Wednesday, June 27, 2007

JT's Blog - Leading thorough soccer - June 27

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 week I’ve had an opportunity to work with Dr. Ron Quinn in a leadership camp held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, and run by Starfinders of Philadelphia. Students who attended received a youth coaching certificate and referee license from Eastern Pennsylvania Soccer Association. The goal of the camp was to teach leadership tools with a hope that the students would take those tools back to their community and pursue ways to assist younger players. The candidates’ ages ranged from 16 to 18 years. There were 53 candidates with 50% of the class being African Americas.

I passionately believe that there are few people in society who have a greater opportunity to help shape and mold the character, values and leadership than that of sports coaches. Starfinders uses the powerful magnet of soccer to draw at risk children and youth to this leadership program.

Participants received information on famous leaders from different countries. In addition they learned valuable lessons on characteristics of a champion. They were also trained by professional coaches and college athletes and motivated to strive for educational, innovative and engaging programming that would stimulate them to educational excellence. By providing the candidates with a inspirational learning environments, like the US Youth Soccer’s State Youth Module, they could coach others how to play to learn and learn through play, building a foundation for strong character and positive outlooks that can last a life time.

If this group of candidates is an example of our leadership to come, we have a bright future. We must continue to encourage them to shine as the next generation of community leadership. They have been taught that the key to commitment is enjoyment.

Soccer has a tremendous potential to help promising young leaders and give them knowledge, encouragement and opportunities to become the next generation of positive role models that are needed for our young soccer players in the USA.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sam's Blog - The Most Dangerous Score - June 25

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.

2-0 The Most Dangerous Score in the Game

Recently I was watching our Men’s National Team compete in the Gold Cup. It was the quarterfinal match versus Canada and we were up 2-0. Canada to their credit continued to press and scored a goal. Now at 2-1, the Canadians had new life in their game and the Americans become hesitant. Due to the growing professionalism of our national teams that vacillation did not last. The USA went on to win the match and indeed to be crowned champions of the Gold Cup tournament.

Yet the scene reminded me of one of the oldest ‘truths’ in our sport…beware a 2 to nil lead. Newcomers to the game may wonder why being ahead two goals to none could possibly be considered a “dangerous score.” After all given the low scoring in soccer being up by two goals is a comfortable lead. And therein lays the problem, a comfortable lead. With a 2-0 score-line the winning team often gets a mindset of well surely the other team must know they are defeated. They haven’t even scored a goal. In this way the mentality is different than with say a 3-1 score-line, as the team with the lead knows the opposition is capable of scoring against them. So with the 2-0 score-line, the winning team will sometimes let up the pressure a bit. This gives the losing team some breathing room and a chance to get mentally back into the game. Given this opportunity sometimes the losing team scores a goal, as did Canada. Now with a 2-1 score-line new confidence comes into the losing team.

They can sense the chance to tie the score and from there…who knows? The winning team now with only a one goal buffer in the score-line sometimes panics. They may begin to play too aggressively in defense, running the risk of giving away free kicks and maybe having some players booked. Or they may press forward in numbers on the attack trying to get back a goal. Now they have created chances for the counterattack by the losing team and run the risk of the score being equalized.

These scenarios of course give coaches ulcers. On the field the unity within the team can begin to crack with players yelling at one another and pointing fingers if costly mistakes occur. It may be that only after players and coaches have lived through a few of these types of matches that they gain the poise to deal with the 2-0 lead. Even if the opponent scores one the well managed team with experience and confidence will overcome their uncertainty quickly and regain control of themselves and the match. This the USA Men’s National Team did with aplomb in the Gold Cup. In the Send-Off Series the Women’s National Team held onto the 2-0 lead against Brazil. In different circumstances both of our full national teams dealt well with the most dangerous score in soccer.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

JT's Blog - Legends, It's All About The Kids - June 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.

This pass weekend I was invited to attend an event call the “Legends, It’s All About The Kids”. Their mission is to play a part in providing the area's youth with the tools and confidence to help them make the right decisions in life. They believe that sports can play a healthy role in the lives of children by teaching self discipline, teamwork, leadership and strategic thinking skills while building self-confidence and providing the youth with the opportunity to experience the positive influence of sports.

The Legends provide an event where youth players can gather for FREE specialized training in multiple sports. The sessions were conducted by professional athletes and the regions’ best college and high school coaches who have been recognized as positive role models on and off the field. Parents and coaches were also able to participate in the clinics designed to help them further understand their role as mentors, while sharpening their coaching skills.

The follow legends were involved with this event:

Chris Houser, a former MLS player for the Tampa Bay Mutiny

Marshall Faulk, who won three NFL Most Valuable Offensive Players awards and has an NFL record of four consecutive 2,000 total yards seasons.

Chad Greenway, who became the first player ever selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the first round from Iowa.

Mike Miller, with the Memphis Grizzlies, who was selected to participate in the NBA All-Star Three-Point Shooting contest during the NBA All-Star weekend.

Fergie Jenkins, a three time All-Star and was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.

Roy Firestone, has won Seven Emmy® Awards and seven Cable ACE Awards. He is currently the host of Up Close Prime Time. He hosts Mark Cuban’s HDNet Face to Face with Roy Firestone and AOL’s Time Out with Roy Firestone.

Kris Tschetter, who in 1996 scored a 63 in the U.S. Women’s Open.

David Thompson became a 4-time NBA All-Start and won the MVP of the All-Star game in both 1977 and 1979.

Vic Braden, is a longtime sports science researcher, licensed psychologist.

This was a very special event for me and for all who were in attendance. From my perspective, this event was one huge success. The bringing together of role models of different sports, even some that may have taken a side step but were able to get back up and become a major positive contributor to our youth, made it that much more gratifying. It was my pleasure to be a part of such a positive event. Imagine working together for the benefits of the kids.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sam's Blog - Block Tackle - June 18

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.

Sometime ago a youth coach wrote to contest the use of the block as a useful tackling technique to win the ball off of a dribbler. Here’s what he had to say.

I can't believe that the USSF actually teaches the inside of the foot block tackle. This is the most dangerous way to enter into the tackle. Please watch some pro games to see if there is ever an inside of the foot tackle. Although some think that it is an illegal tackle, we must teach the sole tackle as the first choice to win the ball and to avoid injury. Stop spreading this injury prone info to our young athletes. I have been to many countries watching the youth train and never seen an inside of the foot tackle; always the sole first. …if you ever played a high level men's match, you would remember never going in with the inside of your foot. Your knee would be in ruins or your ankle would be broke. Again, please stop teaching this!

So fair enough, a different point of view on how to make a fundamental tackle to win possession of the ball in a soccer match. Besides my own thoughts on the matter, I asked some former professional players who have played in MLS and other professional leagues in the world for their thoughts on the topic. So here are some of their thoughts and mine.

As to the use of the block tackle in high level soccer, such as the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program, professional soccer and international matches, it is a technique used. You are correct that some adult players at high levels of competition use a sole of the foot tackle from time to time, although it is a less prevalently used technique. I hope this will clear up the matter. We will continue to teach the most fundamental of tackling techniques, the block tackle, to our youth players. Here are a few quotes from former professional and national team players who are now in the coaching ranks within MLS and US Youth Soccer:

“At the professional level players will use every tool available to them and different types of tackles will be used through out the course of a game. There are different views and attitudes towards tackling and diverse levels of tolerance in leagues throughout the world, however the skill of tackling like any other soccer skill has to be practiced and the mechanics understood, as a poorly executed tackle can have severe consequences.

While the bottom of the foot tackle studs showing is often used it would fall in the category of a tackle which endangers the safety of an opponent and be guilty of serious foul play, it is certainly used in professional play and left for the referee to deal with.”

“I think we are all in agreement that tackling with the sole of the foot happens, perhaps inadvertently on the youth end but, clearly more deliberate in nature at the professional level as mentioned. I think the key word is "predominately" and that would not apply to tackling with the sole of the foot as the block tackle would still be the most often used method...especially on the youth end.”

“I think it's absurd to profess that pro players never use the block tackle. It is used as much or more than any other method of tackling at the higher levels. Even though I have spent very little time on teaching or reviewing this defensive technique to professional players, since they usually prefer to use the technique that they have grown accustomed to as they developed, I would say that a majority of players resort to the "block" method when given their choice or natural playing instincts.”

“I have never tackled with the sole of my foot; that could be dangerous. Block tackling was something we practiced quite regularly. It was all about learning how to lock the ankle and knee on impact and adding the "lift” action to lift the ball over the opponent’s foot. Leaning forward in the process and leaning into the opponent with the upper body to come away with the ball.”

“I feel that the block tackle is used and should be taught. The sole of the foot tackle is a border line foul depending on the force used, and the showing of the studs. This is used primarily when having to reach at the last possible moment but is less effective. I believe both are used during the game but the sole seems to be used more when a player can’t get there, almost as an act of last resort.”

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

JT's Blog - Training Best Practice - June 13

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.

We recently completed another US Youth Soccer National Youth License Course in North Carolina. Thanks to Chris Little and the state office in Greensboro for doing a first class job. It was a well-run course. My hope is that the coaches who attended the course learned how to organize and conduct training session for Under-6 to Under-12 youth players. During the NYL course we discussed what was age appropriate. We focused on how cognitive, psychosocial and psychomotor abilities play a major part in the training of players. We discussed using age appropriate training sessions to provide the most effective training for the individual player.

U.S. Soccer Best Practice document states the most fundamental skills in soccer are individual mastery of the ball and the creativity of it. This should be a priority in training and during games, especially in the early years. As these skill are mastered the rest of the game becomes easier, both to teach and to learn. As the players start to develop their cognitive, psychosocial and psychomotor abilities, practices can be built around facilitating the development of the skills necessary to move and control the ball. As these individual skills and creativity come alive in the game they begin to develop a level of competence, the finer points. The recreational and club coaches who work with our youth players on a daily basis play a fundamental role in the development of the soccer players in this country. Recreational and clubs should strive to place experienced coaches who have a clear understanding of the value of teaching technique at the age appropriate level to our youth teams. A coach’s personality and character are equally important. Working with six- to 14-year-old children requires patience, kindness and respect. This also means the coaches may laugh and have fun within the training session. Fun can be a good thing in training.

Coaching soccer can be confusing at times because the game is changing as the players improve both their skills and physical abilities. When coaching young developing players, as well as the adolescent players, U.S. Soccer feels it is helpful to keep the following ideas at the forefront of your mind:

1) Set up situations where the players can learn by playing the game. The game is the best teacher for young players.

2) Coaches can often be more helpful to young players development by organizing less, saying less and allowing the players to do more. Set up a game and let the kids play. Keep most of your comments for before and after practice and during water breaks. Comments should be kept short and simple. Be comfortable organizing a session that looks like a pickup soccer game.

3) Teaching and learning the game of soccer is a process: make your goals seasonal, as well as daily and weekly. Often, at younger ages, the developmental efforts of one season are not noticeable in children until sometime in the next season.

4) Set age-appropriate goals. For example, know what the child is able to do at that designated age.
5) From a developmental standpoint, the young ages are the best ones for learning skills. Spend this time encouraging this growth. By the age of 17 the capacity to pick up new motor skills begins to decrease. On the other hand, their ability to conceptualize team organization, tactics and strategy increases. As a coach, work with these strengths, not against them.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sam's Blog - Know Your Players - June 11

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.

Quite a body of information is presented in the National Youth License on age characteristics (for more insight into this coaching course click here).Those who attend the course improve their coaching skills and learn a good deal about the makeup of children. When the adults better understand the nature of these young players then they can adapt and interact smoothly with the children. This knowledge of the needs and spirit of kids also influences the decision making of the adults who shape the youngsters’ soccer experience. Most certainly those adults include coaches, but let’s not leave out the administrators, parents and even the referees. These four groups of adults are the pillars of youth soccer. They support, guide and influence the game. So they are obliged to know the distinctiveness and desires of the children whom they impact.

With this knowledge more decisions will be made in the best interest of the players. This outcome should be especially true of the policy-makers, the administrators. Team managers, club board of directors, state and national administrators who have gained a solid knowledge of the characteristics of players will make decisions on by-laws, rules and policies in the best interest of the players.

To be equipped to make such decisions soccer administrators are required to study child development and the basic components of soccer. Indeed as our club, state, regional and national offices become more professional there should be an expectation of professional qualification in order to hold these jobs. The soccer community in America expects the referees to be certified and the coaches to be licensed, so we should also expect administrators to be qualified. After all this is only good business!

The players are our customer base and all businesses have customer service as a core value. But the picture is not quite so clear in youth sports since the parents are the consumer, even though they are not the customer. In this instance the consumer buys the service (sign kids up for soccer), but the child is the customer who receives the service (the chance to play soccer). Both the customer and the consumer have a reasonable expectation here for the providers of the service to have some minimal qualifications. To this end the overwhelming majority of clubs and leagues offer, through the state association, education for coaches and referees. But what about the administrators? Yes, clinics and workshops are offered for the adults in the administrative role, but no formal pass or fail course is currently offered as is the case with the referees and coaches.

As an example at the state association level when a state Technical Director is hired the requirement is a playing and coaching background. Additionally there usually is a requirement of holding the “Y” License and perhaps the “A” License or Premiere Diploma too. In many cases the Technical Director also has a college degree in some field of the sports sciences. So should not the state administrator have a degree in Sports Administration, Sports Business, Sports Management or Sports Marketing? These expectations of professional qualification of fulltime soccer professionals must occur at the club level too. Indeed a growing number of the over 6,000 US Youth Soccer clubs across the nation have already met or exceeded these standards.

We continue to grow and evolve as a soccer nation. The four pillars of youth soccer – administrators, coaches, parents and referees – support and shape the sport. As these pillars of youth soccer come to better understand the players whom they serve then the climate surrounding those players will become healthy and vibrant. This enriching experience is our gift to our children.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

JT's Blog - National Youth License Course - June 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.

Looking back at the first weekend of the National Youth License course in Greensboro, N.C., I smile knowing that youth coaching is in the good hands of some great coaches. Although there are still a lot of coaching education opportunities to be taken advantage for the second half of the NYL course.

The thing that stands out about this group of coaches is that they all appear to be open to new ideas. This is the first time the NYL course is being hosted in North Carolina. The class is full with 36 candidates of diverse backgrounds and many years of varied amounts of coaching and playing experience.

Mike Strickler, the DOC for Florida, Jacob Daniel, the DOC for Georgia, Ric Plante the DOC for Montana, Chris Little, the current DOC for North Carolina, and myself are the instructors for this course. The candidates have great questions and the staff has done well answering.

I hope the following article written by Mr. Gary Allen will provide further information relating to the issues of player development.

Youth Soccer Coach Wanted: Only Those with Patience and Perseverance Need Apply By Gary R. Allen, Virginia Youth Soccer Association Director of Coaching Education
Click here to read the article.