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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.

 

From a US Youth Soccer ODP parent

Sam Snow

More often than not in this blog you hear my thoughts on various soccer matters and occasionally I am able to share with you the perspective of other coaches or players and today the thoughts of a soccer dad whose oldest child is now venturing into the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program.

Hey Sam – as a former ODP State level player, current youth club coach and competitive adult player I've now entered the world of being an ODP parent. I had my daughter recently tryout for the North Texas State ODP team and the wave of emotions as a dad is crazy. From the initial technical skills evaluation, to the 1 vs. 1 battles to Small-Sided Games and then 11 vs. 11 games, each step of the way it's all about one's own ability in each activity. I found myself evaluating my daughter to hopefully give a little bit of advice between training sessions, but what I realized through the 2-3 month evaluation process is that a kid either has it right now or they don't. I learned to focus on the experience more so than 'making the team' and quite honestly I think my care free demeanor helped my kid relax through the process. Before each session I would tell her "good luck and just play the way you play"…she'd smile and head to her group. She was asked to participate in the sub-Regional which gave her an opportunity to play 11 vs. 11 against the other girls that have already 'made' the travel team. Everyone on her team was under further evaluation for invite to the Regional Camp. This created a big opportunity for stress, but I kept telling myself that the more stressed I act, the more she'll feel it…the first 2 games we had the whole family out to watch and she didn't have her best games, but again she's competing against the best of the best and we headed home and didn't really talk about the games. The next morning we left the family home, showed up to the fields, I gave the same 'good luck and just play the way you play' comment and off she went. Late in the game with the score tied 0-0 she had a nice follow up, tap in goal to give her team the lead and minutes later as time was expiring she was played a nice through ball of which she hit with her off foot, far post for her 2nd goal and the 2-0 win. She was smiling ear to ear and after that final game and the coaches gave the 'we'll let your parents know' speech, she gave me a big hug and off to the swimming pool we went. That's when I concluded, either the kids have it right now or they don't. Making the Regional Camp would be great, but it's not worth the stress or anxiety for the kids if they're not ready yet. This is a long journey and keeping my daughter excited and passionate is more important than anything else right now. I told her she did her best and I'm very proud of her efforts…if it's good enough, she'll travel to the camp and if not we'll just have to work hard and give it another shot next year with kids closer to her age (she's December '98, trying out for '97 birth year).

She got the e-mail invitation to the Regional Camp and she's happy as can be to be included. I'm hoping she can learn from the older girls at the Camp and again, if she's ready, then who knows…maybe she'll make the 'Regional' team.

Just thought I'd share my experience, as others may be going through the same emotional wave and to keep it all in perspective that they're still kids and enjoy the experience as this is not the be all end all and they have many years to grow into themselves as players.
 

Bringing Down the House

Susan Boyd

Take one part political rally, another part Mardi Gras, another part pageant drama, and a good twist of sports fever, stir together and serve in an arena seating at least 55,000 people.  That's the rumble that rolled into Chicago last week.  The United States Men's National team faced off against the Honduran Men's National team in a World Cup qualifier at Soldier Field.  For over two hours the venue became the same powerhouse of soccer energy that plays out regularly in stadiums throughout the rest of the world, yet usually only shows its full force here during these infrequent U. S. major soccer events.  Nevertheless this opportunity to experience the electric passion that soccer generates gave American patrons a significant introduction to the reason soccer holds a commanding position in the sports world.   Soccer is more than just a game.

Two years ago, when Robbie spent two weeks in Spain playing soccer with the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program, he experienced firsthand the intensity of passion soccer generates.  After a beautiful day spent exploring a mountain top chapel and grotto, he entered the stadium at Barcelona.  He was immediately struck with how the stadium reflected many of the same details he had already witnessed that day.  In the chapel sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows and the flickering candlelight danced off the walls and faces of the worshippers.  In the stadium the setting sun glimmered through the frame of the roof, spilling rosy shafts of light across the seats and the faces of the fans.   Thousands of camera flashes glimmered around the arena while overhead stadium lamps filled the pitch with brilliant light.  Robbie had seen an old woman praying at the chapel, her gnarled hands clasp in supplication.  As he walked to his stadium seats, he saw a man on his knees in a Barcelona jersey fervently praying.  While there weren't crowds in the chapel leaping up and down and bellowing out team chants, the parishioners were joined together by a common bond of worship.  Likewise the fans shared an immediate bond that transcended gender, income, race, and even religion.  For those two hours of the game, every fan shared the same wish and the same loyalty.  No one would suggest that soccer takes the place of faith in anyone's life, but Robbie saw how fans treated soccer with the same serious reverence.

Saturday night a taste of that intensity visited Chicago.  A good percentage of the fans were Honduran.  With a total population of 7.5 million in Honduras I would estimate that .05% were in Chicago at the game.  The U.S. was severely underrepresented, but those who came got a great immersion in "true" soccer.  A kettle drum boomed throughout the game, fans never sat down, flags, scarves, and t-shirts swirled non-stop, and flashes lit up the stands.  Every move of the Honduran team from pre-game to post-game was greeted with a deafening roar.  When the trainers trotted over to the bench, the fans went wild!  The various elements of the experience fed off each other, so that the frenzy of the fans rolled like a wave around and over the arena.  The entire city of Chicago could probably have been lit by the energy generated by the fans.  When Honduras scored in the sixth minute it set off a crescendo of exhilaration that lasted nearly the entire game, even after Landon Donovan successfully scored a PK to tie.  It only waned a bit when a Bocanegra goal sent the U.S. into the lead.  The fact that the home team couldn't generate a larger crowd shows how far soccer stills need to grow here.  Other more marketable sports steal away fans and dollars.  But right now soccer is a great value, so hopefully American fans will recognize what an amazing experience they can have for their admission price.

As the four US Youth Soccer Regional Championships begin, hopefully our youth players will get a taste of the soccer fever that visited the U.S. last week.  In these smaller locations, the international level of fan intensity will seem not only out of place but excessive.  But we can still offer our kids enthusiasm.  As one soccer season winds down and another begins, we can also provide opportunities for our kids to watch matches that don't involve just youth players.  Part of what makes for great fans is that they are educated fans.  That happens by watching games at all levels as often as possible.  Few of us get the chance to go overseas to watch games or attend the World Cup, not to mention World Cup qualifiers, Gold Cup, or professional league games.  But college games are abundant and inexpensive.  Some of the best future players can be seen at these soccer games.  If a major youth tournament comes to your town, take time to go watch a few games.  Many of these tournaments have international youth teams attending where you can possibly catch the new David Beckham or Mia Hamm.  We've had the privilege of seeing many of the present soccer stars when they were just U19 players visiting for a tournament.  No matter the venue, immerse yourself in the games that are readily available throughout America.  Then, at the next international game in the U.S. we won't have to listen to the opposition fans.  We'll bring down the house all on our own.

Follow the moments from the US Youth Soccer Regional and National Championships on http://championships.usyouthsoccer.org  

 

Player Development Manual excerpt

Sam Snow

The US Youth Soccer state Technical Directors, the Coaching Committee and the Technical Department are writing a Player Development Model to supplement the U.S. Soccer Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States. The Player Development Model will give clubs a sound curriculum for the development of players from the U-6 to the U-20 age groups. The Player Development Model will be distributed to the US Youth Soccer membership in the near future. Here now for you is an excerpt from the document.

WHAT IS SOCCER?
The beauty of the game is in its simplicity. Within a given set of rules there are two teams who compete to score goals against each other. Each team consists of eleven (or fewer) individuals who must use their abilities to combine cohesively while trying to win the game. It's hard to play simple.

Simplicity is GENIUS!

"Soccer is an art not a science and the game should be played attractively as well as effectively. Soccer is a game of skill, imagination, creativity and decision making.  Coaching should not stifle, but enhance those elements."
Bobby Howe

There are over 5,400 US Youth Soccer clubs across the nation. Each of those clubs has the obligation to provide its members the opportunity to play the game while learning and growing as individuals. The opportunity to participate follows both of the major player development pathways of recreational or select soccer. The recreational pathway includes the US Youth Soccer Presidents Cup and TOPSoccer. The select pathway includes US Youth Soccer Regional Leagues and the National League; the National Championship Series and the Olympic Development Program.

A club must have a model for the development of all players. True player development occurs when each player's daily training and playing environment is of the highest quality. If this environment is consistent, with a clear vision of what lies ahead for the players, development is maximized. To this end a club must have a business plan for staff growth, facilities management and implementation of programming within the club. A club must build, maintain and expand its facilities as one element of the formula to meet this obligation. The club must also provide for the ongoing education of the administrators, coaches, parents and referees, who are the four pillars supporting youth soccer. The core for planned development is a sound curriculum.

"You must love the game and want to share with the players a certain way of life, a way of seeing football."
Arsène Wenger
 

Gutter Balls

Susan Boyd

I saw a television commercial the other night which shows a mom helping her nine or 10 year old son try out a variety of sports albeit unsuccessfully. Football, baseball, tennis, and golf evade this youngster's capabilities. As these various frustrations fade in and out, a chorus provides an inspirational background song. Dissolve to the actual chorus on stage and the mom in the audience basking as the boy steps out of the group and sings his solo like an angel. 
               
I applaud the commercial for reinforcing that every child doesn't need to be a sports specialist. The world needs singers, actors, artists, even writers. I personally couldn't survive without mechanics.   But I think the ad also diminishes participation in sports by equating it with success. Kids need to break a few windows, tear up divots, throttle the ball over the side nets, or boot the ball into the woods before they can develop the finesse to be more accurate and controlled. Sports, like any activity, have a learning curve. No one, not Freddy Adu, not LeBron James, not Florence Joyner, who were sports prodigies, walks for the first time onto a field, a court, or a track fully formed as an athlete.   Letting a child give up on a sport because in the first hour he or she hasn't mastered it sends the message that sports can't be fun unless you're an expert. 
               
I remember our oldest daughter bowling for the first time. She was about seven. She threw the initial ball down the alley which wobbled and rolled into the gutter. She turned around, stomped her foot and declared, "I'm not playing anymore" as she stormed in a huff to the bench. It took us about 20 minutes to convince her to roll the second ball. Thankfully this one painfully sashayed down the lane and precariously hung on the edge of the alley before knocking down two pins. Otherwise, I doubt we would have ever gotten her to try a third time. However, over the next year, with lessons, she ended up requesting her own ball and shoes and had won a patch for beating Earl Anthony (who bowled with his opposite hand) in a three frame contest. She eventually went on to become a ballet dancer and then a fashion merchandiser. She bowls once or twice a year. But she learned to persevere through her novice stage which gave her the confidence to persevere through other frustrating experiences. For a perfectionist such as she is, it was good to learn that success doesn't come immediately nor does past success guarantee future success.
               
This was a lesson learned by Robbie's team last weekend. They lost in the finals of the US Youth Soccer Wisconsin State Championships. They had been doing quite well over the spring, but seemed to lose steam at the end. The game was a rematch of last year's final and the other team was hungrier for their vindication of last year's loss. Sadly, for about half his team, this game marked the end of their competitive soccer experience that began for most at ages five and six. Some are going on to play in college and some will play club in college. But no matter what the future holds, all of them continued with soccer up to this point because they found companionship with teammates and joy with the game.   No one considers himself an expert at the sport. But win or lose, soccer awarded each of them with advantages that aren't measured by success.
               
I admit to some bittersweet moments once the game was over. I'll miss not going to US Youth Soccer Regional Championships. I love the caliber of games, the spectacle of the event, and the fun of seeing kids Robbie and Bryce have known through their soccer networks. At the same time I'm a bit grateful for not having to drive ten hours and live in a hotel for six nights. I must be getting old!   I think about the first time the boys walked onto a soccer field and at first were overwhelmed by the game. But they loved being with their friends, loved being outdoors, loved attacking the ball, loved scoring, loved falling, and loved getting the snack after the game. Some of their friends who began soccer with them switched along the way to either other sports or other interests. Despite many of them not continuing with soccer, their friendship and their connection with our family did continue. Now as they are poised to graduate from high school we get to hear where these past teammates are going to school, what they will study, and what they plan to do. It's a rich collection of kids who provide new insights into the world and its opportunities every time they interact with us.
               
I do appreciate these kids for all they offer us, but I also appreciate soccer for being the gateway into their world. As we enter the season for tryouts, I know that anxieties run high.   The focus shifts heavily to success and the innocence of recreational soccer gives way to apprehension. So I know how important remembering the good times turns out to be. We need to remember that if our kids love to play soccer, then they should continue to play. US Youth Soccer supports teams at all age levels and at many different skill levels. So every kid who wants to play should be able to play. As parents we need to not feed into a sense of failure if our children don't make a particular team. Instead look upon it as an opportunity to both expand your network of friends and to experience a different style of coaching and playing. Most importantly, no child should give up. Teams come and go with varying degrees of success. The joy of playing a sport or singing a song or solving an equation should transcend set-backs. Even the world's best bowler throws a gutter ball or two every year.