Check out the weekly blogs

Online education from US Youth Soccer


Like our Facebook!

Check out the national tournament database

Sports Authority

Play Positive Banner


Capri Sun


Wilson Trophy Company

Nesquik - Great For Team Snacks!

Celebrate Youth Soccer Month and WIN!

Print Page Share

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.



Sam Snow

The following comments came from our US Youth Soccer Facebook page:
"Do you have information 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? The situation has occurred for players on a team heading to National League in 3 weeks, so the high school coach was asked to let those particular players sustain from high school practice (contact drills) until they return from the National League weekend.

If experts do say that too much practice is harmful to young athletes, I think it would be a good idea for US Youth Soccer do a story and email that story to every high school soccer coach and Athletic Director across the entire Nation."
Two-a-day training for teenaged and older players has been going on for decades. Typically it’s done in the pre-season period of team preparation. I have seen it done by club teams late in the season in preparation for State Cup. That usually backfires and the team goes into cup competition with low energy reserves. Two-a-day workouts are best left to the preseason phase of team preparation.
Two-a-day training can work when it’s organized and conducted by one coach for players on one team. In this way the coach can properly manage the workload on the players. Only then can a proper periodization plan be prepared by the coach with varying workloads and scheduled time off for rest and recovery.
When players are going through two-a-day training sessions with two different teams and coaches then problems begin. The odds are that the two head coaches have not tailored their training plan for the players in this situation. The onus is on the coaches to communicate and cooperate regarding their training and periodization plans in the best interest of the players. The responsibility of the players here is to put the two coaches into contact with one another.
If the two coaches communicate a plan between them to have the players involved in this situation on a periodization scheme different from other players who are engaged with only one team at the time then it is possible to not exhaust the players. The coaches would need to check in with each other every week to be sure they are both still on the original plan. The fear for both coaches should be that they exhaust the players both physically and mentally. If that happens then neither team gets the best out of those players.
The best scenario here is for a player to play on just one team in a season. No one can go through two different training and match schedules in the same season and perform at optimum level. The higher the level of play the more demanding each match is and the more recovery time players need. In fact, it takes 72 hours to fully recover physically from highly vigorous exercise. When simultaneously playing for two teams the odds are low that proper balance in the training and match play periodization will occur.
For more information on periodization in soccer please attend an "E" and then the "D" license coaching course in your state soccer association.

Comments (1)


Creating the Perfect Athlete

Susan Boyd

A film maker and two doctors approached the subject of parents looking to create exceptional children through training, discipline and sheer force of desire. Beginning the discussion was Peter Berg, who directed the film "Friday Night Lights." His first topic on his sports-related documentary series "State of Play" on HBO was titled "Trophy Kids." He looked at four parents and five kids across the sports of football, basketball, golf and tennis. The one-hour program was difficult to watch, showcasing overbearing parents pressuring their kids to aspire to the highest pinnacle of their sports. What we have regarded as stereotypes of Type A parenting played out over that hour to a frightening level. A father swore unrelentingly at the referees and blamed many of his child’s basketball losses on the "95 percent of lousy officiating." The father of a 10-year-old golfer questioned officials on the legality of undue help he felt other parents were giving their children during a tournament and cursed at his daughter under his breath when she failed to make the green. She probably didn’t hear the word, but she certainly got the message through his vocalizations and body language. At one point he accused her of embarrassing him and threatened to "slap her across the face" if she didn’t do what he demanded. A football father berated his son after every game for all his failings and for not being in the coach’s face to find out why he was benched. He generated his own before-school practices for his son and then yanked him around by his gear to get him to do what he wanted. A mother felt her two tennis sons had a talent given to them by God that she had a covenant to develop. She believed they would be the best doubles players ever because they were ordained by God to prove His power.
What was most telling was the follow-up the filmmaker had four months after the primary filming. We learn the basketball player’s father readily admits that he could probably "have bought two Lamborghinis" based on what he spent on privately training his son. The goal was a Division I basketball scholarship, however, the offer he received was a five-year scholarship with a Division II school. The golfing daughter finally won a tournament where parents were not allowed on the course, but she still had not procured a sponsor even though players much younger already had. The football player left his father’s home in Los Angeles and moved in with his mother in Seattle because, as he said, "My dad wasn’t a dad; he was a coach." The tennis players entered high school, tried out for the team and were put on the J.V. squad. All of those footnotes highlighted that what the parents saw in their kids was rarely the reality of their talent. The basketball player was skilled at three point shots, but that alone couldn’t sustain him at the next level where defense, team work and speed on the court have equal importance. The football player was a tentative athlete at best and would probably never move beyond high school no matter how driven his father was. The young man just didn’t have the heart of an elite athlete and certainly lacked many of the necessary skills. The tennis players, despite tons of extra practice, hadn’t risen to the level of exceptional. As a golfer, the young woman in the film had determination and some apparent skills, but she was still overshadowed by players two or three years younger, which did not bode well for her future at the top level of the sport.
The saddest part of the documentary was the lack of evident love and pride from these parents towards their children. The golfer’s father admitted in a voice-over that he was tremendously proud of his daughter and what she had achieved thus far, but he couldn’t let her know – not until "they" had accomplished the goals necessary to put her on top – because it would undercut her development. Mom couldn’t praise her sons because their tennis skills came not from them but from God. They didn’t deserve the honor. All his father could muster toward the football player was screaming at his son that if he didn’t love him he wouldn’t care at all what he did and not demand excellence of him. Love was supposedly demonstrated through harsh, demeaning judgment because it was making his son a man. The last image of the basketball player shows his father hugging him right after his team won the state championship. In a voice over the father states how the win gave him a reason to love his son.
While most of us aren’t as crazed or unforgiving as these four parents who were obviously selected to make some strong points about sports direction, we all must admit that we have fallen prey to elements in the film. We may have questioned our child’s commitment to the sport, or drilled her about errors made on the field, or demanded that our sons speak up to coaches. Our desire for our kids to succeed creates blinders to how good our children really are. When we believe them to be exceptional then we find ourselves incredulous that coaches and scouts don’t see the same thing. We may compare our children to other players on the team, "You’re faster than Jody. Why don’t you show it?" or "How come you always let Sammy take the shot?" While we may profess that we are just happy that our kids are playing a sport they enjoy, we all secretly harbor the dream that our son or daughter will be on the next Olympic team. That dream can make us expect unrealistic play and outcomes. With those expectations will come criticism, as if we could mold our child into that perfect, elite prodigy that writes the next great symphony, stars on Broadway, signs a $24 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, or invents the next Apple computer. We will push, cajole, beg, demean, discipline and intervene in an attempt to insure that our child achieves at a level higher than he or she is capable of.
One of the doctors joining in on this discussion is Drew Pinsky, an internist who is also an addiction specialist. He has coined the phrase, "narcissistic parenting" to encapsulate these behaviors demonstrated in "Trophy Kids." He argues that it isn’t just wanting to live vicariously through our children’s accomplishments which makes a narcissistic parent. That’s a component, but he explains that it actually stems from our unwillingness to be seen as anything less than perfect in our abilities to manufacture the ideal child. We want people to believe that we have some exceptional parenting talent which anoints us with children skilled beyond all others. This belief that as parents we are gifted in our parenting means that our children can also do no wrong, so parents make excuses for their kids and doing their work because any mistake reflects back badly on the parents. Narcissistic parents also don’t provide boundaries or consequences because perfect children don’t require these. What we end up with are parents who push their children to succeed, provide outside ancillary training to further that success, and have little tolerance for anything they perceive to be failures because that means they are failures. Worse, they don’t provide any support in the form of love and praise because they see those emotions muddying the goals.
Larry Lauer, PhD., is the mental skills specialist for the United States Tennis Association Player Development Program and the former Director of Coaching Education and Development in the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports (ISYS) at Michigan State University. In the latter capacity, he researched tennis parents, coaching, coach education, aggression in hockey and life skills development in youth. His conclusions showed that parents don’t understand the true developmental levels of children in sports and have unrealistic ideas of what children are capable of accomplishing at various age levels. In quizzing parents he learned that few understood how both physical and mental development occurs. For example, in a roundtable discussion following the airing of "Trophy Kids," he commented on the football father constantly berating his son, "Why don’t you get it?!" The father expected that his physically developed 15-year-old son would have the adult mental development to match and should fully understand the nuanced structure of football plays and how to anticipate those plays. However, Dr. Lauer explains that for many kids mental development in a sport lags behind the physical development. As parents we can’t expect our own children’s development to match or exceed that of other kids on the team. Yet we see a player with a fully developed "soccer brain" and believe that if our child would just try harder she could be as good or better. If she doesn’t achieve at that level we internalize that failure as our own. Dr. Lauer’s research also showed that kids who get demonstrated love and praise from their parents have stronger self-images, fewer addiction problems, and succeed as measured by normal standards of success — graduating from school, getting a job, having a happy marriage, and possessing good health. He has observed few cases of parents being able to will their children into elite athletes, although we are aware of such cases: Andre Agassi, Tiger Woods, Todd Marinovich. In such cases we have also seen the players suffer through horrible personal demons. In the drive to create "test-tube athletes" something significant in the child’s development is lost: childhood.
Marinovich, in particular, provides a strong cautionary tale for parental manipulation. His father, a former lineman for USC and a strength and conditioning coach for the Oakland Raiders, began molding his son before he was a month old taking over his diet, fitness, education, and all life decisions. Todd trained more hours than he hit the school books and stuck to a regimented diet and curfew. By his senior year in high school he had earned multiple honors such as Parade All-American and player of the year (1987) for both Dial and the Touchdown Club. Recruited by USC to be their quarterback, he was the first freshman starting quarterback since World War II. But when he went to college he was suddenly thrust into a world where his father no longer controlled his every move and decision. He imploded into drug and alcohol use, wild parties and missing classes. By the time he was recruited into the NFL, he was an addict and far behind in his emotional and decision-making maturity. Eventually he burned out in spectacular fashion. Drafted in 1991, he was out of the NFL by 1993 due to three failed drug tests. He made several come-back attempts both with the NFL and the Canadian Football League, but couldn’t shake his demons. He was part of the round-table discussion following "Trophy Kids." When asked what he would say to the football player who after a particularly nasty fight with his father ended up on the curb crying, Todd said, "I probably wouldn’t say anything. It would be more a hug." He admitted that the lack of evident oral and physical affection from his parents, especially his father, had everything to do with his poor choices later in life. Left without any self-confidence, a sense of being loved unconditionally, and a moral compass to handle decisions and adversity, he drifted into a world where drugs filled the void.
This isn’t to say that all kids with controlling, demanding parents will end up on drugs or homeless like Marinovich. But it does point out how damaging parental expectations can be. It is one thing to set the bar high and quite another to berate a child for not reaching the bar.  A positive example can be found in a recent viral video which shows a father in England reacting to his son finally passing math. The son had lifted his course grade from an F to a C, and the father was uncontrollably delirious, hugging his son, laughing with joy, and giving him a shower of verbal praise. The joy on the son’s face was also stunning as both enjoyed the moment of achieving "averageness." It’s a strong lesson in how we should be parenting, proud of accomplishments no matter how small without any strings attached. The father didn’t push the achievement by adding, "Now maybe you can earn a B." He let the moment be just as it was. I would love to see where that kid lands in ten years, but I’m imagining he’ll be happy and successful. Rather than demanding an A, the father simply wanted his son to pass.   As parents we should want our kids to find their own level of success without the pressure to excel. We can provide nurture as passion and talent dictate, but we need to check ourselves to be sure we aren’t misinterpreting or forcing passion and talent to serve our preconceived notions of where our children should place. Nurturing is a warm, gentle approach, not a typhoon of demands. We should educate ourselves in the milestones of athletic physical and mental development so we don’t have unrealistic expectations, and we should partner with our children, guiding them where we can and letting them lead where they should. It’s particularly important that we learn to listen. We may not end up with exceptional athletes, but we will end up with exceptionally happy children. 

Comments (0)


Statistically Speaking

Susan Boyd

The other day in a restaurant, I saw a man with a T-shirt that read, "Statistics mean never having to say you’re certain." Since I was a math minor in undergrad and a research assistant on a statistics textbook, the saying hit me where I used to operate. We depend on statistics to direct how we live, invest, travel, vote, buy merchandise, render a jury verdict, speed yet avoid a ticket, and so many other daily tasks and decisions. We follow polls and political predictions that always have a + or – percentage points of accuracy, then quote what we heard as gospel. As mathematically powerful as statistics sound, researchers can often develop statistical data using a very small sample, sometimes as little as 10 to 20 data points, to arrive at an earth-shattering conclusion that is supposed to be broadly interpreted across a multitude of products or people. This of course doesn’t take into account what I call "dueling statistics," which become anecdotal despite being scientifically-based. One statistician will declare that a certain public policy has an 80 percent approval rating, while another statistician will declare it only has a 46 percent approval rating. The disparity comes from how the data is gathered. Depending on the questions, participants can provide widely different results. Inquiring if you want a big box store two blocks from your house will likely result in a resounding "no" while asking do you want convenient shopping possibilities in your town is more likely to elicit a "yes." Of course, those statistics which can avoid the taint of bias and depend solely on mathematically- or scientifically-generated data, like baseball statistics or double-blind drug studies, are far more trustworthy and significant. Yet, in the end we all pick and choose the statistics we feel best suit our preconceived notions about what is actually true.
During Thanksgiving dinner, our conversation turned to soccer, which pretty much takes up a majority of our conversation at any time. With a goalkeeper son and a striker son, we have the field of play and opinion covered. For some reason, we started talking about penalty kicks, and I mentioned a study that said nearly 80 percent of all penalty kick shots made to the low post on the non-dominate side of the keeper succeed in scoring. This wasn’t opinion; it was factually based on a long-term and definitive collection of PK results at all levels of soccer. Nevertheless, both sons immediately disagreed with the statistical outcome. The striker said he prefers upper 90’s because he thinks keepers commit early to low kicks. The goalie said that he felt pushing off on his dominate leg to go to his non-dominate side was actually more likely to give him the strength and the distance to stop a PK attempt on that low post. In other words, they believe instinct overrides the numbers.
If sports teach us anything, it’s that facts can only take players and teams so far. Ask any coach who spends years cultivating a certain dribbling or batting style with players only to have some wild kid capable of streaking down the field with a sureness not born of rigid training but of instinct. How many major league hitters have settled into the batter’s box with their weight on the front leg, the bat resting on the shoulder, and/or their heads down, all the positions that statistics say won’t result in consistent hits. Yet they do it. Talk to the Boston Red Sox after the Yankees won the first three games in the 2004 American League Championship Series. Fans, sports reporters, coaches and players all knew that only twice in history had any team come back in a best of seven series down 0-3 to win the series, once in 1942 and once in 1975 — both by NHL teams. But once again, statistics didn’t dictate the outcome and Boston went on to not only win the ALCS, but the World Series. Ask Jay DeMerit about statistics. He never made any state, regional or national teams. He didn’t get any college offers, so he walked on to the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay soccer team and became a starter. Then he moved to England, painted houses and played for a local ninth tier soccer team for essentially no money. When he got noticed by Watford of the English Premier League, his soccer life took a dramatic turn. He played defense for them, made the U.S. National Team, played in a World Cup and now plays professionally for the MLS’s Vancouver Whitecaps. The statistics on any player with his youth soccer history eventually achieving his adult soccer history are literally one in a 100 million. But he wasn’t interested in accepting the statistics, only pursuing his personal instinct that he could overcome the odds.
Obviously statistics do hold for most cases, but that little fraction that leads to the "never having to say you’re certain" gives everyone the right to defy the statistics or ignore them. We all know the statistics that tell us flying is safer than driving, but because we drive every day without incident we come to regard driving as safer. After all, driving is grounded and flying is suspended. We may distrust the statistics to the point of never flying and only using ground transportation. John Madden, the former football coach and announcer, famously refuses to fly opting for buses, trains and cars to get him from one NFL game gig to another. He can afford the luxury of distaining statistics because he can afford drivers to transport him and has bosses who will accommodate his schedule so he can avoid flying. The rest of us have to blindly hope the statistics are true as we board the plane for that business trip to Houston.
We know that victories on the field can easily have nothing to do with statistics. In the NCAA College Cup this year, Virginia defeated Marquette in the third round, not necessarily remarkable until you learn that one minute into the game Virginia got a red card and played the remaining 89 minutes with a man down. Statistically, Virginia should have lost or at the very least merely been able to hold a 0-0 tie. The teams were ranked evenly — Virginia at No. 8 and Marquette at No. 9 — so, statistically, it should have been a close match when the teams were both at full complement. With a man down, any slip on the part of the defense could easily allow Marquette to score, or Virginia could opt to "pack it in" to prevent a score, but not push forward in an attempt to score itself. Virginia ignored all of that, played aggressively and won, 3-1. It played against the statistics. Consider the recent game between Auburn and Alabama. Who would think that a missed Alabama field goal in the last second of regulation would result in a return touchdown for Auburn? That victory exists in the tiniest sliver of statistical uncertainty.
Using our instincts, personal beliefs and natural stubbornness we’ll scoff in the face of statistics. Our own experiences create the context in which statistics play out. If we know of someone who beat certain odds, we choose to accept that experience as the guiding factor in our lives rather than cold, unforgiving data that promises an opposite result. Without our willingness to challenge statistics we might abandon hope in the face of a medical diagnosis, or capitulate when victory seems impossible, or give up on a dream despite nearly insurmountable obstacles. We take risks when statistics tell us we should play it safe. Most entrepreneurs bucked the traditionally acceptable pathway. We call it "thinking outside the box," and in many cases the "box" is statistical opposition to an idea. Since statistics are built on past data, they are always evolving as new data comes available, so even with strict scientific methods the window for an unexpected outcome may open wider.
Of course, some statistics are just smart to accept. We clear off soccer fields during lightning storms because there is a risk, albeit statistically small, of getting hit. The consequence of playing Russian roulette with those statistics could result in injury, death and lawsuits, so we don’t mess around with that. People with a family history of breast and colon cancer can statistically diminish their threat by discovering these cancers quickly enough for treatment through early detection. Girls who do special warm-ups focusing on their knees have fewer ACL injuries, which doesn’t mean everyone avoids them but the statistical risk drops. When a player gets a head knock, concussion protocols reduce the risk of long-term effects from the injury. We wear seatbelts, don’t light cigarettes while waiting for our gas to pump, buy life and home insurance, avoid certain foods, choose the safest neighborhoods we can afford and exercise all based on statistical evidence. Still, there is room for faith beyond statistics when we need reassurance that not all is lost. That faith makes a come-from-behind victory possible. That faith allows for a future against all odds imaginable. That faith creates hope when hope is statistically unrealistic. While we can’t discount all statistics, we can cling to that bit of truth that statistics mean never having to say we are certain of any outcome.
P.S. As I wrote this blog, I learned of Nelson Mandela’s death at age 95. While his death was not unanticipated, it still came as a shock knowing the world had lost a tremendous role model for forgiveness, seeking peace and the politics of inclusion. His legacy is for people of all races, religions, sexual orientation and gender because he saw people as humans not defined by superficial traits but by their character. As he wisely pointed out, "No one is born hating another person… people must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, then can learn to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite." He even had advice for the young soccer players out there who struggle and want to give up. "The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." His wisdom and generosity of spirit will be missed. 

Comments (0)


U8 Tournaments

Sam Snow

Please note that the Under-8 age group is not playing in tournaments nor do they all have flights or divisions of play across the USA. Indeed, most U8 teams play strictly intramural soccer (in-house; a.k.a., inside their own club). However, in some locals there is a rush to results oriented youth soccer and the questions and issues such as the one below come to being.
"Our U8 team attended a B, C level tournament with our C team. The host team played some of their designated B team players in all of the B games and also two for each of their C games along with their C players. Do you feel it is a skill building method to move the kids designated as B level to play against C players? And is this fair to the other teams who only brought C players?"
The intent of matches for the U8 age group should be to first and foremost deepen the love of the game within the children. The development of ball skills and game understanding is of secondary importance. Having players from two different levels play with and against each other can indeed be good for their development. That mixing of capabilities is what will happen when the kids have pick-up games in the neighborhood, at school or at the soccer club.
When the adults involved are less concerned with the score of the game and more attentive to how the kids play the game, then there’s a chance for real growth to occur; this where the question of fairness comes into discussion. Whether using a few "B" players in a "C" level match is fair stems from an outcome mindset. The mindset of the adults associated with the U8 age group should be on the process of play not the outcome of the match. While the players are aware of the score it is not the driving factor for their participation in soccer. They play, one hopes, because they enjoy the game. At this time in their soccer lives the emphasis must be on learning the game.
Please take a look at the U8 chapter in the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model. The information there will help to guide coaches, players’ parents and club administrators on meaningful developmental guidelines.
My final thought is really a question. Why are U8 players involved in a tournament in the first place? A tournament by definition is, "a championship series of games or athletic contests." So by definition, a tournament does not allow the opportunity for realistic development of such young players. They instead should participate in a soccer festival which is set up with round robin play, allows for players to play in several flights of competition and could even allow for players from different clubs to play in mixed matches. Oh, did I mention co-ed play? Give these children a fun soccer experience with a variety of levels of play and in time you’ll see their growth within the game. Now get out and play!

Comments (0)