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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.

 

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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Get over it

Susan Boyd

As some of you know I like to watch Judge Judy. My sons think it’s a waste of time, and it probably is, but I can’t help myself. She’s one tough cookie, calls it like it is, and handles the “excuse-makers” with a verbal sword that leaves them speechless. For 30 minutes I vicariously thrash everyone who has ever done me wrong. Occasionally she has a show that speaks beyond the swift justice she dispenses. A few weeks ago she had a case with a child taking martial arts. His mother was suing his martial arts teachers for not providing him with the proper uniform after attaining some predetermined level of achievement and for eventually kicking him out of the school for being insubordinate.
 
As the case evolved it became abundantly clear that the mother was way too involved in her child’s training. I began to have a deep sympathy for the defendants who were trying to cater to a class of twenty students, one of whom had a sports mom who rivaled Mommie Dearest. She had so many demands that I lost track of what this school was supposed to do for her son. The problem with the uniform was it had the wrong Korean symbols according to her and a different embroidery thread than the other uniforms. It was also too big, and she believed was given to her son in the larger size specifically to embarrass him. Therefore she was also suing for pain and suffering. 
 
As Judge Judy eventually said, “Every parent thinks their child is God’s gift to a sport. Get over it!” And with those words she dismissed the case. As she put it, “He’ll grow into the uniform.” There’s that wonderful common sense I love in the show. As far as kicking the child out of the program she said, “If I had to deal with you for even ten minutes I would have kicked your son out immediately!” In other words she had no sympathy for the mom’s demands and every sympathy for the school which had put up with these antics for a year.
 
I have stood back and watched parent after parent insinuate themselves into a child’s sports life, cringing as I hear the words coming out of their mouths, and wishing I could do an intervention. While parents know their child, most don’t have the perspective to understand their child in the context of the sport they are playing. Few parents can see with an unbiased eye the pool of talent that exists around their child. They see the goals their child makes, the four great passes in a game, and the excellent tackle made to steal the ball at the start of the game, and they translate that view into their child being indispensable to the team. First I can tell you no player is indispensable to a team, ever, even if he is Wayne Rooney or Hope Solo. Second I can tell you that until you have traveled around to at least thirty regional tournaments you can’t possibly begin to judge the strengths and weaknesses of your child. And even then, there’s an entire country of players left to set a standard. 
 
I wish I had a video camera with me at all times where I could record parents’ behavior as they talk to coaches about their children, then play it back. I’ve seen parents poking their fingers at and into coaches as they demand more playing time. I’ve heard parents declare their child the best player on the team and threaten to remove their child if their demands aren’t met. I’ve witnessed parents bullying other players on the team. I watched strong coaches who have refused to participate in these discussions and even disciplined parents for their behaviors. But more often I’ve seen coaches and, worse, clubs capitulate fearful of losing an integral player or having someone bad mouth them to the community. I think clubs should take their cue from Judge Judy and tell parents to “get over it!”
 
When I was a club administrator I had one parent who owed $100 in additional fees for his daughter’s registration. His response was “I’m not paying it and if you make me pay it I’ll take my daughter out.” When I told the club president, he said to let it go. Then the father began to brag on the sidelines about not having to pay the $100, leaving me with a dozen angry phone calls on how could we let this guy get away with this. Given that tryouts were long over and that most strong teams had full rosters, I’m not sure where this father would have taken his daughter. I would have preferred calling his bluff and telling him his daughter couldn’t practice with the team until he was paid in full. In the end, his daughter left the next year anyway for what they believed were greener pastures taking with him six players.
 
One player on my son’s former team was being picked on mercilessly by the father of another player. When he approached the coach about the situation, the coach refused to intervene because the bully’s son was one of the stronger players and he feared having the father pull the kid out of the club. In the end the bullied player left and several parents who had witnessed the club not acting also took their players out of the club, leaving the coach with his strong player and no support teammates. When a very strong player tried out for a team, the parents felt threatened for their children and informed the coach if he took this player they would all quit. The coach followed the wishes of the parents which ended up becoming the first of dozens of demands once they realized they had the power. It ended up pushing the team into disarray and their success dwindled.
 
These are anecdotal examples, but I have to believe that when the parents, who usually have the least amount of soccer experience, have the power to control what happens on a team, rather than the coach, that team’s chemistry will suffer. Coaches and clubs need to say to parents that they are welcomed on the sidelines to cheer, but they are not welcomed to advocate for their child or to suggest how a team should be run. If parents don’t like what they see, then they have the option to change clubs during tryouts. 
 
I wish more clubs called a parent’s bluff. Clubs have to release players, so a kid can quit, but that doesn’t mean she’ll be able to actually move to another club right away. I really encourage coaches and clubs to create a united front on issues of playing time, playing position, travel and fees. Parents need to defer to the experts. After all they chose the club because they thought it would be the best one for their child. If they end up with buyer’s remorse, then they need to “get over it” and go club shopping at the next tryouts. The stronger the club, the more competition your child will face for those precious playing minutes. If the supporting cast already has five midfielders, your son or daughter may find themselves tapped to be a defender or a forward. The coach has to judge what the best fit is for the entire squad not just for your child.
 
I’m pretty sure Judge Judy’s knowledge of soccer is limited to the fact a ball is involved. But I’d trust her to come down on most parents who think they can run the show and know precisely how their child compares in the vast pool of excellent players throughout the area. She would recognize that soccer decisions should be left not only to the experts but also to those who have the widest base of knowledge and no personal bias. Parents should give advice to their children and then let them fight their own battles. That’s the way kids get stronger and confident.

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What may be lost

Susan Boyd

 Mike Barr wrote a compelling article for Youth Soccer Insider entitled "The Case for High School Soccer". The U.S. Soccer Federation Development Academy has decided to go to a 10-month schedule, which will directly interfere with high school soccer for boys. Additionally, the Academy is requesting that players forgo high school soccer even if there isn’t a conflict. Barr details the reasoning behind this decision including lackluster competition, lower quality team members and weaker coaching at the high school level. But he also argues that these worries are not always realized in the first place, and even if they are, there are advantages to participating in a high school sport which go beyond development and competition. Barr comes from the position of a coach. I’d like to make the case for high school soccer from the position of a parent.
 
When my boys were in high school I first heard of this idea to give up high school soccer not from other boys but from the girls teams. Apparently in preparation for the National Championships, several elite girls’ teams around the country were asking their players to give up high school soccer and train full time with their club team in preparation for this event. One of those teams was our local select team who had several members from our home town high school. Those select team members were telling their high school team members, "Sorry, we know this means you won’t make it in the State High School Championships, but we have to follow our dreams." That double-whammy, letting down their high school teammates by pulling out a major number of top players and doing it so they could succeed at the expense of their high school friends didn’t sit well with me. We expected our sons to fulfill the commitments they made. I actually couldn’t believe these players were doing this, having grown up with these families as neighbors and friends. But there it was nonetheless.
 
The Hollywood version of this scenario would be that the plucky remaining players on the high school team would rally, play their hearts out and win the State High School Championship while the club team would find itself defeated in the Regional Championship. Oh right, that is what happened! I remember watching the high school finals as the girls dug deep, rose to the level of champions and won the game. Their joy in achieving this milestone radiated around the stadium. Everyone knew the story about being abandoned by a half dozen of their teammates to pursue the brass ring, which only added to the wild celebration.
 
Arguments can be made about the club team wanting to have intensive training for a few extra months. That making a good showing in the championship run would afford the players more exposure to even more college coaches. That winning a National Championship trumps winning a State High School Championship. But there were other issues such as loyalty to their high school teammates and enjoying the social experience of playing a high school sport. Most high school seasons last just two and a half months. How could it hurt development to run 9.5 months instead of 10 months? How many of the Academy players will eventually play college soccer? How many will continue to play college soccer even if they are lucky enough to earn a scholarship? In the meantime they will have lost the opportunity to join together with a group of friends, boys and girls they have grown up with for more than a dozen years, and fight to win some games and perhaps even a championship.
 
Both my sons said outright that if they were told they couldn’t play high school soccer they would quit their club teams. They recognized the camaraderie and legacy that came from playing on their high school team. Those friendships and memories will be with them forever. This is not to say that they didn’t form friendships and memories with their club teams, but those were different. Those team members rotated in and out yearly or even semi-annually and they lived all over a large area. So the connections were more tenuous. Even club teams can disappear or change with mergers. So a club team’s heritage can’t compete with the legacy of a high school.
 
As a parent, I loved the years spent at high school games. I loved traveling just a few minutes to get to a home game, sitting in the stands with friends and neighbors, cheering on local boys as they competed, getting home at a decent hour, manning the snack shack, expressing my loyalty to the local school and sharing the ups and downs of the community team. After driving Robbie five hours every trip down and back to practice with this club team, those few months of staying close to home and enjoying the companionship of people I rarely saw the rest of year became a well-deserved respite. I know Robbie felt the same way. Both boys enjoyed those ten weeks as a time to strut the halls, practice close to home and be an important part of homecoming celebrations. Putting all your eggs in one basket may make sense in countries where there are scores of professional teams players can join and a development system which includes everyone worthy of participation. But for teenage players in the United States, high school has advantages that the development and club teams cannot yet match. I may be sentimental, but sometimes sentiment can be a good thing.
 
I will always argue that we need a better development system in the United States. But throwing out high school soccer for the sake of an extra month of training hardly seems the right answer. Where are the studies? Is high school really a time of weakening player’s abilities? Before we do another significant shift in how we train our youth players, let’s do the research and discover the strengths and weaknesses of the two systems. Without properly creating the right processes for developing our players, we’re just implementing plans that can’t succeed. What works elsewhere in the world may not work here because we don’t have sufficient professional clubs to provide support and we have an expanse of land that makes scouting and training difficult. We need to figure out how to make those advantages. Getting rid of high school soccer now doesn’t seem to address either of those problems. It just seems to be something we can do, so we’re doing it. 

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