Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Our Blog is Moving

Hello to all of our US Youth Soccer Blog readers. Today we have flipped the switch on our new web site, www.USYouthSoccer.org (same URL), and the new site will allow us to host blogging.

To keep up with our bloggers and meet some new ones along the way, visit the new www.USYouthSoccer.org. While you are there be sure to register with the site (SIGNUP NOW!) and take a look around.

The new Blog section is here:

Thank you for all of your comments - we'll look to add many of our blogs over to the new site in the future.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Sam's Blog - Experience in Coaching - Nov. 6

Sam’s Blog will be a weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer.

I shared this information with the National Youth License instructors a few days ago. As the article discusses issues in coaching I thought you would enjoy reading it. Regardless of the sport you coach this article provides good insights into the craft of coaching.

Article by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook at www.akcoach.com

Let's not be too quick to condemn the "bad" coaches. I'll bet the reason Coach Sar gives such good advice is he's paid his dues and learned over time to be the coach he is today. A saying I like: "If you're the same man at 50 as you were at 20 then you've wasted 30 years".

I believe head coaches (for any level team) go through an evolutionary philosophical process if they continue to work with kids. You learn all kinds of lessons and make many important observations along the way. If you accept the fact that most coaches change with time, it gives you a different perspective when you see them behave in certain ways. When you see a coach do something that seems reprehensible, there is a temptation to assign a label, such as "he's a hothead" or "he's way too competitive to be coaching that age group", and overlook the good work that has been done.

Now, such labels may be fitting, but it is important to realize the labels only fit for a given point in time. As an administrator, or a parent whose child may play for such a coach, it may be unfair to write him off, especially if he (or she) is young. People will change as they learn. The same is true of coaches. Give them a chance to grow. Sometimes coaching peers, parents and administrators come down much too harshly when a new coach strays from path of popular acceptability. In most cases, coaches have little or no training in their new role. A little advice from the right folks may be all they need, rather than an avalanche of criticism.

So, when you meet a coach or see him perform in a game or practice for the first time, you can gauge where he's at in his philosophical evolution. There is a progressive path from the neophyte coach (like some young player's ordinary dad or mom) to a coaching ideal like John Wooden. Obviously, most people won't coach long enough or be dedicated enough to go the whole distance, but it is a path that should be followed as best and as far as you can while you coach.

The first thing most brand new coaches want is validation that they CAN coach. They get that feedback from their W/L%, and somewhat from parents and peers. That's why new coaches are into the trick Ds and are hollering at their ten year olds. This is especially true if the coach used to be a good player. They will assume they can coach because they were successful in the past. They will assume they know more than their peers. And, because former players are inherently competitive, they will be highly motivated to prove their assumptions are true. If they are unable to achieve the validation they usually quit.

The next phase, for the survivors, is education. They realize they could do better. They go to camps, buy tapes, read books and websites. They listen keenly to other coaches hoping to absorb their experience as quickly as possible. This is an exciting phase as they gain more coaching tools. The point is, with more tools, they can make their teams better and win more games. It’s an extension of the validation process. Winning is extremely important because it proves the coach is qualified.

Some people, again they are usually former star players, come into coaching convinced they do not need to learn anything. The know-it-alls won't educate. They'll coach as long as they win. As soon as they don't get the validation (like they have a weak team one year), they quit. They'll blame the kids for lack of desire, ability or whatever else applies.

What's next? Explanation. Coaches start speaking out as an authority, praising those who coach like them and criticizing those who do not. In this phase, they can see what's wrong with everything. As a spectator, when they watch other teams play, they like to point out what the players need to work on, what the coach should be doing, things like that. If there are other spectators who nod and confirm their observations, it bolsters the coach's own opinion that he is an expert.

With time, coaches move into the edification phase. This is a big improvement over the explanation phase because now their purpose is to simply help people rather than feed personal pride. Coaches in this realm are as happy to help a kid from a different school as they are to help a kid from their own program. They become open with other coaches in sharing ideas and knowledge rather than keeping all they have to offer close to the vest to maintain a competitive edge. Instead of pointing out what others are doing wrong, they encourage others for what they are doing right.

Realization of their true mission as a coach, that's the next phase. Something happens for the better and the coach realizes what happens on the court changes a player off the court. The coach starts emphasizing character traits as well as skills, rethinks playing time, and develops the bottom of the bench. The coach sees his/her team as a waypoint for journeying players rather than a one time seasonal event.

Remember that coaches are very competitive people. Winning is still important, but now it is done through developing people instead of players; teaching fundamental skills, not trick plays; motivating through discipline, not emotional speeches. Developing people means training and conditioning the mind as well as the body, and considering both the spiritual and physical aspects of the person. Once a coach realizes and accepts this mission, coaching becomes much more than a job, much more than a won/loss record.

Given the opportunity, the next phase is implementation. This is the chance to build your own program, doing it the right way, building not just a team but a system where proper fundamentals and discipline can be taught at the outset. At first you may think that it is unfortunate that there are so few opportunities to run your own program given the limited number of schools and similar organizations that promote team sports. I have seen, though, many people who have built their own systems, starting with one team, then adding more, and gaining momentum as others join in the cause to help their kids play better basketball. These grass roots basketball communities are out there and they have high-quality, motivated people.

Last phase I can think of is compensation. Not the money (ha ha!) but the chance to see players who have been in your care and are now grown with kids of their own - maybe even coaching their own teams. That's when you have the satisfaction of knowing you played a part in the bigger picture. As parents and coaches, they will be passing on what they learned from you.

There are probably more phases, I don't know. Ask me in a few more years. Where do you rank in the coaches evolutionary ladder?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

JT's Blog - Kentucky Youth Soccer Mandates Coaching Education - Oct. 31

JT's Blog will be a weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. John Thomas "JT" is the Assistant Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer.

Mandating anything in soccer is tough enough. As one of the national staff coaches for US Youth Soccer, it’s hard educating coaches that have been coaching for over 20 years. The issues most of the time are- why do they need education when they have been winning all the time, but winning and player development can be two different things. My hat goes off to Kentucky Youth Soccer for putting education of the player’s first and mandating education. Here is what Kentucky Youth Soccer has done.

On September 1, 2007 Kentucky Youth Soccer Association Board of Directors implemented a minimum coaching policy for those working with select soccer players. Currently there are no minimum coaching standards for recreational coaches but Kentucky Youth Soccer Association Board of Directors recognizes and fully supports coaching education for all levels and would like to emphasize that there is no substitute for an educated coach. Coaches will have until September 1, 2009 to meet these requirements. The rationale for coaches of all age groups to hold a minimum coaching requirement is as follows:

• To increase your effectiveness as a volunteer or paid coach by enhancing your knowledge of fundamental coaching concepts such as: philosophy of coaching, age appropriate training of children, prevention of injuries, care of injuries, team management and risk management issues.
• To protect you from civil lawsuits. If you are ever sued for an injury to one of your youth soccer players (although rare), you can present a much better legal defense as a result of being educated and trained.
• To increase your knowledge on how to properly teach technique and tactics.
• To ease the worry of volunteer coach’s who have never played or have limited knowledge in the game.
• To provide the coach with soccer related activities that will provide for a safe and fun learning environment instead of placing them into drills, standing in lines and running laps.
The table below is what will be a minimum coaching requirement for Club Directors of Coaching/General Manager, Select Soccer Head & Assistant Coach’s. It is recommended that each coach attempts to exceed these minimum requirements. All of these requirements are expected to be met by September 1st, 2009.

Minimum Coaching Standards as of September 1st 2007
* Club Directors of Coaching

Full Time Select & Recreational: USSF “C” License and USSF National Youth License Part Time Select & Recreational: USSF “D” License and USSF National Youth License Volunteer Select & Recreational: USSF “D” License and/or USSF National Youth License.

Monitoring & Policing
Kentucky Youth Soccer will monitor coaching qualifications through the League One system. If the system does not show the correct data, a copy of the appropriate coaching certification needs to be sent to the Kentucky Youth Soccer Association Head Office for them to enter the details into the system. If the team head & assistant coach do not possess the appropriate qualification, the official roster and player passes will not be stamped and issued. Any coach who does not meet the required criteria by September 1st, 2009 will not be allowed to coach with a Kentucky Youth Soccer Association member. Following September 1st, 2009, coaches who are assigned to new teams will be
required to obtain the appropriate certification within six months.

Any Director of Coaching/General Manager who has not received the appropriate qualifications at the end of the phase in period may not have their name placed on any of that teams rosters nor can they receive a coach’s pass.

Kentucky Youth Soccer Association Roles & Responsibilities
The 24 month phase-in period will allow those individuals in need of attending a coaching education course plenty of time to do so. During the phase-in, Kentucky Youth Soccer will be providing additional coaching education opportunities in and around the state of Kentucky. We are going to try our best to provide each District with ample course selections in time periods which are typically slow for coaching.

Although the prime responsibility does fall upon the state association we also rely on the members to set up courses to help coaches within their own and neighboring clubs. To encourage clubs and associations to do this Kentucky Youth Soccer Association will provide the members with the appropriate marketing materials. Clubs will also be strongly encouraged to reimburse or pay for their coaches to obtain the appropriate certification. Kentucky Youth Soccer will continue to work with US Soccer Federation to host a National Youth & “C” License.

If you have any specific questions regarding coaching education, please contact Dr. John Thomas at JThomas@usyouthsoccer.org or Kentucky Youth Soccer Director of Coaching and Player Development, Adrian Parrish at adrianparrish@kysoccer.net.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

JT's Blog - Coaching Youth Soccer, Stretching - Oct. 24

JT's Blog will be a weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. John Thomas "JT" is the Assistant Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer.

Soccer today has become very popular and competitive among all ages, even young children. Because our novice coaches and those coaches that may not have had sport specific education concerning stretching may find it hard to break ineffective techniques as well as beginning new and unfamiliar habits. Sticking to something new can be difficult, especially when results may not be seen immediately. But, if the athlete understands and truly believes in the benefits, then adherence may be stronger. As a coach, part of your role is to facilitate any knowledge of ways to enhance an athlete's performance, whether it may be optimizing physical or mental capabilities or preventing injuries. With this in mind, a major factor that can contribute to an athlete's success is to understand all of the values of proper stretching.

A soccer player can benefit in many ways from stretching. The most common reason taught to athletes is that stretching increases flexibility, the ability to move joints through a full range of motion, thereby reducing the risk of injury. Unfortunately, the majority of players believe that they are invincible and that an injury will not happen to them. This attitude is reinforced when these athletes do not get injured. What many athletes and coaches do not understand is that by increasing flexibility, one's personal sprint speed, power, and strength can be optimized. For example, if a soccer player is able to move his/her leg further back during the preparatory phase of a shot, more power can be created.

Another example, more useful to a broad range of sports, is increasing speed. Although an individual's sprint speed can only be altered a little bit (due to genetic constraints), one way to help optimize personal speed is to increase range of motion. It is also important to realize that a stretched muscle will encounter less resistance from contraction and tension, thereby causing less energy needed to complete a movement. When athletes learn and understand these benefits, they are usually more apt to institute a stretching program.

Not only is teaching the benefits of stretching important, but also knowing the best time to stretch is key. A number of people believe that stretching before practice is all that is necessary for an athlete.

First of all, the muscles should be warm before stretching occurs. A coach should have the players break a sweat, usually doing a soccer specific activity, and then do the stretching. To save some practice time, coaches might announce what will happen during the practice that day and/or review previous practices or competitions. One key mistake often made is over-stretching before practice. You want your athletes to have good range of motion for practice, but this is not the time to try to gain flexibility.

The best time for that is after practice or on their own time. Doing a cool down jog and stretch after training allows players to stretch again when their muscles are warm and helps reduce next day muscle soreness. It also gives the team time together and provides some relaxation prior to leaving practice. Individuals who need additional stretching to further increase flexibility can be advised to do stretching at home. It does not have to take up too much time because it can be done while doing other things, like watching TV. You should remind the players that they still must utilize proper stretching techniques, even at home. Even though children do not place as much demand on their body as older players, learning the value and the habit of stretching at an early age may aid in their success later on in their career.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sam's Blog - U10…have ball will travel? - Oct. 15

Sam’s Blog will be a weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer.

Recently a reader commented “…while our state association now allows U10 teams to travel our club has resisted. We made this decision because the pressure to win is ramped up when playing against other communities and this may retard the individual player’s development. Instead we continue to play in-house in small-sided games against their local friends with less emphasis to win, but more emphasis on skill development. Yet many parents say we should allow U10 travel since other communities do it. What’s your take on this?”

In a nutshell the less travel for the U10 age group the better. In some circumstances though traveling to another town to play is a necessity. This may be for the small soccer club with a small number of U10 teams. Or a club that’s geographically isolated from other soccer clubs may need to travel just to have games. However U10 teams should travel a maximum of 100 miles from the home club. Overnight stays should be avoided. Given the fact that soccer is a long term development sport gives us time to ease children into the rigors of competition on the road.

Aside from the need to teach them how to travel, behave well in a hotel, eat and rest properly when away from home in order to perform well, how to handle downtime between matches and so on we do the kids a disservice when we give it all to them early in their soccer careers. This is one of the symptoms of the too much-too soon syndrome from which many adults in youth soccer suffer. If they have been there and done that what is there to look forward to as they grow into their teens? Little wonder then that many 15-year-olds are already jaded about participating in tournaments and leagues. And this at an age when they should be the most involved and excited about competition.

The distances and time involved in team travel should be gradually expanded during a youngster’s career. At U6 and U8 everything is in-house. At U10 some travel could be allowed, short one day trips, but most play should continue to be in-house. At U12 travel to a tournament or two in state makes sense. At U14 travel within the region is fine. At U16 travel around the USA and perhaps one foreign trip too. Start off with foreign travel within CONCACAF. By U19 the world is your oyster and travel to soccer destinations anywhere on the globe makes sense.

By using a progressive plan of soccer tours for the growing player there is always a new horizon to be explored. Soccer is the world’s game and it will give our participants a chance to literally see the world. But let’s take it one step at a time!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

JT's Blog - Racist Words - Oct. 10

JT's Blog will be a weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. John Thomas "JT" is the Assistant Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer.

Topic: Racist Comments made by U-15 girl towards teammate.
Direction needed on how to handle by Soccer Club.

I think it would be an important starting point to discuss the dynamics of the different groups. Too often, any attempts to raise awareness about race relations, history, etc. are met with indifference and apathy by most because of the perception of modern equality.

Racism doesn’t manifest itself in ways similar to Jim Crow, slavery, etc. so it must not exist or exist to an extent worth getting worked up over, is what many folks (white and black) contend. So it comes as a surprise when it hits you in the face, “what did she say, I can’t believe it.” Believe it’s still out there.

What’s important is to have open discussion as to how it came about and how the person received the information for both sides to include family members of the player. Kids don’t normally make this stuff up by themselves. It comes from some source, knowing the source will help you to provide the needed education to those that need it.

I would then shift the conversation to explore (as briefly as possible) some of the more significant events that have shaped the way we view race in this country. Topics like the Civil War, “emancipation”, the Reconstruction, what is/was Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, the Little Rock nine, the current day Jena six. What is equality, what is respect?

As a wrap up, I would discuss the modern-day psychology of Black America culture. Why is it that the ‘n-word’ still has a lot of momentum and is hurtful? I would discuss the idea of personal responsibility versus social skills, and perhaps what is the urban plight.

I recognize how hard this might be considering that many adults haven’t really figured this out yet. I’m not trying to belittle children, but I’m not sure if they’ll completely have the faculty to process all of the above mentioned information. So I think that if you keep most of your discussion in modern-day context, you’ll be ok. This is not to say that you need to do some type of Hip Hop thing, but you might want to keep it simple. Diversity education will go a long way to assist with this issue. That’s what I think anyway. Don’t forget the Players Bill of Rights

US Youth Soccer, Players Bill of Rights:
Right of the Opportunityto Participate in Soccer Regardless of Ability Level
Right to Participate at a Level That Is Commensurate with Each Player’s Developmental Level
Right to Have Qualified Coaches
Right to Participate in Safe and Healthy Environments
Right of Each Child to Share in the Leadership and Decision-making of Their Soccer Participation
Right to Play As a Child and Not As an Adult
Right to Proper Preparation for Participation in Soccer
Right to an Equal Opportunity to Strive for Success
Right to Be Treated With Dignity by All Involved
Right to Have FUN Through

Implementation Plan
Soccer Club Organization

· Board of Directors, Coaches, Parents, Players, Board of Directors
· Accept the Players Bill of Rights
· Incorporate the Bill of Rights into the Clubs By-Laws or Constitution
· Support the Bill of Rights as a fundamental foundation for the Club
· Support the Bill of Rights as a fundamental aspect of their coaching program
· Communicate the Bill of Rights to the Parents and Players and Parents
· Embrace the Bill of Rights as a fundamental aspect of the player’s development
· Support the player’s, coaches and club by adhering to the Bill of Rights

Monday, October 8, 2007

Sam's Blog - Reviving the pickup game - Oct. 8

Sam’s Blog will be a weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer.

Whether you call it street soccer, a sandlot game, a kick-about or a pickup game -- this is the way that millions upon millions over many decades have learned to play soccer. While the pickup game has not disappeared in the USA, it is not used in soccer as it could be. There are millions of kids playing soccer in our country, so why do we not see pickup games at every turn?

There can be many reasons why so few pickup games happen in youth soccer. They include a sedentary lifestyle, the vacant lot doesn't exist any longer, even the design of neighborhoods nowadays means there is little or no yard on which to play, parents are reluctant to let their kids play away from home without adult supervision, soccer facilities are closed except for scheduled events, or the kids simply don't know how to organize a game.

There can be more reasons and some of the ones I've noted are beyond the direct control of most soccer coaches. But the one that is the most disturbing to me is that kids don't know how to organize their own games. How has it come to pass that kids can't throw down something to mark goals, pick teams and play?

Well part of the answer is that we coaches have taken the game away from the youngsters. We over-coach and we over-organize. Coaches, parents and administrators need to take a step back and give the game back to the players.

In the 1970s and the 1980s, coaches had to be a focal point of most soccer experiences since so many of the kids were just then being introduced to the game. Unlike today, there were very few televised soccer matches, and in many communities none at all.

Professional and college team were not nearly as prevalent as today, so a chance for a kid to go watch adults play the game was few and far between. Even to watch a World Cup match you had to go to a theater for closed-circuit TV to see a game. Consequently the coach had to demonstrate all of the ball skills, show players how to position themselves on the field and teach the rules.

While that's still true to an extent today, the models of how to play the game for a child to see are many. The coach no longer needs to be at the center of a novice's soccer experience. Now keep in mind that coaches are not alone in the need to give the game back to the players.

Our organization has been a double-edged sword for American soccer. The ability to organize has created teams, clubs and leagues. It has created from nothing soccer complexes that dot the land and in some cases are of quite high quality. The organization has provided for coaching and referee education that is very good. The game has grown tremendously over the last 35 years on the backs of volunteers for the most part. But the organization has a down side too. We adults meddle too much in the kids' soccer world. We plan everything! From uniforms for U6 players to select teams at U10, the adults are too involved. The kids don't know how to organize a pickup game because we have never let them.

OK, so good organization is an American trait. But what might be driving the compulsion to infiltrate adult organization into child's play?

As a sports nation we suffer from the "too much too soon" syndrome. Many adults involved in youth soccer want so badly to achieve success (superficially measured by the won/loss record and number of trophies collected) that they are bound to treat children as miniature adults. Unfortunately it is the adults who lack the patience to let the game grow within the child at its own pace.

In the National Youth License coaching course of the National Coaching Schools the idea of street soccer is presented. This is a way for the club to begin to give the game back to its rightful owners, the players. The club provides the fields and supervision for safety (but no coaching) to let the kids show up and play pick up games. Granted it's not as spontaneous as a neighborhood game, but it does provide a chance to play without referees, without coaches and without spectators.

This means the kids are free to learn how to organize themselves, solve disputes, become leaders, rule their own game, experiment with new skills, make new friends and play without the burden of results.

If the club wants to provide an even better fun-filled learning environment, then put out different types of balls to use in some of the games, encourage the kids to set up fields of different sizes, allow mixed age groups to play together and even co-ed games. The kids have a lot they can learn from each other. After all, players learning from players has produced Michele Akers, Pele, Johan Cruyff and many other world-class players. That same unencumbered environment has produced the multitudes who support the game.

When we adults give the game back to the players, in some small measure we are most likely to keep more players in the game for all of their lives and then the odds improve for the USA to produce its share of world class players. Youth soccer now lives in the culture it created over the last 30 years. Will we evolve?