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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.


National Championship Series Notes

Sam Snow

In 2009 I attended two of the region stage tournaments of the US Youth Soccer National Championship Series as well as the national finals. I made a report on the events that was given to the state association Technical Directors and the U.S. Youth Soccer ODP Regional Head Coaches. The intent is to use the notes of our playing trends to improve our standard of play. Here is an excerpt from that report. I hope that it will cause discussion among the coaches in your circles, thus having a positive impact on player development.

Receiving the ball out of the air is still an issue even though it was identified and discussed in coaching schools from 2000 and onward.  Why then is this an issue now?  Clearly clubs are not working on this technique.  The skill of receiving the ball out of the air is more of a challenge with girls.

Sometimes the field surface is compacted and hard yet players allow the ball to bounce which kills the timing of support and off the ball runs.

First attacker on break-away type runs should learn how to do a stutter run to lose markers.
Players need to make more adjustments to rain soaked fields with flicks (feet & head), chipping, lift the ball with foot to flick, etc.

At corners almost every player has hips square to the ball.  Beginning at U10 we must teach players to angle the hips to see the ball and the field.

In general we need more guile on the ball with simple feints.

Goalkeeping ebb and flow can improve.  All of the goalkeepers play out of the goalmouth, up to the edge of the penalty area and some of them beyond it which is good.  But few make angle (lateral) adjustments.  Teach them to keep their bellybutton in a straight line with the ball and the center of the goalmouth.  Is this deficiency because we don't train goalkeepers with the team enough for them to gain a better tactical reading of the game?

Trend: off the ball runs (players B and C) get ahead of the winger (player A) with the ball or level with the dribbler, which means the cross tends to land behind the runners (once player A dribbles from position A1 to A2).  Runs tend to be straight instead of curved.


Tactical goal kicks continue to be a shortcoming – contributing to this problem is the inability of goalkeepers to hit an accurate goal kick.  This free kick restart must be placed accurately.


Organized, tactical group defending is rare.  Most defending is individual pressure on the ball.  Players do talk on marking assignments which is a strong base on which to build tactical defending.

When defenders win the ball there are moments to build the attack out of the back which the players have the talent to do.  This moment of play needs to be emphasized more by the coaches.  When a fullback gets the ball midfielders and forwards are not making runs toward the ball to give short pass options so booting the ball is left as the main option.

Tactical flank play dictates players knowing when to pass backwards in order to go forward.  Our players currently force the ball forward at incorrect tactical moments.  We kill space on the attack before we are ready to play into it.

When defending against a free kick the defenders often drop into the goal area and block their own goalkeeper's path to the ball.

Support runs get ahead of the ball carrier and on the wrong side of the opponent so combinations are not possible.  Too often we are so anxious to go forward that the attack doesn't have enough numbers around the ball to keep a sustained attack going.  We are still looking for players who can put their foot on the ball and change the game tempo.

With better 1 vs. 1 defending more attacks would falter.  There is too much stabbing and diving in by the first defender.

Most attacks bypass the midfield line in the team and occasionally the fullback line too.  Attacks get strung out with too many long passes.  This style results in individual or pairs attack and consequently individual and some pairs defending.  Tactical group (block) defending is rare at best.  If the attack built more through the lines in the team then tactical defending is required of the opposition.  The entire level of play is improved subsequently.

Of course with every team there is a need for team leaders.  They and other key players have a real impact on the team and the game.  Some of these personalities are evident in the National Championship Series matches.  Yet there needs to be more of them.  Certainly having such leaders in a team often depends on the personalities of the players and there are times when no natural leaders are within a team.  Yet more leaders can be developed when coaches give more control of the match over to the players and then hold them accountable for their actions.  Coaches need to spend time through the season encouraging leadership by the players.

Play in the U17 – U19 boys was typified by more testosterone than tactics – leading to constant turnovers of possession. However, at the N.C.S. Finals with some exceptions these age groups played a lot of possession soccer.  It was gratifying to see teams playing the ball out of the back through their midfielders and outside backs to maintain possession.  Another positive improvement was seen by goalkeepers marshaling their penalty area and working with defenders to maintain possession when transitioning from defense to attack.  Some of the keepers helped their team maintain possession by quality throws and drop-kicks.

On a couple of occasions it was seen that parents cheered good play by any player on their team – wonderful, positive team culture.  Further, it is noted that the over whelming majority of spectators were worthy of the phrase 'good sports'.  In one instance coaches of team A cheered for a wonderful save by the goalkeeper of team B even though the score was 0-0 at the time.  The reaction of those coaches showed a respect for the game!

Sibling Rivalry

Susan Boyd

Two weeks ago my grandson won his big game, making his team the champions of their town. A week later his brother lost his big game, denying his team the championship. That loss was made all the more bitter when framed in the light of his younger brother's victory. His injured pride had suffered the double-whammy of a loss and having to listen to his brother's bragging rights. Closer to home, my oldest son's team continues to win in its drive to a championship and my youngest son's team continues to lose. Additionally Bryce, the older son, plays every minute of every game and Robbie only plays about 30 to 40 minutes a game. Talk about sibling rivalry. No matter if they are pre-teens, teens, or post-teens, being on the losing end of a competition isn't easy. Handling our children's disappointment can be complicated since we usually have our own disappointment festering in the background. Add a second child having success into the mix gives you an uncomfortable and difficult situation.
While we understand as parents that every loss will be offset later with a win and vice versa, kids don't have the experience and therefore the context to be so wise. Kids just see others succeeding while they are not. When it is a brother or sister who is achieving success, it makes the defeats all the more defeating. Experts suggest not focusing on wins and losses but on hard work. You should support a big win and show your pride in that success, but you also should shift your continuing praise to the good performance of skills and effort the child showed in that win. That way when a sibling loses a game, you can commiserate on the loss, but then shift again to those excellent qualities your child exhibited in that loss. The praise becomes about the process rather than the product, which allows you to give equal support in an unequal situation.
Additionally, you want to avoid comparing your children. Don't talk about how well Johnny dribbles and then say, ""Hopefully Susie you can soon dribble as well as Johnny."" Keep the accomplishments separate. Any rewards for success shouldn't be based on wins and losses. You can develop a point system for working hard in practice, doing something well in a game, and even being a good helper to the coach. When enough points are earned you can go as a family to enjoy a treat like ice cream or a movie. This system lets the child earn a reward which benefits everyone. It should help siblings encourage one another in the pursuit of a reward. I even witnessed my younger grandson telling his parents that his brother had made a good tackle during a game and that he should earn a point for that. Instead of being jealous of his brother, he had a stake in looking out for things to praise.
It's also not surprising following a big loss for a child to express a wish to quit. So much energy gets put into working towards a win, that a loss can mean more than just that loss. Kids can begin to question their abilities, their commitment to the sport, and their teammates. Putting so much of their hopes and dreams on the line again seems overwhelming and unreasonable. Parents should give kids the time to vent. You can certainly be sympathetic without succumbing to reinforcing the negatives. Kids want to shift the blame from themselves to others because that helps diminish their own complicity in the loss. However, no matter how many mistakes others made that may have contributed to the bad outcome, these are your child's teammates, so no one should be a scapegoat. Talk in general about how the team may have faltered or lacked energy, or even better talk about how the other team was just stronger and more skilled today. When talk of quitting comes up, tell your child that the discussion has to be tabled until after a cooling off period of a week or two. If it's the end of the season, then you can't use the commitment card, but you can talk about successes up to that point and remind your child of the fun he or she had during the season. When quitting gets brought up out of jealousy of a sibling's success, then time usually dissipates those impulses as long as the sibling's success isn't overly promoted in the family.
Devastating losses that occur in tandem with monumental successes can have the effect of diminishing a success by putting a damper on the celebration. In this case, sibling rivalry can be resentment from the successful child towards his or her sibling for stealing thunder. Once again, parents have a difficult tight rope to walk in which they give proper respect to the win and proper deference to the loss. When it's a significant win such as a league championship, having a family celebration seems in order. Dwell on the great things each child did respectively for their teams and encourage the one sibling to congratulate his brother or sister on the win. Make sure that both children know that this is a family success because everyone supports one another and therefore shares in the pride. Likewise, when there is a loss, every family member shares in the disappointment, but never loses their respect for the child's abilities. Make sure to reassure both children that your love and pride are not dependent upon wins. You value effort and improvement. Make sure that while wins come and go, commitment, determination, and growth continue to be the ultimate goals. Allow a child to have pride in his or her win, but don't allow smugness. Likewise, allow a child to feel badly about a loss, but don't allow wallowing. Remind them that every season brings new challenges and new opportunities that they can rise to and seize.

Helping children learn to accept their wins humbly and their losses stoically can be a significant life lesson to come from soccer. Helping them to be loving, supportive siblings is even bigger. As parents, we have to set the tone which should be that wins and losses don't define our children's worth. While winning is wonderful and deserves joy and praise, losing will never diminish any child. We can make the case for our children that losing just sets the bar for the next encounter in our lives. By not over-emphasizing the power of a win or a loss to define our children's activities, we set the stage for our kids to share in their siblings' successes and letdowns without making these a reason to compete within the family. Encourage them to place their rivalry on the pitch against their opponents and not in the living room against their siblings. We can express the pride we feel in our children's willingness to train and compete in their sport and in their growth as a player. We will have plenty of opportunities to tell our kids how proud we are of them, even if they never win or even if one wins and one doesn't. They each embody qualities worthy of our praise.

Muddling Through the Mud

Susan Boyd

Just outside my window sits a thermometer. Without it, I could end up leaving for a soccer game completely unprepared, since weather can be deceptive. Take today for instance. The sun is shining, the sky is clear blue, and the temperature is 44 degrees. If I judged the weather by empirically charting the view, I'd end up under- or over- dressed time after time. Weather determines so much when it comes to soccer: what we wear, what the kids wear, times, locations, snacks, driving times, accessories, and seating. Fall and spring soccer stretch across several weather patterns, disrupting and changing plans regularly. Preparing for the weather turns into a major preoccupation for soccer families. Here are a few suggestions based on years of wrestling with Mother Nature.
Let's start with the worst scenario. Rain will never be sufficient for canceling a game or practice. But rain will create all kinds of problems. The best case would be for torrential rains closing the field. But be careful what you wish for, because all canceled games must be rescheduled and that free weekend on the calendar can now become the busiest weekend on the calendar as missed games get squeezed into available time. If the game does happen, you'll need plenty of accessories to insure that the ride home doesn't devalue your car drastically by ruining the interior with mud, muck, and water. Put large garbage bags on the floors to catch all cast-off grime, wipes to remove mud from hands, faces and legs, towels to dry hair, plastic bags to hold muddy cleats, and even more plastic bags to hold disgusting socks, shorts, and jerseys. Having a box for rainy days sitting packed in your garage makes these days less onerous. I can't emphasize enough the importance of kids not taking socks off in the car while traveling. In my experience they are the gift that keeps on giving crumpled under the driver's seat, pushed up against the heater, and emanating their distinctive smell for weeks, even after being discovered and removed.
Cold weather seems an easy fix; just add more clothing. But there are rules about uniforms and extra clothing that some referees take very seriously. If you can afford to, buy some long john underwear that can easily be worn under the shorts with socks pulled up over, so that no uniform rules are violated. Add some insulated long-sleeved underwear and you've created a warmer player with ease of movement. While you can get the performance clothing options, you can also go to any hunting gear outlet to find similar products for less money. My favorite cold weather products are ""space blankets"" which are those colorful blankets lined with silvery Kevlar. They cost less than $15, can be found at big box stores and sporting good stores, fold into a tiny package and serve as a great wind break and reflector of body heat. You can put two or three easily in a soccer bag for the kids on the bench to use. I also love those hand and foot warmers which feel like packs of sand. Once you activate them, they last long enough for warm-ups, the soccer game, and the trip home. They cost around $2.50 for three disposable pairs. At the end of every winter, I raid stores for their stocking hats and stretch gloves. I can get them as cheap as three for a dollar. I store them in the garage and toss several hats and pairs of gloves in the soccer bags to be used as needed. These have saved the day several times when the winds of winter unexpectantly whipped up in April. For parents' comfort you can invest in a Tempachair or stadium cushion that has a heated seat. You can even recharge it using your car battery, so it's great for tournament weekends.
On some occasions you'll need to deal with actual snow and ice. While all the cold weather suggestions would definitely apply, adding snow and ice to the mix creates an additional set of requirements. You can use a water-proof tarp to throw over the bench and onto the ground where the kids put their feet. Place some towels on top of the tarp on the ground giving the players a warmer dry place to set their feet and a place to absorb the cold melting snow off their boots. Having a small broom and collapsible shovel can help if field lines need to be cleared off or someone's car gets stuck.
Hot weather soccer can be the worst. First and foremost be sure that your player has extra water and/or sports drinks to keep hydrated. Hydration is vital for any soccer game, but even more important on hot days when fluids are lost both from activity and evaporation. Add a spray bottle for misting faces, necks, and forearms to help with cooling by evaporation. Some fancier spray bottles include a battery-powered fan, which is nice, but not necessary. If you want to be really fancy, there is a portable misting tower for $40 from Improvements that needs an outdoor spigot and hose to operate. Not practical for most games, but could be a great addition to your club park. You can also bring a small cooler filled with ice water and washcloths that the kids can apply to the back of their necks during breaks. For parents on the sidelines I swear by my pop-up hood chair. But a beach umbrella works too. Just plant it in the ground and angle to give you the shade you crave. Ambitious parents with big car trunks can bring along a rolling canopy. Most can be set up in a minute or two and provide shade for the team bench or a group of parents. The value packs with a roller bag and a side wall run for less than $150.
Lightning kills more people annually than tornadoes or hurricanes, so treating this weather nemesis with respect is vital for our young players. There are lightning detectors that clubs can invest in which are very high tech and extremely reliable, but also costly running around $500 to $1000. There are personal lightning detectors which are less accurate, but still provide information that will help warn when lightning approaches before you can hear the thunder or see the strikes. These cost under $100. In addition having a good weather radio on hand will help with any severe weather that threatens but hasn't yet materialized. Most good weather radios can operate on electricity, battery and crank power. The radios should provide the NOAA channel. Eton offers a Red Cross approved radio that is also solar powered and has a cell phone charger for $30.00. Having a radio available for the team will help everyone make important decisions and give timelines for when a storm will pass. Consider having a flashlight available as well since overwhelming storms can really darken the skies. A ball of twine, the aforementioned tarp, and some tent stakes can provide a shelter or a wind break.
Most of these weather-related items cost under $20 and are readily available, so can be inexpensively gathered. All of these can be stored in boxes or cases marked for the various conditions to throw in the car as you leave for a game or practice. Soccer and most youth sports follow the U.S. Postal Service motto of "Neither snow nor rain nor heat. . ." when it comes to completing games and practices, so you need to be prepared. Understanding that youth sports come with filthy uniforms, runny noses, wind-chapped lips, and sweaty brows will help you get through the bad weather spells. Most days will be glorious, so enjoy them. And for those that aren't, you can power through with a few helpful tools.

Taking a Knee Part II

Sam Snow

Last June I wrote some notes on the practice of players 'taking a knee' during an injury. It has been mentioned by a reader that some action, taking a knee or huddling together, keeps the other players from crowding around the injured player. That's a good point. If other players crowd around they may aggravate the situation. At the least they are in the way of the first aid responders and the referee. The coaches and/or team mangers are the most likely first aid responders and the referee must be near the injured player as the safety of the players is the referee's primary responsibility during a match.

It has also been brought up that having the players who are not injured go toward their team's technical area may be somewhat unfair. Here are comments on that approach to the situation by the Technical Director for Montana Youth Soccer.
"Just read your blog on (take a knee). Personally I am not in favor of taking a knee and yes it's not in the Laws of the Game. But you recommended players coming to the side line for some brief instruction from the coach. Here is where I disagree with you. It may be illegal to coach during an injury. I DO NOT think a coach should be taking advantage of a team due to injury. One coach has to help his/her player, the other gets to coach his/her team. If not against the Laws, definitely against the spirit of the game. I instruct my high school team to get together at the top of the box with the goalkeeper to discuss the game amongst themselves. Just food for thought."
Both comments are valid points made from a practical perspective of coaches. So if there is an injury, which causes a time out call by the referee, then the players should stay on the field of play, get some water, perhaps talk among themselves about the match if they are mature enough to do so and be ready to resume play at the referee's indication to do so.