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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.

 

International Congress

Sam Snow

Recently I attended the 21st International Coach Development Congress held on January 12-13, 2009 in Antalya, Turkey. The congress was hosted by the Turkish Football Federation at the WOW Kremlin Palace Hotel with the participation of international and local coaches of every level and anyone interested in the content of the program. The congress aimed on the improvement and vision of coaches to bring a modern expansion of the Turkish game with its rich content regarding different topics on football.

The Technical Analyses of UEFA 2008 European Championship panel with the participation of Fatih Terim who lead the Turkish National Team into the semifinals as the head coach, Luis Aragones who is the head coach of European Championship winner Spanish National Team and Fabio Capello, head coach of the English National Team, was followed with high interest.

Topics such as Performance Training Approaches, Ahletes' Psychology and U-15 Youth Development Programs were discussed during the Congress. Each presentation was one hour in length, in a large ballroom as all 1,200 people in attendance sat in on each presentation.

The attendants of this Congress could also attend the Football and Science Congress free of attendance fee, which was held in Antalya WOW Topkapa Hotel between January 9-11, 2009. For further information: http://www.futbolbilim.org.

Main Topics
  • Technical Analyses of UEFA 2008 European Championship
  • Performance Training Approaches
  • Development Programs and Physical Improvement for Youth U-15 and Younger

Invited Speakers
  • Mahmut Özgener, President of Turkish Football Federation
  • Ahmet Guvener, Director of TFF Football Development Centre
  • Fatih Terim, Head Coach Turkish National Football Teams
  •  Fabio Capello, Head Coach of English National Football Team
  •  Luis Aragones, Head Coach of Fenerbahçe Football Team
  •  Bill Beswick, Sports Psychologist – England
  •  Shad Forsythe, Soccer Development Performance Director (Athletes Performance, USA)
  •  Sam Snow, Director of Technical Department, US Youth Soccer
  •  Associate Professor Bülent Bayraktar, Director of Performance Department (Turkish National Teams)
  •  Roland Koch, Assistant Coach (F.C. Köln, Germany)
My presentation was on the American approach to youth player development from U-6 to U-15. It was titled Player Development Pathways.

Terim, Capello and Aragones gave their analysis of Euro 2008. The presentation by Terim was certainly the best and the most in-depth. He later gave a good presentation on the plans for youth development in Turkey.

Overall, it was a great experience and more international contacts were established for US Youth Soccer for the exchange of ideas and information on youth player development and coaching education.
 

Matchmaking

Susan Boyd

National Signing Day is fast approaching. This is the day when High School senior athletes sign their letters of intent for the colleges and universities where they verbally committed earlier. The process leading to this momentous event is often wrapped in mystery and extends for years prior to the day. How does a player get recruited? There are some important constants, although each player has his or her own story of serendipity or frustration in getting to the point of commitment. Every player needs to be noticed for the process to start, so following are some suggestions for how to approach the recruiting process. Every coach has a board in his or her office listing the top players to be recruited. Eventually a player needs to land on a board in order to get an offer, but most players don't start on a board. There are several things players can do to bring themselves to the attention of coaches, which is where the process starts.

You should be realistic about your options. You have to be admitted to the school in order to play there. Don't believe the myth about coaches being able to perform miracles. Maybe that works for basketball and football players who generate revenue for a college, but not for soccer players. You have to meet the admission guidelines of the school you attend. Be sure the colleges you select have your major. When Bryce was being recruited by University of Wisconsin, the coach told him about a kid who wanted to play for UW and also wanted to major in marine biology, a major not found at most Midwest campuses!   Another important step is to identify soccer programs that are looking for players like you. Go to the athletic website and check out the roster. If the team just recruited three freshman goalkeepers, chances are that they won't be recruiting keepers for the next year. If they have a freshman national player at forward, you may get recruited, but chances are you'll be riding the bench playing behind someone of that caliber. So do your research.

Next, know your assets. You don't have to play on a nationally recognized club team or be an US Youth Soccer Olympic Development (US Youth SoccerODP) star to be recruited. But you do need to bring something to the table. Be sure to keep track of your accomplishments both on and off the field. Don't be shy about tooting your own horn. If you don't do it, nobody will! If possible join US Youth Soccer ODP in your state since coaches recognize the program as developing the best players in the state. Play as a guest if possible for stronger teams in your state or sign up to guest play at the major tournaments if your team isn't going. You need to work to make yourself visible. Most coaches will want to see you play live, so you have to go to the major tournaments for that to happen. DVDs are okay, but most coaches only use those to determine if you can play. They'll want to see you in ""unedited"" situations.

Start communicating with the coaches of those teams/schools you feel are good options. Remember that coaches can hit the "delete" button if they don't want to be bothered, so send them emails and don't worry if you are being a pest. Both Robbie and Bryce found coaches to be very accommodating. They heard back from nearly every coach they wrote to. After one or two exchanges, the coaches would either pursue the communication or drop it. If coaches don't answer, don't give up. They are out recruiting, or coaching fall or spring soccer, so they may not get back to you for up to a month!   If you do give up, believe me, they will too. Coaches don't have time to pursue players they believe are no longer interested. So send an email a week. Once a coach responds, answer back immediately. Show them by your actions that you really are interested.

Your first email should introduce yourself. Start the email by letting the coach know why you selected his or her team/school. In other words, personalize your email. Don't use services that will send out hundreds of interest emails on your behalf. These are impersonal form letters that coaches will be receiving from dozens of players. Start your email with why you chose their team: Dear Coach, I visited What's Amatta U last summer and loved the campus. WMU is well-known for being a leader in moose tracking which is what I hope to major in, etc. Then go on to let the coach know why you think you would be an asset to the team. I can't say this enough – DON'T BE SHY! You have to be your best advocate. Finally let the coach know where you will be playing and invite him or her to come watch you. 

NCAA rules limited the contact a coach can have with you. However, if you initiate the contact it's okay. Starting in your sophomore year you can call or email a coach, but coaches can initiate either until very specific dates in your junior and senior year. For a brief explanation of the rules use the NCAA:   http://www.ncaa.org/wps/ncaa?ContentID=9.   Coaches know the rules well, so if they act cold to you, it may be that they are concerned about breaking a rule. 

Finally get yourself registered with the NCAA. You will need to register and then have SAT, ACT, AP, etc. scores sent to the NCAA just as you would to a university. The NCAA Clearinghouse handles all eligibility issues. So if you are registered there, you can't be declared eligible to play. Most coaches will ask you if you are registered. It shows how serious you are about the process if you can answer YES. You can begin in your sophomore year to make contact, and definitely do so by the summer before your junior year. Most decisions about making an offer will occur in the summer and fall of your senior year, so don't delay. On the other hand, it's never too late. As the pre-season wears down coaches see their boards depleted. The players they wanted for first, second, even fifth choice have selected other schools, so coaches are still looking for that diamond in the rough. Bryce got his offer in May of his senior year after thinking he would never play college soccer. He had turned down three offers because the schools weren't right, but he began to despair. Don't ever despair. Opportunities exist out there. You just need to locate them. Good luck!!
 
 

Tryouts in Youth Soccer

Sam Snow

Recently I received this note from a youth coach.
 
Mr. Snow,
 
I have been working with a recreational soccer organization the past two years. We have been focused on player development and getting all of the kids out there involved. Our program is over 60 percent Under-8, with the rest spread out over the U-10, U-12, and U-14 ranks.
 
After this past season, parents of one team of U-8 boys complained that they didn't think that all three U-8 boys' teams in our organization were balanced amongst each other even though they all had nearly identical records. Long story short, the parents are demanding a tryout scheme be step up before spring soccer starts.
 
There are three USSF certified coaches in the organization and we keep telling the parents and the organization's Board members that the idea of having tryouts for U-8 in a recreational league is silly, but no one seems to be listening to us. Is there anything that the US Youth Soccer Association may have in writing we can show them that may drive this point to them home? We have been having great success by focusing on Player Development and working with all of the kids on all of the skills. The three of us coaches that have gone through training think that the idea of tryouts on such a young age will hurt the program overall because it implies a win at all cost mentality.
 
Hello Coach,
 
The 55 state Technical Directors agree with your stance and have stated so in the Position Statements.  Here are the ones pertinent to your situation.
 
PLAYING NUMBERS – SMALL SIDED GAMES No. 1
The intent is to use small-sided games as the vehicle for match play for players under the age of 12.  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 12. 
 
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 v 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!  These playing numbers should be implemented by September 1, 2009.
 
•     We believe that players under the age of eight should play games of 4 v 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.  These playing numbers should be implemented by September 1, 2009.
 
•     We believe that players under the age of ten should play games of 6 v 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 Youth Module certificate.  These playing numbers should be implemented by September 1, 2009.
 
•     We believe that players under the age of twelve should play games of 8 v 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.  These playing numbers for the U-11 age group should be implemented by September 1, 2011.  These playing numbers for the U-12 age group should be implemented by September 1, 2012.
 
REALIZING PLAYER POTENTIAL    No. 3
To maximize player potential, we believe that State Associations and progressive clubs should work to expose their better coaches, who should hold the ""Y"" License, to their youngest players.  It is also seen as important that mentoring programs be established for community soccer coaches to improve the quality of youth soccer training.
 
The developmental approach emphasizes the growth of individual skills and group tactical awareness.  We feel too much emphasis is placed on ""team"" play and competition in the preteen years.  We believe in an inclusion model for preteen players.  From this perspective, the goal of youth soccer programs at all levels is to include players in matches at an age when experience is more important than outcome.
 
Further options for players in their teen years that are not interested in competing at the highest level, but still have a love for the game should be created.  Perhaps older teen coed teams or high school based teams on a recreational basis.
 
AGE OF COMPETITIVE PLAY No. 4
While it is acknowledged and recognized that preteen players should be allowed to pursue playing opportunities that meet both their interest and ability level, we strongly discourage environments where players below the age of twelve are forced to meet the same ""competitive"" demands as their older counterparts therefore we recommend the following:
1.    50% playing time
2.    no league or match results
3.    8 v 8 at U-12
 
FESTIVALS FOR PLAYERS UNDER-10 No. 9
      We believe that Soccer Festivals should replace soccer tournaments for all players under the age of ten.  Festivals feature a set number of minutes per event (e.g., 10 games X 10 minutes) with no elimination and no ultimate winner.  We also endorse and support the movement to prohibit U-10 teams from traveling to events that promote winning and losing and the awarding of trophies.
 
I also recommend that you cite the information from the U.S. Soccer document Best Practices to educate your club membership.  http://www.ussoccer.com/articles/viewArticle.jsp_280734.html  I suggest you also contact your state Technical Director who will be able to provide you with further guidance.
 
 
 

Out-Waiting Winter

Susan Boyd

Given the view out my window, it's difficult to believe that anyone will ever be loping across the courtyard dribbling a soccer ball. The temperature is -10° with a wind chill triple that. The snow banks tower over my head as I walk the dogs who scale the banks and disappear behind them only to emerge again at the crest looking like they invaded a powdered sugar factory. Somewhere beneath this winter liability lies green pastures, furrowed keeper zones, and shadows of field lines. Nothing but time will crack this mantle. And so I wait.

In the meantime my family is undergoing horrible withdrawal from televised soccer. While on vacation in Florida (where soccer was being played) our home got extensive damage from ruptured pipes (another winter atrocity). So we have been displaced to a rental home that lacks, for the moment, cable television. We won't have cable until Wednesday so we have had to forego nearly three weeks of Fox Soccer Channel. Since Bryce is home from college, it means nearly his entire visit will have been soccer depleted.

The one bright spot has been Robbie's choice to leave his Chicago soccer team and join a local team. Some prayers are answered! Given the state of our home and my need to oversee electricians, carpenters, welders, plumbers, and city inspectors, driving five hours three or four days a week nearly brought me to me knees. However Robbie began to realize what another year of driving to Chicago meant – long hours in the car, homework done on the fly, and a social life that becomes non-existent   Nevertheless, the move to Chicago soccer had been an excellent choice, the club was amazing, and the benefits for Robbie immeasurable. But now that he has committed to a college, he felt he didn't need to sacrifice quite so much. As proud as I was of him for sticking with the sacrifices and making the most of his opportunities I was even prouder that he recognized when he needed less pressure.

To quote Garrison Keillor, we all live in our own Lake Woebegone where all the children are above average. We need to see our children in the best possible light. Battles for the front-row seats at the kindergarten winter music concert equal battles over Springsteen tickets. The paparazzi can't equal the flash power of the legions of digital cameras recording every 1/60th of a second of the 2nd grade class play. We celebrate graduation from kindergarten. We gather with all the relatives for every U6 soccer game dutifully recorded on high def memory cards. So it's natural we want to encourage, support, and facilitate our children's ascension to the highest levels of their interests. Only hindsight can insure 100% perfection, so we have to muddle through the best we can.   There are a few guidelines to help us, but for the most part we move through the process blindly.

Lots of parents go looking for a better training and exposure experience for their children. For the extremely committed and gifted player, I recommend it. Those players will play soccer for life, so nurturing their talent is no different than nurturing the talent of musician, mathematician, or writer. However, parents need to have the proper perspective to make the decision for sacrifice.   Parents need to immerse themselves in the ""culture"" of soccer. They need to watch soccer every chance they get to see what talent exists and what level of ability their own child needs to aspire to. Everyone should attend college and professional games. Parents should watch foreign soccer on the TV. It's not enough that Suzy scores four goals a game, or that Billy has a string of twenty-four shut-outs. Instead parents need to figure out if the competition is strong enough to make such statistics meaningful. Arrange for your child to guest play with some of the stronger club teams in the state. Then honestly watch your child play. If after all the testing you're convinced they have that extra something to move up to the next level, be sure that's what your child wants to do too! Forcing him to give up social contacts and possibly even grades means that he has to be totally on board. Even then, I can tell you from experience you'll face the days when you want it more than they do. After all, these are kids with all the whims and short-term attention spans that implies. You only need to look at the graveyard of handheld computer games in your drawers to verify this truth.

For those of you in the land where green never gives way to white, then mushy brown, then finally back to green, enjoy your year-round soccer and your light jackets. For the rest of us, winter is a time to be creative and find ways to enjoy soccer even in the snow. If the Packers can play in an ice bowl, why can't the MLS? In the meantime, I'll enjoy my relatively travel-free winter and look forward to my relatively travel-free spring. Oh, and I'll wait in the house on Wednesday for the cable savior to show up and connect us to TV soccer once again.