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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.

 

TOPSoccer Coaching Course

Sam Snow

This past weekend I attended the US Youth Soccer Region IV TOPSoccer symposium. Over 80 people from around the region attend the event from administrators, coaches and referees involved with US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer. The presentations made included How to Start a Program, Hosting Your Initial Event, Safety and Risk Management, Roundtable on the Field Sessions, Coaching Tips, Training Activities, Integrating the Players and TOPSoccer parent. The main focus this weekend though was the new course, Coaching TOPSoccer. This is a new four hour coaching course that will be offered by the US Youth Soccer state associations. The course was delivered by Rick Flores and me.

This was the final pilot course after the first one being delivered in Pittsburgh at the 2008 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop & Coaches Convention by Brett Thompson and Rick Flores. The course involves classroom and field sessions. The section topics in the course are Why Do People Play Soccer, Player Challenges, Qualities of Coaches, Prevention & Care of Injuries/Risk Management, as well as, Communication and Ideas for Coaching. The practical field session takes the course candidates through training activities that are suitable for players with Down syndrome, Autism, ADHD and Cerebral Palsy. Coaches who complete the course will earn a US Youth Soccer certificate issued by the state association.

The symposium attendees completed the course in the Saturday morning sessions. They were issued the inaugural certificates at the beginning of the afternoon session. We then went to the Starfire indoor fields where TOPSoccer players from the local TUSK soccer club joined us. Rick Flores took the kids through a very good one hour session. He used the symposium attendees as the soccer buddies to assist the players as necessary in the training activities and the match. This 'hands on' opportunity was a great learning experience for many of the coaches and administrators. After training we all joined the players for a pizza party.

The following day of the symposium we attended four classroom presentations before our departure. The symposium was quite well done with a range of topics for parents, coaches and administrators. The next TOPSoccer symposium will be hosted by the Ohio South Youth Soccer Association and US Youth Soccer Region II in Cincinnati on August 1st to the 2nd. Plans are underway for similar symposia in US Youth Soccer Regions I and III.

The US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer program has room for dramatic growth. According to the U.S. Census Bureau 51 million Americans have some sort of disability. Four million of those citizens are children age four to sixteen. Our clubs and state associations have just begun to bring soccer to this segment of our population. As these youngsters are afforded the chance to play the world's game we will 'walk the talk' as The Game for ALL Kids!
 

Who can you really look to for advice?

Susan Boyd

My husband told me yesterday that Sally Fields is going to address the Scientific Assembly of the American Academy of Family Physicians this coming September. Her topic will be osteoporosis. My husband was second author on a three year cognitive psychology study of infant and toddler development. He and the primary author submitted their paper on their findings which weren't monumental but definitely questioned some of the leading authorities on how children develop their cognitive skills such as speech. The idea was to create a kit that pediatricians and family doctors could use to administer tests to better assess a child's developmental growth. Their paper was rejected – twice. But now Sally Fields of "you like me . . . you really, really like me!" fame and star of those Boniva bone strengthening pill commercials apparently has gained enough expertise on osteoporosis and its prevention to be able to address a Scientific Assembly on the topic.
           
Who do we trust to guide us through our tangled lives? Rather than go through months, even years of detailed psychological counseling we look to Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura to give us a sound-bite band-aids.   CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is a neurosurgeon and NBC's medical correspondent, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, is an otolaryngologist, yet they give advice on the entire spectrum of medical issues. This would be like going to an OB-GYN to have your prostate checked! The influx of media supported "experts" receives instant validation just because they are on the TV or the radio. Even Lynn Spears, the mother of Britney and Jamie, wrote a parenting book which blessedly has been put in hibernation by the publisher.   But I really felt we achieved a new low with an actor giving a medical speech. ""I'm not a doctor, but I play one at medical conventions.""
           
The same concerns come with sports and who we can trust to give us good advice about our kids. What about the parents who are told by coaches that their nine year old child has the ability to make the national team, so they should hand him or her over to a particular club for training? Who can give them an honest assessment? If a player is good, every coach will attest that his or her club offers the best chance for development. How can parents tell if the assessment is sincere or is made because the team is missing a defender for next year and as soon as a stronger defender shows up, their child will be unceremoniously dumped? It happens every year to thousands of players across the country. Not exactly the type of self-esteem boost families seek for their children.  
           
How do parents know which position their child should play? A coach needing a goal keeper will seek out and convince the most likely candidate on the team even if the player has great potential as a field player. On Robbie's club team half the players are former midfielders and still play midfield on their high school teams. But with a surplus of excellent players who also happen to be midfielders, they got shuttled around to other positions. Robbie never played forward until he got to his present club team where he got told he was a great forward. Now college coaches are talking about him as a midfielder. Who knows? I certainly don't have the expertise to figure it out, and if you ask Robbie, he says he'd rather play midfield.
           
Clubs have turned to a fairly rigorous training schedule. Who can really offer the best expertise on a training regimen and how it affects various age levels? Fitness, team tactics, skills, nutrition, and quantity, regularity and intensity of sessions share importance. What's the best mix? Add to this the on-going argument about specialization vs. playing a wide range of sports. The former is blamed for repetition injuries and body stresses while the latter is blamed for players becoming jacks of all trades and masters of none. When is the right time to shift to a concentration on one or two sports? Experts disagree and lay people manage to weigh in with even more opinions. Ask a coach and an orthopedist what the best training regimen is and you'll get some differing opinions. Then ask a sports trainer who'll confuse the issue even further. Finally ask a child psychologist and hear another approach. Each one has important authority on the topic, but each one also has a differing point of view based on what each sees as the benefits and the detriments of particular choices.

I'm facing a quandary right now without an expert in sight. Robbie is receiving emails, letters, and brochures about dozens of college camps across the country. Every letter touts how players are selected from the camps to be on D1 college teams and coaches exert anywhere from moderate to strong pressure to attend their camps. These cost $450 to $650 not including transportation to and from the events. There is also the veiled message that should you forgo a camp you are risking not being recruited for that school. What's a parent to do? First off the letters are sent to a significant group of players because the schools need to fill the camps to make them financially viable. Therefore you can't assume because you got a letter that you are one of the top picks for that school. You can definitely assume that the coaches either saw you play somewhere or heard of you from someone credible or you were on a list such as Olympic Development Program state team or on a competitive team or your name was on a mailing list they purchased. Elite camps for most schools are listed right on their athletic websites, so even if you didn't get an invite, you can still sign up. That takes some of the bloom off the rose. But I have to admit to feeling the same pressure to figure out which camps if any Robbie should attend. And the only experts are the same college coaches who are soliciting his attendance.
           
What I have finally decided in all this mess is to depend upon my own children to let me know what's best. Kids usually have a better finger on the pulse of their coach's intentions or their team's dynamics, so I trust them to figure out where they want to be and why. If they want to play three or four sports, so long as they aren't sacrificing one team's schedule and cohesiveness to serve another team's needs – in other words he or she is meeting all team commitments – then let the kids decide when they want to or if they want to specialize. The rule in our house was only one sport per season, but that was a mom rule because of scheduling and car-pooling. If a child is grunting when sitting down, he or she is either seventy years old or is training too hard or incorrectly. No child should need an ice bag every night and be popping ibuprofen regularly. Robbie picked his camps on the basis of location, school, and how much they would eat into his summer fun time. If he misses a camp that costs him recruitment, then so be it. There was no perfect answer anyway. 
           
However, if you really need some answers, I suggest writing to Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. He played the coach in "Bend it Like Beckham." If Sally Fields can lecture on osteoporosis on the basis of acting in Boniva commercials, then it logically follows that Jonathan seems the right resource for questions on soccer development. After all he was actually in the movie – Beckham was played by a stand-in so what would Beckham know?
 

The Good, The Bad and The Foul

Susan Boyd

A recent movie release, "Mr. Woodcock" starring Billy Bob Thornton told the story of a boy's elementary school coach returning years later to woo and marry the now grown student's mother. Woodcock was a coach from you know where and the beleaguered student experienced every stereotypical horror from the dreaded rope climb to dodge ball. Now he gets to relive the misery. While the movie wasn't a masterpiece it did illustrate the affect a coach can have on the development and psyche of a player. 

Coaches can be volunteers, part-time professionals, or full-time professionals. Most players are taught first by volunteer coaches who can range in knowledge from learning that soccer balls are round to former professional players helping out with their kids. It used to be that volunteer coaches were a largely unsupervised cadre of men and women which resulted in the early years of soccer being hit or miss on the development level. Now coaches are asked to get a coaching license, which certainly helps increase both the quality and the consistency of youth soccer.

Parents should make sure their child's coach is licensed. The main purpose of licensing for volunteer beginner coaches and an important purpose for veteran coaches is to insure that they go through a background check. No coach can be licensed without the check and more and more soccer organizations are requiring that all coaches be licensed.

The second purpose of licensing for all coaches is to insure some consistency in how kids are coached. Every year changes in the structure of the game at the youth level crop up, so licensing helps coaches stay current with rules and requirements. Under-8 soccer for most states has moved to 4 v 4, with Under-10, Under-11, and Under-12 soccer seeing similar changes in the number of players on the field. In addition, field, goal and ball size are dictated by the new organization of the age groups. Coaches need to be sure that they are coaching both for and to the right level. A seven-year-old player is lucky if she can manage a dribble cross field. Learning complicated step-overs wouldn't be appropriate.

Coaches need to understand their role as teachers. Therefore, coaches should be free with the praise and minimal with the criticism especially at the younger ages. They also need to understand age appropriateness. Walking across a field once I heard a coach screaming four letter expletives at his team. I looked over to see a group of six or seven year old boys, wide-eyed and near tears. In many clubs, coaches will be called upon to cover teams from Under-8 up to Under-17, so they need to be sure to adjust their coaching methods to the age.

Parents should ask to see a coach's pass to reassure themselves that a background check has been done. The pass should indicate the expiration date of the pass and the license level the coach has achieved. Coaches can be licensed as G, E, D, C, B, or A with a national level possible for D – A. Most volunteer coaches will have a G or an E license. E licensed coaches usually selected that level because they wanted to coach older as well as younger players and want to move up the licensing ladder. G coaching clinics are held regularly in most states and can be located on the state's Youth Soccer Association website.  Parents should expect their child's coach to be licensed and for their child's soccer organization or club to require licensing.

Parents should definitely attend practices, also. Clubs need to remember that they are providing a service for which they are paid. Parents have the right to be sure that they are getting their money's worth. On the same page, parents shouldn't interfere with practices. That includes forcing their child to practice when he or she doesn't want to.   Sometimes it's just too much and kids need to slide into the experience slowly—my youngest son was that way. All he really wanted to do was talk to his friends and watch the ball get kicked around. It took him about three weeks to finally decide to fully participate. Now I can't get him off the field! No coach should have to deal with any player who doesn't want to be there. So have some mercy on both the child and the coach. Watch the practices to see if the coaching style fits your child, if the coach works well with all levels of players on the field (does she ignore the weaker players in favor of coaching the stronger ones?), and if the team respects the coach.

If a coach seems to be out of hand – yelling, swearing, driving the kids, belittling them – parents absolutely have the right and even the responsibility to approach someone from the administrative staff about that coach. A difficulty arises at the older ages when kids have to try out for a team. Parents are uneasy about "rattling the cage" when it comes to a coach. And I have seen vindictiveness played out for parents who dared to question a coach's demeanor. I think it is important to separate out coaching knowledge from coaching behavior.

I don't think most parents are in a position to question a coach's decision about playing time, position, formation, practice drills, and the like. However, I do think that parents have the right to question how a coach behaves on the field and in practice, just as parents have that right with teachers or health professionals. If behavior becomes abusive or coarse, then administrators need to refrain from a defensive posture and listen. Standards of behavior should be required and maintained by soccer organizations. Nevertheless it is a difficult subject since many clubs basically pull the wagons in a circle around the coach and don't address his or her behavior. Instead they attack the parent or player for questioning the coach's demeanor.

Finding the right coach and the right team for a child takes some effort. The right team may not be the one that all of his or her friends are on. It's hard to resist the popularity or the car-pool convenience factor of a team, but if a child isn't happy, it won't matter how popular or convenient a team turns out to be. Don't be afraid to visit some soccer teams in your area to observe prior to placing your child on a team. Parents do the same for school, so it makes sense to do it for after-school as well. Don't be afraid to talk to the coaches and to other parents to see what philosophies, demands and expectations exist. Do they all mesh with yours?

In end, if you make a selection and it isn't working, there's nothing wrong with fulfilling the season commitment and then moving on. It's a rare soccer team that retains more than 30 percent of the players throughout the lifetime of the team. Few players will move on to high school and college playing. Therefore, the years in youth soccer should be above all, fun and filled with happy memories.  Parents shouldn't let the seduction of higher level soccer convince them to leave their child on a team where the coach is abusive and the atmosphere is miserable. If you can't change it, then move on to a place where people smile and say "good job."
 

International Travel

Sam Snow

Elite players in soccer have an opportunity that participants in other sports do not have to the same extent, travel. Given the truly global nature of soccer with 202 countries as members of FIFA an American soccer team could literally go anywhere in the world and have a match. Players and staff must be flexible and adaptable to both on the field situations and away from the pitch. Some young elite players have their international careers derailed by their inability to manage the off the field aspects of foreign travel. Here are a few of the adjustments the 1994 and 1993 boys' teams in the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program had to make while competing in Italy last week.

Using locker rooms and showers at the match venue was a new experience for many of the kids. Very few, if any, youth soccer complexes in the USA have locker rooms or showers. Our youth soccer players are in the habit of changing into their game uniform at home or the hotel, then ride back dirty after the match. Using the locker room and changing, as well as showering, in front of teammates were new experiences for all of these players. While it took some prodding and they were reluctant they did adapt to this new aspect of European soccer customs. Good preparation perhaps for high school, college and professional soccer where locker rooms are the norm.

They also learned that at game time, the subs put on training bibs and go to the bench first. The starting eleven line up, first the captain then the goalkeeper, defenders, midfielders and forwards, with the other team and march to center field to line up on either side of the officials to then wave to the crowd and be acknowledged. From here they go directly to their positions on the field to kick-off the match. They do not return to the bench, so this means that warm-ups or water bottles or other personal items must be taken to the bench by the reserve players and staff. This also means that the coaches must have their act together and get across to the players everything they need to in the locker room before exiting for the pitch.

The players also had to adjust to a Mediterranean diet and being 14-years-old this was a major adjustment for some. A few of the kids were unable to adapt and their intake of a balanced diet suffered. This of course caught up with them on the field for the energy to play at a high pace for a full match. Begging for french fries was an indicator to the staff that the players need more guidance on an athlete's diet back home. They did adapt to the time zone and a change in their sleep routine. This was merely adjusting to a five hour change in time zones which they did after the first two days.

A great aspect of foreign travel for our soccer players is the chance to experience a different culture; to broaden their horizons both in soccer and life experiences. Of course a piece of that experience is languages other than English. Players and staff should learn some of the language for the country they will visit before going. One interesting aspect of the language experience is not speaking the same language as the referee. Of course tone of voice and body language still come across if you are cutting loose on the referee. It may seem a small thing but not the being able to understand the language of the referee means the players really do need to understand the universal signals used by referees for the calls made during a match. This is another consideration for the coaches of elite players to teach to their teams.

Well, these are just a few examples of the versatility needed by select players and their staff. However, there are more to consider such as, altitude, weather and field conditions. The point for coaches here is to know that you must teach the players proper off the field habits that will impact their match performance. The more versatile the players and staff the more positive will be the experience of international soccer travel.