On The Pitch

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

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????

U6-U8 Soccer Player Development – Round Two

Wins Don't Develop Players - An OTP Series

Soccer Kids by terren in VirginiaAfter years of coaching multiple travel and Rec teams in various age groups, I unexpectedly have found myself coaching only two U8 Rec teams this season. I’ve coached many of these players since they were 4, so it’s been an interesting progression to observe. When our league split the younger ages by gender when they were rising U6’s, I kept both groups on and coached them in parallel. I saw first hand the positive impacts for the boys and the girls suddenly playing apart. Now we’re seeing some of those impacts pay off as they get older. Having coached my two eldest when they were this age 6-8 years ago, this is my second round through the younger ages and I’m definitely not the same coach I was back then.
[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)

She Said WHAT???

My U7 Girls team had a pretty good season. Their first match was probably one of the most exciting and fun U7 matches I’ve ever coached. Pullbacks, crosses, possession, passing, feint moves, passing back to the defender, dribbling AWAY from the swarm, staying spread out. You name it – they were doing it. I was just astounded and had fun watching them play. No score is kept, of course, but we certainly had scored more than the other team. But all the girls had fun and it was a good match all around. So after the handshakes, the other coach pulls me aside and congratulates the girls on their match and how well they played. Then he gets quiet and says

I’m REALLY sorry, but I think one of my girls was a little upset we lost. She pointed at your team and said “They’re Dicks!”. I just dunno how to respond to that! I hope they didn’t hear it.

I almost died laughing, because when a six year old says something like that, you know they have no clue what it means and it’s probably something they heard an adult or older kid say. It was just funny. I waved it off, told the coach not to worry about it and that we enjoyed the match. Then as I’m walking toward the parking lot behind one of my players, I discovered that I really am a bit clueless:

Sometimes it is so easy as adults to overlook the simple innocent answer!

Toxic Metals In Soccer Uniforms

Are there toxic chemicals in the soccer apparel our children are wearing all year?

A worrisome report recently came out from the European Consumers’ Organization (BEUC) that found ‘worrying’ levels of chemicals in Euro 2012 replica team jerseys. High levels of lead, organotin compounds, nickel, and nonylphenol were found, in some cases so high the BEUC recommended the shirts be banned.

BEUC, Europe’s consumer watchdog have discovered that chemicals used in official team strips in Poland, Spain, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Italy, France, Holland and Portugal, all produced by adidas, Nike and Puma, showed all nine national shirts contained “worrying” levels of chemicals.

In an embarrassing turn of events the shirts of tournament co-hosts Poland are so bad they should be banned, said BEUC, the umbrella group representing the EU’s national consumer organisations.

Lead, a heavy metal, was found in the team strip of six of the countries – Spain, Germany, Ukraine, Russia, France and Italy.

In kits from Spain and Germany, lead exceeded the legal level for children’s products and Portuguese and Dutch shirts also contained nickel.

‘Strips’ are what team uniforms are often called in the UK. Just because there are toxic chemicals in the replica jerseys does not mean they are present in the kits made for youth players, and there’s also the issue of leaching and can wearing such a jersey contaminate you. But it is a scary prospect all the same. Some of the chemicals clearly have a reasonable purpose – one of the chemicals was added to reduce sweat odor. But as a league administrator I would have never thought to ask our uniform supplier about the toxic chemical levels in our youth jerseys. Now I will (and our supplier uses vegetable dyes, so they were able to specify the jerseys were safe). I suspect when this reaches the US mainstream media, many youth sport suppliers are going to be inundated with phone calls from parents and leagues alike. Hopefully we’ll get some concrete information on what the materials contain and what the dangers are.

Yeah I laughed when I typed that.

Keep Her In The Game

Hope Solo recently tweeted about the importance of helping keep girls ‘in the game’ as they get older:

By 14, girls drop out of sports at two times the rate boys do. I dreamed of being a professional soccer player at a time when there was no professional women’s soccer. Years later my perseverance paid off and soccer became my career. Visit KeepHerInTheGame.org to donate and learn more.

I’ve never understood how in a country where the women’s national soccer team far outshines the men’s, we consistently see a ratio of 60/40 boys to girls in youth soccer participation. Sports don’t have to be all encompassing, but they can be an important part of every child’s life in terms of their overall growth. Nice to see our national athletes getting involved to keep girls in the game.

Extra Officials or Technology?

A Euro 2012 Goal Line Official In Position

I know it’s heresy – but I’m really liking the concept of the extra goal line officials in #Euro2012, because they are clearly doing more than just goal line watching and provide an extra set of eyes close by for fouls in the penalty area. Too expensive for youth matches below, say, State Cup play. But for professionals – I’d prefer this over video goal line technology because of the extra benefit in the area they provide that goal line technology does not. Can an official up close like that STILL miss a close call (say ball hammering down off the cross bar)? Perhaps. But it’s a lot less likely and if they really are communicating in fouls to the center, that makes it worthwhile. You’ll see that they seem to be carrying flag handles (which have wireless communication devices in them to signal the CR), just without the flags on them. And if they are not doing anything other than watch for a ball breaking the plane, I’d suggest expanding their role. Yes, soccer has had 3 officials on the field forever. But the time for 5 has clearly arrived. This is one experiment that needs to be implemented permanently, even though it’ll cost more.

Losing By Less Is Still Losing

‘Coach told us today that all we’re going to play against XXXXXX is defense’.

Why would you ever tell your players that? It just means you’re trying to lose by less, which gains you… what? I’ve never understood soccer coaches who drop 5-6-7 kids back on defense or directly shadow strikers to try to stem the bleeding. That just gets the attackers closer to your goal. You want to beat a team you believe to be more skilled than you? Put a few of your fastest players and strongest ball handlers in back to beat back the assaults/possess the ball up field and encourage your team to take risks, make runs, build attacks from the back, do the unexpected.

Better you lose 0-10 learning how to attack with flair and intensity against a strong team than relentlessly kick the ball out-of-bounds or upfield (in both cases back to the other team) so they can attack you over and over. It’s like hiding in a castle and routinely collecting all the projectiles, arrows, etc. that missed and bringing them back to your attackers to use again. Drives me crazy as a coach to see my players and my own kids struggle with what they’ve been taught in club against this insane school soccer mindset. You see it over and over. And yet you wonder why more kids are considering playing sports outside of school year round…

So much is written about how NCAA soccer cripples us as a soccer nation because it’s not conducive to the development of elite players. Please. It’s the 4-6 years of playing for teachers who don’t know the game, because the school won’t allow non-teachers to coach or even *help*. Yet the football teams have 15+ assistant coaches. Yes, there are fantastic school coaches out there and horrible club coaches. But on average school soccer is stifling our kid’s creativity and development on the soccer field during some of their most formative years.

Of Sugar, Spice, Soccer … and Mud

It’s been interesting seeing the culture shock in some of our area high school soccer programs as more players with travel/club experience arrive and join the sizable group of players who are athletic, but did not play travel soccer growing up. I’m proud that many of my older travel team players have a ‘warrior’ mindset. Soccer is an intense, physical, but beautiful sport – which is why many of them love to play. Yet many who are used to only Rec and School soccer don’t see it that way. So when I heard about an exchange between one of my players and a school teammate of hers, it made me smile.

At a recent match, the ground was very wet/muddy and my player had gotten fouled a few times, and going in hard – hit the ground. So she was VERY muddy. On the way out she had this exchange with a teammate (it’s paraphrased but you get the idea):

Teammate: “I had fun, but didn’t like being knocked down in the mud”

My Player: “but you like to play soccer…”

Teammate: “yeah, I like to play soccer”

My Player: “well, that’s soccer and it happens”

Teammate: “well, I like to kick the ball and run, but not get muddy or get pushed.”

My Player: “ummm… then you don’t really like soccer”

That’s funny!

Keeping That Warrior Spirit

My 96 girls travel players are mostly freshmen in high school now, all playing on their respective school teams (we have players at five different schools). To say it has been a shock for some would be an understatement, even those playing Varsity. Coming from the physical, intense, and fast paced environment of club soccer, it’s been an interesting adjustment for some in how they’re being asked to play. After watching a few of their school matches and seeing what they were trying to do only to be admonished for it, I wrote the following and sent it out to all of them:

When you cross that touchline – you are a warrior.

No opponent is going to step aside so you can score at will all by yourself. If you blindly turnover the ball to ‘be safe’ your opponents will only thank you. If you stand around waiting for the ball, your opponents will only pass you by. Yet at times it can seem that’s all you’re encouraged to do.

But you know better. That is not how you’ve been trained.

You don’t clear it – you possess it. You don’t stand still, you are always in motion. You don’t ‘stay in your circle’ you dash across the field and do the unexpected. You don’t ‘just kick it’, you bring it up field to start an attack or score. You don’t do it all yourself, you send the ball to open teammates, even if they’re near your own goal. You don’t fear the lightning quick striker, you steal her thunder and the ball at a full sprint. You stay right behind her shoulder, ensuring she knows you are always there. You don’t fear the distance, you drill the shot at the corner. You don’t watch the shot get taken, you dive in for the tackle knowing you’ll have more to show for it than dirty socks.

You’ve trained too hard for too long and endured too much to conform to some prim idea of how girls should play soccer. Soccer itself grew out of a war game and you have a warrior’s spirit. Don’t ever forget that’s part of why you love ‘the beautiful game’!

A Little Coaching Encouragement Goes A Long Way

We talk a lot about player development (often how broken it is), but we never seem to move beyond that to building the foundation to improve it: coaching development. There’s this almost universal assumption that elite coaches are always elite players who move into coaching and are ‘good’ because they know the game and have been coached for years. But they aren’t usually coaching U5-U8 soccer, when kids are learning the critical basic techniques and developing a love for the game. Why don’t we talk about the development of those coaches more beyond ‘Hey, here are some cones a whistle and try to take this Youth I Coaching Class’?

[Read the rest of this entry…]

Beckham Sent Off From Youth Soccer Match

I find this hilariously funny!

David Beckham got sent off from a youth soccer match:

“It was the younger kids of Romeo’s club, and they’re playing in the game and there was a penalty given. And the kids are 7 years old and he sent the kid off.” After that, Beckham, who has seen his share of red cards in his career (including a crucial one in a World Cup match against Argentina in 1998), did what so many parents of youth soccer players have done — he opened his mouth.

“And I was like, ‘Come on, he’s 7 years old, Referee, you can’t send him off.’ And he looked at me and was like, ‘Yes, I can.’ And I was like, ‘O.K., well, you can’t, he’s 7 years old.’ And he came over and gave me a red card. He told me to get out of the park. For real.

#refereewin. Can you imagine the next time he’s chatting with other refs at a tournament? “Oh yeah? Well I sent David Beckham off!” Of course, it’s even more likely that the ref had no idea who he was!

The Great User Purge

Lately we’ve been getting hammered with spammy new user accounts here at On The Pitch (dozens a day). It was becoming an administrative nightmare, so we’ve taken a few steps to try to reduce the load on our server and still make it easy to comment and participate in discussions.

  1. We’ve enabled captchas for creating user accounts and for posting comments anonymously. The captcha we use is ADA compliant, providing audio captchas on request. Here is an example:

    An Example Re-Captcha w/Audio Support

  2. If you create an account and are logged in, you will NOT have to enter a captcha to comment, since you entered one to create your account. If you are not logging in to a local account, the captcha form will appear and must be completed in order to post a comment.
  3. We had thousands of fake user accounts – so we have deleted almost all of them. If your account has a name entered, a comment linked to it, or an avatar linked to it, we left it alone. All the others were removed. So if you had created an account and can’t login to it – that’s why. Just recreate it with the captcha check, and you won’t see the captcha again

I apologize for the hassle, and I am not a huge captcha fan, but they provide some protection in addition to the many other anti-spam features we have in place.

Coaches, Teachers, and Parents… Oh My!

Ron Clark has a fantastic article up at CNN highlighting the flight of teachers from the profession, in part because of trouble dealing with parents. Reading it, I saw a lot of parallels with coaching youth sports and dealing with soccer parents, which can have a huge impact on a team and player development. Much of his advice to parents about dealing with teachers applies to sports parents as well.

For starters, we are educators, not nannies. We are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do. If we give you advice, don’t fight it. Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer. I have become used to some parents who just don’t want to hear anything negative about their child, but sometimes if you’re willing to take early warning advice to heart, it can help you head off an issue that could become much greater in the future.

He goes on to talk about more specific things he’s seen in his years as an educator. He also touches on how the bad teachers are often the ones who give the best grades because they want to be left alone. I’ve seen that in youth soccer as well. You try to address a problem player’s issues with their parents and suddenly you are a bad coach picking on their kid. A great read and one I’d share with as many parents as possible.

No Amount of Coaching Can Equal This

A common belief is that US youth soccer players suffer from over coaching, and in many cases that is true. But in our helicopter parent society where kids rarely can just go ‘play in the park’, coaches are in a situation where they have to provide SOME instruction and opportunity to develop. How do you create a fun practice where the kids push themselves vs go through the motions while also correcting mistakes and allowing for self discovery of soccer skill? In only 2-3 sessions a week? But that’s a post for another day.

Even harder is how do you get kids to want to play with a soccer ball outside of practice. I’ve tried all sorts of tactics in my 10 years of coaching, but don’t know that I’ve ever gotten a player to do so (though I’d have no idea if they did).

So last week, after one of our U11 girl’s teams wrapped up practice, I was talking to their coach about some registration stuff. As the players packed up and gradually left with parents, I kept hearing this ‘Whap! Whap!’ I glance over to the fence and one of the quieter, smaller players on the team was drilling her soccer ball into the fence, over and over. Great way to practice proper technique when striking the ball. I briefly hinted that she might hit it better with her foot closer to the ball and approaching from an angle and left it at that. So, of course, I watched her closer for a bit to see how she did, and I see that when she would turn around at her ball to face the fence again, she wasn’t just turning around. She was doing an excellent reverse scissor! Over and over and over. Every time she’d do the move, she’d let this grin slip onto her face.

Now this 10 year old player is not one of the strongest players on the team and she doesn’t have a dominant personality. But over the course of last season, she would dribble the ball with increasing confidence, even under pressure, despite her teammates imploring her to ‘get rid of it!’. Then I see this. I cannot WAIT to see how this player develops, because she clearly WANTS to get better. Plenty of players work hard at practice or rely on raw athleticism. But few make a point of pushing themselves on their own and putting themselves under pressure on purpose. Their coach could practice reverse scissors with them for weeks, and none of them would try it in a match. I bet this player will – because she perfected it on her own.

I wish I knew how to consistently make more players do that, because no amount of coaching can equal that!

What Happened To ‘Spring’ Soccer?

imageSoccer calendars vary by state, primarily due to the local climate. Yet many soccer parents chuckle at the concept of ‘Spring’ soccer, because the weather can get pretty wild (and cold) some years. Still, the idea of ‘Spring’ soccer generally meant the bulk of the season was played in… the Spring. Here in North Carolina that meant travel matches would start in late February and end in late April. Not any more!

[Read the rest of this entry…]