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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.


Finding the Right Balance

Sam Snow

I am a parent from Southern California and I have question.

I was wondering if you have done a story in the past or possibly consider a future story regarding the clash between Club Soccer and High School Soccer. What do the experts say about practicing twice a day? Once at high school and then at club practice? My daughter plays on a team heading to National League in 3 weeks, we asked our high school coach to let our daughter sustain from high school practice (contact drills) until she returns from North Carolina.

My daughter played varsity (goalkeeper) as a freshmen last year and was injured at high school practice. She missed nearly 90% of the high school season. I was watching high school practice last year when she was injured. The previous high school coached was running a Keeper vs Field player (One-on-One) drill for nearly an hour. As time went on the field players became more reckless. So this year as a sophomore we do not want to take a chance of our daughter getting hurt.


Coaches of elite players absolutely must educate the player and the player’s parents on striking the right balance of activity. It is also very helpful when that player’s coaches are all involved in the discussion. Connecting those coaches is the responsibility of the player. We are mistaken when we think that a teenaged player has boundless energy and therefore can play in multiple demanding soccer events. No athlete has inexhaustible energy. All athletes need recovery time from strenuous events (matches, tournaments or demanding training sessions).

The coaches of high performance players are well aware that the player is on more than one team and to act as if that’s not the case is very selfish of them. The coach who really cares about the individual player, as well as the team performance, will take into account the physical and mental demands on a high performance player who is being asked to play the most number of minutes in every match on the schedule and is likely on more than one team not only in a year, but perhaps in a season. The coach who sees the big picture will give the player good counsel on when to take time off, will put that player in regeneration sessions as it fits that players soccer schedule (even if that’s out of synch with the rest of the team) and will reach out to the player’s parents to give them facts on proper sleep, hydration, days off and nutrition for the player under heavy demands.

The coach who is interested in the player’s long term career in soccer as well as performance in the immediate season will also reach out to those other coaches to work on a sensible schedule for the high performance player. Coaches who only care about their team’s performance to the exclusion of all else will not do any of the steps just described.

It is the well-educated coach who is more likely to make the balanced decision with the player. For example the three slides below are from the U.S. Soccer “E” and “D” license coaching courses and they speak directly to over training and over playing a player or team.





Coaches have an obligation to make well informed decisions that affect players’ health.

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Reading List

Susan Boyd

Each year, I try to touch on some of the great soccer books I’ve come across. Being inspired by the words and stories of players, coaches and parents can be just the boost young players and their families need to make a renewed investment in playing. The soccer-based book and magazine library is huge, not only because the sport has a world-wide audience, but because it is rising in popularity in America. These volumes generate suitable gifts, books to read aloud before bedtime, opportunities to motivate your young player, educational sources, and just good reading. I’ll divide this list up for readers under 6, aged 6-12, teens and adults.              

Young girls know the “Maisy” series, a colorful set of stories starring a mouse and her friends. On May 14 a new book comes out titled, “Maisy Plays Soccer,” by Lucy Cousins. This can be a read-aloud book or a first reader. “My First Soccer Game: A Fold-out Book,” by Capucilli and Jensen, is a photography book with big 18x18-inch fold-out pages featuring detailed photos of various exercises and team tactics for new youth players. It’s a great book for beginners to be able to visualize all that gibberish they hear at practice! If kids want to learn about the history of the game and the records produced over the years, "Cool Soccer Facts” by Abby Czeskleba dishes up the info. For kids who may not be great players yet, but have the imagination and drive to try for the stars, “Soccer Crazy” is for them. Colin McNaughton wrote the book in 1978 but recently revised it to address some of the recent advances in the sport. The School Library Review listed this as a top read.           

When kids get going in the sport and begin to move up the soccer experience ladder, they face plenty of changes. Games move from 4 vs. 4 to 8 vs. 8 to finally 11 vs. 11, and each step has its own set of rules and learning curves. So, before they become teens they have to adjust to all the growth in their team size, ability and rules, not to mention dealing with their own growth spurts or slow development — making each step a challenge. These are really formative years in acquiring the skills and maturity to shift into high school soccer. There are plenty of books to help with that transition, which also have tremendous formats. Giving a broad perspective on youth development, “Kids Book of Soccer: Skills, Strategies, and the Rules of the Game,” by Brooks Clark, can be read by most kids 9 and older, and can be shared by parents with younger kids. It breaks down the sport into its important aspects and the changes the game goes through as kids get older. If you know DK Eyewitness books, you know how beautifully designed they are with sharp photos, lots of facts and special information. “Soccer,” by Hugh Hornby, was revised for the 2010 World Cup and may have a new revision for this summer’s contest. This is a book kids can return to time and time again with fresh eyes and new discoveries. Speaking of the World Cup, watching the event together as a family can strengthen a passion for the game and provide your child with the validation of his sports choice. “The Official 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Kids’ Handbook” provides lots of information on the teams and players participating, as well as the brackets, participating countries’ details, rules and facilities. The book can serve as a resource to answer questions during the competitions and to get kids involved in the excitement the world experiences every four years. US Youth Soccer publishes FUEL magazine for youth players with lots of great articles. You can get it digitally or you can order a box of at least 120 issues for $50 to distribute amongst your club. The magazine covers health, training, adventures and player biographies. Boys really enjoy Matt Christopher books, including “Soccer Scoop,” “Soccer Hero,” and “Soccer Duel.” Girls would enjoy Jake Maddox books, including “Soccer Surprise” and “Soccer Show-off.” He also has soccer books for boys. A rich resource book for tweens will be coming out May 27 titled “National Geographic Kids Everything Soccer,” by Blake Hoena, which has all the great behind-the-scenes photos that National Geographic is famous for.           

Once kids hit their teens and more importantly high school, they not only can get a bit jaded by soccer stories, but also have limited time to sit and read anything other than assigned material. So whatever you choose for them has to be really engaging. I think the best product is Four Four Two magazine out of the UK. This and World Soccer are the two most widely read and respected soccer publications on the market. When I gave this to my sons for a Christmas gift, it was nearly as well-received as if I had given them a car (I did say “nearly”). It comes out monthly, weighs about 2 pounds, and therefore is chockfull of information. It does have an English bias, but still covers the world of soccer, including some MLS news. One of the big factors separating great players from good players isn’t necessarily athleticism but the mental game. Older players recognize that mental edge in their favorite stars. Therefore, “Soccer Tough:  Simple Football Psychology Techniques to Improve Your Game,” by Dan Abrahams, should be one of the books passionate older youth players would appreciate. A great resource book for players to learn about the game is “World Soccer Records 2014” by Keir Radnadge. This book puts the game into perspective, showing players how powerful and amazing soccer can be and where they should be aiming to improve their skills. Upping their game means being a great defender or striker. To that end, “44 Secrets for Great Soccer Goal Scoring Skills,” by Mirsad Hasic; “The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper,” by Mulqueen and Woitalla; and “Master the Game: Soccer Defender,” by Broadbent and Allen, along with “Conditioning for Soccer,” by Raymond Verheijen, are good reads to give them a fitness edge. Coaches will tell you that many soccer games are won not by the most skilled team, but by the fittest.            

I just picked up Pele’s newest book, “Why Soccer Matters,” which he wrote to celebrate the sport and the return of the World Cup to Brazil after more than 60 years. I’ve not read much of it, but it is definitely inspiring — making it appropriate for adults and older players. We are all getting better informed about how soccer is played even though many of us don’t come from a soccer background of playing and watching the game. So it can be embarrassing if parents on the sidelines don’t know the rules, which “Official Soccer Rules Illustrated,” by Stanley Lover, helps improve. One of our main jobs as a parent is to provide snacks for our kids after practices and games, so learning how to find nutritious, inexpensive and delicious treats, which also avoid common kids’ allergies, can be daunting. “Food Guide for Soccer: Tips and Recipes from the Pros,” by Averbuch and Clark, details not only healthy snacks but ways of making sure our kids eat healthy all the time. The book focuses especially on developing steady energy throughout the day by utilizing the right foods. As parents, we always dream of our kids playing college soccer. Remember to be careful what you wish for since the NCAA really limits the number of full-ride scholarships in soccer, meaning most, if not all players, earn only a small percentage of the total cost of attending a college in the form of an athletic scholarship, as these are spread out over the entire team. Players and parents should focus more on the experience than the funds. Several good books help with the process. “Get Recruited to Play Women’s College Soccer,” by Lucia Bucklin, was published in late December 2013, so it is up to date enough to offer good advice. There is no specific book out there for men’s college soccer recruiting but there is a recent book on athletic recruiting, “Get Recruited to Play College Athletics,” by S. Farrell, which is two years old. Remember too that there are other college organizations out there besides the NCAA. Learning from someone who has been there, done that can make the entire process of being a soccer parent not only more enjoyable but also more informed. Dan Woog has had a front seat to youth soccer for years both with recreational and select teams. He has been a coach, a spectator, a state hall of fame inductee, and an important voice for youth players as a writer. His book, “We Kick Balls:  True Stories from the Youth Soccer Wars,” touches on both humorous and serious issues affecting youth players on and off the field, including the thornier ones such as drugs, bullying, prejudice and sexual orientation. The book may have some uncomfortable sections, but as parents we can’t live in the world with blinders on avoiding these truths. I recommend it as a significant eye witness account of the life our kids have chosen.            

The old caveat of “Reading is Fundamental” holds true in all of our lives, even in our soccer lives.  Hopefully some of these texts can be not only useful but also enlightening. As we encourage our kids to pursue their dreams and to enjoy the journey, we should also be sharing in that adventure both as supporters and as resources. I challenge parents to share with one another any books or magazines they have found worthwhile. As we join together we become a reading soccer village that raises our children.

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I Bet

Susan Boyd

The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship will be played tonight. Since I’m writing this several days before, I have no idea who will play in that game, but I do know that it will encourage heavy wagers. Even Warren Buffet got into the spirit of the “real” reason for the madness by promising $1 billion for a perfect bracket. It was a fairly safe bet since the odds were one in 9.2 quintillion. That’s 92 with 17 zeros after it or 92 billion times one billion. Those with some background knowledge in bracketology, such as knowing that Duke has never been called for a blocking foul or studying the comparative size advantage of one team over another, can reduce the odds to one in 128 billion. USA Today puts even that number into perspective:  if everyone in America filled out a bracket, there would be one perfect bracket every 400 years. In Nevada, $80 to $90 million are wagered on March Madness, but the FBI estimates that $250 billion are bet “illegally,” which includes primarily office and bar pools (and probably Buffet’s billion). The 2012 Super Bowl generated $98 million in bets in Nevada. However, all that pales in the face of soccer betting. The World Cup alone generates $3 billion in bets in the United Kingdom, a country with a population of 64 million. Multiply that with the dizzying array of soccer competitions that cover the world, all of which showcase the top talent in soccer. While we tout the World Series, which is actually the U.S. Series (with one team from Canada), soccer has regional and world-wide competitions throughout the year, culminating in the aptly named World Cup. You may not want to place a bet on any of these events, but if your kids love soccer you should at least be watching.             

Let’s start with the most confusing battles. Right now in Europe there are the three Union of European Football Association (UEFA) competitions: UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup (rebranded recently as UEFA Europa League), and UEFA European Championship. European countries are granted a certain number of slots in each event. Generally, the club teams placing first through third or fourth in their country’s associations qualify for the Champions League, and the next three or four teams qualify for the Cup (and if the national club champion isn’t in the top eight, it qualifies for this event). The UEFA Cup final is played in August and the Champions League final is played May 24 this year. Right now, the latter is in the quarterfinals of the knockout rounds. The second round of the quarterfinals is April 8-9, with semifinals April 22-23 and April 29-30. The European Championship, commonly known as the “Euro,” is played every four years in between World Cups and will be played in France in 2016, but the draws were set this February. The Euros feature national teams, rather than club teams and will be shown on Fox Sports 1 and 2. Lest we forget, there are also games for national teams to qualify for the World Cup. For the 2014 World Cup, these were held between September 2012 and November 2013 and involved the national teams of 53 European countries vying for the 13 slots allotted the European zone.             

UEFA is only one of six international organizations of football associations divided by geographical regions. The other five organizations are: OFC – Oceania Football Confederation, CAF – Confederation of African Football, AFC – Asian Football Confederation (including Australia), CONBEMOL – South American Football Confederation, and CONCACAF – Confederation of North, Central American, and Caribbean Association Football. All have championships (the U.S. plays in the CONCACAF Gold Cup) and all sponsor the qualifying rounds for World Cup slots assigned to their zones.  The U.S. qualified for the World Cup. In addition, these same zones are used to determine the Summer Olympic qualifiers, which the U.S. Men did not make in 2012, but the U.S. Women did. These qualifiers are held in March and April of the Olympic year (2016 for the next one). Individual countries hold championships akin to the Super Bowl among their top tier teams. In England, the championship is called the FA Cup (Football Association Cup). The semis will be held at Wembley Stadium on April 13 (Wigan vs. Arsenal) and April 14 (Hull City vs. Sheffield). It gives teams that aren’t winning the Barclays Premier League a chance to still qualify for the UEFA Cup.               

Every confederation has its own championship with various rules about what a win allows a team to procure such as a World Cup slot. In CONCACAF, the championship is known as the Gold Cup in which the national teams of the confederation members plus guest nations compete. The event is held every two years on odd years. The next will be held in 2015 and the U.S. has won five contests. In addition, CONCACAF sponsors a Champions League tournament for top club teams. The event is held in the spring and the winner automatically procures one of the CONCACAF spots for the FIFA Club World Cup (yes, there is a World Cup for clubs rather than national teams held every year). The finals will be held April 24, 2014. The last two MLS teams were eliminated in March. The semi-finals will air April 8 and 9 on Fox Sports 2. Other world competitions may or may not be broadcast, but things are changing rapidly with the TV landscape morphing yearly as more and more networks purchase the rights to various soccer leagues, tournaments and championships. Right now, NBC Sports Network airs all the Barclays Premier League games live (either on air or streaming), 40 MLS games a year, and the Olympics. ESPN airs MLS games, and Fox Sports has the right to the various UEFA and CONCACAF games.              

Further crowding and complicating the soccer competitive scene is the fact that players have multiple allegiances. They play both for club teams and national teams. When those teams are involved in multiple competitions, the player’s schedule can get crazy. Therefore, contests are often arranged to maximize the ability of players to move from one team event to another with some rest in between. That’s great for fans who don’t have to decide which event to watch because they are spread out. International time zones help as well. Night games in Europe air in the mornings and early afternoon in the U.S. For example, the UEFA quarterfinals air the same days as the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal games, but not at the same times allowing Fox Sports to broadcast both.               

We can also look to amateur soccer for some very exciting matches. Here in the U.S., we have the College Cup for the three NCAA divisions in both men’s and women’s soccer. These games are played in late November and early December and several in all divisions are broadcast on the Turner Broadcasting stations and streaming. There is the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the longest running national soccer competition in the U.S.   Any amateur adult or professional team that is a member of the U.S. Soccer Federation is eligible to compete. The US Youth Soccer National Championships allow the top Under-13 through Under-19 boys and girls teams in the country the chance to claim the National title as the top team in the U.S. Clubs compete at the state level, with State Cup winners advancing to one of four regional tournaments. Finally, the winners of the Regional Championships join the US Youth Soccer National League representatives in the National Championships. In 2014, the finals will be held in Germantown, Md., July 22-29. You can also visit the Regional Tournaments by checking the website for dates and locations. Our U.S. Youth National Teams compete in world-wide competitions through U-23, including youth World Cups. Some of these games are broadcast or streamed.              

Certainly, there will always be people who bet on these competitions, but families who participate in soccer don’t need to have a monetary stake in a competition to have fun watching the variety of matches available to them. Kids will learn what they need to aspire to and gain some great role models. Parents will develop a more accurate view of the rules, tactics and skills of the game, giving them the proper perspective in which to measure their own children’s abilities. Families will experience great together time sharing the love of a team or a player. While I do watch football, basketball and baseball – after all Wisconsin is in the Final Four – I have far more fondness for soccer. I’ve followed the sport since my student days in Germany, and I’ve never been disappointed by a match other than watching a favorite team lose. Even then I’ve enjoyed the “ballet” of the game as it actively plays out and being in awe of the athleticism of the competitors. I recently watch some old film of Pele and saw what made him the greatest soccer player ever.         

Soccer contests are played nearly every day of the year. Significant competitions stretch out over the same time frame with events several times every month. Focusing solely on the World Cup truly limits your opportunity to expose you and your child to top-level soccer. I argue that live soccer is available to view within a few miles of most American families, including high school, college, United Soccer League, Professional Arena Soccer League and MLS games. Tickets are generally very reasonably priced with plenty of special offers. For example, the college games in the Milwaukee area never cost more than $10 a ticket with student prices and group rates available. Better yet, volunteer your club team to be ball boys or girls for college and high school games in your area. Introduce your kids to the full experience of soccer as most of the world knows it giving yourself a richer background in the sport. Pick a team to support and a player to follow. Given all the opportunities now available both live and on TV to encounter the various levels of soccer here in the U.S. and throughout the world, it would be a shame to squander those exciting viewings. I’m not a gambling person, but I’ll lay this bet that you’ll be glad you took part in the larger soccer world.

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Susan Boyd

How about this? We should stop holding tournaments for U-13 and younger teams that channel participants into a championship game. Why? Because the competitive nature of those “win or go home” contests doesn’t facilitate the development of young players. Additionally, consider the cost to benefit ratio. The expense of attending tournaments for young families often eats up a big percentage of any discretionary funds they may have. Shouldn’t they be able to get a full complement of games for their time, trouble and money instead of having the tournament cut short if they don’t advance?  Shouldn’t they be able to challenge themselves against a variety of skill levels? Isn’t it rather demoralizing to spend money on a hotel Saturday night knowing that your team is already out of the race but you still have to play one last meaningless game on Sunday? How does a club and a coach justify the expense and time of a tournament to players who get little to no playing time because the team wants, one might even argue needs, to win?            

Some experts contend that youth players shouldn’t participate in tournaments at all. Health professionals believe playing several intense games in the brief period of a weekend accelerates serious stress injuries. Other experts will say tournaments put the emphasis on performance rather than on development, which should be the most important factor for young players. Clubs and parents have bought into the theory that tournaments played (and by extension won) increase the club’s and the player’s worth. For the club, that can mean wooing better players for future years, and for the players, it can mean being identified by scouts. So, the popular opinion is to enter competitive tournaments early and often. In some cases, teams will play twice to triple the number of tournament games than regular league games that have an accompanying expense, both financially and physically. Many parents feel pressured to buy into the tournament mentality and actually go into debt just to support their child’s tournament play. Bob Gansler, the former U.S. Men’s National Team coach, stated that America “suffer[s] from a huge case of tournamentitis.”              

There are definitely both benefits and allure to tournaments. I remember when the boys’ teams were accepted into the Disney Soccer Showcase at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. We thought we had died and gone to youth soccer heaven, only to get there and discover that, like most tournaments, only a small percentage of the games were played at the main venue with all the other games scattered around a 25-mile radius. Nevertheless, we had fun attending games, playing against teams from all over the world, and, of course, visiting Magic Kingdom. The opportunity to play teams outside of your usual regional pool helps teams measure their development and give them targets for development. We attended a tournament in Tampa, Fla., where our U-11 team played a team from England. The boys were nervous since their image of English soccer came from watching the dexterity and power of the English Premier League. They quickly discovered that U-11 players from England aren’t necessarily any more advanced than U-11 players in the U.S. They actually won the match. It was a great experience for us and the banner the English team members gave to each player is still proudly displayed in Robbie’s room. Of course, for the British players and parents, it was an exciting trip to the U.S. made possible through soccer. Tournaments can offer families, not just players, the chance to travel to parts of the U.S., even the world, they might not usually go. It can be an enriching experience for everyone.            

Therefore, how can we address the problems of tournaments while keeping the benefits? US Youth Soccer speaks to the importance of the issue: “We believe that excessive play at competitive tournaments is detrimental to individual growth and development and can reduce long-term motivation. 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 offseason.” We might resolve these difficulties by instituting some simple boundaries.

  1. Teams younger than U-14 should not participate in more than three tournaments a year (one or two a season). 
  2. Youth teams should be allowed a larger roster so players can rest for a half or an entire game during the event.
  3. Rotating playing time should be strictly enforced for tournaments.
  4. Reduce the “competitive” pressure of tournaments by eliminating championships for U-12 and below. Do a round robin with tournament directors being careful to pair up teams from different regions and giving as many teams as possible international opponents.
  5. Limit the number of games concentrated on the days of the event. Offer a special for teams that want to come a day early. Many teams that travel a great distance have to arrive on Thursday or Friday, so they might be excited to spread games out over more days. Local teams would probably be happy to participate as opponents on a weekday afternoon.
  6. Clubs should try to only do one tournament a year requiring air fare (or a really long drive) in order to mitigate family’s expenses.
  7. Clubs should offer parents the chance to select tournaments from options the coach has gathered rather than just being told this is what is going to happen. This allows sensitivity to expense and family vacation disruptions.
  8. Guest player rules for younger teams should be relaxed through state associations. Clubs might even consider joining forces and merging two teams for a tournament, clearing this officially with their state association. If the rules don’t allow for tournament mergers, then perhaps the board should consider updating the rules.
  9. Parents should be able to opt out of tournaments without any adverse effects on their child’s position on the team. This would be easiest to implement if guest player regulations were more liberal for younger teams.
  10. Since these youth tournaments won’t be about winning, coaches have no risks and will be able to sub regularly to reduce the risk of stress injuries, fatigue and inadequate muscle recovery. The added benefits are that parents who make major financial investments in attending these tournaments will be rewarded by being able to see their child play throughout the weekend.

Tournaments are money-makers for clubs, not to mention for businesses that specifically manage competitions throughout the country. There’s very little likelihood of tourneys being cut back in the near future. However, we can do things to make tournaments part of the overall development of players rather than events adding stress to schedules, finances and health. There’s no reason for teams to be whittled down to find a champion at these young ages. Instead, tournaments should be places where teams can not only further the development of their players, but enrich their competitive experience playing unusual opponents. Teams could still be ranked based on their league performances in order tobe sure not to have blow-out games, but because the quality of any league in any region can be difficult to accurately assess, it doesn’t necessarily follow that tournament rankings will be fair and exact. Therefore, it’s most important that teams all participate in the same number of games for their fees, they don’t overdo the number of games for any particular player through the benefit of larger rosters and making frequent substitutions, and they experience a variety of teams and levels in their matches. With some creative thinking, “tournamentitis” can still be infectious without worrying about its risks.

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