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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.

 

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
 

Oh the Gaul

Susan Boyd

When a single soccer goal ends up being argued in publications as diverse as the Huffington Post, India Times, and Wall Street Journal, you know it's a big deal. Add the drama of a David and Goliath story and international intrigue to create a tsunami of blogs, editorials, and irate message boards. Wednesday Thierry Henry, a French player known for his grace on the field and his integrity off the field, clearly used his left hand to control the ball in the box and then play it to his teammate William Gallas which tied Ireland 1-1. Of the three on-field officials all were struck momentarily blind at the exact same moment. None of them saw the handball, and so the goal stood. To add insult to injury a further review of the play also shows that two French players were most likely off-side. So France went on to secure its berth in the 2010 World Cup and Ireland did not. Even Henry admitted that he had "unintentionally" handled the ball, but stated that since the referees didn't call the foul, he continued to play. He says he told the center ref immediately following the goal and let the captain of the Irish team know. He even suggested that a replay of the game would probably be the fairest way to handle the incident.

When Ireland approached FIFA to request several ways of rectifying the situation including replaying the game or outright awarding the victory and the World Cup berth to Ireland rather than France, FIFA's reply was swift and forthright: "The Laws of the Game state . . . The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final." Therefore the game stands. There was some precedent for replaying the game. In 2005 Bahrain played Uzbekistan in a World Cup qualifier. There the referee disallowed a successful penalty kick for Uzbekistan because of early encroachment of an Uzbekistan player into the penalty zone. The rules state that the penalty kick would then be replayed, but the referee instead awarded Bahrain a free kick. Therefore FIFA ordered the replay because the referee had not properly interpreted the rules.

All of this controversy leads to the inevitable two questions: What is fair? Should instant replay be introduced to soccer?  Fairness ends up being a relative concept whenever a variety of elements exist in determining fairness. Rules are established as a means of containing controversy by preempting challenges. FIFA says that what the referee sees is what happens on the field. If the referee can be persuaded by fellow referees that he or she missed something the decision can be changed so long as play has not restarted and the game is not over. Clearly (or perhaps blindly) what the referee observed was a legal goal. Since everyone agrees to play by the rules, then the rules have to be followed. Complicating the issue of fairness becomes the overall attitude that FIFA seeds brackets in such a way as to insure that the big guns get into the World Cup and the smaller nations suffer. So when a big gun wins because of an illegal play, the clarions of anger will be louder and more strident than ever.

Could this all have been avoided had there been instant replay? Probably, although the deeper issues of how FIFA conducts the qualifying rounds would still fester. Nevertheless, since YouTube, Huffington Post, and sport outlets all have the video of the handball playing endlessly on the internet, it's clear that proof of the foul exists. Would instant replay serve the game? As one who has tired of the fits and starts added to already fitful NFL games with the replays, I'd hate to see the flow of any soccer matches fall prey to instant replay technology. Considering how rarely the issue of extremely questionable play comes up, it seems an unnecessary addition to the game. FIFA might consider adding two end zone officials to watch specifically for fouls in the box that are difficult to see from behind and by ARs on the opposite side of the play when looking through a sea of legs, bodies, and goal posts. 

But truly I'm more in favor of just letting the controversy flare up, get its day in the light of public opinion and then tuck away in the history books for another two or three years until a new controversial goal snaps everything back into focus. I love watching Judge Judy. She's my guilty pleasure while I fold laundry. If I've learned anything, I've learned that occasionally the law ends up being unfair. The aggrieved party can't prove their case and so the clearly smirking and guilty thug ends up getting away with it. It hurts to lose when you know you should win, but then you move on and let it all go because there are new opportunities on the horizon that have much better outcomes.

I loved reading the Irish Herald's editorial about the event because of all the papers talking about this incident this was the one who had the most right to be angry. Yet the editor took the opportunity to point out some hard truths. "Why were we in the position where a disputed goal put us out of the World Cup?   It is not a popular thing to say in the current climate, but shouldn't we have scored the second goal to ensure our qualification? If we had done that there wouldn't be a word about Thierry Henry this morning." Exactly! How often do we tell our kids that they can't blame the weather, the field conditions, the dirty play of the opposing team, or the officiating for losing a game? Instant replay will never provide strong play and the will to win. Fairness will never be achieved 100 percent. So we have to muddle through and not try to achieve some perfect environment for play. Let soccer be what it is – a somewhat flawed arena in which we project our nationalism, our bravado, and our hopes.