Monday, September 24, 2007

JT's Blog - Coaching the Young Player - Sept. 24

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.

Anthony Cook was a member of the Pittsburgh US Youth Soccer National Youth License Course, hosted by Pennsylvania West State Soccer Association. We had a great discussion about the development of young players. Anthony then typed some of our conversation and some additional information that he feels is helpful and I want to share that will you.

Background on Anthony: In addition to coaching, he is a professional photographer for National Geographic. He stated in a newly published book by David Elkind, Power of Play, the author writes that in the last few years children have lost an average of 12 hours of play a week.

The approach today for introducing children to soccer is about taking soccer and discovering the game in the child. Soccer for the young player is about children having fun and playing. Coaching young soccer players is undertaken with the long-term goal of preparing the player to successfully recognize and solve challenges of the game on their own.

“Developmentally Appropriate” is a concept that is very important to grasp when developing the fundamental soccer skills of the young player. Developmentally appropriate is the term used to define young players “soccer age” when determining proper training activities. For children, learning the game of soccer is an ongoing process that can begin at a very early age and continue well into the teenage years. A coach should recognize, understand and be patient with the development of young players. A young player’s mental and physical health should be given primary consideration when training occurs. Children have limited capacities while performing certain activities, especially when comparing them to the behavior patterns of an adult. These limitations are dependent upon many things. Developmentally, an activity presented to the U-10 player is more than likely inappropriate for the U-6 player. There are different rates of maturity between genders. Physical and psychological differences between boys and girls become substantially apparent between boys and girls within the U-12 age group, while the U-6 and U-8 boys and girls are generally far more evenly matched physically and mentally while performing on the soccer field.

“The most important things that must be seen in youth soccer are those things that are unseen. We can not see/learn if we are in the middle barking orders all the time. We must stand back and simply observe once and awhile,” said Dr. Ron Quinn former coach at Xavier College.


Dr. Muska Mosston’s Slanty Line Theory is a concept that takes the traditional method of straight-line concepts as typified in the old rope game of high-water low-water, where the rope starts low to the ground where everyone can jump over it. As the rope is slowly raised by two children holding each end, children begin to be eliminated from the competition until only one is left on the field. The approach is counter productive in the development of young children because the ones that need the activity the most are eliminated first. If you take the rope and slant the rope where one end is lower than the other those children who want to run and jump and feel successful can do so. When the players feel comfortable they will seek new challenges. With this approach players participate at their own level and children of all levels can play together. Given opportunities, children seek out challenges and take risks. Children will not continue activities in which they are continually eliminated or wait to take turns. Games of exclusion use the straight line concept that excludes players from participation. Games of inclusion use the slanty-line approach and keep players involved in the activity.

Make an effort to select, design and provide training sessions or practices that motivate each player. Allow for more turns, increased ball contacts or touches, reduced down time between activities and select activities that allow everyone to play. Coaches should think about every training session and what they would like to accomplish. As a coach you may see your players only once or twice a week so it is important that you prioritize what you want your players to learn throughout the short season.

No Lines – No Lectures – No Laps

Drills vs. Activities
-To structured
-No thought
-Age inappropriate

-Less structured
-Free movement
-Decision making
-Age appropriate

“Readiness for sports is the match between a child’s level of growth, maturity and development, and the task demands presented in competitive sports” …. R. Malina

Under-6 Players:

Beginning with U-6, a proper and consistent methodology of training should be followed as a player grows and improves. U-6 children are usually very self-centered seeing and responding only to the here and now. For the most part they are interested in playing directly with the ball and kicking it – anywhere. Appropriate activities should be short in duration because the players will tire easily. However, they will recover quickly for the next activity. They have very little sense of space – back up a few feet, or spread out does not mean much to them. It is okay and natural for them to bunch around the ball. That is their focus at this stage of development. It is important to keep them active. Exploring motor skills is important emphasizing coordination, ball touches and dribbling activities. Cognitively, playing games using their imagination is critical and find activities that encourage one task problem solving. U-6 players process small bits of information. Development for the U-6 player requires substantial praising and play without pressure. Warm-up should include movement and soccernastics….

These are a few ideas for you to keep in mind when planning each practice session:
Kids want rules at U-6 and give everyone the same amount of time. Try to take any negative situation and turn it into a positive situation as it may develop on the field.

Under-6: Objective to provide an all around athletic experience. Emphasize dribbling … Dribbling is nothing more than passing the ball from one foot to the other. As they become more efficient dribbling the better they will be able to pass.

-Everyone has a ball

-Becoming comfortable with the ball dribbling

-Lots of movement like skipping, jumping, running, throwing and catching … there is ample time for them to learn eye to ball level skills

-Explore rolling and bouncing ball

-Games that teach dribbling and turning the ball with their feet

-Play small sided games of 3v3/4v4 – goals are not necessary, simply end lines

-Start them out in a shape like a diamond or triangle, however don’t become disturbed when it becomes a 1v6 match

-All activities should emphasize coordination – players at this age see the field one way with no

Under-8 Players:

Building the player’s skill level from previous experiences is an important goal for this age group. Self concept and body image are beginning to develop. They still have a great need for approval from adults. They are still very sensitive and they dislike personal failure in front of peers. Line drills tend to set kids up for failure in front of their peers. They like to show what they can do with individual skills. True playmates begin to emerge with an inclination toward pairs activities. Their attention span is a bit longer than the U-6 age group. They still lack a sense of pace so they will go hard and tire quickly. At this age effort equals ability in their mind. They have limited experience with personal evaluation so effort is synonymous with performance. Focus on effort – not the result.
In training keep in mind that they have a limited ability to tend to more than one task at a time. They are just beginning to grasp the concept of time and space. They hear how you say something not always what you say.

Under-8 Training:

-Introduce partner activities. Add more maze activities and target games

-Develop the first (controlling) touch

-Teach them to open “out” when receiving the ball (not trapping) on the ground

-Games that teach dribbling with the head up, turning and keeping the ball away from opponent

-Passing in two’s - done in motion, not static
-Playing 3v1 games and learning to support the player that has the ball

-Teach shape, not positions. 3v3 is a triangle, 4v4 is a diamond

-If an elimination game is played have the player that has been eliminated do a couple of star-jumps or something similar then re-enter the field of play – keep them all active

-Conclude with small-sided games of 4v4 with two goals

-They like (need) to be recognized for good performance

Every now and then it’s great to hear what the candidates have learned in class and are able to express not only on paper but to others face to face. Thanks Anthony for your hard work!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sam's Blog - Set Plays - Sept. 10

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 US Youth Soccer member coach passed along these comments and questions not long ago and I thought the topic would be of interest to many of our youth coaches of teenaged players across the country.

I'm currently working on the importance of free kicks in youth soccer. While getting my C license a few years back, my instructor mentioned that up to 80 percent of goals scored at the college level are scored on free kicks. Now add to this David Beckham's popularity and specialty (think "Bend it like Beckham"). Clearly they're important.

What emphasis do you, and/or your organization put on free kicks?

How important do you rate the need to be successful and execute properly during a free kick/set play?

As far as instruction or education, what do you stress to your coaches?

When evaluating a US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program player, does his or her ability to take free kicks or performance on set plays (perhaps heading, positioning, off the ball awareness) affect selection or rating?

Do you recommend young players developing skills or qualities that can be especially utilized during set pieces?

Obviously heading and positioning are important in all aspects of the game, but what about say, the ability to curl/bend a ball from a dead ball position, recognizing a mismatch in set piece marking, be it the kick taker or a target man?

Hi Coach,

Thank you for your question and the opportunity to communicate with more of our coaches across the country. Certainly set plays/free kicks are an important part of player, and eventually team, development. The player development part must come first since the most important part of a free kick ultimately is how well is the ball struck. No matter how many players are involved in the play only one will make the final strike at goal. So to begin the journey towards team set plays the coach must first develop the ball skills of the individual players. This is the part that I believe is overlooked as too many coaches are too anxious and put the team before the player.

Once we do start to give some thought to set plays the underlying concept for every age group is K.I.S.S. That is Keep It Simple Stupid…never make the set plays overly elaborate. Simplicity, coming back to that individual ball skill, if the most important principle of a set play for success.

As an organization we put more emphasis on the skill development than on the rehearsal of set plays. If the technique is good then the ability to execute a free kick is improved; having said that certainly Under-14 and older teams should devote time in the player development curriculum to practicing set plays.

As to the selection of a player in the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program based on his or her free kick abilities it is not high on the list. More important is the player’s skill level and overall tactical awareness. If the player is good in those areas then in the short time that the US Youth Soccer ODP player and coach are together a free kick can be planned.

Yes, the ability to bend the ball is important and we do want to teach that skill to our players for both shooting and passing. Teaching the technique of bent balls with the inside of the foot begins in a simple way at Under-12 and continues to be refined in the years thereafter. Outside of the foot bent balls could be taught beginning at Under-14. However it is likely that these techniques will be refined until the player reaches adolescence since bending a ball takes power and acceleration in the leg/striking foot.

As to the awareness of mismatches on the set play for the attacking team to exploit I contend that it is indicative of the player’s overall tactical awareness and mental concentration. Mental awareness is taught in a simple form beginning at Under-6 and is reinforced in every age group thereafter. Certainly the expectations of mental alertness become higher as the player ages.

There were follow up questions too.

I appreciate the extensive response to my query. I have just two quick follow up questions, and it may be easier to answer them if you break up the questions in two ways, 1.) Your recommendations to coaches, 2) Your and the US Youth Soccer ODP's coaching strategies: When it comes to games, after you have selected a team, do you recommend/use one set piece taker, and the same list of players that are usually involved in set pieces? Or do you recommend/use multiple takers and participators in set plays?

Once the team is Under-16 and older, I tend to have a set number of players that are involved in set plays. Prior to that age, I try to involve a variety of players throughout the soccer year so that they can experience being part of a set play and to learn from the experience. Until a coach exposes the players to the various roles in a variety of set play situations the coach will not know who may respond the best to those situations. For example it is not always the center forward who is best at taking penalty kicks.

Once they are 16 years old and older then the most important person in a set play is the one striking the ball. For example the most important person in a corner kick is the person actually serving the ball from the corner arc. If the ball is not sent in at the right height, pace, angle and curve then the runners in the penalty area will have little chance at being first to the ball and striking at goal. The most famous example of this was Argentina back a few years when Diego Maradona took their corner kicks. Here was one of the best goal scorers in the world serving in the corner kick because he was the best player for the job. What did it matter if Maradona was in the penalty area when his team took a corner kick if the ball was not delivered to him correctly?

The answer to both of your questions in a nutshell is technique. The player(s) with the best technique should be the ones involved in a set play.

Friday, September 7, 2007

JT's Blog - For the love of the game - Sept. 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.

Why can’t we do more of these events? On August 24-26, I flew to San Jose, Calif., to present four different small-sided games clinics for Youth Soccer Month (Sept). The theme of the day was “For the Love of the Game”. The event was held in Union City, Calif. There were a lot of kids and parents out to just have some fun but they really weren’t sure what to expect. There wasn’t going to be any coaching of the players or parents telling players what and when to do anything, so for the parents and the coaches, what was there to do? How about simply enjoy the kids playing. There were a lot of smiles and running and kids making decisions about what to do in a free flowing game that seemed to be fun.

This event was organized by Evert Glenn, an US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP) coach and staff instructor for the California Youth Soccer Association-North. This event was a trial outing of a proposed event series to be run in conjunction with the California Youth Soccer Association-North Recreation Committee called “For the Love of the Game”. It’s a day of soccer dedicated to bringing local college coaches and players together with recreational youth coaches and players in a relaxed free-flowing, non-competitive environment.

The small-sided games are played 3v3 though 6v6 on appropriate field sizes. Pick-up games occurred from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The games were short with no scores being kept. Coaches and any upper-level players were mixed in with recreational players of all ages except the U8 age group, for safety reasons.

The secondary theme of this event was small-sided games, which I trained four different groups of players and coaches ages Under-6, Under-8, Under-10 and Under-12. I saw joy and fun being had by all. However please note, CYSA-N was one of the first states to use small sided games as a training tool but coaching education is always to the benefit of the players being coached. There were recreational coaches and competitive coaches in attendance of each training session of my small-sided games demonstrations.

The fields were located at Cesar Chavez Middle School in Union City, Calif. The complex had three full grass fields and ample side areas for other activities. There were more than adequate comfort facilities and volunteers from the local soccer community who offer concessions items and music for the youth and parents listening pleasure.