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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.

 

Competition and Tournaments

Sam Snow

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 U10 teams from traveling to events that promote winning and losing and the awarding of trophies.
 
 
State, Regional and National Competition for Under-12s No. 10
 
            We believe that youth soccer is too competitive at the early ages, resulting in an environment that is detrimental to both players and adults; much of the negative behavior reported about parents is associated with preteen play. The direct and indirect pressure exerted on coaches and preteen players to win is reinforced by state "championships" and tournament "winners." We therefore advocate that, in the absence of regional competition for under 12's, state festivals replace state cups. We also strongly recommend that with regard to regional and national competition the entry age group should be U14.
 
Tournament Play No. 11
 
            We believe that excessive play at competitive tournaments is detrimental to individual growth and development, and can serve to reduce long-term motivation. Do not multiple matches being played on one day and one weekend have a negative effect on the quality experience and development of the individual player? Further far too many playing schedules include so many tournaments and matches that there is never an "off season." We believe that players under the age of twelve should not play more than 100 minutes per day, and those players older than thirteen should not play more than 120 minutes per day. 

We also recommend to tournament managers and schedulers:
The players should be allowed ample rest between matches.
That all tournament matches be of the same length and that no full-length match be introduced during play-off rounds.
Kickoff times allow players a reasonable opportunity to prepare for competition. This encompasses rest and recovery, nutrition and adequate time to warm-up and stretch after traveling a long distance in addition to taking into consideration extreme environmental conditions.
 
 

Coaching Licenses, Risk Management and Parent Education

Sam Snow

Coaching Licenses No. 6
 
We believe that competitive level coaches should hold a minimum of a "D" License.  Recreation level coaches should hold a minimum of an "E" certificate, if they are coaching teenage players and an age appropriate Youth Module certificate if they are coaching children.  Coaches working at the top level (premier/classic) should hold a "C" License or National Diploma.  Ideally they should hold a "B" License and/or an Advanced National Diploma.

The overall intent here is to create minimum license requirements in the U.S.A. and to establish levels of license with commensurate levels of play.  We recommend that this implementation be completed by December 31, 2010.

The rationale for these requirements follows:
-      To provide continuing education on the game in the United States of America.
-      To ensure that American coaches have an equal opportunity for education and standards in the game as our domestic and foreign counterparts.  Many countries now require mandatory licensing.
-      To create the appropriate training environment to minimize the risk of injury.  To provide information on the prevention and care of injury.
-      To reduce the risk claims against negligence and to be accountable for background screening.
-      To equal other sports such as softball and ice hockey who have established mandatory coaching education requirement policies.  Ice hockey's rationale is very similar to that of
U.S. Soccer. 

"The coaching education program of USA Hockey is committed to developing coaches through a comprehensive education program at all levels.  Since quality coaching is the single most important element affecting the athletes and the sport itself, the experience athletes' gain through participation will be a direct result of the coach's qualifications, education and competencies.  Therefore, it is paramount that we prepare our coaches through a comprehensive curriculum which follows the different levels of skill progressions for the development of players."
 
Risk Management No. 7
 
We believe all coaches involved in youth soccer should be subject to background checks and that coaching licenses be required as part of the risk management process.  We also believe that each coach should be issued a registration card, certifying that they have completed the risk management process and have attained the required coaching certification.

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.
 

Lost and Found

Susan Boyd

The home team scored two own goals, three players had to be carried off the field, one player lost his jersey, there were no referees, fans crowded the sidelines, and the coaches spent the entire game micro-managing the action. Sounds like a soccer nightmare! But welcome to the world of U6 soccer where mayhem ensues, pig piles rule, sidelines are meaningless, and fun is had by all. Where else would a player circle the field getting high-fives from all for scoring a goal against his team? Where else would a player stop in front of the goal box mid-dribble to adjust his shin guards before shooting the goal? Where else would a player frustrated by not being able to kick the ball out of a scrum of participants pick up the ball and place it in a more advantageous spot then kick it? Where else would a player run off the field in the middle of a play because he had to go to the bathroom?

I had the pleasure of watching my four year old grandson, Archer, and his team of four, five, and six year olds. Archer's team was the Orange Magic – a name Archer suggested undoubtedly based on the color of the jerseys and his uncle Robbie's club team. Teams played on a field so small it couldn't accommodate the spectators along its short sideline. But parents politely accommodated one another. Rather than team benches, each team spread a blanket out where the kids lounged. Because of the range of ages, there were definitely varying levels of ability. Yet every kid played an equal amount without regard to skill or outcome. The Orange Magic's top scorer had four goals: two for the Magic and two for the opposing team. After the first own goal, the coach asked the team which net they should score in, and in unison the team stretched out their arms, pointed their fingers and indicated the goal ahead of them. Ten seconds later they received the ball, turned around, and fired into the opponent's goal. Then dutifully pointed the right direction when the coach again inquired which net was theirs.

Sometimes when they dribbled out of bounds, the coaches stopped the play and had them throw the ball in. But usually the spectators crowding on the sides kept the play from going too wide, so play just continued regardless of lines. Each team had two coaches on the field trying to maintain some sense of order, but for the most part they were reduced to shouting, "No hands" and "Turn around."  Despite all the chaos, everyone was having fun, except for the occasional tears for losing the ball, or falling down, or being kick accidentally. No one understood when the coaches asked, "Do you want to come in or stay out," since "in" and "out" were cloudy concepts based on understanding what sidelines meant. So it took some time to figure out whether or not a player would sub. In the meantime action would continue with a varying number of players on the field.

The parents and coaches spent most of the game laughing and cheering. I only observed one parent intent on making his little player rise to a higher level by discussing his play with him and coaching from the sidelines. But after the kid left the field to turn somersaults, the parent backed off. The game ended when the coaches said, "One more goal." We got to watch five or six runs up and down the field before a goal was finally scored. I have never laughed so hard with joy at a soccer game. Everyone declared his team the winner which was perfect because we were having too much fun to keep track. The one thing the players did manage to do with perfection was form the line to shake hands after the game and then head to the right spot to get their after game treat.

Last night I attended Robbie's high school game. All the players ran the right direction, didn't accidentally or on-purpose pick up the ball, dribbled inbounds, substituted without reminder or question, and no one ran off the field to the Port-A-John. All that perfection made for an exciting game, but we lost the joy of seeing kids having pure fun without any pressure to win. After the game I didn't have the same ache on my face from smiling so broadly at Archer and his buddies. Of course I cheered with pride when Robbie went "coast to coast" for a goal, out-maneuvering three defenders. Naturally I was delighted when the team was up 2-0 in the first two minutes. Without question I celebrated when his team won. But I realized something was lost in achieving the victory. Not everyone got to play, the coaches were dead-serious barking out instruction, and winning mattered – a lot.  No one had the luxury of just enjoying the moment without considering the consequences of the play.

That's the price paid for evolving from "youth" youth soccer into "competitive" youth soccer. Many players want to evolve and many parents want their players to evolve. But we have to accept that we lose our innocence. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to experience and remember what soccer used to be like on a Saturday morning. I didn't need to have any more investment in the outcome of the game than cheering on all the players and enjoying the moment. Everyone should go experience again where all soccer players came from so we can recapture the unabashed freedom of enjoying the game without any agenda. It's a feel-good warmth that lasts a long time.  
 

They Just Say No

Susan Boyd

A crisp fall day with clear blue skies, a mild wind, leaves just beginning to flutter to the ground, and the awesome screams of a four year old who absolutely, positively doesn't want to play soccer today. Out on the emerald green field scores of other four year olds are having the times of their lives kicking, giggling, running, and generally making mayhem.   But one kid stands on the fringe beyond reasoning. "AHHHH."   And it's your kid!

As parents we want to offer our kids every opportunity possible. We know the importance of the socialization and to some extent the networking sports offer, not to mention the obvious health benefits. But kids will resist our best intentions sometimes for reasons we can't comprehend. We cajole, "See? There's your friend Billy. Why don't you go play with him?" And we're met with a sobbing, "NO!" We bargain, "If you just go play for 10 minutes we can go home." With a look of confusion our child responds with "I want to go home now." We may even threaten, "If you don't go out and play now, we won't come back to soccer again." And our child looks up with total relief in her eyes and says, "Okay." Sometimes you can get your child to sit and watch, but usually once she enters the panic mode, there's no calming her except by leaving.

Besides the obvious embarrassment of having it be your son or daughter creating the scene on the sidelines, there's the additional concerns about shyness, missing out, and being labeled as a quitter.  Experts tell us that children have natural separation anxiety clear up to age seven. Many kids overcome it around age four, but others need additional time to feel secure in leaving their comfort zone. Kindergarten teachers will tell you that certain children have anxiety for weeks before settling into the routine of school. So although it can be disconcerting to pull up to the fields for the first soccer experience, so proud to begin "big kid" activities, and have your child have a total meltdown, some kids just are ready yet.

Nevertheless there are some ways that might help ease the transition for any child. First, make preparing for soccer an adventure. Go pick out some cleats, socks and a ball. Balls come in a dozen colorful and inexpensive options, so let your child make his own choice of ball. Then have him help you label these items so he can take full possession and responsibility for them. If possible designate a special place to keep the gear, so your child knows how important this experience will be.

To help minimize the sudden introduction of a new location and dozens of new kids, you can introduce your player to the field ahead of time. Take her there and play some soccer with her. If you know a child or two who will also be doing soccer invite them along so your own child will feel part of the group even before coming to the first session. While playing let her know that soccer will be just like this but there will be even more kids to play with. Sometimes this little bit of familiarity can overcome initial hesitation.

If you know your child has ambivalence when faced with large groups, new situations, and/or separation, a good idea is to arrive early. Take your son or daughter out to the field and begin some play. As time goes on more and more kids will arrive. Having your child be the center of activity rather than having to break through a barrier of kids to get to the activity can help ease them into group play. As friends arrive bring them into your circle and slowly ease yourself to the sidelines. Taking the time to introduce them to the coaches/teachers when they arrive can also help. Usually the coaches are incredibly enthusiastic and understand young children, so they can help you get your child included in the group.

If all else fails, see if you can get your child to sit and watch. Sometimes seeing his friends having fun will help a kid get over trepidation.   At the very least your child will have the satisfaction of participating in his own quiet way. The next week he may dip his toe in deeper. All you can do is continue to encourage his participation and make the experience as positive as possible.

Most importantly don't consider your child a quitter if he or she absolutely insists on leaving. Try to reintroduce the experience the next week. But if your child can't be persuaded, most reputable organizations will allow you to apply the fees from one session to another later one. That way you can give your child the time to grow more secure. Most kids hear about soccer from their friends and get their enthusiasm tweaked through those discussions. So over time most kids become secure enough to participate.

So if it is your child having the meltdown, don't despair and don't force him or her to participate. Just chalk it up to childhood development that each child travels at his or her own speed. Believe me when I say from experience that I have had both kids and grandkids who initially balked at playing soccer and now play regularly – even in college. I also know kids who never warm to it, which means they may not want to play sports or may want to play a singular sport. When they say no, we need to listen and not let ourselves be swayed by our expectations or by our concern for what the neighbors might think. Let no be no for a time and then try again. Kids are notoriously fickle, so yes will probably be the answer soon.