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July 27, 2007
Time for a Children's Revolt

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America Magazine's Youth Insider)

Some of the things I've heard adults yell at children at soccer games are just downright hilarious. Like the coach who yelled at a 6-year-old, "Give him a target on the flank!"

Oh, how I wish the kids would start shouting back. Go ahead and give an earful right back to the loudmouths on the sideline.


I would have loved to see the little boy turn around and say:

"Excuse me! Give him a target on the what? Do you realize I'm 6 years old? How little time do you spend with 6-year-olds that would make you think 'Give him a target on the flank' makes any sense to us? Maybe after we learn how to kick the ball farther than five yards we can start giving each other targets on the whatever."

If you've been around youth soccer games you've probably noticed that whenever a little kid manages to break away from the pack and toward the goal, the shrill screams of "Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!" begin. How wonderful it would be if a kid would just stop in mid-stride, turn to the sideline, and shout:

"Listen here, and listen good! I KNOW I'm supposed to shoot. I'm 6 years old, but I'm not an idiot. And what if I didn't want to shoot? What if I wanted to dribble around the goalkeeper. Am I allowed to do that, or are you in charge of every movement and every decision I make out here?"

One the most common screams from the sidelines is "Pass it! Pass it! Pass it! Pass it! Pass it! Pass it!" I want a little kid to tell them:

"So you've noticed that I've gained enough confidence to try to dribble through a mass of kids who are kicking at my shins. You see, I've been playing around with the ball in my yard and I'm starting to figure out this dribbling thing. And you want to discourage me! Well guess what? I'm going to ignore you. When my teammates start asking for the ball, then I'll start thinking about whether I should keep dribbling or pass the ball."

I once heard a mom yell at a child to pass the ball before the 6-year-old even got control of it.

"Hey Mom, do realize how ridiculous you sound?"

Just last weekend a chubby girl of about 8 years old was racing back to her own half. Watching her run was a delight. She waddled a bit, but was picking up speed and had a marvelous look of determination on her cute little face. When she stepped over the halfway line, the coach growled, "Stop! You're a forward! Get back up front."

Boy will she get confused if she stays with game and later gets admonished for "not tracking back." Instead of looking up at the coach with guilt, I wish she would have headed over to the sideline and said, "I'll run around on this field however I please!"

Yes, a lot of the sideline shouting is so inane it's comical. But it's also sad.

Last season, when we didn't have a referee for my under-8 girls team, I took the whistle. Our team's opponents got screamed at by their coach and parents throughout the entire game.

When one of their girls took a shot, our keeper made one of the most amazing saves I'd ever seen a 7-year-old make. She lunged and stuck her little hand out to block a very well struck shot.

The coach shouted, "I told you to shoot earlier!"

The girl who almost scored looked over at the burly screamer with an expression of genuine guilt, as if she had done something terribly wrong. It was a look of pure sorrow.

What can one possibly say to a coach like that?

July 26, 2007
What the Future Holds for Youth Soccer


By Mike Woitalla
(From Soccer America Magazine)

Let's look into the future of American soccer, shall we?

The year is 2012. Major League Soccer had been going strong until the coaching shortage, the top guys having moved to youth soccer, because that's where the real money is.

The Dallas Diaper Demons won the first Under-2 U.S. National Championship in a hard-fought victory over the Chicago Crawlers, whose star playmaker was ejected at halftime for tossing his sippy cup at the referee.

"He didn't deserve more than a two-minute timeout!" complained the Chicago coach. "The cup was empty!"

The Dallas coach was unavailable for comment because the Diaper Demons had to catch a flight to the West Coast, where they're competing in the College Coaches Super Showcase Invitational. But the club's director was on hand to praise the new national championship.

"Without the incentive of a national crown," he said, "a lot of these kids would just keep playing rec ball. Then they arrive at our club with all sorts of bad habits that are hard to un-teach when a child is already 3 years old."

In fact, there are few recreational leagues left around the country, having been replaced by Soccer Academies, Soccer Schools and Soccer Factories.

The number of volunteer coaches has dwindled to 18. Some cite the new requirement of completing an 82-hour H license course to coach above the U-5 level. Others credited the demise of the volunteer coach to the good sense of parents who really care and love their children.

"Parents have finally comprehended the fact that it's foolish to trust their children's soccer development to someone they're not paying lots of money," said the director of the Super Star Soccer Factory for Infants & Toddlers, one of the 191,870 professional trainer programs for kids around the nation.

The impact of the booming U.S. youth soccer business has been felt globally. The migration of British coaches to the USA leaves so many UK kids un-coached that Prime Minister Richard Branson has asked the U.S. government to cap H1-B work visas. U.S. Congress responded with a curt "no way," citing a new surge in demand for coaches to fill positions in the rapidly expanding Prenatal Soccer Camp industry.

(This article originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Soccer America Magazine.)

July 25, 2007
A case for U.S. Soccer's 'Best Practices'

From Soccer America's "Youth Insider:"

By Mike Woitalla

What's really important about the U.S. Soccer Federation's ambitious move into youth soccer isn't just the U-16 and U-18 boys leagues of its new U.S. Soccer Development Academy.

For sure, taming the wild west of youth soccer that overburdens elite teen-age players is a crucial part of steering player development in a better direction. And expanding the player identification process by incorporating the nation's elite clubs into the national team program should decrease the chances of missing young talent.

But what will make the most profound impact is whether U.S. Soccer succeeds in its stated goal to change the approach to how the nation's very young players are coached. The Academy launch, stress its architects, is only the first step in their quest to change the youth soccer culture in the USA.

Specifically, U.S. Soccer aims to have youth coaches adopt the Federation's Best Practices Player Development Guidelines.

A year and a half ago, under Director of Coaching Education Bob Jenkins, the Federation published "Player Development Guidelines: Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States."

The booklet was created by the Federation's coaching education staff and men's and women's U.S. national team coaches. Unlike so much of the pseudo-scientific coaching literature that has turned youth soccer into an adult-dominated environment, "Best Practices" is plain common sense. It is a welcome response to the overemphasis on the coach's role as a "teacher," as an "instructor."

The inclination to constantly "correct" young players as they explore the sport may be driven by good intentions, but it neglects the important difference between learning and being taught.

"Young players should be allowed the opportunity to experiment, and with that, succeed and fail," says U.S. Soccer. "A coach's long-term goal is to prepare a player to successfully recognize and solve the challenges of a game on his or her own."

"Best Practices" helps youth coaches understand the different developmental stages of young soccer players.

The youth coach's role at the younger ages is simply to create an environment that gives children the opportunity to discover the joys of the game. Some children will decide the sport is so much fun, they'll start dedicating themselves to it so fervently that they will become exceptional players.

Unlike so many coaching guides that preceded it, "Best Practices" does not make youth coaching seem like a daunting task. Too often, coaching instruction has encouraged coaches to expect too much, too soon from young players.

The guide explains convincingly why an adult-dominated environment is not conducive to developing great players.

Here are a few excerpts from the "Best Practices" Guidelines on coaching younger players:

* A primary focus for the coach at the youth level, through the U-12 age group, is to provide an environment that comes close to simulating the "pickup" games of our youth.

* Coaches should think of themselves more as facilitators, monitors, guides or even participants.

* Coaches can often be more helpful to a young player's development by organizing less, saying less and allowing players to do more.

* Set up a game and let the kids play.

* Encourage the dribbler at the younger ages.

* At the younger ages (6 to about 10), soccer is not a team sport. On the contrary, it is a time for children to develop their individual relationships with the ball.

* Do not demand that the more confident players share the ball. Encourage them to be creative and go to goal.

* Coaches should avoid the impulse to "coach" their players from "play to play" in order to help them win the match. Coaches should not be telling their young players to "pass rather than dribble," to "hold their positions" or to "never" do something (like pass or dribble in front of the goal).

* The game is the best teacher for young players.

To download a copy of "Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States" for free, or for information on ordering printed copies for $15, click HERE.

Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches U-10 soccer in Oakland, Calif. He is co-author of Claudio Reyna's book, More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition.

July 12, 2007
Intelligent Crossing

Excerpted from "More Than Goals: The journey from backyard games to World Cup competition" By Claudio Reyna with Mike Woitalla

One reason so many crosses don't end up producing a scoring chance is because players too often send them in blindly. They figure that if they're on the wing, just whip the ball into the middle.

Even in the pros, you see this time after time. A player moves down the wing and launches a cross even if there are no teammates in front of the goal. If you haven't got a forward waiting for the cross, then you've got to look for other options, like turning back and looking for a midfielder.

In other instances, when teammates are moving in for a cross, the crosser hammers a ball without aiming. A cross is still a pass, and the most dangerous ones are those that fly into the path of a teammate.


A lot of coaches say, "Whip it in with pace! Whip it into the mixer." I had plenty tell me that growing up, and I could never understand it. A cross that's "whipped" usually flies at one height, it might even knuckle, and it's hard for the forward. The only chance of scoring on a cross like that is to deflect it in. That happens sometimes, but the crosses that forwards thrive on are the ones dropped into their paths.

Crossing is getting the ball to a teammate or finding a space the players are moving into. It's not hammering a ball across the field and hoping for the best.

Look at David Beckham. In England, TV commentators like to say he whips his crosses in. He might, every once in a while, whip one in, but if you watch him closely you'll notice that on the majority of his passes he looks for a teammate. Then he lofts the ball so it curves into the space his teammate is moving into.

When we did crossing drills at Glasgow Rangers with Coach Dick Advocaat, he always emphasized technique over speed. He wanted us to "measure" the crosses. He wanted the crossers to concentrate on getting their balls to arrive at just the right time to meet the forward.

When you whip a ball in, it might arrive a half-second earlier, but it's more difficult to deal with than with a measured ball that's curling away from the goal so the attackers can climb for it. Timing is crucial for the crosser and the players making their runs in the middle.

A good rule of thumb when you're running toward the goal in hopes of meeting a cross is better late than early. If you run by the ball, you've got no chance of going back and attacking the ball again. But it's possible to make up ground when you're running forward.

The best place to send your cross is the zone between the edge of the goal area - six yards from the goal line - and the penalty spot. That's far enough from the goalkeeper and close enough for a scoring chance. Of course, success depends on good technique, and that's just a matter of practicing the striking of the ball, which no player can do enough of.

(Excerpted from "More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition" by Claudio Reyna with Mike Woitalla courtesy of Human Kinetics.)

New York Red Bulls captain Claudio Reyna played nearly 13 years in the top-tier leagues of Germany (Bayer Leverkusen, VfL Wolfsburg), Scotland (Glasgow Rangers) and England (Sunderland, Manchester City) before returning to his native New Jersey this year to play in Major League Soccer. He represented the USA in four World Cups, and captained the Americans to a quarterfinal run at the 2002 World Cup, where he became the first American selected to the FIFA World Cup all-star team.

July 11, 2007
CLUB PROFILE: FC Westchester

FC Westchester, which was founded by Al Pastore in 1984, is among the first 31 clubs accepted to the U.S. Soccer Player Development Academy for its inaugural season this fall. The New York club fields nine boys teams and one girls team (175 players). Its coaches include Boris Bandov, who spent three seasons of his 12-year NASL career with the New York Cosmos and earned 33 caps for the USA in 1976-83. Current MLS players who played for FC Westchester are Stefani Miglioranzi (Columbus) and Edson Buddle (Los Angeles).

Click HERE to read more.

July 09, 2007
CLUB PROFILE: Nomads FC

In a series for Soccer America Magazine, Mike Woitalla is profiling clubs that will be part of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, in which U-16 and U-18 boys teams will compete in an eight-month season beginning this fall.

Nomads SC of Southern California were founded in 1976 and by the mid-1980s became of the one of the first fully staffed, multi-team elite youth clubs that soon proliferated throughout the nation. San Diego real-estate developer Joe Hollow created the Nomads in 1976 when he formed an all-star team of players from the league in the San Diego suburb of La Jolla.

As Hollow began adding teams in different age groups, he decided to replicate the club system prevalent throughout the soccer world and, in 1981, hired as Director of Coaching Englishman Derek Armstrong, who had been coaching apprentice players at English club Blackpool FC.

Having depended on parent coaches until Armstrong's arrival, the Nomads by 1985 were fully staffed by paid coaches. Their players began moving into the U.S. national team program, beginning with goalie Jeff Duback in the mid-1980s, up to the present with U.S. World Cup defender Steve Cherundolo. Jovan Kirovski (62 U.S. caps) played his youth ball with the Nomads before joining Manchester United at age 16 and launching a long pro career in Europe and MLS.

Armstrong, who also coached the U.S. U-20 national team at the 1987 World Youth Championship and is a national-championship-winning coach at UC San Diego, says the Nomads "have built everything around the passing game" with the aim to play "attractive, stylish soccer."

In 1982, the Nomads reached the McGuire Cup (U-19 boys national championship) final. Their boys teams have since won US Youth Soccer national cup titles at the U-19 (1999), U-17 (1997), U-16 (1996) and U-14 (2002) levels.

For lower-income players, the Nomads have a "five-figure" scholarship program, which they call work programs because recipients work at the club's fund-raising tournament or on chores such as field maintenance.

''Half our kids can't pay,'' says Armstrong. ''We've tried very hard not to be registration fee-based.''

The Nomads were ranked No. 15 in the 2007 Soccer America Top 20 Boys Clubs rankings. The Nomads' U-14s captured a U.S. Club Soccer title in 2004, and two Nomads teams (U-19s and U-15s) won U.S. Youth Soccer regional titles in 2005.

In May of 2007, the Nomads won the Red Bull NL17 National Championship. In April, the Nomads lifted the U-12 Dallas Cup title.

Former Nomad Eric Avila scored in UC Santa Barbara's 2-1 win over UCLA in the 2006 NCAA Division I final. Avila was a member of the Nomads 2002 U-14 USYS national cup-winning team, two of whose players, Gabriel and Michael Farfan, represented the USA at the 2005 U-17 World Cup.

July 05, 2007
U.S. Soccer Development Academy clubs

U.S. Soccer coaches will be selecting qualified clubs for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Clubs on a rolling basis until Aug. 1. The first 31 clubs accepted to the academy represent 16 states and the District of Columbia:

U.S. SOCCER DEVELOPMENT ACADEMY CLUBS (by state)

California
De Anza Force Soccer Club
Mustang FC
Nomads Soccer Club
Colorado
Colorado Rush
Real Colorado
Connecticut
Oakwood Soccer Club
District of Columbia
D.C. United
Florida
Clearwater Chargers Soccer Club
IMG Soccer Academy
Kendall Soccer Coalition
Georgia
Atlanta Fire United Soccer Association
Illinois
Chicago Fire Soccer Player Development Academy
Chicago Magic Soccer Club
Chicago Sockers
Maryland
Potomac Soccer
Massachusetts
FC Greater Boston Bolts
Michigan
Michigan Wolves
Vardar
New Hampshire
Seacoast United
New Jersey
Players Development Academy
New York Red Bulls
New York
B/W Gottschee
FC Westchester
North Carolina
CASL - Capitol Area Soccer League
Greensboro Youth Soccer Club
Pennsylvania
FC DELCO
Virginia
Richmond Kickers Soccer Club
Richmond Strikers
VA Rush Soccer Club
Washington
Crossfire Premier Soccer Club
Washington Premier FC



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