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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.

 

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.
 
 

Classic History

Susan Boyd

While parked at Robbie's soccer practice last week, I overheard a group of girls discussing various radio stations while they pulled on their socks and cleats. "I swear you have to listen to 95.4. It is the coolest." "What kind of music?" "Well it's mostly classic rock with some modern music too." "What kind of classic?" "You know, like Justin Timberlake." 

I felt so old. If Justin Timberlake is classic rock, what would you call Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young? The Rolling Stones would have to be Baroque. I wonder what Justin would think about being labeled as classic rock?   I feel like I should enroll him in meals on wheels and get him a life alert pendant just in case he falls. Justin is younger than my oldest daughters. I can feel my bones disintegrating like the dust in a sarcophagus discovered by Indiana Jones.

And speaking of Indiana Jones, he's back – nearly 70 years old and still flying on ropes to land on trucks and rushing through tombs to avoid booby traps. The franchise is a classic, but even Colonel Sanders didn't pretend to be (I'll be gracious here) forty-five. The movie will make millions – that's a given – but hopefully it won't encourage a generation of centenarians to believe they can save the world with a whip and a wry smile. I'd hate to see 70 year old men playing out scenes from the film without benefit of wires, foam pads, make-up, and good lighting. Like all the teens who tried the stunts from "Jackass the Movie," I trust we won't have emergency rooms filling up with AARP Indy wannabes.

Nevertheless we are playing longer and harder than ever. It's not unusual to have 60 even 90 year olds running marathons, participating in iron man competitions, and pursuing an active lifestyle long after reaching the "classic" stage. I have to attribute a portion of that longevity of performance to the strong emphasis on sports over the past thirty years, especially for women who got access to more and more college level sports with the passage of Title IX in 1972 and then Jimmy Carter's push for adherence to the law in 1979.

When I was in high school girls were restricted to tennis (which most played through a tennis club), gymnastics and volleyball. Gym or P.E. was limited to rhythmic gymnastics, calisthenics and laps around the gym. We were excused once a month from activity with a discrete note from our mothers. A few schools had track and field programs for girls, but the major sports role for a girl in high school was cheerleading or being on the dance team. I grew up in Seattle, so I had the benefit of ski slopes just 45 minutes from home. I latched on to skiing with a vengeance. It was my only athletic release. Twenty years after my graduation from high school, my own daughters were participating in high school sports with nearly unlimited possibilities. My sister-in-law went to Harvard on a rowing scholarship in the 1980s. While living in Minneapolis, my younger daughter bought season tickets for the WNBA Lynx in their rookie year 1999, exactly thirty years after I graduated from high school. The athletes who paved the way are probably all "classics" now at least by character if not by age. Many of them didn't get the college scholarships or professional contracts female athletes can achieve now, but it didn't stop them from their passion.

So those girls giggling on the grass and nonchalantly readying themselves for soccer practice come from a brief, but momentous history of sports growth both for women and men in America. It's significant to remember that despite limited opportunities, great female athletes managed to break onto the scene – Babe Didrikson, Althea Gibson and Gertrude Ederle. But until the 70s, they had to limit their college sports to intramurals and outside clubs. In soccer, in particular, opportunities abound for both female and male players who can choose recreational, high school, club, semi-pro, college and professional soccer teams. The demise of the women's professional soccer league left a void for women, but I have no doubt it will be filled again as the sport expands and those girls discussing music last week seek more chances to perform. Soccer helps players begin a journey down the road of improved health, extended activity and good habits. Sometimes you need some classics to appreciate the modern.