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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.

 

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.
 

Parent education issues

Sam Snow

From the state Technical Directors' Position Statements here is information on the part of parents in youth soccer.
 
Parent Education Issues No. 8

We believe that parents should be required to sign and comply with a Code of Conduct. We also believe that proactive and ongoing parent education should be the responsibility of every club and league. We urge clubs to put the US Youth Soccer Principles of Conduct into the hands of the parents associated with their club.
 
Please also take a look at the information for soccer moms and dads in the parents section of the US Youth Soccer web site.
 

Support Your Local Player

Susan Boyd

Conservatively there are over 900 men's college soccer programs taking into account NCAA's Divisions I, II and III and the NAIA. Women have over 650 college soccer programs in the same group. Add to this mix the Christian College Conference, Junior Colleges, and a host of independent college soccer programs and you'll end up with nearly double the numbers. Assuming that colleges need to fill around six spots on their teams each year, you end up with close to 10,000 male and 7,500 female soccer players needed each year to fill the college soccer ranks. Therefore, if your son or daughter wants to play college soccer, chances are he or she can. The trick is finding the right fit with the coach, the school, and the major. Plus you can't just leap into this search in the summer between sophomore and junior years in college and expect to come out at the end with a roster spot. You need a plan, and you need to initiate it in your child's freshman year. More importantly, you need your soccer club to help your player find the right program.

College searches usually begin just before or during the junior year, but to find a college where a student can also play soccer requires earlier planning. A great place to start is on the major amateur athletic Web sites: www.ncaa.org (National College Athletic Association), www.naia.org (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics), www.nccaa.org (National Christian College Athletic Association), and www.njcaa.org (National Junior College Athletic Association).   These Web sites list all the college soccer programs, links to these programs, and information on qualification requirements. As you look through these lists, consider issues of in-state vs. out of state, school size, academic rigor, and successful soccer programs. Create your own list of up to 50 schools with a variety of options. Research the schools' academic and athletic programs so that you can narrow down your search to a dozen. Then write to the soccer coaches and request an unofficial visit as soon as you can. These visits can help you narrow down your choices even further since the coaches can be very frank with your family about the possibility of joining the soccer team and your player can see if he or she feels comfortable with both the coach and the campus. Stay in contact with the coaches you meet because that's the way you let them know that you are truly interested in the program. Send emails after a game to congratulate the team on a strong victory or to commiserate with them over an unexpected defeat.

All of this research and all of these visits will do you no good if the coaches don't have an opportunity to see players in action. Here's where your club is of utmost importance. If your son or daughter is playing in a select club, you should expect the following from your club. First, they should be taking the team to the best soccer showcases they can enter beginning with U-14 for girls and with U-15 for boys. You should attend one or two showcases the first year and then at least three in the following years. Second, your club should have a Web site with player profiles that coaches can access through a password, and your club should be printing off a booklet of profiles to hand out to college coaches at the tournaments. Third, your club should hold college recruiting seminars every spring and fall and provide an excel spreadsheet to every player of regional colleges with coaches' email addresses set up as links. Fourth, prior to every tournament, the club will receive a list of college coaches who have registered to be in attendance. They should pass that list on to the players in the form of another spreadsheet with linked email addresses so players can invite coaches to come to their games.   Fifth, when asked, your coach should be able to provide for you a letter of recommendation. Sixth, your team manager or a designated parent should be keeping statistics of every game so that you will have an easily accessed record of both the team's accomplishments and individual player accomplishments. Finally your club should have strong contacts with local college coaches facilitating conversations about potential recruits from the club. Your club should be "selling" your son or daughter every opportunity it has.

Too many clubs neglect the next step that a player can take in soccer. They fail to realize that part of development is helping the player move forward beyond the club. On the other hand, most clubs recognize the marketing value of a player who moves on to college soccer as evidenced by such listings on their Web sites. Some clubs just aren't willing to make the investment necessary to assist all interested players in getting to the next level. It's a shame because so many good players end up abandoning their soccer careers at high school graduation or praying that a walk-on tryout will result in a roster spot.

Given the numbers, playing college soccer can be a very real possibility for many kids. Division I soccer could be difficult to attain, but terrific opportunities exist at Division II and III as well as through other college and junior college athletic associations. However, you'll need good planning, perseverance, and strong support from your club. Don't be shy about asking what the club is willing to do for your player and don't be shy about encouraging the club to do more. They are the conduit through which your player may or may not pass into college soccer. A club's neglect of this conduit shouldn't be acceptable. If they want to list the players who move on to college soccer, then they need to be willing to provide the support to make it happen.
 

Snack time

Susan Boyd

Happy soccer gremlins will soon be clamoring for those after practice and after game snacks that parents agree to supply. Snacks once consisted of a bag of orange quarters and a jug of water.   I don't know about any of you, but I'm the mom who realizes on the way to practice that she signed up for snacks that day. I really think that's why oranges and water became so popular. I, and others like me, could leave the engine running in the grocery parking lot, grab the bag of Clementines and the gallon of water, and be back on the way to the fields before the boys had finished tying their cleats. But slowly the tide turned and oranges and water simply screamed, "This woman doesn't plan ahead."

Here's the deal. Snacks need to be nutritional, cost effective, delicious, and avoid common childhood allergies like nuts. Oranges and water fit those criteria, but they didn't fit the final and possibly most important criterion – snacks need to have a "wow" factor. Somewhere along the line responsible, thoughtful, prepared moms and dads started baking muffins, packing Gogurts in coolers, distributing full granola bars, providing individual boxes of natural cereal, and otherwise making snack time into a Top Chef competition. My bag of oranges opened on the hood of my car being sliced with a 1" pocket knife attached to my nail clippers didn't fit into the epicurean banquet other parents provided.

Navigating this snack track can be tricky for those of us who don't visit the gourmet snack aisle and who have to use the circuit breaker to turn our ovens on and off. I would bake. I really would.  But every time I turn the oven on the timer beeper screeches continually. So obviously I can't leave the oven on for the length of time it takes to heat up and then to bake. Our dogs can't take the high-pitched agony. So I moved from oranges to fruit snacks and from water to juice boxes. They aren't fancy, but at least they have their own packaging, which seems to be a part of the current snack requirements.

The only advice I can give any new soccer parent is let your own kids guide you. I'm amazed at how acutely even four and five year old kids have their fingers on the pulse of coolness. While I thought animal cracker boxes would be an ideal snack, my boys nixed that misconception. "What? Do you think we're three?" I have learned that the more bizarre the snack, the better, especially for boys. In other words regular fruit roll ups won't cut it, but fluorescent green alien roll ups pass the test. Square juice boxes send out nerd vibes, but wax bottles or foil packs get the thumbs up. Grapes seem to muster approval, as do bananas on occasion. I do get confused as to when bananas are an appropriate offering. I've been known to bring home bunches of bananas only to be told, "You can't bring those to practice!" When I ask why not I merely get the eye roll that says, "You'll never understand."   It appears to be a generational thing. 

I once brought a box of popcorn balls to an indoor tournament which got lots of positive feedback except from the mother who was a dentist. Undeterred I have gone the popcorn ball route a few other times. I don't make the popcorn balls. That would require far too much planning and creating. But I was fortunate enough to get in on a "20 popcorn balls for $5" special at my grocery store right after Halloween. I have learned that popcorn balls never expire. In the future we are guaranteed that cockroaches, Twinkies, and popcorn balls will survive, although only one can be considered an appropriate soccer snack.