Archive for the ‘education’ Category

What Every Team Needs: A Reporter

March 6, 2010

Joining a soccer team should be more than just learning to trap a ball, scoring a goal, or making nice passes. It should also be more than learning about sportsmanship, leadership, teamwork, and discipline. It should also be about giving players unique opportunities that they otherwise would not have.

I’m a big fan of youth soccer players becoming referees. I can’t think of a better way for young soccer players to learn more about the sport of soccer, learn to appreciate and understand that refereeing is not as simple as it looks, give back to the sport that has given them so much, and also earn some extra money.

In today’s Communication and Internet Era, more and more teams have websites. On these sites, rosters, schedules, scores, photos, and videos are shared with friends and family. Yet rarely have I seen written game summaries. I usually only see them when they appear in our local newspaper. I think each team needs a correspondent or reporter who writes game previews and summaries or special features about each player. Who better to have or play this role than an actual player (or players)?

There are a number of benefits associated with having a player be the team reporter.

  • The perspective of a game is vastly different coming from a player than from a coach or parent. The player’s perspective is much more interesting and refreshing.
  • Many teams seek donations from friends, family members, and businesses to support their soccer endeavors. As a show of appreciation, these donors should be given regular updates throughout the season.
  • At the end of the season, players, families, and donors will be able to look back at the memorable season.
  • It gives a player an opportunity to learn a new skill. An injured player would make a great correspondent because he/she would be making a very important contribution to the team.
  • Local newspapers can be given permission to use these updates and articles. Which kid would not like to see his/her work appear in a newspaper?
  • Perhaps an arrangement can be made with the player’s English teacher to get extra credit.
  • A player is never too young to benefit from having ‘reporter’ on his/her resume.

In order for the reporter to be successful and for the content to be embraced and appreciated, certain guidelines need to be followed and a support structure needs to be in place.

  • Each team member needs equal ‘print time’. While each team will have a few outstanding players, a team is made up of all players.
  • Assign a parent to review all content before it is published. Check for good grammar, typos, and inappropriate language. This parent should mentor the reporter and give suggestions on how the player can improve his/her writing skills.

Soccer’s Magic Cube

March 1, 2010

A lot of young players today rely on only one foot to do all the work. Oftentimes, I will see young players run around a ball just so they can stop it with their dominant foot. I strongly believe that at a very young age coaches and parents should encourage and work with their players and children to get comfortable using both feet. Much like learning a second language or a musical instrument, it is much easier when a child is young. This can also apply to learning to use both feet.

To help in this endeavor, I have created the ‘Magic Cube’. It is soccer’s equivalent to the ‘Magic 8 Ball’. It helps teach and remind a player which foot to use to stop a ball.

The Magic Cube has three main colors (see below). They are:

  • Light brown represents the side of the body the ball is passed to (pass).
  • Red represents which foot should be used to stop the ball (stop).
  • Blue represents which surface of the foot should be used to stop the ball (side).

The cube also has four letters. They are:

  • L’ for left
  • R’ for right
  • I’ for inside-of-the-foot
  • O’ for outside-of-the-foot

With the help of the Magic Cube, remembering the proper technique for stopping a ball is simple.

  1. When the ball is passed to a player’s left side, he/she should use the inside of the left foot to stop the ball (LIL).
  2. When the ball is passed to a player’s right side, he/she should use the inside of the right foot to stop the ball (RIR).
  3. When the ball is passed to a player’s left side, he/she should use the outside of the right foot to stop the ball (LOR).
  4. When the ball is passed to a player’s right side, he/she should use the outside of the left foot to stop the ball (ROL).

Feel free to download and assemble your own Magic Cube. In other posts, I have mentioned fun practice alternatives. Assembling Magic Cubes would certainly qualify as a fun practice alternative. All you need to bring to practice are some 2-dimensional cubes and a few glue sticks (depending on the age of the kids, the cubes may need to be pre-cut and scored). Once the cubes have been assembled, demonstrate the proper stopping technique. Young players will remember the sage wisdom of the Magic Cube for a long time. During the year, coaches and parents can always refer to the ‘Magic Cube’ when the players need some assistance.

I added dots to each face of the cube so the Magic Cube can also be used as a die. If a player uses the Magic Cube more than once, its message will have a better chance of sinking in. To open and print out the Magic Cube shown above (complete with instructions), click here. To check out Magic Cubes in several color schemes, click here. Choose your favorite. I will also be happy to create a custom-colored Magic Cube. Just let me know.

The sooner a young player feels comfortable using both feet, the better.

Want to Play College Soccer? What is your GPA?

February 22, 2010

I recently caught up with Patrick Scheufler who was a player on the inaugural iSoccerStar.com reality soccer show (I met him through a good friend of mine). The show followed a team of hand-selected U.S. players who traveled to Montenegro and Albania to play local teams in hopes that some of them would attract the attention of some European clubs and sign those selected players to a professional contract.

This year, the program is back for a third year. This program’s primary goal is to showcase talented U.S. soccer players to Europeans clubs on European soil. Patrick is now a scout, talent locator, and partner with E.D. United which is the company behind the program. He told me that they are holding tryouts across the U.S. this spring to find the next group of players that will be part of this year’s team. For more information, visit One Shot One Dream.

This got me thinking about what it takes to play soccer after high school. Athletic ability is certainly important. The best U.S. soccer players will either sign with a European or other foreign club or accept a full ride scholarship to a top-rated college or university of their choice. For the many thousands of players who are one level below the first group, college will be their main option. For these college-bound players, however, there is something even more important than soccer ability. It is academic ability and achievement.

Most university and college football programs can offer upwards of 20 full-ride scholarships a year. As result, up to 80 football players on a team are playing with a full scholarship. College soccer is different. Oftentimes, these programs will only have a few full scholarships they can offer. What coaches will often do is break those scholarships in half, thirds, or quarters in order to attract as many players as possible.

In talking with some high school coaches, I’ve learned that university and college coaches would rather recruit and sign an above average player with a 3.5 – 4.0 grade-point-average (GPA) than a superstar with a 2.5 – 3.0 GPA. These coaches want to be guaranteed that the players they sign will be able to handle the rigors and obligations of being a student-athlete. The best barometric indicator to predict this success is good grades. In addition, if coaches can attract players with good grades (or other unique talents), it makes it much easier for them to go to the college recruiting administrators and seek partial academic (or other) scholarships to make up the difference.

My advice to players who wish to play competitive soccer past high school? Pay as much if not more attention on your grades as you do on soccer. Only a small percentage of high school players will play college soccer. Of those fortunate enough to player college soccer, only a handful will have a soccer-playing career. You will need something to fall back on and good grades and academic ability are a smart back-up plan.

‘Adopt-a-College-Soccer-Player’ Program

January 20, 2010

A few months ago I noticed a signed photo in my daughter’s room of a local soccer player who at the time was playing soccer at a local university on a full-ride scholarship. I was surprised to see it given that it was over seven years old. This player had been invited to my daughter’s U10 competition team to run practice and talk to the girls about the importance of school and hard work. Her university was nice enough to supply her with action shots that she signed for the girls. Later that year, the players were ball girls at one of the University’s home age. At least for my daughter, this player had made a favorable and lasting impression on her.

In an earlier post I wrote about a ‘Adopt-a-High-Soccer-Player‘ program and how such a program would benefit youth soccer players, the high school soccer players, the school/club/soccer organization, and adult coaches. These same groups will stand to benefit from this program as well. However, because the college/university player is more mature and a better soccer player than a high school player and there are simply fewer college players available, there are different types of ‘wins’ that such a program can produce.

Winner #1: Youth Soccer Player

Youth players will still relate better to a college player than a 40-year-old parent figure. The more youth players who get to hear, see, and interact with the college player, the better. The celebrity factor should make young players more interested in and attentive to a college player than a high school player.

Winner #2: College Student-Athletes

Given the college player’s playing ability and maturity, there are many more roles this player can assume within a Club/League. This player could:

  • Meet, speak, and run a practice for each team in the Club/League.
  • Be a regular trainer for a competitive team. Given the college player’s knowledge of the game, a competitive team with better and more focused players would be a better fit.
  • Become a board member for the Club/League. As a person who is living and experiencing soccer at an advanced level but is not too far removed from being a youth player, he/she could play an integral role in helping develop and shape the future of the Club.

Either one or a combination of these activities or responsibilities would look terrific on a resume or post-graduate application.

Winner #3: College/University Soccer Program

If a college program is able to partner with a local soccer Club/League, attendance should rise as interest in the team increases. The college will have an endless supply of ball boys and ball girls. And who knows, maybe five or 10 years down the road, a few of the youth soccer players who were a part of the ‘Adopt-a-College-Soccer Player’ program will be stars at the same university.

Winner #4: Adult Coaches

Once again, many soccer coaches have little or no soccer experience themselves. Any help or instructions, especially from someone with extensive knowledge of the game can only be beneficial.

Winner #5: Youth Soccer Club or League

If a Club or League develops a reputation for bringing on board local college players to help train its youth players, membership will grow. Having young, knowledgeable, and good soccer players train the Club’s youth players should result in better teams and players. With a good relationship with the local College, perhaps its coach(es) will contribute their knowledge and expertise to the Club/League as well.

Any player who is fortunate enough to play at the college level must be good. Only the ‘cream-of-the-crop’ play college soccer. If there is any way to get such a player to volunteer his or her time to your Club/League, go for it. Only a select number of college players will play and earn a living as a professional soccer player. By giving these players an opportunity to train, teach, and help build and grow a Club/League, they, too, will be part of a unique and valuable experience. It will be a win-win-win-win-win situation for all.

Adopt-a-High-School-Soccer-Player Program

January 11, 2010

Parents, who would you rather have train your child’s U8 soccer team? A 40-year-old ex-professional soccer player (I wish that were me) or a Senior from the local high school soccer team? While you are thinking about your answer (do you really need to think about this one), who do you think your 7-year-old child would want to be trained by?

Ten years ago if you had asked me that question, I would have asked if you were serious about giving me a choice. Without a doubt I would have insisted on the ex-professional. Who in their right mind would turn down such on offer? Today, and still in my right mind (I think), I would side with the kids and insist on the Senior high school soccer player.

The biggest reason for this change of heart is that I have learned over the years that soccer, especially at this age, is all about having fun and instilling in these kids the love of the game. While the 40-year-old ex-professional would be able to teach a child to become a better soccer player, I’m pretty sure the kids would have more fun with the high school soccer player.

I used high school players to help me with my Loopball training program. I will be the first admit that I had my challenges. But the challenges were mostly brought about by my high expectations and a curriculum that was a bit too rigid and heavy on the teaching side. But if you look at the photo on the home page of Loopball, those players will remember the young woman long after they remember me.

While there are definite challenges to having a high school soccer player play an integral role on a youth soccer team, I strongly believe that the benefits far outweigh the challenges. If done well, I believe the ‘Adopt-a-High-School-Soccer-Player’ program can be a win-win-win-win-win-win situation for all involved.

Winner #1: Youth Soccer Player

Youth players will relate much better to the high school soccer player. They are closer in age. The youth players look more like the high schooler than the 40-year-old. This player also remembers what she did not like about her youth soccer coach and what in her mind would be a fun practice. Also it is one less adult figure who is telling them what to do. After all, haven’t you and their elementary school teacher already done enough instructing and teaching for one today. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz got it right. After a while, everything coming out of adult mouths is gibberish.

Winner #2: High School Student-Players

What an excellent opportunity for a student-player to experience what it is like to coach/teach young children in a discipline they enjoy. With proper guidance and mentoring, they will have a chance to make a real and memorable difference in these youngsters’ lives. Coaching experience is excellent to have on a resume and looks great on college applications. Who knows, maybe this will inspire some high school student-player to become a teacher.

Winner #3: High School Soccer Program

Assuming a strong bond is made between the high school player and most of her youth players, I’m pretty sure that many of the players will insist they go watch at least one of Sally’s games (at least where I live this would boost attendance quite a bit). If permitted, the high school would also have an unlimited number of ball-boys and ball-girls available for home games.

Winner #4: Adult Coaches

While a coach may be responsible for the well-being and care of another player, the practices should become much easier. Also, given that many coaches have never played soccer, the adult coach will learn a lot about soccer from the high school player. The only thing a coach may have a hard time dealing with is the bruised ego when the players ask, “Where is Sally!?” when she has too much school work or, “Why can’t you be more like Sally?”

Winner #5: Youth Soccer League or Club

If done properly, the League should have many more returning youth players year after year because of the fun factor. The League should also be able to attract more coaches since the workload will be easier and the excuse of not having any soccer experience will no longer work. Because the young players are having fun, I believe more of them will stick with soccer longer and therefore, become better soccer players.

As far as the 40-year old ex-professional goes, have him/her coach an older competitive team. That will also be a win-win situation.

Enrich and Retain your Soccer Knowledge with Spaced Education

December 17, 2009

As a youth soccer coach for a competitive (traveling) team, I never wanted soccer to be the most important or even the second-most important part of a player’s life. I made it perfectly clear at the beginning of each season that family and school always took precedence over soccer. If a family had planned a vacation, I wished them bon voyage. If a player was inundated with homework or had an important test to study for, I did not want them at practice.

What I learned early on was that very few if any of the players I coached would play soccer after high school. And if they got the opportunity, it was going to be their playing ability and not my coaching that got them there. However, good study habits, good grades, and reinforcing the importance of school were all attributes that I could negatively impact if I insisted that soccer was more important than school.

Speaking of learning, I recently came across a fantastic new educational website which promotes spaced education (http://www.spaceded.com). Spaced education is based on two core psychology concepts: the spacing effect and the testing effect.

  • The spacing effect refers to the concept that information which is presented and repeated over spaced intervals is learned and retained more effectively.
  • The testing effect refers to the concept that the long-term retention of information is significantly improved by testing learners on this information. Testing causes knowledge to be stored more effectively in long-term memory.

At SpacedEd, spaced education works as follows:

  • A person enrolls in a course.
  • Each day a person receives at least one question to answer.
  • If the person answers the question incorrectly, a full explanation is presented to the tester. The question is placed back into the question pool and is presented to the user again after a short interval (let’s say 7 days).
  • If the person answers the question correctly, a full explanation is still presented and the question is still placed back into the question pool. The question is still presented to the user but this time after a longer interval (let’s say 21 days).
  • Once the same question is answered correctly twice, the question is retired.
  • The course is completed once all questions are retired.

So can spaced education help youth soccer players on the field? I don’t know yet. I do know that in order to improve fundamental technical skills, a player must repeat the same action thousands of times before body and mind start to react instinctively. This training is known as developing muscle memory. But soccer is much than just technical skills. So perhaps spaced education can play a role in improving soccer in the United States.

To find out, I have taken several courses and on December 13, I published a soccer course entitled, “Soccer 101“.  I invite you to enroll in my class. It is free and I promise it will be educational and fun. The course covers topics such as: Laws of the Game, soccer terminology, and soccer skills. My answers contain coaching tips, current and historical soccer facts, and plenty of pictures, diagrams, and YouTube videos.

Let me and others know what you think.


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