Tag Archives: development

How do I help my kid get better at soccer?

IMG_0592I have been coaching soccer for over a decade.  During that time, I have also been raising 5 kids.  All of them play soccer, some at very high levels.  I think one question I get a lot from parents of the kids I coach is “how do I help my kid get better?”  So, here are some helps for parents who would like to see their child improve.

  1.  Two training sessions/week will not make your child an elite soccer player.  You need to understand this.
  2. Kids like what their parents like.  So, the first thing I do when I am asked this question is I ask the parent:  “how much soccer do you watch on TV?”  Almost without exception, it is little to none.  This is a problem.  So, you need to improve your passion for the game.  Watch it.  I mean all of it – not just the goals.  Learn why defense is so important.  Learn how keepers manage a game.  Learn how teams play through the back and middle.  Listen to an English game, when they applaud the defense for winning the ball and playing simply through the middle, and ask “why are they clapping now – there was no goal?”  If you spend your time watching baseball or american football, talking about baseball and american football, that is what your child will like (with rare exception).  So keep that in mind.  It starts with you.
  3. Talk to your child about soccer (professional), not about their game.  This will increase their passion for the sport.  We discuss league standings (Premier League), tactics coaches used, formations, etc., at the dinner table.  If you have a daughter, follow the national team — they are the top of the world.  Go to a match when you can.
  4. Take your child to a professional game or local college game.  For the players to see, up close, what top soccer looks like is inspiring. In some ways, I would recommend your local college team first as your player will have more access to the players and get closer to the game.  Your player’s team may even get to be collect balls on the sidelines.
  5. Play Fifa with them.  I know this is a big ask for many parents – but, if you want your child to understand and love the game more, (a) let them play Fifa (PS4 or Xbox) and, (b) better yet, play with them.
  6. Knock the ball around with them in the backyard.  No, don’t lecture them or try to make it “a session.”  Just go out and play.  Pass and receive – do a aim challenge (if you don’t have a goal, use a fence post), design a set piece with phantom defenders.  If you have 4 people, make a game.  We play 2v2, 3v3, with weird rules (the little kids’ goals count x3, only score with _______, volleys only, etc.).

All of these ideas are things you can do and you are spending time with your child.  One thing I have learned raising 5 kids, they like what you like if you make it fun.  If you are too serious about it, it won’t come off.

Soccer Camp Review: Manchester United Soccer Schools (“MUSS”)

We made the trip over the pond and took our 11-year-old to Manchester United Soccer School.  This is a 6 day camp.  The location of the boys camp was Denstone College – a Boarding School south of Stoke.

The Location – Denstone College

IMG_1945Denstone College is usually a boarding school for boys focusing on athletics.  As a result, they have a lot of playing fields available for training.  The residential and main hall looks like something from a Harry Potter movie.  In fact, they told us it was on a list of finalist for filming locations.  I have to admit, the drive in was concerning … Denstone is a small village in the middle of nowhere.  It is not close to Manchester so you start to wonder  what you have signed up for.  Then, when you turn into the drive, wow…

The dorm rooms were set for 6-8 boys.  They honor room requests (as best they can).  Since there are so many boys to a room, it is reasonably likely your player will be with his mate.  Each boy has a bed, desk, and about 6 drawers.  The bathroom facilities are nice – private showers and toilets.


We showed up near the end of the check in so there was a slow-moving line.  As a result, we missed the junior intro but they said just come back for senior intro.  There is staff everywhere and you go from registration room with a personal escort (a coach) to your dorm room.  On the way, you stop to put your valuables with another staff member.  Seamless and easy and professional.

What You Get

IMG_1940 (4)Room and Board and a Manchester United Training Kit with a matching Rain jacket (great idea).  The kit is a long sleeve nike red top with logo and a pair of white shorts and one pair of black socks.  There is no need for extra money although people left players lots. We left our son $20 and he didn’t spend it.

For the two-week course, instead of going to Old Trafford, you got to a theme park (Alton Towers) — yes the one where there was recently a horrible accident on a coaster.  But, as my host says, this is a very cool park.

The Price

The price for the 6 day camp was about $1500 US.  By comparison, the Dynamo Residential Elite 3.5 day camp is $850 US.  If you go for the 2 week camp, they usually run some discounts for the second week.  But, on a day-for-day basis, they are about the same price.  Neither is cheap and this is where you have to decide what you want out of the camp. If you are going to get evaluated, don’t bother.  I doubt any of the MUSS coaches work for United.  If you want to know what it feels like to be a professional footballer, this is the camp.  The living arrangements, scenery, and closing day at Old Trafford make this worth it to me.

The Quality of Players

IMG_2002Mixed.  It is open enrollment so all levels.  There are high level players but the camp is not dedicated to them.   One thing that is neat about this camp is that there were players from 36 different countries represented of 188 players.  My son’s best mate was from Kenya.  That is something you will not get from other places.

One thing you have to remember as an American attending, your kid will be immersed in European culture.  And, in some countries, their young men use language that you normally wouldn’t hear in the US at 11.  That was the one negative (among very little feedback) we got from the player.

The Quality of Staff

As you are unable to watch training sessions, hard to say.  My son is coach-loyal (loves coaches) and he is just 11 so hard to get a read from him.  The only thing I did learn for sure was that in the games, he let them sort themselves out and didn’t mix in or offer help.  I wish coaches intervened more in these situations.  Our kids come from a family of 5 where the motto is if you ask for it, you get the opposite.  In athletics, they never ask to play a position or demand it.  From my experience coaching kids, especially in camps, some kids need some help to be team players.  The kids that are penalized are the ones with better manners.

IMG_2066 (2)The coach played in the Swansea organization through his youth.  Low 20s.  Very nice guy.  He did not complete the evaluation but let my son complete it.  He did tease my son for calling him Sir.  (It’s a Southern thing).


Off the hook.  These guys know how to run a professional camp.  From the first moment you arrive, there is no doubt what is going on and what you need to do.  All dressed in official clothes (Man Utd).   And staff are everywhere.  The opening presentation was impressive with a breakdown for the week as well as a summary of Manchester Ideals.  Very good.


The camp does a good job with a Facebook page for the camp and posting pictures.  We were in the first week so there was not as much as the later weeks.  My son is not one to bother with communication so we heard little for him but he was not homesick and had a great time.

Closing Ceremony

For the players, this was a great day.  For the adults, not so much.  The players arrived at Old Trafford, ate lunch, went to shop, locker room tour, walked through tunnel, and ended in a Director’s Box.  Van Gaal was doing a presser with Memphis Depay on the field when we were there.  The players were just feet away from the presser.  They then marched them out (in stadium seats – not allowed to get on field).  I think for them, it was amazing.  For parents, you were mainly there to collect your player.  Short presentation.  Each kid got a medal.


I didn’t know what to expect with this camp.  Previously, had sent kids to University of Texas, LSU, local college, etc.  I think where this camp grades strongest is that the kids leave the camp loving soccer more.  I am not sure how much more you want from a camp than that.  The location and surroundings are beautiful.  The staff is uber-professional and littered with former professional players.  My son left with a greater passion for the game.  That is the best ROI I could ask for.  Do I wish they would encourage better language … yes.  But, as my English friend told me, it is more a cultural thing.

In terms of player evaluations, I just do not think that camps are the way to go.  There is a camp in England called the International Football Development Academy (iFDA) that may offer more concrete information and feedback and is allegedly attended by scouts.  I am looking into it and will post information when I get it.


After picking him up, again, he is not that talkative (I had one coach assume from that he doesn’t like soccer.)  He is a shy kid but I asked him if he learned a lot about soccer and he said he learned the same stuff we already do but from a different perspective and he liked it.  I asked if he would want to go back, he wasn’t sure.  This was his first residential experience and he went alone.  I think he was most put off by the language of the other campers.  He wants to be a professional footballer.

After attending the Dynamo Camp, I asked which he preferred.  He preferred the Manchester Camp.  My older son, who did not go to the Manchester Camp but did attend the Dynamo Camp said that if he went next summer, he would prefer the England experience, but had a good time at the Dynamo camp.  I can review the Dynamo camp separately.

Learning as a Soccer Coach: And you thought you were good

Biggest problem in professional development, no matter the profession, is an unwillingness to recognize that you can still improve.  Masking inadequacies with over-confidence is all too common.  It is a disease the infects all types of work, even soccer coaching.  As a coach, are you open to new ideas?  Are you considering how you can improve individually?  Are you willing to collaborate and share with others things you have learned and honestly ask for help in areas you know you are weak?

The last phrase is the kicker because if you do not know where your weaknesses are then you will improve at a snail’s pace.  Are you willing to self-evaluate?

I was reading a profile of Al Pacino (The New Yorker, Sept. 15, 2014, “Caught in the Act”) and one of Pacino’s comments struck me.  Comparing Pacino’s rise and success to Brando, the author quoted Pacino as follows:

I believe I have not reached my stride, which is why I persist.  The day I turn to you and say, ‘John, what I just did in this role was a real winner,’ I hope you’ll have the courage and decency to throw a wreath around my head, and then so very quietly and compassionately shoot me.

This is from an actor who has been nominated for 6 Academy Awards (winning one).  How great does he think he is?  How great do we think we are?  If you think you are, then you are done growing.   Are we “persisting?”

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.