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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.

 

Youth Soccer Month and TOPSoccer events in Connecticut

Sam Snow

Over the weekend, I traveled to Connecticut to work with state Technical Director Austin Daniels on a Youth Soccer Month event at Southern Connecticut State University and a US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer coaching course. Both events were well attended successful events.
 
For the Youth Soccer Month event we held a clinic for about 60 kids and we had the very capable assistance from a number of the of the university's women's soccer team and coach Bob Dikranian. We were able to meet with the parents as well as train the players for a fun-filled afternoon.
 
Yesterday, we conducted the US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer coaching course for 45 coaches from around the state. We also had over 25 TOPSoccer players join us for the practical session at the end of the course. Connecticut Junior Soccer Association has a healthy and widespread TOPSoccer presence and those involved are now better equipped to coach the players in their clubs. The hope is that the course will enable more clubs to refine or begin TOPSoccer programs. The TOPSoccer coaching course is now in its second year of offering and the hope is for more state associations to take a lead as Connecticut Junior Soccer Association has done to deeply impact the soccer coaching community by offering the course several times a year. For more on the TOPSoccer course, listen here to Daniels.
 

Vacation Depravation

Susan Boyd

Our eight year old neighbor informed me yesterday that it was only 29 school days until teacher convention break. There have only been seven days of school so far. This type of countdown to vacation preoccupies most students who attend any type of school. I had one of my college students, who can't seem to remember an assignment deadline, correct me about the dates of the mid-semester holiday without even referencing his calendar. Yet depressingly Americans don't take advantage of their time off. Every year Expedia does a vacation depravation survey which, depending on your point of view, Americans either ace or fail miserably. We get the fewest number of paid vacation days a year, thirteen, and even then we leave three of those days on the table.   Of the nations surveyed, America comes in the lowest, meaning that we are the best at depriving ourselves of vacations.

French workers get 38 paid days of vacation a year. Germans get 27 while Britain has 26. Austria, Spain, Italy, and New Zealand average in the 20s, while Australia and Canada get nineteen days.   Japan gets fifteen days a year, but 92% leave an average of seven days on the table. The only reason they aren't the worst vacationers is that they power vacation, meaning when they travel, they go for a week or more and travel outside the country. What I have noticed is that those countries with twenty or more vacation days also have intense soccer fever.  Laugh if you want, but I'm thinking they have grown to depend on those extended vacation days so they can follow their beloved teams or attend UEFA Cup or even the World Cup without making a huge dent in their vacation time.

Given our nation's woeful vacation history and our burgeoning, but not yet fully realize, interest in soccer, perhaps there's a way to make soccer work for family vacation time in America. While those families with players on traveling teams obviously have an immediate and necessary vacation excuse, any soccer family should be able to combine vacation time with their soccer schedule.   Use the sport as your vacation portal.

This Saturday, for example, my grandson has a game in Poynette, Wisconsin (pop. 2,300) about thirty miles north of Madison. At first blush the possibility of doing anything vaguely family vacation oriented seems unreasonable in a small town. But with the power of the internet you'd be amazed what a family can find. If you're going to drive to play a game, you might as well find somewhere fun to eat and visit. Check the Chamber of Commerce, your state's recreation department and tourism bureau, or just put the town's name in your search engine and see what appears. Poynette it seems is home to the MacKenzie Environmental Center, a 250 acre nature preserve with trails, a fire tower, three museums, maple sugaring demonstrations in the spring, and a large picnic grounds. There are herds of buffalo, packs of wolves, flocks of birds including bald eagles, and abundant smaller wildlife all visible from trails. So after the game we'll head over and spend the afternoon having a walk amongst nature and if the weather holds out a picnic as well. This is free of charge, although donations are always welcome.

Rather than rush up to a game and then rush home, families can extend their time together with some creative planning and limited expense. Not every vacation has to include a cartoon mouse and twenty story thrill rides. More importantly, every vacation doesn't need to be longer than a few hours of family togetherness in order to recharge the batteries. Look upon soccer as an opportunity to create an adventure. While you might not independently travel to see the chicken who always wins at Tic-Tac-Toe, you might take a five minute side trip on the way home from a game. The books "Off the Beaten Path" written for a number of states offer some great surprises. They emphasize the finds on the back roads nearby many of the small towns and fields you'll be visiting as you play league games or even tournaments. Taking time out to do a corn maze or see a Hopi Indian Village can take some of the stress out of preparing for a game or having to travel for a while. It doesn't have to be long – it can be as short as a stop to get some homemade ice cream from an old time soda fountain. But having the family discover it and plan it jointly adds even more family time together. 

For really young players you might consider doing planning together as a team. Sometimes large families have to be three places at once so you can't plan something for every game, but the team could plan things to do together. Given the internet savvy of kids, teams could even assign a town to each player to research and find something fun for everyone to do when in town. It could be something they do for fun or a place to eat or picnic. On one trip to Iowa, we were introduced to Maid-Rite by a team member's mother who grew up in Iowa.   Maid-Rite is ground beef cooked in boiling water that is dished out onto a bun and garnished with whatever you want. It's kind of like a dry Sloppy Joe. But it's good, and we would have never thought to eat there because in truth it sounds like a cleaning service. 

If we can't get 38 vacation days like the French, we can use American ingenuity to carve more days out for ourselves by crafting mini-vacations. Rather than dissecting the game on the trip home, you can hop out at a fruit stand and dissect a few apples. Rather than dwelling on a tough loss, you can relax at a trout farm catching dinner. Instead of dreading the drive back, you can break it up with a stop to see the world's largest rubber band ball. They aren't things you'd ask Expedia to reserve for you, but given the next Expedia survey you might be boosting America's score.
           
 

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Susan Boyd

Here's a tale of two games. In game one, the kids begin with a serious sit down session with the coach who critiques the last game and voices the expectations for this game. Warm-ups consist of precision drills under the coach's watchful eye. Any mistakes and the drills stop abruptly to make corrections and point out failures. When the game begins, the parents prowl the sidelines barking instructions at the players. The coach likewise paces the opposite sideline always yelling out some direction or disfavor, and occasionally engaging the referee about a call. 

At half time the team gathers in the corner of the field for an intense coaching session. When the game restarts the team is scored against immediately and the floodgates of disapproval open with a vengeance. At the end of the game, having won by a goal, the players get reminded of their mental lapse early in the second half and how it nearly cost the team a win. The players cross the field to their parents with heads hung low. On the ride home, they get advice on how they could play better next week. 

In game two the kids arrive and immediately begin shooting balls into the net. After a few minutes the coach gathers them for a jumping jack exercise where they chant "Up, down, don't frown." Parents set up on the sidelines and unfurl a banner reading "Go Tigers!" Each parent has a pom pom and wears a ribbon with their player's name and number. During the game the parents only cheer and all have a good laugh when one team member takes a hearty swipe at the ball in front of the goal, only to miss the ball completely and end up bottom-down in the box. The coach stands and occasionally reminds the team of their positions, and of how they should be passing. When a player comes out of the game, the coach gives a high five and a pat on the back. When a foul is called on a player, the coach says; "That's okay. Just remember not to push."

At half time, the team meets briefly and then returns to the field for some shooting and passing. At the end of the game, having lost by a goal, the coach congratulates them on a game well played, has them shake hands with the opposing team and the referees, and then sends them across the field running to their parents who greet them with cheers and a parent tunnel. During the trip home talk turns to ice cream and what they'll do in the afternoon.
           
As you might have guessed, these were opposing teams in the same game. In one case, the coach and parents set the wrong tone. I'm sure they meant well, still they fell into the trap of believing that intensity equals improvement. But consider this, if you found out that your son's or daughter's teacher spent most of the day just yelling at the kids about their poor performance or poor behavior, you'd be mortified. If those same teachers invited parents into the classroom once a week to stand over the kids and criticize them as they worked, you'd consider the teacher unprofessional. Yet somehow we've been brainwashed to believe that's the way sports should go. Coaches should be gruff and unforgiving and parents should be critical.  Who learns like that? Imagine if Oscar the Grouch was the only character on Sesame Street. I doubt the show would have lasted 40 years. Kids need humor, fun, encouragement and support to learn, whether they're grasping the alphabet or dribbling.
           
Don't we all feel good when we can smile and laugh? These years of youth soccer should create some of your best memories. What you bring to the game dictates what you take from a game. If everything spills out negative you can't expect to have that warm fuzzy feeling later. You make a huge difference in how your child, and even how the team, views the sport. Encourage parents to find ways to make the practices and games fun. Kids should respect the work ethic of learning how to be better soccer players, but they can work and have fun. Even the seven dwarfs managed to whistle on their way down into the mine. Plan team surprises, nominate players to be the boy or girl of the match, reward good practices and attendance at practice, celebrate things together as a team such as birthdays, Columbus Day, first day of fall and spring, anniversary of the first college soccer game, and other events that will both entertain and educate. Organize a trip to a high school, college or professional game. Volunteer the team to be ball boys and girls for a local high school. Scrimmage parents vs. kids. Don't make it all about winning and losing. Let the kids know that you love soccer as much as they do and that your greatest joy is watching them play.
           
If soccer is life, remember that life is short.   Relish every moment. If some of that good humor and positive energy spills into high school and college soccer, that would be awesome. Let the kids develop their intensity for the game over time, but on the sidelines and in your heart, leave some room for joy. Statistically kids laugh 500 times a day, but adults only 15 times. How cool would it be if statisticians had to add an asterisk to that fact: *soccer parents laugh 40 times a day especially while watching practices and games. I'm challenging all of you to keep having fun, keep laughing and keep positive for as long as possible. Let's have people recognize soccer parents by their pronounced laugh lines!
 

Too Young to Travel?

Sam Snow

Recently a 'soccer dad' wrote to me asking about the appropriate age at which to begin travel soccer. That age varies across the nation to a degree, but certainly by the U-12 age group many soccer clubs have teams that travel to other cities and perhaps even other states to play. Now, a trip to another state with a bunch of 11-Year-Olds may not seem like a big deal if you live in Rhode Island, but what if you live in Alaska or North Dakota where that trip is quite a long way. So one consideration is the distance and, therefore, the time and cost involved.

Also to consider is the physical and emotional stress on the kids if they are too young for soccer road trips. Factor the adults' expectations for results into the psychological environment in which the kids are now playing. Some, but not all, adults will suddenly want more wins as the 'R.O.I.' for having made the trip.

Central to the discussion, purely on the soccer side, is to consider if the players are ready technically, tactically and physically to undertake playing matches on the road, which even at the adult level of soccer is more demanding.

Finally, we must remember that soccer is a long-term development sport. Since players do not peak until their late twenties or early thirties there doesn't seem to be a need for a rush to travel soccer. Furthermore, I am of the opinion that we should unfurl the full soccer experience gradually to young players. Let's always have something new in soccer on the horizon for them. We have a tendency in youth soccer to give them everything early on, and then there's little for them to look forward to in the soccer world.

So, here's my exchange with a parent asking for some advice to be able to make an informed decision for his child's soccer experience.

Coach: travel team guidelines

Hello, was hoping to find some guidelines on kids participating in travel teams. When should kids really starting traveling out of state for soccer tournaments? Is 4 years old too young? Is 10?  What are the guidelines being provided to our clubs across the country?

There are not any mandated policies for travel. However, US Youth Soccer coaching education recommends that kids not begin to travel until the U-10 age group. That travel should be within a 100 mile radius of the home club. In this way, the kids are getting some variety of games, but without overnight stays and all of the time and expense to the family. For the U-12 age group some out of state travel is fine. Again, time and expense are justified to make that travel to a state bordering the home state of the club. Also, as long as it is not overdone, travel within your US Youth Soccer Region is fine too. For the U-14 to U-19 age groups travel nationwide is fine. However, clubs must be sure to consider the time away from school and cost to the player's family. International trips for U-14 and older is fine too. Such a trip has greater significance if it is an occasional event for the players - once per year or two at the most.

Sam, this is very helpful, thank you! I currently coach a U-9 Girls team, and my oldest daughter plays for a U-11 Girls team. Her team is looking to travel in November to Texas, but I am of the opinion and have decided that this is not best for our family or daughter. Her team has plenty of competition right here in Colorado, and can easily get travel experience with some longer distance in-state tournaments. I wish some of these clubs were not so eager to take our young players to out of state tournaments. From my perspective this only perpetuates the "win at all cost attitude" so many are discussing these days, but doing very little to change. It's more about club promotion and less about developing players.

Your note is indeed helpful. Would you mind if I shared this with my club? I'm assuming U-11 would be treated similar to U-12. In our state of Colorado all the "crazy competitiveness" starts at U-11. The more guidance US Youth Soccer can provide our state organizations and the clubs, the better the soccer community will be for all.

Thanks again for your insights. I'm going to keep your name for the future as I am the parent of a "warrior girl," trying to do right by her.

Indeed the push to play more and more begins too soon in American youth soccer. All of the adults be they parents, coaches or administrators, contribute in some way to that mentality. Please do not hesitate to let us know if the US Youth Soccer Coaching Department can be of further assistance to you.

Let me close this week with drawing your attention to a very good article for parents who have children playing soccer. The FREE content for soccer parents is available at: http://soccerparentadvice.blogspot.com.