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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.

 

The standards you get are the standards you set

Sam Snow

I coach a soccer team made up of 13 and 14 year old boys. I have a couple of players that are "bratty." They want to do what they want; they roll their eyes when being coached or whistle when the coach is talking to them. Should I give in to them or kick them off the team?
 
On a number of different levels, the early teens are a challenging age group to coach. It is a normal part of this age to test and push the limits of those with authority over them – parents, teachers and yes, soccer coaches too. Nevertheless, when it comes to team behavior coaches should follow this saying, "The standards you get are the standards you set."
 
In this instance I would not go to either extreme of giving in to them or cutting them from the team. The next time one of them behaves inappropriately in front of the team, coaches or team manager, then immediately pull that player aside individually and address the matter directly. The head coach must make it clear to the player what behaviors are unacceptable in the culture of the team. Do not punish the player at this time. Be matter of fact in the tone you take and with your body language. Your goal here is twofold. First, you must begin to modify the player(s) behavior; and secondly, you want to keep the player(s) in the team. If the player(s) act out again during that training session or match, then remind the player of what had just been discussed. Be consistent in your expectations of the players. But don’t harp on it either. Don’t take the misbehavior personally—it is kids testing limits. That testing is sometimes a youngster’s way of finding out if this adult authority figure really does care about them.
 
If the inappropriate behavior continues after a week or two of the coach addressing it directly with the player, then ask the parents to be involved in the next discussion with the player. Ask the parents to support mature behavior by their child so that it benefits the team, respects the staff and aids in the growth of the player.
 
If the behavior still does not improve, involve the club director of coaching and/or the club president in the discussion with the player and parents. After that step is taken and if the misbehavior continues then, the club makes the decision to release the player from the club. This is the final step and hopefully all options have been exhausted before dropping a youth player. Our overarching goal in all of youth soccer must be to keep kids in the game for a lifetime.
 
I think another analysis of the inappropriate behavior should be reflection by the coach on the training methods being used. The seed of the problem could be poor coaching and/or management of the training environment. Sometimes young players act out when the coach fails to avoid the three L’s: lines, laps and lectures. Coaches should avoid these actions during a training session. When these actions are present in a training session it is not only inefficient use of training time, but it is also boring. The kids came to training to play soccer. They did not show up to stand with the coach and talk about soccer, stand in a long line waiting to kick the ball one time and then go to the back of the line or to run laps around the field. They came to training to PLAY soccer! When coaches move away from drills in training sessions and instead use game-like activities then the players are fully engaged physically and mentally. The challenges of game-like activities and the problem solving situations they present are not only fun, but they help players develop to a higher level of soccer. Take it a step further and have the players who have been acting out to be the leaders in some of the activities. Ask them questions during the training session that cause them to think deeply about the game, give them leadership responsibilities and challenge the limits of their talents. When the abilities of these players are met with an appropriate soccer challenge then it is likely that the misbehavior will disappear.
 
A coach can tell the difference between a drill and an activity by using the activity checklist. Whenever you put together a lesson plan for a training session ask yourself these questions:
 
  • Are the activities fun?
  • Are the activities organized?
  • Are the players involved in the activities?
  • Is creativity and decision making being used?
  • Are the spaces used appropriate?
  • Is the coach’s feedback appropriate?
  • Are there implications for the game?
 
Soccer is easy to teach to children because many of them already know a good deal about it and many simply enjoy the sport. Simple principles, professional organization, appropriate incentives, and unlimited encouragement—-any coach worth the name can hardly fail. Even more important, he or she will gain enormous gratification from the pleasure and satisfaction gained by the children.

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Street Soccer Day

Sam Snow

September is Youth Soccer Month. A new feature of the month this year is the inaugural Street Soccer Day that will be held Wednesday, September 5th. If you have been through the National Youth License course you know that "street soccer" is a session in that coaching course. A while back one of the course candidates suggested the idea of a national street soccer (pick-up game) day. I thought it was a great idea. We have designated the first Wednesday of Fun week as Street Soccer Day. Each week of Youth Soccer Month has a different focus; in order they are: Fun, Family, Friendship and Fitness.
 
The plan for Street Soccer Day is for clubs all across the United States to set apart this day as one where players come in to have pick-up games. This set up can be as organized or unorganized as the club desires. Clubs can even set it up to be a Play Day (which has evolved into the Human Development program - http://www.soccerindiana.org/education/hd.aspx) as envisioned by Vince Ganzberg, former Technical Director for Indiana Soccer. Another way could be to simply encourage coaches to step aside at training sessions that day and let the players take charge. Regardless of how the club sets up the day, the idea is to give the game back to the players. Part of the thrill for the players is in knowing that other players just like them, all across the country, are having a game just like theirs.
 
Street Soccer Day will grow in time just as the idea of Youth Soccer Month has grown with state associations, clubs, high schools, colleges and professional teams. Imagine the improvement that will be made in youth soccer as the nation uniformly focuses on this day as the kick-off to a player centered soccer year. I know that for this year the notice is short, but please do all that you can to encourage teams in your club to join in the celebration of Street Soccer Day.

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Read, Think, Play

Susan Boyd

 
            Hope Solo’s autobiography came out last week, "Solo: A Memoir of Hope" (hardcover $15.58). There is no denying that Solo has had a tough life with abandonment, reuniting with her homeless father, being famously benched in the 2007 World Cup after posting four shut-outs, and speaking out on more than one occasion to defend herself and others. The book delivers with drama, soccer insights and family dysfunction. It probably isn’t appropriate for young soccer players, but that has been addressed with a young reader’s edition titled "Hope Solo: My Story" (hardcover $9.93). While Solo has gotten her fair share of press for her book fresh off a gold medal, there are many deserving soccer books out there for young and intermediate readers that families may not be aware of. I want to detail just a few of these that you might consider as gifts for your avid soccer player. All prices are quoted from Amazon.
 
            While most kids will recognize David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Lionel Messi, there are literally scores of significant soccer players that they may not know because they don’t get to see them play very often. "A Beautiful Game: The World's Greatest Players and How Soccer Changed Their Lives" (hardcover $19.79) presents 41 players from countries as diverse as Iceland, Tunisia, and New Zealand which are not exactly soccer powerhouses. However, the commonality of passion for the sport, the various impacts on the players’ lives, and the significance of the role soccer plays in the countries and families show how soccer can move beyond "just a sport." The book is divided into various sections addressing topics such as family, pride, hope and contains numerous brilliant photos.
 
            Most soccer is played away from the stadiums and the spotlight of notoriety. Millions play every day in the streets, alleys and fields of their respective countries without regard to mega-salaries or adulation. At 16, Gwen Oxenham was the youngest NCAA Division I athlete, serving as goal keeper for Duke University. By the time she was 23, her options for playing soccer beyond college had dried up. Looking for an adventure she set out to travel the world with her boyfriend and two other friends to find soccer where it is regularly played. The result is her book "Finding the Game: Three Years, Twenty-five Countries, and the Search for Pickup Soccer" (hardcover $17.50). Her adventures show how soccer can bridge cultures, languages and religions. She played with women dressed in traditional hijab in Tehran, in an Arab against Jew game in Jerusalem, and with a group of bootleggers in Nairobi. Over the course of her travels she learned the universality of soccer etiquette (don’t talk if no one has ever seen you play) and the universality of soccer receptiveness to strangers and friends alike. There is a companion documentary she made called "[Pelada]" (which is the Brazilian word for pickup game and literally means "naked") and it is available on Netflix.
 
            Many players hear from their coaches that they need to get stronger and faster if they want to advance. It’s a tough journey from knowing that change is needed and actually creating that change. Donald T. Kirkendall holds a PhD. in exercise physiology and is a member of the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Center in Zurich. He played soccer through college and has been an assistant coach at Ball State in Indiana. His book, "Soccer Anatomy" (paperback $15.05) details dozens of excellent exercises to improve a player’s strength, stamina and speed. Each exercise is accompanied by illustrations to show which muscles are affected as well as showing how those muscles operate in playing conditions. This is the type of book a player can refer to many times over the course of his or her soccer career to continue to develop.
 
            I have seen thousands of youth soccer games and twenty times that in hopeful players who want to move on to higher levels including playing pro. The one factor that truly separates the most significant players from the rest isn’t athleticism. Most players who achieve success in youth soccer have great athletic abilities, but without a soccer brain they begin to find themselves falling behind. Knowing where to move off the ball, knowing your options before you even receive the ball and knowing how to create space for yourself all have more to do with brain than brawn. Part of developing a soccer brain is to be a student of the game. Studying matches on TV, going to live games and reading about soccer from top coaches will give players an edge others may not have. "Developing Game Intelligence in Soccer" (paperback $16.47) by Horst Wein, a top youth coach who has been hired to revitalize or improve the national youth soccer programs of thirty-four countries, shows through both discussion and diagrams how players can be smarter on the field. he book divides into different age and skill levels so players can progress and won’t bite off more than their developmental level permits. Youth players should open a chapter, turn on a game and follow the techniques the pros use that come from the book. Every player can benefit from a rigorous physical regimen, but he or she can also benefit from training the brain. Coaches say that if you want to win at soccer play with your brain.
 
            Soccer bodies need fuel to operate at top form. Often parents have no idea what is appropriate to feed our young players to give them the best edge. There are all types of advice – carbo loading, vegan, protein shakes – and we have to become our kids’ dieticians with little or no guidance except for the fad of the day. With short breaks between tournament games or a rushed dinner schedule due to practices, fast food all too often takes the place of a good meal. Without the proper fuel all the exercise in the world won’t help a player develop enough muscle and sculpting to be the best. Sports writer Gloria Averbuch and registered dietician Nancy Clark have interviewed top  professional female players and examined their food choices. They have come up with some fantastic recipes and advice for young players in their book "Food Guide for Soccer: Tips and Recipes from the Pros" (paperback $12.47). The book contains charts showing how quantities of food can be determined and equivalencies of food types. The book also shows what is optimal for soccer players as opposed to less active people and divides by age ranges. Before even getting to the recipes, the book lays out important information such as how to hydrate, what to eat before and after practices and games and how to maintain the right body weight. The recipes are fantastic and will appeal to any player’s tastes and diet. 
 
            These books are only a sampling of what is available out there for young soccer players who have a passion for the game. I also suggest you use these as a starting point. If you look each book up on Amazon and Barnes & Noble the websites will list other books in the same genre with the "customers who bought this also bought…" heading. Therefore, you can find dozens of books just from one of these. I didn’t include any books for kids under 10, but some titles to consider would be Matt Christopher’s "Soccer Hero," Gail Gibbons’ "My Soccer Book," Mike Lupica’ "Shoot Out," Mia Hamm’ "Winners Never Quit" and "DK Reader’s: Let’s Play Soccer" by Patricia J. Murphy. All these books are under $7. You can’t go wrong encouraging your child to read, and if they read about soccer they will be improving two important parts of their lives.

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Golden Opportunities

Susan Boyd

           After winning the gold at the Olympics the US Women’s National Soccer Team will have a short rest and then embark on a victory tour of the United States beginning September 1st in Rochester, N.Y. Tickets are on sale now for the match against Costa Rica and the match against Australia September 16th in Carson, CA at the Home Depot Center (ussoccer.com then click schedules/tickets). Both games will be broadcast on NBC. While most readers won’t be in the vicinity of these games, for those who can attend they provide an opportunity for young female players to see their idols live. There is nothing like watching a game live where girls can key in on one player to see how she positions herself before receiving and after delivering the ball or to watch how the team ebbs and flows. While there is any number of men’s games players can attend, the women’s side of soccer is still growing to those levels. Nevertheless, with some creativity and determination, parents can find live games that their soccer-minded daughters can enjoy. 
 
           By the age of twelve, soccer players who aspire to play in high school should begin attending local high school games. This is an opportunity to watch what formations the coach uses, what the talent level is, and how much fun the girls are having. Going to the local high school games also creates a loyalty and passion for the program. This can translate into a sustaining goal for any young player facing the ups and downs that come with soccer. With an eye on the prize she can be motivated to develop. Going to the games also gives her a leg up on the entire high school experience of a shared community. 
 
           Along with the high school games, most local colleges and universities will have a women’s soccer team. The schedules are easy to download on the internet and the ticket prices are usually under $10. Many states have their girls’ high school season in the spring, so college games in the fall are a great counterpart. If the high school season is in the spring, then high school age players will be with their club teams in the fall. Therefore, college games offer an opportunity for the entire team to attend and then critique the game afterwards. These games can be a significant teaching moment. Likewise, a crisp fall day can be a great backdrop for a family outing. All too often those family sports outings are to watch boys and men play football, soccer, basketball, and baseball. So why not attend an event devoted to women and give your daughters a chance to fully identify with the players on the field? 
 
           Professional women’s soccer has not yet proven to be successful. The Women’s Professional Soccer League (WPS) folded this year and will not return with a season in 2013. The USL W-league, a professional/amateur program, continues to operate and has plans for 2013 season (wleague.uslsoccer.com). The W-league has 30 teams from the US and Canada in three conferences and has a May – July schedule. Another pro-am league, the largest in the world, the WPSL-Elite (wpsl.info), has 50 teams and also offers a May through July schedule. Several excellent college and professional players make up these teams. Additionally with the bronze for the Canadian Women and the gold for the U.S. Women, talks have begun about forming a new professional league. Leading this is the Chicago Red Stars of the WPSL-Elite who are joining up with former WPS teams from Boston and New Jersey with the hope of creating a six to eight team league that can weather the economic woes of a start-up. With a big schedule in the summer for the USL-W League and the WPSL-Elite, the WNT Victory Tour which will have several more games than the two already announced, and the possibility of new women’s professional league, there should be plenty of opportunities for young female players to watch their Olympic heroines and up and coming WNT players live. Keep an eye on the US Soccer Federation’s website to see when new Victory Tour games are announced (ussoccer.com) and occasionally Google "Women’s Professional Soccer" to see what developments there are on that front. If a team happens to be formed in your hometown, season tickets will be a bargain. Consider purchasing them as a gift not only for your daughter but for the entire family. Even if you don’t get season tickets, be sure to attend at least one professional game this year. At the professional level soccer offers more speed, better skills, and the possibility of watching an Olympic player strut her stuff.
 
           Naturally these same principles hold true for boys. I think all too often girls don’t have as many options for watching soccer live or families are reluctant to attend a women’s game over a men’s game. Think about the message it sends your daughters – their efforts and those of other females aren’t as valued as those of their male counterparts. Hopefully the strength and excitement of the games the women played at the Olympics removed any doubt that women’s soccer can be as dynamic, perhaps even more so, than men’s. With the euphoria of the Olympic Gold this is the time to carry our enthusiasm forward with our daughters to feed their soccer passion and celebrate their participation.

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