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Lawsuit Seeks to change Heading Rules for Youth Soccer Players

1107_gsoccer1 01I always follow this theme – and have posted several times before – as there are not many activities in life that require you to bang your head into something else.  In soccer, the activity is unprotected.  I appreciate the efforts to add publicity to the risk of heading balls at young ages (or even older) and the risk of heading to concussions.  Ask yourself this:  how many things have you used your head to hit in the last 12 months?  Now, if your child plays soccer, how many have they?

Here is the article with information on the lawsuit.  This is a similar track to the football litigation.  The lawyers will go after the large entities, FIFA, potentially US Youth Soccer, etc., as they have proceeds to pay.  That is why you see them linking to FIFA in the suit.

Hopefully, this will continue to bring awareness.

Article regarding lawsuit

Blog topic regarding heading.

My prior posts on the issue:

February 28, 2014

June 11, 2013

March 8, 2013

May 9, 2012


Out-of-Town Tournaments Doubly Expensive for Traveling Teams

Here is one other issue I have.  Some clubs require out of town teams to schedule their overnight accommodations through a booking agency.  Hotels get placed on the list of available hotels by agreement of the Tournament Director and host club.  The club receives a percentage of the revenue from the traveling teams.  In many instances, the hotels and prices made available are not the cheapest options available.  And, since the only way to book a room is through the agency at set prices, parents cannot use websites like priceline or hotwire to secure cheaper options.  Oddly enough, the State Association (STYSA in the Houston area) has to approve the tournament and , vis a vis, approves of the practice.  So, why is this inequitable?

The reason is obvious.  The teams that are already spending more money to be at the tournament are being asked to spend more.  While staying overnight is not a requirement, it is a requirement to book through the club’s agency IF you do stay overnight.  Some tournaments have gone so far as have the team manager sign a sworn statement that his team has complied with penalties of forfeiture, expulsion, and preclusion from future events if the host club discovers the parents booked their rooms on their own.

Take Houston for example.  In a typical Houston tournament, 60% or more of the teams participating are from Houston and do not use the booking agency or stay overnight.  The other 40% or less are already incurring costs in travel and food.  But, to tax more costs on them, clubs are allowed to force them to purchase overpriced hotel rooms or risk exclusion.  So, the out of town teams, the ones that are traveling in many cases because they lack the competitive opportunities in their areas, are forced to shoulder a disproportionate share  of the fundraising fees.


Player Development Series: The Value of Tournament Play

When I first started coaching teams, as we advanced we quickly distanced ourselves from local competition.  Being close to the Houston area, we used tournaments in Houston to find competitive matches in our age groups.  Otherwise, in our home area (Golden Triangle), we had to play teams several years older.  While that is less of a problem between 15 and 18 year olds, the differences between pre-pubescent and post-pubescent kids was extreme.  And, even as we found older teams to play, there were very few.   Tournaments were a way for us to play different teams and to have some fun at overnight trips.

So, tournaments were a way for us to improve and compete against teams our age.  But, as we started winning them, the allure to play in more and more tournaments grew.  Were we playing to build memories and improve, or just to win trophies?

And, while tournaments are valuable fundraisers for clubs, if the focus for a team is on tournament victories, is the team doing what is best for the individual players?  In most cases, the tournament games are shorter.  With emphasis on success in the specific games of the tournament, parent (and coach) anxiety is at an all time high.

I have been reading the book Coaching Outside the Box by Paul S. Mairs and Richard E. Shaw.  It is an excellent book by two former English professionals that pulls together lots of useful information on player development in the U.S.  Here are some great quotes regarding tournament play (they dedicate an entire chapter to it):

From Claudia Reyna (former U.S. MNT player and U.S. Technical Director) directed to coaches of youth soccer teams:

For me, it is irrelevant if coaches win state cups, regional cups, and national cups. How many trophies they have in their cabinets isn’t important. It’s about the kids, it’s not about you. We care about how many players you develop rather than how many trophies you win. [1]

The authors suggest that we participate in tournaments because of the “reverse-dependency trap.”  What this means is that parents are curious to push their kids into these environments to see how they compete and compare with the “best” players and teams around.  They say:

But again, being concerned about how your child measures against 9, 10, or 11 year old children from another state is a waste of time because significant variances in growth and development will take place between players; so how your child compares now will most likely be completely different in the near future anyway.  However, desperate for another ‘fix,’ many parents march on as they are driven by an insatiable appetite for temporary gratification coming from their child’s and their team’s performing well while picking up another trivial medal on the ‘big stage.’[2]

Sam Snow, our U.S. Youth  Director of Coaching says:  “Often teams participate in tournaments for poor soccer reasons or no soccer reason at all!”[3]

Another problem with tournaments is that sideline coaching is magnified at tournaments because the coach feels the pressure to win the game – even though the focus should be on the kids, not the coach.  “Often, coaches and parents simply hijack the games, constantly stifling players’ opportunities to make their own decisions, experiment, and implement imaginative skills.”[4]

Professor Douglas Abrams from the University of Missouri, states:

 Screaming, ridicule and other adult-imposed pressures do nothing to toughen child athletes, hone their skills, or enhance competitive spirit. Indeed, the pressure often backfires by inducing debilitating fear of failure, which inhibits performance and leads some children to seek comfort on the sidelines by feigning or over-exaggerating injury or by quitting altogether.[5]

Another problem with playing too many tournaments is risking injury to youth players, especially during times when their body is developing.  “Overuse” injury accounts for 50% of injuries in youth sport.

I can sympathize with parents and kids who enjoy the tournaments, the hotel stay, and even winning trophies.  But if it is the primary focus of a team, then that team is not necessarily doing what is best for its players.  For example, in the hyper-competitive tournament play cycle, players in brackets as young as 10 years old are limited to 1 position because the team is so focused on results it cannot afford to let players experiment, especially in a shortened game.  So, the player develops one aspect of their game.  This is why some excellent youth teams do not translate the team success into individual player success at the highest levels.  It is why a great “team” has to look for players on teams where the emphasis is more on development rather than results too early–where kids are given the freedom to experiment–where players are more developed because they have not memorized and learned one coaches’ tactical instruction (and limitations).

I know it is hard for parents to see this.  And it can be frustrating when they see the teams that their players are on lose to other teams they feel they should win against.  But, ultimately, as a parent you should ask yourself (and your child) the following questions:

  1. Are they enjoying soccer?
  2. Are they learning?
  3. Do they feel like they are improving?
  4. Do they feel safe in their soccer environment?
  5. Are they okay with failure in their environment or are they afraid to make mistakes?

Obviously, you are looking for yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and NO!

If you are looking for a team for your child because they win a lot of tournaments, you may be making the wrong decision.  In any professional youth soccer environment, that is not a criteria used to measure talent, growth, or success.  It is doubly sad that in our state of youth soccer coaches from different clubs actively recruit players from their club based on their “tournament success.”   If approached, merely ask the person why they want your child or team to change clubs?  (Or, as my cynical lawyer’s mind would ask – “what is in it for you?”).

Here are two final quotes quoted by Mairs and Shaw – one from John Allpress, the National Player Development Manager with the English Football Association (F.A.) – he has worked with players including Wayne Rooney, Theo Walcott, and others who play in the English Premier League.  The other from Dean Whitehouse, a youth coach for Manchester United.  From Allpress:

 Games are about helping players improve. For example, we would focus our half time reviews on the learning objectives we set before the game, rather than the score. Therefore, we could be losing, but if we witnessed our players trying the things we spoke about before the game, we would praise them. On the other hand, we could be winning, but if the players were not attempting the things we had referred to before the game we would remind them that the main goal was learning. [6]

From Whitehouse:

 It is crucial that everyone understands that games should be utilized for learning and players feel they have the freedom to express themselves.  We realize that the final score is not as important as learning at this moment.  If young players are pressured to win every time they step on the field, they will not receive the opportunities that are vital to their development, nor will they feel confident about practicing and implementing new skills or ideas.[7]

I highly recommend the book Coaching Outside the Lines.  Here is a link to order it from Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Coaching-Outside-Box-Changing-Mindset/dp/0615700128/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1398179501&sr=8-1-fkmr1&keywords=coaching+outside+the+lines+soccer.  

[1]           Reyna, C.: Coaches should sit down, Soccer America http://www.socceramerica.com/article/41990/claudio-reyna-coaches-should-sit-down.html.

[2]           Mairs and Shaw, Coaching Outside the Box, p. 112.

[3]           Snow, S. (2008) Beware of Tournamentitis, Soccer America at : http://www.socceramerica.com/article/25076/beware-of-tournamentitis.html

[4]           Mairs and Shaw, Ibid. at 113.

[5]           Abrams, D.E., (2002) The Challenge Facing Parents and Coaches in Youth Sports:  Assuring Children Fun and Equal Opportunity, Villanova Sports and Entertainment Law Journal, Villanova Univ., 1-33, at http://thecenterforkidsfirst.org/pdf/DougAbrams.pdf.

[6]           Mairs and Shaw, Ibid. at 23.

[7]           Id.


Ajax Video Review Part I: Heroes of the Future, The Ajax Training Concept (age 7-12)

D381-2I purchased the video set from Ajax titled Heroes of the Future to get a glimpse at Ajax’ storied youth development model.  I will post about different parts of it in a series.

1.  Recognition of Talent

Everyone is born with different hereditary differences and whether a player will develop into a star may be based on genetics.  Here are characteristics they look at:

  • Technical – how a player touches the ball; ball control
  • Tactical – ability to read the game and make decisions; anticipation
  • Mental – discipline, self-knowledge, and the will to win
  • Physical – agility and good acceleration

Characteristics are the traits you inherit – for some, you can do nothing to improve them (like height), but for others you can stretch them (within limits).  Skill is the process of improving your characteristics.

2.  Key Determining Factors

The two factors are (1) the Playing Concept and (2) biological considerations (emphasizing different skills at different ages).

3.  Integrated Approach

The 4 skills are interwoven in soccer training.  Depending on the age, depends on the amount of focus.  For example, Technique is worked on from 7-9 — you must learn to master the ball.

  • Technical – heavier focus from 8-12
  • Tactical – heavier focus from 12-18
  • Physical – throughout

Ajax has their players participate in judo and gymnastics at young ages to compliment physical development of agility and acceleration.  Ajax refers to this as “multi-skills” and they see this as critical in the 7-12 ages for proper development of the motor system.  In other words, playing other sports and doing other activities other than soccer is seen as not only healthy, but as assisting the development of soccer-related physical skills (agility, coordination, speed, strength).

4.  Self Confidence (7-12)

Coaches are critical to players being creative.  Coaches must be careful (1) what they say, (2) when they say it, and (3) how they say it.  Never give negative feedback to players during play, especially at young ages.  Give praise when they do something well.  There is no need to praise all the time as it marginalizes the praise when it is earned. Be specific with your praise.

5.  Age Considerations

While coaches will work on all 4 categories throughout the soccer education, you will work on some more at some ages.  In the young ages, more time should be spent on technical work and Ajax likes the use of repetitions.  For example, repetitions of dribbling sequences.  “The best way to learn is to constantly repeat the same move in the same situation.”  What I get from this is that static dribbling exercises are encouraged.  Everything does not have to be dynamic.

Do not criticize decision-making at the young age (7-12).  That is a tactical approach that is focused on from 12-18.  The “have you made the right choice” question is reserved for the 14-18 ages when training is more focused on teams and less on individual play.  “You mustn’t clutter players’ minds with team tactics too early…too much emphasis on team tactics can be detrimental to a player’s development…that is why in the large part of the program, team tactics are subordinate to individual talent.”

6.  Passing

Ajax is most concerned with the accuracy and speed of the pass as opposed to who the pass is played to.  This is where they advise staying away from criticizing decision-making; rather, design exercises where good decisions are easy to make.

7.  Individual Learning Plan

Each player has his own individual learning plan.  You must discover the specific skills a player has.  One player may have vision but lack speed, or vice-versa.  Here are the questions they pose for each player:

  • What characteristics does he have?  What skills does he have?
  • What skills does he need for his position?
  • In what area should he improve?
  • What is the best way to achieve that?

It is different for every player.  As a coach, you must be honest with the time spent on developing a skill with a player.

I will share information from the other videos one by one.  Very interesting stuff.

Writing about youth soccer, player development, and the professional game.