Monday, May 7, 2007

Sam's Blog - Advice needed on managing players with superior skills - May 7

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 question below is from a US Youth Soccer coach working in his community with grassroots soccer. Please see my response at the end.

What is your advice on managing younger kids with superior abilities?

My youngest son is a Under-6 (only misses being a Under-7 by just over a month) and is dominate on the field. He has superior technical abilities (e.g., changes direction dribbling, shoots with both feet) for his age and very knowledgeable about the game. I won’t bore you with the details, but he can score at will and no one on the opposition can score when he’s in the game.

He’s not bored and is still having fun. Luckily for me, he is not consumed with scoring and limits his shoots. He gains possession and passes to a teammate. He does so on his own; I did not tell him to do this.

My larger concern is with the other kids. As a coach, he changes the dynamic at practice. I cannot put him with anyone if I’m doing something in pairs. I set up two games to end practice (2 v 2 and a 3 v 3) and he dominates the game he’s in. I’ve tried 2 v 3 with him on the short side to no avail.

As someone involved with our club, I’m concerned with kids on other teams. No one can advance the ball when he is in the game. This past week, I only had five kids show up and he had to play the whole game. Needless to say, the opposing team did not score and anyone who advanced the ball into our side of the field had it taken away.

I’m sure this is not a unique situation and I assume US Youth Soccer has some suggestions on how to handle this. I’m looking for a solution that is both fair to him and fair to the other kids. Any information/advice would be greatly appreciated.

On a side note, I am planning to attend the National Youth License Course this summer. I have also offered to run the Under-6, Under-7, and Under-8 programs in my club next year. My goal is to educate our coaches with what is taught by US Youth Soccer. Some members on our board are very stubborn, so I’m uncertain as to whether it will be accepted.

My reply:
I am pleased to read that all is well with you and your soccer experiences. What you have is a “good problem.” Yet I know that it is indeed a challenge. Here are a few suggestions for your situation:

- During training sessions have him teach another player one of his favorite moves…peer teaching can be a powerful tool…next week he teaches someone else

- Ask him in training when you are playing a small-sided game to make passes to set up teammates to score (how many assists can you get?). After doing so in training a few times then ask him to do the same in a match.

- Give him more leadership responsibilities…this component of athlete development is often overlooked as coaches focus too much on the physical components
- Give him cooperation challenges that will stretch him beyond his social/emotional age such as combining on passes with more than one teammate (small group play – say of 3 players) or to make passes to teammates other than his closest friends.

- Be sure he is getting the opportunities to play in all of parts of the field.

Those are just a few ideas to get you started.


Anonymous said...

I had a U6 girl like this. Why a joy to have on the team and coach, it did change the dynamic A LOT. I would guess with your sons age the physical size and ability may be a factor as well as soccer skills. This young girl was the same way. Very well coordinated, could outrun anyone. Her parents ended up moving her up an age group to play. It just made more sense. She was physically as capable as the next level up and had the skills to play with them. In fact, she moved up a division and did the same thing to the girls that were a year older for a season. Just took the ball away and went in and scored. (Gotta love players that have older siblings that play.) This has been the right answer for her. I still keep track of her, and she is developing well at the higher age group.

The downside to a player like this on the team, we found after she moved. I knew her teammates were relying on her, but didn't realize the extent. The rest of the girls were behind their peers and had one very tough season out on the field. A couple of seasons later now, they are all doing well and have caught up in skill levels to their peers.

I have two daughters and play one up an age level as she is 15 days off the cutoff. We do it for a couple of reasons. First, physically she is the size of the kids at that age. The teammates and opponents are other kids in her class at school and same grade in other schools. We also play her up so that our daughters are on the same team and it reduces our Saturday schedules by one soccer game. (Good selfish reason when you have 4 that play.)

Good luck! We all wish we continually had this problem.

Anonymous said...

I wish I had written about it before!!. You are not alone. I am fortunate to have two players in the team I coach (U7) with superior skills.

My son is one of them and another kid on the team, which I coach.
What I actually made them start doing is have them pass the ball more to set up his treatments. Luckily for me he is not bored yet and he loves to play with his team mates. It actually made the whole team better.

As it turned out, that they are learning to "see" the field. Some of the games are actually beautiful to watch as far as the passing. At it can all start with your son!!!

At U6 and U7 it is hard to do since by nature they all want the ball, but with a kid like your son's skills, the whole team can learn and get better and it will be more fun!

I also agree with the coach, perhaps give him more leadership roles on the field.

In our league I have seen several players with good skills as well since U5 and what I am also finding out is that all of a sudden other kids get better, they catch up, the get bigger, faster, so scoring may not be as easy. Which is imperative for him to start working in other areas of the game.

What I also do is keep teaching them about the game to keep them interested, for example I teach them dribble moves all the time and make sure they do it during the game.

Sounds like you have a natural gem. keep working on his game!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Apologies for may "lapsus mentalis"
in my yesterdays's post.

I meant teammates instead of "treatments". I was thinking about my allergies!!