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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.

 

Final Three Position Statements

Sam Snow

Here are the final three Position Statements of the State Association Technical Directors.

The Professional Link    No. 15

We believe that the professional level plays a necessary and vital role in the growth and development of youth and amateur soccer. In all soccer cultures, the professional level serves to provide for the vertical movement of top players and creates the conditions for national heroes to emerge. The professional influence also accounts for much of the indirect education that permeates soccer societies. Television ratings and paid attendance have a significant local and national impact on media perception and civic response. We feel that promoting professional soccer is foundational to all professional coaching positions.

Active Coaching               No. 16

We believe that top-level coaches, particularly those in administrative positions, such as club and state directors and national staff coaches must remain active practitioners. In order to gain respect and proactively affect change it is essential that coaches in leadership positions are current in their knowledge and constantly evolving their craft. In addition:
  • Soccer continues to evolve rapidly and nowhere more dramatically than at the youth level in the United States. Coaches must have practical contact with the newest trends and be well positioned to proactively test new theories against existing models.
  • Many coaching directors in the United States are in their 20s and 30s and are still developing their personal philosophy and pedagogy. If these talented young coaches are removed from their fertile learning environment before gaining the lessons of experience, the short- and long-term impact on the next generations of players will be sorely felt.
  • Personal growth stagnates without constant challenge. Each new training session is an opportunity to reaffirm or reassess existing soccer knowledge, beliefs and pedagogical skills. Each level of play provides unique coaching challenges and, in order to service the needs of players and coaches at every level, practical and ongoing contact with players of all ages and abilities is essential.
  • Top club coaches are influenced by actions, not words. To gain the confidence and respect of these coaches, it is important for the coaching director to demonstrate their knowledge and skills as a field coach. Without respect, the possibilities for positive growth and evolution within the top leagues and clubs are severely hamstrung.
  • The director of coaching is often uniquely placed to vertically integrate the technical, tactical, physical and psychological insights gleaned from the regional and national teams programs. Often, these messages can only be delivered through contact with players; this is particularly the case at the area and state US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP) levels.
  • One of the most important messages in the coaching education process is that coaching skills evolve with use and erode through inactivity. This message is true of both experts and beginners. Coaching directors must be seen to practice what they preach.
  • The motivation for coaches to administrate can be found in the rewards of the field.
  • The vast majority of soccer coaches within the United States are parents with no formal background in the sport. The coaching director must serve as a role model and inspiration for this population by conducting clinics and workshops, and by learning to appreciate and focus the unique challenge of the parent/coach experience. This process is practical, ongoing and very demanding.
  • The director of coaching must remain connected and sensitive to the balance of competitive pressures that influence those players striving to reach the top level and those coaches making a living from the game. Competition is a necessary and important element in sport and society. Without periodic re-exposure to the stresses of intense competition, coaches in leadership positions can easily lose touch with the balance between the theoretical and the practical: X's and O's must always be grounded in the reality of the playing level.

Playing Up                          No. 17

The majority of clubs, leagues and district, state or regional US Youth Soccer ODP Programs in the United States allow talented, younger players to compete on teams with and against older players. This occurs as a natural part of the development process and is consistent throughout the world. Currently, however, there are isolated instances where the adult leadership has imposed rules or policies restricting the exceptional, young player from "playing up." These rules vary. Some absolutely will not allow it. Others establish team or age group quotas while the most lenient review the issue on a case-by-case basis. Associations that create rules restricting an individual player's option to play at the appropriate competitive level are in effect impeding that player's opportunity for growth. For development to occur, all players must be exposed to levels of competition commensurate with their skills and must be challenged constantly in training and matches in order to aspire to higher levels of play and maintain their interest in and passion for the game.

When it is appropriate for soccer development, the opportunity for the exceptional player to play with older players must be available. We believe that "club passes"" should be adopted as an alternative to team rosters to allow for a more realistic and fluid movement of players between teams and levels of play. If there is a concern regarding the individual situation, the decision must be carefully evaluated by coaches and administrators familiar with the particular player. When faced with making the decision whether the player ought to play up, the adult leadership must be prepared with sound rationale to support their decision. Under no circumstances should coaches exploit or hold players back in the misplaced quest for team building and winning championships, nor should parents push their child in an attempt to accelerate to the top of the soccer pyramid. In addition, playing up under the appropriate circumstances should not preclude a player playing back in his or her own age group. When the situation dictates that it is in the best interests of the player to do so, it should not be interpreted as a demotion, but as an opportunity to gain or regain confidence.

Some rationale for the above includes:

-     Pele played for Brazil in his first World Cup as a seventeen year old; Mia Hamm earned her first call to the U.S. Women's National Team when she was fifteen. An exceptionally talented young player playing with older players has been an integral part of the game since its inception. Certainly, a player that possesses soccer maturity beyond that of his or her peers should be encouraged to "play up" in order that his or her development as a player is stimulated.
-     The playing environment must provide the right balance between challenge and success. The best players must have the opportunity to compete with and against players of similar abilities. Players with less ability must be allowed to compete at their own level in order to enjoy the game and to improve performance.

In conclusion the development of players and advancement of the overall quality in the United States is the responsibility of every youth coach, administrator and policymaker in this country. It is our obligation to provide an environment where every player is given the opportunity to improve and to gain the maximum enjoyment from their soccer experience and ultimately, what is best for the player.
 

Who Needs It

Susan Boyd

I don't suppose most of us would pair up Sesame Street and The Rolling Stones in the same thought. But I did. This week is the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street. Our oldest daughter was born just weeks after Sesame Street began, so you could say we grew up there together. In 1981 they added a brief character called Mick Swagger and the Cobblestones who sang their hit, "I Can't Get No Co-Operation." While I enjoyed the rendition, I had always thought there was a more appropriate Stones tune that reflected the moral lessons of growing up.  And when the 40th anniversary was celebrated on the Today Show, I thought about it again.  The chorus spoke perfectly to what I thought then and what I still think – "No you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find that you get what you need."

All too often we confuse want and need especially when it comes to our children. We wish they can have everything, and we do our best to make it happen which often leads to overspending or unreal expectations. Saying "no" to requests becomes so infrequent that our children can't comprehend that "no" exists. You've all been there in the store and witnessed a child (your child) having a complete meltdown at the checkout counter because she didn't get what she wanted.  We have advertisers and peer pressure making things worse. When the boys turned sixteen, most of their friends got new cars that were fancier than mine. Of course, I guess anything is fancier than a car with 250,000 miles and a permanent check engine light. But the message was clear – what the boys wanted fell far outside of what they, even what I, needed.

For example we get told that what our kids wear can affect how they play. While that fancy pair of bright green or red cleats create flash on the pitch, they can't provide any assurance of skill. Most cleats are a case of want over need, otherwise why would manufacturers design and build new, outrageous options each year. At $200 a pair, cleats are an extravagance that can't be supported by outcome, although both our boys were adapt at making that argument. Lighter cleats, wider cleats, kangaroo leather cleats, side-tie, no tie, gel, and ad nausem became the rallying cry for needing a new pair every few months. If cleats provided as utilitarian a purpose as young players argue, then why aren't the boots all just black and functional? I think we all know the answer to that one. Function in a spanking new format is the name of the promotion game. You can't get a product out the door of a store before the new banner touting a faster, brighter, cleaner, streamlined version unfurls. Ask either of my boys how often I said, "the color doesn't matter," and they'll tell you how often they rolled their eyes. The same argument holds true for training devices, outerwear, bags, goalkeeper jerseys, and balls. "No" became very easy after I ordered with costs and duty a World Cup ball directly from Germany only to have it "disappear" less than four hours after arriving. 

When it comes to being in youth sports, parents try their best to manipulate outcomes often with disastrous results. Parents become bullies to coaches and club administrators in order to get their kids on the "right" team, which often doesn't mean the team which is right for their child's abilities and interests, but the team that is perceived as the standout team. When I was a club administrator and later a US Youth Soccer Association Olympic Development Program assistant I fielded a huge share of these threats and ultimatums. But parents couldn't accept "no" on behalf of their kids. In the end they got a reputation as being difficult and burned bridges. And need flew out the window with want.

Right now my oldest son is looking to transfer colleges. We have been paying a huge premium for him to attend the school he's at so he could play soccer there. But the cow has run dry. Without a major bump in scholarship money, we can't afford to continue sending him there. That's a huge "no" and hard to swallow. But he's been very understanding. I credit that understanding to having heard "no" other times in his life when he achingly hoped he'd hear "yes." What he needs is a good education; what he wants is a good education while he plays soccer. It may not be possible to give him what he wants. We hope it can still happen. We're working on that goal, but in life wanting it will never fully justify getting it. 

Sesame Street taught my kids and now my grandkids their numbers, the alphabet, and life lessons. But it also reminded me as a parent that an hour a day with some Muppets won't make a huge impact without the remaining twenty-three hours with me reinforcing the message. I know I was indulgent with my kids. I am definitely indulgent with my grandkids, but that's what grandparents were put on earth to do! But we all have to temper our desire to give our children everything they want because that's a bottomless pit of yearning. Soon it will be Hanukkah and Christmas, and we are already being inundated with the not so subtle message that love equals big gifts. I imagine Mick Jagger rarely denied himself or his children anything, but he still managed to get it right in a song. What we should be trying to do is to find what we need. What we want will always be around to tempt us, so there's no trouble finding that.
 

At Least There's Indoor Plumbing

Susan Boyd

Outdoor soccer is winding down in most of the country.  Even if the fields weren't turning into Elysian mud bowls and even if snow didn't obscure the lines, the dwindling daylight with the advent of standard time dictates that outdoor soccer isn't practical. Some facilities boast lights which makes them very special indeed, but in my soccer travels I've found that most of the lighted fields are in areas where the weather permits outdoor soccer year round and many overlook artificial turf.

So what's a player to do until spring and the return of daylight savings time?  The answer that immediately springs to mind – play indoor soccer.  But that's not always possible.  While some communities have indoor soccer parks, many indoor soccer practices and games occur in school gyms on less than ideal surfaces.  Obviously soccer clubs who want to both retain players and maintain training over the winter months end up reserving as much school and church gym time as they can.  In Milwaukee it's often a race to see who can get their applications into the recreation departments early enough.  That used to be my job – making sure our club procured sufficient indoor practice time.  I would stand outside the district office early on the first morning applications were accepted.  I even brought coffee for the staff as they arrived.  I'm no idiot – a happy government employee is a helpful government employee.  Every year we got our full complement of gym time minus the music concerts, election days, book fairs, and carnivals.  I wasn't just up against other soccer clubs; I was up against basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, and after-school club.  I was once greeted in the grocery with the phrase:  You're the lady who steals all the gym time.  There's a reason my phone number is unlisted!

Despite taking risks that might drive my neighbors to march on my home much like the villagers did against Frankenstein's monster, I was not beloved in my soccer club either.  No, I was chastised by parents and coaches for reserving such inadequate facilities at inconvenient times.  The gyms rented for $7 an hour while the indoor soccer park rented for $180 an hour/field.  No coach was willing to accept a smaller wage and no parent was willing to pay a larger club fee, yet they felt that they should still be practicing indoors on a "real" field; that is to say a field one-third the size of a standard soccer field with walls abutting all four sides, artificial turf laid on a concrete slab, and an odor that on a good day could be described as burying your face in your child's soccer socks after a game in the rain.  Because the indoor park sponsored dozens of leagues, reservation times were usually Saturday and Sunday mornings before 8 a.m. and after 11 p.m.  Not exactly what the displeased wanted to hear.

There is another option for families, especially for families with young players – do another sport over winter.  This probably sounds treasonous coming from a blogger on a youth soccer site, but truthfully even soccer coaches agree that taking a break from soccer in the early years can be both healthy and beneficial.  Certainly once a player graduates to a select team he or she may need to practice year round to continue the development of individual and team skills.  But for players under age 12 taking a break from the sport gives them the opportunity to try out other sports, decide if soccer is the sport they want to singularly pursue, and open up to a new group of friends.  Additionally there's the argument that repetitive muscle training isn't healthy and leads to injury.  I tend to sidestep the medical issues and look more significantly at the social side of the argument.  Life is too short to be so focused so young.  There are winter sports that keep kids outdoors and give them a world of great experiences.  Few of our kids will end up being the next Michael Essien or Abby Wambach, but they will all grow up to be adults who need to be happy, healthy, and fulfilled.

Our sons chose to stick to soccer.  They love the sport.  When they aren't playing, they are often talking about the sport, reading about it, or watching it.  Yet even in the midst of all that passion, they also enjoyed basketball, baseball, snowboarding, running, golf, volleyball, and gymnastics.  They aren't proficient in any of these, but enjoyed doing them and continue to play many of them for fun.  They have friends who golf who have no interest in soccer and friends who snowboard who couldn't tell you what PK stands for.  Taking a two or three month break from soccer but not from healthy activity can't be bad for our children especially when the soccer they are missing is some reconfiguration of the sport to fit the constraints of an odd facility and its availability. 

Hopefully your soccer club or sports organization allows you to take winter off by providing a fee structure split among the seasons.  They should definitely do this until select soccer.  If they don't, it never hurts to ask if you can be relieved of the winter assessment if your son or daughter wants to try something else over the winter.  Or you can follow one grandkid's route.  He did gymnastics in the fall and now wants to do soccer indoors for the winter.  Go figure!
 
 

Question From a Coach

Sam Snow

A youth soccer coach in California had a good question posed to him by a parent of one of the club's players. It is one that I'm sure is asked on occasion in many youth soccer clubs across the country.

I had a question come up recently that I've been struggling to answer, so I thought I'd go to the gurus. I train a U-10 girl's team in California and have been trying to focus the parents on a long-term direction for the players.

One parent, however, had a simple question that stopped me in my tracks. He asked, "Why does soccer speak so much of development, when all the other sports, baseball, football, softball, hockey are competitive as can be?" Later in the conversation, he also noted that most baseball, football  and softball coaches (at the youth stages) are often times parents of one of the players.

He isn't trying to be rude or challenging. He's simply curious to know why there is all this talk about development with our sport, while the other major sports don't have such conversations and seem to be thriving just fine. And after that conversation, I am too.

Also, I'm curious to know if there has been any talk of a 2nd level National Youth Course. I can't tell you how much of an impact the USSF National Youth License made on my coaching. I took my USSF ""B"" License in January, and everyone I spoke to there who had taken their National Youth License felt the same way. The real learning and lessons we've needed as coaches is in the National Youth License. The other licenses are just padding for resumes and pay-scales. We're hoping there can be another level. I'm already planning on taking the National Youth License again in 2010.

Thanks for your time and help...

Well the simple answer is that these other youth sports do not have the formal coaching education system that soccer has. Because there is less of a formal academic based coaching education system in place for those sports it is less likely that the discussion of long-term player development will arise. It is even more difficult for them to share that message with grassroots coaches without a scheme in place for coaching classes.

Those sports may seem to be thriving, but many of the negative issues that we see in youth sports are deeper and wider in those sports than in youth soccer. This is not to say the same issues are not a part of the youth soccer experience, for they certainly are, just to a lesser degree on a national scope. I am venturing an educated guess that part of the continuing enrollment into those sports has to do with the exposure they receive from the sports media and the fact that they are just plain fun to play.

Regarding a possible National Youth License 2, Dr. David Carr is currently working on a possible curriculum for just such a course. If it comes to pass then I think it would begin to be offered at the earliest in 2011, and will be announced on www.USYouthSoccer.org.