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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.

 

No. 2 Goalkeeping

Sam Snow

We believe that goalkeepers should not be a feature of play at the U6 and the U8 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 and U-12 age groups should not begin to specialize in any position at this time in their development.
 

Calendars and Coins

Susan Boyd

This is a cautionary tale for all of you who encourage your children to reach for the next level in life's endeavors. I'm all for raising the bar for my kids. So I'm not suggesting we shouldn't aim for the next target. But as we step up the ladder we need to anticipate how much more complex the journey becomes.   Many a parent suddenly finds themselves dropped in a whirlpool of demands with no means of escape. Schedules, finances, sacrifices, and time double, triple, even quadruple in an exponential fashion. You can't just take soccer to the repair shop and ask someone to install more time like installing memory in your computer. Parents and kids get stuck with too full a calendar and too expensive a lifestyle. We want to have it all, but we can't always manage it.

Since many players have completed or are completing their tryouts for the fall, now is the time to take stock of what will be expected.   Too often we're so excited that our kids made the select team or got a spot in a prestigious club, that we forget a lot comes along with that honor. Our insurance agent was so excited that his son made the select team, but he didn't even know which club! I imagine he also doesn't know what he's in for as far as hours and dollars are concerned.  To help slow down the demands, parents need to do two important things before the season begins. 

First and foremost now is the moment to do time management. Clubs, coaches, and other team parents will have expectations for the team. You've been told to buy into them or else. This is "time" extortion that preys on our desire to do the best for our kids. You can give yourself some breathing room by creating a small "ransom" of time now. Buy a huge calendar, a red marker, a blue marker, and a bunch of colored highlighters. Sit down as a family and figure out to the best of your abilities what demands there will be on your time outside of soccer as well as in soccer.   Keep in mind as many of the activities as you can. Look at the school calendar to figure out when the dances, recitals, parent conferences, open houses, and field trips will occur. Be sure to include every child's school demands because unless you keep a clone of yourself on ice, you will need to be two or three places at the same time on occasion.   Add in church classes, music lessons, other sports, and your own schedule such as board meetings or exercise class. And don't forget to fold in any volunteer requirements for the team. Write each thing in the appropriate calendar square in time order and highlight with a different color for each family member.  Where conflicts occur use the red marker to place a check where you will need to find a ride for your children. Use the blue marker to place a check where you will be the transportation (so you also know when you can provide a carpool for another family). Don't forget family vacations, events (weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthdays, etc.), and those ever present soccer trips. Finally fold in time for just relaxing. Kids will be much more energized to go to practice if they don't feel they have sacrificed their social life to do so. If it means missing two practices a month, don't sweat it. Soccer will survive, the team will survive, and you need to survive!

Second, make up a family budget now. Looking at the calendar, figure out the expenses the various activities will incur. Usually we're not thinking about anything but the immediate expense of club dues. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. You don't want to put your family in deep debt to fulfill soccer needs. Find ways to economize. As much as I loved seeing my boys play, it wasn't always practical to go to every tournament. By sending a boy with another team family, we could save the expense of our travel. Similarly, we helped out for other families who needed to send their sons on other events. In addition, there's no reason for eighteen or twenty cars to head to a tournament two hours away. Using your calendar, figure out events where you might carpool two or three families together and share the gas costs. Then begin to set up those carpools now rather than waiting. If you begin to crunch the numbers and find that you just don't have the money to fly to Florida or North Carolina for a tournament, then talk to the coach now. The club may be sending the coaches down on a group airfare that you can get in on or someone may have airline miles they can use to pay for the ticket.   The club may even have a plan for families to do extra volunteer work for the cost of an airline ticket or you may have a talent you can barter such as plumbing, landscaping, data entry or painting which saves the club an expense. Most importantly don't have any hesitation to ask. And by planning ahead you may find a way for your son or daughter to earn the money. Just remember that you can only do as much as your finances allow and that's the way it is.

It's amazing how quickly and insidiously the tiny demands of being on a soccer team can begin to pile up. The only relief is planning early. Make sure the club is very clear about time and financial demands. The coaches get their way paid when they go to tournaments and away games, so they often aren't thinking about expenses. Just don't be shy about asking. And don't be shy to demand that group hotel rooms are kept to a certain maximum amount a night. Believe me, you won't be the only one who thinks $139 a night is exorbitant, but you may be the only one to speak up. In fact if you need good control over these types of expenses, feel free to volunteer to be the team travel secretary! If you don't plan and you don't put your foot down, you can find yourself drowning in an overscheduled and expensive life. Soccer is supposed to be first and foremost fun. Make sure it stays that way for your family.
 

Playing numbers for Small-Sided Games

Sam Snow

The intent is to use Small-Sided Games as the vehicle for match play for players under the age of twelve. Further we wish to promote age/ability appropriate training activities for players' nationwide. Clubs should use small-sided games as the primary vehicle for the development of skill and the understanding of simple tactics. Our rationale is that the creation of skill and a passion for the game occurs between the ages of six to twelve. With the correct environment throughout this age period players will both excel and become top players or they will continue to enjoy playing at their own levels and enjoy observing the game at higher levels. A Small-Sided Game in match play for our younger players create more involvement, more touches of the ball, exposure to simple, realistic decisions and ultimately, more enjoyment. Players must be challenged at their own age/ability levels to improve performance. The numbers of players on the field of play will affect levels of competition. Children come to soccer practice to have fun. They want to run, touch the ball, have the feel of the ball, master it and score. The environment within which we place players during training sessions and matches should promote all of these desires, not frustrate them.
·         We believe that players under the age of six should play games of 3 vs. 3. This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate playing environment. No attempt whatsoever should be made at this age to teach a team formation!
·         We believe that players under the age of eight should play games of 4 vs. 4. This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate playing environment. Players in this age group can be exposed to a team formation at the start of the game, but do not be dismayed when it disappears once the ball is rolling. The intent at this age is to merely plant a seed toward understanding spatial awareness.
·         We believe that players under the age of ten should play games of 6 vs. 6. This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate playing environment. The coaching of positions to children under the age of ten is considered intellectually challenging and often situates parent-coaches in a knowledge vacuum. Additionally, premature structure of U-10 players into positions is often detrimental to the growth of individual skills and tactical awareness. This problem is particularly acute with players of limited technical ability. We also believe that the quality of coaching has an impact on the playing numbers. We recommend that parent-coaches would best serve their U-10 players by holding a U-10/U-12 Youth Module certificate.
·         We believe that players under the age of twelve should play games of 8 vs. 8. This will provide a less cluttered and more developmentally appropriate environment. The U-12 age group is the dawning of tactical awareness and we feel it is best to teach the players individual and group tactics at this age rather than team tactics.
 
 

Something Happened on the Way to the Send Button

Susan Boyd

I wrote a completely different blog for this week, but then two things happened. First, the U.S. Men's team posted an amazing and well-deserved win over number one ranked Spain in the Confederations Cup. Second, before the game, FIFA had each team captain read a statement which condemned racism on the soccer pitch and asked for an end to racism in the world. FIFA has continued a program it began supporting several years ago that addresses the problem of racism in soccer. In 2005, disturbed by a racial slur cast on him by, ironically, the Spanish National Team coach, Thierry Henry began his "Stand Up, Speak Up" campaign. He asked Nike to support the cause, which they did by manufacturing and distributing rubber wrist bands of two intertwined circles of black and white.   They also funded public service announcements before, during, and after games that featured major soccer stars decrying the blight of racism in the sport. Then in 2006 for the World Cup, FIFA began its own program – Say No to Racism. Yesterday, hearing the fans cheering the on-field pronouncements gave me new hope that racism can be defeated.

The U.S. Men's win over Spain proves two very significant aspects of soccer. Anything can happen and heart plays a huge role in the sport. I had so little faith in the U.S. Men after their lackluster performances in the preliminary rounds of the Confederations Cup that I actually went out grocery shopping during the first half of the game. The U.S. had barely squeaked through to the semis. They had required the perfect storm we all calculate at our kids' soccer tournaments to open the door to Wednesday's upset of Spain. The U.S. had lost two games in their bracket. The only way they could go through was if they beat Egypt by three goals and Brazil beat Italy by three goals. Other than very young youth games, it's a rare day when teams win with a three goal margin. To have two teams do it defies the odds, but that's what happened. The fact that U.S. team did its part to insure a berth in the semis speaks volumes about their collective change of heart from going through the motions to clawing for victory. So I should have expected that given the chance on the world stage to show that the U.S. can now be a force that they would do exactly that. By the time I arrived home from the store, the U.S. was up 1-0 and when the dust settled they had added a second goal and played the waning minutes down a man after Michael Bradley received an extremely questionable red card. They played brilliantly, especially in the back where a frustrated Spain had opportunity after opportunity stolen by our defenders and Tim Howard, the goalkeeper. I can't wait for the game Sunday. By the time this blog is posted, everyone will know the outcome, but right now I don't even know their opponent!

What motivated me even more to change my blog was the ceremony before the game, which I saw later in the evening when we watched the game again (note my previous blog on recording games and playing them back). It was moving to see the Spanish team captain reading a statement deploring racism. Since it was two incidents involving Spanish teams that sparked Thierry Henry's crusade, it was both fitting and significant that Spain read the first statement. When Henry was insulted by the Spanish National Team coach he didn't respond, believing instead that FIFA would condemn the statement. But nothing happened. Then a month later the black members of England's national side were barraged with a slew of racial insults during a "friendly" match in Madrid. Again nothing happened.

As Henry explains in an interview in Time magazine, he felt he had to speak out. "As a player, you'd hear or see the occasional racist insult or gesture, but you'd tell yourself it's unfortunate but normal, a price to pay if you want to play pro football. But after all these things happened, I realized that footballers have a duty to defend important values, and use their media exposure to deliver messages when the occasion presents itself." He solicited Nike and the rest is history. What Henry didn't say was that no player should have to pay the price of racism, especially youth players. Yet they do every day here in the U.S. and around the world. They don't receive monetary compensation for putting up with racial attacks. I understand this personally. 

I don't speak about it much because I don't feel it is relevant to most discussions, but our sons are adopted and bi-racial. They have endured their share of racial attacks during games and off the field, but they also understand that people will find any way, even hatred, to try to put them off their game. We have always said that the boys can't use racism as an excuse for not succeeding because many African-Americans and Hispanics have succeeded before them in atmospheres of far less tolerance than today. Nevertheless, they have had to toss off both overt and implied racism. Bryce has been spat upon in goal and called names. Just this week Robbie, who is working for a landscape contractor, was refused a cup of ice water by a client because she was "out of cups," while just moments later a white coworker was given a cup. Clearly racism is pervasive and ugly, but certainly not worthy of being tolerated within the international power and scope of soccer. When FIFA came out with their Say No to Racism campaign, I applauded. It has happened far too late for an organization with such world-wide influence and recognition, but it happened. For that I am grateful. 

Soccer encompasses the world and as such can provide the leadership to rise above intolerance. Soccer sponsors more international competitions that bring together disparate races, religions, politics, and economies than the highly touted Olympics. Both men and women play.  It fosters both national and individual pride. So it shouldn't be the venue where racism is allowed to be practiced unabated. Therefore it was a powerful moment in that South African stadium where two teams spoke out against racism. Today Brazil and South Africa will meet in the second semifinal game and these teams will also read statements before the game. Having players unite shows, in Henry's words, "that racism is a problem for everyone, a collective ailment. It shows that people of all colors, even adversaries on the pitch, are banding together in this, because we're all suffering from it together." When teammates are attacked on the basis of their race or religion, it affects everyone.

As parents, coaches, and referees we have a responsibility to both lead by example and to confront racism when it appears. It's a sad commentary that a program like Say No to Racism is needed but it is also heartening to see that an official stance has been taken by the international organization. I am not so naïve as to believe that racism will disappear altogether, but I am hopeful that we can make racism difficult to flourish. After all, if the U.S. Men's team that lost to Costa Rica, barely beat Honduras, and clawed its way into the semifinals of the Confederations Cup can then defeat the number one team in the world, I think that collectively as human beings we can find the heart to squash racism.