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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.

 

Spring Season Fitness

Sam Snow

As we move into the spring season many players must regain their fitness levels in order to compete in the spring league, US Youth Soccer National Championships, regional leagues and beyond. So for your teenaged players here are some soccer specific exercises that impacts fitness, ball skill and mental toughness. Please make no mistake that these are drills, not activities. There is a place for drills in practice, which is different from a training session. Practice should be done with teenage and adult players as a supplement to training sessions.
 
1.            KEEPER FITNESS: need four cones, one ball and one server. Set the keeper at the center point and place the cones ten yards apart from him/her (one in front, one in back and one to each side). The keeper runs to each cone, but always faces forward. The keeper then works on forward and backward sprints as well as lateral movement. He/she must return to the center before going to the next cone. The server is behind the front cone with the ball and the keeper always faces the server. The server may throw the ball to the keeper at anytime and should vary the times of the throws. The keeper catches the ball and throws it back to the server all while in stride. One set is going to all four cones and finishing in the center. The number of sets and the work to rest ratio depends on the keeper's current fitness level and age.
 
2.            FIELD PLAYER FITNESS: need two cones and one ball. Set the cones ten yards apart. Player sprints with the ball to a cone. When he/she reaches a cone he/she cuts (spin turn) the ball and sprints to the other cone. Spin turn with both feet, alternating. Duration is 30 seconds to one minute.
 
3.            FIELD PLAYER FITNESS: Need four cones and one ball with three players per set of cones. Set one cone at a starting point, another fifteen yards ahead, then the other two set ten yards away, but parallel to one another and one yard apart. Player at the start cone dribbles the ball at speed to second cone fifteen yards away, when he/she reaches it he/she passes the ball through the two cones ten yards away (pass while dribbling). The instant the player passes he/she must sprint to receive his/her own pass behind the two cones. The cones may latter be replaced with a teammate to pass to and a defender to pass around.
 
4.            FIELD PLAYER FITNESS: one ball and two players standing fifteen yards apart from one another. One player serves a ball on the ground about eight yards out. The other player sprints to the ball and one touch passes back to the server. He/she then jogs back to the starting point and repeats, completing ten repetitions per set and then switches roles. This provides for a one to one work to rest ratio.
 
5.            FIELD PLAYER FITNESS: three players, one ball. Two players stand twenty yards apart and the third player in the center. Same drill as No. 4 above only the player in the center never stops sprinting between servers. Duration is thirty seconds to one minute. A one to two work to rest ratio for this vigorous drill.
 
6.            TEAM FITNESS: relay drill-six players and one ball per line. Legs spread; front player rolls the ball through the legs to the back player, who stands five yards off the end of the line. He/she picks up the ball and sprints out front to a cone set ten yards in front of the line. After passing the cone he/she sprints to the front of the line and repeat the procedure. A team wins by getting all six of their players through before the other team.
 
7.            TEAM FITNESS: same format as No. 6 above only the ball goes under and over. First player hands the ball under through the legs; next player hands the ball over his/her head to the player behind him/her. The last player in the line gets the ball and sprints up and around the cone and then back to the front of the line. Repeat until all six players have sprinted.
 

Overuse, Part II

Sam Snow

I hope you found the snippets of information from the article - Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes from the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics to be interesting. So while the thoughts evoked from last week's blog are still on your mind here is a final entry from you from that professional article.
 
"Overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout among child and adolescent athletes are a growing problem in the United States. Although inactivity and obesity are on the rise, the number of children and adolescents who participate in organized or recreational athletics has grown considerably over the past 2 decades. It is estimated that 30 to 45 million youth 6 to 18 years of age participate in some form of athletics. Sports participation is more accessible to all youth, from recreational play and school activities, to highly organized and competitive traveling teams, to pre-Olympic training opportunities.
 
"Weekend-long sports tournaments for soccer, baseball, or tennis are common across the country.   Often, these athletes are actively participating at least 6 hours each day in their sport and are exposed to the associated weather elements for an additional 2 to 3 hours. The risks associated with these events include heat-related illness, nutritional deficiencies, overuse injuries (e.g., multiple games over a 48-hour span), and burnout from having a lack of ""free time.""  Research examining the possibility of fatigue contributing to an increased injury risk in the tournament situation does not exist, but the general overtraining-prevention guidelines outlined earlier [last week's blog] should also apply.
 
"Single-sport, year-round training and competition is becoming more common for children and adolescents. A focus on participating in 1 sport, or single-sport specialization, to improve, advance, and compete at the highest level may drive youth to participate for long hours daily on 1 or more teams at a time. This is common in soccer, baseball, and gymnastics. The motivation behind this over involvement may be induced by the child or parent. As more young athletes are becoming professionals at a younger age, there is more pressure to grab a piece of the ""professional pie,"" to obtain a college scholarship, or to make the Olympic team. Most young athletes and their parents fail to realize that, depending on the sport, only 0.2% to 0.5% of high school athletes ever make it to the professional level. Yet, youth continue to specialize in 1 sport while participating on multiple teams and risk overuse and/or burnout if there is no break from athletics during the year. Young athletes who participate in a variety of sports have fewer injuries and play sports longer than those who specialize before puberty.
 
"Well-rounded, multisport athletes have the highest potential to achieve the goal of lifelong fitness and enjoyment of physical activity while avoiding some of the pitfalls of overuse, overtraining, and burnout provided that they participate in moderation and are in tune with their bodies for signs of overuse or fatigue. Many youth will play multiple sports throughout the year either simultaneously or during different seasons. Multisport athletes are at risk of overuse injuries if they do not get sufficient rest between daily activities or if they do not get a break between seasons.
 
"The ultimate goal of youth participation in sports should be to promote lifelong physical activity, recreation, and skills of healthy competition that can be used in all facets of future endeavors. Education of parents, athletes, and coaches must be part of the plan to promote fun, skill development, and success for each individual athlete. Skilled young athletes must be mentored carefully to prevent over participation, which may affect them physically as well as psychologically. Unfortunately, too often the goal is skewed toward adult (parent/coach) goals either implicitly or explicitly. The parent often hopes the child will get a scholarship, become a professional athlete, or fulfill the parents' unfulfilled childhood dreams. It is best to identify and focus on the child's motivation and goals to provide guidance."
 
1.       Encourage athletes to strive to have at least 1 to 2 days off per week from competitive athletics, sport-specific training, and competitive practice (scrimmage) to allow them to recover both physically and psychologically.
 
2. Advise athletes that the weekly training time, number of repetitions, or total distance should not increase by more than 10% each week (e.g., increase total running mileage by 2 miles if currently running a total of 20 miles per week).
 
3. Encourage the athlete to take at least 2 to 3 months away from a specific sport during the year.
 
4. Emphasize that the focus of sports participation should be on fun, skill acquisition, safety, and sportsmanship.
 
5. Encourage the athlete to participate on only 1 team during a season. If the athlete is also a member of a traveling or select team, then that participation time should be incorporated into the aforementioned guidelines.
 
6. If the athlete complains of nonspecific muscle or joint problems, fatigue, or poor academic performance, be alert for possible burnout. Questions pertaining to sport motivation may be appropriate.
 
7. Advocate for the development of a medical advisory board for weekend athletic tournaments to educate athletes about heat or cold illness, over participation, associated overuse injuries, and/or burnout.
 
8. Encourage the development of educational opportunities for athletes, parents, and coaches to provide information about appropriate nutrition and fluids, sport safety, and the avoidance of overtraining to achieve optimal performance and good health.
 
9. Convey a special caution to parents with younger athletes who participate in multigame tournaments in short periods of time.
 

It's Funny Because It's True

Susan Boyd

The other night I was watching the program "How I Met Your Mother."  I admit this even though it may decrease my credibility in some people's eyes.   But I find the show a pleasant diversion for Mondays.  In this particular episode one story line concerns Marshall, who is married to Lily, a kindergarten teacher.  He agrees to coach her class basketball team. Marshall has an amiable even child-like demeanor, and Lily is just plain sweet. 

So when the scene opens in the gym with Marshall and his pint-size players, our expectation is a bucolic moment.  Lily enters with a large container of orange slices and Marshall turns to his team warmly asking "Hey kids, who wants to knock off early and have some of these orange slices?"  The team erupts in cheers, leaping up and down.  But the crescendo quickly fades as Marshall evolves into a growling, screaming creature. "Well you can't.  Because oranges are for winners and you little runts haven't made a single shot yet.  You're embarrassing yourselves.  You're embarrassing Miss Aldrin.  And worst of all you're embarrassing me.   That's it.  Suicides.  Baseline.  Now run."  Lily stands horrified as he throws the basketball at a kid and shouts, "That's not running.  That's falling."

So the next day, she pleads with Marshall not to pick on the kids.   "Lily, I'm not picking on the kids.  I'm picking on the culture of losing around here.  I'm going to win that game tomorrow."  Lily laughs.  "Win?  We don't keep score."  Like a boxer rising from the mat on the eight count, Marshall reels, "What!?  You don't keep score.  What's the point of playing if you don't keep score?  If you don't know who's winning then who gets the trophy?"  She coos, "Everyone.  It's a participation trophy.  Everyone gets one."  With utter confusion Marshall looks at the love of his life, "It's like you're speaking Chinese to me right now." 

The writer, Joe Kelly, has to have young children.  He wrote scenes that perfectly convey those rite of passage moments in youth sports. The show is funny because it's true.  We have either known or observed the coach who thinks the players under his or her guidance should be handled like Dennis Rodman on his most petulant days.  Hopefully none of us have been that coach, but I think the tendency exists in all of us.  We're a nation that exalts a "winning" mentality.  We have award shows for just about anything you can name, and for what's left over we have the "People's Choice" awards.  We don't know what to do with situations where scores aren't kept and everyone gets an award. 

The episode continues with a flashback to Marshall being taught by his father, who was evidently the model for his coaching style.  Lily realizes that unless she steps in, Marshall will continue the pattern with their children.  So she orders him to be a
"Teddy Bear stuffed with cotton candy and rainbows" when he's on the sidelines.  At the big game, he can barely choke out to the kids "go out and have fun".  He gags on his encouragement.  "Yay, way to let them score that easily."  As a player kicks the ball, he instinctively reacts, "Billy you don't kick the ball.  This isn't soccer."  Then he catches himself, "Unless kicking the ball is something you find fun, then you should do it."   As the team struggles into half time Marshall has an apoplectic moment trying hard not to tell the team that "the score is 51 to nothing.  But it doesn't matter because you are having fun."

Marshall does convince Lily to let him try it his way, which ends up being no more or less effective than the Mr. Nice Guy routine.  At the game's conclusion, Marshall begrudgingly acknowledges that Lily's way isn't completely terrible.  Lily will have none of it.  "Your way stinks!"  This is the real moral of the tale.  These are kids who have limited attention spans and haven't yet developed a cut-throat attitude towards life.  So coaching won't brow beat them into winners, but coaches can contribute to their growth as happy and confident human beings. 

When I went to my grandson's soccer game where parents were urged to be part of the "circle of positive thoughts," I admit I rolled my eyes.  This touchy feely approach was so far removed from what Bryce and Robbie were experiencing in their team practices and games.  I assumed that people couldn't help themselves.  I absolutely expected that everyone would know the score of the game at the end despite the "we don't keep score" policy.  But it was truly a joyful, exhilarating experience for both parents and kids.  Everyone had fun, and as much as I pride myself on my compulsive tendencies, I had no idea what the score was at the end.  Every kid left that field with a smile, even the kid who got stepped on by his own teammate rushing the goal.  The adults made a tunnel for the kids to run through, something I had always regarded as corny.  But after the tenth trip through for each kid whooping it up and feeling very good about his contribution, I had to admit that things are only corny if you can't see the good in them.

Years ago our sons had a coach who wouldn't have known positive if he was hooked up to a battery.  We parents put up with his antics and his swearing and his put downs because, well frankly, I think we were all a bit terrified.  We knew we wanted our kids to stay in this particular successful club.  So despite our better judgment and despite the slumped shoulders and bowed heads after every game, win or lose, we stuck it out.  Flash forward to last summer as I walked to a field to watch Bryce's new club team play.  An under 12 game was just finishing up.  As I approached the field I heard a coach bellowing "You guys are losers.  You can't play soccer.  Move your rear end (I cleaned that up).  You call that passing.  You stink at passing."  Sure enough, when I got close enough I realized it was this coach from years before still using his bullying techniques.  There was nothing in his rhetoric that taught those boys how to be better soccer players, but there was plenty that taught them they were worthless.  Now that he no longer had any power over my boys' future in soccer, I wasn't filtering what he was saying with my own rationalizations.  I was pretty uncomfortable realizing that for my own sake of wanting to create winners in our family, I had subjected my children to this ugly, non-productive ranting.  They weren't motivated to be winners; they won despite his tirades.

I'd love to sit down with Joe Kelly and talk about his experiences with coaches.  I did look him up on Internet Movie Data Base because I had to know how many kids he had and their ages.  But unfortunately I only learned that his nickname was Meathouse.  If you read this blog, Joe, write to me.  I thought your script really nailed it when it comes to the world of youth sports and coaching.  It was funny because it was true.  I hope a lot of parents and coaches saw the show and shared a good laugh as they realized the wisdom of it all.

 

Camp Fever

Susan Boyd

Spring has barely begun. We have snow promised for the weekend in the Midwest, Denver just had its biggest blizzard of the season, and ice dams are causing the Red River to rise above flood stage. So talking about summer may seem premature. But the time to think about summer soccer camps is now because the most popular camps will be full by mid-April. Soccer camps come in as many sizes, shapes, and skill levels as there are registered youth soccer players, so figuring out what camp best fits your child's needs can be as daunting as selecting a college and nearly as expensive.

Depending on your player's age and skill level, he or she might best be served by any of the local soccer camps offered by clubs and professional teams in your area. Check with your own club to see camps they offer throughout the summer. These are traditionally the best options for younger players and provide good training for a reasonable cost, often under $200 for a week. If your club has summer camps, it allows players to continue to train together over the summer and to have the same coaches. That type of consistency really appeals to younger players because it helps diffuse the awkward and scary "first-timer" experience. If you do have a professional team in the area that has camps, they usually use their players as coaches and advisors. Kids love the opportunity to engage with their soccer idols who can often inspire them to work harder and pay attention.

Another local option would be high school camps. These usually focus on older players who are middle school age and up. These camps can be a great introduction to the next level of soccer commitment and give players a chance to test themselves in a more competitive environment. Many high schools offer camps just before the high school season begins to help players get acquainted with their teammates and to improve their level of conditioning.

Colleges sponsor camps to fulfill three needs. First, college camps bring in substantial revenue for a college soccer program. Second, these camps give coaches a chance to see talent they might not see when on their recruiting trips. Third, college camps get the program's name out to the public. Players who have their hearts set on being recruited by a particular college might consider attending the college camp. The chances of being recruited at one of these camps are minimal, but they do happen. My own son benefited from attending a college camp where he eventually got recruited. But for recruitment purposes most college camps are a very expensive way to be seen. Your best bet is to find college camps where several colleges will provide coaches so that you widen your observation base. Going to a local college camp can be beneficial because it gives players insight to what a college level program requires of its players, and you can avoid the costs of an overnight camp.

Camps can be day camps or resident camps. Day camps would, by necessity be local, while resident camps allow players to stretch their boundaries. Most resident camps run about five days to a week and the cost will be about $100 to $150 a day. Selecting a resident camp requires a close study of the brochures for the camp. Are linens included? How many meals are included? How much additional spending money is needed? The cost of a camp can look good at first, but because of additional expenses end up costing more than an all-inclusive camp. Resident camps usually provide transportation to and from the camp and major transportation hubs such as airports and train stations. But you'll want to figure out if there is an additional cost and if that cost has to be paid in cash. Resident camps can be a great way for kids to experience some independence and to meet soccer players from all over who share their skill level.

The ultimate resident camp would be abroad. More and more opportunities exist for foreign travel where either an individual camper can take advantage of camps in South America, Europe, and Asia or entire teams can travel to compete with foreign youth teams. These programs vary in expense depending on the length of the trip, the distance traveled, and the additional amenities such as sightseeing, but most come in around $2300 to $2900. If you can afford them, they are an awesome experience for any teenage soccer player. Robbie and Bryce had the opportunity to train with the Queens Park Rangers and play local London youth clubs. A few years later Bryce trained with his club team at Newcastle and then traveled around playing three Great Britain youth teams. Robbie traveled with his club team to Spain and played against five different Spanish youth teams. These international summer experiences helped the boys understand that soccer has nuances based on the country and soccer has so many more levels of greatness above what they are playing today. They also got to see different cultures, different landscapes, and different history. 

To find out about camps, check your local soccer supply store. They will usually have brochures for most of the local camps and some of the international camps. Be sure to ask teammates and neighbors for recommendations as well. If you have a goalkeeper, you will probably want to find a camp exclusively for goalkeepers. You can also check on line for various camps. A good starting point is to contact your local US Youth Soccer State Association. However, once you locate the camps in which you have an interest, you can search them on the internet to see what has been said about them. Like anything in life, what suits one player may not suit another, so be sure to read between the lines to see if the camp experience would be appropriate for your child. The longevity of a camp also speaks volumes on how it is regarded by campers, parents, and coaches.   This is not to say a brand new camp won't be terrific too.   Ask your son's and daughter's coaches about the various camps as well. They may know the director or coaches on staff, so can speak to the professionalism or quality of the camp.

Most importantly, don't stretch your budget too thin to provide camp. While the glossy brochures of the more expensive and farther reaching camps can be enticing, perfectly good camps that don't break the bank can be found right in your backyard. A week of camp isn't going to turn your two left footed player into David Beckham or Mia Hamm, so concentrate on what a week can do – provide good outdoor activity and be fun!! That will give you the best value for your dollar.