Olympic Soccer & the Home of the First True World Championship: Ode to Uruguay

Uruguayans World Champs (again)

I routinely follow soccer through sites like The Guardian, FoxSoccer, GiveMeFootball, as well as the Telegraph.  Most of the writers I follow are English.  I have found a general disinterest in the football tournament at the Games – a sort of apathy about the games that seems wholly out of context for the English writers.  Writers criticize the organization of the football, the quality of the football, officiating, etc.  I think it is interesting to know that soccer and the Olympics go way back…

Soccer was played as an Exhibition sport in the first Olympic games in 1896 in Athens.  While the standard bearers of the day, the English, did not participate in full (or at all), an unbalanced exhibition was at least a part of the Games.  That is more than you can say for many other sports.

Soccer continued in that role and, beginning in Paris in 1924, started attracted more competitive teams (just not the Brits – who, just as they turn their nose to it today, turned their nose to it (and any international or continental (Europe)) back then — at least they are consistent). To be fair, some British Amateurs did participate in the 1908 & 1912 games (winning) and participating in 1920.

The shock of the Paris 1924 tournament was an outfit from a tiny  country in South America – Uruguay.  While they were unheard of, they walked through the event winning 7-0 against Yugoslavia, 3-0 against the USA (their first international tournament), and beating France 5-1 to qualify for the Final against the Swiss (where 60,000 people attended).  They defeated the Swiss 3-0 to win the title.  Because the Germans, English, and the team that perceived itself the best in South America at the time (Argentina) did not play in 1924, the 1928 Games would prove the true test.

But, in the 1924 games, consider how the Uruguayans style of play was described:

“The principle quality of the victors was marvellous virtuosity in receiving the ball, controlling it and using it. They have such a complete technique that they also have the necessary leisure to note the position of the partners and team-mates. The do not stand still waiting for a pass. They are on the move, away from the markers, to make it easy for their team-mates…They have pushed towards the perfection the art of the feint and swerve and the dodge, but they also know how to play directly and quickly. They are not only ball jugglers. They created a beautiful football, elegant but at the same time varied, rapid, powerful, effective.

Quoted in The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer, by David Goldblatt (page 245).  He researched the material from a french writer, Gabriel Hanot, an editor of L’Equipe (a french sporting publication at the time).

The interesting thing about that quote is that it seems to describe the Spanish team today.  On to 1928…

Uruguay repeated their success in the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam.  This time, more teams participated, including Argentina.  Goldblatt refers to the 1928 Olympic Games triumph, where they defeated Argentina in the final, the first true World Championship.  (page 247).  Over 60,000 people watched the final.  Olympic organizers understood that football was the main attraction of the games.  FIFA figured it out too.

Because of the popularity of the Games, FIFA met and decided on a World Cup model, to be played every four years.  The first World Cup was played in 1930 and Uruguay was chosen as the host country, where they won it as well (again over Argentina and this time in front of 80,000).  The World Cup has continued ever four years, with some suspensions because of World War II, until the present.  What happened to Uruguay?  Well, when the market collapsed in 1930, they (along with many other South American countries) traded in their democratic-socialist style regime for military dictatorship.  They lost everything.  And, for soccer, this country of 3 million did not make another appearance until the 1950 World Cup, hosted by Brazil.  The Brazilians, by then, were the heavy favorites.  Uruguay made it to the final and upset Brazil 2-1 — a heartbreaking loss for Brazil.

So…when you consider Olympic football today, set aside the marketing power of EPL and Serie A and La Liga and enjoy the show.  Know that what you are watching has a deeper history and, in fact, an original history of hosting international soccer tournaments.  If you are an English fan, enjoy rooting for Aaron Ramsey, Giggs, and other players not usually on the Three Lions. That is another story — Great Britain competed in the games, not just England!


Technical Manual Released by US Youth Soccer

From Sam Snow, US Youth Director of coaches, here is the Skills School Manual.  If you ever wonder what the technical teaching points to dribbling, passing, trapping, shooting, defending, here you go.  Very specific with excellent diagrams. I like to describe it this way:  “Technique” is how to do something, while focusing on “tactics” focuses on when (and why if you are a good coach) to do something.  Too often, we focus too much on the “tactic” side of soccer at young ages rather than the “technique.”  Here is an introductory quote from the manual:

During the first fourteen years of a young player’s career the coaching

emphasis must be on technique. The actual execution of a movement is

always in the realm of technique. The challenge of “when and why” to use a

movement is one of tactics. In this manual the focus is the “how to”; that is

on technique. Technique is the body’s mechanical execution to affect the

ball; for example receiving, catching, shooting, dribbling, deflecting, etc. It

is one of the four components of the game and leads to ball skill. Skill is

being able to execute a technique under the pressure of opponents in tight

space and most likely on the move. Without ball skill a player cannot

execute tactics. Some players will:

o be able to do a technique in an activity but fail to apply it as skill when

under pressure from opponents

o be competent with the ball but not outstanding

o be technical but not skillful, while others will be skillful but not


o be capable of executing some skills against one level of opponent but

not another

Players gain more trust and respect for a coach who can help them improve

their technique. The result is confident use of new skills in matches.

Motivated players spend time working on their skills. Players will appreciate

the importance and thrill of learning new techniques and refining existing

ones if the coach creates the proper training environment. Then the players

begin to equate fun with improvement.

Novice coaches often find themselves in a Catch 22 at training sessions.

They can influence young players by helping them develop techniques, but

some coaches don’t know enough about the techniques they are teaching to

offer relevant advice.

Skills School Manual  Great Manual.  Enjoy.

Instructors in white – Sam Snow (left), Gary Williamson (middle), Neal Ellis (right)

Player Development Model Unveiled by US Youth Soccer!

Sam Snow, Director of Coaches for US Youth Soccer, circulated an email today containing the Player Development Model for use by clubs, coaches, trainers, etc., from US Youth Soccer.  The title says it all – it is a PLAYER Development Model, not a Team Development Model.  One of the big challenges to the growth of highly skilled, technical, creative soccer players is too much emphasis on team results early (and too much emphasis on results early).  When teams and results are elevated as primary importance, the development of the players takes back seat. Rather, teams do what they need to do to win, not necessarily develop their players.


I have posted some sections of this before – you can check the blogroll.


Thoughts on Coaching U6s

This Spring the club asked me to coach a U6 team of boys.  They had no coach.  I said I would do it and somehow squeezed it in (it is just 1 practice/week).  It has been a few years since I coached this age, but I thought it would be fun as I have never coached Zachary (my son) in any sport.  So, I took Zach off of his normal team and received 5 other new boys.  While my first few practices were tough (I have been working with an advanced group of U10s for a while), it ended up being a great experience.  I recounted my years before of coaching, and the mistakes I made then, simplified the approach, and we made a lot of progress in one short Spring Season.  Here are some do’s and don’ts of coaching U6s:


1.  Tell the kids to pass.

2.  Tell the kids to spread out. (Does not compute.  The ball is the toy – in games, when there is only 1 toy, why would they go away from it?)


1.  Tell the kids to DRIBBLE.

2.  Direct them to DRIBBLE away from the Monsters (including their teammates) (you can even stand in an open area of the field and tell them to “dribble to you”.)

3.  Most important, tell them to DRIBBLE, not kick or pass or even shoot (especially from long range).

4.  Tell the kids to always WATCH the ball (great question to ask them during the game:  “hey, what are you looking at? . . . the ball, coach (after I have asked them that repeated games – it always helped them to remember their focus point)).

The bolded phrases are the only 2 instructions I give them during the game.


1.  Don’t use elimination games.  They generally only help the most advanced players, who get to stay in the drill the longest, when the other kids need the work more.  If you do have an activity that eliminates players, let them do some ball touches, jumping jacks, something, and re-enter.

2.  Prepare lots of activities.  At this age, the kids burn out quickly (no pacing).  They will need quick breaks and be ready to go full speed again.

3.  Make sure every child has a ball.  They view it as a toy and will not share it (which is why asking them to pass is not helpful).  Bring extra balls just in case.

4.  Do teach them the restarts.  Some may disagree with this, but based on my experience, it will take you 1 1/2 practices to teach the restarts.  Go over kickoffs, goal kicks, corner kicks, and throw ins.  Use the language from the Laws of the Game – they can get it.  In 1 practice, this group of new boys could tell you what was a “touch line” and a “goal line”.  (“Touch lines” are the side lines – you get to touch the ball to get it back in, hence, “touch line.”)  The reason I go over this is because (1) it is important at every age to include Laws of the Game, and (2) because, practically, it will make for a much better game experience.  The fields these kids play on is very small so the ball goes out a lot and there are usually a lot of goals. Most of the teams that we played had no clue how to restart, even by the end of the Spring.  Our boys, with just slight prodding, could restart quickly and keep the game going without much help from me.  That is the real reason I go over it.  The fields are tiny so there will be lots of restarts — you might as well cover them to make the games better.


The final report of the Spring is this:  we looked awful weeks 1, 2, and 3, but we did know how to restart.  The boys were just not that aggressive or natural competitors, but very cute kids.  My last group of boys at this age were all multi-sport kids who loved to compete.  So, this was an interesting experience.  We stuck to our guns and by the fourth game, you could see real improvement.  To get them to pay better attention, I always would ask, real nicely, “hey _____, what are you looking at? They started to recognize that was code for “pay attention.”  To add to their aggressiveness, I did add some challenges, like, “which one of you can be the first to touch the ball once the other team kicks it?”  That was my way of getting them to play defense and win the ball back.

But, by far, their biggest improvement was dribbling.  Even the weakest kid on the team would dribble more than some of the best kids on the other team (it didn’t usually end in goal, but it takes a lot of confidence to dribble the ball).  And, they started realizing that it was a game of 1v5, not 3v3.  Everyone, other than who had the ball, was a “monster.”  The kids, with a little prodding on direction, would dribble to open areas.  My wife coached the last 2 games and couldn’t believe what she was seeing.  (She watched the first 3 games).

This age is a critical age to the development of youth soccer players.  It is also a rewarding age to work with kids.  At the National Youth License, they made the point that our most qualified coaches coach at the higher levels where the kids need less help and we leave our least experienced coaches with the little ones.  Sam Snow suggested that we have it backwards.  He is the US Youth Director of Coach Instruction.  Interesting thought…

Finally, just to add some more meat to the dribbling part — Sam Snow said that at U6 games coaches should only use one word”  “DRIBBLE.”  I thought that was awesome and consistent with my experience.  I cannot speak highly enough of the instructors at the NYL (Sam Snow, Gary Williamson, and Neal Ellis).  They were incredible.