Soccer Articles

Youth Team Rankings

by Tony Earp, Senior Director

This article is a plea for some sanity in the youth soccer system. There are a lot of good coaches and clubs out there trying to implement appropriate developmental plans for youth players who aspire to learn how to play the game. As coaches, we are told through US Soccer and other organizations that the focus at the younger age groups should be development and learning. The number of wins and losses are irrelevant at these age groups as the kids are just learning how to play. Although player's need to be taught how to step on the field to compete to try to win, it should be a pressure free environment where risk taking, creativity, free-flow of play with less coach direction, and proper ways to play should be encouraged. As coaches develop practice sessions and manage games for their players, the focus is to help them learn and develop with a goal being for the players to have the tools to compete at the older and senior level teams, and enjoy playing the game.

Well, if that is the case, I need someone to explain to me the need of a youth ranking system for U11 teams… for 10 year olds? Seriously, someone tell me what the value is to rank teams at this age group? What does that really mean? Most importantly, how does this promote a better youth soccer experience for the players and help the United States reach their mission of developing better soccer players?

If you can answer these questions with anything that could be seen as a rational response, and with the benefit of the kids (not parents or coaches in mind), than you are smarter than me (which is not an exclusive club). I have tried to understand the need and justify something like this being needed in our youth soccer system, but I have not found a way to do that.

How does a team get a number one ranking? The team has to win a lot of tournaments. I guess a team can consider being “successful” by winning a lot tournaments, but I would measure success about HOW those teams are winning those tournaments. I would measure success with a youth team by the level of GROW AND DEVELOPMENT IN EACH PLAYER. Now... show me that "ranking" for a team or club!

If a team is stepping on the field, with a development first approach, trying to play the game the right way, focusing on possessing the ball, giving all kids opportunities to contribute equally in the game, giving kids the chance to play and experience the game in different positions, encouraging them to take risks, and they win the game, than that is fantastic and should be applauded (and it is how it should be done).

But, I would make a hefty bet, that the teams that are winning many of these tournaments take a much different type of approach. An approach probably closer to the other side of the spectrum than what is being promoted as appropriate for these age groups by US Soccer and other coach education organizations and leaders. I would venture a guess that the team relies on a couple “special” players to be difference makers for the team. These players are relied on to score most of the goals, control the game, take all set pieces, and never come off the field. (I bet the team does not attend a tournament that one of these players would have to miss for personal reasons. Not worth going if you are not going to win, right?) While the rest of the team is probably made up of better than average players who are asked to get the “special” players the ball as quick as possible. The other players are never given the same responsibilities or given a chance to play that type of role on the “team.”

Kids on these teams probably all play in the same position the entire time. In order to win, it helps to have your players in the position they are best (at 11) to put the strongest line up on the field. Hard to have as much success when kids are placed in different roles to help work on their weaknesses in games, and challenge the player to develop an understanding of how to play the game in those positions. Although this would benefit the players’ develop, it could be catastrophic to keeping that number one ranking.

What type of players make up the best team at the country at U11? Is it a team full of kids who are already 6 ft tall while most of the other teams are still not nearly at the same physical maturity level? These teams are physically probably much superior than your average team, comprised of 10 year olds who have the speed, strength, and size of kids years older. Will this team still be able to compete, have as much success in five years down the road, when other teams are beginning to catch up physically to them? Was the team taught the technical and tactical skills required to play that game at the older age groups, or were they just focused on using what worked to win at U11?

I bet there is very little risk-taking during games on a team like this. If a player gets a ball in his team's penalty area, I bet the player is encouraged (screamed at) to “clear it” or get it out of “danger.” Having a player try to use his skills to control the ball and build out of the back or find a way to break the pressure and keep possession is not worth the cost of a possible goal when the goal is solely to win. Again, although that composure and skill development is key for the players to gain at the younger age groups, in order to be ranked number one, some things will need to be sacrificed. Again, how many teams can say they are the best U11 team in the country? Number one baby!!!

Though I do not blame the team or the coach for any of this (for the most part), as again, the team is playing in a system that rewards this type of play through these types of accolades. What system is out there to recognize and rank teams based on what the players are being taught and how well they are being prepared to play the game at the next level? Where is that measurement? Where is that ranking? That is a ranking that I would deeply care about because A) it would recognize the actual best coaches/clubs/programs and B) it would help parents see which organizations are actually worth the investment for the benefit of their child.

The youth system is creating an environment that is sending two very different messages. On one hand, the professional coaches and leaders of the soccer community (US Soccer) are telling youth coaches and parents to focus on development and teaching their players how to play the game. On the other hand, the coaches are trying to do that in an environment that will punish a club and team for not playing to win from a young age. Tournament wins and league championships are how you get your teams ranked and recognized as the top in the country. The system promotes, encourages, and rewards coaches, teams, and clubs to focus on the wrong things from the start!

For a team, that does not have all the impressive tournament wins as a youth team, who is part of a club who really believes in a “player first development model” and it is not just a tagline on the club’s website, it will be harder for them to move into more competitive leagues or be accepted into higher level tournaments at the older age groups because they do not have an impressive resume of tournament wins. Since the system is set up to punish coaches and teams who are not in it for wins from the get go and actually really want to help players learn how to play this game, what do we expect those coaches and clubs to do?

Am I saying that winning is an indication that a team is just playing for wins and not trying to develop players? No, if a team is winning, obviously that can be a great thing. It can be the result of how good of a job the coach is doing with helping each player on the team develop and learn the game. So for me, it is not an issue with winning. It is simply HOW a team is winning at the youth ages? As I have said before, development takes time, but there are plenty of short cuts to take with youth teams to win which takes no time at all.

I am sure there are some great U11 teams out there that play fantastic soccer, and are being prepared to play the game years down the road. A measure of that would be IF those teams are still winning as time passes when they get to the older senior level age groups. Should that not be the goal for all youth coaches, teams, and clubs? To help the players learn the game so they can come back and be better next year? It would be unfortunate to watch a team who was considered “high level” at one point, slowly fall behind each season, and never be able to get back to having the same success they experienced early on in their young careers.

If as a soccer community, as a nation, we are serious about making sweeping changes about the youth soccer system, to promote and encourage coaches to teach the game, this is one part of the system that needs to be eliminated. There is no need to rank teams at the younger age groups. You cannot promote a better playing and developmental experience for players, and promote a youth team ranking system at the same time. It immediately switches the focus for the players, parents, coaches, and clubs to a part of the game that does not matter at the youth level. Step on the field to compete, and try to win, but do it in a way that teaches the kids how to play the game. Do not do it so the team moves up a spot in the rankings.

For fun, I tried to find out where Barcelona’s U11 team ranked in the world. Unfortunately, I could not find that information. Either they like to keep it a secret, or they do not care.

Tony Earp
Tony Earp

Director Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University, is a State Certified teacher, and is a USSF C License coach. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. Tony's achievements included 2nd Team All Big Ten in 2001 and 2002, serving as Captain in 2002. Tony was named Most Inspirational Player in 2001 and 2002, as well as achieving Scholar Athlete status in those same years. Tony was a member of the 2002 MLS Draft Pool. After playing, Tony was a history teacher at Licking Valley High School in 2005 and at Dublin Scioto High School in 2006. In 2007, Tony Earp accepted a position at SuperKick as the Director of Soccer Training where he continues to serve as the Senior Director of Training managing programs, establishing training curriculums, and coaching athletes. Tony was the Head Coach for Hilliard Bradley High School boys soccer program in 2009 and 2010. In addition, Tony is a Director for Classics Eagles FC and is the Director of the SuperKick Classics Juniors Academy. With 10 years of coaching experience, Tony has developed a reputation of being a coach who motivates players to expect more from themselves and creates a training environment conducive to developing high level players.

Posted by Administrator on Fri, 23 Jan 2015
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Our Warped View of a Coach

by Tony Earp, Senior Director

When we think of great coaches, we are drawn to the greats that we watch on ESPN each week. They are the brilliant college and professional coaches who are exceptional strategic tacticians, who prepare their team each week to step on the field, compete, and win. They utilize their players strengths, place them in the right positions to use those strengths, and make sure the other team cannot expose their weaknesses. Their goal is to use their players, get them to play in a system, and win more games than they lose. That is what they get paid for, and frankly, not producing that result will find them quickly out of a job. These coaches are paid to win, and they approach the season with that goal in mind. Unfortunately, as coaches and parents, we watch these coaches and assume this is how a coach of 9 year olds should coach as well. We have a warped sense of what a "great coach" looks like because we tend to only study the ones who get paid to win. We know little about the ones who are the best at coaching with kids.

When a coach takes over a team of kids, is his primary job to evaluate these kids' strengths and weaknesses, find out which position they are best at, and then formulate a team system to give those kids the best chance of winning all season? When youth coaches do this, they are often praised. The coach's approach is one that helps professionals at the higher level keep their jobs, but is fundamentally backwards for kids in terms of their development and learning. It helps the team win, makes the coach look good, makes the kids look good, parents are happy, so it must be the right way to approach the season. I am sure there are not a lot of complaints to coaches who take this approach and finish the season on top.

But I believe the coach fails at his most important task when approaching his responsibility in this manner. He fails to actually teach. Let me give you an example...

I read a story about a basketball coach who asked his team to press when defending. When the other team inbounded the ball, he wanted his team to try to win the ball close to the basket for easy lay ups and shots close to the basket. On the surface, this sounds like great coaching. And fundamentally, the idea is not wrong. That is a part of the game. But the reason behind it was where the coach failed to do his job.

He had his team press because his players were not very good at handling the ball. They could not bring the ball up the court and they did not pass very well. When his team was forced to bring the ball up the court, they often lost it and gave up lots of points. Instead of teaching the players to improve their dribbling, passing, and challenging them to get better in this area, the coach chooses a different approach. He tried to hide his team's weakness by applying a very smart tactical plan which would help his team win more games and have more success (in terms of wins and losses).

This coach was proud of his team and their ability to execute his plan. They ended up winning the league championship. This in a lot of people's mind would be an example of high level coaching. Maybe this coach even won "Coach of the Year" for helping his team of players who were not that good individually achieve so much. But the sad truth is that this coach took the very easy, LAZY way, out and failed to actually coach.

If you have a team of players who cannot perform fundamental skills, or you have players on your team who individually struggle in certain areas of the game, COACHING IS NOT FINDING WAYS TO HIDE THOSE WEAKNESSES or helping the kids compensate for those weaknesses by tactical decisions you force them to make. Coaching, actual high level - youth coaching, is helping those kids improve on those areas. Your job is not to help them win. Your job is to help them learn how to play the game so they can win.

In the case of this story, I feel a coach who was truly concerned about helping those kids get better, would ask each player on that team to constantly work on their dribbling and passing, trying to bring the ball up the court in each and every game (not just practice), until the players learned how to do it. Now, that is something that would have lasted much longer than just a single season of success for the players. It would have much more value than the plastic trophy. They would have learned how to work to get better and what it takes to EARN success.

Now what do you think would have happened if the coach took the “development” approach? How do you think that would have been received by the parents? Most likely, as the players were taking their lumps, giving the ball away, and losing games, the coach would have received many emails or phone calls questioning why he kept making the kids try to dribble and pass the ball up the court. In the stands, the parents may have muttered to each other or under their breath, “This coach has no idea what he is doing! Can’t he see the issue? Why doesn’t he have the kids just….”

So, I do not put the blame on just the coach. At times, it is the coach perpetuating what the parents are expecting of the coach, or what a coach feels the parents are expecting him to do. Often a stray from our warped view of the role of a coach is not accepted well by the masses. Again, we have an idea that a coach is suppose to be the same type of guy or woman we see on ESPN, and we fail to see that a youth coach should act, teach, and interact with players in a much different way and have completely different goals for the group and each individual.

In this case, do I have any issue with a coach teaching his team how to press? No. I think kids playing a sport should learn all different ways to attack and defend. Pressing is part of basketball and kids should learn how to do that. My issue is simply with the reason behind it, and the motivation to make the kids play a certain way to avoid actually teaching them how to play the game and helping them get better. Short term success, a single season, is given more value than a longer term purpose and value of sports… to help kids learn how to learn, struggle, develop, and grow.

Now, the one thing that coaches who we love to watch on ESPN, and I look up to, that I try to adapt to my coaching with the players I work with is how those coaches help each player believe they are capable of doing much more than they think is possible. They understand how critical a player’s confidence and belief in their ability is to their performance on the field. They are experts at making sure their players are in the right mindset when faced with competition or an obstacle to overcome.

You should expect that from your youth coach. It is one of the most important things a coach can provide a young player. If a coach can instill in a player the mindset that skills can be learned and developed, to be confident in what they are capable of doing, and never be afraid to fail, that any type of REAL SUCCESS will require a large amount of failure, then the coach has given the player much more than any single win or trophy will come close to providing.

I have said it before... youth coaches are not paid to win games. They are paid to teach and develop young people using a sport. A youth coach should not act like or have the same goals as the coaches who get paid to win games; whose jobs depend on it. The approach is different because the goal is different. We need to stop confusing the two and assume our child’s coach should act the same. In fact, the more of a difference, the more strange it may look and feel, the more appropriate and better of a job the youth coach is doing.

We should not treat the kids like they are professional athletes, and we should not expect our youth coaches to act like they are coaching professional athletes.

Tony Earp
Tony Earp

Director Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University, is a State Certified teacher, and is a USSF C License coach. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. Tony's achievements included 2nd Team All Big Ten in 2001 and 2002, serving as Captain in 2002. Tony was named Most Inspirational Player in 2001 and 2002, as well as achieving Scholar Athlete status in those same years. Tony was a member of the 2002 MLS Draft Pool. After playing, Tony was a history teacher at Licking Valley High School in 2005 and at Dublin Scioto High School in 2006. In 2007, Tony Earp accepted a position at SuperKick as the Director of Soccer Training where he continues to serve as the Senior Director of Training managing programs, establishing training curriculums, and coaching athletes. Tony was the Head Coach for Hilliard Bradley High School boys soccer program in 2009 and 2010. In addition, Tony is a Director for Classics Eagles FC and is the Director of the SuperKick Classics Juniors Academy. With 10 years of coaching experience, Tony has developed a reputation of being a coach who motivates players to expect more from themselves and creates a training environment conducive to developing high level players.

Posted by Administrator on Wed, 21 Jan 2015
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A Ball Hog

by Tony Earp, Senior Director

When at youth soccer games, one of the main things I hear yelled from the sideline at the players is, “Pass it!” We LOVE when players pass the ball, and we should. Passing is a critical part of the game and it is necessary for every player to be able to pass with accuracy and the proper pace to teammates or space to keep possession and create scoring chances. One of the most beautiful parts of the game is a sophisticated build up of possession to create a goal. But… if from the youngest age groups kids are pushed to pass the ball each time it comes to them, when do the kids get the opportunity to learn how to dribble? When do they get to practice working their way out of pressure using their feet, penetrating with the ball between defenders, or taking a player on to go to goal? A player who tries to dribble more in a game is often referred to as a “ball hog” or scolded for trying to dribble (especially if possession is lost). In terms of development, I am a huge fan of the “ball hogs” of the younger age groups as those players have a much better chance, to not only become better passers of the ball, but to become those exciting players we love to watch create something out of nothing with the magic of their feet.

When a kid is being a “ball hog” on the soccer field, it is seen as a negative thing. From my perspective, I think it is a great thing. The player is showing confidence to keep the ball at his feet and move with it in a game situation. This confidence needs to not only be commended but it needs to be nurtured. Instead of telling the “ball hog” not to dribble and stifling his willingness to try, help the player become better at dribbling… recognizing space, keeping his head up, and utilizing teammates when he thinks he needs help.

Just telling a player to “stop dribbling” and “pass the ball” is not coaching. As this game requires players to be able to dribble the soccer ball with great control and speed, telling a player not to dribble is denying that player an opportunity to work on a vital aspect of the game. Furthermore, you are taking a required skill of the game and making it “wrong” in the player’s mind. If you continue to tell a player not to dribble the ball, it will eventually become something that should never be done, like it is breaking a rule of the game.

The first and most important thing a player needs to develop when they start playing soccer is a relationship and confidence with the ball. Without that, everything else becomes much harder to teach down the road. Think about it this way, when a child is 13 years old, do you think it would be harder to teach that player how to pass or teach that player to dribble? In reality, both are needed to be learned by that age, but the point is that one is much harder and takes much longer to develop than the other. I have always found it harder to convince a player to keep the ball than it is to convince a player to kick the ball away or pass it. This is why it is critical to not stop players who love to dribble from dribbling because maybe they do it more than you would prefer or cosmetically appealing to our adult vision of the game.

Am I saying kids should be discouraged to pass the ball? Absolutely not, that would be the same as asking a player not to dribble. It would stop them from learning a vital element of the game. The key is helping players understand how dribbling is part of the game, how it can create space to pass, how it pulls defenders out of position, how it is required when there are no passing options, or how it is needed to take space when given. In other words, the value of dribbling and what it can be done to make the game easier needs to be reinforced. Just as we always do for passing and moving.

Here is something to consider as well… those “ball hogs” tend to be those “ball hogs” later on in the game who are difference makers. They are the players who can create something out of nothing, create havoc for a team to try to stay organized defensively as the player moves the ball aggressively forward, and have those exceptional moments that we all watch on YouTube when we are suppose to be working. Those players still pass more than they dribble, but find the moments that they can unleash their ability on the ball that most other players lack. When the other players have no other choice but to sit back and look for a passing option, these players see other options and have the ability to capitalize on those hidden opportunities.

Finally, what do you players down when they do not have a passing option if you have screamed at them not to dribble? Yep, you guessed it… without a passing option, the next best thing, and the least likely action that will cause them to be criticized, is to “just kick” the ball forward or out of bounds. If your players have been told not to dribble, then when the game actually is demanding that they should dribble, they will have no idea what to do. You have not prepared them or taught them that aspect of the game. When teams are younger and less organized defensively, moderately good movement will provide passing options for the player on the ball. When teams are older and more organized defensively, they are quicker to shut down passing lanes and eliminate options which will require the player on the ball to create something individually at times to open passing lanes and penetrate space.

So what do you do with your “ball hog” on your team? First, do not tell them to stop dribbling. Second, help them learn how to utilize their desire to be on the ball in the game. Third, encourage more players to develop some of those “ball hog” qualities. Fourth, show the "ball hogs" the benefits of using the other skills they need to practice and learn to use in the game that compliment their desire to dribble.

A little bit of “ball hog” is a good thing to have in all of your players. You want all your players to want the ball and be able to keep the ball at their feet. It is much easier to help your kids learn how to find opportunities to pass more than it is to go back and try to get them to dribble more when they have been told for so long not to dribble.

Ball Hog or Exceptional? Play Video
Tony Earp
Tony Earp

Director Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University, is a State Certified teacher, and is a USSF C License coach. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. Tony's achievements included 2nd Team All Big Ten in 2001 and 2002, serving as Captain in 2002. Tony was named Most Inspirational Player in 2001 and 2002, as well as achieving Scholar Athlete status in those same years. Tony was a member of the 2002 MLS Draft Pool. After playing, Tony was a history teacher at Licking Valley High School in 2005 and at Dublin Scioto High School in 2006. In 2007, Tony Earp accepted a position at SuperKick as the Director of Soccer Training where he continues to serve as the Senior Director of Training managing programs, establishing training curriculums, and coaching athletes. Tony was the Head Coach for Hilliard Bradley High School boys soccer program in 2009 and 2010. In addition, Tony is a Director for Classics Eagles FC and is the Director of the SuperKick Classics Juniors Academy. With 10 years of coaching experience, Tony has developed a reputation of being a coach who motivates players to expect more from themselves and creates a training environment conducive to developing high level players.

Posted by Administrator on Thu, 8 Jan 2015
tags:

Soccer Parent Landmines

by Tony Earp, Senior Director

Being a parent is difficult, but being a parent of a soccer player poses additional challenges that can put a lot of stress on parents and the child. The soccer community is not the easiest to navigate, and it can be overwhelming, especially for parents with kids going through the process for the first time. There will be a lot of things that go on throughout the season that can distract parents from what is most important; their child having fun and learning the game. With all decisions a parent must make, it is important that the result of each decision is in the best interest of the kid and it helps make their playing experience better. There will always be bumps in the road, but those bumps can quickly turn into large sink holes that can torpedo a season and child's enjoyment playing the game.

It is not just the kids, but the parents, who feel the pressure of the club soccer experience. All want to be doing what is right to help their child have success on the field. The heart, I believe, is always in the right place, but the pressure and culture of the competitive environment can lead parents to act or get involved in the process in a way not originally intended.

Based on my experience in youth soccer and working with parents, here are some tips for getting through the season that makes it enjoyable for everyone.

Do Not Reward Performance to Motivate Kids

There are parents who decide to motivate their child through “rewards’ for good performance on the field. With the goal to try to help their child have more success on the field, work harder, or "play better," the child is offered something in return. Now, do these rewards work to help a player work a little harder, focus more, or maybe score a couple more goals? Sometimes they do work, but only in the short term. This type of reward system begins to make playing the game about getting something in return; not playing the game because it is fun or it is something the child wants to do. Once the excitement of the rewards wears off, the child’s desire to play the game will also diminish or a bigger reward will be required to reach the same level of motivation.

Outside of that, it can affect performance in a negative way. For example, a player who is being incentivized to score goals may start playing differently or making bad decisions in order to try to score more goals that do not help the player improve. What if the player does not score a goal but has a great game, works really hard, and played very well? Even though the player had success on the field, the player will still feel like they failed because he did not score and will not be rewarded.

Should kids be rewarded for great effort and doing their best? Absolutely! I am not advocating otherwise, but parents need to be very careful about using rewards to try to get the child to play differently or enjoy the game more. In short, you should go out for ice cream after the game to celebrate having a fun day at the soccer field, but you do not take that away or hold it over a child’s head based on their performance. Quickly, what was meant to make a player want to play better will turn into a reason why a player will not want to play at all.

Avoid the Drama of the Parent Sideline

The sideline of a soccer game or practice can be a tough place to sit in peace and just enjoy the game or watch your child play. Parents are constantly faced with the uncomfortable conversations or the “soccer gossip” from other parents who are “in the know” or are frustrated about… whatever. As you are watching the game, you will hear parents talking about other parents, the coach, other players, or other teams. It will start with, “Did you hear?” and end with, “So..what do you think?”

NEVER ANSWER THAT QUESTION. Well, you can, but I strongly suggest avoiding it. It can lead you down a road you had no intention of being on.

Although I think all of us are somewhat drawn to conflict or at least enjoy hearing about it, I would do everything you can to avoid getting sucked into these types of conversations. The conversation may be prefaced with “just between you and me” but that is not how it will stay. It will always get back to whom it may concern, and then it will work its way back to you. Something you really did not care much about to begin with, will quickly become something that totally consumes you. My suggestion is avoid the conversation or change the subject when someone tries to have this type of conversation with you.

There is a fear of not being “in the know” so sometimes parents feel the need to seek out this information, so they are “informed” and can help make decisions to help their child. The one thing I will say about that is these conversations rarely consist of accurate information. In the end, you will not be more informed, but you will feel you are and that will lead to additional issues.

If through the course of the year, you feel the need to address a concern or discuss an issue, only do it with the person who it concerns. If you want to be informed, go to the source. Whether it is a coach or another parent, address all concerns and issues directly with that person. If you choose to “gossip” about it with others, eventually the person whom with you have the concern with will hear about it, but not in the way you would want and not told really what you said. Or worse, you will think you are informed and you are not, and you make a decision or choice that will affect your child adversely using bad information.

Be the Parent Not the Assistant Coach

It is important that your child has their parent waiting for them when they leave the soccer field and not an assistant soccer coach. Ask your child about their practice and show an interest in what they learned or if they had fun, but avoid giving tips and advice on how they could have played better or what they need to do next time when they are on the field. Leave that for the coach. That is the coach’s job, and you can always ask the coach questions if you need to about those things, but your child just needs you to be their parent and show you care about how they did and you love to watch them play.

Again, because all parents want to help their child have success, it is hard to stop from doing this when your child comes off the field. You might have seen something that you feel can really help them play better or have more fun, so again, I believe parents are just trying to help. But do your best to let that information come from the coach. If your child asks you how you think he did, do not be afraid to answer his questions. Dodging the question or acting like you are uninterested would not be beneficial either, but be careful when answering to try not to correct the issue for the child. Be more general with your statements and allow the coach to correct the finer points. Encourage the player to discuss it with the coach. The key is let the child ask you. Let the child determine if it is something he wants to talk about.

We all have our opinions of how things should be done, and as I said before, if you ever have concerns or questions, the best thing to do is ask the coach directly. The worst thing you can do is undermine the coach and tell your child to do things differently than what they are being asked at the soccer field. It just confuses the child, and it will cause conflict in the relationship between the player and the coach, and in the relationship between you and your child.

Avoid Emotional Public Responses

I do not like to be the bearer of bad news, but there will be things that happen throughout the season that upset you. Even the best coaches and parents, will make mistakes and say or do something that you have a real, and legitimate, issue with. Often, a bad situation can become much worse than it needs to be by a knee-jerk emotional response... especially in public in front of others.

Whether at practice or in a game, something will happen or be said to you or your child that will light your fuse and ignite your natural parental response to protect your child. Again, completely understandable, and I have seen a lot of situations where it is justified (but still not appropriate).

Although before responding or making a very public response and embarrassing scene for your child, I would suggest digesting what you see and take a more thought out and reasonable (not emotional) approach to responding to what happened. Why? First, what may have happened or what you heard may not be an issue if you completely understand the context behind it. Second, usually what is said out of an emotional response, even if justified, is not what you wish you would have said after the fact.

To ensure a proper and pragmatic response to negative events throughout the year, gather all the necessary information, examine it, and then proceed how you see necessary in the best interest of your child and yourself. Again, the soccer field, especially during games when competition is tough and emotions are running high, situations occur that do not have to be a major issue but are exacerbated by an emotional response from a parent (or coach).

Do Not Make Decisions out of Fear

This is the most important piece of advice I can give a parent, and the one that will make the biggest impact on your child’s experience. When deciding anything for your child, the decision should be based on what is best for your child to have a fulfilling, fun, and appropriate experience on the soccer field learning an awesome game. Decisions made out of fear will lead you and your child down a road you really do not want to go. 10 teams later, thousands of dollars spent, and many relationships burned, you will wonder how you got to that point?

A common fear parents have, and make a lot of decisions based off of, is the fear of their child being left behind. Something currently happening or missing in their child’s soccer experience creates a fear that their child is not progressing as fast as he should. Parents make decisions to change clubs/teams, force kids to train or practice more, or do not allow their kids to play for certain teams in trying to make sure their child does not fall behind their peers. The first sign that their child is lagging behind his peers, a decision is made to make a change. The parent will try to change the environment in the hopes of finding a better one will help their child have success and advance their skill.

With a decision based on fear, often all the facts are not taken into account and the actuality of the situation is skewed by the fear. The bigger and long-term perspective is not considered. With these types of decisions, we only look at a small and possibly insignificant piece of the puzzle. An "issue" may have nothing to do with the environment, the coach, or other players on the team that a child is falling behind. It can be for a lot of reasons that are out of the player’s control (developmental changes – both physical and cognitive), or possibly a losing interest in the game which will happen with some players (like with anything). Granted, there are definitely situations that kids should be moved off certain teams and moved to others, too many to mention here, but too often the move is not really necessary or appropriate. Often a change is an emotional reaction to the first sign of any type of obstacle or struggle for the player.

Most kids will not play this game at a "high" level. Moving kids from club to club or team to team to try to improve their level is not the best way to do that. Forcing a kid to train or practice more than he desires is not beneficial either. Yes, the proper environment to develop and extra training can help improve skill level, BUT ONLY WHEN IT IS SOMETHING THE PLAYER WANTS TO DO. Change does not help if the kid does not want it or a change does not address the real issues.

**Final thought… ** the one thing all of these items have in common is focusing on doing what is best for your child. Making the experience completely about them, and making it very little about you or the other adults along for the ride. When parents get distracted by all the other things that happen over a course of the season that cause a loss of focus on the real reason your child is playing, the experience quickly turns negative for everyone involved. Soccer is a game. We sometimes forget that. It is best to sit back and let your child discover the game, learn how to play it, and decide where he wants to take it. Avoid these soccer parent landmines, and you will not have to spend your child's soccer season rummaging through the debris of the aftermath of these types of situations.

Tony Earp
Tony Earp

Director Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University, is a State Certified teacher, and is a USSF C License coach. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. Tony's achievements included 2nd Team All Big Ten in 2001 and 2002, serving as Captain in 2002. Tony was named Most Inspirational Player in 2001 and 2002, as well as achieving Scholar Athlete status in those same years. Tony was a member of the 2002 MLS Draft Pool. After playing, Tony was a history teacher at Licking Valley High School in 2005 and at Dublin Scioto High School in 2006. In 2007, Tony Earp accepted a position at SuperKick as the Director of Soccer Training where he continues to serve as the Senior Director of Training managing programs, establishing training curriculums, and coaching athletes. Tony was the Head Coach for Hilliard Bradley High School boys soccer program in 2009 and 2010. In addition, Tony is a Director for Classics Eagles FC and is the Director of the SuperKick Classics Juniors Academy. With 10 years of coaching experience, Tony has developed a reputation of being a coach who motivates players to expect more from themselves and creates a training environment conducive to developing high level players.

Posted by Administrator on Mon, 29 Dec 2014
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The Ball is a Toy

by Tony Earp, Senior Director

With the competitiveness and pressure around sports, it is easy to forget that every sport is just a game. Not much different than jumping rope, tag, or hide and go seek, soccer (like other sports) is a game to be played for fun. There are winners and losers, but the goal is to play, get exercise, and enjoy the time with the friends. It is sad when sports moves from this view into more of a "job" or work, both in which a game was never intended. Even when players play a sport for a living, for the most part, the best at the game still play it because it is fun and they love it. Like most games, when the game was invented, I am confident the “creator” did not do it so one day those who play this game at the highest level will get paid to do it. This means, at the heart of every game, every sport, and in soccer, the things used to play the game should be seen as toys.

Ask a kid to show you his toys. What do you think he will point to? Most likely, the child will point to a video game system, maybe some board games, an ipad, dolls or stuffed animals, but I highly doubt that most children would point to their soccer ball. To me, this is a very sad thought. As a kid, my soccer ball was always in my “toy bin” in my room. That is exactly how I saw the ball. It was not something I would go “train” with or use to “practice.” It was just a toy, and something I would go to have fun and entertain myself. It was no different than my Atari, Pogo Stick, or Voltron action figures (I will pause and allow for Google searches).

This is a change that needs to occur in the youth soccer culture. The soccer ball cannot be seen as a work tool, or something that is only used when asked by an adult or coach. That is not how toys work. Think of anyone who is amazing at what they do (an artist, writer, programmer, mechanic, architect, etc… ) and I bet those people see the “tools” of their profession more as toys they get to play with everyday, and that is the reason why they are the best at what they do.

When it comes to toys, what do kids do with them? Well, for one thing they tend to use the toy in way that it was probably never intended, or in other words, they find creative ways to use the toy. When it comes to soccer, this is a key thing that is missing with kids and their relationship to the soccer ball. Many kids will only do what they have been told to do with the soccer ball. This is rarely the case with something a kid sees as a toy. If anything, parents often, and even to the point of frustration, have to keep reminding a child what a toy should be used for. For example, I was constantly told, “Your sister’s Barbies are not Frisbees.” Although I think I proved my parents wrong by successfully throwing them over the house to my friend.

If we want players to be imaginative with the ball and creative when they play the game, they need to view the soccer ball as a toy, not just at home, but at practice and in games. It is something they play with and needs to be treated accordingly. It should not be something a child dreads to have during a game, or something they are asked to get rid of right away. Frankly, they should never be discouraged from “playing with it” for too long. This is why I think the soccer ball should always be part of activities during practice and the player’s should be around it as often as possible. No one likes waiting their turn in a line to play with a toy.

As adults, we forget how to play with toys. We tend to use things exactly for what they are designed for and use them how directed to make sure we do not break them or use them incorrectly. Unintentionally, we sometimes force kids to share our same way of thinking when they play. We ask them to see the soccer ball, or the game, through our eyes and share our views, but is that what we really want for the kids? Do you really want the kids view and understanding of the game limited by your understanding and view of the game? I think most parents and coaches hope kids discover the game in their own way, and their understanding and joy to play it surpasses their own.

The only way for this to happen, for kids to regain their freedom and enjoyment of playing the game, is for them, and all of us, to view the soccer ball in its purest form... as a toy. As such, parents will allow a kid to interact with the ball like it is a toy, and the child will play with the ball like it is a toy. This will unleash the player’s love to play with the ball and unlock the possibilities of what the player can do with the ball. Like with any toy, once the imagination becomes involved, there is not much a kid cannot do with it.

From now on, when a parent tells their kids to go play with their toys, hopefully the soccer ball (or the football, baseball, bike, skateboard) is considered to be in that category. Yes, it may still take a back seat to the PlayStation or Xbox, but maybe the players will consider playing with it if the power goes out.

Tony Earp
Tony Earp

Director Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University, is a State Certified teacher, and is a USSF C License coach. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. Tony's achievements included 2nd Team All Big Ten in 2001 and 2002, serving as Captain in 2002. Tony was named Most Inspirational Player in 2001 and 2002, as well as achieving Scholar Athlete status in those same years. Tony was a member of the 2002 MLS Draft Pool. After playing, Tony was a history teacher at Licking Valley High School in 2005 and at Dublin Scioto High School in 2006. In 2007, Tony Earp accepted a position at SuperKick as the Director of Soccer Training where he continues to serve as the Senior Director of Training managing programs, establishing training curriculums, and coaching athletes. Tony was the Head Coach for Hilliard Bradley High School boys soccer program in 2009 and 2010. In addition, Tony is a Director for Classics Eagles FC and is the Director of the SuperKick Classics Juniors Academy. With 10 years of coaching experience, Tony has developed a reputation of being a coach who motivates players to expect more from themselves and creates a training environment conducive to developing high level players.

Posted by Administrator on Mon, 29 Dec 2014
tags:

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