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?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

JT's Blog - The FUNdamental Stage - Oct. 3

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.

Learning Fundamental Movement Skills (build overall motor skills)

Fundamental movement skills should be practiced and mastered before sport-specific skills are introduced. The development of these skills, using a positive and fun approach, will contribute significantly to future athletic achievements. Participation in a wide range of sports is also encouraged. This emphasis on motor development will produce players/athletes who have a better trainability for long-term, sport-specific development.

Fundamental movement skills are observable as locomotors, manipulative and stability skills. There are three stages of fundamental movement skill development: initial (2-3 years), elementary (4–5 years) and mature (6–7 years).

The “FUNdamental” phase should be well structured and fun! The emphasis is on the overall development of the player/athlete’s physical capacities and fundamental movement skills, and the ABC's of athleticism - Agility, Balance, Coordination and Speed. Participation in as many sports as possible is encouraged. Speed, power and endurance are developed using FUN games. Appropriate and correct running, jumping and throwing techniques are taught using the ABC's of athletics.

Linear, lateral and multi-directional speed should be developed and the duration of the repetitions should be less than 5 seconds. This is often called the ‘agility, quickness, changes of direction’ window. Again, fun and games should be used for speed training and the volume of training should be lower.

Strength training during this phase should include exercises using the child’s own body weight. Children should be introduced to the simple rules and ethics of sports. All programs are be structured and monitored with the emphasis on age appropriate activities. Activities will revolve around the school year and during summer and winter holidays, allow time off for the family and fun. Multi-sport camps are recommended rather than a preferred sport. Participation once or twice per week is recommended, but participation in other sports will be a plus and will be essential for future excellence. If the children later decide to leave the competitive stream, the skills they have acquired during the fundamental phase will still benefit them when they engage in recreational activities, which will enhance their quality of life and health.

Monday, September 24, 2007

JT's Blog - Coaching the Young Player - Sept. 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.

Anthony Cook was a member of the Pittsburgh US Youth Soccer National Youth License Course, hosted by Pennsylvania West State Soccer Association. We had a great discussion about the development of young players. Anthony then typed some of our conversation and some additional information that he feels is helpful and I want to share that will you.

Background on Anthony: In addition to coaching, he is a professional photographer for National Geographic. He stated in a newly published book by David Elkind, Power of Play, the author writes that in the last few years children have lost an average of 12 hours of play a week.

The approach today for introducing children to soccer is about taking soccer and discovering the game in the child. Soccer for the young player is about children having fun and playing. Coaching young soccer players is undertaken with the long-term goal of preparing the player to successfully recognize and solve challenges of the game on their own.

“Developmentally Appropriate” is a concept that is very important to grasp when developing the fundamental soccer skills of the young player. Developmentally appropriate is the term used to define young players “soccer age” when determining proper training activities. For children, learning the game of soccer is an ongoing process that can begin at a very early age and continue well into the teenage years. A coach should recognize, understand and be patient with the development of young players. A young player’s mental and physical health should be given primary consideration when training occurs. Children have limited capacities while performing certain activities, especially when comparing them to the behavior patterns of an adult. These limitations are dependent upon many things. Developmentally, an activity presented to the U-10 player is more than likely inappropriate for the U-6 player. There are different rates of maturity between genders. Physical and psychological differences between boys and girls become substantially apparent between boys and girls within the U-12 age group, while the U-6 and U-8 boys and girls are generally far more evenly matched physically and mentally while performing on the soccer field.

“The most important things that must be seen in youth soccer are those things that are unseen. We can not see/learn if we are in the middle barking orders all the time. We must stand back and simply observe once and awhile,” said Dr. Ron Quinn former coach at Xavier College.


Dr. Muska Mosston’s Slanty Line Theory is a concept that takes the traditional method of straight-line concepts as typified in the old rope game of high-water low-water, where the rope starts low to the ground where everyone can jump over it. As the rope is slowly raised by two children holding each end, children begin to be eliminated from the competition until only one is left on the field. The approach is counter productive in the development of young children because the ones that need the activity the most are eliminated first. If you take the rope and slant the rope where one end is lower than the other those children who want to run and jump and feel successful can do so. When the players feel comfortable they will seek new challenges. With this approach players participate at their own level and children of all levels can play together. Given opportunities, children seek out challenges and take risks. Children will not continue activities in which they are continually eliminated or wait to take turns. Games of exclusion use the straight line concept that excludes players from participation. Games of inclusion use the slanty-line approach and keep players involved in the activity.

Make an effort to select, design and provide training sessions or practices that motivate each player. Allow for more turns, increased ball contacts or touches, reduced down time between activities and select activities that allow everyone to play. Coaches should think about every training session and what they would like to accomplish. As a coach you may see your players only once or twice a week so it is important that you prioritize what you want your players to learn throughout the short season.

No Lines – No Lectures – No Laps

Drills vs. Activities
-To structured
-No thought
-Age inappropriate

-Less structured
-Free movement
-Decision making
-Age appropriate

“Readiness for sports is the match between a child’s level of growth, maturity and development, and the task demands presented in competitive sports” …. R. Malina

Under-6 Players:

Beginning with U-6, a proper and consistent methodology of training should be followed as a player grows and improves. U-6 children are usually very self-centered seeing and responding only to the here and now. For the most part they are interested in playing directly with the ball and kicking it – anywhere. Appropriate activities should be short in duration because the players will tire easily. However, they will recover quickly for the next activity. They have very little sense of space – back up a few feet, or spread out does not mean much to them. It is okay and natural for them to bunch around the ball. That is their focus at this stage of development. It is important to keep them active. Exploring motor skills is important emphasizing coordination, ball touches and dribbling activities. Cognitively, playing games using their imagination is critical and find activities that encourage one task problem solving. U-6 players process small bits of information. Development for the U-6 player requires substantial praising and play without pressure. Warm-up should include movement and soccernastics….

These are a few ideas for you to keep in mind when planning each practice session:
Kids want rules at U-6 and give everyone the same amount of time. Try to take any negative situation and turn it into a positive situation as it may develop on the field.

Under-6: Objective to provide an all around athletic experience. Emphasize dribbling … Dribbling is nothing more than passing the ball from one foot to the other. As they become more efficient dribbling the better they will be able to pass.

-Everyone has a ball

-Becoming comfortable with the ball dribbling

-Lots of movement like skipping, jumping, running, throwing and catching … there is ample time for them to learn eye to ball level skills

-Explore rolling and bouncing ball

-Games that teach dribbling and turning the ball with their feet

-Play small sided games of 3v3/4v4 – goals are not necessary, simply end lines

-Start them out in a shape like a diamond or triangle, however don’t become disturbed when it becomes a 1v6 match

-All activities should emphasize coordination – players at this age see the field one way with no

Under-8 Players:

Building the player’s skill level from previous experiences is an important goal for this age group. Self concept and body image are beginning to develop. They still have a great need for approval from adults. They are still very sensitive and they dislike personal failure in front of peers. Line drills tend to set kids up for failure in front of their peers. They like to show what they can do with individual skills. True playmates begin to emerge with an inclination toward pairs activities. Their attention span is a bit longer than the U-6 age group. They still lack a sense of pace so they will go hard and tire quickly. At this age effort equals ability in their mind. They have limited experience with personal evaluation so effort is synonymous with performance. Focus on effort – not the result.
In training keep in mind that they have a limited ability to tend to more than one task at a time. They are just beginning to grasp the concept of time and space. They hear how you say something not always what you say.

Under-8 Training:

-Introduce partner activities. Add more maze activities and target games

-Develop the first (controlling) touch

-Teach them to open “out” when receiving the ball (not trapping) on the ground

-Games that teach dribbling with the head up, turning and keeping the ball away from opponent

-Passing in two’s - done in motion, not static
-Playing 3v1 games and learning to support the player that has the ball

-Teach shape, not positions. 3v3 is a triangle, 4v4 is a diamond

-If an elimination game is played have the player that has been eliminated do a couple of star-jumps or something similar then re-enter the field of play – keep them all active

-Conclude with small-sided games of 4v4 with two goals

-They like (need) to be recognized for good performance

Every now and then it’s great to hear what the candidates have learned in class and are able to express not only on paper but to others face to face. Thanks Anthony for your hard work!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sam's Blog - Set Plays - Sept. 10

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.

A US Youth Soccer member coach passed along these comments and questions not long ago and I thought the topic would be of interest to many of our youth coaches of teenaged players across the country.

I'm currently working on the importance of free kicks in youth soccer. While getting my C license a few years back, my instructor mentioned that up to 80 percent of goals scored at the college level are scored on free kicks. Now add to this David Beckham's popularity and specialty (think "Bend it like Beckham"). Clearly they're important.

What emphasis do you, and/or your organization put on free kicks?

How important do you rate the need to be successful and execute properly during a free kick/set play?

As far as instruction or education, what do you stress to your coaches?

When evaluating a US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program player, does his or her ability to take free kicks or performance on set plays (perhaps heading, positioning, off the ball awareness) affect selection or rating?

Do you recommend young players developing skills or qualities that can be especially utilized during set pieces?

Obviously heading and positioning are important in all aspects of the game, but what about say, the ability to curl/bend a ball from a dead ball position, recognizing a mismatch in set piece marking, be it the kick taker or a target man?

Hi Coach,

Thank you for your question and the opportunity to communicate with more of our coaches across the country. Certainly set plays/free kicks are an important part of player, and eventually team, development. The player development part must come first since the most important part of a free kick ultimately is how well is the ball struck. No matter how many players are involved in the play only one will make the final strike at goal. So to begin the journey towards team set plays the coach must first develop the ball skills of the individual players. This is the part that I believe is overlooked as too many coaches are too anxious and put the team before the player.

Once we do start to give some thought to set plays the underlying concept for every age group is K.I.S.S. That is Keep It Simple Stupid…never make the set plays overly elaborate. Simplicity, coming back to that individual ball skill, if the most important principle of a set play for success.

As an organization we put more emphasis on the skill development than on the rehearsal of set plays. If the technique is good then the ability to execute a free kick is improved; having said that certainly Under-14 and older teams should devote time in the player development curriculum to practicing set plays.

As to the selection of a player in the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program based on his or her free kick abilities it is not high on the list. More important is the player’s skill level and overall tactical awareness. If the player is good in those areas then in the short time that the US Youth Soccer ODP player and coach are together a free kick can be planned.

Yes, the ability to bend the ball is important and we do want to teach that skill to our players for both shooting and passing. Teaching the technique of bent balls with the inside of the foot begins in a simple way at Under-12 and continues to be refined in the years thereafter. Outside of the foot bent balls could be taught beginning at Under-14. However it is likely that these techniques will be refined until the player reaches adolescence since bending a ball takes power and acceleration in the leg/striking foot.

As to the awareness of mismatches on the set play for the attacking team to exploit I contend that it is indicative of the player’s overall tactical awareness and mental concentration. Mental awareness is taught in a simple form beginning at Under-6 and is reinforced in every age group thereafter. Certainly the expectations of mental alertness become higher as the player ages.

There were follow up questions too.

I appreciate the extensive response to my query. I have just two quick follow up questions, and it may be easier to answer them if you break up the questions in two ways, 1.) Your recommendations to coaches, 2) Your and the US Youth Soccer ODP's coaching strategies: When it comes to games, after you have selected a team, do you recommend/use one set piece taker, and the same list of players that are usually involved in set pieces? Or do you recommend/use multiple takers and participators in set plays?

Once the team is Under-16 and older, I tend to have a set number of players that are involved in set plays. Prior to that age, I try to involve a variety of players throughout the soccer year so that they can experience being part of a set play and to learn from the experience. Until a coach exposes the players to the various roles in a variety of set play situations the coach will not know who may respond the best to those situations. For example it is not always the center forward who is best at taking penalty kicks.

Once they are 16 years old and older then the most important person in a set play is the one striking the ball. For example the most important person in a corner kick is the person actually serving the ball from the corner arc. If the ball is not sent in at the right height, pace, angle and curve then the runners in the penalty area will have little chance at being first to the ball and striking at goal. The most famous example of this was Argentina back a few years when Diego Maradona took their corner kicks. Here was one of the best goal scorers in the world serving in the corner kick because he was the best player for the job. What did it matter if Maradona was in the penalty area when his team took a corner kick if the ball was not delivered to him correctly?

The answer to both of your questions in a nutshell is technique. The player(s) with the best technique should be the ones involved in a set play.

Friday, September 7, 2007

JT's Blog - For the love of the game - Sept. 7

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.

Why can’t we do more of these events? On August 24-26, I flew to San Jose, Calif., to present four different small-sided games clinics for Youth Soccer Month (Sept). The theme of the day was “For the Love of the Game”. The event was held in Union City, Calif. There were a lot of kids and parents out to just have some fun but they really weren’t sure what to expect. There wasn’t going to be any coaching of the players or parents telling players what and when to do anything, so for the parents and the coaches, what was there to do? How about simply enjoy the kids playing. There were a lot of smiles and running and kids making decisions about what to do in a free flowing game that seemed to be fun.

This event was organized by Evert Glenn, an US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP) coach and staff instructor for the California Youth Soccer Association-North. This event was a trial outing of a proposed event series to be run in conjunction with the California Youth Soccer Association-North Recreation Committee called “For the Love of the Game”. It’s a day of soccer dedicated to bringing local college coaches and players together with recreational youth coaches and players in a relaxed free-flowing, non-competitive environment.

The small-sided games are played 3v3 though 6v6 on appropriate field sizes. Pick-up games occurred from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The games were short with no scores being kept. Coaches and any upper-level players were mixed in with recreational players of all ages except the U8 age group, for safety reasons.

The secondary theme of this event was small-sided games, which I trained four different groups of players and coaches ages Under-6, Under-8, Under-10 and Under-12. I saw joy and fun being had by all. However please note, CYSA-N was one of the first states to use small sided games as a training tool but coaching education is always to the benefit of the players being coached. There were recreational coaches and competitive coaches in attendance of each training session of my small-sided games demonstrations.

The fields were located at Cesar Chavez Middle School in Union City, Calif. The complex had three full grass fields and ample side areas for other activities. There were more than adequate comfort facilities and volunteers from the local soccer community who offer concessions items and music for the youth and parents listening pleasure.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

JT's Blog - Soccer Skills - August 29

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.

The week of August 11, I taught at the National Youth License course at the University of Pittsburgh, Greensburg, with Dr. Ron Quinn and Paul Halford, the Director of Coaching for PA West.

It was the thirteenth course completed this year. The candidates came from PA West, Eastern Pennsylvania, New York and Wisconsin. I look forward to hearing great things from them. One of the main themes that continued coming up from the candidates was the discussion of skills of former youth players that are coaching today and how to develop them as coaches. Here are some great tools you can use:

The most important soccer skills to teach children” from the excellent Soccer-Coach-L manual.

Soccer players need a lot of different skills, and it does not matter for most of these skills whether you teach Skill A or Skill B first. However, there are some skills that are absolute "must-haves" for any player and are so important that you probably will want to teach them first.

Dribbling the ball is arguably the most important soccer skill at any level. Practice activities should encourage all young players to dribble and stop and turn the ball with different surfaces and to move in different directions with the ball under control.

Basic Coaching Concepts for Players Under the Age of Nine Individual Technical and Tactical Issues for U-7’s and U-8’s”, by Tom Turner, Ohio Youth Soccer Association-North Director of Coaching and Player Development

Most young players have little or no visual awareness of their immediate surroundings, and, in particular, the proximity of teammates and opponents not directly in front of them. Receiving passes when facing away from the opponent’s goal is a difficult skill, even for accomplished players, and most children will not look up until they have received the ball, secured possession, and turned to face forward. Often, young players will simply let the ball run past them into what they hope will be open space.

Young players should not be restricted in their movements on the field and moving should become a natural extension of passing. Passing to other players should be expected and encouraged at age eight and up, although dribbling the ball is the most likely method of advancing the ball. Instruction that limits players to a particular area of the field does not allow for the natural emergence of supporting positions and angles that become so important for positional play in later years.

The Most Important Skills To Teach”, from the Coaching Manual.

Basic ball-holding skills (receiving and shielding); basic ball-stealing skills (defense); and basic take-on skills (attacking). Most kids naturally seem to have a few basic defensive skills, even if they were never formally taught. The other two areas require instruction to accomplish with even minimal competency, so there is a good argument to start first with ball-holding skills; move next to take-on skills; and then to get to ball-stealing skills. What do you think?

Should young players learn ball-holding before take-on skills? Once you get possession, the other side is going to try to take the ball back. If you can hang on to the ball under pressure, you'll have time to make better decisions (including finding an open teammate to pass the ball to). Also, if you are confident that you can hold the ball, you are less likely to blindly whack it away and let someone else worry about it (a technique commonly known as "passing the responsibility rather than the ball" or the "hot-potato phenomenon"). What are ball-holding skills? Most folks refer to them as receiving and shielding skills.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sam's Blog - Running in Soccer - August 27

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.

A coach (and president of the club) wrote to me recently with this message:
I was wondering if I can get your advice on a situation. My daughter's Under-14 select soccer team coach often makes the team run laps or sprints after a match. I feel like there is no purpose in this and to me it doesn't help them. Can you tell me what is your point of view of running laps or sprints after a match?

Here's my reply:

There really is no good purpose to run laps or sprints after a match. If the coach feels the team needs to be disciplined, which is the usual reason for sprints after a match, then there are better ways to discipline the team. Furthermore, if the players have run hard in the match then running afterwards is detrimental to their physical recovery.

Here's the full article...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sam's Blog - Coaching DVD Shoot - August 21

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.

Over the past weekend video footage was shot for a new DVD that US Youth Soccer will release in February. The DVD is on basic ball skills for the Under-6 to the Under-14 age groups. The coaches featured in the DVD are Rick Meana, Director of Coaching for the New Jersey Youth Soccer Association, Brian Pitts, Director of Coaching for the South Dakota Youth Soccer Association, John Thomas, Assistant Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer and Karla Thompson, Director of Soccer Operations for the Arizona Fury.

Mother Nature smiled on us as the rain stayed away and highs in only the 80s prevailed. A great group of kids worked really hard to get onto film visual examples of techniques that must be the base to playing soccer. Some of the skills filmed were deflections, chip pass, heading to score, dribbling, receiving, tackling and more. Basic movements for Under-6 and Under-8 were also filmed. These physical movements are the foundations to refined ball skills in latter years. Some of the movements that will be in the DVD are balance, hopping, jumping and agility and again many more are demonstrated.

The DVD will show each skill in regular speed, then in slow motion, then in regular speed again and all from three different camera angles. A game clip from teenaged players will show how the skill will develop over the years and be used in matches. Following the game clip will be an activity that a coach could conduct in a training session to bring out that particular skill in the players.

The US Youth Soccer Recreation Committee, the Coaching Committee and the coaches who worked on the DVD feel the product will be useful to many coaches across the United States. In fact they think the DVD can help not only the novice coach but also the coach who has grown up playing the game and can demonstrate the skills, but may not know how to break them down in order to teach them to someone else.

An extensive technical manual has also been written with all of the coaching points for each skill along with the diagrams and details on each training activity. The DVD will first go on public sale at the 2008 US Youth Soccer adidas Workshop in Pittsburg on February 8, 2008.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Sam's Blog - Observing Game-like Activities - August 20

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.

Some people see only the surface when observing game-like activities. They see only soccer camp type games that they associate with killing time. Yet when the layers are peeled away it is clear that there is quite a bit of depth to what appears to be a simple activity.
It’s even easier to dismiss the activity when it doesn’t look like the things that professional players do at their training sessions; that the soccer implication is not immediately obvious. So let’s take one of these game-like activities and peel away the layers one at a time and see what the implications for the game are.

…just a camp game or something more?

Some people see only the surface when observing game-like activities. They see only soccer camp type games that they associate with killing time. Yet when the layers are peeled away it is clear that there is quite a bit of depth to what appears to be a simple activity. It’s even easier to dismiss the activity when it doesn’t look like the things that professional players do at their training sessions; that the soccer implication is not immediately obvious. So let’s take one of these game-like activities and peel away the layers one at a time and see what the implications for the game are.

In the activity DRAW two players stand facing one another with a ball between them. They stand with their feet squared and flat. On the coach’s call of DRAW they try to be the first one to use the sole of the foot and pull the ball back to them. The players keep their score and after a certain number of rounds or a set amount of time the coach asks the players their scores.

Sometimes if the coach calls out a word that sounds similar to DRAW and a player pulls the ball away then that player loses a point. As many rounds as the players care to play can be done. Now that you have the procedure and rules for the activity let’s dissect it. We’ll use the four components of the game to dissect the activity.

Fitness: improvement will be seen with balance, agility, and foot speed and eye-foot coordination
Technique: the skill to manipulate the ball using the sole of the foot will improve
Tactics: reading partner’s body language to anticipate action or reaction is improved
Psychology: mental focus and alertness to the coach’s call and to the partner’s
movement; rebound ability has a chance to improve in between each round; mental toughness whether winning or losing a round

This is a fun way to start a training session scrimmage sometimes too. Do have some fun with the game too and call out LAW or PAW just to goof a little, which can have a positive impact on team building.

DRAW is a relatively simple activity meant to improve competitiveness among the players as well as achieving improvement in the components described above. Yet even in this one simple activity it can be seen that there is more than meets the eye.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

JT's Blog - Soccer Fitness - August 8

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.

You may or may not know that we at US Youth Soccer’s Coaching Department are asked to review books, articles, websites and videos. I thought I would share some of the comments from the Fitnessforsoccer.com. In reviewing this site, I found that it provided some very good information on several topics. Highlighted are five areas of concern from the Fitness for Soccer website.

Soccer Stretches Dynamic warm up exercises should be the staple for every soccer practice warm up. However, knowing which sequence and which stretches and movement patterns are best for your soccer players can make all the difference. We already know quality of movement and movement speed are some of the secrets to soccer success. However, the flexibility of individual players can have a significant impact on their ability to move on the field as well as protect themselves from injury. Another important issue is how players warm up before practice, before critical games and what they do before and after exercise can either add value or detract from their results. All too often I see players spending way too much time performing static stretch (holding a stretch for more than 2-3 seconds). While this may have a place in the role of warm-up, research has shown this can tire out your nervous system and pre-fatigue a muscle. The result is that the player can start the game feeling flat and result in a greater chance of injury.’

Mental Coaching Playing to your full potential and achieving your best effort in soccer performance must involve a comprehensive approach. Our philosophy is to “prepare your body…prepare your mind…to play your best”. Gaining a mental edge over your competition has to do with unlocking the true power of your mind. If you are feeling frustrated with your exercise plan or current level of play, count on this library of articles to pull you through to another level. No matter where your difficulties lie, whether they are with stress reduction, emotional control, game strategies, mental imagery, breaking out of your comfort zone or mental preparation, inspiration and guiding force to motivate you to your best soccer performance ever.

Sports Nutrition Championship performance begins with making great nutritional choices. What are the best snacks before play or practice? Are there foods that can help my performance during play? Whether you need to change your body composition by losing body fat and/or gaining lean muscle or just learn how to fuel your body properly to optimize your performance on the field. Remember that mentally your brain needs to stay conditioned to tell your body what to do. So, which foods produce champions and which foods can hinder play?

Soccer Fitness What about agility drills, soccer specific balance and deceleration and transitional movement training? Deceleration training is as critical as acceleration techniques. Remember that soccer players decelerate quickly as they approach the ball and then quickly change direction! Learning how to decelerate quickly could give your players a very significant tactical advantage.

Soccer Injuries Imagine feeling pain in your low back every time you play, getting sidelined with an ACL injury, a hamstring pull or groin injury. The passion you feel for the game is sometimes overwhelming yet the idea of not being able to play due to an injury can be devastating, not only for yourself but for your team. Learning how to manage and treat injuries, how to know when something is serious and how to take care of your body and protect it form injury is the secret to longevity and consistent, powerful performance is key.

What are your comments of this information, would it help you to have more understanding of this information?

Monday, August 6, 2007

Sam's Blog - Numbers - August 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.

What’s up with that?

While walking around a soccer park this weekend watching youth and adult amateur matches I noticed again a goalkeeper wearing 00. OK, I’ll admit up front that I am a soccer traditionalist in some ways. I think that soccer shoes should be black, that coaches should tuck in their shirt and that jersey numbers should be traditional whenever possible. With apologies to Jaime Moreno, but 99 is not a soccer number. Yes I know I don’t have a leg to stand on with this argument since even in the Mexican first division players have jersey numbers like 142 for crying out loud. Perhaps it was their try-out number from ODP.

Maybe I’m hung up on the traditional jersey number thing because of fighting the battles for years to get soccer accepted as a “real” sport. One small aspect of that fight was that soccer numbers were 1-18. Goalkeepers wore numbers 1 and 18 and field players wore numbers 2-17. Now that college teams and even professional teams have rosters in the twenties stopping the numbering at 18 does not make sense. However 00 is not even a number. Mathematicians take it easy I know that 0 is a number, but we’re talking about people here. You’re a zero is a slander. Why on Earth would a coach let a player be less than zero? Come on give the kid a number.

We can call it a soccer field instead of a pitch or we can call it a baseball field instead of a diamond. We can call it a soccer ball instead of a football, despite the obvious reason why it really is a football. We can call it a soccer game instead of a match. We can call it practice even though when it’s done correctly it becomes a training session. We can even call it recreational when in fact it is all competitive. But we must give the player who is already somewhat separated from the rest of the team a number.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sam's Blog - Paid Coaching - July 31

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.

As we continue to grow and evolve as a soccer nation the professionalism of our coaches must leap forward. A growing number of people are making a part time or full time living at coaching youth soccer. This is fine as the number of kids playing the game increases we need to provide for their development within the game. Yet the standards accepted by the soccer public for the paid coaches are too low.

Parents who enroll their child in a soccer club should expect that the coaches have some qualification to coach. This is must be more than simply having played the game. The coaches must have formal coaching certification. They should be required by the club’s board of directors to have been educated in child development. Indeed for the paid coaches more than the desire to coach must be expected of them. This all goes back to the question of whose coaching our kids that I brought up in a previous blog entry. Now I want to address the professional behavior of these coaches.

One issue of professional behavior is the respect and communication between the coaches. Far too often coaches hear rumors about what some other coach has done at another club. Rather than picking up the phone and giving that coach a call as a professional courtesy the rumor is accepted at face value. The reaction frequently is to believe the rumor and a knee jerk reaction takes place. This usually results in a tit-for-tat sequence of exchanges between the two coaches or even the two clubs. This is no ones interest and only hurts the reputation of the club. Even worse is the black eye given to our sport. And worst of all is when the players are caught in the middle. The adults involved in youth soccer are meant to set the proper examples of not only good sporting behavior, but also adult behavior. We, especially the coaches, are role models to the players. It matters not if a coach accepts or denies this truth; it is a truth!

We teach the players to respect the game and to respect the opponents. So the coaches must live up to their own expectations. Respect for others in the game doesn’t stop at the technical area. Coaches must work together, regardless of the organization for which they work, to further the game in our country. The good health of soccer depends greatly upon the civil communication among the adults leading the game. So come on coaches pick up the phone and talk to your colleagues!

JT's Blog - What Athletes Should be Drinking - July 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.

I spent time in Indianapolis, Indiana, working with the Director of Coaching for Indiana, Vince Ganzberg. I was invited to assist him with training Under-9 in their new academy. I also had an opportunity to speak to the club to DOC’s and club presidents and others. The weather was hot but the players seem to having a great time. But the heat reminded me of an article I read some time ago but I believe is still great information for coaches today. The article was written by Amanda C. Livingston, of the National Center for Sports Safety, she discussed what athletes and coaches should understand about hydration.

Since every athlete would rather spend more time in competition rather than sitting on the sidelines, it's important to consider the kind of fluid used for fluid replacement.

The winning formula for athletes includes drinking fluids that have: carbohydrates, electrolytes, flavor, and a cool temperature. When athletes are exercising and sweaty, water is OK, but it just isn't enough.

There are several reasons why sports drinks are better than water for exercising athletes: water doesn't have the performance benefits, lacks flavor, "turns off" thirst too soon, and doesn't have electrolytes.

What is it about a sports drink that fuels performance? Carbohydrates are the key ingredient because they supply energy for working muscles. Carbohydrates also improve taste, stimulate fluid absorption and enhance athletic performance. It is important to make sure that the drink has an amount of carbohydrates that does not slow fluid delivery.

Electrolytes (minerals such as sodium) are essential in helping athletes avoid dehydration. Having electrolytes in sports drinks provides a number of benefits to athletes such as to encourage drinking, replacing electrolytes lost in sweat, and helping to maintain fluid balance.

Sodium is the main electrolyte lost through sweat, but it doesn't take a lot of sodium to make a sports drink effective. Sports drinks are formulated to replace the small amount of potassium that is also lost through sweat.

Research shows that athletes prefer a beverage that is likely sweetened and lightly flavored when they exercise or get hot and thirsty. The carbohydrate, sodium, potassium and flavoring in sports drinks all encourage consumption and help athletes avoid dehydration.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

JT's Blog - Forget about Scholarships for a While - July 19

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.

This past weekend, I participated in the North Texas Youth Soccer Association’s Annual General Meeting. I was afforded an opportunity to perform two field sessions and two classroom sessions.

In one of the class room session called Win or lose, we discussed parents and coaches thoughts on youth players and scholarship for them. Many of the participants discussed parents who believed that the earlier they started their child playing soccer, the better chance they would have to obtain that scholarship offer in the future. Coaches sometime joke about starting to scout for players at under two, but for the most part it’s all in fun. Let’s hope we don’t go there.

As a soccer parent or coach, you may be setting yourself up for a disappointment if you start expecting a return on your investment because of the money and time that you have spent on training and games. From a financial standpoint, you are much better off taking the money you spent on your child’s training and travel activities and investing it directly in a fund for their college. A less risky investment approach is to think of enjoying time with your child. The good and bad news about youth travel soccer is that a great deal more time is spent traveling and waiting than actually playing the games. This means that you will be afforded the luxury of having huge chunks of time with your child. That is wonderful.

You can make some wonderful memories out of that time together. That time together and the money spent will probably be easier to deal with if you don’t view your child’s soccer training and games as a ticket to their (and your) future. If your child is to be a collegiate or professional athlete, it will most likely happen but not because you made it happen. It will happen because of their athletic ability. In the meantime and in the not so distant future, you may not have as many opportunities to hang out with your child. Remember the hours you spend with them can sometimes go by so slow, but the years seem to go by so fast.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sam's Blog - The Game is Back - July 16

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 just spent the weekend in Kenner, Louisiana, just west of New Orleans; it is where the city’s airport is located. I conducted some coaching sessions during the Louisiana Soccer Association’s AGM. I worked as that state association’s Director of Coaching for 10 years and so many of the folks attending the AGM I already knew. It was good to see some old friends and to contribute to the coaching education for the state again.

The visit afforded me the opportunity to also talk to soccer folks who live in the area of southeast Louisiana about how daily life and soccer are making a comeback after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. We still hear from the national media from time-to-time how recovery is progressing, but we seldom hear from the people who are living the experience and rarely from our soccer family. So here are some of their insights to what happened during the hurricane and how soccer is slowly getting back on track.

Those who live in Orleans Parish and St. Bernard Parish (east New Orleans) suffered the most form the hurricane and flooding. But other communities to the west and north of New Orleans were hit hard by the hurricane too. Some of those who work in soccer as administrators, coaches or referees had their homes flooded and significantly damaged by the hurricane.

One coach I know who lived in the city had to use an ax to chop a way out of the attic for he and his wife when the flooding rose and rose. They were evacuated by a Coast Guard helicopter. One family having had their home destroyed and no water or electricity in their community went west to Baton Rouge and lived there for a while in the state association soccer office. In many cases soccer families from the devastated areas went and lived with other soccer families in other parts of the state, in some cases for two or more months until they could return to their destroyed homes.

They are now rebuilding not only their homes, but their soccer clubs too. One part of the aftermath of major hurricanes is that sports fields get used to store materials during the immediate recovery. This happened in Florida two years earlier when they suffered through four hurricanes in one month and also in Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana after Katrina and Rita. Soccer fields, and other open fields, are used to place knocked down trees until they can be cut up and moved.

In the case of the New Orleans Soccer Academy (NOSA) many of their fields had FEMA trailers on them, up until two weeks ago. The club has suffered in numbers as only four teams are currently in the club as they city population slowly comes home and as facilities become available.

NOSA has fields on the campus of the University of New Orleans and most of them are on the east campus near a building known as the Pope’s Altar, so named because Pope John Paul once conducted a sermon there for 10,000 people spread over the soccer fields surrounding the building. Those fields have just now become available to the club to use again after the FEMA trailers have been moved.

The soccer family from across the nation came together and donated goals, uniforms, balls, you name it and it has helped leaders in the Gulf Coast region to provide the game once again for those living in the communities. Clubs in other states took in the players and most have now returned home. In many, many ways you reached out and supported your soccer family. I know from those who lived through it all that they greatly appreciate all that has been done. The beautiful game is back!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

JT's Blog - Win or lose, is that it? - July 12

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.

When you become a soccer coach or parent coach, you take an oath to always be there for the kids. Win or lose, you will love them. Win or lose, you will respect them. Win or lose, you will accept them with all of their strengths and limitations. The coach can even be more supportive than marriage at times, because a child can’t go out and look for more supportive coaches.

When we take on the oath as a coach, we must do it with patience and a clear understanding of who we are coaching. This is where attending a US Youth Soccer course would assist and guide you in your dealings with the players. Some of us might need to overcome bad habits on the sidelines just as our children may need to overcome bad habits on the field. But our motivation for improvement should be very high considering what’s at stake. As a coach, we need to look at our player’s well being. Our goal should be to guide their athletic experiences that will bring out the best in them. We can’t expect every player and their playing experiences to help them adapt and make changes easily.

Part of your job is to work on bringing you and your team closer. Winning and losing are part of that learning experience. Sometimes it’s hard to get the players to understand that losing can be a positive thing. This is not easy, but it can be done. If we look at the big picture within the game, we should always be able to find some bright points about almost any soccer game your team has played. If you are coaching for the player’s development and not just for the win, any game you play should bring you closer to the team. You are not alone. You are sharing the sidelines with millions of others, including myself. Please take advantage of those of us who you may consider a role model for you to follow.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Sam's Blog - Parent Meeting - July 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.

Now that a new soccer year is just around the corner coaches will need to prepare for the meetings with the parents of the players. Any number of items will need to be discussed and some of the items will depend upon the age group of the players. Training session and match schedule is information for every age group as is the location of fields. Health and safety matters will be another common thread for every age. Some issues though will be somewhat age specific. For the coaches and team managers of the Under-6 and Under-8 teams who is bringing the post game snacks is more important than it will be to the staff for the Under-17 team. In a few instances some big decisions will need to be made at these pre-season meetings. Such is the case of one coach as you can read below:

“I recently met with the parents of our Under-12 boy’s team to discuss what division they would be participating in the fall. The team was invited to play at a more competitive level by our youth association. Two dads sent out an email taking it upon themselves to make sure the boys would stay at the lower division due to the fact that if they move up they are in danger of not winning any games for the season. The team was in the top four places in their age bracket and I assured them that their children would benefit by playing at a higher level even though we did not win the division. The parent’s final stance is that when they win the division then they can move their children up to play at the higher level. Am I wrong to allow our kids to stay at the lower division and have success or would playing up hinder the children’s development or stifle their love for the game?”

The Under-12 age group is a crucial one in player development and a transitional age group. Kids in this age group begin to have distinctly different aspirations within the game. Here’s how I replied to the coach’s questions.

By this age, 12 years old, the players need to begin making decisions that fit their individual needs. Some of those kids may have the talent and drive to play in that next competitive level as offered by your association. Others may be better suited to stay at the current level of competition. In any case, the entire team likely will not stay together as a unit. Just as in school at this age some kids in the same grade begin to be on slightly different academic tracks with the classes they take at school. They are still part of the same school and the same grade, but their classes are fitting their current academic needs. In soccer too, they will still be part of the same club and age group but in different teams (class) and at different levels of play (curriculum) to fit their current needs.

Friday, July 6, 2007

JT's Blog - Making a Save May Save Your Game - July 6

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.

Which player on the team wears a different uniforms from the rest in a soccer game and why?

Mainly it's to tell the goalkeepers from the field players. During a game, the goalkeeper certainly stands out. He or she will get the credit for a brilliant save and most of the blame for a goal being scored against the team. It can be awfully lonely if you make a mistake in goal. When a field player makes a mistake, the consequences aren’t nearly as bad. If the field players didn't make all of their mistakes the keepers job would be easy, but is that how it normally goes?

The padded shirts, gloves and padded shorts help protect the goalkeeper. The best protection for the goal is good old fashion practice. The most important tool for the keeper is his or her hands. No matter how good you are at all of the other goalkeeping skills, sooner or later your hands will let you down if you have a problem holding onto the ball.

You may not be able to stop every shot that comes your way, but if you make the attempt, you will stop shots you never before thought possible. Your teammates will gain confidence in you because they know you’ll try for everything that comes your way, and on the times that you just happen to miss, they’ll forgive and forget.

Keepers should as often as possible, use their feet to get their body behind the flight of the ball creating a second barrier to the goal, just in case the first barrier (the hands) lets you down. Try to stay on your feet because once a goalkeeper has committed to go to the ground he or she is basically out of the game. The longer you stay on your feet and delay the opposition player, the more you put pressure on him to make a mistake. Only go to the ground when you know you are going to get the ball or a piece of it.

Do not anticipate, react or fall back instead keep your shape. If a goal is scored against you, a corner kick is given up, or the shot is a near miss, do not yell at your teammates, hang your head, kick the ground or the goal post even if it was your fault. Be a leader in one of the most important position on the field.

Sam's Blog - Soccer Shoes - July 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.

A soccer coach must be able to advise his or her players, and their parents, on a number of aspects about the beautiful game. The advice concerns on the field performance to off the field factors that influence player development and therefore performance. Advice may be on something as paramount to both performance and health as proper hydration and sports nutrition to remembering to dry off between the toes after bathing to reduce the likelihood of athlete’s foot. Or the guidance may be about player equipment. What to look for when buying shin guards or goalkeeper gloves or most importantly for all soccer players the shoes.

Every player needs a proper pair of soccer shoes to play the game comfortably and effectively. Yet the parents, who frequently have not played the game themselves, need the coach’s advice on what to look for in a good soccer shoe, how to break them in and how to take care of them. While this piece of coaching may not seem as interesting to novice coaches as team formations or how to swerve a shot on goal it is a practical reality of daily life for all players. The coach, particularly at the youth level, may be the first source of correct information for the player on their equipment. While teaching players and parents how to clean and polish soccer shoes is a bit more mundane than teaching the players how to execute an overlap it is a crucial part of effective coaching.

So here’s a sample question from a soccer dad and my response.

“Dear Sir, maybe you can help me. I have a question about soccer cleats. My son play defense and I’m thing about buying him cleats that have metal studs. Is this a good idea? Also what is the difference? He is using rubber cleats right now. Also what is a good cleat to get for a defenses player? Also does the round stud make any difference? Thank you for your help.”

Whether or not to get your son shoes with metal studs depends on his age. Prior to puberty we recommend that players use multi-studded shoes. Prior to adolescence they should wear molded cleat shoes. Once they have hit adolescence, roughly 15-years-old, then they can look into getting screw-in studs shoes. The reason is that the metal studded shoe digs deeper into the turf and to turn or pivot now means the athlete must have the necessary torque to turn and tear the turf. If the player doesn’t have that kind of muscle power the leg will turn, but the foot stays planted and then the likelihood of a sprained ankle increases.

Since the field the players are on is the same for all players, regardless of position in the team, they can all wear the same type of shoes. There is no need in soccer for players to tailor the shoe type by position. The shoe type is more a personal preference.

Here are links to more advice on buying soccer shoes:

So coaches’ part of out craft is knowing about a large number of things that impact our players. Be prepared to give good advice on footwear and foot care!