injury, and they expect to pay a lot for travel.   Occasionally destiny has a way of stepping in, grabbing our expectations, and giving them a good shake before disappearing. Amazingly what we rarely expect is the unexpected.

For those of us in the Midwest, northeast, northwest, and Atlantic coast winter means very little soccer. For some of us we have indoor leagues which provide a fast paced game enveloped in an old sweat sock stink. But for the most part soccer goes on hiatus until the rain, snow, ice, mud, and winds diminish. Here in Milwaukee, once we can see one blade of grass peeking through the black crusted snow soccer season is back on again. With unusual optimism, we expect to hold outdoor games in February. Therefore local teams prepare their schedules with February dates in mind and then reschedule at least twice before finally being able to play. We base our expectations on the one winter in 1966 when temperatures in February rose to 50° F. Never mind that in the ensuing forty years we have never had a February day above 32° F. We stick to our expectations.

For example, we expect that our children's team will stick together. At the younger ages it seems doable. Teams are usually formed by already created groups: neighborhood friends, schoolmates, carpool buddies, etc. So friendships already exist and parental connections have been solidified. Unfortunately, nothing can be done to insure that skill and interest levels will remain constant and similar over the course of those developmental ages. Suddenly one or two players have a break-out talent or some kids just lose interest and want to pursue other sports. Now the cohesiveness of the team gets challenged. Coaches, parents, and players may feel abandoned or even betrayed by someone leaving. The microcosmic society that the team has become begins to play out like a bad soap opera. We had a particularly nasty event when Robbie was U9. The coach decided that the team had unusual talent and wanted to skip over U10 and enter them directly into U11 for the next season. What we parents didn't realize until too late was that the coach felt almost everyone on the team was good enough for the move. I got a tearful phone call one evening from a mom who had been told that her son was no longer welcome on the team. These kids were nine years old and they were already pawns in a ploy to advance the status of the club. All the kids knew were the friendships and bonds they had made on the playing field. No one expected such a nasty shake-up for such a young group of players.

One the other hand, Robbie's first team, a group of neighborhood five year olds, proved to have an unexpected result.   One mom took the applications from all the kids in the neighborhood that were the same age, stapled them together, and presented them to the city recreation program as a complete team. We even had a soccer field in our subdivision, so the kids could walk or ride their bikes to practice. Bruce was their coach along with the father of Robbie's best friend, Andrew. Eventually the team broke up as the kids moved to other sports or other teams, but there wasn't any rancor. The amazing thing was that in the state high school semi-finals, four kids from that team of ten were in the game and all will most-likely be playing D-1 college soccer. No one would expect geographically that that many kids would come not just from the same city, but from the same 174 home subdivision!

We truly don't expect our children to get injured, and we absolutely hope and pray that they don't. This is the one expectation that we can actually control to some extent. Winter is a great time to take your child to the doctor for a ""tune-up."" She has had a fall season to play and put stress on various muscles and bones. In addition, any aggravating condition will certainly have been affected over the course of the season. Let your player talk to the doctor about any aches and pains and let your doctor ask questions which may reveal concerns. I always suggest you take their cleats in, so the doctor can see any pronation of the foot and any stress points that could cause bunions, blisters, or other foot problems. The doctor can help discover possible concerns and suggest ways to resolve or prevent them.

While we can't have every expectation come true, we need to establish expectations just to chart a course for our lives and to give us security. With the New Year I wish everyone's expectations will be surpassed with minimal disappointments.
 

Number of Matches Per Day

Sam Snow

NUMBER OF MATCHES PER DAY
A parent of a youth soccer player recently had this inquiry: ""What are US Youth Soccer's guidelines or rules for member associations to follow when considering limits of games per day for players?  Is there any sanction for coaches that try to ask their players to play four games in one day?""
 
Here's my reply,
Both US Youth Soccer and U.S. Soccer concur in our recommendations for no more than one match per day.  Here is the Position Statement from the state Technical Directors on the matter:

LEAGUE PLAY AND MATCHES PER YEAR  No.13
We believe that the optimal playing and learning environment includes participating in no more than two matches per week.  We also believe that players should not compete in more than one full match per day and no more than two full matches per weekend.  There must be a day of rest between full-length matches.  We strongly oppose the practice of scheduling regular season and/or make-up matches in a manner that results in four full matches in the same week.  Modified FIFA rules apply: no reentry per half for the U-14 and younger age groups and no reentry after substitution for the U-15 and older age groups.  In addition, we believe that players should not compete in more than 40 playing dates in a calendar year.  Players must have one full month off from all soccer activity.
 
Related to this topic is this Position Statement:
TOURNAMENT PLAY  No. 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 12 should not play more than 100 minutes per day, and those players older than 13 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.
 
I also recommend that you and your coach read the Best Practices document from U.S. Soccer.  http://www.ussoccer.com/articles/viewArticle.jsp_280734.html