On The Pitch

Thoughts on Youth Soccer from a Soccer Dad, Fan, Coach and Administrator

I Believe That We … Won

For those of us who have followed soccer here in the US over the years, this year is different. In 2006, your friends thought you were ‘special’ with all your excitement about this World Cup soccer tournament thing. In 2010, more of your friends were into what you were talking about, and Donovan’s last minute clutch goal won a few more over. Soccer? Exciting? But even my own kids – who live and breathe soccer – appreciated the 2010 WC theme song more than the actual tournament. But this year was definitely different. The USMNT may have lost a heartbreaking match against Belgium, but this World Cup may finally be the tipping point for soccer in America. ESPN & Univision have had record ratings both for TV viewing and online streaming. Have you SEEN some of the watch party pictures out of cities like Chicago?

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It Doesn’t Take A Field of Dreams

When you coach a sport that your children also play, you get a firsthand view of not only how they learn and develop at practices and matches, but also at home. Soccer takes an incredible amount of finesse and skill to master. Controlling a ball with your foot in a fast paced pressured environment means you need to touch the ball a LOT when you’re younger. Like basketball where dribbling ‘blind’ is essential, in soccer you have to be able to dribble almost subconsciously.

So coaches know it is SO important for kids to just ‘play’ on their own. I have four kids who play competitive travel soccer and they grew up somewhere with a LOT of yard space. Acres. Yet they didn’t play on their own. My kids live, eat, and breathe soccer – when they’re at the soccer complex. They’ll hang out there all day long if they can. But at home, they rarely would go outside to play. Wary of being that overbearing coach/parent, I rarely pushed. I made sure they had portable goals, plenty of soccer balls, and they always knew my coach’s bag was stuffed with gear. But the choice to go outside and actually play was theirs. (OK sure I occasionally would go out on my own and try to coax them out)

When my ex and I separated, she kept the family home with all the yard and I moved somewhere with a yard that was, well, almost a suggestion. The back was angled and tiered. The front has two massive trees and a long cement walkway through the middle. In this economy finding a place to rent for four kids is an adventure, so I jumped at the chance to live here when it became available. But I knew my kids wouldn’t be able to ever really play soccer here. Since they didn’t play much where they had tons of space – I wasn’t too worried about it.

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National ‘C’ License

Taking the USSF National ‘C’ License Class the next two weeks. The 234 page course manual starts off with: “Creativity and ball skills always come first” This is going to be a great class!

Why Do You Coach?

People often ask me why I enjoy coaching soccer so much. Obvious answers are watching kids develop, helping them grow up even in a small way, being outside most weekends (when the weather is nice anyway), the thrill of a close victory, and helping them learn from the agony of a close defeat. And so on. All of which are true. Seeing kids start to ‘get’ what you teach and preach in practice and trying it in games is awesome and I saw some of that yesterday with my U9G Cheetahs. But there are also those moments that happen out of the blue that you just wish you had taped the whole match. The highlights. Doing soccer moves – on purpose. Stuff like that. Then there are those moments that just ‘happen’. One of my players has the ball pretty much ON the end line, maybe 5 yards from the near post. Like any coach, I’m encouraging her to look for options – a teammate in front of the goal to slot a pass to, etc. Instead she drills the ball up into the air. It sails across the goal, curves ever so slightly, and slams into the inner side of the far post – and falls into the net. *crazy* and so fun to watch. So my answer to the question? All of the above!

So much to write about – it’s been a crazy couple years for Soccer Dad – but things are finally calming down a bit. Hoping I can finally dedicate some time to writing again.

Insights from Claudio Reyna and Player ‘Paths’

ussflogoClaudio Reyna has been making waves ever since he was selected as Youth Technical Director for US Soccer. The release of the Youth Soccer Coaching Curriculum showed how serious US Soccer was taking the reform of player development. Then US Youth Soccer revamped their coaching guides and released them in PDF form this week. With all this focus at the national level, it’s refreshing to hear Reyna talk about how we develop top level players and what is at stake:

Reyna considers himself only “a small part” of the larger effort to improve the quality of players and teams across the country. Yet he also hopes to exert influence on the crème of the youth crops via careful evaluation of the US Soccer Development Academy’s member clubs over the long term.

“With what’s mentioned in the curriculum, we want to be able to give sort of boundaries, and let the teams evolve in their own way. They might grab what we do but they might just tweak it a different way,” he said. “We feel that good players will develop in an environment where soccer is trying to be played the right way.”

In addition, yes, Reyna wants even the best DA teams to put form before function, because he believes it produces better prospects for the national teams.

“If I’m going to a youth game, I want to be entertained. I don’t want to see a 1-0 boring draw where a U-15 team is packed in, stealing a goal, [winning] 1-0,” he said. “I know that makes the U-15 team very happy, but we almost want sort of this free game in the youth game where they’re going back and forth and teams are winning 5-3, versus hanging on for 1-0.”

The whole article is absolutely worth a read…

Letter From A Volunteer Coach

This letter has apparently made the rounds of Little League the past few years, but I only recently came across it as a soccer coach. The best I can tell, it was written by Brian Gotta, the President of CoachDeck. It’s an open letter to his parents on his little league baseball team. But the sentiments are felt by youth sports coaches across all sports. Well worth a read and passing it on…

Letter from a Volunteer Coach

Today I heard a comment made about me behind my back. I started to turn around and look, but then decided better of it and kept my eyes on the field. My wife hears things like this more often than I do, because many of you don’t know who she is. She tells me what you say. I have received angry emails, full of “suggestions,” about who should be playing where and how I lost that day’s game for the kids. I thought I’d write an open letter to all of you parents, even though I might never send it. I’ll start it this way: “I am a volunteer.”

I’m the one who answered the call when the league said they didn’t have enough coaches. I understand that you were too busy. I have some news for you. I’m not retired. I’m busy too. I have other children and a job, just like you do. Not only do I not get paid to do this – it costs me money. I see you walk up to the game 15 minutes after it started, still dressed for work. Do you know I’ve already been here over an hour? Imagine if you had to leave work early nearly every day. I’ve never seen you at a practice. I’m sure you’re plugging away at the office. But I’m out here, on the field, trying my best to teach these children how to play a sport they love, while my bank account suffers.

I know. I make mistakes. In fact, maybe I’m not even that great of a coach. But I treat the kids fairly and with respect. I am pretty sure they like coming to my practices and games, and without me or someone like me, there’d be no team for them to play on. I’m part of this community too and it’s no picnic being out here on this stage like this. It’s a lot easier back there with the other parents where no one is second-guessing you.

And I also know you think I give my son or daughter unfair advantages. I try not to. In fact, have you ever considered that maybe I’m harder on him than on the others? I’m sure he hears plenty of criticism at school from classmates, who hear it from you at home, about what a lame coach I am. And if, even unconsciously, my kids are getting a slight advantage because I know them better and trust their abilities, is that the worst thing in the world, considering the sacrifice I’m making? Trust me, I want to win too. And if your son or daughter could guarantee we’d do that, I’d give them the chance.

After this game is over, I’ll be the last one to leave. I have to break down the field, put away all the equipment and make sure everyone has had a parent arrive to pick them up. There have been evenings when my son and I waited with a player until after dark before someone came to get them. Many nights I’m sure you’ve already had dinner and are relaxing on the couch by the time I finally kick the mud off my shoes and climb into my car, which hasn’t been washed or vacuumed for weeks. Why bother cleaning it during the season? Do you know how nice it would be if, just once, after a game one of you offered to carry the heavy gear bag to my car or help straighten up the field?

If I sound angry, I’m not. I do this because I love it and I love being around the kids. There are plenty of rewards and I remind myself that while you’re at the office working, your kid is saying something that makes us all laugh or brings a tear to my eye. The positives outweigh the negatives. I just wish sometime those who don’t choose to volunteer their time would leave the coaching to the few of us who do.

Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels which can be found at www.sportsbooks4kids.com. He can be reached at [email protected]

I’ve been extremely lucky with the parents I’ve had over the years. The vast majority have been understanding and very supportive. The few who haven’t have often moved on in short order to other teams. We do what we do because we love kids and the sport. We aren’t perfect and absolutely will make mistakes. But we’re the ones there in the dugout, on the sideline, or on the bench trying to teach kids a sport and life lessons. We sacrifice more than many will ever realize because of what we do. So the next time your coach is lugging stuff to the car or moving nets off the field – offer a hand. Or after a tough game, tell them “we’ll get ‘em next time” and thank them for all they do. We’ll smile all the way home.

USYS Releases New Practice Guides

US Youth SoccerOne of the biggest challenges youth soccer coaches face is coming up with activities for practice. It is a common complaint and you find in most coaching classes, the most useful part is getting to see what activities the instructors and other coaches do. In my ‘D’ class we would furiously scribble onto legal pads while classmates were out on the field doing model sessions. US Youth Soccer has had some handy flip books for a number of years, but they were sometimes hard to get (because they were SUPER cheap). We bought them for our coaches for a couple years.

Now they have taken those books as a foundation and released three new coaching guides in PDF format.

The US Youth Soccer Coaching Department has introduced its latest coaching resources with three age-specific practice activity guides. The three guides — for the U6-U8, U-10 and U-12 age groups — give coaches an idea of what should be covered throughout a season while highlighting activities that focus on development in a low-stress, fun-filled environment.

Each resource covers multiple types of practice activities, from warm-ups and individual training to small-sided and group games. The exercises are tailored to meet the cognitive and physical characteristics of each age group.

The guides each contain individual activity descriptions with accompanying coaching points, so coaches are aware of what to watch for during each exercise. With 20 sessions broken down in each guide, there are more than enough activities to meet the needs of any youth soccer season.

Flipping through them, they are very well laid out with many suggested activities as well as a lot of useful information for the new and experienced coach alike. If your a coach, I’d suggested downloading them ASAP. DOC’s should send these to every coach every season…

A Look At Pickup Soccer in America

Grant Wahl linked to a great article at Sports Illustrated by Gwendolyn Oxenham that looks into some of the history of pickup soccer in America and how many top level players found their way to pickup games to help improve their skills. It also highlights the differences in how men and women encounter pickup matches. Alex Morgan had some great insights into what playing pickup did for her abilities:

“I couldn’t keep up physically, but technically, I got better with my feet and I started thinking faster,” she said. “I didn’t use to feel comfortable with the ball at my feet. I didn’t even want the ball, unless I was in a shooting position or on the run. Playing pick up with the Cal men’s team, random guys, and with teams BeastMode Soccer put together, I was forced to want the ball. I felt out of my comfort zone, a lot, but that’s when I knew I was improving.”

She added, “It was so fun thinking that coaches weren’t watching me and I could actually try things that I wouldn’t normally in a practice.” Somewhat paradoxically, the pickup field, the place that allows you to feel the most comfortable, is also the place where you leave comfort zones behind.

Pickup soccer faces a lot of hurdles in our society of helicopter parents. But it’s clearly not as rare as many believe.

One of my favorite sights when I’m out practicing with any of my teams is seeing a group of siblings there playing pickup on any spot of grass they can find between the practices.

Stolen Player Passes End State Cup Dreams

@soccer_nation: Youth Soccer News: PLAYER CARDS STOLEN – Theft of Equipment Bag Ends SDSC B97 Elite Navy State Cup Dreams – what… http://t.co/S3mSthIBEU

I simply cannot believe they tossed these kids out. Club registrars are agents of the state association. How could they not certify the roster was legit if they had done the cards in the first place?

In this day and age, I cannot believe the USYSA still has no on field electronic backup for player passes. Even a certified PDF file. Is not that hard.

Developing Young Players Without Positions (or Wins)

Wins Don't Develop Players - An OTP Series

Soccer Kids by terren in VirginiaTen years ago when our league was new and I had just started coaching, I remember trying to teach 6 year olds about positions. We played 8v8 if memory serves. Picture sixteen 5 and 6 year olds swarming all over a large field and coaches trying to get them to understand who is on offense and who is on defense. The crazy things we soccer coaches do when we’re inexperienced and clueless.

Now that I’m coaching U8’s again and have a little more experience, I’m trying to avoid some of the mistakes I made back then as well as avoid some of the issues I had with younger (U10-U12) travel players coming out of Rec, such as:

  • Defenders who would start and stay at the top of the penalty area
  • Defenders who would NOT cross midfield no matter what
  • Defenders who would not make attacking runs
  • Players who would not pass backwards
  • Strikers who always seemed to be playing defense
  • Swarm ball
  • Players who would need to be within a few feet of goal before shooting

[Read the rest of this entry…]

Wins Don't Develop Players - An On The Pitch Series

  1. U6-U8 Soccer Player Development – Round Two
  2. Confidence Can’t Be Coached – It’s Learned (and Earned!)
  3. Developing Young Players Without Positions (or Wins)

When Players Finally ‘Get’ 1v1

I know I’ve been fairly quiet of late. Lots of changes going on in my life both in soccer and out. But slowly things are returning to a ‘new normal’ so I hope to be able to write more. I’ll expand on this as part of my Wins Don’t Develop Players series, but wanted to get up a short post about it.

My U8 girls have been doing well this year from a possession standpoint. We own the ball. We don’t always win, but we almost always have the ball at our feet. This past weekend the girls finally figured out 1v1. On defense, we were constantly stripping the ball vs poking. When we possessed the ball, we were finally starting to ‘turn’ upfield under pressure. It was so exciting to watch the players figure out when they separated an attacker from the ball, how to quickly turn upfield with it. No, they weren’t doing reverse scissors or anything like that. They’re U8s. But seeing them strip or tackle the ball as well as turn with it into space vs always kicking into shins was so exciting.

Ten Questions For Soccer Parents

For youth soccer coaches who ‘get it’ and try to focus on player development over wins, it can be a difficult sell for team parents. Stan Baker recently published a list of ten questions for parents to help them judge if their children and team are doing well:

Parents who understand what the team is trying to accomplish and what our style of play looks like, will be more likely to lend support and back what the coach is attempting to do. With this said, the process will require much more ongoing communication throughout the season. It should be communicated that the process of long-term development requires patience.

I can absolutely speak from experience – coaching ‘right’ is a tough sell that requires frequent parent communication and interaction. You have to ‘coach’ them to see the development instead of the standings table.

Ball Hogs Need Not Apply!

Jimmy Obleda, the 2011 NSCAA Youth National Coach of the Year, held a Q&A with Soccer America and had some pretty harsh things to say about the USSF academy program and US youth soccer development in general. He wrapped up the session with a very good summation of one of our biggest problems in the US – we often push out exceptional players:

They don’t fit our system. Do have we want those guys who are attacking and dribbling? No, we don’t. We want big, strong, athletic kids. If you dribble too much, dude, you’re out.

Our system pushes the exceptional players out.

Would have Lionel Messi made it in this country? No. He wouldn’t have, because he’s short and he dribbles too much. He’s a ball hog so he doesn’t fit in our system.

As my kids have gotten older and played at higher levels, it drives me crazy to see how many coaches encourage (or at least tolerate) kick and run. A few will encourage diagonal passing and through balls. But diving in 1v1 to burn that last defender? Almost universally discouraged, often loudly, when they fail. So hard to watch a team dominate defensively and/or in the middle, only to try popping the ball over the back line over and over, hoping that a striker will manage to consistently gain control of the bouncing ball at a full sprint under pressure…

Confidence Can’t Be Coached – It’s Learned (and Earned!)

Wins Don't Develop Players - An OTP Series

Soccer Kids by terren in VirginiaOne of the biggest challenges I had with my 96 girls team was getting them confident with the ball. They grew up playing soccer in a coed league and had very little confidence to possess the ball because they rarely had it in Rec. The boys usually controlled the ball and the game. It took a couple of years before they really believed they could possess the ball under pressure. You can teach them how to dribble, but you can’t teach them to possess it under pressure. They have to build confidence with the ball. So with my U8 players – I want them to own the ball.

[Read the rest of this entry…]

Wins Don't Develop Players - An On The Pitch Series

  1. U6-U8 Soccer Player Development – Round Two
  2. Confidence Can’t Be Coached – It’s Learned (and Earned!)
  3. Developing Young Players Without Positions (or Wins)

Things That Make You Go Hmmmmm…

So my youngest had an indoor match tonight (5v5). Within 5 minutes they were up 7-0. At this point the other team can put another player on the field. Then they were up 10-0. This allows for TWO additional players to try and balance things. But the coach wouldn’t do it. They lost 24-0 despite our coach begging the boys to pass to each other before shooting, but they’re 7/8 – they wanted to score and shot often. Anyone who has coached this age knows how hard it can be to get 7 year old NOT to shoot.  Just dumbfounded why the coach wouldn’t throw the extra players in to balance things some and keep the game sort of competitive. It got to where 3 of our players would watch one teammate go 1v4 and shoot. We could have pulled a player, but in a brief 40 min match with 10 players – the kids want to play. Dropping to 4 or even 3 players means most of them would just sit and watch. The other team could have gotten tons more playing time and ball touches with the extra kids on the field. Was it pride? Why subject your kids to that and not utilize the rules to help keep a lid on things????