August 26, 2015
Youth leaders react to change to soccer's registration cutoff date

By Mike Woitalla

On Monday, U.S. Soccer announced two initiatives
that will be mandated by August 2017. One was
the standardization of small-sided games through age U-12. Fewer
players on age-appropriate fields -- that has been the trend in
American youth soccer for quite a while now.

It is the second initiative that greatly alters the way in which youth soccer has been administered in the USA: changing the birth-year registration from an August-July format to January-December. That is, changing the cutoff date from Aug. 1 to Jan. 1.

The main reason for making the change, U.S. Soccer stated, is to “align registration with the international standard.”

While detractors of the change say that international standards are irrelevant to the majority of Americans soccer-playing children -- only a small percentage end up in the national team program – the leaders of the U.S. Youth Soccer, U.S. Club Soccer and AYSO support the move.

“We’ve been in a favor of it for quite a while,” says Sam Snow, U.S. Youth Soccer’s Coaching Director. “It’s a matter of aligning with what the rest of the world does. It makes it easier for the teams that travel overseas. Also, for teams from other countries that come here to play in America, it makes it more straightforward what age group you’re in.

“Perhaps it’s a little more administrative in that regard, but however we chunk a 12-month year, whether it’s the actual calendar year or the school year, it’s still a 12-month chunk.”

Kevin Payne is U.S. Club Soccer’s Executive Director/CEO.

“This is a good thing,” Payne says. “It’s pretty silly to be out of sync with the national team program and to be out of sync with the rest of the world.”

AYSO may be known for recreational soccer, but it’s also famous for providing the first soccer experiences for future stars, such as Landon Donovan, Alex Morgan, Julie Johnston, to name just a few. So AYSO Deputy Executive Director Mike Hoyer says it makes sense for AYSO to be on the same calendar with other organizations.

“We have some time between now and the mandate,” says Hoyer. “We are reviewing it for how to implement it. We have nearly half a million kids. We have all the regions across the United States. We’re looking at it from, ‘Here’s the mandate. How do we make this work? What’s our timing on education, on updating our processes and procedures? Overall, there will be some impact, but I don’t think it will be that big.”

One of the areas of impact AYSO must deal with is at the U-19 age group.

“We run fall and spring programs,” Hoyer says. “So you can have a kid who’s 18 in the fall but turns 19 in January, so that person won’t be able to participate in the spring.

“It doesn’t affect a huge part of our player population but we have several kids who come back. They call it their last AYSO hurrah in that spring season before they graduate from high school, before they move on.”

(One would doubt that U.S. Soccer would object to AYSO creating a U-19 1/2 or U-20 age group.)

The other area in which a difference will be felt is when children first sign up -- and have traditionally expected to play with classmates. However, the date change doesn’t separate all kids in the same grade. Playing up is an option. And even now it’s not uncommon for teams to be comprised of kids from different grades, not to mention different schools.

There will also be the splitting of squads by August 2017 when all teams must comply.

“The change is temporarily difficult for everyone,” says Snow. “I liken it to ripping the bandage off. It hurts, but hopefully momentary. I think it’s pretty rare out there that teams have 100 percent of the players coming back year after year. People move. Change schools. If they’re your friends, they’re going to stay your friends.”

Payne says people who complain that the change is being made to make the system more convenient for Development Academy clubs and the national team program “should recognize they’re part of something bigger than themselves.”

Says Snow, "The calendar year will become the norm and in a couple years everybody will just settle into that."

Tab Ramos: 'We need more players who can make important plays'

In the wake of announcing its new Player Development Initiatives, U.S. Soccer released the statements from U.S. Youth Technical Director Tab Ramos.

Youth National Team Roundup

U.S. U-17s finish Czech tourney with win over Ukraine

U.S. Roster: Younger group gathers for U-20 women's camp

U.S. U-15 boys tie England twice


August 25, 2015
The Trophy Debate -- Give kids some credit

By Mike Woitalla

I'm not a big fan of trophies. They tend to be gaudy and overpriced. At the same time, I find it amusing when people get all riled up about kids nowadays getting trophies they don't deserve. As if that's really a major problem.

Many times I’ve heard the diatribes about how when we were children we had to win to get a reward and now they give them to everyone. They call them “participation trophies” and the issue became big news recently when NFL linebacker James Harrison boasted on Instagram that he took away from his 6- and 8-year-old sons their participation trophies.

“I'm not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I'm not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best,” wrote Harrison.

Harrison was widely hailed. There is an irony in considering parenting advice from someone who was arrested for assault and admitted to slapping his son’s mother in the face, and whose pitbull sent his boy to the hospital for three days. Regardless, the participation trophy issue is much ado about nothing -- because children are much smarter than they’re given credit by those who think a piece of plastic will make them soft and unambitious for the rest of their lives.

Kids keep score. They understand the difference between a participation trophy and a winner’s medal.

I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving young children a memento at the end of the season, regardless of the win-loss record. Better than a trophy, I’ve always thought, is a team picture or a photo collage from the season. That’s something they’re more likely to cherish years down the road than a trophy.

August 24, 2015
U.S. Soccer mandates major changes, altering birth-year registration and standardizing small-sided format

By Mike Woitalla

U.S. Soccer has mandated a significant alteration in how American
soccer will be organized -- changing the birth-year registration from
an August-July format to January-December.

The current cutoff date in American youth soccer is Aug. 1. The summer date has been common in U.S. youth sports, inspired by its correlation to the academic calendar. The international cutoff date, however, is Jan. 1.

“I think the birth registration changes make everything easier,” U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director Tab Ramos said in a press release. “Over the years you go through coaching youth and people are confused about what age group they’re in, if they’re supposed to be U-15 vs. U-14, because they're born in such-and-such year, but they’re born in June.

“This new calendar makes things easier for everyone. If you’re born in a certain year you belong in that certain age group. It also gets us on the same calendar with the rest of the world, so now it becomes easier to identify for U.S. national teams and everything else when it comes to international soccer.”

The mandate will go into effect by August 2017.

U.S. Soccer also believes it will provide clearer information on player birthdates to combat relative age effect (RAE) -- the selection bias that favors players who are more physically mature than their peers because they were born earlier in the year.

U.S. Soccer says the birth-year registration initiative will not cause the dissolution of age-group based teams that already play together, “but will rather give players the opportunity to ‘play up’ with older age-groups.”

“We are easing into it and working towards it,” Ramos said. “Best practices will come next year as we work towards 2017 and I think we’re doing it the best way by easing into it. You don’t want to get into scenarios where larger teams are immediately getting cut into smaller teams.

“We at this point let them decide on their own how they manage the transition. Some clubs have already made the change starting this year, and are already ahead of the curve, which is great. In general, we have to give everyone the opportunity to get everyone comfortable with it, but it will come.”

The U.S. Soccer Development Academy has been using the Jan. 1 cutoff since its launch in 2007.

SMALL-SIDED STANDARDS. U.S. Soccer has also standardized small-sided game participation and field size based on player age groups for U-6 to U-12, to provide “a more age appropriate environment that will allow players with a better opportunity to develop heightened soccer intelligence and on-the-ball skills.”

“Now you’re playing 4v4, 7v7, and 9v9 at a young age and chances are the players are involved a lot more in those types of games,” said Ramos. “Over a period of 10 years, there are thousands of more times that you’ve been involved in certain plays and that will speed up the process of players getting more comfortable.

“The players, by being involved in the play constantly, will learn how to make important plays, and make plays individually that can break down teams."

The small-sided mandate will also go into effect by August 2017.

“When the game is large, there’s many different ways to hide," says Ramos. "In a smaller game, there isn’t.”

August 20, 2015
11 Tips for Coaching the Little Ones

By Mike Woitalla

“I got recruited to coach my kid’s soccer team. Any
advice?” The most recent time I heard this question, it came
from a parent of a 6-year-old. It prompted me to put an answer in
writing, based on some of the best insight I’ve gotten from
coaches and players I’ve interviewed and observed over the

11 Tips for Coaching
the Little Ones

1. If all you do is set
up goals and have them play as much soccer as possible during that
hour of practice -- you’re doing a good job.

2. Familiarize yourself with the various
age-appropriate games/exercises to facilitate individual skills -- but
don’t use ones that bore the kids. And if it takes more than a
minute for 6-year-olds to comprehend the activity -- it’s the
wrong one. (In other words, plan your practice but be ready to

3. No lines, no laps, no lectures.

4. Enjoy yourself! If for some reason you’re
grumpy, act like you’re enjoying yourself. Kids pick up
on body language and you’ll get the best out of them if they
sense you like being their coach.

5. Greet each player when they arrive in a way
that lets them know you’re happy to see them.

6. Always end practice on an upbeat, happy note.
(Even if they drove you absolutely crazy).

7. See the game through the children's eyes. This
will remind you that your main objective is helping them discover the
joys of soccer. And not to expect a 6-year-old to play like a

8. Do not yell instructions at them! Do not coach
from the sidelines during games! This interferes severely in their
learning process. It also makes you look rather silly -- an adult
screaming at 6-year-olds while they’re playing.

9. Sit down during games, instead of prowling the
sidelines, which only creates tension that unnerves your players.

10. Always have a first-aid kit (including
ice-packs) with you.

11. Keep plastic bags in your coaching bag in case
you need to pick up dog poo.


Soccer National F License

This well-produced online
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-- and complemented by video clips
of practices sessions. href="https://dcc.ussoccer.com/courses/home/">U.S. Soccer Digital
Coaching Center

Soccer's "Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United

Youth Soccer Player Development Model

href="http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/coaches/Education/">U.S. Youth
Soccer Coaching Education

Lesson Plans

href="http://www.nscaa.com/elearning">NSCAA eLearning Center

August 19, 2015
'Coaches cannot be set in their ways' (Luchi Gonzalez Q&A)

Interview by Mike Woitalla

After a seven-year professional playing career, Luchi
launched a career in education -- he served as Dean
of Students and algebra teacher at Miami’s Gulliver Academy --
and youth coaching. A full-time coach at FC Dallas’ academy
since 2012, the 2001 Hermann Trophy winner at SMU guided FC Dallas to
the 2015 U.S. Soccer Development Academy U-15/16 title. His FC Dallas
team, which took USSDA Central Conference “Best Style
Play” honors, outscored its six postseason opponents, 20-0.

Influences …
LUCHI GONZALEZ: I am the teacher-coach I am today because of all the prior coaches who have been in my life. My personality is set, but my attitude about game knowledge, planning, training culture -- coach behavior and training setup -- continues to evolve based on past and current coaches who have influenced me. We cannot be set in our ways and think we know it all.

Today’s youth players …
LG: The current generation of youth players do not respond to “do this because I said so.” Any youth player has access to incredible amounts of information (internet, social media, etc.). They need meaning behind the concepts of the game and how it relates to their roles. It’s our duty as a coach to give purpose behind the things we do, and how they impact the game.

Luchi Gonzalez flanked by Hector Montalvo (left) and Branden Terwege.

Communicating …
LG: It’s important that we have enough game knowledge to set up training so that players can discover concepts that they will need to know how to apply in the game. This is accomplished with patience, asking them questions, guiding them, making the training objectives relevant to the game.

It’s important that when we communicate with our players (as a group or individually) that we tell them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. Honesty is vital for the players to grow. The tone and the ability to be constructive and positive go hand in hand with this notion, but done properly, the truth is what lets the player have the opportunity to improve and get better. When things are too fluffy, sugar-coated, not honest enough, then I think you accomplish the opposite -- a confused player or group of players who think they are doing all the right things who are in fact not.

Planning Practice …
LG: As coaches, we should always have a plan for the training. It is usually written or digitally input into a training planner. It is more important that coaches are willing and able to veer from the plan. I think too many coaches get stuck in trying to execute the plan exactly the way it was first set out to be. This is a huge mistake. The plan is a guide to achieve an objective. During a session, coaches need to be able to make adjustments to numbers, space, times and intervals, game rules -- all based on observation of their players. To me, a coach can never blame his players for not finding success in an exercise. It is the coaches' responsibility to adjust the exercise so that they find success, based on the player resources and level they are capable of.

Challenging Players …
LG: At the same time, the coach must also not think that the exercise is successful if his players are executing with ease, because then they are not being challenged enough. The coach must always play with the balance of what his players are capable of technically, tactically and mentally challenging the training environment is. Coaching truly is an art, it's constantly modifying the original piece of work, to enhance or improve the effectiveness of the planned training.

FC Dallas, U-16 Boys Head Coach
Hometown: Miami, Fla.
Age: 35
Playing Experience: U.S. U-17 national team (1997 U-17 World Cup), SMU, San Jose Earthquakes, Bodens BK (Sweden), Sporting Cristal (Peru), Colorado Rapids, Miami FC, Minnesota Thunder.
Coaching Experience: Felix Varela H.S. (The Hammocks, Fla.), Gulliver Academy (Miami, Fla.), Kendall SC (Fla.).

Competition …
LG: Trainings should always be competitive. A competitive culture conditions your players to develop leadership, emotional control, personality, alertness, desire, pride. All intangibles when trying to develop pro players. I have observed trainings that have great technical and tactical components, but they never touched on the emotional control that is so important for a player. I believe that every technical exercise, whether passing patterns or finishing, should progress into some type of competition.

Warm-ups, possession games ... can all have competition components as well. I think we have to be careful with this concept with ages below U-10, but from U-10, competing in training will increase motivation, tempo, intensity, quickness of acting and thinking, give urgency. It's fun to watch the players find ways to out-perform, out-smart each other from Monday to Friday, then all come together and do it as a team on the weekend.

Your start in coaching …
LG: I coached while I was still playing with the Colorado Rapids [2005-06], a U-11 boys team – running sessions as a guest coach. With the Minnesota Thunder, I would help with their camps.

Transition from playing pro to coaching …
When you’re a player that’s the only perspective you have. When you start coaching kids, everything comes from out of passion, being vocal, a lot of animation. Which can be great to spawn learning in young kids. But I think when you become more experienced in coaching you see the way kids learn is different. It’s creating environments where they can discover and that they’re not micromanaged. Where they’re still challenged and there’s still a motivational piece, there’s still support and guidance -- but that the young athletes are empowered to make their own decisions and think for themselves.

Balance …
LG: A key word. We’re evolving our curriculum at FC Dallas. We always reflect on how we play every year and try and modify how we want to do things. And the word that comes up is balance. We want to develop balanced players who can adapt so we can dictate a game knowing how to hurt teams in several ways. It can be vertical play with quick combinations going forward, short and long passes. Or it can be with a patient buildup. It’s not doing one all the time. It’s knowing how to do both and when in a game.

Parents …
LG: Having a good relationship with parents is important, because we mutually develop the kids. The parents at home and the coaches on the field and off the field when we travel. But for me having a good relationship is having honesty, not necessarily a friendship. You need to have transparency, good communication, but you also have to have boundaries so they’re respecting the environment so the coach is guiding the pathway.

FC Dallas’ Latin-style of play …
LG: We’re in a central region. We’re near the border of Latin America. I think we’ve got a true melting pot of different styles of players. We’ve got the Latino players. We’ve got athletes. We’ve got the structured, disciplined players. We’ve got the playmakers, the creative, free-flowing, flexible players.

Oscar Pareja …
LG: He’s the pioneer who put our academy on the map in a short period of time and now he’s the first-team coach. You see the consistency between our academy and the first team because he doesn’t look at a player and judge him on age, ethnicity or background. He knows what kind of soccer he thinks is effective for this culture and development decisions are made based how we want to play. Whether it’s a Latin player, African-American or Anglo, [Pareja] finds a way to put everyone on the same level. He wants a center back to be technical and have some improvisation in his game. He wants a forward who can hold the ball and defend as well. He wants wingers who can be outside backs. He wants outside backs who can become wingers.

Positions …
LG: When do we begin to evaluate a center back and differentiate him from an outside back, and when do you not, and just call him a defender? When do you just call him a player? We began to ask ourselves that. We think a U-12 player and below needs to be a soccer player. He’s not a defender. He’s not a forward. He’s not a winger. He’s not holding mid. He’s a soccer player.

For field players, we evaluate them as a player, technically, tactically, physically and mentally. Physically -- what’s the coordination level, how do they control their body? Mentally -- are they competitive, are they resilient? Technically and tactically -- what is their first-touch like? What is their body orientation? How are their dribbling skills? How is their shooting? Short- and long-range passing?

We don’t get into position-specific until U-14. Now we’re differentiating a forward from a midfielder to a winger …

With the U-16s I will pick a training at least once every two weeks and go 11 vs. 11 where you’re not allowed to play your usual position. It’s free-flowing. It’s fun. We do the same with smaller numbers. Give them a principle and a concept to work on – but don’t put them in their specific positions. We get them out of their comfort zone so they can learn from different positions, learn what that perspective is.

Your idols as a kid …
LG: Somehow my father had illegal cable and we got the Argentine channel, so all my idols were River Plate and Boca Juniors players. … Claudio Caniggia, Gabriel Batistuta, obviously Diego Maradona. I also liked Enzo Francescoli. I always idolized the creative players. As a coach, I ask my players to idolize creative players as well, like Alexis Sanchez and Lionel Messi. Look at these runs, look these movements. Visualize yourself doing these things, because you can.

But I also ask them to look at defenders. I’ll bring a clip of Fabio Cannavaro. His timing of tackles. His anticipation. It’s an art. Or Paolo Maldini with his management of the backline, his distribution. Andrea Pirlo as a holding midfielder with his long- and short-range passing. I try and get my players to not just idolize the Messis -- also but the guys who are relative to their roles.