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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.

 

Ready for Spring

Sam Snow

 Across the USA youth teams are getting into their spring season.  So this is a good time for coaches to refresh themselves on the major points of the prevention and care of injuries.  A coach first and foremost must do what he or she can to reduce the likelihood of injury.  The factors over which a coach has some control include:
 
  • Condition of the field
    • Uneven surface
    • Holes in the ground
    • Rocks, glass, sticks or anything else other than grass and dirt
    • Hazards next to the field
      • Team benches
      • Sidewalks
      • Fences
      • Parking lot
      • Street
      • Lake, stream, etc.
  • Anchor the goals
  • Be aware of weather conditions
    • Shelter nearby in case of dangerous weather
    • Adjust or cancel the training session in extreme heat or cold
  • Access to water
    • Pre and post training and match hydration
  • Player equipment
    • Shoes fit properly
    • Shin guards are in good condition
    • Clothing appropriate for the climate
  • Player fitness
    • Proper physical fitness for the age group and the time in the season
  • Design of training activities
    • Length of training session appropriate to the age group
    • Not too many vigorous activities in a row
      • Proper water/rest breaks
  • Time of day of training sessions and matches commensurate with the age group
  • Proper teaching of techniques
 
Keep in mind please that soccer is a contact sport, so some injures will occur.  Fortunately, most soccer injuries are relatively minor; sprains, scrapes, contusions and strains.  However, some sever injuries do occur such as lacerations, tears to soft issue (ligaments, muscles or tendons), bone fractures and concussions.  Coaches need to have an action plan for the occurrence of a severe injury.  Who will apply immediate first aid?  Who will call and guide emergency services?  Who will supervise the other players?  Who will manage the reactions of the spectators?
 
Coaches and team mangers need to discuss and rehearse their action plan now at the beginning of the season.  I also suggest that one or more of the adults who are regularly with the team take a sports first aid safety course.  All of the staff should take the free on-line concussion course: http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/news/story.asp?story_id=5962.
 
The soccer season is a fun time for all involved.  Let’s also keep everyone safe and sound!

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Inspirational

Susan Boyd

When Bryce played his first year with United States Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP), there was a young girl, Sarah Hagen from Appleton, who was also playing. That summer at Region II US Youth Soccer ODP camp, Bryce had a good session but didn’t get selected for regional pool. He came home a bit frustrated, but confident with hard work he could improve. Sarah had an even better session and was selected for regional pool.  But she came home nervous and unsure because while at camp she had felt a lump in her abdomen. The lump turned out to be a tumor on her ovary the size of a soccer ball, diagnosed as dysgerminoma, a form of ovarian cancer. Sarah was 13 and getting ready to enter high school. Suddenly her promising soccer career came to a halt, high school was put on hold and she began the grueling process of battling cancer.
 
While Bryce played his freshman year with only one goal scored against him and an undefeated season, Sarah had two operations and a long series of chemotherapy. While Bryce shaved his hair off when called up to the varsity team, Sarah watched her hair fall out. While Bryce joined his high school team at the state finals, Sarah spent her days recuperating and getting tested to check her progress. By her sophomore year, Sarah was cancer-free and strong enough to play high school soccer, but for only a few minutes at a time. Nevertheless she played well enough to receive honorable mention. By her senior year she was tearing up the field.
 
She agreed to play for UW-Milwaukee. There she followed the legacy of Laura Moynihan. Laura had been instrumental in establishing girls ODP in Wisconsin. Laura also fostered women’s soccer through the state and the nation. She had also taken over as coach of the women’s team at UW-Milwaukee in 1991. Just before taking the job, Laura was diagnosed with cancer which unfortunately was the one obstacle which defeated her in 1992. Her dedication to women’s soccer endeared her to thousands across the U.S. Her name is attached to the trophy the Under-17 girls win at the United States Youth Soccer National Championships and to the field at UW-Milwaukee where the women’s team plays. While Laura never lived to see Sarah play, her efforts paved the way for Sarah to have the amazing opportunities that opened up for her once she recovered from her illness.
 
At UW-Milwaukee, Sarah blossomed earning school records in goals (93) and total points (217). She was named Horizon League Player of the Week 15 times, which is nine times more than any other player in league history. Her goals are ninth in NCAA Division I history. What further sets her apart is that she has great humility and a natural leadership quality. Perhaps having cancer at a young age gave her the wisdom to not take anything for granted or maybe surviving cancer provided her with the joy to seize each day with a positive attitude. Since both my sons transferred to UW-Milwaukee, they have reconnected with Sarah who they knew through ODP. She has plenty to teach them about how life isn’t always fair, but you have to make what you can out of what you are given. Sarah has also been called up to train with the U-23 Women’s National Team, was drafted by the Philadelphia Independence of Women’s Professional Soccer and signed a contract with Bayern Munich of the Frauen Bundesliga. In her first game with the latter she scored two goals.
 
I tell Sarah’s story because she should serve as an inspiration to both female and male soccer players. She didn’t give up on her dreams despite the tough year she spent battling her cancer. She took another year to get back up to full playing speed. She eventually returned to ODP, where she made a strong impression on the coaches. Her story teaches us all that soccer can be put on hold, whether forced or voluntary, to give time to other matters in life. Her story also teaches us that soccer as a dream has the strength to see us through the hard times. Most importantly, her story tells us that we need to take each day as a blessing and use it to the best we can. Through perseverance and good fortune Sarah has beat back cancer and soared at soccer. She didn’t ask to be a role model, but circumstances have made her one. Someday she may also have a National Championship cup named after her.
 
 

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Pointers from Klinsmann

Sam Snow

As you are likely aware, Jürgen Klinsmann, the U.S. Men’s National Team Head Coach, spoke at the US Youth Soccer Workshop in Boston last week.  It was a wonderful opportunity for those of us there listening to Coach Klinsmann.  He was open and communicative with the standing room only audience.  You will soon be able to see video of the presentation on the US Youth Soccer website and YouTube channel.  Coach Klinsmann spoke of his comparisons of the full national team and youth soccer.  I have taken one small except from his presentation to share and discuss with you here.
 
Klinsmann on Style of Play:
  • Youth Soccer
    • Think long-term player development
      • Be comfortable on, off, and with the ball
      • Speed of play
      • When and how to support on offense and defense
    • Winning is not the same as developing a style of play
    • Example of training to style of play: U.S. Soccer Coaching Cirriculum
 
Reading the key points he wants to get across to the adults involved in youth soccer, the idea of long term player development is not new but one that we must all rally around to embrace and enforce.  That work begins at the team level, then onto the club level, then the state association and finally the national board of directors.  The effort to work diligently on long-term player development must be a two-way effort – from the bottom up and the top down. 
 
Being comfortable on the ball and learning where to go when you don’t have the ball is part of that long term player development.  Players will never be comfortable on the ball as long as parents and coaches keep yelling "Kick it!" every time a child has the ball.  At the U-6 and the U-8 age groups, the comment from the touchlines needs to be "DRIBBLE!"  Let them make mistakes as they learn to play on and off the ball.  That’s an important part of learning the game – trial and error.
 
Speed of play is first and foremost mental, then physical and then technical.  Playing fast with the ball without a good thought in mind as to what and why you are playing fast is just kick ball dressed up in a soccer inform.  Coaches and parents, to help our American players improve their speed of play, understand that it is really about decision making.  So coaches, teach your players how to think for themselves.  In this way our speed of play will increase tactically as well as technically.
 
How to support on either side of the ball begins at the U-8 age group in partner play.  Then at the U-10 age group, let’s work more in groups of three and start intentionally playing in triangles.  The number of players and the group shape around the ball gradually become more complex as they age.
 
Winning is a good thing.  Striving to win is a better thing and winning with a good style of play is the best.  We do want to try to win the matches we play, but not at the expense of how we play.  That means Fair Play, it means letting players explore with new skills and tactics and it means keeping winning and losing in perspective.  On this notion, here’s a thought; a poorly played win is worse than a well-played loss.
 
You have good guidance now from both US Youth Soccer and U.S. Soccer on plans to train and develop intelligent and skillful players in every club in America.  Read and execute the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model and the U.S. Soccer Curriculum.

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An ounce of prevention

Susan Boyd

There are plenty of reasons our little players could end up injured or out of commission for a period of time or longer. Three reasons that continue to pop up over and over are concussions, dehydration and goals which topple over.
 
Concussions aren't readily preventable, but the opportunity can be mitigated with proper training and with proper treatment their effects can be reduced. You should note that US Youth Soccer doesn't encourage heading until older age groups and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has partnered with US Youth Soccer to offer some outstanding information on concussions available for free at http://www.cdc.gov/concussion/sports/. The last two, dehydration and goals toppling over, can be prevented if the adults surrounding the players take the right precautions. It's important to keep these problems in mind whenever our youngsters take the field for practice or games. We need to prepare to either prevent or handle these situations and we need to take them seriously. 
 
The statistics on concussions are both staggering and sobering. Last school year saw 400,000 concussions in high school sports alone. Fifty percent of all ER visits for concussions involved 8 to 19 year olds in sports and 40 percent of those sports related concussions involved children between the ages of 8 and 13. Concussions among children doubled between 1997 and 2007. Doctors attribute this to children participating younger and younger in contact sports and the size of children increasing. Although soccer ranks fairly low on the scale of sports contributing to concussions, parents and coaches need to be vigilant.
 
Coaches have a responsibility to teach the skill of heading, where potential injuries risk can occur as players leave the ground to contact the ball, correctly. The details of the proper body mechanics of the skill can be found in the Skills School Manual (/assets/1/1/Skills_School_Manual.pdf ) and can be seen in the DVD Skills School – Developing Essential Soccer Techniques (http://www.usyouthsoccershop.com/frontpage-items-us-youth-soccer-skills-school.html).  Also use the information in the Heading Guidelines (/assets/1/1/Heading_Guidelines.pdf); all available on the US Youth Soccer website. In general, introduce the skill of heading in the U-10 age group with balancing the ball and a bit of juggling. Do teach basic heading skill, but use it sparingly in training and matches. Then begin to gradually increase the amount of time in training sessions on coaching this skill from the U-12 age group and older.
 
Recommendations following a concussive episode include taking a week to 10 days off for a mild concussion and even longer if the hit was particularly hard or the symptoms required an ER or doctor's visit. Those symptoms include, but are not limited to, dizziness, headache, confusion, nausea, ringing in the ears, slurred speech and fatigue. Any time a player has blacked out, even for a few seconds, that player needs to receive medical attention. If a player has had multiple concussions no matter how many years apart, that player also needs to receive medical attention. Most doctors agree that three is the limit for concussive episodes. Therefore, it's important that parents keep close track of any brain injury their child may have suffered – it doesn't just need to be on the field of play. Over the past decade doctors have come to understand how serious concussions are. Studying retired NFL and NHL players, doctors have seen hidden, serious and long-term effects of concussions which have lead to more stringent guidelines for youth players to protect their most precious biological asset.
 
Dehydration is easily preventable, yet occurs. Usually this is due to three factors: athletes don't prepare properly before a match, athletes ignore their need to hydrate and event organizers don't allow for hydration breaks. As a result, we can see players collapsing from heat exhaustion, cramps and disorientation – all symptoms of dehydration. When the weather is hot and humid, dehydration can occur even more quickly. Athletes and event organizers should keep a close eye on the heat index (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_index)—a resource that takes into account both temperature and humidity. Once the index reaches a certain level, everyone should take care to provide hydration breaks during a game. When the temperature is high, the body compensates by dilating blood vessels on the skin to allow for more heat loss but that restricts blood flow to the brain. Athletes shouldn't lose more than two percent of their body weight during any contest or practice. If they do, then they have severe dehydration and need to address the condition immediately. Water isn't necessarily the best source for replenishing the body. First, it can encourage more urination which defeats the purpose of hydration. Second, it can actually kill a player's thirst. And third, dehydration involves the loss of fluids and electrolytes, the latter of which water doesn't address. But if water is all that's available, then by all means use it. Before a match, players should pre-hydrate with a sports drink. The rule of thumb is 16 to 24 ounces of drink per hour of exercise (note, most of the youth recreational games are less than an hour in play). Symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, cramps, muscle fatigue, disorientation and nausea. Ironically thirst isn't a symptom of dehydration because dehydration often suppresses thirst. Parents could consider bringing sports drinks to be prepared and absolutely insist that games be interrupted on hot days to allow for hydration breaks. Severe dehydration can lead to brain damage, muscle damage, heart damage and even death. Stopping a game for 10 minutes in the middle of a half could be all that's needed to avoid dehydration problems.
 
A goal toppling onto players occurs too often for something so preventable (http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/soccer.pdf). All goals should be securely anchored, but even the best anchoring can end up being no match for a gaggle of players leaping up to the goal so they can hang or do chin-ups. The primary prevention for this serious event is educating players about the dangers. Every year a handful of players end up being crushed by goals, which is a handful too many. Whether a goal falls during a game or because of players hanging on it, the result can be tragic. Therefore, clubs need to be mindful of the danger and provide proper anchoring in the form of stakes. Sand bags can be shifted off the ground struts and no longer provide the correct counter-weigh. Stakes require more effort to remove, which is exactly why they are the best for anchoring a goal. Every club likes to have the freedom to move goals around so they can reconfigure fields and help eliminate overplay on the goal mouth ground, but the additional effort to pull up stakes is well-worth the added safety the stakes provide. Any time you see players leaping onto goals, you need to speak up even if it's not your children. Once the goal starts to tip, it falls quickly and heavily. So there isn't time for polite conversation. Every kid thinks it will never happen to him, so even with our admonishments the temptation of that solid crossbar will still attract them. We need to be vigilant and proactive.
 
Injuries in sport are to be expected, but we can protect our children from some common harm both by being practical and watchful. When it comes to concussions we need to be sure our children don't return to playing too soon and recognize the symptoms so we can seek medical care. We can avoid dehydration by making sure our children drink at regular intervals during games and practice and by insisting that they get hydration breaks when the heat index is high. To save our children from falling goals we need to check that the goals in our children's games and practices are securely anchored, educate our children about the dangers and be the goal police if we see kids playing on goals. We have it in our power to make soccer safer and thereby more enjoyable. Hopefully, working together, we can do just that.

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