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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.

 

Teaching Games for Understanding

Sam Snow

Recently I attended the fourth International Conference for Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) in Vancouver, Canada. Over 300 people from 26 countries were in attendance to exchange research, new ideas and to make professional connections. Some of the attendees are physical education teachers and some are coaches. All of them recognize the validity of the approach of teaching athletes how to play a sport through the use of games that get them to think and thereby have a 'feel' for the sport. We already advocate the use of game-like activities in training for soccer. We teach much of the games approach in the U.S. Soccer National Youth License course that is delivered by US Youth Soccer. Here for you then is a sampling from my notes from the conference.
 
To teach well within the method of TGfU the coach must know the topic very well. Consequently our coaches who should be able to use this method the best are the most experienced and educated ones. The experienced coach shapes the game. If it's a good game then learning will take place – observational learning. However, even relatively novice coaches can use portions of the TGfU approach in their training sessions. 
 
If a coach has any doubt about what he's doing then he'll fall back on what he already knows; his previous knowledge and experiences. These tools are usually then the command style with a drill approach to coaching. Those approaches when used predominately in soccer training tend to produce robotic players. They are technically competent, but not masterful and they are adequate tactically, but not savvy. The guided approach within the TGfU model tends to develop players who are more intuitive (tactical awareness) about their sport.
 
TGfU = Games Sense and Games Concept
 
Tactical Awareness = core principles of play, problem solving, guided discovery with a coaching method of "Don't tell me – show me."
 
What are the stages of tactical development? How do they lead to tactical awareness? It begins with physical activity which leads to intrinsic motivation so the practice environment is of huge importance. The TGfU approach produces greater intrinsic motivation over the skills based approach. Girls respond well to the task approach and boys prefer an ego orientated environment. In other words the performance versus outcome culture in sports. Part and parcel with our sports culture is the belief of many coaches that skills must come before tactics when in fact we could approach soccer from the other direction. This is the idea of developing soccer literacy with our players. Some traits of being soccer literate include playing with poise, confidence and enthusiasm. Within the concept of soccer literacy are the metacognitive processes of critical thinking, problem solving and decision making. Key goals of soccer literacy include enhancing overall performance, enjoyment, creativity and autonomy. The skills based approach to coaching soccer had focused on block practice. In the games-like approach that US Youth Soccer advocates skills practice is done in a random practice fashion. The immediate effects of practice (random or block) are similar, but long-term retention shows lasting affects with the random approach. Children report that games (random) as more stimulating than drills (block).
 
 

Under-10 Motivation and Consistency

Sam Snow

Last week I received a question from a parent, after she had read the Vision document, regarding one or two issues in the Under-10 age group.  The thoughts were fairly common and I thought you may like to read the questions and my responses as they may assist you in your local youth soccer efforts.
 
Thanks for your quick response!  Any advice or suggestions on motivating kids (10-year- old girls) to work their hardest in games?  Do you find that at this age the children are still pretty inconsistent?  If you have any info or articles to point me to I would greatly appreciate it!
 
Well here goes a stab at your questions which could in fact take on quite a bit of depth.  Here though is a short version for you that I hope will be beneficial.
 
It is indeed natural for children this young to be inconsistent in their performance in sports.  For that matter so are adult professional players.  The difference between a professional soccer team and a Under-10 team is simply that the pros make fewer mistakes, but they do make mistakes.  Don't fret about inconsistent play with this age group.  It's normal for a team to have highs and lows in match performance.
 
Now as to the work rate for Under-10 kids start with recalling how you played soccer when you were 10.  Odds are it was play for play's sake not for a result or league standing.  Let's be clear too that physiologically these are children not adolescents.  In fact peak athletic performance takes place in early adulthood, the twenties and thirties.  So for 10-year-olds there's still a low ceiling to their athletic performance.  The adult concept of work rate is driven by the desire to win.  Kids like to win but playing is more important.  They are engrossed in the process of play not the outcome.  Still coaches and parents should encourage kids to try their best.  Ten- year-olds can understand this idea to a degree.  They can get the broad scope but the details are foggy.  The ability of players to understand and execute consistent play with a good work rate will grow over many years.  These traits should be gradually nurtured by coaches and parents.
 
Please do not hesitate to let us know if US Youth Soccer can assist your club further.
 

Student of the Game

Susan Boyd

Bryce recently got a job in a sporting goods store which means he has his paycheck spent before he earns it. Surrounded as he is by shoes, jerseys, shorts and t-shirts he is a sports addict living in his dream world. The other more positive benefit of his job is the opportunity to talk sports both with his co-workers and the customers. He loves sports and knows the tiniest details of trades, statistics, scores and upcoming competitions. Our TiVo works overtime to keep up with all the events he has programmed so he can watch when not at work. As frustrated as I get when I can't watch Judge Judy because Barcelona is playing, I also understand that Bryce is fulfilling an important aspect of his soccer training – he's a student of the game.

Despite the apparent contradiction of sitting on the couch watching soccer vs playing soccer, watching the game can prove to be as instrumental in developing a good soccer player as actually kicking the ball.   Coaches recognize that studying how others play the game increases their own players' abilities, which explains why film remains an important part of any college or pro team's training schedule. Watching film of one's own play allows for a more detailed self-critique. Watching film of an opponent helps teams prepare for defenses and offenses that address the opponent's strategies and helps players key in on particular opponent players' weaknesses. More and more camps are using video to give campers better feedback.

Being a student of the game also means immersing oneself in the history and lore of the sport. Understanding the journey professional players took to arrive at their lofty positions gives a student a better idea of the sacrifice and talent needed to succeed. Looking closely at the history of a club can give a player perspective on the reason for rivalries and the richness that tradition provides to the sport. Once Bryce competed in a contest where he had to name the brand of uniform particular soccer clubs throughout the world wore. It seemed a silly, albeit fun, competition, but as I saw the intensity in which the boys competed I realized that this knowledge was an important aspect of immersing themselves in the game.

Parents should also be students of the game. So many parents narrow their study of the game to those youth games they watch that include their sons or daughters. While certainly exciting and definitely worthwhile, a true understanding of the game and what it requires for success can't come from that singular perspective. When I worked for US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program I would regularly receive emails or be approached on the sidelines by parents who couldn't understand why their son or daughter wasn't considered more highly by the US Youth Soccer ODP coaches. They would tout their child's scoring record or the achievement of their team. The difficulty was in trying to explain to them the more expansive skills needed to be a top player.   Some of the best in the world don't hold individual records, but have the special ability to enhance a team by their "soccer brains." Positioning, ability to provide pinpoint passes, ability to anticipate play, team compatibility, speed of play, communication, first touch, and unselfish play contribute to the whole picture. Many of the aforementioned skills aren't flashy or easy to spot, but those who watch the field choreography of top teams week after week have a much better understanding of these nuances. 

Players who have a strong desire to move ahead in the game need to include study in their regimen. They need to watch games, attend clinics, read, gather critique of their play, go to camps, play year-round, challenge themselves by playing on and against tough teams, study game film, especially of their own play, and find others who share their enthusiasm and talk about the sport. Being a student of the game is just one aspect of having a passion for the sport which is necessary to succeed. To that point, I'll remind everyone that the UEFA Champion's League Final is Wednesday, May 22, between Manchester United and Chelsea at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2 from Moscow. Tune in, study and enjoy some top soccer competition.
 

US Youth Soccer Region I Premier League finals

Sam Snow

This past weekend I attended the US Youth Soccer Region I Premier League finals at the Kirkwood Soccer Club in Newark, DE. Both boys and girls competed in the Under-14 to the Under-19 age groups. I went to these matches to make a technical analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the players in each age group. Well despite heavy rain the day before the matches the fields were in great shape. The local volunteers did a great job of hosting the event and getting the fields ready for top notch competition.
 
I observed quite a few aspects of performance with the players and their coaches. By and large the coaches were quite professional in their conduct. Only a few over coached from the bench or repeatedly got in the ref's face. Yet that is still too many and as professionals we can do better! My only other critique in this space on the coaching is the observation that while warm-ups were very well done the cool-downs were quite suspect; if they happened at all. Given that the teams all had second match on the Sunday this crucial part of regeneration must not be overlooked!
 
Briefly in this blog I'll touch only on two aspects of the players' areas for improvement. First is the question of why we feel that we need to play so fast? Frequently in these matches the players tried to perform beyond their technical speed. These were good players mind you! Yet too often for players of this caliber they lost the ball easily due to rushing their play. Going hand in hand with this shortcoming was the lack of any tactical change in the rhythm of play. We need players who know when and why to put their foot on the ball and change the pace of the game.
 
So one other item among several for us to address in our player development is the way players act or in fact don't act at a goal kick. Consistently when a goal kick was being taken all of the field players stood still waiting for the ball. Of course this was fine for the defenders who simply stood next to their mark. For the attackers though this stagnant approach makes creating an attack much more difficult. By being still with a defender on you means every goal kick is a 50/50 ball. If instead they made runs to create space and shake markers then the odds of generating a good attack improve.
 
Well there are a few observations on aspects of the American game that we can improve.