Coaching 101: Sometimes Saying Nothing Is All It Takes

One of the biggest things I’ve learned from eight years of coaching soccer around the world is that the key to development is allowing players to organically learn the game. I think we’ve gotten into a situation over the years where too much over-coaching is going on. Our role as a coach is to guide. We can’t teach kids everything, but we can guide and create a fun learning environment for players. This will teach them to not only love the game now, but also to continue to love it in twenty years. The game alone is the greatest teacher.

coaching soccer 101

The hardest thing as a coach, and I know this from personal experience, is to not let your ego get in the way of development. Constantly barking at players to do certain things on the field doesn’t get the long term results you are after. Players don’t learn from being told what to do at every step while they are on the field. That would be the same as just controlling players in a video game. They learn from making mistakes. The team who usually makes the least tends to win. 

It’s ok to make mistakes.

As our friends at Online Soccer Academy say, when a player makes a mistake, “React positive!” They’ve just learned something!

If a player makes a mistake that leads to a goal you have to see that as a learning experience. They will learn and correct accordingly, understanding that a consequence resulted in that mistake. It’s how we learn many of our skills, not only in sports, but in life. Coaches can guide afterwards and re-correct, but that situation alone should never be over-coached in the moment.

Parents should recognize the silence of a coach isn’t always a bad thing. He/she is allowing the players to learn the game in an environment that is conducive to self-exploration and learning in a natural way by playing the game. Organized sports were never a big factor for learning the game in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Learning came from playing every minute of the day and watching the game on TV. Learning the game in an organic way is fantastic not only for the here and now but for the long term. It builds players who are creative and expressive while out on the field. 

If you make it fun now, they will love the game forever.

The Travel vs Club Soccer Conundrum

School is out and summer is in full swing. This means pool days, ice-cream, summer camps, and registering for fall sports!

Every parent with a child enrolled in youth sports at some point faces the travel sports conundrum. With all of the options, opportunities, and outside pressures – deciding if competitive travel sports is right for your child is often a stressful decision.

Youth soccer is one of the sports where the more competitive and intense versions are often suggested by coaches, players, and peers.

The sheer volume of options available in the U.S. is often overwhelming, and numerous questions arise. Is my child ready for such intense competition? Will they want to play soccer that many days of the week? Will it be too much pressure for him/her?

If your family is contemplating joining the competitive soccer ranks, there are multiple factors you’ll want to consider to help guide you toward the correct decision for your child.

Time Commitment

A true dedication to travel soccer often means much less time and opportunity for athletes to play other sports. If your young player enjoys participating in multiple sports, enrolling in a travel program might cause scheduling conflicts. Before fully committing to a travel program, you want to make sure that he/she is ready to potentially put other sports on the bench in order to dedicate more time to soccer.

Financial Commitment

financial-equipmentIt’s no secret that travel sports can be quite expensive, and travel soccer is no exception. Between the equipment, team fees, coaching fees, and travel expenses the dollars can really stack up. The more involved your child becomes in the world of travel soccer, the more money and time will be required. Before you and your athlete choose travel soccer, be prepared for a greater financial commitment in exchange for a competitive playing experience.

Physical Toll

Players and parents new to the travel soccer scene often realize that the play is much more intense and often more physical. You want to make sure that your child knows about, and is ready for, the elevated intensity and aggression that comes with competitive soccer.

Learning Experience

learning-experienceThe higher level of competition and lack of guaranteed play time helps young athletes learn discipline and determination. Coaches and players alike take the sport more seriously at the travel level. The teams practice frequently and the players are often required to come to training and games prepared and ready to give 100%. The competitiveness usually requires the players to practice more, both by themselves and with their team, in order to keep their fitness and technical abilities at a high level.

Opportunity To Play More

If your child truly loves soccer, the opportunity to specialize in soccer can be extremely helpful in their soccer-development. If you know your child has the talent and love of the game, the chance to play year-round and sharpen their skills for more than just a few months at time is priceless. Specialization can sometimes be a negative, but if your child is serious about competing at the highest level possible, travel soccer provides the opportunities that other organized sports cannot.

Chance To Improve

improve-skillsAt the end of the day, travel soccer is meant to provide young athletes with the chance to become better soccer players. The increased competition, intensity, superior coaching, and better players around him/her will make them better soccer players. A child who is ready to take the next step and improve his/her game, must have increased competition and better training. While you must be careful to choose the right club, travel soccer as a whole provides the higher quality training and competition that recreational soccer cannot.

Deciding if travel soccer is right for your child is not a decision that you should take lightly as it’s definitely a choice that will effect your entire family. That being said, the fundamental reason for travel soccer is to make your child better at soccer. If your son or daughter has a love for the world’s game and a desire to become a better player, travel soccer (as time consuming and costly as it can be) is your best bet.

Speaking from personal experience, I am extremely appreciative of my parents for giving me the opportunity to play travel soccer and compete against some of the best. I know that they had to make some sacrifices to give me the opportunity, but it gave me the chance to mature and grow both as a player and a person.

What do you think? Have you been involved in travel soccer or are you thinking about getting involved? Be sure to share your stories/thoughts in the comments below!

Coming Soon: U.S. Soccer’s New Girls’ Development Academy!

us-soccerKeep an eye out next fall (2017) for the launch of U.S. Soccer’s new Girls’ Development Academy Program!

U.S. Soccer created the Development Academy for boys in 2007 and has since grown the program to include 152 soccer clubs. U.S. Soccer refers to the Program as, “the elite player development model for the country and has significantly improved the everyday environment for players, coaches and clubs.”

The Girls’ Development Academy will mimic many of the existing principles starting in Fall 2017.

  • Clubs in the Girls’ Development Academy will play exclusively within the Academy program and will not play against any outside competition, including high school. These clubs will participate in local and regional matches, as well as regional and national events that follow international standards.
  • The Girls’ Development Academy will increase training requirements. Clubs will be expected to train a minimum of four times per week.
  • The program will include the following combined age groups: U-14/15, U-16/17, and U-18/19. Clubs will be required to form more balanced rosters of players from two distinct birth years.
  • Games will be scouted by U.S. Soccer and will serve as a pathway to U.S. Soccer’s Youth National Teams.

The launch of the new program has U.S. Soccer and NWSL working together to support player development and the long-term growth of professional soccer.

“In support of U.S. Soccer’s long-term plan for player and coach development, launching a Girls’ Development Academy is part of an unprecedented commitment to elevating the women’s game,” said April Heinrichs, U.S. Soccer Women’s Technical Director.

As details were released in regards to the Girls’ Development Academy, many wondered if U.S. Soccer would be collaborating with the Elite Clubs National League on the project. After a meeting between USSF officials and ECNL leaders, it has been announced that the Federation has decided to move forward without any outside assistance. reported that U.S. Soccer officials believe that they can do a “better and faster” job of developing female players alone. In an interview with ECNL’s Christian Lavers, Lavers stated that, “[U.S. Soccer’s] position was that they previously discussed collaborating with us, and had determined that they could improve the game and raise standards in the game faster and better without us.”

“This discussion shouldn’t be framed as an ECNL vs U.S. Soccer issue,” Lavers said. “That perspective doesn’t solve any challenges or improve the game. The ECNL’s desire was, and still is, to find a way to bring together unique resources from each organization to make an even better platform. If that is not a possibility or a shared desire at this time, then the ECNL will continue to fulfill its mission and keep working to improve development in female youth club soccer.”

The ECNL will continue to support youth national teams and the Women’s National Team going forward.

Similar to the the Boys’ Development Academy, the Girls’ seasons will be structured over a 10-month period and will be organized by divisions and conferences.

More information will be available in the coming months.

The Ban On Heading Gains Famous Support

Youth football has been facing public critique and declining participation over recent years due to its association with head injuries.

With the number of parents ready to withdraw their children from the sport already at an all-time high, The American Journal of Sports Medicine released survey results indicating that football does indeed experience the greatest incidence of concussions among high school athletes.

However, little attention has been drawn to the second highest concussion sport – girls’ soccer.

Headers in soccer and the collisions that often go hand-in-hand with them, are a leading cause of concussion in today’s world of youth sports.

As this fact continues to fly under the radar, soccer’s governing bodies have yet to create one universal set of guidelines when it comes to introducing headers in youth soccer.

The majority of organizations discourage teaching young athletes headers until they reach the age of ten. Others choose not to introduce the technique altogether.

Proper Technique

The thought of eliminating headers from the game of soccer has sparked recent controversy in the sports community.

For dedicated soccer fans, heading (especially at higher levels of play) is a critical part of the game. Professional players like Abby Wambach – having scored more than 40 percent of her record number of goals in international competition with her head – act as an example of the importance of headers.

They believe that if players plan to use their heads at upper levels, the safest approach is to teach them how to use their heads correctly at a young age.

The proper technique requires the player to propel their forehead straight forward through the ball, using their arms and torso to generate force.

However, a player rarely heads the ball with ample time to position their body correctly. When fighting over a ball mid-air the players often have to creatively aim, causing them to strike the ball to the side.

Hitting the ball straight-on can cause the brain to accelerate in line with the skull, but hitting at an angle can cause the brain to twist within the skull – causing damage.

Soccer Support

No HeaderWorld Cup soccer star, Brandi Chastain, is stepping in to support a new rule change requiring that no headers be allowed for players under 14 years old.

Chastain has been promoting the Safer Soccer Campaign to raise awareness about the relationship between heading the ball and concussions.

The Safer Soccer Campaign believes that youth coaches can take pre-emptive steps to reduce the risk of concussions, starting with placing a higher emphasis on footwork rather than headers. As an added bonus, players will develop stronger fundamental skills as a result.

Safer Soccer and Chastain recommend not introducing young athletes to headers until they enter high school, after their brains have had a chance to develop.

What do you think about the potential ban on headers? Leave a comment in the section below to let us know how you feel about a future regulation change!

“Female-Friendly” Soccer Ball: Sexist or Safe?

Eir Soccer Ball
The reduced size of the Eir ball (67 cm vs. 68-70 cm) allows a higher speed of game.

Change isn’t easy. It’s always more comfortable to stick with what you’re used to. But what if what you’re used to – the socially accepted norm – is harmful?

Eir Soccer estimates that the average female youth soccer player suffers from one serious injury per season, with the greatest amount of injuries suffered by players 12- to 19-years-old.

Girls participating in competitive youth soccer are also more likely to suffer serious knee injuries and have a higher rate of concussion than boys of the same age.

The cause? A growing number of soccer administrators are casting the blame on the larger and heavier adult soccer balls that are introduced in youth leagues around the age of 12. The heavier ball puts additional pressure on the knee and strains the legs at a time when younger girls are still in the process of maturing physically.

With so many young players getting hurt – is it time to make a change in the world of soccer?

Alan Gould, Executive Director of the Toronto Soccer Association believes that it continues to impact girls through the age of 14, 15 and 16 – an explanation as to why such a large portion of female youth soccer players in those age divisions play wearing either ankle or knee braces.

Recently, Toronto Soccer Association announced their participation in a trial of the EIR Soccer ball. As of January 26, 2015, the EIR Soccer “Sensational” ball is the official game ball of the Girls Under 13 Division for the Toronto District Youth Soccer League.

The EIR ball is smaller (size 2.5), lighter (350-370g) and travels faster than a normal adult soccer ball. It is said to reduce the pressure in the knee from up to 80 percent down to just two percent. Leg strain is reduced by 40 percent. Head acceleration from heading the ball is 17 percent below the concussion point. And ball speed is increased by 13 percent.

So why isn’t everyone jumping on board with this new, safer ball? Even young girls, when presented with the idea of the ball were not as overjoyed as expected. In today’s society where young women are raised to see themselves as equal with their male peers, switching to a smaller ball might be perceived as inferior.

Eir’s response: “Equal rights in soccer does not mean playing with the same size ball as men. We will do whatever it takes to play great and safely.”

What do you think? Should this “female-friendly” soccer ball be tested in the United States next?

Share your opinion in the comments section below!