Coaches’ tool kit

By Tom Turner

In 2005, US Soccer released “Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States”. One of the key messages from that player development blueprint was that the youth soccer environment needed to become much more player-centered and far less coach-driven. Central to that notion was the desire to move coaching away from the traditional Anglo-German approach of stopping and starting training games whenever breakdowns occurred.

As an alternative, coaches were encouraged to find less intrusive opportunities to provide information to players. Those methods, the Coach’s Tool Kit, are outlined below.

1. Coach the Individual within the Flow of the Game.

  • Individual players can be given information while the game is moving.
  • Information should not be given when the player is in possession of the ball.
  • Information should not be given to a player who is about to come into possession or who is about to be involved in the game.
  • The volume of information should not escalate into a running prescription.
  • The best information will help players understand how to recognize and perhaps deal with standard game situations.

2. Coach the Group within the Flow of the Game.

  • Group coaching should seek to address strategic objectives, such as how to attack and defend as a team.
  • Group coaching may also address the overall rhythm of attacking play and the success or failure to defend relative to the cues coming from the game.
  • Essentially, group coaching should seek to address the positioning and organization (balance) of one or more lines.
  • Group coaching can be achieved by working through designated players who are responsible for standard game situations. For example, the goalkeeper can help organize his/her defenders when there is a goal kick at the other end of the field.

3. Coach during Natural Stoppages.

  • Information can be exchanged between coach and player(s) when the ball is not active.
  • Natural stoppages include balls out of bounds, injuries, goals, fouls, and the end of time periods.
  • The length of any coach-player exchanges during a natural stoppage should be proportional to the duration of the time-out.

4. Use Conditions to promote learning.

  • Conditions are rules of play that can shape learning and performance.
  • The use of conditions offers one of the most effective modern teaching tools.
  • Once the conditions are explained and understood by the players, there is no need to actually “coach” during the allotted playing time.
  • Conditions can reward good play by assigning bonus points when, for example, there is a successful pass to a teammate. Conditions can penalize noncompliance, for example, by awarding indirect free kicks, when players fail to take more than one touch.
  • There is a danger that using unrealistic conditions, such as “Do X (5 passes) before Y (score a goal)” hinder tactical development. The use of conditions must be balanced by periods of free play.
  • Scoring schemes should always value goals more highly than extra points.
  • The objective of the game is to score goals, not, for example, to keep possession.

5. Use the Freeze Method.

  • Freezing play should be the last option in the coaches’ arsenal.
  • The use of the freeze method is most relevant when the players are positionally organized and likely to face the same game situation again.
  • The freeze method is least relevant for technical mistakes.
  • In the communication during a freeze, it is more important that the players to begin to understand the tactical cues (player-centered approach of a situation that the absolute solutions (coach-centered approach).
  • Contrary to common practice, it is not necessary for the game to be restarted with a successful performance. It is more important for the coach to relay the necessary information and restart the game as fast as possible.
  • Freezes should include information on the “cues” (words) the coach might use to help the players read similar game situations later on.

Tom Turner is a U.S. Soccer National Staff Coach, Region II Boys ODP Coach, Ohio North State Director of Coaching. He can be reached at coaching@oysan.org.

In 2005, US Soccer released “Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States”. One of the key messages from that player development blueprint was that the youth soccer environment needed to become much more player-centered and far less coach-driven. Central to that notion was the desire to move coaching away from the traditional Anglo-German approach of stopping and starting training games whenever breakdowns occurred. 

As an alternative, coaches were encouraged to find less intrusive opportunities to provide information to players. Those methods, the Coach’s Tool Kit, are outlined below.

1. Coach the Individual within the Flow of the Game.
Individual players can be given information while the game is moving.
Information should not be given when the player is in possession of the ball.
Information should not be given to a player who is about to come into possession or who is about to be involved in the game.
The volume of information should not escalate into a running prescription.
The best information will help players understand how to recognize and perhaps deal with standard game situations.

2. Coach the Group within the Flow of the Game.
Group coaching should seek to address strategic objectives, such as how to attack and defend as a team.
Group coaching may also address the overall rhythm of attacking play and the success or failure to defend relative to the cues coming from the game.
Essentially, group coaching should seek to address the positioning and organization (balance) of one or more lines.
Group coaching can be achieved by working through designated players who are responsible for standard game situations. For example, the goalkeeper can help organize his/her defenders when there is a goal kick at the other end of the field.

3. Coach during Natural Stoppages.
Information can be exchanged between coach and player(s) when the ball is not active.
Natural stoppages include balls out of bounds, injuries, goals, fouls, and the end of time periods.
The length of any coach-player exchanges during a natural stoppage should be proportional to the duration of the time-out.

4. Use Conditions to promote learning.
Conditions are rules of play that can shape learning and performance.
The use of conditions offers one of the most effective modern teaching tools.
Once the conditions are explained and understood by the players, there is no need to actually “coach” during the allotted playing time.
Conditions can reward good play by assigning bonus points when, for example, there is a successful pass to a teammate.
Conditions can penalize noncompliance, for example, by awarding indirect free kicks, when players fail to take more than one touch.
There is a danger that using unrealistic conditions, such as “Do X (5 passes) before Y (score a goal)” hinder tactical development. The use of conditions must be balanced by periods of free play.
Scoring schemes should always value goals more highly than extra points.
The objective of the game is to score goals, not, for example, to keep possession.

5. Use the Freeze Method.
Freezing play should be the last option in the coaches’ arsenal.
The use of the freeze method is most relevant when the players are positionally organized and likely to face the same game situation again.
The freeze method is least relevant for technical mistakes.
In the communication during a freeze, it is more important that the players to begin to understand the tactical cues (player-centered approach of a situation that the absolute solutions (coach-centered approach).
Contrary to common practice, it is not necessary for the game to be restarted with a successful performance. It is more important for the coach to relay the necessary information and restart the game as fast as possible.
Freezes should include information on the “cues” (words) the coach might use to help the players read similar game situations later on.

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Best practices for motivation

This is the second in a series of articles on motivation and youth. The information is based on actual surveys of youth athletes as well as the sports psychology studies. In our first article, we discussed the technique of motivating youth by comparing them to peers.

By Dean Herbert

Some ways to Optimize Motivation

Rephrase your comments to enhance motivational environments. The key is to focus on and get your athletes to focus on the process of competing (or practice for that matter). By focusing on the right things – in the process of performing – you will optimize the opportunity for successful and desired results.

What do process oriented comments that look like?

In practices isolate skills and techniques without making comparisons:

Joanne, could you demonstrate this drill for us. (To someone who has the right technique.)

Before competition stick to tactics and efforts:

During competition do not instruct on form (that is for practice) instead stick to simple, brief, direct competition related statements.

Stick to it.

Stay tough.

Keep working.

Deep breath.

One at a time.

After competition, be specific and stick to the individual:

Your game went well for the first half. We’ll work in finishing stronger.

That last play you made was fantastic.

You had a tremendous at-bat against a very good pitcher

You were competitive through the toughest part of the game.

If the performance is truly sub-par the first step is to ask questions (Seek first to understand):

Tell me about your game.

How do you see that last half of your game going?

What happened after you (made an error, missed the shot, etc) ?

Where did you lose your focus?

The key is for parents and coaches to make comments that keep the athlete focused on the immediate process (the “now”) and not the outcome. And comments that keep an athlete owning their own performance and effort, not someone else’s.

The only way you will be most effective in establishing a motivational atmosphere is to know what motivates your athletes. You will not reach everyone with one approach. However, we also know that coaches and parents will demotivate most youth athletes with comparison-type comments. So, stick to what is controllable and decreases emphasis on peer comparison.

Dean Hebert M.Ed. MGCP is a certified mental games coach specializing in youth athletes and youth coaches. He has authored several books and hundreds of articles. He works with individuals, teams and coaches in all sports as well as performs guest speaking engagements on mental toughness. His website is www.mindsetforperformance.com.

How many swings per day?

By Dan Gazaway, Owner & Founder of The Pitching Academy

If you are a looking to become a good baseball player, there is no secret that it will take some hard work at some point. And while hitting drills are immensely valuable, there has always been some discussion about how many swings one needs to take daily or how much time one needs to spend to become “good”. I remember growing up having my coach tell me that I needed 200 swings a day if I wanted to make it anywhere as a ball player. This thinking is flawed. Hitting drills are important ONLY if the hitter has the capacity to focus on the drills at hand. Let me explain.

Baseball is a game of focus. Every motion you make as a baseball player gets stored in your mental memory bank that your body uses to form habits and movements. If you mess around playing catch before a game, your muscles won’t react consistently during the game. If you dink around during hitting drills and swing your bat wildly at the ball on the tee, or forget to pay attention to your form, your muscles will be programmed to swing out of control or inconsistently in a game. Therefore, if you want consistent performances, you have to have consistent movements in practice.

Having worked with all ages of youth baseball I have seen 10 year olds focus better than 15 year olds and everything in between. Some players naturally mature at different rates and at different ages. You must take this into account as a coach when you are working with your athletes on hitting drills, especially those that are stationary and without a lot of action. Pay close attention to your hitters and how much focus they are applying to the drill itself. Once you begin to see a focus breakdown, interrupt the drill, help refocus the athlete and let him start again. Simple breaks in the routine will help many athletes become more productive during hitting drills and will ultimately help their muscle memory become more consistent.

Dan Gazaway is Owner and Founder of The Pitching Academy. He has instructed over 2,000 pitchers in the last seven years and received a Bachelor’s Degree as a Health Education Specialist at Utah State University. He is a motivational speaker for topics ranging from attitude, goal-setting and leadership and be contacted at contact@thepitchingacademy.net.

Fears of a football dad

I have three sons who played football, and the last one just took off his pads for the final time. I am relieved. I have lived in fear of serious injury since the day they began playing the sport. But then I started doing research on some of the other sports my kids still play. Maybe I’m not out of the worrying woods just yet.

As a football dad, I’d cringe every time I’d watch an NFL game and see a violent, helmet-to-helmet collision. Sometimes the players wouldn’t get up. Some would be carried off the field, immobilized on a stretcher. Occasionally I’d read in the sports page about a college or high school player who was tragically paralyzed during a game – a young athlete with everything going for him whose life now was going to be substantially different than he’d hoped and imagined. And then I’d think about what could, heaven forbid, happen this afternoon at my sons’ football practices.

So this year, in his Senior year, my final, football-playing son earned a starting spot at corner. It was great for him, but still I fretted. “Just let him get through this season,” I thought. Before the first game, he sustained a broken finger that cost him the first three contests of the year. That was devastating to him, but nothing of the life-changing variety. When he got his cast off, he had to earn his starting position all over again. He also plays baseball – the sport he intends to pursue in college – and we wondered if maybe it wasn’t a sign that he should just call it a career and focus on his spring sport.

But he hung in there, the team and he had a great season, and they made it to the city semi-finals. If they won, they would play for the city championship on an NFL field. My son had a great game, including an interception with the score tied in the third quarter that caused the packed stadium to go berserk. He also made some hard tackles. There was definitely some helmet contact. Yet each time he got up.

We lost that game by a field goal which meant the season, his career, and my life as a football dad came to an end. On the field after the game, all the Seniors had tears in their eyes. I hurt deeply for my boy who knew he’d never play another game. But I have to admit, I also felt like someone who had just barely made it across eight lanes of a busy freeway. I was glad I didn’t have to go back over it again.

Yes, football is a dangerous sport. According to a study done by SAFE KIDS USA, the highest percentage of players injured (28%) are hurt in football. But baseball (25%) is not that far behind, followed by 22% of soccer players, (my daughter’s main sport), 18% in basketball and 15% in softball. Another son of mine sustained two concussions during his Pop Warner career, but my youngest boy once took a bad hop to the chin on the baseball field and got a freak concussion as well.

The study reports that more than 3.5 million children ages 14 and under receive medical treatment for sports injuries each year. And the rate and severity of injury increases with the player’s age. Most organized sports-related injuries (62 percent) occur during practices rather than games. Despite this fact, the study contends, a third of parents often don’t take the same safety precautions during their child’s practices as they would for a game.

Chillingly, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research Twentieth Annual Report: From 1982-2002, the total numbers of direct and indirect fatalities among high school athletes were:
o Baseball — 17
o Basketball — 88
o Cheerleading — 21
o Cross Country — 14
o Football — 22
o Soccer — 31
o Track & Field — 47
o Wrestling — 16

You’ll notice that football only ranks fourth on this list. So does this mean that kids are in peril playing sports? I don’t think so. In fact, statistics show that more kids are in danger from inactivity, in the form of childhood obesity and its related health effects. We all know sports are, by and large, healthy and valuable activities that teach life-lessons while building strong bodies.

I have a friend whose son and mine played on a travel baseball team together when they were 13 and 14. He would tell me how his boy would beg him to let him play football, but he held firm in not allowing it. He felt his son had a great future in baseball and, so far, he’s right. Last year, the kid was a high school All-American and is now on scholarship at one of the best DI college programs in the county. Had he played football, would he have sustained an injury that would have cut short his baseball career? We’ll never know. But the price is that this young man will never watch NFL or college football games with the same understanding, insight and appreciation as those who actually played the game. Unless he makes it to the Major Leagues, he’ll never know what it is like to be under the lights on Friday night hearing the roar of a capacity crowd after making a great play for his team. It is a decision I’m sure the father doesn’t regret one bit. I don’t know about the son.

So yes, I dodged the cars and finally made it across the freeway last weekend. But the reality is, when we have kids, we’re never really off that freeway. We’ll always worry and, if it’s not about football, it will be about something else. Imagine families whose children are in the military. Worry about getting through a high school football season? Try getting through a deployment. All we can do is make the decisions we feel are best for our kids, hope things turn out the way we want, and help them rebound if and when they don’t.

I remember a commercial that aired several years ago for a popular mini-van. At the end we see a mom drop off her son at football practice covered from head to toe in bubble wrap. He was so constricted, he could barely move. And I guess that is an analogy for the way we raise our children. We want desperately for them to be safe, but we also know we have to take risks to enjoy life. So we live every day trying to find the middle ground between caring too much, and not caring at all.

Soccer injuries and their prevention

Another great article from our partners at StopSportsInjuries.org

Soccer is one of the most popular sports in the world and the fastest growing team sport in the United States. Although soccer provides an enjoyable form of aerobic exercise and helps develop balance, agility, coordination, and a sense of teamwork, soccer players must be aware of the risks for injury. Injury prevention, early detection, and treatment can keep kids and adults on the field long-term.

WHAT ARE SOME COMMON SOCCER INJURIES AND THEIR SYMPTOMS?
Injuries to the lower extremities are the most common in soccer. These injuries may be traumatic, such as a kick to the leg or a twist to the knee, or result from overuse of a muscle, tendon, or bone.

Lower Extremity Injuries
Sprains and strains are the most common lower extremity injuries. The severity of these injuries varies. Cartilage tears and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) sprains in the knee are some of the more common injuries that may require surgery. Other injuries include fractures and contusions from direct blows to the body.

Overuse Lower Extremity Injuries
Shin splints (soreness in the calf), patellar tendinitis (pain in the knee), and Achilles tendinitis (pain in the back of the ankle) are some of the more common soccer overuse conditions. Soccer players are also prone to groin pulls and thigh and calf muscle strains.

Stress fractures occur when the bone becomes weak from overuse. It is often difficult to distinguish stress fractures from soft tissue injury. If pain develops in any part of your lower extremity and does not clearly improve after a few days of rest, a physician should be consulted to determine whether a stress fracture is present.

Upper Extremity Injuries
Injuries to the upper extremities usually occur from falling on an outstretched arm or from player-to-player contact. These conditions include wrist sprains, wrist fractures, and shoulder dislocations.

Head, Neck, and Face Injuries
Injuries to the head, neck, and face include cuts and bruises, fractures, neck sprains, and concussions. A concussion is any alteration in an athlete’s mental state due to head trauma and should always be evaluated by a physician. Not all those who experience a concussion lose consciousness.

HOW ARE SOCCER INJURIES TREATED?
Participation should be stopped immediately until any injury is evaluated and treated properly. Most injuries are minor and can be treated by a short period of rest, ice, and elevation. If a trained health care professional such as a sports medicine physician or athletic trainer is available to evaluate an injury, often a decision can be made to allow an athlete to continue playing immediately. The athlete should return to play only when clearance is granted by a health care professional.

Overuse injuries can be treated with a short period of rest, which means that the athlete can continue to perform or practice some activities with modifications. In many cases, pushing through pain can be harmful, especially for stress fractures, knee ligament injuries, and any injury to the head or neck. Contact your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment of any injury that does not improve after a few days of rest. You should return to play only when clearance is granted by a health care professional.

HOW CAN SOCCER INJURIES BE PREVENTED?
* Have a pre-season physical examination and follow your doctor’s recommendations
* Use well-fitting cleats and shin guards — there is some evidence that molded and multi-studded cleats are safer than screw-in cleats
* Be aware of poor field conditions that can increase injury rates
* Use properly sized synthetic balls — leather balls that can become waterlogged and heavy are more dangerous, especially when heading
* Watch out for mobile goals that can fall on players and request fixed goals whenever possible
* Hydrate adequately — waiting until you are thirsty is often too late to hydrate properly
* Pay attention to environmental recommendations, especially in relation to excessively hot and humid weather, to help avoid heat illness
* Maintain proper fitness — injury rates are higher in athletes who have not adequately prepared physically.
* After a period of inactivity, progress gradually back to full-contact soccer through activities such as aerobic conditioning, strength training, and agility training.
* Avoid overuse injuries — more is not always better! Many sports medicine specialists believe that it is beneficial to take at least one season off each year. Try to avoid the pressure that is now exerted on many young athletes to over-train. Listen to your body and decrease training time and intensity if pain or discomfort develops. This will reduce the risk of injury and help avoid “burn-out”
* Speak with a sports medicine professional or athletic trainer if you have any concerns about injuries or prevention strategies

The following expert consultants contributed to the tip sheet:

Rob Burger, MD
Kenneth Fine, MD

Is there a right and wrong type of stretching before sports?

There is a growing contingent of thought in the athletic training world that believe that the “old fashioned” method of stretching before athletic competition, now known as “static stretching,” is not only not effective, but can actually be harmful to athletes about to participate in sports. Our partner, Stop Sports Injuries.org has published an explanation in their blog, here.

Another, more in-depth explanation about the differences between “static stretching,” and “dynamic stretching,” can be found in this article from the New York Times.

A disease called winning – 2 examples

Contributed by Dennis Hillyard, FLMSL Head Coach

During the nineties I was the Soccer Development Director to Milton Keynes a large city twenty miles north of London. At the time I was running a Saturday morning coaching academy for 7yr – 10yr children.

One of the lads was not particularly gifted as a player but he loved his soccer, always full of enthusiasm, the first to arrive and the last to leave after assisting me to collect in the equipment etc. One Sunday I stopped to watch a junior game. It was a particularly cold day with a constant light drizzle of freezing rain and I noticed the lad in question sitting huddled up on the substitutes bench looking blue with the cold.

There was about ten minutes remaining when I asked the coach the score to which he replied that his team were winning 9 – 0. I then asked him if he intended giving the lad in question a run out? “No chance, we need all the goals we can get to win the league and he is useless”. Sometime later I met his mother who advised me that the lad had given up football but that he had become very withdrawn and that his school world was also suffering.

Later I learned that the team had won the league and that the coach had been voted “Coach Of The Year‟ !!!!! The other example was a lad who was at the same academy. This was an eight year old who was extremely small for his age but he possessed so much ability in that he could shoot and dribble with either foot, had great awareness and communication skills that in my mind he had all the potential to go on to play at a much higher level.

After a year his father advised me that the lad was leaving the academy to join a U11 team in a local league. I attempted to advise him against the move as he would be playing with and against lads two years older than him and physically, much, much bigger but to no avail. Later I observed him playing where he was easily the best player on view but at the same time he was literally being „kicked off the pitch by the older opponents.

Once again I learned later that the lad was no longer playing anymore.

What a terrible indictment but just two of many examples of the harm being done to our younger generation of players simply in order to fulfill the self inflated ego‟s of coaches and parents who, although in the minority, still manage to cause the majority of damage.