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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.

 

Position Statements 13 and 14

Sam Snow

From the Position Statements of the 55 state Technical Directors:
 
LEAGUE PLAY AND MATCHES PER YEAR        # 13

We believe that the optimal playing and learning environment includes participating in no more than two matches per week.  We also believe that players should not compete in more than one full match per day and no more than two full matches per weekend.  There must be a day of rest between full-length matches.  We strongly oppose the practice of scheduling regular season and/or make-up matches in a manner that results in four full matches in the same week.  Modified FIFA rules apply: no reentry per half for the U-14 and younger age groups and no reentry after substitution for the U-15 and older age groups.  In addition, we believe that players should not compete in more than 40 playing dates in a calendar year.  Players must have one full month off from all soccer activity.
 
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES COMPETITION # 14

We believe that, in order to be consistent with the final stages of the competition, the national tournament for the top players should adopt a no reentry rule for state and regional level play.
 
 
 

Glory without Victory

Susan Boyd

This past weekend my grandson's undefeated team met the other undefeated team in his league. One team had to lose and that team was my grandson's. Although they scored right away, that would be it for them. Their opponents scored several times, including a score in the waning seconds of the game. It wasn't just a defeat; it was a rout. When you're nine, lessons on the value of defeat don't really penetrate and bring life altering enlightenment. On the other hand, the agony of defeat has a half-life equal to the time it takes to walk from the field over to the snack cooler. As Coach Darrell Royal said, "I learned this about coaching: You don't have to explain victory and you can't explain defeat." It's true whether you're a kid or a multi-million dollar pro. But the role of coach changes over the years. Cutthroat can work with adults, but is far too heavy-handed for youth. Kids are still developing a passion for the game which isn't served by a coach being overly passionate for success.

Being a youth coach ranks as one of the most difficult jobs around. You need to deal with short attention spans, behavior problems, delicate egos, tantrums, and unrealistic expectations – and that's just the parents! Coaches need to be teachers, counselors, arbitrators, prophets, handlers, healers, schedulers, and cheerleaders. Most youth coaches are also parents of players on the team, so they have to step in and out of their coach and parent roles. It used to be that youth coaches were just thrown into the soup without preparation. Some might have extensive playing experience or some may have had soccer in 8th grade gym. So it's no wonder that youth coaching can be uneven. However U.S. Youth Soccer Association and United States Soccer Federation have taken steps to make youth coaching more professional and standard. They require any youth coach in their programs to attend a course and receive a coaching certificate. The course is brief, but does help put every coach at an equal starting point. 

Victories and defeats can end up defining the strength of a coach. Not because a coach oversees more victories than defeats, but because the coach has developed a way to be a strong role model and leader during either event. The old adage about being humble in victory and gracious in defeat has to be taught by example. Too many coaches want to be Vince Lombardi with his attitude that "if you can accept losing, you can't win." Losses result in long diatribes about failure and weakness and incompetence. Wins end up being an excuse to insult the opposing team and reward arrogance. Wise youth coaches opt for a positive appraisal without the agonizing dissection to ferret out the weaknesses leading to defeat.

There's definitely something to be said for having a winning outlook. But the truth is that even the Miami Dolphins eventually lost a game. Winning over and over can indicate that a team isn't being challenged. And most of us face challenges in our lives with varying degrees of success. We need to learn how to deal with the less successful outcomes – dare I say defeats – with character and perseverance, developing the ability to improve.   Malcolm Forbes, who could be the poster boy for success, said that "victory is sweetest when you've known defeat." So coaches need to infuse the playing experience with a joy that transcends the outcome. It's not about winning or losing at this age. It's about developing an interest in and a passion for the sport.

The glory of victory and the humiliation of defeat don't need to be taught. Over the years all of us innately learn that the former is far more desirable than the latter. But because kids are both resilient and short of memory, we can't feed them our anxieties and expectations for game outcomes. Keaton's team lost, but he didn't lose his love for playing. In fact he got to play a different position at the end of the game, which got him very excited about being on offense rather than defense. He's fired up for the next game, which is exactly the way it should all play out. His league has the last two games set up to be between teams with equal or near equal records. So it's very possible he'll meet this team again and maybe even lose again. But I applaud his coaches for making the game and the love of the game far more important than marks in a win or loss column. If he stays with it, he'll have plenty of time to get the speech about "defeat is not an option." Done right, it may even inspire him to give the extra bit needed to carve out a victory. But for now, it's enough to be able to get a granola bar and a juice box win or lose.
 

US Youth Soccer ODP Europe Fall Camp

Sam Snow

I finished up the conferences in London on Friday the nineth and flew back to Germany. That evening we began the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP) Europe fall camp in Bitburg. There is a wonderful Sports Schule there. It was once a U.S. military base and was bought out privately and turned into a sports school. There are dorms and dining facilities, an indoor soccer field, a gymnasium and nine outdoor grass fields. We had 175 American players from across Europe attend the camp. The volunteer coaches and administrators did a wonderful job of running the camp.

The age groups ranged from U-11 to U-18 for both the boys and girls. Training sessions began on Friday afternoon and went into the evening in the indoor facilities. Frank Tschan is the Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer ODP Europe, so he and I observed the coaches during their training sessions. The next day we gave them some ideas on how to improve their craft. We also got across some basic approaches for the players to take themselves up to a more professional level.

I want all coaches involved in US Youth Soccer ODP to realize that they cannot take anything for granted. To this end, here are points to get across to all coaches and players involved in US Youth Soccer ODP.
SIMPLE things count the most
  • Angle of hips
  • Eye on the ball
  • Take the ball out of the air
  • Come to the ball
  • Stay on your toes
  • Sudden change in the flow of the game (if everyone is going left then suddenly go to the right)
  • Follow up shots
  • When your goalkeeper comes out drop to cover the goal
  • Take care of your boots, shin guards and gloves
  • Take care of your feet
On Saturday, I observed the training sessions and matches. I was also able to make a presentation on the identification and selection criteria with the coaches and administrators. John Thomas and I are making this presentation whenever we can with administrators and coaches involved in US Youth Soccer ODP to get more of our personnel on the same page; simply good teamwork here.

On Sunday, I had the pleasure to run training sessions for the U-18 Boys and Girls. We worked on mobility in the attack, especially the runs and positioning of the second attacker. Both groups of players were open to coaching and we had productive training sessions. That evening the kids played indoor matches with one of the highlights being the U-18 Girls taking on the U-15 Boys. The girls split into two teams and won two matches, lost three and tied one.

Monday was a half-day and I trained the U-18 Girls group again. We worked on finishing off of crosses, which provided me a chance to work with the field players and goalkeepers together. Despite the turn in weather to cold and a bit wet, we had fun and the kids left the camp on a high note.

Most of the kids involved in US Youth Soccer ODP Europe are from military families. Some have parents who are federal government employees working in Europe and others have parents working for international corporations and they are in Europe for a time. All of these kids stay connected to soccer in the United States through US Youth Soccer ODP. The select teams from Europe attend the regional trails in US Youth Soccer Region I. Over the years several of them have made the regional pool or team, and a few have made a national pool. With Americans living across the globe, only US Youth Soccer keeps them connected to the American game back home.

From my blog from two weeks ago here are two links to photos and more from the coaching course with American coaches and German players.

http://www.fc-astoria-walldorf.de/index.php?content=6&artikel=1679
 

The Law

Susan Boyd

The expression "possession is nine tenths of the law" certainly applies to soccer. I saw a great example last night at a high school play-off game. The first ranked team in the bracket was playing the 16th ranked team. At half-time the score was 8-0.  When the score reached 16 to 0, the winning team stopped trying to score and simply possessed the ball for the last 12 minutes. They gained a great lesson in how to pass accurately, how to turn the ball away from the opponent, how to regain the ball when lost, and how to use the field to their advantage, but at what cost?

The opposing team had the unenviable task of selecting what aspect of the game demoralized them less: the 16 unanswered goals or the 12 minutes they were the victims of keep away. This huge disparity between teams in training and skill usually only happens in high school playoffs. Club tournament directors rate the applicants in order to create brackets containing some parity in skill levels. State leagues have divisions based on past records to insure teams are within a narrow band of proficiency at the sport. College playoffs have teams who earned their slots by winning conference tournaments or having exemplary records. But high school playoffs include every team in the state in that division regardless of experience or ability. So last night the previous year's state champion played a team where many of the members don't play soccer outside of high school. 
           
When the difference between two teams is so large it seems humiliating to even conduct the game, but under the state rules this is the way it has to happen. There have to be winners and there have to be losers, but, for certain teams, there's really no way that they will advance. While there were some upsets in the first games of the tournament run, these were between teams much more closely ranked. The particular game I saw had the greatest goal differential, but in looking at today's brackets I saw plenty of 11-0, 9-0 and 13-1 games. One high school team simply forfeited. It couldn't get a team together under those circumstances. Last year the teams from last night's game met, and at halftime with the score 10-0, the game was called, and they all went home. Not putting the score up on the board isn't the answer. It doesn't work for U-8 and U-10 teams, and it works even less for high school teams. Everyone can count.  Requiring that teams take all starters off the field once the goal differential hits a certain point gets into the messy situation of telling a coach how to run his or her team. So for several teams the first game of the state tournament competition becomes an exercise in self-control. The higher ranked team has to play restrained for at least a portion of the game and the lower ranked team has to resist the urge to walk off the field and say "forget it." 

On the upside the higher ranked team can usually afford to allow players who sat on the bench or subbed in for only a few minutes over the season to finally play some extended soccer. It was great when players scored their first goals during that game, giving families a chance to cheer for their sons. And it offers those players who will be stepping up next season to a greater team role the chance to gain experience in the state tournament. But there is little advantage for the lower ranked team. 
           
Giving all teams the opportunity to participate in the tournament run seems necessary. Yet it all comes with unpleasant consequences. As one spectator said to me during the game, "I wonder what that team gets out of playing this game." It really got me thinking about how in a victory obsessed culture we can give kids in no-win situations a reason to participate. 
Competitiveness aside, other factors fit into the big picture when it comes to high school sports. Outmatched teams need to define several achievable objectives to consider the game a success. Parents should reinforce that playing a game with dignity even in defeat shows character. For the winning teams good sportsmanship has to be at the center of these lopsided contests. Fans need to be supportive of all good play, players need to have confidence without being smug, and coaches have to be willing to accept a comfortable, rather than an overwhelming, lead and switch to less aggressive play. With possession comes responsibility. It's up to everyone not to abuse their strengths or surrender to their weaknesses.