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!