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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.


Experience in Coaching

Sam Snow

I shared this information with the National Youth License instructors a few days ago. As the article discusses issues in coaching I thought you would enjoy reading it. Regardless of the sport you coach this article provides good insights into the craft of coaching.
Article by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook at

Let's not be too quick to condemn the "bad" coaches. I'll bet the reason Coach Sar gives such good advice is he's paid his dues and learned over time to be the coach he is today. A saying I like: "If you're the same man at 50 as you were at 20 then you've wasted 30 years".

I believe head coaches (for any level team) go through an evolutionary philosophical process if they continue to work with kids. You learn all kinds of lessons and make many important observations along the way. If you accept the fact that most coaches change with time, it gives you a different perspective when you see them behave in certain ways. When you see a coach do something that seems reprehensible, there is a temptation to assign a label, such as "he's a hothead" or "he's way too competitive to be coaching that age group", and overlook the good work that has been done.

Now, such labels may be fitting, but it is important to realize the labels only fit for a given point in time. As an administrator, or a parent whose child may play for such a coach, it may be unfair to write him off, especially if he (or she) is young. People will change as they learn. The same is true of coaches. Give them a chance to grow. Sometimes coaching peers, parents and administrators come down much too harshly when a new coach strays from path of popular acceptability. In most cases, coaches have little or no training in their new role. A little advice from the right folks may be all they need, rather than an avalanche of criticism.

So, when you meet a coach or see him perform in a game or practice for the first time, you can gauge where he's at in his philosophical evolution. There is a progressive path from the neophyte coach (like some young player's ordinary dad or mom) to a coaching ideal like John Wooden. Obviously, most people won't coach long enough or be dedicated enough to go the whole distance, but it is a path that should be followed as best and as far as you can while you coach.

The first thing most brand new coaches want is validation that they CAN coach. They get that feedback from their W/L%, and somewhat from parents and peers. That's why new coaches are into the trick Ds and are hollering at their ten year olds. This is especially true if the coach used to be a good player. They will assume they can coach because they were successful in the past. They will assume they know more than their peers. And, because former players are inherently competitive, they will be highly motivated to prove their assumptions are true. If they are unable to achieve the validation they usually quit.

The next phase, for the survivors, is education. They realize they could do better. They go to camps, buy tapes, read books and websites. They listen keenly to other coaches hoping to absorb their experience as quickly as possible. This is an exciting phase as they gain more coaching tools. The point is, with more tools, they can make their teams better and win more games. It's an extension of the validation process. Winning is extremely important because it proves the coach is qualified.

Some people, again they are usually former star players, come into coaching convinced they do not need to learn anything. The know-it-alls won't educate. They'll coach as long as they win. As soon as they don't get the validation (like they have a weak team one year), they quit. They'll blame the kids for lack of desire, ability or whatever else applies.

What's next? Explanation. Coaches start speaking out as an authority, praising those who coach like them and criticizing those who do not. In this phase, they can see what's wrong with everything. As a spectator, when they watch other teams play, they like to point out what the players need to work on, what the coach should be doing, things like that. If there are other spectators who nod and confirm their observations, it bolsters the coach's own opinion that he is an expert.

With time, coaches move into the edification phase. This is a big improvement over the explanation phase because now their purpose is to simply help people rather than feed personal pride. Coaches in this realm are as happy to help a kid from a different school as they are to help a kid from their own program. They become open with other coaches in sharing ideas and knowledge rather than keeping all they have to offer close to the vest to maintain a competitive edge. Instead of pointing out what others are doing wrong, they encourage others for what they are doing right.

Realization of their true mission as a coach, that's the next phase. Something happens for the better and the coach realizes what happens on the court changes a player off the court. The coach starts emphasizing character traits as well as skills, rethinks playing time, and develops the bottom of the bench. The coach sees his/her team as a waypoint for journeying players rather than a one time seasonal event.

Remember that coaches are very competitive people. Winning is still important, but now it is done through developing people instead of players; teaching fundamental skills, not trick plays; motivating through discipline, not emotional speeches. Developing people means training and conditioning the mind as well as the body, and considering both the spiritual and physical aspects of the person. Once a coach realizes and accepts this mission, coaching becomes much more than a job, much more than a won/loss record.

Given the opportunity, the next phase is implementation. This is the chance to build your own program, doing it the right way, building not just a team but a system where proper fundamentals and discipline can be taught at the outset. At first you may think that it is unfortunate that there are so few opportunities to run your own program given the limited number of schools and similar organizations that promote team sports. I have seen, though, many people who have built their own systems, starting with one team, then adding more, and gaining momentum as others join in the cause to help their kids play better basketball. These grass roots basketball communities are out there and they have high-quality, motivated people.

Last phase I can think of is compensation. Not the money (ha ha!) but the chance to see players who have been in your care and are now grown with kids of their own - maybe even coaching their own teams. That's when you have the satisfaction of knowing you played a part in the bigger picture. As parents and coaches, they will be passing on what they learned from you.

There are probably more phases, I don't know. Ask me in a few more years. Where do you rank in the coaches evolutionary ladder?


The end

Susan Boyd

Sadly this will be my last blog…Maybe not sad for you, but sad for me.  The Magic U16 Boys lost this morning in the final game to the Michigan Wolves 0-2.  The weather was perfect, the field was great, the fans were ready, the teams fired up, and in the end the Wolves prevailed.  It is going to be a long 5-hour ride home.  But the sting will wear off slowly with each mile, and eventually we'll be back to business as usual.  As much as I wanted my son and his teammates to win Midwest Regionals, I can't say I am sad about missing Dallas in late July!

There is something very bittersweet about going so far only to lose, but this wasn't the first time, and it won't be the last.  So it is a good life lesson learned. 

In the end we have to accept that these are only games.  Games may teach us things about ourselves and help us along life's path.  Games may give us pleasure and may mete out disappointment.  Games may be remembered for years.  But in the end a game doesn't solve world hunger, end armed conflict, provide us with a family, give us enlightenment, or answer our prayers. 

A game is a way to test our mettle, to provide us with entertainment, to offer us an opportunity to feel victorious for a moment or dejected for a different moment, and to grant us a group of like-minded individuals to share an afternoon or a tournament with.  After that, we need to knuckle down with being parents, students, caregivers, employees, bosses, friends, and lovers. 

Thanks to Iowa and Des Moines for being such great hosts.  It was a wild ride and great fun.  Good luck to all the US Youth Soccer Region II Champions as they head to Dallas in July.  Let's make our Region proud!!


Let's think about something else right now

Susan Boyd

The Chicago Magic U16 Boys won their semi-final game today against Everest, a team out of Cleveland, Ohio.  I was born in Cleveland, but my loyalties weren't in question.  The boys played very well in awful heat and humidity.  They are now enjoying a movie in a dark, air conditioned theatre on the west side of Des Moines.  Tonight we will enjoy a team dinner and an early lights out as we will be meeting the Michigan Wolves at 8 AM.  Normally I would complain about getting up at 6 AM to arrive at the fields at 6:45 AM, but considering how brutal it was at 10 AM, a few hours earlier to avoid a scorcher would be just fine.  The only blip on the radar is the threat of thunderstorms both tonight and early tomorrow.

I am not really a superstitious person, but at this point I feel the less I think and talk about tomorrow the better.  It's a lot of pressure for these younger players to take on and I don't want to add to it by my obsessing about the event.  So I stayed quiet in the hotel room and watched ""Babel.""

""Babel"" was a bit of a puzzlement to me.   My brother is a screenwriter and his genre, for want of a better term, is dark social comedy (with the exception of Jurassic Park III which provided a lifelong income).  So he usually pokes fun at films that take themselves too seriously.  I haven't talked to him about ""Babel,"" and for all I know he didn't even see it, but I suspect he would have lots fun at the film's expense.

The movie isolates a rather dramatic incident, the accidental shooting of an American tourist in Morocco, and layers the incident with two other side stories of the American's Mexican nanny and the Japanese family from whom the gun came.  While I am usually willing to suspend some level of reality for the sake of dramatic license, this movie really challenged my ability to accept this microcosmic look at the world.  The Mexican nanny through a bizarre set of circumstances ends up wandering in the California desert with the American's two children.   She abandons the children under some bramble to go seek help, stumbles upon a border guard, and despite trying to recover the children, has no idea where she left them.  I thought immediately of Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas in ""The English Patient.""  Except in this film we find out from a rather brusque border guard that the children were recovered, are just fine, and the nanny is to be immediately deported. 

Meanwhile in Tokyo, the daughter of a Japanese business man is facing a psychological breakdown.  And no wonder.  First she is deaf - mute, second she was the first to discover her mother's body after she shot herself, and third, she spends a great deal of the film either nude or flashing someone.  The reason she is in the movie is because her father on a hunting trip to Morocco gave his Moroccan guide a rifle, which was then used by some children to shoot the tourist.  See what I mean by suspension of belief?

In the end the tourist is fine, the nanny is left on a curb in Mexico, and the Japanese businessman comes home to find his daughter naked on the balcony.  I know that there should be some deep meaning to Babel being the land from which all language was dispersed and there is a deaf – mute girl (irony), and even in the most remote of remote villages in Morocco there is a TV with CNN.  I am sure there is some commentary we could make on how small the world is with such coincidences occurring in three separate continents all interrelated.  But I really do chalk it up to imagination. 

In the real world…the one I live, work, and watch movies in…people are pretty normal with normal problems and normal connections.  While I could accept that an American tourist might be shot in Morocco by a gun left by a Japanese man and her nanny was from Mexico, I can't accept that they all have some complex, intense lives, with such complex, intense events.

The only real thing I saw in the film, which I think has to be true over most of the world, is that the Moroccan boys who shoot the rifle have soccer posters on the walls of their hut and the TV in the remote village of Morocco was showing a soccer game.  It makes perfect sense because we all know that soccer is life!


Population unknown

Susan Boyd

I've discovered something in my thus far four-day stay in Des Moines.  While I admit my study won't qualify as scientific, I think I have enough random samplings to satisfy most statistical analyses.  After my experience on my first day in Des Moines unable to discover if I was in a tornado warning county or not, I thought I might try to see if the citizens of Des Moines knew the answer to another common question.  I have asked waitresses, people on the street, cab drivers, police officers, players, and hotel desk clerks and no one in Des Moines knows the population of Des Moines.  No one can even hazard a guess. 

This is even more ironic given the fact that yesterday while watching the College World Series (Oregon State was playing and my husband is an Oregon native) there was an ad from the city of Omaha about 2 hours or so away from Des Moines.  The ad touts the advantages of living and working in Omaha.  I am sure they are advertising in the Des Moines market because they believe that no one in Des Moines will miss a few thousand citizens migrating to Omaha, since they have no idea what the population was to begin with.  In the ad, Omaha brags, ""We are a city of 890,000 residents"" and 890,000 is posted in bold lettering across the entire screen.  Therefore any observant Des Moineser (Des Moinesee – I have no idea) would be able to tell me the population of Omaha without hesitation.

Since I have not conducted my experiment in any other city, I need to be fair to those in Des Moines.  It may be that if I traveled to Nebraska and asked the citizens of Omaha what their population was, they would stare at me and mutter, ""I don't really know.""  And then I could pounce and shout…well the people in Des Moines know!!

Despite not knowing their population and the counties in their immediate area, the people of Des Moines are pretty sharp and definitely nice.  The restaurants in downtown Des Moines are fantastic, very continental and upscale.  I had the best tortellini soup ever at Centro on Locust and an amazing salmon sandwich at Raccoon River Brewing Co.  There's a Japanese restaurant I want to try tonight called Taki Japanese Steakhouse that looks incredibly tasty.  Every person I have bothered about the population was so polite and friendly.  Even the people at Jordan Creek Mall seemed to be right out of Pleasantville. 

Therefore, I am not trying to malign Des Moines at all.  In fact I highly recommend it.  There is a zoo, a very cool Japanese Pagoda on the river that I want to visit before I leave, lots of great little cafes and bars, parks galore, and some stunning architecture including a building that seems to be covered entirely in copper.  Although isolated, the city seems to have been able to attract some cosmopolitan businesses.  So there is a level of sophistication here that one might not expect in a ""corn belt"" city.  I do definitely sing the praises of Des Moines.

Oh, yeah…the Magic won today, so we are on to the semi-finals against Everest.  It was a must win situation and the team came through again.  I am proud and relieved.  I don't even want to dwell on it too much because we did come close to not advancing.  So I would rather be happy for the win, go to a nice restaurant, and see if I can find out the population of Des Moines before I leave.