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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.

 

Ball Progression

Sam Snow

In teaching ball skills, there's a certain progression to follow. I don't mean in this instance dribbling before tackling or catching before diving, but instead the progression of interacting with the ball. When you read about the progression further on here you'll think wow that's really simple, but it's interesting how few coaches know or follow this straightforward plan for teaching players how to become comfortable with the ball.
 
The general rule is to start at the feet and work your way up the body in collecting or propelling the ball; ending not at the head but above the head. Collecting could be the different receiving techniques for field players or catching techniques for goalkeepers. Propelling could be dribbling for field players or the different passing or shooting techniques. Propelling is also the various distribution techniques for goalkeepers. So start off down low and as players gain confidence and timing in dealing with the ball then work your way up the body.
 
The progression from the feet to the head and then above the body should first focus on a vertical plane with the body – straight up and down and in line with the body. But you can fairly early on add lateral movement along the horizontal plane. So now a player is moving from side to side to collect or propel the ball.
 
There too is a progression for the ball itself; first play with a rolling ball, then a bouncing ball and finally an aerial or flighted ball. This is in concert with the progression of feet to head and then above the head. But it goes further in that the rolling ball easiest to deal with is the one rolling away from you as a young player will run to match the pace of the ball and then play with it. Next is the ball rolling towards the player and finally the ball moving across the body. The same progression holds for true for a bouncing ball and then the ball in the air.
 
So let's take receiving for a U-10 player as an example. The progression should be receiving with the feet and then work our way up the body to the head. The secondary progression is how to control a rolling ball (away from the body, toward the body and then across the body), next is a bouncing ball (below knee height, below waist height, below chest height and then head height) and finally is dealing with the ball in the air; again moving up body segments/heights as the player gains confidence. This progression takes into account the gradually developing visual acuity of children.
 
For more details on the skills of soccer, please read the Skills School Technical Manual from US Youth Soccer.
 

A Brief History

Susan Boyd

Soccer in America is ever evolving, especially at the select level. Because relative to other nations, soccer exists in a nascent form in the US, coaches, organizations, and fans clamor for a better system to develop elite players and make the US men competitive in the world arena. On the women's side America has been quite successful, probably because women's soccer on the whole is new and since the US had already established equality in availability of sports for men and women was well-prepared to field women's soccer teams. Other countries were slower to emerge, so our visionary political philosophy served women's soccer well. But for the men, we have been playing catch-up to developmental systems which have existed for decades and work for the size and history of other world nations. So what has the US done to try and make our players, especially men, more competitive?

The granddaddy of modern elite soccer programs in America is the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP). It was formed in 1977 to identify and train elite players in order to create a national team to compete at the international level. In 1982 a girls program was added. The model for the program remains that each US Youth Soccer State Association has tryouts to identify players for a state team. These players are trained by local coaches. Under the model the US is divided into four regions, and once a year the state teams from each region met at a summer camp where regional and national coaches evaluate the players to select regional teams. These play domestically as well as have one or two international experiences. The national team pool is then drawn from the four regional teams and a number of players are selected to train year round at the National Team facilities in Bradenton, Fla. This model is established for five age groups beginning at approximately age 13. Every soccer player in the United States has access to an US Youth Soccer ODP soccer program through his or her US Youth Soccer State Association. College coaches use US Youth Soccer ODP as a measuring stick for a player's investment and success in soccer, so as a program it is recognized as a respected evaluator and developer of players.

However, the U.S. Men's National Team has had disappointing results at the top competitive levels of soccer and is presently 22nd in the FIFA rankings. Meanwhile, the women, who played their first international game in 1985, have won two World Cups and three Olympic Gold medals and presently are number one in the FIFA rankings. Coaches have been seeking a better way to identify and develop top male soccer players in the U.S. in hopes of becoming more competitive in the international arena. To that end, several organizations have sponsored additional elite soccer opportunities for players. The basis for these changes has been that elite soccer players play too many games against far weaker competition, don't band together enough in elite teams, and don't have the proper training to achieve top level abilities. In order to address these weaknesses, several soccer organizations have offered their own identification and developmental programs. These include United Soccer Leagues (USL), US Club Soccer, US Soccer Federation (USSF), and even US Youth Soccer who oversees the US Youth Soccer ODP.

United Soccer Leagues which operates several competitive adult leagues for both men and women formed Super Y League (SYL) in 2003. Clubs could join this league and are registered through US Club Soccer rather than US Youth Soccer; thereby, allowing the clubs to create teams with players from several different clubs in the area. The idea was to form elite ""super"" teams at several age levels that would be the best players competing against other teams of the best players. The league operates in the summer, so that players can still fulfill their clubs' playing obligations, but offers them a different venue for competition, training, and US Youth Soccer ODP identification. USL got US Youth Soccer ODP approval to use SYL as an US Youth Soccer ODP identification tool. SYL holds a camp in the summer where invited, identified players attend and are assessed by US Youth Soccer ODP coaches. SYL also forms a national team of its own to compete internationally and give more players that experience. Additionally, they hold a national championship for U13 through U17 boys and girls teams.

US Club Soccer was founded in 2001 gaining sanctioning by the USSF as an official soccer organization. In 2004 it began an identification program for U13 boys called id2 by holding a national camp in the summer to which players are invited. Throughout the year, players are scouted by id2 scouts as they play with their clubs. In the spring identified players receive invitations to attend the camp. In 2006 a girls' component of the id2 camp was added. Players are evaluated for possible inclusion into the national team program. In addition US Club Soccer sponsors a National Cup competition for U12 – U17 boys and girls teams. This begins with regional play in the spring and mid-summer and culminates in the championship tournament in July.

Addressing the need for better competition for the top teams and players in the country, US Youth Soccer www.USYouthSoccer.org began a Regional League for each of its four US Youth Soccer Regions. Teams that rank first at the end of the league competition receive an invitation to the US Youth Soccer Regional Championships, a part of the prestigious US Youth Soccer National Championship Series, just as the winners of the US Youth Soccer State Championships do. Identification of top players is a portion of the reasoning behind the Regional League, but more importantly the league was established to address the issue of top teams not being able to play top competition unless they went to tournaments. Now, teams can compete across state lines with teams in their region and thereby insure better competition. Some club teams opt to forego state league competition and only do regional league, although they risk not qualifying for US Youth Soccer State Championship. In addition US Youth Soccer formed the US Youth Soccer National League for Under-15 through Under-17 Boys and Girls to again foster stronger competition with eight teams at each gender age. Teams are expected to compete in their respective Regional Leagues as well.

In each of these elite soccer programs, the opportunity to selection for the U.S. National Team pool remains relatively unchanged. Players can still participate in US Youth Soccer ODP, state league, regional league, SYL, US Youth Soccer National Championship Series, and as many of the programs as players have time and money to do. 

However, the new USSF Development Academy took a radical departure from this model when it was formed in 2007. Clubs joining the Academy were prevented from participating in state league, regional league, US Youth Soccer National Championship Series, SYL, and US Club Soccer id2, and players were prohibited from participating in US Youth Soccer ODP. The philosophy was that players had been spread too thin with all the elite options. Players needed to have one central program whose purpose was to develop players under a single model using top coaches, top competition and top players to motivate and shape each player. National Team coaches attend showcases sponsored by the Academy a few times a year. The league is limited to a U-15/U-16 tier and a U-17/U-18 tier. There are 75 clubs involved in the Academy divided into four conferences with two divisions each (Central Conference has three divisions). Teams compete throughout the year, except during high school season. There is a prescribed amount of training sessions each club must provide weekly in addition to fitness training and testing. The hope is that with concentrated training, top competition and scouting in a game environment rather than in tryouts the National Team coaches will be able to locate better players more efficiently.

Players looking to move up to a more elite level of youth soccer now have several avenues. They aren't just bound by their clubs, which provides players in isolated areas the chance to have the same opportunity for identification as players in metropolitan areas. Limiting all of these options remains the three key factors of distance, time and money. Next week I want to address the strengths and weaknesses of these various options and why the US still has a ways to go to be competitive in the men's arena.
 

Coach Wooden: How an attitude differs from a list of rules

Sam Snow

It is wise for us as coaches to look now and then at the ideas and methods of coaches in past eras and for that matter different sports too. I recently read some good advice from an American coaching legend, John Wooden. I think you'll find his list here useful in your team coaching. With just a little tweaking this list can be adapted to your soccer players.

Coach Wooden: How an attitude differs from a list of rules

1.       Go to class
2.       Compete (no excuses)
3.       Be on time (no excuses)
4.       Listen
5.       Play through the referees' calls
6.       No more "no look" passes
7.       Huddle up as a team on free throws
8.       Run to the bench when substituted for
9.       Run to timeouts
10.     Run to the locker room
11.     No cussing on court
12.     No hanging head
13.     Never quit on a play, never!
14.     No poor body language
15.     No pointing fingers (unless for good pass)
16.     Root for your teammates while on bench
17.     Study during study hall
18.     Attitude of gratitude – say "thank you"
19.     Look people in the eye when communicating
20.     Be a role model off the floor
21.     Be humble in victory – gracious in defeat
22.     Share the juices and the basketball
23.     Keep the locker room clean
-Coach Wooden
 

International Congress

Sam Snow

Recently I attended the 21st International Coach Development Congress held on January 12-13, 2009 in Antalya, Turkey. The congress was hosted by the Turkish Football Federation at the WOW Kremlin Palace Hotel with the participation of international and local coaches of every level and anyone interested in the content of the program. The congress aimed on the improvement and vision of coaches to bring a modern expansion of the Turkish game with its rich content regarding different topics on football.

The Technical Analyses of UEFA 2008 European Championship panel with the participation of Fatih Terim who lead the Turkish National Team into the semifinals as the head coach, Luis Aragones who is the head coach of European Championship winner Spanish National Team and Fabio Capello, head coach of the English National Team, was followed with high interest.

Topics such as Performance Training Approaches, Ahletes' Psychology and U-15 Youth Development Programs were discussed during the Congress. Each presentation was one hour in length, in a large ballroom as all 1,200 people in attendance sat in on each presentation.

The attendants of this Congress could also attend the Football and Science Congress free of attendance fee, which was held in Antalya WOW Topkapa Hotel between January 9-11, 2009. For further information: http://www.futbolbilim.org.

Main Topics
  • Technical Analyses of UEFA 2008 European Championship
  • Performance Training Approaches
  • Development Programs and Physical Improvement for Youth U-15 and Younger

Invited Speakers
  • Mahmut Özgener, President of Turkish Football Federation
  • Ahmet Guvener, Director of TFF Football Development Centre
  • Fatih Terim, Head Coach Turkish National Football Teams
  •  Fabio Capello, Head Coach of English National Football Team
  •  Luis Aragones, Head Coach of Fenerbahçe Football Team
  •  Bill Beswick, Sports Psychologist – England
  •  Shad Forsythe, Soccer Development Performance Director (Athletes Performance, USA)
  •  Sam Snow, Director of Technical Department, US Youth Soccer
  •  Associate Professor Bülent Bayraktar, Director of Performance Department (Turkish National Teams)
  •  Roland Koch, Assistant Coach (F.C. Köln, Germany)
My presentation was on the American approach to youth player development from U-6 to U-15. It was titled Player Development Pathways.

Terim, Capello and Aragones gave their analysis of Euro 2008. The presentation by Terim was certainly the best and the most in-depth. He later gave a good presentation on the plans for youth development in Turkey.

Overall, it was a great experience and more international contacts were established for US Youth Soccer for the exchange of ideas and information on youth player development and coaching education.