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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.

 

Realizing player potential No. 3

Sam Snow

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.
 

The Empirical Strikes Back

Susan Boyd

I don't believe much in statistics. As an undergraduate math minor I assisted a professor in proofing her textbook on probability and statistics. I'm well aware of the various statistical measures a researcher can use to create a favorable or unfavorable statistical result. Surveys can be carefully constructed to elicit skewed responses. Would you rather have a warehouse store in your neighborhood or a prisoner half-way house? Surprise! Survey shows overwhelming support for the construction of Costco. Or a political ad might go something like this: Joe Smith would be a powerful law and order district attorney because as a prosecutor he has had less than two per cent of his convictions overturned on appeal. What they fail to tell you is that his conviction rate is only one per cent. So when someone tells me what the numbers say, I'm naturally skeptical.

Those experts reading trends, interpreting spikes in surveys, watching registrations, recording attendance, and generally keeping their noses in the data don't "see" the big picture. The proof that youth soccer is flourishing in this country can be seen by anyone even if they don't have the benefit of the numbers. I trust the empirical evidence more than number crunching because it's my vision that I trust rather than some statistician's conclusion. True my observations aren't scientifically supported, yet pragmatic factors can carry more weight because everyone can judge for him or herself how reasonable the conclusions are.  Following are three purely empirical indicators that youth soccer continues to expand.

This morning I was searching through the on screen TV guide for something interesting to watch while I cleaned my bedroom. When I spotted it, I couldn't believe it, but there it was – an entire half day of soccer - not on Fox Soccer Channel, not on ESPN's platoon of channels, not on any of the Spanish language channels, all of which are my usual haunts for finding soccer to watch. Instead it was on the Time-Warner Wisconsin Sports Channel famous for showing marathons of fishing programs and the occasional high school sports state final. Now they were showing the U.S Youth Soccer Wisconsin State Championships for U13 boys and girls, and not the finals mind you, but third round games. These were well-produced programs with two commentators, two cameras, and relatively sophisticated editing and graphics.   It wasn't high definition but the commentators actually knew the players' names and talked intelligently about the teams, the coaching choices, and the on field strategies. Now I seriously doubt that a public service of the cable company would have abandoned their treasure trove of cheaply and easily produced fishing programs for this far more complicated and costly production unless they felt there was an audience for the series. After all they need to answer to their advertising sponsors of which there were at least ten. I might understand showing the final games of the older teams, but the fact that they expanded their coverage to all the age levels at the State Championships and to include third round and semi-final games as well tells me that youth soccer, at least in Wisconsin, is making an impact.

Speaking of advertisers, over the course of the last ten years there has been a huge increase of soccer related advertising, even for products that have little or nothing to do with soccer. Just this month an ad for a pain reliever begins with a grimacing woman being "side-lined" by headache pain. She then takes the product and is now on the "side-lines" of her child's soccer game. A decade ago the same campaign would have ended on the side-lines of a football game. At first blush soccer has little to do with a kitchen floor cleaner. But I'll admit anything that gets up the worst soccer cleat marks has an important connection to the sport, at least for me. I developed soccer parent knees from crawling around scrubbing the tiles in my kitchen. But the advertiser could have shown baseball cleats or football cleats or even track cleats. Instead it chose a soccer team to run across that poor kitchen floor.

While watching the crowds at a July 4th celebration I was struck by how many people were wearing soccer apparel. Now I suppose this approaches a statistical analysis, but I did finally decide to count the number of soccer shirts and shorts compared to the number of "other." Better than half the people were wearing some soccer gear. Just to prove my observations weren't skewed, I was not at a soccer team function or even near a soccer field. This was just a gathering of people from the town who came to eat corn on the cob, watch some fireworks, and flaunt their interest in soccer.

With approximately 3.8 million registered youth soccer players in the United States of which 3 million are registered with US Youth Soccer, a lot of kids with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are linked to soccer. That's a giant size target group. According to US Youth Soccer its membership has grown in thirty five years from 100,000 players to the 3 million today. That's just what the numbers say, but anyone with eyes and ears can bear witness to the increased influence of soccer on everyday life. Even President Obama takes time out from his schedule to go see his daughters play and has endorsed the U.S. bid to FIFA to host the 2018 World Cup.  We last hosted in 1994 with a huge impact on interest in the sport in America. Just imagine what the 2018 World Cup in America could do to boost youth soccer interest even further. I'm sure people will create statistics to attempt to answer that question long before it actually happens.  I say let's just wait and watch.   If present observations are any indication I predict we may be seeing network feeds of U5 games by 2019!
 

No. 2 Goalkeeping

Sam Snow

We believe that goalkeepers should not be a feature of play at the U6 and the U8 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 and U-12 age groups should not begin to specialize in any position at this time in their development.
 

Calendars and Coins

Susan Boyd

This is a cautionary tale for all of you who encourage your children to reach for the next level in life's endeavors. I'm all for raising the bar for my kids. So I'm not suggesting we shouldn't aim for the next target. But as we step up the ladder we need to anticipate how much more complex the journey becomes.   Many a parent suddenly finds themselves dropped in a whirlpool of demands with no means of escape. Schedules, finances, sacrifices, and time double, triple, even quadruple in an exponential fashion. You can't just take soccer to the repair shop and ask someone to install more time like installing memory in your computer. Parents and kids get stuck with too full a calendar and too expensive a lifestyle. We want to have it all, but we can't always manage it.

Since many players have completed or are completing their tryouts for the fall, now is the time to take stock of what will be expected.   Too often we're so excited that our kids made the select team or got a spot in a prestigious club, that we forget a lot comes along with that honor. Our insurance agent was so excited that his son made the select team, but he didn't even know which club! I imagine he also doesn't know what he's in for as far as hours and dollars are concerned.  To help slow down the demands, parents need to do two important things before the season begins. 

First and foremost now is the moment to do time management. Clubs, coaches, and other team parents will have expectations for the team. You've been told to buy into them or else. This is "time" extortion that preys on our desire to do the best for our kids. You can give yourself some breathing room by creating a small "ransom" of time now. Buy a huge calendar, a red marker, a blue marker, and a bunch of colored highlighters. Sit down as a family and figure out to the best of your abilities what demands there will be on your time outside of soccer as well as in soccer.   Keep in mind as many of the activities as you can. Look at the school calendar to figure out when the dances, recitals, parent conferences, open houses, and field trips will occur. Be sure to include every child's school demands because unless you keep a clone of yourself on ice, you will need to be two or three places at the same time on occasion.   Add in church classes, music lessons, other sports, and your own schedule such as board meetings or exercise class. And don't forget to fold in any volunteer requirements for the team. Write each thing in the appropriate calendar square in time order and highlight with a different color for each family member.  Where conflicts occur use the red marker to place a check where you will need to find a ride for your children. Use the blue marker to place a check where you will be the transportation (so you also know when you can provide a carpool for another family). Don't forget family vacations, events (weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthdays, etc.), and those ever present soccer trips. Finally fold in time for just relaxing. Kids will be much more energized to go to practice if they don't feel they have sacrificed their social life to do so. If it means missing two practices a month, don't sweat it. Soccer will survive, the team will survive, and you need to survive!

Second, make up a family budget now. Looking at the calendar, figure out the expenses the various activities will incur. Usually we're not thinking about anything but the immediate expense of club dues. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. You don't want to put your family in deep debt to fulfill soccer needs. Find ways to economize. As much as I loved seeing my boys play, it wasn't always practical to go to every tournament. By sending a boy with another team family, we could save the expense of our travel. Similarly, we helped out for other families who needed to send their sons on other events. In addition, there's no reason for eighteen or twenty cars to head to a tournament two hours away. Using your calendar, figure out events where you might carpool two or three families together and share the gas costs. Then begin to set up those carpools now rather than waiting. If you begin to crunch the numbers and find that you just don't have the money to fly to Florida or North Carolina for a tournament, then talk to the coach now. The club may be sending the coaches down on a group airfare that you can get in on or someone may have airline miles they can use to pay for the ticket.   The club may even have a plan for families to do extra volunteer work for the cost of an airline ticket or you may have a talent you can barter such as plumbing, landscaping, data entry or painting which saves the club an expense. Most importantly don't have any hesitation to ask. And by planning ahead you may find a way for your son or daughter to earn the money. Just remember that you can only do as much as your finances allow and that's the way it is.

It's amazing how quickly and insidiously the tiny demands of being on a soccer team can begin to pile up. The only relief is planning early. Make sure the club is very clear about time and financial demands. The coaches get their way paid when they go to tournaments and away games, so they often aren't thinking about expenses. Just don't be shy about asking. And don't be shy to demand that group hotel rooms are kept to a certain maximum amount a night. Believe me, you won't be the only one who thinks $139 a night is exorbitant, but you may be the only one to speak up. In fact if you need good control over these types of expenses, feel free to volunteer to be the team travel secretary! If you don't plan and you don't put your foot down, you can find yourself drowning in an overscheduled and expensive life. Soccer is supposed to be first and foremost fun. Make sure it stays that way for your family.