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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on USYouthSoccer.org every Monday.  A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom". 

 

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
 

'Tis the Season for Giving

Susan Boyd

Last week I talked about some ways you could find appropriate gifts for the soccer player or fan in your family. But we also realize that many children don't have access to even the barest necessities of life including food, clothes, medicine, and housing. Many soccer associations and players have formed charitable organizations to address the needs of children through the game itself. While there are literally hundreds of these organizations throughout the world, I'd like to point out a few that could use your support this holiday season as well as the rest of the year. Consider donating to one of these foundations as part of your gift giving tradition.

America SCORES (www.americascores.org) is an innovative foundation that serves 14 metropolitan areas in the United States. It provides after school soccer for inner city kids while also engaging them in a writing and literacy program. Using soccer as a means to both recruit and excite the children, the foundation then shifts during inclement weather to a literacy program tied to the kids' experiences both on the soccer pitch and in their world.  Sponsors of the program are diverse ranging from ASCAP, which is a song composers' organization to adidas. Nearly 100% of donations to the organization are used directly for the program as it is largely volunteer-staffed. The poetry the kids have created in the program has been featured on Wall Street and the Sunday Boston Globe.

Many of you will use Hanukkah and Christmas as a time to replace cleats, jerseys, and other soccer equipment, most of which will still be useable. The U.S. Soccer Foundation (www.ussoccerfoundation.org/site/c.ipIQKXOvFoG/b.5438455/k.CCC2/Passback.htm) sponsors a program called Passback which collects, organizes, and sends out used soccer gear to kids in need both here in the U.S. and around the world. Usually they will advertise a collection two or three times a year through each US Youth Soccer State Association office. Clubs are asked to collect donations and bring them to the state office. Or you can organize your own collection and arrange with the foundation for pick-up. Naturally monetary donations are also welcomed.

In 1997 Garret Hamm, Mia's brother, passed away due to complications from aplastic anemia. The best hope for a cure for many patients is a bone marrow transplant. Therefore Mia formed her Mia Foundation (www.miafoundation.org) to raise research funds for and awareness about bone marrow transplants and to provide support for families going through the process. In addition she uses her foundation to promote the growth of women's sports. She wants to see the progress made in the last ten years continue so that all girls who wish to play sports have that opportunity.

With the first ever World Cup in Africa coming in 2010, eyes will be upon both South Africa and on the entire continent. Unfortunately HIV and AIDS continue to be a deadly epidemic throughout Africa. In 2002 Tommy Clark, who had played soccer professionally in Zimbabwe and then became a physician, joined with other soccer players, including Ethan Zohn who won Survivor, to form Grass Root Soccer (www.grassrootsoccer.org). They had the idea that kids learn best from people they respect as role models. So using soccer players and the sport, the organization entered Zimbabwe with the mission to stem the advance of HIV/AIDS in the country through a soccer centered education program. Using an innovative "Skillz" program, the foundation teaches kids how to prevent HIV. The program has now spread to other African nations and has the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

All over the world soccer can be found in the most impoverished areas of any country or city. In the United States soccer has gained a reputation as a more elitist sport for those who have the money for club fees, travel, and top gear. However, in the streets of Rio de Janeiro or the dusty back fields of Botswana, kids play soccer bare foot with a melon or a bucket for a ball. That passion for and universal attraction of the game became the starting point for Street Soccer USA (www.streetsoccerusa.org). Founders use soccer as a means to reach homeless men, women, and children, bring them into a community of players, and create leagues in order to provide them with a purpose beyond crime or self-destruction. The idea is to end homelessness through soccer. The organization has teams in sixteen metropolitan areas. Their model uses a mentoring program to help players get off drugs, deal with mental health issues, find employment, and eventually permanent housing. They have reached 20 percent of the homeless in the areas they serve and have a 75 percent success rate in affecting a life change among the population they reach.

We can affect a major change in someone's life with a simple donation of $5.00. Just think if every US Youth Soccer member contributed $5.00 to one of these or any other charitable organization, we would make a net $15 million contribution to those in need. We can be a powerful factor in helping the poor in America and around the world. So please consider clicking on one of the links above and giving them a small donation that when joined with others can be a significant gift.