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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on USYouthSoccer.org every Monday. A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom." 
 
 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.

 

A Different Option

Susan Boyd

Much of the talk throughout youth soccer focuses on the journey beyond – high school, college, semi-pro, professional. That’s a wonderful route for a select few players, but what about the youth player who yearns to continue in the sport? Early in August I had the pleasure of attending the National Amateur Cup Championship which was held in Milwaukee. Just as in youth soccer, there are adult leagues overseen by the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA) and divided into the same four regions: I – Western U.S., II – Upper Midwest, III – Southern U.S., and IV – Eastern U.S.  Teams compete in their state, in their region, and then in the national competition. Many youth clubs also sponsor adult teams called Majors and Reserves. There are also other leagues which play primarily in the summer as a place for strong adult and former and present college players to compete. These include the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), Premier Development League (PDL), W-League (for women), and Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL). In some cases players have moved on from these latter leagues into semi-pro and professional teams, but the true purpose is to provide adult players with strong competitive soccer beyond the youth level.

The USASA operates under the same umbrella of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) which oversees US Youth Soccer and are further governed by the world organization of FIFA. This provides a nearly seamless transfer from youth to adult soccer. Likewise the NPSL, PDL, W-League, and the WPSL are sanctioned by the USASA. Players of all ability levels should be able to find a team that fits their talents, passions, and time commitments once they “graduate” to adult soccer. Recently I saw the mother of a former teammate of Bryce who said her son was “finally done with professional soccer.” I knew what that meant. He had just graduated from college, had his first job in his career, and was moving into a more career-centered life. But he was not giving up soccer. He had already found a strong adult amateur team in Minnesota near his new employment, and he’d be starting practices with them before he even went to his job orientation. The love of play doesn’t just shut off.

The Amateur Cup involves the adult club teams of Majors and Reserves around the United States. At the tournament I got to watch a local club team who had won the Region II championship. That meant I got to once again cheer on several players I’d had the pleasure of watching grow up in soccer. On the team were several of my sons’ former club teammates, several ODP players who I had first seen when they were twelve, and a smattering of old college standouts from the area. The team lost in the finals to an amazing team from Maryland representing Region IV who surprisingly had a former player from University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. These amateur teams generally train two or three evenings a week since many of the players have full-time jobs. The season is approximately fourteen games throughout the late spring and summer demanding on their success to reach the tournament. It requires tremendous dedication and expense since there is rarely some benevolent sponsor covering all the training and travel costs. These players love the game and crave the competition. In many cases they have wives and children, who all attend, and lend a party spirit to the occasion. At halftime of each of the semi-final, consolation, and final games the pitch was filled with youngsters dribbling, shooting, and doing a few gymnastic moves. The scene was a special reminder of how soccer binds generations, genders, cities, and nations through a shared love of the game.

Most adult teams welcome players as young as high school age and as old as a player feels comfortable still playing. Just as youth players have to register with a team and are bound to that team for a year, so too must adult players sign with a particular team through their state association of the USASA. An interested player can locate teams in his or her area by contacting their state association or going on their web site and getting the phone numbers of the coach or club president. In general the youth clubs in the area will have an adult division, so a player should feel free to contact youth clubs. I’ve known many parents of youth players who play for the same club on the adult teams. It certainly adds to the complexities of scheduling practices and games for a family, but also adds to the mutual enjoyment. Generally the fees to be on an adult team are far less than those of a youth team and uniforms are minimal – players may just need to buy a set of t-shirts and then supply their own shorts and socks. Often attendance at practices and games can be a bit ragged due to the tougher scheduling conflicts for adults, so teams will maintain large rosters to cover all the competitions. The great thing is that if anyone wants to continue playing past youth soccer there will be a team nearby where he or she can indulge that passion.

In general youth players transitioning to college and looking to continue playing competitive soccer but who either can’t or don’t want to play college soccer can turn to the adult Major and Reserve teams of local clubs as a reasonable option. Additionally players may find on-campus soccer teams that use the same fields as the university team. It gives them a convenient opportunity to continue playing and to do so within the same training facilities as the institution’s teams. Likewise they may get the chance to participate in practices and friendlies with the team giving the non-college players a chance to be seen once again by the coaches. If players choose to participate in a club team, they will still reap many of the same benefits as college team players in terms of social contacts and developing time management. Even during high school, many clubs may sponsor recreational U-15 through U-19 teams that players who looking to play soccer for fun and fitness can join. These teams will play in organized and sanction leagues through the state youth soccer associations, but the intensity of play isn’t the same as for travel teams allowing for a more relaxed atmosphere.

NPSL, PDL, W-League, and WPSL teams have more stringent requirements for team membership and participation. These leagues often have several active college players on the teams looking for a place to maintain their edge in the off-season. The teams are sanctioned by the NCAA as long as the college players adhere to certain standards relating to monetary and playing time rules. Likewise, to prevent a college “ghost” team from getting to practice together outside of the regulated NCAA times, these summer league teams are limited – the last I understood it was five players from the same college on any of these intensive teams. Likewise college players can’t play with paid players, but can play against them, so often you’ll find a mix of semi-pro and amateur teams in these leagues. Generally unless a player has college experience he or she won’t be considered by these squads, but they all hold open try-outs in the spring, so everyone is welcomed to try. These teams often will have sponsors who cover costs of competition. College players can be on teams that are sponsored so long as the players don’t receive any direct compensation beyond uniforms, training, and travel costs to compete.

Even for much older adult players there are over-35, over-45, and even senior leagues offering options for anyone who wishes to continue playing. All of these leagues can be located in your state by contacting the state adult soccer association. Indoor soccer facilities run leagues as well where players form their own teams to participate. These don’t fall under the same sanctions and rules of the USASA, but are independent and generally short-term teams formed solely for the purpose of playing in an indoor tournament or six-week league. Players should contact the facilities directly who can guide them to teams looking for members for indoor sessions. Older players can also contact organizations such as the YMCA, churches, health clubs, and city and town adult recreation departments who may sponsor teams for friendly pick-up games.

Soccer doesn’t need to stop if a player foregoes his or her high school squad. Statistically 70% of kids in organized sports quit before high school. The biggest reason for quitting a sport (39% for boys and 38% for girls) is that it just wasn’t fun anymore.  Perhaps if youth soccer players knew that there were other options out there not dictated by the intensity of high school to college to professional parameters, they might be persuaded to keep playing. As parents, we should find out why our kids want to abandon the sport and if the reason has to do with lost enjoyment in the sport, it might be a good idea to back off of expecting our kids to make the next step to higher levels of play and accept that they want to play because they enjoy the activity. Options are available which help preserve the opportunity to play while providing the atmosphere our players seek. Letting our children maintain their carefree approach to the sport won’t diminish our enjoyment at all. We’ll get to watch them compete, see them improve, and continue to participate in both the highs and the lows of organized sports while insuring that our children don’t feel under pressure to perform or succeed. One of the parent coaches at our local soccer club when my sons, Robbie and Bryce, were in high school formed a U-15 team for players who weren’t interested in high school soccer, but wanted to continue playing. Several of the parents of my sons’ teammates questioned why the club was agreeing to sponsor such a team, which they saw as a waste of resources and possibly snatching good players away from the competitive and high school teams. At the end of the season, the players on that recreational team overwhelmingly agreed to play another year with the same parent coach, while our competitive team only got four players to show up at tryouts. It was a strong message that kids will stick with a sport if they are having fun and feeling good about playing. That team only broke up when the boys all left for college. I’m hoping their example will remind us all that ultimately playing soccer should come from and be sustained by a real joy for the game.

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A Letter from a Future Division I Player

Stickley

Several years ago, we featured the following letter written from a young female soccer player to her father.

stasi letter

Mallin_0148The author of that letter was Stasia Mallin, and it's clear she grasped some concepts at a young age that many parents have a difficult time understanding as adults. The freedom she played with as a young player has proven to be beneficial, as Stasia's father, Kevin, recently followed up to let us know that she is now a Division I athlete.

Mallin recently began her college soccer career as a freshman defender for the Memphis Tigers. In her first two games, she played 81 and 90 minutes to help Memphis begin its season with a pair of victories.

Her success shows the importance of giving young players freedom while watching from the sidelines. Resist the urge to shout instructions for each little challenge a player encounters on the field. Show support and realize that mistakes can lead to benefits down the road as players learn to solve problems for themselves.

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Player Development - Coaching Technique

Sam Snow

Continuing with a series of postings that highlight free coaching documents form US Youth Soccer here is an excerpt from the Skills School Manual. There is also a full DVD that goes with this manual. Some of the video clips from that DVD are posted on the US Youth Soccer YouTube channel.

Coaching Technique

The game will show you what the player needs to practice.

In this manual the coach will find the basics of all ball skills. From this core set of techniques the growing player will be able to add on many variations and subtleties to the techniques. This fact most likely applies to players fifteen years of age and older as they fully mature athletically and come to understand how to use a variety of skills in varying game situations. Do not let the developing player’s game become obsessed with frills or skills that, while useful, are used rarely. Be competent in the basic orthodox techniques first. But once that standard has been reached then embroider the player’s skills with the less orthodox techniques as they are serious, positive skills which will help the team and not just please spectators.

During the first fourteen years of a young player’s career the coaching emphasis must be on technique. The actual execution of a movement is always in the realm of technique. The challenge of “when and why” to use a movement is one of tactics. In this manual the focus is the “how to”; that is on technique. Technique is the body’s mechanical execution to affect the ball; for example receiving, catching, shooting, dribbling, deflecting, etc. It is one of the four components of the game and leads to ball skill. Skill is being able to execute a technique under the pressure of opponents in tight space and most likely on the move. Without ball skill a player cannot execute tactics. Some players will:

  • be able to do a technique in an activity but fail to apply it as skill when under pressure from opponents
  • be competent with the ball but not outstanding
  • be technical but not skillful, while others will be skillful but not technical
  • be capable of executing some skills against one level of opponent but not another

 

Players gain more trust and respect for a coach who can help them improve their technique. The result is confident use of new skills in matches. Motivated players spend time working on their skills. Players will appreciate the importance and thrill of learning new techniques and refining existing ones if the coach creates the proper training environment. Then the players begin to equate fun with improvement.

Novice coaches often find themselves in a Catch 22 at training sessions. They can influence young players by helping them develop techniques, but some coaches don’t know enough about the techniques they are teaching to offer relevant advice.

The execution of a technique is broken down into three phases:

PREPARATION – the movements leading up to contact with the ball.

  • focus on the feet first as they will impact what happens with the rest of the body and they must get the body to the ball
  • look at the distribution of body weight (body posture), the angle of the approach to the ball, the position of the body and limbs in relation to the ball, the position and steadiness of the head, the position and shape of controlling surfaces and the rotation of the body into contact with the ball
  • eyes on the ball

 

CONTACT – the placement of the feet and the posture of the body upon contact with the ball.

  • look for the distribution of body weight and how it impacts balance
  • observe the hip and shoulder positions, the position of the supporting leg(s), the contact point with the ball and the movement of the limbs
  • eyes on the ball

 

FOLLOW THROUGH – the movement occurring after contact with the ball.

  • again focus on the distribution of body weight and posture
  • is the follow through complete or halted too soon
  • eyes on the ball

 

Technique should be taught in a progressive manner throughout a player’s career. Every technique coached at one age must be reinforced at the next age. Techniques taught at 6 and Under (6-U) must be reinforced at 8 and Under (8-U), 10 and Under (10-U), 12 and Under (12-U) and 14 and Under (14-U). What was learned at a previous age group or groups must be refined at the next age group. During the childhood years of soccer the general progression of the child’s experience with the ball is for the 6-U age group ~ manipulating the ball, for the 8-U age group ~ propelling the ball and for the 10-U age group ~ mastering the ball.

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Getting Recruited

Susan Boyd

As I sat in the bleachers at a recent adult game, the coach’s father and I were talking about several of the players on the home team. They came from local colleges and universities, some graduated and some still playing for their school. We were also talking about my sons, Robbie and Bryce, and the coach’s father was interested in knowing if they had played with or against any of those players. A dad sitting next to us, overheard and immediately wanted to engage me in conversation. He said, “Your boys played for University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee? My son played with the team this summer.” I was confused until he explained that his son had attended a soccer camp at the university and, dad announced proudly, had even scored a goal. “He’s just a sophomore, so he’s doing well to be recruited by the school.”

It was neither the time nor the place to explain him the realities of recruitment and summer soccer camps, but it pointed out to me once again how few parents who want their kids to play college sports actually understand the process of being recruited and hopefully signed. I blame the high schools and the soccer clubs for not educating their players and parents. I’m especially disappointed in the clubs where parents invest a boatload of money, so they should expect someone to mentor players through the procedures and rules of what can be an extremely complex and difficult course. There are a number of opportunities for kids who want to play at the next level, but schools and clubs seem to only concentrate on the players that they think can play NCAA Division I sports. Besides the three divisions of NCAA, there is the NAIA and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). Most of the recruiting steps are similar for each of these but the dates for contact, dead period, and quiet period will differ. All of the rules are online by going to the association website.

I can’t possibly cover all the complexities of being recruited in this blog, but I can cover the highlights, especially the things students and parents can do to increase the odds of being evaluated and recruited. It’s important to make the distinction between these two elements. Evaluation goes on through avenues which are both official and unofficial. Being evaluated is a long ways from being recruited.

 

Evaluation Situations

Camps: Most colleges and universities offer summer camps for high school students. Camps can be expensive, especially if they are a long distance from home. Nevertheless, they’re a great opportunity for kids if the family can afford it because it gives them a peek into the college soccer experience while indicating their interest in a school. However, don’t read too much into being invited to a camp. Most schools use the mailing list of the state youth soccer association, high school teams, and recreation programs.

College Showcase Tournaments: Every club should enter their Under-15, Under-16, and Under-17 teams in at least one college showcase a year. These tournaments have competitive entry requirements, but if they don’t fill all their slots, they will lower the bar to get enough teams in. College coaches regularly attend the top tournaments. If your club doesn’t enter these tournaments, you might look for another more aggressive club or you can put your player on a list to be a guest player for teams that are attending. Since these trips can be expensive for families, teams may find themselves several players short and need someone to fill in at the last minute. Most tournaments maintain a list on their website and teams do regularly peruse the list. If you are planning a trip to Disney World during the time of a tournament at ESPN Wide World of Sports, placing your son or daughter’s name on the list would be a great idea. More importantly, you need to be proactive in getting your club to attend these tournaments. Likewise, high schools will often play out-of-state games or attend a tournament to give their players exposure to coaches. Talk to the athletic director to see if your school could possibly do the same. You may find yourself in charge of a fundraiser!

High School Games: Local colleges and universities regularly have their coaches attending high school games and tournaments. They usually can’t talk to students as that is heavily restricted, but they will roam the edges of the pitch or sit quietly in the back of the bleachers watching and taking notes.

 

Athletes’ Role in Recruiting

Research:  Just as students research choices in higher education to find a match academically, socially and financially, athletes need to do the same to find the right fit for their abilities. Talking to only the coaches of the top 20 Division I teams certainly is exciting, but remarkably unwise. Players need to decide if they would be happy playing at Division I, which is like a full-time job on top of academics and if they would be happy with a particular coach. The best advice I can give is to attend games for as many, if not all, the schools an athlete is considering. That’s a great way to judge if the team is the right fit. They should carefully watch how the players in their position are used. Every athlete should ask him- or herself if they match up in skills, tactics and philosophy. Being recruited outside of an athlete’s immediate geographic area is also difficult because coaches have limited travel budgets to come evaluate players. That’s why college showcases become so important. Students should look closely at the rosters of the schools that interest them to see where the players come from. These rosters and student bios can be found on the school’s athletic website. If schools seem to only recruit locally, then an athlete from 1,000 miles away may be at a disadvantage. In the end athletes need to look at all levels and associations.                  

Email: Students should contact coaches as soon as they feel they are in a position to show themselves well.  Initial emails should include a playing resume, a photo, interests outside of soccer, grade point average and ACT/SAT scores, and a schedule of their high school and club games. Coaches want to see that an athlete has selected a school thoughtfully, rather than just sending out dozens of blind emails, so senders should indicate why they picked this school. Examples include: “I was impressed with how the team came back from that 0-2 deficit against Illinois to win 3-2. I saw the kind of determination and never say die attitude that I try to keep when I play,” or “I got to visit Washington University this summer and felt so comfortable on the campus and in the community.”  Encourage your club to maintain a spreadsheet of schools, links to their websites, coaches and appropriate emails that can be distributed online to every player. Coaches can change suddenly, so the list needs to be updated often. It would be embarrassing, not to mention an indication that an athlete isn’t really following a team, to send an email to an old coach rather than the new coach. Follow up all emails with a phone call a week or two after they have been sent. Coaches may not yet be able to talk, but a call will indicate a serious interest and give the player a chance to reinforce that an email was sent for the coach to check out. Finally, don’t send any video until requested. We went with my son, Bryce, to his interview at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, and I was astounded to see two garbage cans filled to the brim with DVDs. When I asked I was told no coach has time to look at all those videos, so they are tossed immediately.  They ask when they are ready to move ahead with a player.

Application: Serious athletes should fill out entrance applications to the schools they are most interested in. Don’t believe the myth that if a coach wants a player, he or she can pull strings to get them admitted. If your player falls below the academic requirements of a school, chances are the coach will have to pass. So work closely with the high school guidance counselor. Have your son or daughter go over all the schools they are looking at for soccer and see if they are realistic choices academically. Counselors should have some experience with student-athletes and can be a valuable resource in moving to the goal of playing college soccer. Waiting until a student gets recruited to apply for entrance to the school can delay everything including the possibility of a scholarship and additional monies beyond athletic funds that coaches can find for an admitted student.

 

Coaches’ Role in Recruiting:

Club and High School Coaches: They should have contacts with at least the local institutions and possibly with other schools. Coaches need to discuss with all their players where each should reasonably seek recruitment. Coaches should be willing to write letters to college coaches and to help provide game film. Coaches should be willing to take their players to tournaments and games where the players can be seen by scouts. Most importantly every coach of an Under-15 through Under-17 team has to hold an informational meeting for the players and their parents about how to be recruited, what deadlines must be met, best ways to contact college coaches as well as example emails and resumes. Even better, a club should set up a spot on their website that college coaches can access on which every player can post their resume, picture and vital statistics. There are plenty of services willing to do this for reasonable fees which will either maintain a reporting site that coaches can access or set up such a service directly on the club website.

College Coaches: Here’s the tricky part. College coaches operate under some really restrictive and strongly enforced rules in the NCAA, NAIA, and NJCAA. Therefore, no athlete should assume that they aren’t on a coach’s radar just because they haven’t heard anything. These rules are detailed on the NCAA web site (web3.ncaa.org/lsdbi/search/bylawView?id=8749#result) which are similar for all levels and associations.  The language is very dense and complex, so there’s also an overview of the rules on Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NCAA_student-athlete_recruiting). Coaches can invite athletes to their schools with either an unofficial or an official visit. In the former there can be no financial advantage to the student other than three tickets to a game. In an official visit the school can pay for transportation to and from the campus, meals and lodging. This is obviously a much more serious invite and usually proceeds discussions of commitment. Coaches can talk to athletes who come to the campus essentially any time they want with a few periods where no communication is allowed. That’s why they can run camps and why independently visiting a school without an invitation can be important.

 

Parents’ Role in Recruiting

Coordination: Parents can be proactive by coordinating their players’ clubs and high schools to provide the opportunities needed in order to be evaluated. Encourage that your club offer showcase tournaments to their teams and make the effort to qualify for the best tournaments. Check with the high school coaches and athletic director to see if the possibility exists to participate in games or tournaments outside of your conference in order to provide more exposure for the players. Robbie and Bryce’s high school was Jesuit and participated in a yearly tournament with three other Jesuit schools from Kansas City, Denver and Washington D.C. with each school rotating as hosts. The tournament would attract several local college scouts which was great for all the players involved. Parents also need to help coordinate visits to campuses, emails, applications and collecting the supporting materials to give to coaches. Many showcase tournaments use or sponsor websites where players upload all their statistics, game film, transcripts and test scores. That’s a great service that players can then refer to and provide a link when they email coaches. Since game film will be ultimately requested, parents can coordinate the collection of that video either by filming games themselves or locating game films. Many tournaments offer professional game tapes and high schools generally tape every game. Video needs to be of good quality, so no cell phone offerings. Throughout the process parents need to encourage and insure that kids don’t give up too easily.

Realism: Recruitment is not the time to see stars. It’s important that parents be good evaluators themselves, doing honest appraisals of their players’ talents. When I coordinated Wisconsin ODP, I had a dad call me after his son wasn’t selected for the State team. He capped off his enraged diatribe with the statement, “My son is going to play Division I soccer.” Parents need to keep options open and not see it as a defeat or some kind of shame to play anything but DI soccer. College soccer is a great way to enter school with a ready troupe of friends, a purpose, and a staff dedicated to maintaining grades. Finally parents need to be realistic about what type of scholarship may or may not be available. DI soccer scholarships are limited to 9.9 full-time for men at DI (NJCAA offers 18) and 14 full-time for women in D1. With squads of up to thirty players, you can see that earning a full scholarship isn’t in the cards for all but the very elite recruited DI player. Therefore parents need to be prepared to seek other grants, scholarships and/or loans to pay for college. If your player is recruited by an out-of-state public school or a private school you’ll either have an out-of-state tuition supplement (which can be more than double the in-state) or a huge private tuition bill beyond an athletic scholarship. That may mean nixing some choices for your player.

 

Final Thoughts

Being evaluated is a great honor and should be considered a very important first step in the recruitment process. However dozens of players are evaluated for every player who is even invited for an unofficial visit. So to keep the process going, don’t settle on the laurels of getting invited to a camp or hearing back from a coach. Ultimately it will be passion and perseverance that tip the scales. Players need to participate in as much soccer as possible in order to make their resume show both talent and involvement. Guest play whenever possible, do summer leagues if available and work on conditioning. Most importantly be sure to build on every accomplishment. If a coach contacts an athlete, the player should answer back as soon as possible, especially if the coach asks a specific question. Remind coaches of the times and fields for the team at tournaments. If an athlete attends a camp, build on that by sending a thank you note to the coach, affirming interest in the college, and reminding the coach of what the player accomplished at the camp. When there are 100 kids running around in similar t-shirts they are often only distinguishable by what they do. Don’t worry about “bothering” a coach. Every coach has a delete button on his or her computer, so if they don’t want to read an email, they won’t. The player’s job in the recruitment game is to be a gnat, constantly reminding the coach they’re still around.  Finally, get educated about the process. If you don’t know the dates and deadlines, you could miss out or falter. Visit the different association websites. For NCAA, the calendar, links to rules and an overview of the process can be found at www.ncaa.org/student-athletes/resources/recruiting-calendars. Good luck!

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