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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.

 

Choose the right sport

Sam Snow

My colleague Rick Meana, Technical Director for New Jersey Youth Soccer, passed along a Position Statement from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. The document is called Choosing the Right Sport and Physical Activity Program for your Child. It gives parents a check list of questions to ask themselves, and of a club or a high school, when choosing a place for their child to play a sport. You can read the full Position Statement here: [LINK].
 
As I read the article I put myself into the mind of a club director of coaching asking him or herself, "Well as a parent asks these questions of me what would be my answers?" My next thought was that this would be a good exercise for a soccer club to do as a bit of self-analysis. The approach would be that the pertinent leaders of a soccer club would refer to each section of the Position Statement and during the 2012-2013 soccer year answer the questions and support the comments. At the end of the year those leaders should take a short retreat to review their findings about their club. In what areas did the club come out strong? In what areas were there weaknesses? In answering those two fundamental questions the club leaders then could finish the retreat by devising an action plan for the 2013-2014 soccer year.
 
Just think what a healthy organization your club could be if it did this type of exercise once every five years or so!

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Girls Rule

Susan Boyd

In the midst of the Olympics we all have the opportunity to watch incredible athletes compete, overcome adversity, deal with defeats and celebrate victories. Less than 35 years ago only 24.6 percent of the Olympic athletes were women. This Olympics, the number is nearly double at 46.4 percent. And with the addition of boxing for women, females can compete in all the events men can. For the first time ever, women outnumber men in the U.S. contingent. While the U.S. Men’s Soccer team failed to qualify for the Olympics, the U.S. Women’s team has rolled into the finals with dramatic victories.
 
Yet in the U.S. we lose female players from sports at an alarming rate. By age 14, girls abandon sports at twice the rate of boys. Overall, girls end up quitting sports at six times the rate of boys. The Center for Disease Control collected statistics comparing the participation of girls and boys in sports finding that only 25 percent of girls participate in a sport or regular exercise by their senior year in high school compared to 50 percent of boys. Despite the institution of Title IX in 1972 which requires equality in the implementation of athletic programs and scholarships for women in college, many schools struggle every year to find qualified female athletes to fill their athletic programs. While top female athletes will always aspire to be Olympic and national team competitors, sports programs aren’t just for the elite. Staying with sports provides both female and male athletes with significant social and moral support which can help create strong, confident adults. Studies have shown reduced teen pregnancies among female athletes, more positive body image, better grades and, of course, a healthier lifestyle.

What can explain this desertion? Foremost is that age-old problem of gender-typing. Boys are often expected to participate in sports and encouraged to aim for high school and college participation. Girls experience pressure to play a different role as they mature. Sports can be considered unfeminine and girls who continue to play, especially at an intense level, can be ostracized by the popular groups. Male athletes on the other hand are often idolized in their schools. Even the styles of teen girls can interfere with playing sports. Wearing heels hurt posture, alter foot and ankle movement and can lead to ankle and knee injuries. Yet what girl can resist the siren call of fashion? Families can end up supporting sons who want to play sports and unconscientiously giving their daughters support to be "beautiful" and stylish. Buying team jerseys for boys and jewelry for daughters sends a clear message of which role the girls should be playing.

Girls tend to be less conditioned to deal with the tough and often rude coaching that comes with advancing in sports. Boys are taught to put up with abusive coaching, while girls get the message that they can be more emotional. One of the top reasons girls cited in a 1988 study for quitting sports was bad coaching. I’ve talked about how I think youth coaches are often too gruff and sometimes even insulting, however we aren’t going to be able to get rid of that type of coach. We need to help our children, both sons and daughters, develop coping skills. Providing our daughters with the support to work through bad situations rather than sympathizing and coddling could make the difference in sticking with sports or cashing in.

Finally, girls continue to need role models. Sports heroes for boys are epidemic. Ads tout male sport icons on a continual basis so that their names become part of the daily lexicon: Bryant, Brady, Rogers, Manning, Fielder. While some women athletes have reached a level of recognition equal to the men, they tend to burst onto the scene during major sporting events and then fade, while male athletes are year round and off-season. When Gabby Douglas won the gold medal for all-round female gymnast, Bob Costas made a point about her being the first African-American to achieve that status. His final comment was that perhaps her accomplishment would make other young African-American females believe that they could enter the sport and succeed. My immediate thought: I hope that Gabby will be an inspiration to all girls to push themselves to realize their goals, whether in sports or in life. Our daughters need those role models to see that participating in sports can augment their lives and allow them to be both healthy and beautiful.

Recently Gatorade began a program called "Keep Her in the Game" for Title IX. If you have been watching the Olympics, you’ve probably seen the video. Unfortunately the video seems to be all that the program encompasses. I do applaud Gatorade for making commercials which feature female athletes exclusively. The one with Abby Wambach is particularly strong showing Abby as overcoming fatigue and danger as she scouts her opponent like a lioness hunting prey. However, it is exactly this killer attitude which also turns off young women who see it as an unfeminine trait. Girls aren’t as much about winning at all costs as they are about socializing and compromising to keep the peace. Much of that attitude comes from the gender roles that are endemic to our society. While boys are encouraged to be competitive, tough out injuries, be aggressive and to win, girls are encouraged to cooperate, be polite, sacrifice and to have a good appearance. Unless they can visualize that being athletic isn’t incompatible with being feminine they will continue to leave sports.

In an interview before the Olympics, Abby Wambach was asked about the generation of players coming up in women’s soccer who are challenging Abby for her dominating position on the women’s team. "In the timeline of a career, you can only hope that when you’re done playing you made a positive impact. For the most part it’s a ‘pay it forward’ kind of feeling. I want to be sure that the opportunities that are there after I’m gone are much more than when I first arrived." It remains frustrating in women’s sports that the opportunities in fact are improving, but girls are still leaving sports in droves. While Abby, Gabby, Lolo, Missy and other incredible female athletes continue to expand the boundaries of women’s sports, we need to improve the participation. Title IX opened doors, but all it could offer was the destination for young female athletes. What we need now are programs that define and encourage the journey. We can’t do a wholesale change of gender roles as created by marketing and generations of traditions, but we can individually help our daughters see the advantages and joys of participating in sports. We can call them beautiful when they put on their uniforms, we can support their interests with the same intensity that we do with our sons, we can encourage them to work through their doubts, insecurities and discomfort to tough out just one more season, and we can make sports cool by our support on the sidelines. Our attitude can go a long ways to help our daughters stick with it and enjoy the experience. Few of them will reach the heights of the elite female athletes, but few of our sons will do likewise. Yet we want to see them continue in the sport of their choice because it provides not only a source of pride for the player and the family but a chance to develop life-long healthy habits and important life lessons. Girls should have the same experience because, after all, they rule!

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Lawn Chair Communication

Sam Snow

We are all familiar with the phrase, ‘heard it through the grapevine.’ In youth soccer the most powerful grapevine for the sharing of information are the lawn chairs. The lawn chairs are of course the spectators along the touchlines at a match. The majority of those spectators at a youth soccer game are the parents of the players on the field. During those matches and the training sessions, the lawn chairs talk to one another. Sometimes the information shared among those adults about the soccer happening in front of them is correct, but more often than not it is incorrect or only partially correct.
 
Good information is shared via web sites and other electronic means by clubs and leagues as well as state and national associations. But, the most meaningful way to share information among humans is face-to-face conversation. Since the lawn chair grapevine is so predominate in youth soccer communication, clubs should plan to use it advantageously. Coaches should spend a minimum of five minutes at every training session talking to the parents. The information shared could be simply housekeeping items, or it could be explaining the training approach and specifically about the development of the players. If coaches spent five minutes at the end of the last training session prior to a match telling the parents to cheer for the players on the specific items they have been working on at training during the week, then the game day atmosphere would be positive and productive.
 
On the day of a match the team manager and/or administrators from the club should spend time walking among the lawn chairs to give out correct information. Club leaders communicating directly with their customers will build club loyalty as well as keep the membership well informed. On every single game day administrators must visit different fields at the club and spread the word. Then go to the end of the grapevine, opposite to where you began, to hear how the information has been shared. If the message you sent is now off the mark, then start your communication process over at that opposite end of the grapevine. Eventually the proper information is shared. Personal communication is the most powerful tool club leaders have to mold the culture of the club.
 
The lawn chair grapevine can be the source of misinformation or the club’s best communication source
– you decide.

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Practice Players

Sam Snow

The youth soccer experience is supposed to be all about the players, not coaches, administrators, referees or parents. The portion below in bold is a response from a coach to a parent. The italic portion is the ensuing comments and question from the parent to this office. The ending includes my thoughts on the matter.
 
"Also, I wanted to clarify what a "practice player" is and what our, the coaches, plans for the practice players. Right now we have five practice players going for the last roster spot. We will train for two weeks and then at the end of the two weeks, the other coaches and I will discuss who we will give the last roster spot to. For the remaining four players that did not get a roster spot, the coaches and I will offer the player to stay on as a practice player, which means you attend practices and if we need you for a tournament/game due to other players out of town/injuries, we will be able to suit you up for that tournament/game. I am not expecting practice players to purchase jersey tops. That will be coming out of the team budget, which we will be purchasing 2 extra jersey tops. I will expect if you agree to be a practice player, for the practice player to purchase their own socks, shorts and practice shirt. Warm ups and bags will be optional for practice players. If you decide that a practice player is not something you want to do then please discuss that with me and we can assist you in finding another team to play on."
 
Can I get information on the "practice player" concept? I’m trying to educate myself on this format. Is this a common practice in youth club soccer? No one I’ve talked to has heard of this format in youth soccer before. Four players were placed in this category at the end of tryouts. A fifth player was added since tryouts in the first of March.
 
These are 15 year old boys and they are not happy and the parents are not happy either! The boys just want to be on a team. They selected a team they wanted to try out for and then they are told they have to wait and have a secondary tryout when practices start up. What I think is even worst [sic] this is a Select team, NOT a premier team. This forces the boys to decide to wait for practice to begin, and if they don’t make it they have to scramble to find another team.
 
The other issue I has is four boys went to tryout and became practice players. A fifth boy was added just recently that did not make tryouts. Again, I think this is unethical and unfair to the four boys that made it to tryouts and still want a shot to be on this team.
 
Shouldn’t the coach finalize his decision so that boys can move on and look for other teams to play on? Keeping them in limbo is not fair to them and stereo-types [them] with the rest of the team. I always believed youth soccer is for player development but watching my nephew go through this and hearing the parents’ frustrations, I question the coaches and club’s mission for positive player development.
 
What a short-sighted idea. This is like a pro team buying up players that they don’t really plan to play, but they don’t want the other teams in the league to have them. It means the kids sit on the bench and never have the fun of actually playing soccer. It strikes me as a procedure with only the club’s bottom line in mind. The situation is absurd and has no place in youth soccer or youth sports in general. I like that the coach offers to help find another team for those who do not want to be a practice player, and I think that should be the first step for any player who doesn’t make the cut onto the first team. Find or create another team for these kids!
 
And that ladies and gentlemen is one of the shorter answers you’ll ever get out of me.
The real bottom line – LET THE KIDS PLAY!

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