December 12, 2012
Girls vs. Boys: Should they be coached differently? (Part 1)

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

The first time I heard the question, it took me by surprise.

“Coach Mike, can I have a Kleenex?” the young girl asked.

I had a well-stocked first-aid kit, but it never occurred to me to keep Kleenex on hand. I’d never used one on the soccer field as a player and had never seen a male of any age require a tissue to blow his nose on a sports field. Apparently, though, the snot rocket is not a popular method among the other gender.

So, if you’re about to coach a girls team, make sure to have plenty of Kleenex in your bag. But what other differences should coaches expect between boys and girls? And is it necessary to adjust one’s coaching style when moving from one gender to another?

Considering different approaches to teaching based on the students' gender has become a hot topic in the educational world, so perhaps it’s also an issue in youth soccer.

For sure, in the early history of girls soccer in the USA, girls were generally coached by men whose entire background in the game had been with boys. In today’s youth soccer scene, it’s common to have coaches move from one gender to another during their careers.

In Part 1 of a YouthSoccerInsider series on this issue, we consulted Sam Snow, the Technical Director of US Youth Soccer.

“On the one hand, when coaching either boys or girls a coach should approach training sessions and matches thinking of them as soccer players primarily, and considering their gender secondarily,” Snow says. “Coaches will need to make more adjustments based on the age group and the level of play -- and therefore the level of expectations -- than gender modifications for soccer development.

“On the other hand, coaches must be aware that the psychological, social and emotional approach to coaching boys or girls does differ slightly. Necessary adjustments will likely increase as the players age.”

“Girls want the coach to show caring about them as individuals above the team dynamic. Boys do care about the team first, but the coach giving them individual attention is still important. Girls will need social time within the team, boys less so. Individual and group relationships are an important part of team culture with both genders. Off the field, treat them as young ladies and gentlemen and expect them to behave like ladies and gentlemen.”

Snow says there are physical differences to consider.

“Prior to puberty there are more differences in athletic capability within the genders than between them,” he says. “Boys and girls in the U-6 and U-8 age groups are all quite similar in height and weight. In the U-10 age group the girls are now leading the way in physical maturation.

“Generally girls grow 1 to 2 years biologically faster than boys. Once the players reach adolescence, then the tables turn in regard to height, weight and power. The difference in the teenage years of strength and speed will have an impact on some tactics, but still there will be more similarities in their tactical play than not.”

On how coaches should adjust their approach, Snow says:

“The coaching style must be within the coach's personality. The coaching methods, though, will change with the age group and indeed to some degree with the gender.

“It has been noted, as an example, that if a coach states at halftime that the team must do a better job of marking up, a girl will feel the coach is talking specifically about her, not the entire team, and a boy will be sure the coach is talking about his teammates, not him.

“Given the differences in learning styles, a coach must vary the means of communication regardless of the gender. Some players need to hear the coach's message in a blunt and direct manner and others need the sandwich approach.”

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for Bay Oaks/East Bay United SC in Oakland, Calif. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)

December 05, 2012
'Top players play on their own' (Q&A with Todd Saldana, Part 2)

Todd Saldana grew up playing youth soccer in Southern California in the 1970s, when his club coach was Sigi Schmid. Saldana played for the USA at the first U-20 World Cup it qualified for, in 1981,
and signed pro out of high school with the old NASL's Los Angeles Aztecs, where his coaches included Rinus Michels and Claudio Coutinho.

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

Todd Saldana grew up playing youth soccer in Southern California in the 1970s, when his club coach was Sigi Schmid. Saldana played for the USA at the first U-20 World Cup it qualified for, in 1981, and signed pro out of high school with the old NASL's Los Angeles Aztecs, where his coaches included Rinus Michels and Claudio Coutinho. He served as Schmid's assistant at UCLA in 1989-94 and was UCLA head coach in 1999-2001 before returning to So Cal youth soccer a decade ago as Director of Coaching for the South Bay Force. In 2011, he lifted the U-17/18 U.S. Soccer Development Academy national title when the Force partnered with the Pateadores. In Part 2 of our interview we spoke with Saldana about youth soccer issues such as giving children opportunities to play different positions and the keys to developing high-level talent.

SOCCER AMERICA: Do you ever think back to how different the youth game was during your childhood and now?

TODD SALDANA: I had a unique experience. Sigi Schmid was my youth coach from the time I was 11 to 18. He was a college player and college coach [at UCLA]. Back then, if you had three teams you were considered a club. The coaches weren’t getting paid. You had guys like Sigi volunteering because they loved the game. He coached our team because his brother, who was my age, was on the team.

It was a lot less structured. There weren’t many clubs. If you had a great coach, which was the case in my situation, and you were very, very fortunate. I had Norm Jackson, our local state level person. I got into the national team program at 14. My state coach was Ralph Perez. My regional coach was Lothar Osiander. I was very fortunate, but it was by chance, I think, back then.

SA: What’s an example of something in youth soccer now that benefits player development?

TODD SALDANA: The good thing is we're able to move players around within the club. Before, if you were on a team, you had to be on that team for a year. Now, we can move the kids weekly. Now, if someone’s doing really well. they can move up. If someone needs more playing time, they can move down.

SA: What does the South Bay Force look for in its coaches?

TODD SALDANA: Club coaches come in all shapes. Some of them have full-time jobs. Some of them want to coach as much soccer as they can get their hands on. Some of them played college. Some played pro.

The big thing for us is for them to be willing to be part of the team and be committed to the club. We follow the guidelines. We believe in playing possession soccer. To try and play a skillful brand of soccer.

What I’ve seen in the coaches who have done well for us at the club: They like to work in the club, be a part of the club, and they’re committed, which means they’ll spend the extra hour on the field with their team. I don’t have to say, "Hey, you need to run an extra session, you’re team is struggling in this area." The coaches want to see the kids get better.

SA: How do you balance the pressure to win games and coaching in a way that’s good for the players’ long-term development?

TODD SALDANA: Parents look for winning as one of the barometers for choosing a club so it is in the back of your mind.

Trying to play well, trying to score goals, trying to shutout your opponents. These are natural things within a game, so you’re promoting all those things.

But you will see our under-8s or under-9s building out of the back. Playing offensive soccer. Defenders attacking.

We face it and we worry about it, but we have had enough success and we have enough players who have gone into the national team programs, pros and college -- so we’re not under severe pressure to win, especially at the U-8 and U-11.

Fortunately, our new league has taken a stance that they’re not going to keep standings at U-8, U-9, U-10 -- trying to take the focus off of that.

SA: One valuable experience for young players, which may not always help teams win, is giving them opportunities to play different positions. How does the South Bay Force approach that?

TODD SALDANA: In the younger ages, 8, 9, 10,11 -- we do move them around. We also try to play similar systems so the kids learn all the positions, and understand the roles of each. We give them a little bit of time at each.

What’s good is we have a lot of friendlies. We do intra-club scrimmages, stuff with local other clubs -- so we can try those things in practice matches. Because when we get to league matches, the parents and the kids are thinking about winning, and if you put a players in a certain position they haven’t played much, there’s a lot of pressure on them

So those extra matches are good. With a 40-team club, you can get a game every week with another team in the club.

I do find that young players sort of tell you eventually where they want to play and where they’re comfortable playing. You throw a ball in small-sided game and one kid moves back, and one kid moves up, and one goes in the middle. It’s almost uncanny.

SA: What qualities do you think American players need to improve on?

TODD SALDANA: The technical side of the game obviously has been the big emphasis for soccer in America now. That’s a fact. You also need to include game understanding. The mentality of the match is one of the qualities in which we suffer. Club soccer is all about tournaments and six games a weekend -- not one huge, important, get-the-most-out-of-every-minute match you might see in other countries.

I think we sort of diluted that with tournament soccer, which we still see a lot of. But now with the Development Academy, you’re seeing three days of training, one meaningful match a weekend.

I do think the way our kids approach the game is in a very casual manner and not at the same level you’d see in other countries where it’s one super meaningful match to train all week to get ready for.

SA: What separates players who excel at the higher levels?

TODD SALDANA: Kids going out on their own and developing their skills and their creativity. That has been lost through too much organization. So much structure. Parents are putting their kids in programs when it’s not necessarily the kids’ passion.

I think you find the kids’ passion when they aren’t in a program. It’s all the other hours, all the time you put into it, and how much you love it.

I preach that in my own club. Two days of soccer training, a little bit of skill work and some conditioning is not going to take you to the highest levels. It certainly can be a great experience, but if your kids want to play at highest youth levels, the top colleges, pros or the national teams -- it’s the time they put in on their own, and that personal drive and love for the game.

I still think that separates those who have been successful. They were training on their own. And they were finding extra training sessions with older teams. Or playing in the Latin League and their own league, because they just couldn’t get enough of it.

We have a lot of those stories here. Jose Villarreal and the kids we have here locally. They all could not get enough of this game and would play it with anyone, anytime. There’s no scheduled event, so we’re going to go practice.

If they enjoy the game, they like the game, they tend to spend more time at it and they seem to reach the level that they should.

Read Part 1 of our interview with Todd Saldana HERE.

December 02, 2012
Club Cooperation Pays Off in So Cal (Q&A with Todd Saldana, Part 1)

Southern California club South Bay Force had its application to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy rejected, but Director of Coaching Todd Saldana still found a way for his players to play at the
highest level of boys soccer in the USA.

Interview by Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

Southern California club South Bay Force had its application to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy rejected, but Director of Coaching Todd Saldana still found a way for his players to play at the highest level of boys soccer in the USA thanks to a partnership with Pateadores. It led to Saldana coaching the U-18s to the Development Academy national championship in 2011. Now the South Bay Force has partnered with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

SOCCER AMERICA: How did the Pateadores partnership come about?

TODD SALDANA: We have a club that’s not in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy or ECNL. But we’re pretty strong. We had a really exceptional group of kids but when we applied to the Academy we could not get in.

The Pateadores [an Academy club] contacted me about forming a partnership. We had a very, very strong group. They were willing to let me bring the whole group in. Our 16s and 18s became their Academy teams. I coached the older group and our other coach assisted with the 16s.

It ended up working out really well. We were only with them for two years, but my fantasy, which came true, was we could show the quality we had so either Chivas USA or the Galaxy would be interested in us as a club -- to start partnering with someone local.

SA: So now the South Bay Force works the Los Angeles Galaxy …

TODD SALDANA: After we won the national championship, the Galaxy approached us and asked us to partner with them. …

We were driving to Orange County, 45 minutes, three nights a week, to get the kids to train down there [at Pateadores], because that was an Academy requirement. With the Galaxy, they’re at the Home Depot Center [in Carson], and that’s our neighborhood.

It’s a chance for our kids to play in the Academy program.

We figured we can either have a partnership and be a part of it, and  have some say in it, or watch some of the players leave on their own and find Academy programs. Now at least we’re a part of the process.

It was a matter of either being a part of the process or trying to fight against – as people say, “Keep ‘our’ players at our club.” I have a hard time being able to justify that when there’s a higher level and they’re being seen by U.S. Soccer weekly. They’re part of an MLS team, they’re pro-tracked kids. They can get seen by a pro club. And I’d have a hard not helping our kids do that.

SA: How does the partnership work?

TODD SALDANA: We do what we normally do as a club, developing players to U-18. Our strongest players have the opportunity to play for the Galaxy’s Development Academy teams.

And since the Galaxy added younger teams, 14s, 13s and 12s – our strongest play in those teams also.

SOCCER AMERICA: With about 40 percent of your club’s players coming from lower-income homes, does the partnership help alleviate some of the financial burden?

TODD SALDANA: In some ways. Because if these kids make the Galaxy team, they don’t have to pay anymore.

But it’s still a challenge. We do all kinds of fundraisers. We do offer financial aid. It’s a never-ending battle to fund all the top players who want to play for us. It is one of our biggest challenges. It’s also part of the reason for the partnership with the LA Galaxy.

(Editor’s note: The Los Angeles Galaxy signed Jose Villarreal, a member of Saldana’s 2011 Academy title-winning team to a homegrown contract last December. The Galaxy signed 18-year-old South Bay Force alum Oscar Sorto to a homegrown contract for the 2013 season and is also considering Gyasi Zardes, a Force alum who has starred for three years at CSU Bakersfield. Villarreal, Sorto and Force alum Javan Torre are on the current U-20 national team roster.)

December 01, 2012
MLS should mandate minutes for homegrown players

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

In 2007, Major League Soccer created the Youth Development Initiative, requiring its clubs to field youth teams.

Five years later, Commissioner Don Garber says that the league-wide investment in youth development is about $20 million a year.

“There was a time when our entire salary budget wasn’t $20 million a year,” Garber said. “Clearly developing young players is one of our top priorities.”

The Commissioner added that the investment has not paid off yet, but that the league is determined to forge ahead on the youth front.

“We will continue to invest massive amounts of money in our academy programs and our reserve league,” Garber said during his State of the League press conference on Monday. “We are very focused on doing everything we can to build a pyramid and take responsibility for growing the game in this country. We benefit by that obviously with access to young players, but probably as important, the league continues to want to take a leadership position in growing the game overall. … We know how important that is to help our country be better on the national team level.

“We’ve got a great partner in adidas that supports this effort. Those Generation adidas players in essence are an incentive for our clubs to have on their rosters in that they don’t count against the cap.”

Six MLS clubs -- D.C. United, New York, Columbus, Chicago, Chivas USA and Colorado -- fielded teams in the inaugural 2007-08 season of the U.S. Development Academy in its U-15/16 and U-17/18 leagues. This season, 17 of MLS’s 19 clubs field teams in the Development Academy, which in 2013 is expanding to U-13/14. (Toronto does not take part; the Philadelphia Union affiliates with PDA, FC Delco and PA Classics.)

A big benefit of MLS’s expansion into the youth game has been providing cost-free soccer to elite players. But five years since the Youth Development Initiative, we’ve yet to a significant impact of homegrown players with their MLS clubs’ first teams.

Of the 57 players MLS clubs have signed to homegrown contracts, only 29 played in the 2012 season. Of those 29, only six could be classified as regulars: Chivas USA's Juan Agudelo, D.C. United's Bill Hamid and Andy Najar, New York's Connor Lade and Toronto FC's Ashtone Morgan and Doneil Henry.

One solution would be to force clubs to give a minimum of playing time to homegrown players. UEFA requires teams to include a minimum of eight homegrown players in their 25-man squads to be eligible for its competitions.

The Mexican league, in 2005, introduced the rule known as Regla 20/11, which required first division teams to give at least 1,000 minutes of action to players under the age of 20 years-11 months during a season or be penalized with points subtractions. Mexico dropped the Regla 20/11 in 2011 because it was no deemed longer necessary.

Garber says MLS has contemplated such a rule.

“We have we have spent a lot of time, as recently as two-three weeks ago, when we had a competition and technical meeting, talking about the concept of mandatory play for young players,” Garber said. “We’ve done a lot of research on it. We’re certainly mindful of the success Mexico has had. We’re not sure if that success was driven by the mandatory rule as much as it’s driven by just a massive commitment by the league working in partnership with the federation down there.

“It’s hard to argue that they haven’t been incredibly successful.”

For their part, MLS clubs have increasingly looked to imported foreign talent. Coaches, whose tenures end quickly if the results aren’t good, can be reluctant to give youngsters a chance. Perhaps they should be forced to place faith in what their clubs are doing at the youth level.

And mandating a reasonable amount of playing time to homegrown players would end up rewarding the clubs that have invested well in player development.

Wouldn’t that be the obvious final piece in the puzzle of MLS’s quest to improve American soccer?