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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.


Cracking coaching's final frontier

Sam Snow

Gary Williamson, Technical Director for North Texas State Soccer sent this article to me.  My initial response to Gary: "Nice article…not news to us since we’ve taken this approach since the mid 1990’s.  Good to see the rest of the world catching up to soccer in America!"  Perhaps a bit patriotic, but we do indeed do some very good things in soccer in our nation.
Never-the-less as I read the article these connections seemed clear to me.
1.      This approach is similar to the one espoused by Horst Wein (2005 US Youth Soccer Workshop presenter).
2.      Coach Wein’s approach seems to be in the same vein as what is taught in the National Youth License devised by Fleck, Quinn, Carr, Stringfield and Buren.
3.      All three approaches have a common root in the Teaching Games for Understanding approach developed by Almond, Bunker and Thorpe.  Rod Thorpe was a presenter at the 2005 US Youth Soccer Workshop.
4.      I draw the conclusion that we are ahead of the curve.  While we should be proud of that fact we have not penetrated this coaching philosophy and methodology deeply into grassroots soccer.  We have had success, yes.  But we should be further along after 15 years of work.  How do we impact on a much, much broader basis the coaches, administrators, parents and referees engaged with players in Zone 1 in the U.S. Soccer Player Development Pyramid?

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Small Things Count

Susan Boyd

This week a Grinnell College sophomore basketball player, Jack Taylor, set the NCAA single-game scoring record with 138 points. Not only did Taylor set the NCAA mark for most points in a game, he also set records for most field goals made in a game (52), most field goal attempts in a game (108), most 3-point field goals made in a game (27) and most 3-point attempts in a game (71). When asked how he celebrated this achievement, he laughed and said, "Well I’ve mostly been doing interviews, so I haven’t had time to celebrate." Such is the nature of instant fame in our world of rapid media. So many professional basketball players were tweeting about him that he had to get his first Twitter account. This attention will wane and dissipate. In a week he’ll return to his normal life being a guard supporting his teammates as the college basketball season moves into conference play.
These kinds of accolades are the stuff of dreams. As we watch our tiny limbed pre-schoolers prance across the field — chasing down the ball, falling in pig piles as a dozen legs get entangled and scoring in the wrong goal — we hold out the image of that same child growing into a Landon Donovan or an Abby Wambach. If they don’t morph into a professional player, we hope they will at least have one amazing season or one amazing game. We cringe when they are on the bench, we have anxiety attacks when they are on the field, we second-guess coaching decisions and we have a love-hate relationship with the refs. Before our kids reach middle school, we envision their future soccer life with both hope and certitude.
Since Thanksgiving just finished, we all know the strength of gratefulness for even the small gifts of life. Breaking a single-game basketball scoring record won’t be an option for our children. It took nearly 50 years to break the previous record. Therefore, we need to rejoice in the small accomplishments that everyone makes every day. Although we may have dreams of big achievements in our kids’ lives, their achievements won’t be as spectacular as Jack Taylor’s. And even Taylor will return to his ordinary level of excellence moving forward. Instead of constantly striving for some future feat of success, we should be concentrating on what our kids are doing now. There’s plenty to be proud of, we just need to remember to take notice and deliver our praise. Some superb methods exist to insure that our kids hear our pride.
Post-a-notes come in sports designs. Keep a pack on hand to scribble out some encouraging and supportive words to your young player. You can stick these on the back of the front seats where they can find them on the way to a game or on their soccer bag, even on their soccer ball. The messages can be short and sweet: "Good luck!" "You are a star," "We love watching you play," "Your team rocks!" You can be fairly inventive in how you use the notes, including creating a soccer treasure hunt with encouraging words or doing sequential rhyming phrases ala Burma Shave on the route from bedroom to car prior to a game or practice: "You dribble the ball / with speed and skill / like a streak of lightning / that creates a thrill!"
Make yourself a promise that the first words out of your mouth after a game, no matter how horrible a defeat, will be praise. It’s not as easy as it seems. Those moments after a disastrous loss leave such a sour taste in our mouths that we often spew it out in tough talk. When our children are under age 12 these games come and go like the clouds. We need to find the fun in the game so our children can continue to have fun. For our really young kids, it’s usually easy to laugh at the funny mistakes they make on the field, but eventually we start taking it all way too seriously. Scoring in the wrong goal or falling down every time our kid kicks the ball is no longer funny or acceptable. But I would ask, why not? Sure, we want them to grow as players, but until they become teenagers they are still learning the perimeters of their bodies and their brains are only able to retain so much of the rules and expectations of the game. For example, how many of you really know what the offside rule is or the various substitution rules? Rather than criticize, identify that moment in the game that was actually fun and make it your opening remark when the game is over. Remember the good things your child and the team did so you can focus on those rather than the mistakes and/or the loss.
Of course, acknowledging achievement doesn’t need to be limited to soccer or sports in general. Create a "wall of fame" in your kitchen or family room to showcase anything that you or your child finds special: a perfect spelling test, an art project, a poem, an improved grade in math or an award. Rotate the exhibit monthly so that small things are noticed with the same interest that an incredible achievement would be acknowledged. 
This is, of course, the point — that our children need not operate at some extravagant level to gain our respect and approval. Certainly impressive accomplishments can get an added level of attention. But we can’t concentrate on those exclusively because they will come intermittently. We need to build a strong foundation of support grounded in all the ordinary but still noteworthy small events of their lives. We may never have a child who has to worry about delaying celebration because of media interviews, but we all have children who crave our validation. We have to pay attention to those small incidences that our children consider significant. They know the big things warrant praise, but when we honor the small stuff we give them the confidence to strive for greater achievements. After all, there is no small praise, only big omissions in what we notice and admire.

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What Sport Means in America research report

Sam Snow

US Youth Soccer members participated in this survey that was conducted by the United States Anti-Doping Agency in December 2009 through January 2010. There is an executive summary that starts on page 7 and finishes on page 9. The data confirms many of the details that US Youth Soccer has collected over the years.
A few interesting points from my first review:
1.       Coaches rank as the top influence in youth sports
2.       Parents cite personal and social values when describing the hopes for their children’s participation
3.       "…when sport is no longer fun, children and youth are more likely to stop participating."
4.      "…believe the top qualities that sport actually does reinforce are competitiveness and winning."

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"Weather" or Not

Susan Boyd

The Men’s NCAA Division I Championship will be Dec. 9 in Hoover, Ala. In 2006 the championship was in St. Louis, which had a blizzard and the game had to be played with 3-foot high snow piles around the perimeter of the field. A year later, the championship was played in Cary, N.C., which I attended in 35-degree weather. Then came Frisco, Texas, outside Dallas; back to Cary; Santa Barbara, Calif., and finally Hoover, Ala. for the past two years. Finding a suitable venue for the finals while still honoring the various regions of the United States and avoiding the white-out of St. Louis proves difficult in December. Next year the finals will be held in Chester, Pa., which leaves open the possibility for snow. Since the finals are always in December on the edges of winter, we have to be prepared for anything as far as weather goes.
Soccer is generally played year round. This means that soccer has to be played in all kinds of inclement weather. I think of weather as the 12th player on the pitch. But this player has no conscience and cannot be controlled by benching or bargaining with. We can be promised one kind of weather and get the complete opposite. We roll the dice when we see storm clouds overhead or hear that a blizzard blows nearby and try our best to get the game in. On the flipside, when the heat is so overpowering, we change the rules of the game and have water and shade breaks in the middle of each half. We sit in our cars to outlast lightning or avoid a deluge. Around the world weather creates the backdrop for our soccer games, affects outcomes and even controls the audiences. As we approach Thanksgiving and that unofficial kick-off to winter, Black Friday, it’s not surprising that soccer families begin to think about what winter will bring to the fields.
Here in the United States, those of us north of the Mason-Dixon Line have to content ourselves with indoor soccer for most of the winter and early spring months. Even our neighboring states to the south can’t count on decent weather for outdoor soccer once December arrives. There’s rain, low temperatures and even freezing weather to contend with. Yet we persevere, carving out time on the pitch whenever possible. I’ve been to youth games where parents had to shovel off the fields and then sweep off the lines during half-time. Of course Packer fans are used to pitching in on that duty, so I guess it’s not so surprising that in the Midwest we would power through, even in snow. Nevertheless, nothing is sure when it comes to winter weather. I’ve sat freezing in the rain at games in October and sat outside in balmy sunshine in December. So winter can be fickle when it comes to creating a window of opportunity to get in a two-hour game.
In Europe, the soccer season extends from summer into the following spring for most teams, so many of the games are played in the dead of winter, which is cold, rainy, snowy, or all three. Even Italy, Spain and Portugal can suffer from the cold. But think about Scandinavia, where the sun disappears with the winter and the weather guarantees deep snow. So, their season, which once followed the model of the rest of Europe, went from an autumn to spring schedule to a spring to autumn schedule. Of course, that plays havoc with their teams training for regional competitions, such as Champions League, Europa League, European Championship, UEFA Cup and World Cup Qualifying, since those leagues and preliminary games run well into winter. Canada and northern U.S. states suffer the same fate. Coming up against teams in the spring who have been practicing outdoors for six weeks can be problematic when your players haven’t touched the pitch yet. 
When those countries in the Southern Hemisphere are moving into winter they come up against teams that are deep into the heart of their season. It then turns vice versa as the year evolves. This throws a bit of a monkey wrench into global competitions. While the top half of the planet is sweltering in summer heat, the bottom half can find itself restricted by the colder weather. Most of Australia may enjoy balmy weather throughout the year, but it still experiences down time come winter or in the high temperatures of summer. New Zealand’s South Island can get slick with ice and drenched with rain in winter. Parts of Chile and Argentina get buried in snow and suffer from freezing rains. This is happening while participating in qualifying games for the World Cup.
We complain about heat and humidity in the summer for our soccer games. States in the Southwest and Southeast know how difficult it is to play when it’s 110 degrees out or 88 percent humidity. Many fields can be so dried out that players are kicking up dust and stressing out ankles and knees. The United States Youth Soccer Region IV Championships a few years ago in Nevada had to change the schedule due to the heat. The shoe soles of the sideline refs were literally melting on the hot artificial turf. Even in the Pacific Northwest, known for its comfortable summers, there can be a sudden heat wave that takes soccer by surprise.
The weather can affect the health of players, so despite the inconvenience we attach to weather, we need to also treat it with respect. We tend to worry more about heat. We protect against hyperthermia, dehydration and cramping in the heat by taking breaks, drinking plenty of fluids and using shade. However, we often don’t take the cold as seriously. While true hypothermia would be rare for soccer players to experience since it requires longer term exposure to the extreme cold, there are milder effects which can harm a player. In the cold, players need to protect extremities, especially fingers and toes. The body core may not drop much in temperature, but fingers, toes, ears and nose can get really cold, really quickly, causing tingling and circulation problems. Players should wear gloves to help hold the heat in around their fingers, and a thin sock under the soccer socks creates an air pocket to hold in heat on the toes. Heat is lost through the top of the head so a knit cap is a great idea to hold that heat in. Even a head band to protect the ears would be beneficial. Having Chap Stick in the soccer bag can be a life saver after a particularly windy cold game. Lotion takes care of chafing on the hands and knees. The players on the bench may suffer more than the players on the field because they are stationary and not generating heat, so having a few thermal reflective blankets to cover up with will help avoid cold injuries.
We may love the beauty of a fresh snow and appreciate the chance for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. But as soccer parents, we know that we are just as likely to have to snowshoe into a game because winter came early or left late. We can often curse the weather and just as often delight in it. We have no control over it except to be prepared for anything and, therefore, laugh in its face. Whatever this winter brings, I know it will infringe upon soccer. Yet, I also know I’m ready for it with my heated chair, hand warmers, foot warmers, down jacket, hat, scarf and down gloves. It’s just too bad our kids can’t be similarly decked out.

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