Monday, April 30, 2007

Sam's Blog - Player Jumps Club - April 30

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.

There’s an old Navy phrase – sail or jump ship. Well usually it was so, and so jumped ship while at port because the captain didn’t know until the sailor was already gone. In youth soccer we have far too many players (sailors) jumping clubs (ship). Often the coach (ship’s captain) is at a loss as to why. There are many reasons that players jump or switch from club to club. Some of them are legitimate reasons such as the family moving to another city, the expenses become too great, the existing club doesn’t offer the next age group for the player or there are irreconcilable differences with the player and the club staff. What other legitimate reasons could there be?

Well the most common reason that players jump from club to club is to move to the “winning” club. This is the seed of many weeds growing in our youth soccer culture. Winning and success are fleeting experiences in sports.

“There are many people, particularly in sports who think that success and excellence are the same thing and they are not the same thing. Excellence is something that is lasting and dependable and largely within a person’s control. In contrast, success is perishable and is often outside our control… If you strive for excellence, you will probably be successful eventually… people who put excellence in first place have the patience to end up with success… An additional burden for the victim of the success mentality is that he/she is threatened by success of others and resents real excellence. In contrast, the person fascinated by quality is excited when he/she sees it in others.” – Joe Paterno

Parents are often the source of the move by a player from one club to another. Perhaps without even being aware of it they are seeking a short solution to long term player development. At the professional level of soccer a similar mindset often takes place with the club’s management and/or fans. At this level of soccer though it is more likely to change coaches than players. Well, yes, pro players do change clubs, but not as often as coaches are dismissed. So at all of these levels of soccer are expectations too high?

“There’s no evidence that continual changing of coaches brings success. It is not healthy that a coach can lose four games and be out of a job. I wish club presidents and supporters would have the same patience as coaches. But we’re asking miracles because football is so emotional.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

Is it possible for parents to have patience with their child’s soccer growth? What object lessons of loyalty and perseverance are being taught if the sailors keep jumping ship?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sam's Blog - What Youth National Team Coaches Look for in Players - April 23

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.

This weekend the Futbol Internacional tournament began in Alabama. The tournament is being played in six different cities across the state over a week’s time. The kickoff matches were played yesterday in Birmingham. The nations here with their U21 Women’s National Teams are USA, Argentina, Canada, China, Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago. I had the opportunity to meet with the coaching staffs of Canada, China, Mexico and the USA.

On a side note the coaches mentioned that they enjoyed meeting one another and discussing soccer issues together as typically they usually only meet after a match to shake hands.

I posed several questions to the coaches and discussions lasted a good hour and a half. The one question I’ll address here was – name some of the player traits you are looking for in a youth national team player. While they had some slightly different priorities based on the players available to them in their country the consensus was this list in priority order:
1. heart (a passion for the game)
2. a high level of ball skill
3. athletic ability, especially speed
4. imagination (creativity)
5. discipline

This is an interesting list.

You will note that there is no mention of tactics or team formation or even position played. Granted by this age players have settled into playing goalkeeper or two or three of the field player roles. That versatility on the part of the field players is expected.

Yes, a field player may come into the team with the predominate role of fullback or midfielder or forward, yet adaptability is prized. As to formations and tactics the coaches do expect the players to grasp the basics. But they feel they can teach the player new to the team the formation they will play and the team tactics. The team formation usually is one that they likely played with their club or college teams. The general tactics always are based on individual and group tactics. So if the players have been taught well in their clubs on the principles of play for soccer they will be ready to learn the tactics of the youth national team.

Do the five points above appear in your club’s player development scheme? Do you hit upon them regularly in your training sessions? I’ll have more for you from the discussion with these international coaches in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

JT's Blog - What About Mistakes and Losses? - April 18

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 best professional soccer players fail to score most of the time. Elite player’s soccer players fail on their attempts to score a goal an even higher percentage of the time. It is reality -- the odds are very much against us!

Players are going to make mistakes and experience losses and failures frequently on the soccer field and in life. Given that, does it not make sense to think carefully about our choices? Mistakes and losses can lead to lowering our self-esteem and confidence, or opportunities to gain experience and learn. In most instances, when a young player makes a mistake – especially when it may affect the game or let his team down, he already feels badly about it. Who should be one of the first ones to step up? Typically it’s the coach’s role to draw out the learning at an appropriate time, when his player can be open to his words.

As a coach you should be very supportive to your player by not focusing on the mistake or loss and by refraining from any negativity. Remember that this is a learning experience for your player and yourself. When a mistake is made by a player or your team loses, your job is to listen with empathy.

It may not be fun for the players or you, but there are benefits to losing. I always try to teach and model mistakes and losses as opportunities to grow and learn. Players are more likely not to develop a higher level of responsibility if mistakes and losses bring criticism and or shame, it would not be surprising if a young player tried to avoid this negativity by shifting the blame or making excuses. This can lead to an undesirable and lasting pattern.

Important qualities of humility, compassion, resilience and persistence are developed primarily by experiencing error and adversity. If a player succeeds all of the time, there’s the potential for cockiness and inability to manage defeat. It’s times of failure that provide opportunities for young players to learn humility and develop empathy and compassion.

Resilience, the ability to bounce back after defeat, is considered by experts to be a major key to happiness. Being resilient builds the persistence required to meet challenges on the soccer field and in life. Living a life of happy success requires all of these vital character traits to be strong.

What’s the point: Teaching your kids that mistakes and losses are opportunities in disguise helps them establish a valuable lifetime skill.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sam's Blog - TOPSoccer – Grow as a coach - April 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.

This past weekend I attended the US Youth Soccer Region IV symposium for TOPSoccer. US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) is a community-based training and team placement program for young athletes with disabilities, organized by youth soccer association volunteers. The symposium was for administrators and coaches.

The coaching methods are the same as what is taught in the state Youth Modules and the National Youth License.

For players in strollers, wheelchairs or crutches we simply take an adaptive physical education approach and modify the equipment and rules of play.

One aspect for coaches that came up in the discussions was the impact on mainstream coaches when they take the challenge to coach players in TOPSoccer. For all of these coaches there is a positive impact from the experience and for some it is life changing. The thought that has come to my mind from this symposium is the long-term development of coaches.

In addition to our coaches continuing to educate themselves throughout their coaching career by attending courses, clinics, conventions and so on; what are they doing to gain new coaching experiences? How many of our coaches get themselves locked into coaching just one level of play or one age group or one gender? To grow over the decades as a coach are our coaches taking on new challenges by coaching a different level of competition or players with disabilities?

To become a top-notch and well rounded coach a variety of experiences, as well as depth of knowledge, are required. So more US Youth Soccer coaches need to stretch themselves and take on some coaching with TOPSoccer, with boys or girls, with recreational teams, with US Youth Soccer ODP players, with different age groups and with state cup level teams. Each of those coaching experiences can have a positive influence on the next one.

From my own experience, I have learned from coaching with TOPSoccer players and Special Olympics players that I should not complain about what I had previously thought to be dire issues in mainstream soccer. When I was concerned over my team’s ranking or kids jumping from club to club or many of the other ‘issues’ of competitive soccer I was focusing on the wrong things.

Working with the players and their buddies in TOPSoccer gave me perspective. Here in that environment was sheer joy of playing the game. Compliments are given by the players to teammates, opponents, referees and coaches without regard of are they ‘us’ or ‘them’. It’s just kids and soccer and everyone is welcome!

So if you want to grow a little as a coach go find out about the TOPSoccer program in your neighborhood. If there isn’t one there now then start one. I guarantee you will benefit from the effort.

For more details on US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer go to this link:

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

JT's Blog - Where Are America's Black Coaches? - April 11

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.

As I travel around the world I still wonder, where are the black coaches, male or female. I think the article written by Mike Woitalla, 4/6/2007 2:19:00 PM (This article originally appeared in the April 2007 issue of Soccer America Magazine.) really touches on the concerned of no black coach male or female on the National Team Coaching staff.

As a member of the National Soccer Coaches Association, Black Soccer Coaches Committee I too hail the increase of black players in mainstream American soccer -- but now await an increase in opportunities for black coaches.

Hylton Dayes, the chairman of the BSCC, is the head coach of the University of Cincinnati and a US Youth Soccer ODP Region coach. ''I got here in 1982,'' says the Jamaica-born Dayes, ''and I think the African-American, or player of color involvement, has increased ten-fold.'' Forty percent of the 40 players in the U.S. U-17 residency camp in Bradenton are black, including nine from the African immigrant community. ''You look at the percentage of those at Bradenton,'' Dayes says, ''the percentage playing college soccer, the percentage playing in really good club teams, and it's definitely worth noting.'' Besides Caribbean and African immigrants' affinity for the game, organizations like Soccer in the Streets, America Scores and Starfinder have helped spread soccer in the inner cities, says Dayes. BSCC senior advisor Lorne Donaldson, a former APSL head coach and now director of coaching of the youth club Real Colorado, says youth clubs have made greater efforts to discover talent and scholarship players who can't afford the fees. ''It's so competitive now, the youth clubs are so highly structured and it's such a business now, they're trying hard to find players who can help them win,'' Donaldson says. ''And most of the top clubs are not in the hood, so they even help the players with transportation.'' Donaldson commends the U.S. U-17 coaches who are identifying talent and says that the quality of American coaches has risen to a point where they can overcome the skepticism of African and Caribbean fathers who in the past wouldn't trust their sons with American coaches.

However, Dayes and Donaldson lament the lack of black coaches in the U.S. national team program and in MLS. Not a single black coach has been among MLS's 59 head-coach hiring's in 12 years. Dayes said the BSCC has worked to educate coaches, encouraging them get their licenses, network, and put themselves in a position to get an opportunity -- but frustration is building. ''Look at how many ex-professional players we have in this country of color,'' Dayes says. ''We're talking about qualified coaches who deserve a chance.'' Donaldson says, ''I don't think it's intentional. But I think it's in the subconscious. Year after year we sit around wondering when someone is going to get hired. We've gotten to the point where we believe we have to at least start saying something.''

Monday, April 9, 2007

Sam's Blog - Single Year or Dual Year Age Groups - April 9

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. The environment slowly becomes one where the players support one another and take part in the development of each other.

Of course this does not happen by the environment alone. The coaches and administrators must guide and support the attitude and actions that create and sustain such an environment. The result could be a healthier soccer culture for the club. 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.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Sam's Blog - The Touchline Restart - April 2

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.

So what’s the deal with the throw-in?

It appears from what our players do that no one is teaching them the techniques or tactics of this first attacker pass.

So here are a few ideas straight away. Yes, the player taking the throw is the first attacker. Yes, there is more than one technique to make a throw-in. Yes, there are tactics to the throw-in for both the thrower (1st attacker) and the potential receivers (2nd attackers). Yes, the throw is a pass and should have the same qualities of a good pass. Yet too many of our players just heave the ball onto the field or they throw to a teammate but seem to regularly send the ball to their teammate’s knees or belly button.

Evidently too few coaches take the time at Under-8 to teach the mechanics of the basic standing throw-in. Not nearly enough Under-10 coaches refine that technique with their players. Could not more Under-12 and Under-14 coaches teach the moving throw-in? That is a short run to the touchline and while coming to a stop to take the throw. This adds momentum and therefore distance to the throw.

Why do coaches not speak up when a throw-in goes to the kneecaps of a teammate of the thrower? This is quite an awkward ball to receive and it will take at least two touches of the ball to control it. Throw-ins should go to the receiver’s feet or head or into space for a teammate of the thrower to run onto. Since the throw-in is a pass it should have proper pace, height, timing, accuracy, spin and disguise. Teach the kids that when they throw the ball into space for a teammate’s run to release the ball off the fingertips so that the ball has some backspin. This will cause the ball to stick a bit when it hits the ground and is less likely then to roll too far or even out-of-bounds.

The technique must also be taught to the letter of the law so that it’s a legal throw-in. It’s difficult enough to keep ball possession in soccer without giving the ball away on a throw-in (definitely allow for do-overs at Under-8 and be patient with the Under-10 and Under-12 age groups here).

The throw-in is a restart and like a free kick the off-the-ball players have a role to play. They should move to shake off markers while getting into space to receive the throw. Too many of our players simply stand and wait for the thrower to put the ball into play. They react to the throw rather than create options for the thrower. Now this is fair enough for the Under-8 age group, but by Under-10 at least one of the thrower’s teammates needs to make a forward run to receive the throw.

In general make throw-ins forward toward the attacking third. For teenage players who have better tactical awareness then sometimes the throw can go square or backwards to maintain possession if a penetration throw is shut off by the opposition. In other words the same decision making as with any other pass in the game.

Indeed there is more to the humble throw-in than it appears! Oh, and one more technique, the flip-throw. I’ll let you demonstrate that one.