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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.

 

TOPSoccer Coaching

Sam Snow

In all ranks of coaching, the new coach often uses the training activities found in materials from US Youth Soccer, U.S. Soccer and State Associations completely as written.  That is, the coach often doesn’t make adjustments to the activity.  It may help the players in a training session activity for a grid to be larger or for there to be fewer opponents, for example.  Another concept for novice coaches to learn is the difference between drills and activities.  Essentially activities are game-like and require some problem solving by the players.  Drills do not make such demands upon the players, even though the game of soccer certainly does.
 
So, coaches going through the US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer coaching course often have the same learning curve challenge.  Like some other coaches, they want to fall back on drills as they think that activities are too difficult for the players.  Well if a coach doesn’t extend the players, then those players stagnate in their development.
 
As a coaching educator, I think the problem with drills over activities is more with the coaches than the players.  In this regard, the TOPSoccer course is no different than teaching a Youth Module course and getting coaches away from drills.  As the state TOPSoccer course is being delivered more often by the State Associations we are educating a group of coaches who in many instances have coached in isolation and now are being asked to move out of their coaching comfort zone.  Again, no different than other coaching education.  The difference now is that we have TOPSoccer participants who are not accustomed to main stream soccer approaches being used in their world.  They are resistant to the mainstreaming of some of the approaches taken in coaching TOPSoccer players.  I want us to think of these kids as soccer players just like any other group of kids playing the game.
 
Auke Wiersma, chair for Region I TOPSoccer and a coaching course instructor for New Jersey Youth Soccer adds these thoughts:
 
This is a coaching ‘problem’ not a players ‘problem.’ It all comes down to how you present the activity to the TOPSoccer players.
 
Agreed, an activity (drill...) that the players are accustomed to initially will result in a better outcome, but should never prevent the coach from trying a new activity. YOU ARE CHEATING ON THE TOPSOCCER PLAYERS!
 
We should encourage coaches to keep on offering their drills on a regular basis for good flow of the training session. However, depending -somewhat- on the condition of the players, it is not bad to take the TOPSoccer players a bit out of their comfort zone. THIS ALSO HAPPENS IN REAL LIFE! It might not sound politically correct, but the special needs population is too protected in a sense of what they can, or worse cannot do! Challenging the special needs athlete at many different levels is healthy and should be encouraged!
 
Drills (..... bad word in the world of coaching) that the players feel comfortable with will become boring even for the TOPSoccer player, and I haven't mentioned the parents yet. They will also see that their son or daughter is going through the drills time and time again. They want their child to be challenged as well. When their child makes progress or overcomes a challenge (technically, tactically, physically or psycho-socially), can you imagine how proud they feel?! Boring = not learning and we want our TOPSoccer players to learn as much as possible.
 
In my experience as an Adapted Physical Education teacher for over 8 years and as a soccer coach, I can tell that players, as well as parents, will become frustrated when the same activities are offered over and over again, even in the world of special needs education. Frustration equals not learning, and we want our TOPSoccer players to learn as much as possible. I have heard many times: "Basketball, again? Rope skipping again?" The day that we started a rock climbing program in the school I worked at was the most exciting day of my tenure there! A new activity and an activity that definitely takes the special needs students out of their comfort zone.
 
We should keep on encouraging (like we do in the course) the novice, as well as the more experienced, TOPSoccer coach to offer activities that promote players decision making and creativity, just like we (should) do in mainstream soccer. Challenge the players like in mainstream soccer, this is what they want! Make a new activity exciting for the player! The thought that the TOPSoccer players can't handle change is a general statement and should be more specified per player. Some of them might indeed have more problems with it then others, but keep on trying to get the player involved regardless of ability.
 
The TOPSoccer player, let alone the TOPSoccer parent, doesn't want to be treated differently. This happens enough outside soccer already. The TOPSoccer parent can be a "normal" parent for an hour, so don't baby their child if you don't have to! The parents will see that and still feel that their child gets special treatment due to the child’s condition, many players feel the same.
 
This brings me back to the first point I made: It's a coaching problem. The question is how does, or should, the coach present a new activity so that the player becomes interested. Does the coach have enough patience and understanding to realize that the activity might not work out the first time (or two or three)? Is the coach able to analyze and adapt and make the activity more difficult or easier? Those are the first questions the coaches should ask before we make up an excuse for or about the players. Yes, the same questions a coach should ask in mainstream soccer.
 
In the TOPSoccer course the question is asked whether coaching TOPSoccer is different than coaching mainstream soccer. My answer is: "NO!" the only difference is patience and the ability of the coach to analyze the activity and adapt to the needs of the TOPSoccer player where needed and not disregard a new activity because it is easier (for the coach).
 
Soccer is still soccer, whether you are talking TOPSoccer or Champions League socce;, a ball, opponents, teammates, parents, coaches, goals etc. Once on the field we are all the same, people that love to coach or play the beautiful game!
 
"I can do that (myself)! Let me try! Look Coach, I'm doing it!" is what we want to hear and see on the TOPSoccer field.

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Reaction time

Susan Boyd

As your time in youth soccer develops, many of you may face one of two scenarios: One – your child asks to pursue a higher level of soccer; Two – your child asks to quit soccer altogether. Each case has very different responses and outcomes but they are both interconnected. The attitude you exhibit can both overshadow your response and change outcomes. Because we parents always have an investment in our children’s activities and their successes, we often interject our hesitations and expectations into their choices. This can translate into an impulsive reaction to their desires.
 
Take for example a child’s request to play a higher level of soccer. You have all heard how expensive it can be to move to a travel team. Then you hear the discussions of extended practices, lots of out-of-state travel and, oh yes, the travel team has fields 30 minutes from home. You enjoy watching your child play, but you’ve been happy with the local team filled with friends from school that you can carpool with and familiar parents that can make the sidelines fun. In addition, your child is one of the top, if not the top, players. Why mess with success? You don’t envision your child as a college or even a high school player, so you don’t see the need for any advanced training especially adding more money and driving into the equation. Therefore, your reaction might have either overtones of anger or frustration which could stop any discussion dead. Or your reaction could convey disappoint that your child would even ask.
 
I have always said that no family should overextend themselves to provide soccer training for their children. You need to conserve resources and use them equally among family members. But you also need to recognize when a child exhibits a passion or shows a talent that should be nurtured. That needs to be a conversation which begins positively. "Wow, I’m really pleased that you’re enjoying soccer so much." It’s certainly fair for you to discuss with your son or daughter what this commitment means both for your child and for your family. Lay out what the expectations will be – for example, earning part of the expenses, attending every practice, finding a carpool among your new teammates. You can remind your child that with the intensified schedule you may not be able to attend every game or every tournament because of commitments to other family members, but that you’ll still be committed to his or her success and always interested in it. If you can have an open discussion then there will be no surprises or frustrations.
 
Likewise, if your expectation was that your son or daughter would play at a higher level, you need to be sure not to scare them off with over enthusiasm which could imply pressure. In fact, your child may have hesitated to ask to play on a travel team because he or she knew you wanted it. Your player may have felt that he or she couldn’t live up to the expectations. So if you jump on the request with over-the-top emotion, your player won’t hear what you say, only what you "meant." Take it slow. Calmly respond for example, "I’ve seen your improvement. This could be a really good next step for you." Again it opens the door for discussion. Don’t over praise your son’s or daughter’s abilities since that adds pressure with hidden expectations. But at the same time, give them support and reinforcement that they are moving in the right direction.
 
In the second scenario mentioned above, it can be difficult not to react with severe shock and disappointment when your child decides it’s time to quit soccer. It’s hard if you saw your child moving on to high school or college soccer. We want to immediately respond with the equivalent in our voices of "What are you talking about!!" Again being calm will go a long ways to opening a dialog. Sometimes you’ll find out that the reason for quitting has nothing to do with soccer, so it would be a good idea to let your child talk before you come down with your response. There may be teammate problems, a coach who tells inappropriate jokes, a parent on the sideline always picking on your child or even a health issue that is preventing your child from performing at peak. So be sure to find out what is going on. Additionally, it is okay to require that your child finish his or her commitment with the team. However, if he or she has a strong emotional reaction to that expectation, I can almost guarantee that something is amiss on the team that needs to be explored. Finally, remember that your dreams aren’t your child’s. My son Robbie is an excellent soccer player, but he is going to finish his college soccer career and then hopefully move on to medical school. I would love to watch him play professional soccer, but that’s not his choice. In fact, for a semester it wasn’t his choice to play college soccer. We have to accept those choices, as painful as they are to us. Overreacting to your child’s decision to quit, especially with anger, may get them to continue, but will overshadow their experience with resentment and sadness. Soccer should always be played with joy. In fact anything your child chooses to do should be done with joy. And in the end, we parents will share in that joy no matter what.

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We pause this broadcast for an announcement

Susan Boyd

Is anyone getting Olympic fever yet? Based on the absolute vacuum of Olympic advertising thus far, I had actually forgotten that they would be held this summer in London. I remember the countdown to Beijing beginning sometime the year before with an actual countdown in the ads – "203 days to the Opening Ceremonies!" Now I have to get my Olympic news on "American Idol" where the big buzz isn’t who’s getting voted off but that Ryan Seacrest is going to be an Olympic newscaster. When the U.S. Men’s National Team tied El Salvador in the Olympic qualifiers and thereby was eliminated from one of the 16 available Olympic berths, my first reaction was, "Why are they already doing the Olympic qualifiers?" I had this vague idea that the Olympics were still more than a year off.
 
Maybe I have been watching too much golf lately and have just missed the announcements of the Olympic qualifiers in other sports. Golf won’t enter the Olympics until 2016, so why would the Golf Channel tout the Olympics now? However I do also watch a fair amount of ESPN where I would think they would have a bit of enthusiasm for the events. Then there’s NBC, the home for the Olympics, who seems to be keeping their Olympic plans under wraps perhaps in hopes of a big reveal once new episodes of "The Office" are over. I had to read in the "Hollywood Reporter" that NBC is going to broadcast the Olympics in 3D. Is that actually Hollywood news? Maybe the naturally reticent personality of the British has affected the way the Olympics is being marketed – "Oh yes, old chap, that’s right. We are hosting the Olympics this year."
 
Before the last summer Olympics I already had a media guide I picked up at Dick’s Sporting Goods in November the year before. I had the date of Opening Ceremonies etched in my brain. I had already begun figuring out what I needed to DVR months prior to the actual broadcasts. The Olympics were a huge deal as news reports on the construction of the Bird’s Nest and how China was going to welcome its guests filled the national news. I couldn’t escape the Olympic preparations and announcements and now I can hardly find the Olympics on Google!
 
While I don’t condone spending your summer indoors watching TV, I do encourage young athletes to take in at least a few of the Olympic trials which are coming up soon. That’s why it’s so discouraging that publicity for these trials has been missing. Like the World Cup, athletes train and prepare for four years for the opportunity to represent their country in the Olympics. This is a capstone to their athletic lives. We fans should be able to keep ourselves well-informed and be able to watch the sports we love showcase their young amateur talent. I am betting that most young athletes have Olympic dreams. They need to see what effort it takes to achieve those dreams and hear about sacrifices and support. The Olympics are a venue for phenomenal achievement as well as crushing defeat. No one understands that better than the U.S. Men’s National Soccer team who has now broken a 15 Olympic appearance record.
 
In the spirit of the Olympics I want to provide my readers with the dates of some of the major trials. I’m certain at some point the channels carrying these trials will tout them as well, but I’d like to get the enthusiasm rolling early since I’d like to see the U.S. leaping into the competitions with strong support.
Track and Field                       June 21 – July 1
Swimming                               June 25 – July 2
Gymnastics                             June 28 – July 4
Wrestling                                 April 21 – 22
Diving                                     June 17 – June 24
 
For those of you who are wondering, Opening Ceremonies are July 27 and the Closing Ceremonies will be August 12. In between will be some of the best competition to be seen. So hopefully some programming executive somewhere will wake up and decide to hype this thing a bit more than it has been. Right now I wouldn’t mind a countdown or at least a whispered reminder. 

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The Game Within the Child

Sam Snow

The cornerstone of the player development model and the coaching methods advocated by US Youth Soccer and its members is the philosophy of The Game within the Child.  The phrase was coined by Dr. Ron Quinn.
 
The idea that The Game within the Child is not so much about finding the right sport for a youngster as it is saying that the game, whatever game it may be, is already inside of each kid.  So in time they find the sport that best suits them.  Then the craft of coaching is to help the game come to the surface, so to speak.  Let’s say a child is 7-years-old and plays soccer, baseball and basketball.  Each of those games is already inside of the child, but to different degrees.  The right sport environment and the right coach help the game come to the surface in the child and that game becomes part of the person.  How much of each of the three sports is in that 7-year-old will vary from child to child.  The sport that is best suited to the child and the sport to which the child is best suited usually comes out between the ages of 10 to 15 years old.  So the kid plays all three sports when young, but narrows it down to one or two in the teenage years.  The odds are that one of those sports the player excels at and the others not quite so much – well unless you were Deion Sanders.
 
Let’s say though in this case that soccer ends up being the number one sport for our youngster in question.  The art of coaching would be for the coach to help a lot of soccer that is already in the person, to rise up and be honed.  Fundamentally, the concept is that rather than force a sport into a child, let’s bring out the game that is already in there.  How much of a particular game is in each child will vary individually.  Even once the person chooses their number one sport the amount of the game in them, and thus the level in the game to which they will rise, varies with each person.  They are not all destined to be professional players.  Our final goal with all young players is to help the soccer within them come to the surface to the degree that they want to be involved with our sport for a lifetime.

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