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On The Pitch http://onthepitch.org Thoughts on Youth Soccer from a Soccer Dad, Fan, Coach and Administrator Sat, 21 May 2016 03:30:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.3 http://onthepitch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/OTP3D2-5536a701v1_site_icon-32x32.png On The Pitch http://onthepitch.org 32 32 1079446 This is what it’s all about http://onthepitch.org/2016/05/20/this-is-what-its-all-about/ http://onthepitch.org/2016/05/20/this-is-what-its-all-about/#respond Sat, 21 May 2016 03:30:19 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2694 image

This is why I coach…

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I Believe That We … Won http://onthepitch.org/2014/07/01/i-believe-that-we-won/ http://onthepitch.org/2014/07/01/i-believe-that-we-won/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 01:52:47 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2659 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?





Kansas City

Kansas City

Soldier Field - Chicago

Soldier Field – Chicago

FC Dallas

FC Dallas





That’s not to watch a sporting event live – that’s to watch it on big video screens. Even here in Raleigh-Durham we had 3,000 people sitting in the NASL Carolina Railhawks stadium to watch the USA vs Ghana match on a weeknight!



Here’s some quickly jotted down thoughts I posted to my Facebook friends:

  • First – apologies to my FB friends for my sometimes frantic pace of posts. I tried to only post the occasional tweet onto FB as well, but in the excitement often forgot. But beyond that, as a die hard soccer fan, coach, and parent of four soccer crazed kids…
  • This has been, by far, the best World Cup EVER. In years past, European teams would often toy with the rest of the world’s teams through most of the group stages. While European clubs do tend to struggle in WC’s played in the Americas, this WC showed the ‘gap’ has closed significantly. Attacking soccer. Lots of goals, drama, and intensity. Teams from smaller nations knocking out legendary teams or giving them a run for the money. I hope this continues in future events. CONCACAF having three teams in the knockout rounds – unprecedented. And given who is still left in the quarterfinals – hopefully US fans will continue to follow what has been an event for the ages and the next few weeks are likely to be just as exciting.
  • The US seemed to reach a tipping point in following soccer and supporting their team. For a nation that can be so jingoistic, supporting THE national team competing across the globe seems like a no brainer. Regardless, this year was different. Did you see the crowd at Soldier Field??? Just to watch the game on a big screen? Awesome.
  • Did you hear the USA chants in the stadium? In Brazil?? Behind the host country, Americans bought the most World Cup tickets by far and our fans were energetic, vibrant, and fun. Hopefully that will carry back to more MLS and NASL matches.
  • Whoever was hired by U.S. Soccer to run their social media campaign deserves a massive raise. They seemed to hit just the right balance of sharable content and cheerleading along with user engagement. #1N1T One Nation One Team was brilliant and I suspect will become a fixture tag for our teams… Keep it up
  • We really need to work towards promotion and relegation in the MLS. I completely understand that the ‘cartel’ style setup was necessary to build a thriving league where so many had failed before. But it’s time to let a couple NASL and USL teams have a chance to make it to the big time. The US Open Cup just isn’t enough. That said – we can’t expect MLS to accept teams being relegated into a league with avg attendance of 4,000 (vs 18,000). Local peeps – find your way to a Railhawks or Dynamo match!
  • Too bad Soccer.com isn’t a public company. I suspect they made a killing this summer shipping replica jerseys – what an investment opportunity. The Red/White/Blue US away kit is one of the best ever.
  • Don’t forget that you don’t have to wait another 4 years. Coming up??? Women’s World Cup, CONCACAF Champions League, US Open Cup, Olympics, MLS (and expansion), NASL, Gold Cup, Copa America. Before you know it, World Cup 2018 qualifiers will be underway.
  • Jürgen Klinsmann is THE MAN and absolutely should be the one to build us towards 2018. I also hope he’ll continue to work with US Soccer on youth development, just like he did when he coached Germany.
  • Mebane/Burlington needs an American Outlaws chapter. Seeing pics from Mattie B’s in Durham and Cooper’s Ale House in Greensboro made me think we could pack a house given how popular soccer is in Mebane and Burlington. I’m game to organize – who’s up for joining a local chapter and heading to a nearby establishment (and someday a nearby US match or two) to support the USMNT and USWNT? I’m serious.
  • To all the kids playing soccer, do you see how right your coach was when he/she talked about first touch? Our first touch killed us and yet we made the round of 16. Imagine how far we’d go if our touch had been better?
  • I wanted to share a couple fun personal notes from the World Cup so far:
    • All four of my children play soccer – OK they live and breathe it playing on travel teams. But in 2010, they had a casual interest in the World Cup. This year, they’ve been glued to the TV watching just about every match. Yet even today, three of them were outside kicking a ball around as the #USAvsBEL match started before settling in for the 2 hour tour. #StreetSoccer
    • During extra time, they all started chanting “I Believe That We Will Win!” Wish I could have grabbed that on my phone. Some have mocked that chant, but for the USMNT this go around? It was perfect.
    • My youngest was genuinely upset when we lost But he’s a die hard Messi fan so he’s all excited about the next round.

Maybe Americans will forget soccer for another 4 years, but I don’t think so. This time around feels different. I hope so because there’s so much soccer ahead in the next four years and then we (hopefully!) head to Russia – as a team the rest of the world will now see as contenders, not pretenders. On that note, I have to share this segment from an English soccer podcast that’s been making the rounds on Twitter – we’re earning respect across the globe…


When you’ve earned soccer respect from an Englishman… Yeah… It’s different.

As for this @soccerdad? I’m going to enjoy the rest of the tournament then start getting ready for the Fall youth season!

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It Doesn’t Take A Field of Dreams http://onthepitch.org/2014/06/01/it-doesnt-take-a-field-of-dreams/ http://onthepitch.org/2014/06/01/it-doesnt-take-a-field-of-dreams/#comments Sun, 01 Jun 2014 14:48:15 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2651 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.

Shows how much I know…

The grass in our front yard used to be thick and plush... Not anymore!

The grass in our front yard used to be thick and plush… Not anymore!

This is our front yard… The grass used to be thick and plush after much TLC last fall. At best it’s 8 yards from the front porch to that portable goal. There’s a huge yucca plant with sharp leaves that hurt if you run into it. A few large roots from the massive tree to the left. Yet my children have carved out their own little soccer field and they play out there ALL the time. Shooting, doing tricks, playing 1v1, or some form of CalvinBall. That bare area is honestly the ONLY flat area in our yard – and they’ve commandeered it. All that wear is from the past few months once it got warm enough. Sure – they’ll occasionally take the goal to the neighbors bigger flatter yard, but clearly size/space/hazards aren’t standing in their way…

So I guess it doesn’t really matter how much yard you have – if your kids decide they want to play – they’ll find a way to play!  No clue WHY they suddenly are playing so much on such a tiny patch of grass, but I’m thrilled they are!


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National ‘C’ License http://onthepitch.org/2013/10/31/national-c-license/ http://onthepitch.org/2013/10/31/national-c-license/#comments Thu, 31 Oct 2013 14:13:14 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2232 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!

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Why Do You Coach? http://onthepitch.org/2013/09/16/why-do-you-coach-2/ http://onthepitch.org/2013/09/16/why-do-you-coach-2/#comments Mon, 16 Sep 2013 05:30:46 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2228 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.

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Insights from Claudio Reyna and Player ‘Paths’ http://onthepitch.org/2013/05/03/insights-from-claudio-reyna-and-player-paths/ http://onthepitch.org/2013/05/03/insights-from-claudio-reyna-and-player-paths/#comments Fri, 03 May 2013 16:47:28 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2207 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…

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Letter From A Volunteer Coach http://onthepitch.org/2013/05/03/letter-from-a-volunteer-coach/ http://onthepitch.org/2013/05/03/letter-from-a-volunteer-coach/#comments Fri, 03 May 2013 13:10:15 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2202 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 brian@coachdeck.com.

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.

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USYS Releases New Practice Guides http://onthepitch.org/2013/05/02/usys-releases-new-practice-guides/ http://onthepitch.org/2013/05/02/usys-releases-new-practice-guides/#respond Thu, 02 May 2013 20:33:49 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2196 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…

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A Look At Pickup Soccer in America http://onthepitch.org/2013/04/26/a-look-at-pickup-soccer-in-america/ http://onthepitch.org/2013/04/26/a-look-at-pickup-soccer-in-america/#comments Fri, 26 Apr 2013 18:47:40 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2192 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.

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Stolen Player Passes End State Cup Dreams http://onthepitch.org/2013/04/20/stolen-player-passes-end-state-cup-dreams/ http://onthepitch.org/2013/04/20/stolen-player-passes-end-state-cup-dreams/#respond Sat, 20 Apr 2013 18:46:05 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2191 @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.

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Developing Young Players Without Positions (or Wins) http://onthepitch.org/2013/04/15/developing-young-players-without-positions-or-wins/ http://onthepitch.org/2013/04/15/developing-young-players-without-positions-or-wins/#comments Mon, 15 Apr 2013 12:50:37 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2149 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

Now granted, this is U8 (our league plays 6v6 for U8 and it’s a single year division. No U7s), so you can’t coach a lot of higher level concepts and tactics to them. However, you absolutely can start to encourage some things and avoid building a foundation of bad habits for that first year they play with keepers (often U9/U10 in the United States, which this advice is still valid for). In order to do that, I selected a few core basic concepts that give them the freedom to be creative and avoid building bad habits they have to break later:

  • We only have three ‘positions’: Defense, Center, Wing. We play a basic 2-3 formation. The idea is to avoid ‘locking’ them into a certain position and encouraging them to get creative and move. The flip side is with too much freedom, you’ll just have swarm ball. So each position has a few very basic ‘rules’ they are supposed to follow. The key rule I’ve reinforced since U5? “How many players chase the ball???” ONE!
  • Center: This is the easiest position. I simply tell them the center can go anywhere they want and do anything they want. Offense, defense, etc. They are expected to score AND steal the ball defensively. They run a LOT. Kids LOVE this position!
  • Defense: I don’t tell the players left or right. I just say ‘defender’. They ask me what side they should play on and I tell them I don’t care. After a couple matches, they figure it out and play side by side, but mentally are not as locked into an area and are more comfortable moving laterally to support. I make a special point of telling them to ignore the midfield line. Kids this age view many of the lines on a soccer field as ‘X marks the spot’ like the top of the area for defenders or as a boundary like defenders who will NOT cross midfield. It took me a couple years to get my young travel defenders comfortable crossing that line because they’d been told for years in Rec to stay at the top of the area or never cross midfield. Their one and only rule is “Don’t go past the last opponent without the ball”. Now this is probably the trickiest concept for them, but they do eventually get it. But teaching it is going to cost you goals and wins. We had a few early matches where we *dominated* possession – the other team hardly touched the ball. But our defenders would get caught up in the game, end up in front of the three forwards, and the other team would intercept and score a few times. Nothing drives a lesson home like giving up lots of goals. But you’ll have to make sure your parents get WHY you are doing it or they’ll think you’re the worst coach to ever hold a stop watch. I was worried the kids would not get this, but after a season they finally did and the payoff has been huge in the Spring. As they got comfortable with it, I’d start to talk to the defenders about the ball being the ‘key’ that lets them do anything. If they have the ball, they can go anywhere (i.e. attack the goal) while the other defender hangs back. Once they get rid of it or lose it, the rules apply again (i.e. get back behind the opponents as quickly as you can). Seeing U8 defenders dribble upfield and penetrate for a shot or corner flag pass has been fun.
  • Wings: My wings are probably the hardest position for kids to visualize, but gradually they figure it out. First, I don’t even try to tell them left or right. When my U14 players were still holding their hands up with thumb and index finger extended to see which one made the ‘L’ for left, clearly the U8s weren’t going to consistently get it. I simply tell my two wings one is ‘by the parents’, the other ‘by me’. This is the one position I do set boundaries on. I try to get them to visualize a rectangle made by the goal, the kickoff mark, and the sideline. They are told NOT to cross midfield into the defensive side. This seems to fly in the face of what I do with my defenders, but I found that while my younger travel defenders wouldn’t cross midfield, the strikers always would. Too often we’d have EVERYone playing defense in U11/U12 and nobody to pass to. So getting strikers into the mindset of staying in the offensive end of the field seems worth it. Plus once offside factors into the equation, they’ll need to spend time near midfield anyway against a pressure defense. The hardest part for them to remember is not going from one side to the other where the ball is. I frequently remind them to ‘get back on your side and call for the ball’. Getting them to stay above midfield is a little easier since there is a nice thick line there to remind them, but it still takes time to keep them from running to the ball near their own goal. This is also one of the harder things for parents to get comfortable with. We would play some teams that were pure swarm ball. All five opponents would be going after the ball with just our two defenders and hopefully the center to stop them. Parents seeing two of our players standing at midfield twiddling their thumbs while we got scored on is hard to handle. I reminded my parents often why I was doing this and to give it time. Now my defenders have confidence to possess the ball under heavy pressure and when they look up what do they see? *Targets* U8 is where passing is slowly introduced and by having the wings stay up there, often by themselves, it starts to encourage players to pass to them. Slowly opposing coaches would tell some of their players to stay near our wings and that took care of swarm ball. One key to making this work? Spending a lot of time on 1v1 in practice and stripping the ball from attackers. The other technique they need is separating the ball from an attacker on the run – but early on they are often too far forward and have to run back to catch an attacker so they get a LOT of practice doing this in early matches.

That’s the bulk of our ‘tactical’ strategy in U8. I absolutely will give players off the ball feedback to try and make light bulbs go off for slightly more advanced tactics. But the foundation is pretty basic and easy for this age to grasp. One last ‘boundary’ I do use is the opponents penalty area. I tell my players when they get near that outer box they should be shooting or getting ready to shoot.

One of the key parts of this style of player development is to expose ALL your players to ALL positions. We use a simple substitution rotation. All the offensive players (Center and two Wings) sub out. The current keeper and defenders move up to offense. Then three players sub in as the two defenders and keeper. I use two pinnies so the keepers don’t have to exchange one to speed the substitution process. I usually sub every 8 minutes so players get moved around a fair amount. Yes, subbing in everyone at keeper means we give up some goals and lose vs teams that have one or two players who play keeper a lot. That’s OK. I want my players to know what it’s like facing a shot so they become better shooters.

The most important part of developing players like this? Maintaining parent expectations and helping players deal with ‘losing’. Trust me. You *WILL* lose, especially in the Fall. The final whistle will blow, it’ll seem like you had the ball a lot, but still lost. So here are some points to make to your parents:

  • We are absolutely going to lose some matches because of things the players are encouraged to do – sometimes by a LOT. Player development is a long term investment that will require some short term losses. Don’t focus on the score or who won, instead consider some of the following:
  • Which team possessed the ball more? Players who have the ball are developing more confidence with the ball and we absolutely want that.
  • Never encourage a player to kick the ball or pass. At this age, we would rather have a team full of ball hogs able to possess the ball under pressure. Over time players will be encouraged to look for options when multiple opponents collapse around them, but they’re told to never give up the ball unless they know they can pass it TO a teammate. This is especially true on defense. Possession, not panic.
  • We will often have situations where we are playing 2v5 or 3v5. That’s OK! We want our defenders to discover what to do in lopsided situations. As they get older, this will give them MUCH more confidence with the ball and give them time to choose the ‘best’ option.
  • Watch what the players do with the ball. If they make a nice change of direction, pull off a basic soccer move, or steal the ball – cheer like you would if they scored. We want to encourage them when they do good things on the field.

After every match or two, try to take some time to reinforce these points with the parents win or lose. Keep them focused on the gradual improvements the players are making.

You also need to keep the players focused on the positive. For us it has been possession. Win or lose we almost always own the ball. So I remind the players that the more we possess the ball, the more chances we have to score. Sure an opponent may have gotten a few lucky breakaways, but we always had the ball and that’s a win. Over time encourage them to focus on time of possession more than goals.

Will all this work? Only time will tell. I’ve finally started to see things ‘clicking’ with both of my U8 teams in recent matches, so I think it is working, but the true test will be how these players continue to develop in U10 and beyond. My biggest fear is if they end up with another coach that discourages their freewheeling creativity and style of play. But for now it’s been great to see our players dominate possession of the ball and gain confidence to do fun things with it.

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)
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When Players Finally ‘Get’ 1v1 http://onthepitch.org/2013/04/14/when-players-finally-get-1v1/ http://onthepitch.org/2013/04/14/when-players-finally-get-1v1/#respond Mon, 15 Apr 2013 02:27:57 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2182 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.

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Ten Questions For Soccer Parents http://onthepitch.org/2013/04/14/ten-questions-for-soccer-parents/ http://onthepitch.org/2013/04/14/ten-questions-for-soccer-parents/#comments Mon, 15 Apr 2013 02:13:45 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2180 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.

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Ball Hogs Need Not Apply! http://onthepitch.org/2013/04/14/ball-hogs-need-not-apply/ http://onthepitch.org/2013/04/14/ball-hogs-need-not-apply/#comments Mon, 15 Apr 2013 02:04:14 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2176 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…

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Confidence Can’t Be Coached – It’s Learned (and Earned!) http://onthepitch.org/2013/02/03/confidence-cant-be-coached-its-learned-and-earned/ http://onthepitch.org/2013/02/03/confidence-cant-be-coached-its-learned-and-earned/#comments Sun, 03 Feb 2013 21:47:36 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2166 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.

Though they may not really understand why, I constantly remind my players that they have three choices when they get the ball and always in this order:

  1. SHOOT!
  2. Dribble
  3. Pass

Over time, I add some context to that:

  1. Close enough to the goal and open? SHOOT!
  2. Dribble until you are pressured by two or more players and have options to…
  3. Pass to an open teammate in motion

Obviously at U8 – long range shooting is not a skill most kids master. So our main focus is on possession. They *always* have a ball at their feet. In our Fall U8 season, we didn’t work on passing much in practice – though I encouraged it in matches. This Spring, we’ll probably focus more on passing in practice – especially technique. No sweeping foot passes! But possession has been the main focus.

In effect? I’m coaching a team of ball hogs – on purpose. This has actually had an interesting effect during matches. Our opponents know that when we get the ball – we tend to keep it. So they swarm to the ball, leaving a LOT of our team wide open. So this has helped the players discover options and passing on their own. One of our opponents is named the Butterflies – so I told them when the Butterflies swarm, look for an open teammate. We passed more than I thought we would! But overall the players work hard to maintain possession no matter what.

So how has this worked out for us? Quite well. We maintain possession for the vast majority of our matches, getting us the most ball touches under pressure. The players are gradually increasing the speed that they dribble as their confidence increases. We’ve absolutely given up some goals when we’ve lost the ball near our goal, but that’s an exception and the players get it. I’ve had to clue my parents in on the strategy to ensure they aren’t screaming ‘Kick the ball!’ or ‘Not in front of the goal!’ They know to cheer the players who dive in, steal a ball and possess it. The players back on defense rarely kick the ball away. They steal it/intercept it, and dribble. Well, that’s what we try to get them to do anyway 🙂

One of my favorite examples of how we stress possession happened near our goal. One of our defenders got the ball near the end line about 3 yds away from the goal. She had pressure from the corner and upfield. So she proceeded to dribble the ball within a foot of our goal line all the way across to the other side of the goal. The entire time she had pressure on her and using her arm and body, kept them away, kept possession of the ball and curved up the parent sideline to attack. It was awesome. 

We have won many of our matches (though we don’t keep score *wink*), but have certainly lost a few. I explained to my parents when the season started that we would almost certainly lose matches because of the way I coached them and what I encouraged them to do. And we have. Plenty of goals have been given up by both U8 teams due to back field possession and occasionally losing the ball. But the players clearly have gotten more confident with the ball no matter where they are.

That’s all I can ask for. We may not win every match, but it’s such a thrill watching the players own the ball. You can’t pass the ball if you don’t have it. Too many players are encouraged by parents and coaches alike to ‘KICK THE BALL’ when they really need to be encouraged to keep it. Will they be accused of being ball hogs? Maybe. But a ball hog is just a player that hasn’t learned their options yet.

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)
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Things That Make You Go Hmmmmm… http://onthepitch.org/2012/12/04/things-that-make-you-go-hmmmmm/ http://onthepitch.org/2012/12/04/things-that-make-you-go-hmmmmm/#comments Wed, 05 Dec 2012 03:38:48 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2159 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????

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U6-U8 Soccer Player Development – Round Two http://onthepitch.org/2012/11/11/u6-u8-soccer-player-development-round-two/ http://onthepitch.org/2012/11/11/u6-u8-soccer-player-development-round-two/#comments Sun, 11 Nov 2012 13:26:00 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2143 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.

Our league adheres mostly to the US Youth Soccer recommendations for small sided soccer at this age. 3v3 for U5/U6 and 4v4 for U7. Where we deviate is moving to 6v6 at U8 (it’s a single year age group). Most leagues will move to 6v6 at U9 (as part of a U10 division). So moving to U8 is a huge adjustment for the players. HUGE. I always surprise newer U5/U6 coaches when they ask about what drills to do at that age or if they are doing a good job. My response is always along the lines of ‘If your players are running around most of the time with a ball at their feet and laughing and coming back excited to be there, then it’s an excellent practice.’ If your U5 players want to chase you around the field trying to catch you, dribbling the whole time – awesome. It can be that simple. Any drill that is fun (include characters or stories. Make it visual) and involves them moving around with a ball is perfect. You’re #1 goal is to ensure they have so much fun they keep coming back and #2 is ensuring they touch a soccer ball. A lot. This is a heck of an adjustment for many. It was for me. Anyone who has taken the National Youth License course knows the talk about what kids of a certain age are prepared for:

  • U6 – They move in one direction. Forward. (Every player should have a ball in practice)
  • U8 – They discover they can go backwards too… (1 ball for every two players – starts to get them passing)
  • U10 – They discover they can pass sideways and the field has width. (1 ball for every three players – start to stress triangles/shape)

Having coached travel teams up through the HS level that had come through our Rec program playing coed and also larger games (our move to small sided was a gradual process), my goal was to try and adjust how I coached these younger teams to try and avoid some of the issues I faced with my older teams. These included:

  • Tendency to pass the ball immediately under pressure. Little confidence to possess the ball.
  • Not looking up for teammates with ball at feet.
  • Movement off the ball rare or only *after* ball played.
  • No interest in heading a ball, even from a short distance to get over top of an opponent.
  • Hesitant to pass the ball backwards.
  • Treating midfield and the 18yd line as absolute position markers for defenders (start or stay on 18 and if you push up, never cross midfield)
  • No concept of ‘compress to defend, expand to attack’.
  • Players running toward teammates with the ball – little trust or concept of ‘support’ positioning.
  • And the most startling: incorrect technique for both dribbling and passing.

Obviously not all of these are addressable in U6 or U8. But some of the basic ones are. So much of my focus in U6 through U8 has been to try and avoid these problems as they get older. Having learned much since the last time I coached at this level, I’m hoping to better prepare this group than I did my own kids. This series of articles will cover some of the changes I’ve made coaching this younger group as well as report back how things are going. I look forward to hearing your comments and thoughts along the way!

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)
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She Said WHAT??? http://onthepitch.org/2012/06/16/she-said-what/ http://onthepitch.org/2012/06/16/she-said-what/#comments Sat, 16 Jun 2012 12:05:30 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2085 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!

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Toxic Metals In Soccer Uniforms http://onthepitch.org/2012/06/15/toxic-metals-in-soccer-uniforms/ http://onthepitch.org/2012/06/15/toxic-metals-in-soccer-uniforms/#respond Fri, 15 Jun 2012 21:05:04 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2128 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.

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Keep Her In The Game http://onthepitch.org/2012/06/15/keep-her-in-the-game/ http://onthepitch.org/2012/06/15/keep-her-in-the-game/#comments Fri, 15 Jun 2012 18:36:17 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2119 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.

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Extra Officials or Technology? http://onthepitch.org/2012/06/14/extra-officials-or-technology/ http://onthepitch.org/2012/06/14/extra-officials-or-technology/#respond Thu, 14 Jun 2012 18:23:45 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2113

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.

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Losing By Less Is Still Losing http://onthepitch.org/2012/04/24/losing-by-less-is-still-losing/ http://onthepitch.org/2012/04/24/losing-by-less-is-still-losing/#comments Tue, 24 Apr 2012 13:18:04 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2105 ‘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.

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Of Sugar, Spice, Soccer … and Mud http://onthepitch.org/2012/03/28/of-sugar-spice-soccer-and-mud/ http://onthepitch.org/2012/03/28/of-sugar-spice-soccer-and-mud/#comments Wed, 28 Mar 2012 15:26:14 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2095 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!

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Keeping That Warrior Spirit http://onthepitch.org/2012/03/22/keeping-that-warrior-spirit/ http://onthepitch.org/2012/03/22/keeping-that-warrior-spirit/#comments Thu, 22 Mar 2012 16:10:23 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2079 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’!

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A Little Coaching Encouragement Goes A Long Way http://onthepitch.org/2012/03/16/a-little-coaching-encouragement-goes-a-long-way/ http://onthepitch.org/2012/03/16/a-little-coaching-encouragement-goes-a-long-way/#comments Fri, 16 Mar 2012 13:10:35 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2071 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’?

I’ve coached youth soccer for ten years now and still feel like a novice, learning every day. My practices this year are probably a lot different than years before. I’m always trying to adjust my sessions to better fit my ever improving idea of how a player should develop at a young age. I’ve started to settle on the organized chaos theory. If the kids are running around and having a blast with a ball at their feet in U5/U6 – life is good! But it’s been long enough that I’ve forgotten how utterly terrifying it was to coach my first season of U6. When I happen to talk to some of the coaches at our younger age groups, almost universally they think they are doing poorly. They know they are green, they know they are ‘new’, and they usually have no yard stick to measure THEIR development by. The most obvious measure is also the worst at young ages – the score. We rarely KEEP score at young ages, but you know when your team is beating another team or not. The problem is, the team scoring the most goals at U6 is NOT necessarily the best team overall in terms of coaching and development. More often it means they have a big fast kid who can dribble and run to the goal and score. Over and over. But the other team may be doing a better job of individual possession and exhibiting better soccer technique. Guess which coach thinks he’s rockin it and which one thinks he’s doing poorly…

We need to do a much better job of reaffirming when coaches are doing well with criteria that focus on player development, NOT the score. The coaches who leave U5/U6 with confidence in their ability are often the ones who happened to have big fast kids that score over and over. Some of those will develop a coaching sense of ‘pass it to the big fast kid so we can score’ as they move up in age. We need to do a better job ensuring the coaches who ‘get it’ are recognized for their efforts and ensure they’re the ones who stick with it, while also trying to get the ones measuring themselves by the score to see the error of their ways and to focus more on player development.

Case in point. I was coaching one of my teams and I hear these peals of laughter and squealing from a bunch of kids. Field space is tight, so there are 5 or 6 teams on this one baseball outfield. I’ve already had a coach upset because he doesn’t have enough room for his U7s to ‘work on passing’ and dribble between cones. Guess how excited those kids were. Yet I look over and see this other coach, with U5 or U6 boys, practicing in a 20x20yd box. He pretty much took whatever scrap of field he could find for his practice. These kids are laughing and squealing and running all over their little square. The coach is full of energy and giving high fives and the kids are having a BLAST. They all have soccer balls at their feet, running here and there and everywhere. This is one of our newer coaches. I thought that was pretty cool, but turned my attention back to my practice and kept working with my group.

Later that week, one of my parents asked me if I had noticed the very same practice and how much energy that coach had and how much fun those kids were having. I said that I had, and then it hit me that I’m sure nobody went to *him* and said that. So the next week, after another of his team’s high energy practices, I made a point to go over to him and tell him what a fantastic job I thought he was doing. He was shocked. He reacted like many newer coaches who think they can’t possibly be doing things ‘right’. I explained that at this age you can’t *teach* the kids stuff – your goal is to create a fun and high energy atmosphere where the kids are always moving around with the ball at their feet and are having FUN. I told him he’s more than accomplished that and to keep it up. He was beaming and as I left the park, I wondered why our league didn’t make it more of a point to do that. We try to mentor and offer tips when coaches need help, but we don’t really make it a point to approach those coaches who CLEARLY are good with kids and were running good sessions and say ‘Great Job! Keep it Up!’ If we did, I wonder how many more coaches we’d develop long term who ended up loving the beautiful game as much as many of the kids and experienced coaches? We work so hard trying to convince the parents that the score doesn’t matter at the younger ages, but I’m not sure we do a good enough job convincing the coaches the same thing when it comes to measuring your success as a coach. A U6 score is NOT an indication of how well your doing. Instead, how many of your kids are having fun, keep coming back each season, and are touching the ball a lot?

In short – we certainly need to keep working to educate our inexperienced coaches, but we probably can do a better job of telling them when they’re doing things right. Otherwise their only metric is…. the score nobody keeps.

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Beckham Sent Off From Youth Soccer Match http://onthepitch.org/2012/02/08/beckham-sent-off-from-youth-soccer-match/ http://onthepitch.org/2012/02/08/beckham-sent-off-from-youth-soccer-match/#comments Thu, 09 Feb 2012 03:29:28 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2057 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!

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The Great User Purge http://onthepitch.org/2012/02/07/the-great-user-purge/ http://onthepitch.org/2012/02/07/the-great-user-purge/#respond Tue, 07 Feb 2012 17:45:05 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2052 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.

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Coaches, Teachers, and Parents… Oh My! http://onthepitch.org/2012/01/30/coaches-teachers-and-parents-oh-my/ http://onthepitch.org/2012/01/30/coaches-teachers-and-parents-oh-my/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2012 15:05:16 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2041 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.

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No Amount of Coaching Can Equal This http://onthepitch.org/2012/01/29/no-amount-of-coaching-can-equal-this/ http://onthepitch.org/2012/01/29/no-amount-of-coaching-can-equal-this/#respond Sun, 29 Jan 2012 14:29:25 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2035 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!

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What Happened To ‘Spring’ Soccer? http://onthepitch.org/2012/01/23/what-happened-to-spring-soccer/ http://onthepitch.org/2012/01/23/what-happened-to-spring-soccer/#comments Mon, 23 Jan 2012 18:13:12 +0000 http://onthepitch.org/?p=2019 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!

Despite the variances due to climate, most USYSA affiliate soccer calendars are driven backwards from the USYSA National Championship Series. Regionals, State Cups, and regular seasons to determine cup seeds all factor in. For our state, that means we wrap everything up by Memorial Day. The weekend before is the State Cup final four and the 2-3 weeks before that are the State Cup events. So that generally left March and April for travel matches.

However, the sheer number of ‘cup’ events packed into May were stretching the state office staff too thin. So they needed to spread out into late April. Suddenly the end of the season was in mid April and you still had Easter weekend to contend with. Then add in the weather. April showers are common, and even here in NC we seem to get occasional winter weather (usually ice). In recent years, 3-5 washed out weekends were not uncommon, wreaking havoc on schedules. Teams were struggling to get all their matches in before the seeding deadlines. So what did we do? Start earlier.

This year the travel season starts this weekend on January 28th! Now, our travel teams self schedule, with all teams in a divison working out play dates with each other. Nobody says you HAVE to start January 28th, just that you can. You just have to make sure you’re done by the deadlines (mid April for 11v11 and mid May for 8v8). The problem is most teams are playing it safe and front loading their schedule in case we get a stretch of bad weather. How safe? My son’s U15 team will wrap up their season the last weekend of March. One of our U12 teams has their last regular season match scheduled before the start of Spring! Certainly some bad weather could push some matches into April. But you have to wonder… If we have dry weather, these teams could have 6-9 weeks of down time before the end of season tournaments!

I know, I know. Rescheduling matches is a royal pain. But is this the answer? Scheduling the bulk of your Spring regular season before Spring even starts? I guess we’ll setup a lot of friendlies if the weather behaves!

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