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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.

 

U10 Tournaments

Sam Snow

"I am a coach struggling with recreational U9/10 soccer parents and kids wanting to go to tournaments. According to the US Youth Soccer Development Manual [ed. note: Player Development Model], tournament play for U10 is discouraged (and I get that). Then why does almost every tournament out there offers U10 (some even U9 and U8) brackets?"
 
There are indeed many clubs and leagues around the nation that run tournaments for the U10 age group. For those folks it provides an additional revenue stream. Tournament organizers will go as young as they think they can get paying customers. That revenue stream is there because the parents of the U10 players either think that the tournament environment and the focus on outcome of performance develops the players and/or they want it as a sport spectator event for themselves. In fact, much of the challenge in providing a balanced environment of development and age appropriate competition for the U10 age group is impacted by the desire of the adults associated with the teams for a spectacle, as if they were watching a MLS match.
 
So what’s the solution? On the short term look for festival formats for your team rather than outcome based tournaments. Then work with the parents of your team to collectively address the matter as one of age appropriate player development with your club leaders. On a slightly longer term look to set up a U10 academy as is done in Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Montana, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana and North Carolina.
 
 

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Tough Times Don’t Last, Tough People Do

Susan Boyd

This has been my mantra for 2012. I have had some on-going medical and family problems that promise to continue into at least the first quarter of 2013. Every time I begin to feel sorry for myself I repeat this statement. My parents raised tough kids; I come from ancestors who took Conestoga wagons from Ohio to Wisconsin and then ultimately to North Dakota. My family, for generations, was made of farmers battling drought and pests. They survived the Great Depression, loss of children, living in tents, and suffered through influenza epidemics and being gassed fighting in WWI. So in this day and age of flu vaccines, nuclear medicine, air travel, moving companies that pack up, transport cross-country, and unpack everything in our 3,000 square foot homes within a week, two cars in the driveway, online shopping and instant movies, we really have it pretty good. Nevertheless, when things go wrong, it can seem not only bleak, but unfair.
 
Youth soccer is filled with tough times. As parents, we can get discouraged if our kids don’t make the top travel team, lose an important game, suffer a major injury, lose their starting spot, watch best friends move on to other clubs, don’t make the state Olympic Development pool and a dozen other scenarios we’ve all experienced. Our kids likewise feel the frustration of soccer not going as well as they had hoped. It’s tough! Yet, even the toughest situation will eventually pass into oblivion. What has to last is the family, our children’s joy and the will to improve enough to not give tough times a foothold.
 
How can we let our kids know that tough times will disappear while also giving them the tools to be tough enough to face any situation? We can’t confuse toughness with boorishness or confrontation. Toughness is an internal state of mind that allows us to handle adversity with a positive and effective solution. There are several important techniques we can use. Each one plays a significant role in helping our kids not wallow in self-pity while still being sympathetic to their right to feel bad for a while. 
 
First, don’t be overly solicitous. Giving your players a good hug, agreeing that the situation stinks and giving them the space to feel bad will indicate your support. But don’t try to bribe them into happiness; pout with them; denigrate the team, the coach or the other players; and definitely don’t talk about it being unfair. Fairness is subjective, and if children think every time something bad happens to them it’s because they were victims of injustice they won’t learn to accept responsibility for their role in tough outcomes or for their ability to overcome the situations. 
 
The next step is to become solution oriented. Discuss with your children what the next step should be. Modulate their anger by gently encouraging them to come up with reasonable and well-tempered ideas. If they lose their starting spot, they might react by wanting to quit the team. After all, they lost face. Who wants to return to the field to watch another player in their spot? But that’s an extreme and emotional response to a common tough situation. So, you can agree that quitting is a solution, but point out where that leaves the player – no team. Show them how a tough-minded individual would handle it. Sticking with the team, finding out from the coach how to win the starting spot back and working extra hard to make that happen. Find solutions in which your children have to make an investment. Encourage them to give the problem time to smooth out so that any solution has the space to evolve.
 
Finally, give your children lots of praise for hanging tough. It’s not easy for your son to know he didn’t stop the winning goal in the state championship or your daughter to know her foul in the box gave the opposing team a PK. But that’s soccer. What happens in soccer happens in life too. Our children will fail important tests, have fender benders, lose a love and break their favorite toy. How they respond to those tough moments depends on their willingness to accept that those moments happen. Let them know how proud you are that they worked through sorrow, frustration and embarrassment. If they need help accomplishing that, then give it to them, but do your best to make them take the reins. Eventually our children will learn that they can overcome the bumps in the road because they have the confidence and tools to do so.
 
I certainly don’t wish anything more substantial than disappointment as the trouble life throws them, but if your children can handle the small stuff, they can also handle the big stuff. I’ve been pretty lucky in my long life to avoid really tough times, but I was given the skills and self-reliance to handle troubles. Like I said, my parents raised tough kids. I don’t know what more the fates have in store for me, but I take the problems as they come, repeat my mantra and know that every situation has a solution. Kids possess a natural resiliency that slowly dissipates as they become more invested in success and self-image. Our job is to translate that resiliency into the tools to stand tough in the face of adversity. We can do it if we also can do it for ourselves. When we become tough people we show our kids how effective being tough can be in getting through life. Truthfully, tough times may extend for a while, but they don’t last. Eventually something good will come along. We just have to develop the feistiness to get through to the good stuff.

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Missing Piece

Sam Snow

A club director at a rural soccer club posed this question to me: "What will it take to create a program that can move an American parent from zero to soccer passionate and soccer competent?"
 
Yes we can move some parent-coaches into passionate soccer fans, but only a few. I think we have been doing that for many years.
 
That generation of former soccer players who are now the coaches, referees and administrators has begun. The former players of the 1970s and 1980s are largely the ones leading youth soccer now. The former players of the 1990s are coming into those ranks slowly now too.
 
Can we turn all volunteer soccer coaches into fans of the game? No. But you can influence a core group that could help a club raise its standard. So here’s one idea toward that end.
 
  • Organize a coaches’ game one time per week. Play 5 vs. 5 or less for them to experience both sides of the ball consistently. The small-sided game will put them into realistic game situations often so that their feel for what their players experience will be accelerated.
 
  • Use the game once in a while as a teaching game.
    • Laws of the Game
    • Techniques
    • Tactics
      • Principles of play
    • Fitness/recovery
 
  • Your idea of the chaotic, beautiful street game could help the coaches understand this model of play compared to the adult model through the coaches’ game.
 
Nothing gives someone a passion for the game better than the game itself. Give this a try!
 
 

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Grounding the Helicopter

Susan Boyd

Last week I heard a news report about a woman at the University of Cincinnati filing a restraining order against her parents. The 21-year-old complained that her parents were overly involved in her life, visiting her unannounced on campus, reading her emails, checking her cell phone through some type of tracking software, and overall micromanaging her life. She is a music and performance major looking to take her talents to Broadway. She won her case requiring that her parents stop invading her private accounts and stay at least 500 feet away from her. Therefore, if they want to watch her perform I’m assuming they have to sit in the third balcony last row. Even though she lost her parents’ financial support for college, the sympathetic university awarded her a full scholarship for her final year. Meanwhile, in a rather childish retaliation, her parents filed a lawsuit against her to collect the tuition they had paid on her behalf the previous three years. That case is still pending.
 
This behavior is called "the helicopter syndrome," where parents hover over their children hoping to swoop in and handle both positive and negative situations their children face. The young lady experienced an extreme form of the behavior, but we all know how to fly those helicopters. When our kids are little, helicoptering serves an important function. We make sure we protect them against the cause and effect behaviors that could harm them — like touching a hot iron, running into traffic or drinking Drano — until they can understand for themselves all the dangerous consequences. But we also need to helicopter as our kids start out in activities. We need to attend parent-teacher conferences, support them at their soccer games, monitor their eating habits and protect them as much as possible from unsavory outside influences. Likewise, good discipline goes hand in hand with active helicopter surveillance. We hover and guide and occasionally strike to insure our children develop a strong internal moral compass. We get so used to being good pilots that we can’t always recognize when we need to ground our flights and let our kids go solo. Some abort their flight schedule too early and some, like the Cincinnati parents, add flights well into adulthood.
 
We’ve all experienced the parents who abort too early. Their kids are the ones who ride around on their bikes without helmets even though they just dropped the training wheels last week. Or the ones who come into your home and exhibit a lack of boundaries for your property and rules. Or those who teach your children that if they type "sex" in the search box, some very interesting websites pop up. I went caroling a couple weeks ago. Having just gotten out of the hospital, I wasn’t up to walking, so one neighbor offered to drive me around since he was also taking a trailer for all the kids. About half-way through, only his kids were left still caroling, so they joined us in the car. Screeching and screaming at decibel levels even rock bands can’t duplicate, these three kids leapt all over the car, crawling into the back storage area, diving into the front seat, kicking me in the head, shaking the back of my seat, and sucking on candy pop rings the entire time fueling their excitable behavior. Dad was oblivious, stopping to chat with neighbors he spotted on the way while his kids popped in and out of the car on the street in the dark with cars everywhere. The temperature sat at 20 degrees, yet these kids wore only sweaters or hoodies and complained of their fingers being cold. I was ready to take my helicopter out of the hangar! However, I have enough trouble flying over my own children’s lives, so I don’t need to add destinations. Luckily, heavenly angels in helicopters fill in occasionally.
 
Finding the moments to ground ourselves isn’t easy. But we have to be sure to develop the ability to recognize those instances. You can let your children take on more responsibility in situations where you have pretty strong control. During a visit to a restaurant, encourage them to order for themselves, ask for refills if they need them and pay the bill at the cash register. At school, if your child begins to struggle with a subject, urge them to talk to the teacher after school or during recess. You can grease the wheel with a note to the teacher asking him or her to indicate a willingness to talk to your child, but leave the details to the youngster. When I worked for the Wisconsin Soccer Olympic Development Program, we had a strict policy that coaches’ emails and phone numbers weren’t released to the parents. Instead, we told parents that their players needed to talk to their coach on their own. Sometimes that’s difficult for a 10- or 11-year-old to do, even for an 18-year-old. But without taking the first steps we found that players were at the mercy of their parents’ helicopter maneuvers, which weren’t always the direction the kids wanted to go. Every day I fielded plenty of phone calls from concerned and often irate parents who demanded to talk to the ODP coach about why their child didn’t make the state pool or was put in the weaker training group. Coaches would walk the other way when a parent approached. It was a struggle, but eventually the parents learned they had to hover a distance away and let their child go in alone. Find ways for your children to practice talking to their club coach whenever a problem or concern arises. You can walk them to the coach, but have your player do the talking. Have the kids practice asking questions rather than accusing, even have them write the questions down and then tell them to listen without defensiveness as the coach explains his or her answer. That’s good hovering!
 
Over time our kids will accept our helicopter flights as welcoming rather than smothering when they feel they have most of the control. Letting go piece by piece, moment by moment, makes the transition smoother and still makes us parents feel useful. Having the helicopter fueled and ready to take off isn’t a bad idea. We just need to recognize what are 911 emergencies and what is normal childhood struggle. Failing is part of life, so we need to give our children the secure space to try, either succeeding or failing on their own. Helping them to understand that losing the battle doesn’t mean losing the war is a great use of our helicopter skills. There’s no perfect time for grounding, but over time we should be tapering off on the flights. Don’t quit too soon or you’ll be dealing with kids that are missing their rudder, and don’t quit too late or you’ll be sitting in the third balcony last row watching your kids from a court-ordered distance.

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