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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.


Principles of Learning Motor Skills

Sam Snow

At the 2008 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop & Coaches Convention the new DVD – Skills School, Developing Essential Soccer Techniques will be released.  Here then is an excerpt from the Technical Manual that will accompany the DVD.  I look forward to seeing you in Pittsburgh.
Principles of Learning Motor Skills
Principle of Interest
A player's attitude toward learning a skill determines for the most part the amount and kind of learning that takes place.
Principle of Practice
Practicing the motor skill correctly is essential for learning to take place.
Principle of Distributed Practice
In general short periods of intense practice will result in more learning than longer, massed practice sessions.
Principle of Skill Specificity
A player's ability to perform one motor skill effectively is independent of his/her skill ability to perform other skills.
Principle of Whole–Part Learning
The complexity of the skill to learn and the player's ability determines whether it is more efficient to teach the whole skill or break the skill into component parts.
Principle of Transfer
The more identical two tasks are the greater the possibility that positive transfer will occur.  Practice conditions should match the conditions in which the motor skill is going to be used.
Principle of Skill Improvement
The development of motor skills progresses along a continuum from least mature to most mature.  The rate of progression and the amount of progress within an individual depends upon the interaction of nature and nurture.
Principle of Feedback
Internal and external sources of information about motor performance are essential for learning to take place.
Principle of Variable Practice
Block practice aids performance while variable practice aids in learning.  Variable practice causes an increase in attention.

New Skills School DVD to be released at workshop

Sam Snow

US Youth Soccer will release a new DVD from the Skills School in February at the 2008 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop in Pittsburgh. 
The DVD will show coaches the techniques of several ball skills with regular speed, slow motion and game video clips.  There is also a clip for each skill of an activity that coaches could run in a training session to work on the particular technique.  The clips show players in the Under-6 to the Under-14 age groups executing the techniques.  The game clips are of players in the Under-14 to the Under-19 age groups participating in the US Youth Soccer National Championships Series.
Along with the DVD, a Skills School technical manual has been written and will be available on the US Youth Soccer website.  Below are some excerpts from the manual to give you an idea of the contents of the manual and the DVD. 
To be first in line to purchase a copy of the DVD, attend the Workshop on February 7-9, 2008.  For more details and to register for the Workshop please click here. The DVD will also be available at the US Youth Soccer Online Store.
I hope you enjoy this excerpt and I know you will enjoy the Workshop and the DVD.
The execution of a technique is broken down into three phases:
PREPARATION – the movements leading up to contact with the ball.
          Focus on the feet first as they will impact what happens with the rest of the body and they must get the body to the ball
          Look at the distribution of body weight (body posture), the angle of the approach to the ball, the position of the body and limbs in relation to the ball, the position and steadiness of the head, the position and shape of controlling surfaces and the rotation of the body into contact with the ball
          Eyes on the ball
CONTACT – the placement of the feet and the posture of the body upon contact with the ball.
          Look for the distribution of body weight and how it impacts balance
          Observe the hip and shoulder positions, the position of the supporting leg(s), the contact point with the ball and the movement of the limbs
          Eyes on the ball
FOLLOW THROUGH – the movement occurring after contact with the ball.
          Again focus on the distribution of body weight and posture
          Is the follow through complete or halted too soon
          Eyes on the ball
Change of direction and change of speed are crucial to successful dribbling.  Change of direction is the ability while dribbling to alter course to the left or the right or a 180° turn.  Change of speed while dribbling could be from slow to fast or fast to slow, to come to a complete stop or to move from a standing start.
Key Coaching Points
  1. Preparation: stay on the balls of the feet; knees slightly bent; lean a little forward at the waist; arms out somewhat for balance; head steady; eyes glance up to see the dribbling path
  2. Contact: eyes glance down to ensure proper contact with the ball; touch the ball at the horizontal midline (line A) with the instep or the inside or outside of the instep (front of the foot near the toes); the ball can be touched at the vertical midline (line B) or slightly left or right of that line to change direction with the ball
  3. Follow Through: the sole of the foot can be used to stop the ball or to change direction  

Lessons from the National Youth License course

Sam Snow

So after a full season of implementing the philosophies and methodologies from the National Youth License here is one coach's report on his team.
I just wanted to finalize my thoughts on what I think I accomplished this season as a coach and how I tried to incorporate the philosophy of the National Youth License into my coaching. 
This fall we took the team to one weekend tournament in Michigan (in August before our 'season' started) and had an eight game 6v6 league season (other communities in the Lansing area).  Ours was technically a select team but in reality we are able to have two teams in each age/gender group and had 23 players try out for 22 slots.  One of my players had never played soccer and one had taken a year off after playing with me K-2.  The other nine were returning from my team last year (two decided to shift to other teams).  I set up the season with four principles:
  1. Within the eight games each player will play goalie at least one half of a game (I had two players returning who wanted to play goalie and rotated them in with the other nine)
  2. In each game every player there will play approximately 50% of the game (the league mandates 30%- only one player missed one game; otherwise perfect attendance).
  3. A player will start at least one half.
  4. If a player played offense in one half they play defense in the other.
  5. Develop psychologically as well as technically (and somewhat tactically and physically).
My sense is that these principles keep the notion of ""development"" ahead of the notion of 'success' as defined by winning.  I actually ended up sticking to these very intensively – at the 8th game the 11th player (my daughter) played goalie.  Don't get me wrong- I am highly competitive and have to hold onto my inner demons around winning; but was able to keep the testosterone in check.  Anyway, I am very pleased with the results on a number of fronts:
1.      The 11 players over eight games played goalie.  I tried to put them in situations where they could be successful both in terms of defensive support (whom I put on D for the half they were in goal depending on who it was, etc.).  The result was that every one of them made some nice saves (some were brilliant), got the ball back in play nicely and had a good experience.  Overall they allowed 7 goals, had some collisions and dealt with their fears.  At the end of the season I said they would only have to play goal in the spring if they wanted to – and have six girls who want to continue developing at the position.  For training this season we identified the goalies for the next weekend at the beginning of each week and gave them 20 minutes per training session (2 times per week) and then prior to the game to get some basic skill development.  Interesting comments and participation by many of the parents – most told me how petrified their kids were all week knowing they were going to play goal and how they went out in the back yard and kicked balls at them to help them get ready.  Nice instance of parents playing some soccer with them.
2.      (and 3) Everybody played about half of each game.  If they started they played more that half as we tried to not sub at all for about the first 12 minutes to give them time to get into a good flow. 
3.      Of course some want to only play offense and score.  We had continuing discussions about how they have to learn all positions at this age to really develop an understanding of soccer.  They started buying into the idea that to be good at offense they needed to learn something about how a defender thinks, and vice-versa.  The other side is that (I think) eight kids on the team scored a goal and so they got that thrill.
4.      I started this fall naming the team captains for the games at the beginning of the week so that they also had responsibilities during training sessions of a) leading stretching and warm-down and b) captain 5v6 games at the end of sessions.  I also did some work on sportsmanship – all kids went up and thanked the ref after they finished thanking the other team each game.
Anyway, it was a really fun season and the final reward for the kids was that they went 5-0-3 and won their division (in the spring we will move to the slightly tougher division in our league).  As you can imagine, there is a wide range of athletic ability, body type, experience, and development level in this group – but they all improved both their individual skills and started thinking about triangles, communication and some other aspects of team play (it was really great to have one girl on the sideline say ""look Coach, they got a triangle set up for passing"" as she watched her teammates on the field). 

Benefits of the National Youth License

Sam Snow

Below are some outcomes from a US Youth Soccer coach from Michigan after attending the "Y" License coaching course:

"I wanted to let you know what an impression the course had on me and how profoundly it has altered the way that I think about coaching.  I can't say that I have got it all into practice yet but am working on it and make improvements each week through reflection.  And there is always the rule of unintended consequences- I had previously (last year with my Under-9 girls) used 3 girls in goal on a rotating basis and let the others get away with not wanting to.  This year at the beginning of the season I announced that everyone would play goal for at least one half this fall (8 games with 6v6) – I have always created an expectation that they will all play both offense and defense.  There were groans but everyone accepted since I said no exceptions.  Lo and behold one girl who absolutely didn't want to do it has the fastest reflexes I have seen at this age (she stopped a point blank shot at her waist and a foot to her left by deflecting it away with her hand) and is not afraid to roam all over and smother the ball.  She got a kick out of it and, who knows, may turn into a goalie of her own volition some day.  It is driving me crazy when I seem teams we play using the same girl in goal the whole game (and I know a few of the teams have just one goalie- at Under-10) – her options in the sport are really going to be limited as she gets older.  Inquiry-based approach to training and to the games has also been a big hit – hands are shooting up all over the team when questions are asked.  During games I typically just need to ask a question of a player on the field to get movement (and usually not a quizzical look).  So thanks."

US Youth Soccer advocates that players get exposed to playing all of the positions up through the Under-14 age group.  We also teach the use of Guided Discovery as an important coaching method in youth soccer with all age groups.  I look forward to meeting you in a National Youth License course soon!