Tag Archives: player 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.

Parent-Coaching: Perspectives of an Elite Player’s Parent (College-Bound Player)

piano teacherThis comment was left to my post on Can a Parent-Coach be a Professional Coach.  I received a lot of email regarding that post –  Sam Snow, our U.S. Director of Coaches, distributed it to all 55 State Association Technical Directors.  But this particular comment was left by a parent who I have great respect for and who has navigated the elite youth soccer world.  I think her comment is great and enlightening to any parent who has a soccer player and are worried about their development.  It was just too good to bury as a comment to a post — here goes:

Love the post. I read it just before going on a trip with my daughter to visit a soccer school, so it was the perfect time to reflect on her experiences and how it relates to your post. The college coach sat down and told us why he was recruiting her. “She has courage on the ball…she plays creatively…she wants to control and possess, which is our style….” This school we were visiting is ranked in the top 10 in the country, and I couldn’t help but pause and think of how she developed these skills that got them to notice her. She has only played at the ECNL level for two years. For the rest of her career, she was “parent coached”. She was given the creativity to “make something happen”. She was challenged to take a player on. She was never afraid to make mistakes. She was taught a concept called “magic” where you could give the ball away…run to space, and it would magically come right back. (That is now a style that defines her.) She learned soccer in an environment that was rewarding in every way…which includes socially and psychologically. It was the right amount of focus on winning/developing. It had the social elements the right environment (sometimes low pressure…sometimes more pressure) that must exist in order to avoid player burnout by the time they get to high school. Her parent coaches had an almost obsessive desire to learn more about “the beautiful game.” The coaching never got stale. There was always something else to master…a new skill or formation or style to learn and try out. It was always exciting to her…always like playtime.

In my opinion, “professional” is a term that indicates ability/effectiveness as a coach. I think listening and paying attention and then knowing what to do with the information is the first step. (I listen and pay attention, but I don’t know what to do with that information. I look at skill and technique, but I don’t pay attention to the game as a whole as well as a professional coach. My brain doesn’t work that way.) My oldest daughter’s piano teacher couldn’t play that well…so he said. I don’t know. I never heard him play. But he would listen with his eyes closed, and then stop my daughter and correct her again and again…the same measure over and over. Until it was perfect. He was a genius at listening and paying attention to the details. At times, he wanted my daughter to hear the piece played, so he would bring in his wife to play it because he couldn’t…then he’d go back to teaching. He was a brilliant teacher because he paid attention to every single detail and then knew exactly what to do with that information.

Enthusiasm and ability to motivate the young kids, especially when the newness is over and it is hot and you might be losing…or when a player isn’t as good as they want to be (or think they are) …that’s tough. A professional coach can do that. They can keep the kids engaged and willing to work day after day. They can keep the intensity up in practices. They teach the kid to “compete”…an invaluable trait in a soccer player. It is easy to do that the first season…but what about the 10th…or longer. It is a long journey—a marathon. You have to know when to sprint and when to jog, and even when to rest… When to push and when to back off. It is a skill that requires an ability to understand people—kids in particularly. You have to push them hard, but still delicately at the same time. You have to be able to get them to listen to you…to want to make you proud of them. They have to think, “I can’t let my coach down.”

Humility and hunger to learn: A great coach has to be confident but also have a desire to learn from the experts. When they feel that their player/team needs more, they need to bring in the help. Both of my daughter’s “parent coaches” were continually seeking out the experts to run special sessions. There were so many. They were like master classes. A “professional” coach will soak up new information and then get excited about passing it on to the player. They will learn new drills and teaching methods that allow for maximum player development. They are not intimidated by those who know more and who are better. They are in fact drawn to them.

Not every parent can be a professional coach. I can’t. I have the enthusiasm and love for the game. I could watch it all day every day. I can identify talent and appreciate a great play. But I’m not a coach. I have one or two of the necessary elements (such as a love for the game), but not enough of them. You have to have a coaches mind. You have to see the game in a way that is at a different speed/level than others. Coaching is a talent that combines a certain combination of several skills, and when someone has it, you know it. You can see it immediately.

As we drove home from the college visit, we asked our daughter what she liked about the different schools. Her answer is not surprising. It’s all about the coach. She wants to play for an amazing soccer coach who inspires her and motivates her and is obsessive about helping her get better. That…and blue bell ice cream. One of the schools had a cafeteria with a huge freezer full of blue bell, right around the corner from the room she’d be staying in. That was impressive too. :)

Rebecca Chilton

Thanks Rebecca.

What We Can Learn from Basketball

I was reading the Sports Illustrated article Inside the Lakers’ Disaster and came across some interesting tidbits from Kobe Bryant regarding player development in basketball.  Kobe grew up in Italy during is his youth basketball years.  Apparently, Select Basketball (called AAU) has the same problems that Select Baseball does and soccer too.  Kobe states:

“I feel fortunate that I was over in Italy [from ages six to 13] when AAU basketball [got big] over here,” says Bryant. “They stopped teaching kids fundamentals in the United States, but that didn’t affect me.  Over there, it wasn’t about competition and traveling around and being a big deal; it was about fundamentals, footwork, spacing, back cuts–all those things. Look at Pau Gasol. Look at the skills he has compared to the guys who grew up playing AAU ball.”  Inside the Lakers’ Disaster, Sports Illustrated (February 25, 2013, page 39).

He mentions Gasol because Gasol is a 7′ player with ball skills.  Kobe’s statements seem directed to youth coaches who place more importance on winning than on development.  As a parent, the question we should be asking ourselves is “is my child progressing” rather than focusing on the win-loss record of your child’s team.  Consider this video from Jeff Van Gundy.  He was coach of the Miami Heat (NBA team) and is addressing high school and youth coaches.

Van Gundy questions the coaches:  do you want to teach kids the fundamentals of basketball or just focus on winning games.  In youth sports, he advocates player development, not team success.  This sounds a lot like the Curriculum from US Youth Soccer and what we are trying to accomplish at Gusher United.

Training v. Games: The Key to Making Professional and Collegiate Soccer Players

***NOTE ON SOCCERTHOUGHT.COM*** Recently, the blog has changed host.  It was hacked prior (twice) but now WPengine.com is hosting and has constant protection.  COMMENTS are back on as well (we turned them off because of spam).

We all know — games are more fun.  More fun for the kids.  More fun for the parents.  In a typical training session, the most  common question asked by the players is “when are we going to scrimmage?”  As trainers, we have been taught to let the “game be the teacher” but, why is training more advantageous to developing players than games?  The answer is MATH.

In a typical training session, each player has a ball.  It may be that the ball per player ratio is 1:1, 2:1, 3:1, or 4:1 (depending on age and activity), but in almost all cases is the ratio better than 22:1 (or 16:1 for 8v8), which is what you get in a game.  In other words, as a parent, ask “how often is my child touching the ball in training versus a game?”  That, among other benefits, is the advantage that training has over game play.

Tom Turner, a prolific writer and proponent of player development, breaks down the touches on a ball thus:

In a study of 1500 ODP level female players, the average number of games reported played over the previous twelve months was 116. With an average game duration of 80 minutes and a maximum roster of 18, and with the ball out of play for an average 33%, the typical player would experience 1.5 minutes of active play per game for a total of 174 minutes per year.  Less than 3 hours of ball contact! (Turner, 2003)

Turner continues,

Under FIFA-3 substitution rules, a young soccer player competing in 100 games per year will only come into contact with the ball for a maximum of 300 minutes, or 5 hours. The recommended ratio of training sessions to games for 9-12 year-old players is 70% training and 30% games.

Dr. Thomas W. Turner, U.S. Youth Soccer Total Player Development, On behalf of Region II Coaching Committee, Fall 2006.

Roger Bennett recently authored an article for espnsoccernet.com where the issue of frequency of training was the topic.  Bennett, who co-host the popular Men in Blazers twice weekly on Sirius Radio (a hysterical show — I highly recommend for a lighthearted but thoughtful take on the game), addressed the issue in his article questioning why and if the U.S. will ever develop a player on the level of Lionel Messi.  You can read Bennett’s piece by clicking here.  It is a great piece with lots of research and interviews with top talent evaluators in the country, including the two men who administer the U.S. Academy system.

Those two men are Alfonso Mondelo and Jeff Agoos, technical directors at MLS.  Mondelo, a Spaniard, questions how helpful pay-to-play soccer is in locating and nurturing top talent.  In Europe, the major clubs subsidize soccer play and training for youth.  Even now, though, with still few professional soccer teams offering free training, they only offer it to Elite players and only when they are around the age 14.  The U.S. will be dependent on clubs to do the training in the critical years (8-12), and that will remain pay-to-play until someone comes and pays the wages of the trainers.  This is one of the reasons it is hard to compare the European model to the U.S.

Agoos explains,

Our goal now is to build a system targeted at producing pro players instead of college talent and there is a world of difference between the two. We focus on the individual not the team — the one or two players in every squad who we can push to the pro level. Having MLS as an aspirational destination for these kids is game-changing.

The key now is to build an environment where everything from the infrastructure, facilities, coaching and training are done right.  We are still a distance from where we want to go.

Tony Lepore, U.S. Soccer’s development academy director of scouting, revealed:

The first thing we realized was the 4,000 prospects we consider our elite were playing way too many games.  A survey revealed the average under-15 player took to the field over 100 times a year, suiting up for high school, club, district, regional and national teams.

As Mondelo evaluated the American system, he noticed that our kids play way too many games too.  He recommends a schedule that is 4:1 training to games: four training sessions for every one game.  Based on four sessions per week during certain months (10 months), the math adds up to 350 hours.  By contrast, Ajax youth academy averages 576, Barcelona’s 768.

So, you do the math.  For many of us parents, tournaments and games are fun for us too.  Training…not so much. But, how serious are we about developing our players?  Are we disguising our adherence to “player development” behind a guise of win at all costs?

The quotes from Agoos, Mondelo, and Lepore were from Bennett’s exquisite article linked again here.