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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.


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!


Experience in Coaching

Sam Snow

I shared this information with the National Youth License instructors a few days ago. As the article discusses issues in coaching I thought you would enjoy reading it. Regardless of the sport you coach this article provides good insights into the craft of coaching.
Article by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook at

Let's not be too quick to condemn the "bad" coaches. I'll bet the reason Coach Sar gives such good advice is he's paid his dues and learned over time to be the coach he is today. A saying I like: "If you're the same man at 50 as you were at 20 then you've wasted 30 years".

I believe head coaches (for any level team) go through an evolutionary philosophical process if they continue to work with kids. You learn all kinds of lessons and make many important observations along the way. If you accept the fact that most coaches change with time, it gives you a different perspective when you see them behave in certain ways. When you see a coach do something that seems reprehensible, there is a temptation to assign a label, such as "he's a hothead" or "he's way too competitive to be coaching that age group", and overlook the good work that has been done.

Now, such labels may be fitting, but it is important to realize the labels only fit for a given point in time. As an administrator, or a parent whose child may play for such a coach, it may be unfair to write him off, especially if he (or she) is young. People will change as they learn. The same is true of coaches. Give them a chance to grow. Sometimes coaching peers, parents and administrators come down much too harshly when a new coach strays from path of popular acceptability. In most cases, coaches have little or no training in their new role. A little advice from the right folks may be all they need, rather than an avalanche of criticism.

So, when you meet a coach or see him perform in a game or practice for the first time, you can gauge where he's at in his philosophical evolution. There is a progressive path from the neophyte coach (like some young player's ordinary dad or mom) to a coaching ideal like John Wooden. Obviously, most people won't coach long enough or be dedicated enough to go the whole distance, but it is a path that should be followed as best and as far as you can while you coach.

The first thing most brand new coaches want is validation that they CAN coach. They get that feedback from their W/L%, and somewhat from parents and peers. That's why new coaches are into the trick Ds and are hollering at their ten year olds. This is especially true if the coach used to be a good player. They will assume they can coach because they were successful in the past. They will assume they know more than their peers. And, because former players are inherently competitive, they will be highly motivated to prove their assumptions are true. If they are unable to achieve the validation they usually quit.

The next phase, for the survivors, is education. They realize they could do better. They go to camps, buy tapes, read books and websites. They listen keenly to other coaches hoping to absorb their experience as quickly as possible. This is an exciting phase as they gain more coaching tools. The point is, with more tools, they can make their teams better and win more games. It's an extension of the validation process. Winning is extremely important because it proves the coach is qualified.

Some people, again they are usually former star players, come into coaching convinced they do not need to learn anything. The know-it-alls won't educate. They'll coach as long as they win. As soon as they don't get the validation (like they have a weak team one year), they quit. They'll blame the kids for lack of desire, ability or whatever else applies.

What's next? Explanation. Coaches start speaking out as an authority, praising those who coach like them and criticizing those who do not. In this phase, they can see what's wrong with everything. As a spectator, when they watch other teams play, they like to point out what the players need to work on, what the coach should be doing, things like that. If there are other spectators who nod and confirm their observations, it bolsters the coach's own opinion that he is an expert.

With time, coaches move into the edification phase. This is a big improvement over the explanation phase because now their purpose is to simply help people rather than feed personal pride. Coaches in this realm are as happy to help a kid from a different school as they are to help a kid from their own program. They become open with other coaches in sharing ideas and knowledge rather than keeping all they have to offer close to the vest to maintain a competitive edge. Instead of pointing out what others are doing wrong, they encourage others for what they are doing right.

Realization of their true mission as a coach, that's the next phase. Something happens for the better and the coach realizes what happens on the court changes a player off the court. The coach starts emphasizing character traits as well as skills, rethinks playing time, and develops the bottom of the bench. The coach sees his/her team as a waypoint for journeying players rather than a one time seasonal event.

Remember that coaches are very competitive people. Winning is still important, but now it is done through developing people instead of players; teaching fundamental skills, not trick plays; motivating through discipline, not emotional speeches. Developing people means training and conditioning the mind as well as the body, and considering both the spiritual and physical aspects of the person. Once a coach realizes and accepts this mission, coaching becomes much more than a job, much more than a won/loss record.

Given the opportunity, the next phase is implementation. This is the chance to build your own program, doing it the right way, building not just a team but a system where proper fundamentals and discipline can be taught at the outset. At first you may think that it is unfortunate that there are so few opportunities to run your own program given the limited number of schools and similar organizations that promote team sports. I have seen, though, many people who have built their own systems, starting with one team, then adding more, and gaining momentum as others join in the cause to help their kids play better basketball. These grass roots basketball communities are out there and they have high-quality, motivated people.

Last phase I can think of is compensation. Not the money (ha ha!) but the chance to see players who have been in your care and are now grown with kids of their own - maybe even coaching their own teams. That's when you have the satisfaction of knowing you played a part in the bigger picture. As parents and coaches, they will be passing on what they learned from you.

There are probably more phases, I don't know. Ask me in a few more years. Where do you rank in the coaches evolutionary ladder?


The end

Susan Boyd

Sadly this will be my last blog…Maybe not sad for you, but sad for me.  The Magic U16 Boys lost this morning in the final game to the Michigan Wolves 0-2.  The weather was perfect, the field was great, the fans were ready, the teams fired up, and in the end the Wolves prevailed.  It is going to be a long 5-hour ride home.  But the sting will wear off slowly with each mile, and eventually we'll be back to business as usual.  As much as I wanted my son and his teammates to win Midwest Regionals, I can't say I am sad about missing Dallas in late July!

There is something very bittersweet about going so far only to lose, but this wasn't the first time, and it won't be the last.  So it is a good life lesson learned. 

In the end we have to accept that these are only games.  Games may teach us things about ourselves and help us along life's path.  Games may give us pleasure and may mete out disappointment.  Games may be remembered for years.  But in the end a game doesn't solve world hunger, end armed conflict, provide us with a family, give us enlightenment, or answer our prayers. 

A game is a way to test our mettle, to provide us with entertainment, to offer us an opportunity to feel victorious for a moment or dejected for a different moment, and to grant us a group of like-minded individuals to share an afternoon or a tournament with.  After that, we need to knuckle down with being parents, students, caregivers, employees, bosses, friends, and lovers. 

Thanks to Iowa and Des Moines for being such great hosts.  It was a wild ride and great fun.  Good luck to all the US Youth Soccer Region II Champions as they head to Dallas in July.  Let's make our Region proud!!