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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.

 

TOPSoccer in Florida

Sam Snow

Well, it was a great day this past Saturday in Boca Raton, Fla., where a US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer coaching course was hosted by Florida Youth Soccer. The host club, Soccer Association of Boca Raton, did a wonderful job with the facilities and their hospitality was really first class. I always enjoy teaching this course and this one was no exception. The people involved were truly dedicated to the TOPSoccer mission and they gave up their time and money to continue their own education so that they can improve their efforts to the TOPSoccer players.

As you may know, the US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer coaching course is a four hour long coaching course introducing coaches to working with TOPSoccer players. US Youth Soccer and its State Associations are working diligently to grow the game of soccer in America. Within the disabled athlete community alone we can increase our playing numbers by 500,000. Part of that effort is to have more soccer clubs offer TOPSoccer to the disabled athletes in their community. Florida Youth Soccer is taking on this effort and has now conducted their first US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer coaching course under the direction of Dean Frost, Chair of the Florida Youth Soccer TOPSoccer Committee, and Virgil Stringfield, Associate Director of Coaching-Educational Services for Florida Youth Soccer.

Forty-six coaches, administrators and TOPSoccer Buddies attended the course. Candidates came from across all parts of Florida and one coach attended the course from as far away as Philadelphia, Penn. That coach was Mike Barr, the Technical Director for Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer. This is another State Association poised to make new inroads by expanding TOPSoccer among their members. The classroom sessions were engaging with good discussion and sharing among the candidates and myself. We had to dodge the rain a bit when we got out to the field, but a great session on the field with TOPSoccer players and the course candidates took place.

One of the key points that came from the field session, and our discussion back in the classroom closing session, was to train these players to the mainstream of youth soccer as much as one can. We should only modify the training sessions and the game of soccer itself when truly needed. The candidates felt that too often coaches and administrators start off with the game and training at too low of a level with the focus being on what the players cannot do rather than what they CAN do. The players will show you what they can do on the soccer field. We coaches just need to be a bit more patient and let the game within the child come to the surface.

If your club does not yet offer the TOPSoccer program to its community please talk to your State Association about getting this rewarding program up and running in your club. There are many resources for administrators and coaches to help you run a successful TOPSoccer program, you just need to step up and take advantage of these services. I hope to see you at a US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer coaching course in the near future.

For more information on US Youth Soccer's TOPSoccer Program, click here.
 

A little look behind the scenes

Sam Snow

There are two recent events that I can tell you about today which you may find of interest. The first was my time at the US Youth Soccer ODP Girls Thanksgiving Interregional event in Coral Springs, Fla. Three age groups participated; players born in 1993, 1994 and 1995. The event was well done, as is always the case and the staff and players even did a good job with adjusting to a complete rain out one day. Now you can read about the matches on the US Youth Soccer Web site and you can see videos with game footage and interviews too. But here are a few things that went on behind the scenes. 
 
First, you have to really admire the dedication to the game by the players and staff who spend Thanksgiving day away from home and family to play soccer. Granted the soccer is very good, with nice fields and warm weather, but still having Thanksgiving dinner in a hotel ballroom with 240 other soccer junkies is quite the commitment. Add to the equation during the week the players had training as well as matches and team meetings. The staff also had additional meetings with the youth National Team coaches, regional coaches and me. Both of those coaches meetings proved to be productive as we unify our efforts to provide a quality US Youth Soccer ODP experience for all participants.
 
Secondly, I have to give a lot of credit to the hard work the age group coaches did with their players. They had a couple of training sessions with them, managed matches, held full team meetings with video analysis from the match played earlier in the day, but they also held individual meetings with every player. Both the team head coach and assistant coach met with each player on the team and gave her a detailed individual critique of her strengths and weaknesses as a player. They then planned goals with each player to make improvements in designated aspects of her game. Wow! Now that's commitment and attention to detail! I don't know of any other youth soccer program in our nation where the staff accomplishes so much and gives so much to the players in a week's time. So, a big pat on the back to all of the US Youth Soccer ODP Regional Staff Coaches.
 
The second event I can tell you about is the lunch meeting I had today along with Matt Moran, Gordon Jago and Randy Jones. Matt is the membership services specialist for US Youth Soccer. Gordon is the executive director and Randy is the tournament director for the Dallas Cup. The Dallas Cup has been running for 31 years now and is considered the premier youth soccer tournament in the world for boys.
 
The four of us met today and discussed the presentation that Gordon and Randy will make at the 2010 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop in Fort Worth, Texas next February. They will present Managing a Successful Tournament. The insights they will provide on getting and keeping volunteers, building a strong referee group who ask you if they can come back each year, sponsor involvement, community outreach and much more will be of interest to those involved with running a tournament of any size. For example, I was amazed to find out that they have 300 volunteers each year and the majority come back year after year after year. Their tournament is 350 days of work and then 12 days of matches. I know you will learn a lot from these gentlemen on ways you can make your tournament a better experience for all involved.
 
I look forward to seeing you in Fort Worth in February! 
 

Lost in Translation

Susan Boyd

Watching my grandson's soccer game last week I was reminded that even when we think kids aren't listening, they really are, it's just that they don't understand us. But they try, because they want to please us. The following results come from some of the most confusing and therefore entertaining vignettes of my journey through youth soccer.
  • A U-6 coach attempted to exhort his tiny players to get more energy into the game. "Come on. Pick it up you guys." With some confusion the team paused to consider this instruction. "What are you stopping for? I said pick it up." With a shrug of his shoulders, one player ran over to the ball rolling across the field, and picked it up.
  • At an indoor game the teams were 3v3 using the smaller Pugg goals. When the players came out for the second half, we noticed that the team on the near side only had two players on the field. The coach started to laugh, walked over to the goal and pulled the third player out of the far back edges of the Pugg. "But you told me to get in goal," the frustrated five year old shouted.
  • During a particularly combative U-10 game, the coach of one team was continually barking instructions to his players. One girl seemed frozen unable to respond to the increasingly strident orders from her coach. Finally, on the verge of tears she turned to him, "What do you mean goal side? Which side of the goal?"
  • In a post game dissection, the coach, trying to explain passing, asked if anyone could do a cross. A player popped up his hand. "I can do that. We do it before we pray."
  • Once when Robbie was playing in a 3v3 tournament he got the ball and began to dribble down the field. I cheered, or so I thought, "Go Robbie go!" He stopped immediately. Stomping his foot, he yelled right at me "I'm running as fast as I can."
  • When Bryce was eight he used to run behind the goal during defensive plays. It took us a couple weeks to piece it all together. The coach told him to defend the far post. 
  • Innovation saved the day when a U-8 girl was admonished several times during the game to "mark her man." First of all it was a girls' game and second of all she had nothing to write with. After the fourth or fifth insistence a light bulb went on. She picked up some dirt, ran over to the sidelines, rubbed it on her father, and then looked proudly to her coach.
  • Another coach explaining defensive midfield to his young player was telling him that he needed to move up during offense and then run back during defense. Unfortunately he said, "I need you to straddle both lanes." A bowling reference in a soccer pep talk just doesn't cut it.
We parents all too often forget that what we know about the world we learned through decades of experience. What seems abundantly clear to us comes across as confusing and occasionally ridiculous to our half-pint players. Bless them for wanting to do the right thing, so we need to just enjoy the ride. It may be a cliché, but it's true: they are young for such a short time. Let them invent their world.  What they discover can be more fun to experience with them than what we try so hard to teach them. Their fresh minds can translate life into adventure.
 

Grassroots Soccer

Sam Snow

Recently I've had some correspondence with Nick Levett from the The Football Association. Nick is the National Development Manager for Youth and Mini-Soccer in England. He had inquired about the status of Small-Sided Games in the U.S.A. So, I thought you'd be interested to read of the progress being made on this topic from both sides of the pond.

Hi Sam,

I hope you are well and enjoying the delights of fall setting in.  

I have now officially started a new job as National Development Manager (Youth and Mini-Soccer) and looking into a number of things that probably cross paths with your role. The main two areas of work that are going to be driving my attention are around formats of football and a competition strategy in England. We have a number of issues with pitch sizes, numbers of players per team in different age groups as well as trying to be creative to approach dealing with the birth bias challenges!

For example, we now have every format of football on offer for children from 7 years of age including Manchester United playing 4v4 in their Academy, grassroots mini-soccer offering 5v5/6v6/7v7, most professional clubs playing 8v8 from U-9 to U-11, then we have 9v9 as an option from U-11 to U-13, but most people choose to play 11v11 from U-11….!!! We have a bit of a mix!

What's the current situation in the U.S.? Do grassroots and professional clubs play the same structure at the same age groups? What does your Association recommend and how well does this get delivered at a local level? What age do your grassroots teams start to play in leagues for points and trophies?

Interested to hear your thoughts on this one!

Best wishes, Nick
 
Here's my response.

Hi Nick,

Congratulations on the new job and I'm sure you are working diligently getting the new responsibilities underway.

We are having many of the same issues you are in regard to Small-Sided Games (SSG). One of our challenges is that our national governing body, U.S. Soccer, has not mandated SSG. However they do endorse the playing format for U-12 and younger. Take a look at the Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States document via this link.  U.S. Soccer is now making an effort to implement these Best Practices nationwide.

Also look at the SSG Resource Center on the US Youth Soccer web site via this link.  The National Program Overview will show you how we are doing on implementation. For largely political reasons, we do not yet have uniform implementation nationwide. Although it must be stated that the hurdles are not just political as many folks are convinced that children will not learn how to play 11-a-side football if they do not do so by the U-12 age group. There are other reasons too for the reluctance to embrace SSG, such as "well in my country when I was a lad we played 11v11 football and we were just fine." They could be from Scotland, Argentina, Italy, or England, you name it they're here. The only problem is they are unaware of the changes going on in their former homeland.

Now, to the professional clubs, the system of them having youth teams is much less prevalent here than in Europe; so a few of the MLS teams have youth teams, but not all. WPS is a new league and they cannot afford to sponsor youth teams right now. Some of the youth teams with pro teams do play SSG, but most simply follow the local formats. However some of the clubs, such as FC Dallas, have taken on an internal development approach. Their manual is attached to this message for you (Editor's note: if you would like a copy of this manual just drop me an E-mail note and I'll send a copy to you).

When do our grassroots clubs begin to play for trophies? It varies by state association. For the majority that begins at U-12, but some do begin at U-10. We are trying to move everyone to U-12, but with other youth soccer organizations in the country competing with us in the market place it makes it doubly difficult to make such changes. If you will remind Les Howie (Editor's note: Les Howie is the Head of Grassroots Coaching for The FA) and Jamie Houchen (Editor's note: Jamie Houchen is the Acting Head of FA Learning for The FA) to ask me about these topics when they come to our 2010 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop next February I can get into more detail.

Regards, Sam
 
And finally Nick's latest reply.

That's great Sam, thanks for the information. I'll have a read through with interest. I think we are heading towards a bit of a climax in England where we need a national look at the children's football system from all of football; not just grassroots but to include volunteers, administrators and the professional game. A radical look at implementing a modern and child-based system is needed.

And if you have any closed-minded English coaches you come across that need some 'homeland' updating I'm happy to help!

Best wishes, Nick