Monday, February 26, 2007

Sam's Blog - No Three-year-olds Please

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.

Three-year-olds are not ready for the social situation of playing with others. Indeed it is not likely that they play with a single friend at home. Most play by a 3-year-old is alone. Others may be nearby when they play but they do not play cooperatively. Physically a 3-year-old has been walking for only about a year. To ask the child to now run and kick a ball while other children also try to kick the same ball is beyond their physical abilities. Socially a 3-year-old is not adept at sharing toys and the ball is a toy. It is naïve of adults to think U6 children will share the toy on the field (passing). A 3-year-old does not yet understand game, much less team versus team. Indeed even a game of patty cake between parent and child can be a challenge.

Parallel play is when children play alongside each other. They do not necessarily interact as they play. Often adults will look at these youngsters and comment how nicely they are playing together, in other words they are not fighting with each other. Young children do not play together they play next to one another. Each child is engaged in his own game and is not sharing or cooperative in a game.

In soccer this is most evident in the U6 age group and still occurs to a lesser degree in U8 soccer. Players in these age groups swarm around and after the ball because it is the only “toy” on the field. They have not learned well the social skill of sharing. Hence passing the ball occurs by happenstance.

This social/emotional reality of children in the U6 and U8 age groups needs to be explained to the parents as well as the coaches. All of the adults surrounding the field when these age groups are playing soccer must realize that these children are not small adults. Just because we adults have put them in uniforms and call the group a team does not mean they will behave like an adult team. Indeed why should the children suddenly display the social skill of sharing (in soccer we call this passing) when they do not yet truly display that talent in any other setting. Just because they have stepped onto a soccer field doesn’t mean they will now leap forward many years in their psychosocial development.

Children aged two to seven are in the egocentric stage of cognitive and emotional development. This stage between the ages of two and seven is a transition between purely individualized behavior and the socialized play that follows. The child’s pleasure in this stage is derived from participating in a group. Preschoolers enjoy playing in the presence of others (parallel play), even though they may not always watch or interact with them. However, there is no real interest in competition or winning.

And so this occurs in training sessions for U6 players. The coach must set up numerous activities where the players are together, but still involved in individual play. This holds true still for U8 players, but the coach can successfully get the players into pair’s activities too. First graders participate in parallel play with other students and tend to be more involved in individual activities than in interaction with others. They continue to learn in groups but participate as individuals.

Parallel play and learning to share with others are the developmental milestones children master at this stage. Thus, they need encouragement to share and approval for trying that activity. It is important for early childhood coaches and administrators to teach this reality to the children’s parents and to let everyone know it is okay to play swarm ball at U6 and U8.

The majority of U6 players are not ready physically, cognitively or emotionally to play a team sport. A 3-year-old should only be exposed to basic movement as they will experience in a playground setting.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

JT's Blog - What’s driving a wedge into soccer? - Feb. 21

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 read an article about the Boston's Pop Warner "urban suburban" American football league collapsed because the parents of the suburban 7- to 14-year-olds said that the urban kids played too rough. And urban playing fields were "unsafe". And that the urban kids played "intimidating" rap music. The League director Al Perillo told the Boston Globe that white middle-class parents have been scared off by TV news reports of drive-by shootings. But they're also sick "getting beat 30-to-nothing every time they go to Boston".

That said, the segregation of U.S. cities still shocks. And nowhere is this divide more obvious than in soccer in the U.S. No one is keeping statistics on just how effectively working-class, African-Americans have been excluded from America's grassroots soccer explosion. But everyone is agreed that soccer is predominately a white sport.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, African-American kids reacted with disbelief when a teacher told them about her brother-in-law, black U.S. defender Eddie Pope. They were reportedly "stunned" when Pope sent them an autographed poster.

When I moved in a small town outside of inner-city Washington, D.C., I enthusiastically set about starting a soccer program. "Even after weeks of posters, PA announcements in some of the schools in the area and word-of-mouth advertising, I still had didn’t have enough players to fill the roster. It was the first soccer team in the area in many years and the lack of interest shattered my world paradigm. I was warned: “kids don't play soccer in the ghetto. Just football, basketball, track.”

But others have succeeded. Steve Bandura runs the Anderson Monarchs youth soccer team in inner-city Philadelphia. He shows the kids footage of Pelé and other black players “making the point that most of the world's footballers look like them”. And every winter he gives his young players the option to switch to basketball until the new soccer season starts. And every year - without fail - the kids choose indoor soccer instead. Every other team in the Monarchs' league is predominantly white. And most years the Monarchs win everything in sight. There is only one other non-school African-American team in Philadelphia, a city that is 40% black.

"The reason is," says Steve, "that there just aren't soccer programs being run in African-American neighborhoods. If there were then what we do here would be repeated many times." Sound like a great idea to me.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Sam's Blog - Playing Experience to Coach - Feb. 19

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 folks feel that the most effective coaches are those who have played the game. The logic is that the coach without that experience will lack the ‘feel’ for the game or not fully understand the situations the players experience on the pitch during a match. Read this excerpt of a message from a volunteer coach with a US Youth Soccer club.

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my inquiry. I found the information you sent very useful and it addresses much of what I struggle with as a coach. Not a day goes by that I am not attempting to expand my knowledge, whether it is reading a book, watching a video or being on the pitch. My Achilles heel as a coach has been that I wasn’t even exposed to the game until the early 1990’s so I have had to do a lot of catching up to be (what I feel) is a credible coach. With my only field experience being adult league play, it causes much anxiety. I hear that nothing teaches the game like the game itself and I worry that since I haven’t played as a youth, how can I hope to teach my kids to “read” the game when I never did so? How can you teach someone to fly if you have never had someone to instruct you in being aloft? Subsequently, I immerse myself in instructional material knowing that it does not replicate the first-hand knowledge I wished I had been able to attain.

I appreciate all you do to help coaches such as myself who want to increase the skills and development of the kids while still keeping the game enjoyable so that a life-long love of soccer can be fostered. I do not think there is any coach who would be disappointed with such a legacy.

The fact is that as a nation we have risen as a soccer power with the majority of our coaches never having played the sport. Without volunteer moms and dads across America coaching kids’ teams soccer would still be a minor sport confined to ethnic enclaves. Soccer owes a great deal to coaches who had no prior soccer playing experience and in many cases no coaching experience. Nevertheless their kids wanted to play the game and they took on the challenge. Now we are beginning to have Americans who have played the game all of their lives become coaches. Slowly more and more of our coaches, paid and volunteer, will have played the game, but that is still one or two generations away. So if you have not played soccer before don’t let that stop you from becoming a coach. You do have something to offer!

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

JT's Blog - Myths No. 3 and No. 4 - Feb. 14

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.

3) The sooner your child specializes in just one sport, the better chance they have of advancing to a higher level (e.g. college, professional ranks).

I have spoken with many professional players over the years and most say they didn’t even think to specialize soccer until they were in high school, around the age of 15. When they were younger, they played a variety of sports as did myself, soccer, basketball and track depending on the season. Some coaches will pressure kids to play just one sport. You should be wary of this! In addition to burnout worries, ask yourself, “how does a child know which sport will be his or her best one, unless they try a bunch of different sports?” When they’re young, let them try more than one sport. And please don’t forget to let them have fun in whatever sport they play.

4) The very best time to teach your youngster how to improve their play is immediately after the game; ideally, in the car ride on the way home while their game actions are still fresh in their mind.

Coaches, we really need to take a look at what we say to our player’s right after the game. We also need to educate our parents that it’s not the right time to critique your player right after the game, especially if the team lost! We as coaches should demonstrate to our parents the proper way to discuss the game with the players. For example, what did you liked about playing today, what was fun, can you tell me something you did well and perhaps, is there anything you might want to practice or spend some time on. This might help the parents ask more non-threatening questions. Most of the time coaches and parents are telling players what they did wrong and how bad other players on the team were. Perhaps waiting until a quiet moment later in the evening or the next day would work better for the player in terms of being ready to really discuss the game. If not done correctly critiquing a young player’s game right after the match could drive them away from soccer.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sam's Blog - Level of Play - Feb. 13

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.

At some point in their youth soccer coaching career most coaches eventually face the question of should a team move up a division in the level of competition.

Here’s a typical scenario from an American youth soccer coach:

I recently met with the parents of our U12 boy’s team to discuss what division they would be participating in the spring. 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 higher level even though we did not win the division. The parents’ 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.

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 the association/club. 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.

Here are the overall objectives for this age group:

Ages 10-14 Puberty
More combinations on offense and defense. Many decision making environments. Psychologically positive with correction. Advanced competitive skills against match opponents. Tactically work on the roles of attack and defense and the basic principles of play. Exercises should focus on endurance, rhythmic movement, flexibility and running mechanics. Application of where it all fits into the game – the part of the field.

Matches of 8- to 11-a-side. Selection (try-outs) should not begin until the U13 age group. Less emphasis on the match results and more emphasis on players’ performances.

From the state Technical Directors Position Statements:
Age of competitive play # 4
While it is acknowledged and recognized that preteen players should be allowed to pursue playing opportunities that meet both their interest and ability level, we strongly discourage environments where players below the age of twelve are forced to meet the same “competitive” demands as their older counterparts therefore we recommend the following:
1. 50% playing time
2. no league or match results
3. 8 v 8 at U12

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

JT's Blog - Myths or truths - Feb. 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.

I thought I’d take a moment to highlight some of the more common Soccer “myths,” so that coaches can get a better understanding when it comes to working with their kids and parents.

1) The younger you can get your child on a travel team, the better.

In some areas of the country, travel/competitive teams start as early as age 5 or 6, yes really.

My problem with that is there doesn’t seem to be any supported academic research to support this idea that I have read. Nobody that I know has ever produced a scientific study that shows that having your child play on a travel/competitive team at a very early age is going to guarantee athletic success down the road.

However, on the other side of the coin, there are lots of studies that show that burnout is a real problem for kids in their early teens – and burnout usually affects kids who have been playing one sport for a long, long time on travel teams.

All travel team coaches are certified instructors, have degrees in physical education or psychology, and have a solid background in coaching kids.

Now, I’m not saying that you to need to have all the above, but I think there should be some type of certification program as a requirement. Anybody can start their own team, but can anyone coach a travel/competitive team that will be a benefit to the players and parents?

The rules and regulations to become a travel coach depend on your geographic location. Unlike teachers, who have to be certified by the state in which they work, travel coaches have no such requirements.

Many parents automatically assume that if the coach has played the game then the coach certainly should be knowledgeable in how to train a travel team. There are assumption being made; one is that the coach has been trained appropriately by someone who had the qualifications to train a coach hopefully using methods that include player-centered and age-appropriate training methods.

Can you just show up and become a travel team coach? My answer is no.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Sam's Blog - Single Year or Dual Year Age Groups - Feb. 5

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

The only reason soccer clubs got into the routine of single year age group teams was for administrative convenience. In the 1970s and most of the 1980s all teams fell into the following age groups: U8, U10, U12, U14, U16 and U19. There were no U6 teams until beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s. During the ‘80s and ‘90s the soccer boom was so rapid that the numbers of participants increased dramatically for local clubs annually. In order to manage the numbers from a logistic and administrative perspective many local soccer organizations began having single year and/or single gender teams. However, there was never a purely soccer reason for these groupings.

As is presented in the “Y” License course we can easily group the children into two year age groups and they handle it just fine. Clearly the children of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s have handled those groupings in stride. Currently many local soccer organizations have two year age groupings because they do not have the enrollment numbers to have a management need to have single year groupings. We teach in the course two year age groups. We discuss the pick-up game of yesteryear when kids in the neighborhood played together and learned games from each other and those games were mixed age groups.

For player development, in fact, it is a benefit to have the children in the two year age groupings. The younger players learn from the older ones and they learn that they must play more skillfully and intelligently because they most likely will not outrun or outmuscle the older kids. The older kids learn leadership skills. This cycle continues up through the U19 age group. Some of the stagnation of the development of the American player is due to single gender and single year age groupings. If the circumstances in your club allow you to have two year age groupings I actually recommend it as it will have a positive impact on the growth of your players.

Please do not hesitate to let me know if the US Youth Soccer Coaching Education department can be of assistance to you.