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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.

 

Is coach doing a good job?

Sam Snow

Proper player development leads to good match performance, which often leads to wins.

But there are shortcuts to winning, particularly with players younger than high-school age. Just get the biggest, fastest kids around -- then outrun and outmuscle the opposition.

Play run-n-gun and high-pressure defense against young players who are still learning the game and that amount of pressure can win games. Mind you, it doesn't help those kids learn how to play soccer in any sophisticated manner.

It is certainly the stance of US Youth Soccer to focus more on match performance than outcome; yet this is not to say that players should not strive to win. There's nothing wrong with winning!

But remember, the outcome of the game is not necessarily a measure of whether the coach is doing a good job developing players. Players and coaches should diligently work to improve their performance. This is the drive for excellence as opposed to superficial success.

All right, fine you say. So how do we measure success?

How do parents know if the team coach is doing a good job of teaching soccer to the players? How does the novice coach know if the kids are growing within the game?

These are the goals in measuring success for youth soccer:

SHORT TERM
FUN ... do the players smile and laugh? Do the players look forward to playing? The first question from the player's family should be, "Did you have fun today?"

Fair Play ... does a player demonstrate by words and actions a sense of sportsmanship?

Rules of the Game ... do the players know and follow the rules of soccer?

Health and Fitness ... are the players physically fit enough to meet the fitness demands of the game? Are they developing good nutrition and hydration habits befitting an athlete?

Friendships ... are the players creating new friends within the team and with players from other teams?

Skills ... are the players demonstrating a growing number of ball skills and are they gradually becoming more proficient in those skills?


LONG TERM
Commitment ... how do the players answer when asked at the end of a game, "Did you try your best?"

Roles in the Team ... more important than learning a position, are the players learning about positioning? Knowing where the center forward spot is on the field is important, yet learning how to move tactically within the game is far more important. Do all of the players get exposed to playing all of the positions?

Leadership ... are players being given the opportunity to take on leader roles and responsibilities? Are the coaches and team managers teaching leadership?

Tactics ... are the players experimenting with new tactics in matches? The coaches must teach new tactics to the players in training sessions and then allow them to try out the tactics in a match, regardless of how that might affect the outcome!

Retention ... do the players come back year after year? Retention is recognized as also a short-term measure of success in youth soccer and developing well adjusted citizens is another long-term measure of success in youth sports.

We know that is takes many years to develop into a quality soccer player. Indeed, that continued development can be seen even in young professional players.

Soccer is a long-term development/late specialization sport.

Research by Dr. Istvan Balyi and others provides us this model:

LATE SPECIALIZATION MODEL
1. FUNdamental Stage - ages 6-9
2. Learning to Train - ages 8-12
3. Training to Train - ages 11-16
4. Training to Compete - ages 15-18
5. Training to Win - ages 17 and older
6. Retirement/Retainment - ages: post playing career

Striving to improve individual, group and team performance is more important at the youth level than the score line. Simultaneously, players should play to win.

Coaches should teach and develop the players as they learn how to win. Parents should support the players and coaches. Intrinsic success is by its nature more difficult to measure than extrinsic success.

A trophy is more tangible to an adult than the exhilaration a child feels while playing soccer. The final measure of success for parents and coaches of the children's soccer experience will require a good deal of patience from the adults. That measurement is the free choice of the child to stay in the game!

The full document on this topic, titled Vision, is available from US Youth Soccer. Simply email your request to Sam Snow at ssnow@usyouthsoccer.org.
 

Stormy Weather

Susan Boyd

I know it's a bad storm when I am joined in bed by two whining dogs and I know it's a terrible storm when we are further joined by two teenage boys. Living in the Midwest means living with thunder and lightning most of the spring and summer.    This morning was a doozy, and we awoke to the news of an apartment house being struck and a church spire in flames from lightning. If I want to be reminded of lightning's destructive power I need only look out my living room window to the scorched skeleton of a once proud ash tree in the forest across the street.

According to National Geographic and the National Lightning Safety Institute, lightning kills more people each year than snowstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes. Only floods cause greater fatalities. Most of us don't take lightning seriously because these deaths occur singularly or occasionally two or three at once. But lightning seems benign compared to say a tornado which looks menacing and sounds like death rolling in. We avoid most deaths in natural disasters because we have early warning systems which help us get to safety quickly.    That's why when the tornado sirens go off in our town, we rush to the basement and wait for the all-clear. Yet when we hear thunder, which is nature's early warning system for lightning, we all remain transfixed on the wide open soccer fields as if somehow Mother Nature shouldn't be taken seriously. We live in this imagined cocoon of safety when we are out at a game or a practice. Lightning just can't be that serious a problem. But it is.

Soccer organizations need to develop, maintain, and most importantly, enforce a lightning policy. Just last year Robbie was playing in a game where lightning was ripping between clouds and to the ground all around us, yet the referees kept the game going. I spoke to the AR about halting the game and having everyone seek shelter and his reply was, ""It's not raining, so the lightning isn't that close."" It took a resounding blast into the trees at the end of the field to finally send everyone scattering. It never did rain. These types of misconceptions about lightning and its danger can lead to serious injury or death.

Organizations can purchase lightning detectors which is probably a good idea for the top lightning death states (Florida, Texas, Colorado, North Carolina, and Illinois). These detectors can warn of lightning before it is even seen, and in the states mentioned there were more "first strike" deaths than anywhere else. But, for the most, part nature provides the detector for us in the form of thunder. The National Weather Service motto is: "When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!" In other words, seek shelter immediately and stay there for at least 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder is heard. Shelter needs to be an enclosed space. Covered picnic areas or roof overhangs will protect from rain but not from lightning. Buildings and cars with metal roofs are the best shelter. If you find yourself in the middle of a field, make yourself as small as possible. Don't put up an umbrella or stand under a tree unless you are trying to attract lightning. Culverts and ditches can provide some protection from strikes.

Detecting lightning is only half the battle. Organizations need to be willing to put their activities on hold during a lightning storm. All too often practices and games continue despite the very real presence of danger. I know that if a tornado siren went off during a soccer game, it would not be ignored. So we need to be as diligent about lightning as we are about other natural threats.

The problem is that lightning threats occur several times during a year in the same areas, while tornadoes and hurricanes politely restrict themselves to only once or twice in the same area in a year. So lightning becomes an inconvenience for organizations. With a limited amount of time for practices and games, it's a huge nuisance to have to stop everything, delay a game or practice, and then restart. But the threat is real. 

Recently several advisories have been posted about anchoring soccer goals because of injuries and deaths occurring when they accidentally fall on a player. But those injuries and deaths are but a sliver of lightning's effects. We need a nationwide, enforced policy for soccer organizations. Referees, coaches and parents need to be on board. When my sons played in their high school state championship two years ago, the game lasted nearly five hours because of lightning delays. Frustrations ran high, but I applauded the referees and the oversight committee for insisting on lightning safety.

We need to do the same everywhere. Whatever policies do exist need to be dusted off and resubmitted to all clubs and organizations. Referees need to be reeducated and charged with enforcing the policies. Coaches need to require that the policies be enforced during games and do so themselves during practices. A lightning safety plan should be prepared for every soccer site so that families know where to go to be safe. In general, players and parents should be encouraged to go sit in their cars so long as they have metal roofs. Parents should pack some playing cards, coloring books, reading books, etc. to while away the time waiting out the storms.

Finally, don't be afraid to speak up if you think lightning safety isn't being followed. I gave the refereeing crew at that game last year a few websites to visit and encouraged them not to let a game get to the point where a tree fifty feet from a player has to be struck before anyone takes lightning seriously. I suspect they will lead the clarion call next storm. Check with your coach to see if he or she is aware of lightning safety and ask that safety measures be enforced. Go to your club board and ask them to check out the following websites to see how serious a problem lightning can be and to ask them to also draft and enforce a lightning safety policy. 

1. www.lightningsafety.com 
2.  www.weathermetrics.com/news/weatherFun.htm
3. www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/overview.htm.

We would run to safety if we saw a tornado approaching, or flood waters oozing over a field, or a forest fire blazing a few miles away, so we should do nothing less when we hear thunder and know that lightning lurks nearby. It strikes too fast to jump out of the way – prevention is the only protection.
 

The Circle of Life

Susan Boyd

"The Circle of Life" resounds as the opening number of "The Lion King," but could equally serve as the chant for most soccer families: "It's the Circle of Life and it moves us all through despair and hope . . ." Whether the circle forms over a year of soccer or during generations of soccer, we all experience the déjà vu of muddy uniforms, goals, wins, losses, and after game traditions. I'm moving through my second generation of soccer, and I find it reassuringly similar to what I already went through with a few surprising twists.

This past weekend I attended my oldest grandson's first soccer game. The weather was overcast, the temperature hovering just above freezing, and the wind howling: perfect Midwest spring soccer conditions!  Keaton's particular soccer program has its U8 boys playing 9 v 9 on a U10 field. The game was played in 12 minute quarters and the kids rotated at the goalkeeper position and through the field positions. His team has ten boys, so each quarter somebody rotated out. All the players have the same uniform: black shorts, black socks, and a reversal jersey with gold on one side and maroon on the other. So, all the fields stretched out in gold and maroon waves.
 
Confusion is the name of the game at this age. First, because of the cold, several boys were wearing jackets over their jerseys. So it was difficult to differentiate between sides. Further confusion ensues since the boys all know each other from school and the neighborhood.  At this age there isn't the killer instinct that allows them to steal the ball from or block a best friend.   Add to this mix the fact that for most of these players this game was the culmination of only a few weeks of practices. While the coaches knew their stuff, the kids were often clueless. They definitely weren't jargon savvy. When Keaton took to his midfield position in the second quarter, the coach tried to indicate his role with the following instruction: "You have a split personality." Keaton looked at him dumbfounded. Staying goal-side also seemed to be beyond their comprehension. Every kid told to stay goal-side ran dutifully to the side of one goal or the other without regard to which one they were defending, while the coach tried in vain to get them back to their original positions at least. The other stumper appeared to be ""marking"" which drew plenty of stunned expressions and no movement. Without a Sharpie, marking seemed impossible. Nevertheless they managed to play a rousing game of soccer filled with all the elements of the game: headers, crosses, overlaps, corner kicks, goal kicks, but mercifully not penalty kicks. In fact there were only two fouls called.           

When Keaton got his chance in goal in the 4th quarter, my daughter muttered, "Oh no." She felt the pressure of his position – the last stance against a score. Her brother is a goalkeeper, and she's amazed that I don't get more worked up. I tell her it gets easier . . . eventually I realized that goals will go in. Otherwise it would be a boring game. But I think I was the same way when Bryce was seven and had his chance in goal. I didn't want him to have to be responsible for a loss. Keaton had a very interesting goalkeeper technique. Whenever he got the ball, he heaved it over his head onto the field like a throw in, which meant it traveled about three yards, or he saw plenty of action in that quarter, but had some good saves.

On the whole the parents were supportive, rather than critical. My daughter told me that the parents had to be part of a "circle of affirmation," not to be confused with the circle of life. They seemed to have learned the lesson well as the only criticism of any sort I heard was from my own husband who when a foul was called turned to my son-in-law and said, "They call that?" Then he quickly corrected himself for not being affirming. This came from a man who rarely says anything critical at a game – he is famous for being positive. I think being cradled in such an upbeat group of parents left him with no alternative but to turn evil!

Despite their positive attitudes, the parents couldn't stop being coaches. Keaton wasn't the only one experiencing a split personality.  These poor kids didn't know which way to turn. They would hear "push up" from their coach and "look out behind you" from their parent; "pass the ball" from the coach and "dribble it" from their dads; "get wide" from the coach and "go to the ball" from their moms.   While the coach is focused on the team, the parents are focused on their child. It's tough to be the recipient of so much conflicting instruction. In frustration, one kid just stopped and put his head in his hands.

At the end of the game, two dozen kids with chapped faces rushed the sidelines to get their treat. I saw absolutely no swagger in the kids who won and no dejection in the kids who lost. Everyone focused on getting their treat and getting into their warm cars. It's too bad it won't stay that way. Eventually winning will matter, losing will feel bad, and body language will play a part in how kids leave the field. But Saturday it was just fun to be outside, fun to play, fun to get a treat, fun to get warmed up, and for about half of them fun to move on to baseball practice. As a side note, I only lasted 40 minutes at baseball practice . . . at that point my idea of fun was a mug of cocoa in a house with central heating.   But I loved experiencing the unspoiled joy emanating from each boy on that field and coming full cycle back to the first moments of the circle of soccer.
 

Youth Sports Scheduling

Sam Snow

At the end of last week I attended a Roundtable with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). The topic was Youth Sports Scheduling – Children at Risk. We met in Atlanta for a day and half to begin the fact finding work for ACSM to publish a Statement Paper on the physical and mental impact on youth players of being over scheduled. The main focus was tournaments and the impact of repeated bouts of exercise with insufficient recovery time between the bouts.
 
Presentations were made by sports medicine physicians, pediatricians, exercise physiologists, kinematic researchers, a sports psychologist and nutritionist.   Many of these scientists are former athletes and several are not only sports parents, but also coach in the youth ranks. Their sports included tennis, soccer, ice hockey, baseball and wrestling. Indeed the drive behind their current efforts is in response to the extremes they see taking place in youth sports with their children and at the tournaments they work as a medical team.
 
The presentations included "Youth Sports Governing Bodies Current Guidelines for Tournament Play and Examples of Event Schedules", "Prior Exercise and Heat Exposure Effects on Subsequent Physiological Strain", "Nutrient Recovery Challenges During Multiple Competition Bouts", "Effects of Recovery Time and Fatigue on Kinematics and Injury Risk", "Effects of Multiple Same-Day Repeated Bouts on Overuse Injury Risk", "Bone Health Risks for the Adolescent Athlete", and "Psychological Aspects of Recovery Time and Fatigue on Injury Risk".
 
I have to say that while soccer has many shortcomings in our scheduling that we must address we are not nearly as far off center as the evidence shows is occurring in other sports in the USA. Young bodies are being put under needless distress. Often the decision to put teenagers and children into these circumstances is to make more money. We must not generate the cash to run our clubs and pay our employees off the backs of the kids if we create environments that hurt player development and the enjoyment of the beautiful game.
 
Tournaments are fine provided they follow reasonable schedules that put the welfare of the payers first. Here is the Position Statement from the 55 US Youth Soccer State Technical Directors on the matter. 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 12 should not play more than 100 minutes per day, and those players older than 13 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.

The ACSM Position Statement on tournament scheduling will be made public in 2009 after more research is done.