Posts Tagged ‘fun’

Simple Tips that will Significantly Impact Games

May 3, 2010

As I approach my one-hundredth post, I have learned the following:

  • Gore sells. Besides the home page, my most popular post was the one about Aaron Ramsey’s broken leg.
  • Initially, I thought I only had ideas for 25 or 30 posts. I now know I have what seems like an endless supply of material to write about.
  • My content must be OK as Soccer America has reprinted five articles to date and Potomac Soccer Wire reprints one of my posts weekly.
  • I have learned that most soccer blogs cover professional games, leagues, and players. Very few blogs are dedicated to improving youth soccer for an audience of youth coaches, players, and parents.

The other day I was looking at the page hits and noticed that a set of very valuable articles I wrote early on has not gotten the love or attention I feel they deserve. I have written 20 articles that start with the title, “2-3 Goal Difference per Game”. These were written primarily for coaches who tend to over-coach, place too much importance on the X’s and O’s, and don’t let their players go out and have fun and make mistakes.

Soccer, especially at the youth level, should be about free play and only a few coaches’ instructions during games. These articles include simple coaching tips that should be easy for players to understand and learn quickly. These tips will dramatically affect the outcome of a game. While player development, and not winning, should be a youth coach’s ultimate goal, increasing a team’s chances of winning without compromising development and fun is not a bad thing either.

You will find the subject matter and respective links to the 20 articles below. Enjoy!

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Referees Are Teachers Too

April 25, 2010

I recently published a post with the title, “All Adults Are Teachers.” That post was geared more to coaches and parents who needed a reminder of the awesome responsibility adults have in teaching our kids and that some of our actions, though unintended, may be sending the wrong message to our kids.

Carrying on with the notion that it “Takes a Village to Raise a Kid,” it is important to remember the role of the referee. Sure the main responsibility of the referee is to officiate the game. But when officiating games that involve …

  • Young players
  • Players who don’t have a lot of soccer experience
  • Players who are being coached by someone with little soccer knowledge

… referees should also assume the role of on-field teacher.

There are many teaching moments and opportunities for referees to set a good tone for a game.

  • It is important for all players, as well as coaches and parents, to understand the rules and violations of the game and why a certain call is made. When I blow my whistle, I like everyone in the immediate vicinity to know why I did it.
  • The offside law is particularly difficult to understand. When I make this call, I always try to let the nearby players know why I made the call and which player was in the offside position. Sometimes I will tell a player I’m close to when he/she is in an offside position.
  • Be quick and decisive on all calls. Don’t leave the teams and fans wondering who the foul was on. Point as quickly as possible in the direction that the ball should played.
  • Be animated. If there is a bad throw-in, make sure to mime the infraction by raising your back foot off the ground.
  • Don’t enforce all infractions, especially with young players and when no advantage has been gained. Let the first infraction slide but remind the players that the ball must be played forward on a kick off and that both feet need to remain on the ground on a throw-in.
  • If a player does not know what to do with ball once the whistle is blown, make sure to be close enough to the action to be of assistance. I don’t like it when a referee can help speed up the game by helping but chooses not to.
  • Care about what you are doing. Run and always be in position. You’ll make the right calls more often and you will show the players that you are working hard just like them.
  • Have fun! Fun is contagious.
  • Talk to the players. Don’t talk only about fouls or infractions. Tell them, “Nice pass” or “Good defense” or “I like your sportsmanship.” Validate the positives.
  • Teach and educate but never be condescending. Don’t be a know-it-all.

Though they may not agree with all of your calls, players, coaches, and fans will appreciate the effort to help everyone understand the game better. In doing so, you will gain the players’ and adults’ respect and refereeing will be that much more joyous and rewarding.

‘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.

Memorable, Fun, and Age-Appropriate Rituals

December 10, 2009

My son’s U11 team is notorious for its inconsistencies, not just from game-to-game but from half-to-half. Granted they are mostly 10-year-olds and this pattern is by no means unusual. Tired of this inconsistent play and losses against much weaker teams, the team dad, Gene, decided to take an unusual approach to solving this problem. Before each game or after a poorly played half, he would ‘de-curse’ the boys’ shoes.

The ritual goes as follows:

  • The boys collectively stick out their shoes.
  • Gene visits each player and performs an elaborate exorcism by ‘ptooing’ and then commanding the demons or ills that are possessing the boys’ shoes to disappear (see photo below).
  • Just recently, the goalie started asking that his gloves be de-cursed as well.

Since this ritual began, the team has not lost a game and they will be playing in the NorCal State Cup finals at the end of December.

I am sharing this story  for two reasons:

  • I think de-cursing the shoes is a very clever and age-appropriate solution to a problem that many coaches face.
  • It is fun to see the kick, joy, and amusement the boys get out of this ritual.

At this age and this point in the season does it matter if they believe that the ‘de-cursing’ is the cause for their improved player rather than the culmination of all the hard work they put in this year? I don’t think so. Also what I’m almost 100% sure of is that six years from now when the boys are reminiscing about their youth playing days, they will have no idea if they won this year’s NorCal tournament but they will definitely remember the ‘de-cursing’ ritual.

Soccer is not just about playing the game, learning technical fundamentals, socializing, understanding the concept of ‘team’, and good sportsmanship. It is also about creating lasting memories that 10-year-olds find important and enjoy. If you have a similar story, I know the readers of ‘Improving Soccer in the United States’ would love to hear it.

Fun Practice Alternative: Kickball

November 3, 2009

I’m sure everyone is familiar with the school yard game of kickball. Kickball is played just like baseball but with a soccer ball. My version of kickball is slightly different from the standard way kickball is played. My version incorporates a lot of ball control.

Field Layout

  • Set up the field as you would a regular baseball field (see graph below). The dimension should vary by age.
  • Rings should be should be used as bases. Regular flat bases will work as well
  • Between each set of bases (i.e., home and first), set up discs or cones that the players will need to dribble through. Then number can vary.Kickball

The Rules

  • Each team gets 3 outs.
  • An out can be registered by ‘catching’ the ball or forcing someone out at any of the four bases.
  • After 4 balls (not 3 strikers) a batter is out.

The Game

  • The pitcher is an offensive player. The pitcher kicks the ball over the home plate ring. A kick that does not go over the ring is called a ‘ball’. The pitcher is allowed only 4 ‘balls’ before the batter is out. The batter stands behind home plate and is only allowed to kick ‘strikes’. Once the ball is kicked, the pitcher must leave the field as not to interfere with the defense. The pitcher becomes the offensive team’s next kicker.
  • Once a strike is kicked into play, the batter must take another ball (which is kept to the right of the batter’s box), and dribble between the cones to first base. Each cone must be successfully dribbled through. If the player misses a cone, she must return to the missed cone and continue dribbling. If the defensive team catches the ball or the ball arrives to first base before the batter, the batter is out. The same rule applies to any base. The batter can advance to as many bases as she pleases. However once a player commits to the next base, she is committed and can’t go back to the previous base. Each base has to be crossed before advancing to the next base.
  • Players on base are allowed to advance as soon as the batter kicks the ball.
  • To force a player out, the ball must arrive and be placed in the ring before the dribbling player arrives. Defenders may pass the ball to a player covering the base.
  • Defensively, hands are not allowed except to ‘catch’ a ball. However, hands can only be used after a player uses her head, chest, thigh, or foot to control the ball before it hits the ground. Once the ball is controlled and before hitting the ground, the same player can catch the ball for an out. If the initial defensive player is not able to control the first-touch effectively, another defensive player can still ‘catch’ the ball as long as the ball does not hit the ground she first controls the ball with her head, chest, thigh, or foot. Offensive players are not allowed to advance or tag up on catches. However, if a ball is caught, players are permitted to dribble back to their starting base. A defensive player can force the runner out by returning the ball with a pass or dribble to the base the player must return to.

That’s it. Equipment, field size, and rules can vary based on what works best for your team. Hopefully your team enjoys this game. The best thing of all, they are still working on their ball control and having fun doing it.