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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.

 

Developmental Changes: Actions Speak Louder

Sam Snow

The Player Development Initiatives that have been put forward by the USSF have begun implementation to varying degrees across the country. At this point in my region of the country, the PDIs have received a mixed review with mostly positive comments about the theory behind them. The problem will mostly come in the implementation at the local level. Will soccer organizations take this opportunity to buy fully into the development of players over the short term results? Actions will speak louder than words when the PDIs are fully implemented.

One of the opportunities that clubs will have under the new PDIs is to rethink the annual tryout cycle. Already this spring, clubs in my area have begun tryouts for the 2017-18 season. The overarching idea is to select the best possible players and “cut the dead wood”. While this is a regularly practiced tradition, it is not a very developmentally centered one. Development is a longer than one year project, especially when dealing with 10 year olds and younger. However the PDIs allow clubs an opportunity to act with development in mind. With the incremental two year cycle on increasing the size of the field/number of players, biannual tryouts could become the new norm in the soccer world. By taking this step, clubs would be more committed to the development of a player by making a two year commitment to her or him. The players would be under less pressure to perform as an individual in a short window. This change would also cut down on stress related to tryouts and possibly cost as many clubs hire evaluators for tryouts. Although there has been an adjustment in the age classification of players, player ability is not particularly year specific. This two year commitment could allow young players to transition into the “veterans” and leadership roles in their second year at 7v7 or 9v9. Leadership is one of the very human qualities that makes the game more about people and less about results.

The youth soccer world has largely turned into a business where money is not the only currency, players are as well. They are often treated like commodities to be traded, valued and devalued based on their performance. These developmental changes have the possibility to change the way that we view our job as coaches and club administrators from talent day traders to mentors. Although the PDIs are soccer based, there is an inherent dedication to the child rather than the result that runs throughout the initiatives. While soccer skills are an interesting endeavor to be pursued in the short term, the percentage of players who will play professionally is so low that the intrinsic parts of the game (resilience, teamwork, etc.) are much more important. In a two year window with coaches who are focused on the development of the player, those intrinsic components of the game have a greater chance to emerge.

The actions of those in charge of our young soccer players will be the truest indicator to their intentions. If development is truly the focus, then youth soccer will change in the next few years. If not, then no amount of rule changes will affect the present soccer culture. The WHY behind someone’s actions will eventually ring true. 

Pete Huryk, Author & Speaker – youth soccer coach in New Jersey.

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Peeling an Onion

Sam Snow

By Robert Parr

In many respects, the best coaches approach their craft in much the same way as one would "peel an onion". The onion is a relatively complex vegetable, with a small central bulb surrounded by layer upon layer of concentric spheres. Literally, when you peel an onion, you reveal the first layer, then the next, and the next, slowly working your way through the layers until you reach that final part at the core.

As a teaching technique within a given practice session, you can "peel an onion" to get things moving quickly whenever you introduce a new training activity. Especially as players become older and more advanced, your training activities often will have multiple layers of complexity and multiple types of restrictions. If you take the time to explain every last nuance before you get the ball rolling, players will lose interest and motivation, and aren't likely to actually remember all of the conditions required in the game. It is better to organize players with a minimum of explanation and detail, put the ball in play, then look for the first opportunity to stop the action so you can reveal the next condition or requirement of the game.

To see how this teaching method might work in a real practice setting, consider the following training activity:


705: Play It Forward

Parr

Set up a 70x50 yard field with a full-sized goal at each end, and use cones to divide the field into thirds (defensive, midfield, and attacking zones). Divide your players into two teams, and position one goalkeeper, three defenders, three midfielders, and two forwards for each team in their corresponding zones.

Play a regular game of soccer with the following restrictions. First, players may go forward, but they can not move backwards from their assigned zones (i.e., midfielders can go into their attacking zone but cannot go into their defensive zone). Second, all passes from the defensive and midfield thirds must be played forward (no square or back passes are permitted in these zones). This will encourage both teams to move the ball quickly into the attacking third to create goal-scoring chances.


As you can see, this game features a number of layers of complexity, including playing zones, restrictions on player movement, and restrictions on ball movement. If you try to explain all the parameters at once before you begin to play, you'll usually find that many players fail to retain some (or all) of the restrictions once you do get things moving, and you'll generally find that it takes much longer than you'd like to get through the complete explanation of the activity. When introducing a game like this to your players, it often works better to explain just a few essential conditions, get the players in position, then put the ball into play as quickly as possible.

In this case, you might simply instruct players to take their positions on the field (so they can physically see the "shape" of the game), tell them they cannot move out of their zones, then put the ball in play. Give the players a minute or two to get settled with the basic structure of the game, then unveil another piece of complexity at the next natural stoppage. In this example, you could interrupt the players briefly at the first goal kick or the first save by either goalkeeper, tell them that they now can move forward from their zones but can't move backwards, and get the action going again as quickly as possible. Let play continue with this newest restriction for a few more minutes, then briefly interrupt play one more time to add the final prohibition against square or back passes in the defensive and midfield thirds.

Continuing with this example, you can realistically communicate all the game restrictions in 90 seconds or less if you do so in a series of concise interruptions. It can easily take twice as long to give all the instructions in advance. Remember, if you can trim just 5 minutes of total "talking time" from every practice, you'll give your players the equivalent of 3-6 additional practices each season in terms of actual "ball in play" training time...without scheduling any extra practices! I have yet to meet a coach who told me that his or her team "had plenty of time for practices" each season, so it seems we can all benefit from being a bit more efficient with the way we manage our sessions.

"Peeling an onion" also serves as a strategy to develop players over time. This game takes decades to really learn to play at a high level, and it simply is impossible to teach everything in a single season, much less a single week or a single practice! Thus, we start with the basic techniques of dribbling, receiving, passing, and shooting, then layer in some basic principles of attacking and defending, then get our kids playing. Over time, we teach more advanced techniques and introduce nuances to the skills they've acquired previously. We gradually teach small-sided tactics of combination play and small-group defending, then later focus on learning different systems and styles of play as our players expand their depth and breadth of competencies.

For best results, we have to remove a lot of complexity from our sessions to help players focus on a specific objective, then gradually add that complexity back into our training demands so that players learn to transfer their newly acquired knowledge or skill to the "real game" conditions. This is why progressive practice plans are so effective -- they bring focus to the session's primary topic with a minimum number of players, conditions, and pressure early in the practice, then progress to increasingly more difficult and more complex activities that require players to apply concepts from prior activities in order to be successful in the later activities.

 

The co-creator of SoccerROM, Robert Parr holds a USSF 'A' license, NSCAA Premier Diploma, and a USSF National Youth Coaching license. He is currently the Technical Director for the Gulf Coast Youth Soccer Club in Southeast Texas, and an NSCAA Consultant for the Club Standards Project. Previously, he served six years as the Director of Coaching for the Arkansas State Soccer Association, and one year as the Director of Coaching and WPSL Head Coach for the Puerto Rico Capitals FC, which was the first international franchise to compete in the Women's Premier Soccer League.

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Possession Plus

Sam Snow

Possession Plus

Possession is always a highly valued topic for soccer practices and keeping possession certainly helps a team at many points in a game. However if we focus on possession alone without directional possession, we fail to optimally prepare our players for the game.

When participating in a 360 degree possession game a player can quickly find the most immediate or closest option in any direction and, thus, do not need to look forward or far or prepare their body as they would do so if needing to go forward. A player’s approach to the ball, hip positioning, pre-reception scanning, and first touch are all different when playing 360 degrees versus playing directionally. There clearly are times players need not go forward in the game and simply maintaining possession to make a defense chase is exactly what a team wants to do. If only practicing this a team will not have the necessary skills when they do need to go forward (or the time presents itself to do so) and attack the goal. Speed of play always becomes a larger variable when playing directionally as space becomes smaller and defenses become more compact than they could in a 360 degree game. True, a defense would try to restrict space and time in a pure possession game, however the reality of a specific area of the field or goal being the target provides a different challenge that requires skill building.

The skill of a penetration pass or dribble is not always needed in a 360 degree possession and often players are given touch restrictions preventing them from dribbling. Providing such freedom and presenting situations that create these demands are hugely important in developing creative attacking players.

As I have recently transitioned from spending many years directing youth clubs and a state to spending more time coaching college players the points above have risen to the top of my thoughts repeatedly. Strong players I coach have great difficulty adjusting to playing sideways-on and taking peeks forward before receiving every ball. Proactive attacking first touches need to be coaxed out of them very often. We spend weeks and, often, over a season breaking habits formed over past years when these players were not forced to play directionally often or at all other than in games. Once my players have learned to do so, they become much more impactful, more dangerous attackers. First, we work on mechanics of doing so. Then, we work on decision making when given the options such early preparation allows. Makes me wonder how much more expansive their skill and creativity could be had they done these things regularly when 13 or 14 years old and following.

Mike Singleton
Head Men’s Soccer Coach
Washington and Lee University

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Experience in Barcelona

Sam Snow

Recently I had the pleasure to go on a soccer tour in Barcelona, Spain. The tour was arranged through Premier International Tours. There were 36 coaches on the tour. Those coaches came from youth soccer clubs from all across America. Specifically on the tour with me from US Youth Soccer were Dr. Tom Turner, technical director for Ohio Youth Soccer - North, national instructor for U.S. Soccer and US Youth Soccer and the chair of the US Youth Soccer technical committee, Coach Ian Mulliner, technical director for Mass Youth Soccer and a member of the US Youth Soccer technical committee as well as a national instructor for U.S. Soccer and US Youth Soccer and the most noteworthy, Coach Nick Zlatar. Coach Zlatar’s credentials and experiences comprise a long list. Most recently he received the US Youth Soccer Excellence in Youth Coaching Education Award, "The Dr. Thomas Fleck Award". (http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/workshop/fleck/)

Here are the highlights of our activities during the tour.

Program Barcelona Coaches Tour 2017 

PIT1

 

Friday, February 3rd

11.00 hours Arrive at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat, Home of RCD Espanyol for a Youth coaching and development seminar with RCD Academy Staff

14.30 hours Arrive at the Nou Camp, Home of FC Barcelona for a Stadium Tour

15.45 hours Transfer to the offices of FCB Jugadors (Past players Association) for presentations by the Jugadors Ramon Alfonseda and the FCB Escola, Isaac Guerrero.

Saturday, February 4th

10.00 hours Arrive at Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper (training complex FC Barcelona). Attend FCB (youth) Matches. Our group will be met by Pere Gratacos – Head of International Relations of FC Barcelona.

Program Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper:

10.15 FCB Boys Alevi “C” vs. FC Cornella ‘D’

10.30 FCB Girls Alevi/Benjamin vs. Manuel Lanzarote

12.00 FCB Boys “B” Cadete vs. Vilanova

FCB Girls Infantil/ Alevi vs. Vilafranca

14.00 hours Depart for the Nou Camp

16.00 hours Visit pro game FC Barcelona vs. Atletico Club de Bilbao

Sunday February 5th

Program Ciutat Esportiva Dani Jarque:

10.00 hours Arrive at RCD Espanyol’s Dani Jarque Training complex

10.00 hours RCDE Boys Juvenil “B” vs. FC Barcelona “B”

RCDE Girls Infantil/ Alevi vs. Fontsanta Fatjo

12.00 hours RCDE Boys Juvenil “A” vs. Sabadell ‘A’

13.00 hours RCDE Girls Alevi/Benjamin vs. Martinenc

16.00 hours Arrive at Hotel for a Video Analysis seminar with Xavi Guila, Technical Director of Analysis for FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City

PIT2

Tour Summary

http://www.premierinternationaltours.com/single-post/2017/02/12/Barcelona-Soccer-Coaches-Trip-2017

In addition to being a first rate professional coach Dr. Turner is an accomplished amateur photographer. Here is a slide show that he created showing our experiences during our whirlwind tour of Barcelona: https://www.dropbox.com/s/n9b7jg85xvp7i6e/Barcelona 4.3 2017.zip?dl=0

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