Monday, August 9, 2010

A Response to Another Blogger

I was reading the excellent World Class Coaching blog a few weeks ago when a particular post caught my attention. As it directly connects to the issues that I have been discussing here, I thought that I would repost it.

Here is the post that I responded to:

Speaking from the heart to US Soccer on how to win the World Cup

Today is an article by guest blogger,Vinicius Dos Santos. Vinicius is the author of our best selling book and DVD, the Brazilian Box Midfield.

The joy of the task of playing the game of soccer is its own reward. The performance ofthe task is sufficient to provide intrinsic reward itself. It is simply gratifying the act ofplaying the game, with no need of external rewards for motivation purposes.

My concern with the youth is on the excessive emphasis on the assumption thatsuccess is only possible thru external rewards. Modern studies about motivation anddrive, consider this approach outdated and much of what we used to believe about whatmotivates us it isnʼt so anymore.

The operating system of youth soccer still believes that to improve performance andgenerate excellence it is necessary to keep rewarding the good and punishing the bad -all manipulated thru external-control. It may work for a short term boost but it sure doesharm long term performance by creating short term thinking, crush creativity, createsdependency, creates possibility for unethical behavior (cheating), and expressessomeone elseʼs desires but the playerʼs one.

The reality is that soccer is much more a player driven sport than coach driven one. Wejust keep denying the fact, in which intrinsic motivation has to be factor number onewhen playing the game. So as it is everything in life.

For achievement of success and personal fulfillment the appropriate focus for youngerages should concern less with external rewards that soccer brings (standings, records,tournaments, State Cup, Regional and National competition) and more with the inherentsatisfaction by the simple act of playing the game. To play the game and benefit from itsexcitement, thrills and enjoyment results will come as consequence of quality time spentwith the game.

What matters is the desire to do things because they matter, we like it, because they arepart of something important. Player engagement is crucial to elevate performance. But ifthey do not see soccer as passionate as we are discussing here, then the level ofcommitment and performance will be lower.

So there is no need to hire a foreigner to coach the US National Team, send players toplay in the EPL to learn passion, copy Brazil, learn state-of-the-art tactics – in order todream of winning the World Cup. In fact, for now forget WC results – it is not going to happen until this focus is shifted -STOP THE DENIAL! There is no foundation for that, when the existent foundation only focus on controllingcoaching from very young ages; external structure/organization; severe result drivendevelopmental programs and youth club curriculums; youth soccer clubs non profit butprofit organizations – along with low player engagement and low player autonomy.
True quality happens thru autonomous kids with the ball feeling direct connection fromtheir hearts to the game. That brings mastery, the desire to get better and betterbecause it matters.
Perhaps soccer authorities and renowned coaches already spot my view point, but canʼtfigure out how to do it. Maybe is too late to undo the way it is, since too many otherinterests are involved.

The secret of high performance is that unseen intrinsic drive.The drive to do something for the own sake of doing it, the drive to do things becausethey are meaningful.
Success is not the key to happiness, happiness is the key to success!

VINICIUS DOS SANTOSauthor of the best seller “The Brazilian Box Midfield”

And, here is my response:

WOW! What an excellent view point and a breath of fresh air this article provides! Mr. Saif, thank you for offering this blog to your readers and, Mr. Dos Santos, thank you for your great post!

I think that most of us would agree with the point that Mr. Dos Santos makes above: Essentially, that we cannot expect our players and our game to grow if our players do not LOVE the game itself for all of the joy and satisfaction that it alone can provide. Most of us would also have read Jay H. Williams’ piece in Soccer Journal that argues that we cannot necessarily force this love with the use of the traditional coaching tools of incentive and consequence. As Williams says, “scientific research shows that incentivizing a problem solving task may stifle creativity and actually hinder the outcome. The traditional carrot and stick approach seems to weaken problem-solving abilities” (March- April 2010, Vol. 55, No. 2, page 55). Players, Williams’ research suggests, “become focused on the reward and lose the ability to think creatively. Their reasoning capacity limits how they come up with a solution” (Ibid.). If this is the case, if our task is to provide what Daniel Coyle, Malcom Gladwell, and Geoff Colvin would call “ignition,” but we know that we have to evolve the ways and means by which we inspire this ignition, then the questions, and thus our charges as guardians of the game, becomes more focused: What specific things do we need to alter about our youth soccer environment, culture, and business to help facilitate ignition, and what specific tools and methodologies do we as a coaching culture need to adopt, utilize, teach and preach to help guide ignition.I don’t think that I have the answers to these questions, but I do think that the following quotes (and the sources from which they are drawn) might be able to provide us with some guidance as we embark on this new point in our nation’s soccer evolution.

To start with, let’s consult what I think should be one of our foundational tomes in youth soccer, US Soccer’s Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States: “The most fundamental skill in soccer is the individual mastery of the ball and the creativity that comes with it. This should be a priority in training and games, especially in the early years. As this skill is mastered, the rest of the game becomes easier – both to teach and to learn. Practices should be built around facilitating the development of the skills necessary to move and control the ball well. As these individual skills and the creativity to make them come alive in the game are developed to a level of competence, the finer points, first of passing skill and later of team organization can be taught” (page 4).

Best Practices then moves on to quote Manfred Schellscheidt’s, Experimenting With The Game (a work that I cannot find anywhere – Mr. Saif, can you help?): “(Breathing life into soccer)…is more about converting our training sessions into some form of street soccer in which players, with the help of the coach, experiment with the basic elements of the game in a competitive way…Learning (in this case, soccer) is about experimenting with new things and relating to them. Mastery means coming to grips with things we have experimented with, often with repetition. It is all about developing an understanding and feel for the game. The lessons for all of us will come from the game and so will the answers. In the beginning the person and the game are separate, maybe even far apart. When things get good, the game and the person become one” (page 8).

Finally, a quote from the author of the book that I am currently reading, Andy Barney’s Training Soccer Legends: A Proven Way to Help You Teach the Unique Skills, Tactical Speed and Mentality of Great Players (thanks, again, for the copy, Andy!!). Here, Andy describes his “Training Soccer Legends” curriculum by saying that “it relates soccer skill development to the Physical Education principles of transfer of training, (each skill builds upon the next), economy of training, (many things being accomplished at one time), and specificity of training, (everything relates to the sport and has a purpose). It utilizes accepted practice in childhood education and child psychology. It profits from the benefits of skill compounding. It involves the two skills that are easiest to practice at home and most motivating to players. It focuses on the skills that develop great self-belief and leadership. It emphasizes risk and the individual win instead of safety first and the team statistic. It trains the total soccer player not the limited positional player. It trains the ability vital to making big plays that guarantee selection to the higher levels of play, i.e. state select, college and professional teams. It refutes the instant gratification “win now, pay later” mentality that permeates modern society. It demands great failure on the road to great success. It creates players of amazing perception and skill. It “operant conditions” the technical and tactical habits necessary to play at the very top. It recognizes that there’s no way any human can learn all the techniques and tactics of soccer before they complete their youth career at age 18, and that attempting to do so will only result in poorly developed skills and little tactical understanding that can be used at the highest level” (TSL, page 10).

If we look at these sources (and others like them), we see quite clearly that many of our leading soccer minds think that we need to reform our current youth soccer culture so that we can provide future generations with a fun-filled, zero stress environment that encourages free-flowing, fast paced, creative, skill based, and highly individualistic soccer because this will provide the players with the opportunity to fall in love with and own the game as a product of their own ideas, creativity, sweat and toil. Such an environment will not only “ignite” generations of soccer players and enthusiasts, but it will also provide fertile ground for true, economic, and appropriate player development.

If the growth of our game in our children and in our nation necessitates this evolution in our soccer culture, and if we as coaches must move and act in our interactions with our players, teams, Clubs, Associations, etc. to support and grow this new environment, then it follows that our coaching culture needs to adopt a few new ideas or tools. There are, of course, many, many new tools that we will have to utilize, but two most prominent ones to me seem to be: Letting go and accepting mistakes. Coaches in general, and maybe American coaches in particular, tend to want to be very hands on, they tend to want to control everything about each player, each moment, each match, etc.. Though this kind of an attitude may be both accepted and necessary at professional and elite college levels, it seems wholly inappropriate for youth coaching: We have to learn to “give the game back to the players,” as USYSA would advise us; we have to learn to allow our players a “certain amount of uninterrupted play” (Best Practices, page 3). If we can learn to do this, we will also learn to accept our players “making mistakes” because, as Best Practices argues, “is a very important part of the player’s learning and development” (page 9). If we can do this, if we can learn to “accept chaos,” as Best Practices and Barney advise, if we can learn to “encourage risk taking and applaud effort” (BP, page 9), then I have a feeling that we will be moving in the right direction and that, maybe, after a couple generations of this evolved attitude, we may move ourselves closer to doing something amazing like winning the World Cup.

The good news is that we know that Claudio Reyna is listening to this message, the question is whether or not the rest of us will be willing to listen to his advice?

Coaching U12s to Develop into Better Soccer Athletes

I received this email not so long ago, and I thought that I would share with you all:

I need a little help. I am assisting with a girls U-12 club team and need some conditioning requirements. This team is what I consider to be a development squad that is about 1-2 years behind on individual skill level compared other U-12 club teams. I have worked diligently over the last several weeks on these individual skills and they are starting to make progress. However, during our games I have noticed that the fatigue factor is kicking in and now I need expose them to more intense conditioning practices.

My experience is more on the boys side and I do not want to push these girls so hard that they do not enjoy playing. Can you provide me with some resources or recommendations for conditioning for girls at this age? I currently only work with these girls twice a week and we just added a third practice to address their fitness level. I just need a little direction as to what you consider to be adequate at this age. Below is what I have in mind for a conditioning practice and would like your opinion on a age appropriate conditioning practice. I have always coached with the mentality that my team may not be the most skillful or talented group but they would always be the most fit team on the field.

Begin: 10 minute stretch
5 minutes moving with the ball 3/4 speed (20-25 yards)
2 Minutes rest
4 laps (jog sidelines sprint end lines)
15-20 Individual Skill work
2 Minute break

5 minutes moving with the ball full speed (30-40 yards)

2 Laps with a ball (jog sidelines sprint end lines)
2 Minute break
20-25 minute skill work or small sided game
10 minutes (sprint from end line to 18 and jog back to end line)
2 Laps for cool down

Your opinion is greatly appreciated.

Here is my response:

The U12 age is a difficult age for both coaches and players. As US Soccer's Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States says: "The U12 age group seems to be the moment in youth soccer that causes the most discussion concerning player development. Are thse players young adults or are they still children? As soccer players, they are still young. Although there are some areas of the game where the players are beginning to make progress, this is an age where ball skill and soccer instincts must be encouraged above the results" (page 27). Also, as The Official US Youth Soccer Coaching Manual argues: "Teetering on the edge of childhood and adolescence, the the U-12 player presents a myriad of problems, but a gold mine of potential. Not only can they follow complex instruction, they now have the ability to create their own variations of the games. When compared to younger players, the U-12 player demonstrates a greater degree of analytical thought, which enhances tactical
understanding. Still, their performance during match play will be inconsistent. Much of their training should consist of small-sided games with various playing or field conditions placed upon the players" (page 40).

We can see from this advice, as well as from the tremendous drop out rates at and around the U12 age band, that we need to be very careful with the U12 and that we need to ensure that we are continuing to focus much of our attention (if not all) on building a strong foundation of soccer skills and savvy from which the player / team will be able to build on as they progress in soccer. To do this effectively, then US Soccer (as evidenced by Best Practices), USYSA (as evidenced by The Official Manual), and I recommend the following:

  • Coaches in the U12 age groups should be focusing on (some of) the building blocks of successful soccer players: FUN, skill, athleticism, and "individual and small groupd decisions, in the attack and when defending" (BP, page 29). The issue that is relevant to your questions is 'athleticism,' and I think that we will want to make a distinction here between 'athleticism' and 'conditioning.' To me, athleticism will include things like strength, agility, balance, coordination, explosivness, stability, body awareness, hand:eye or foot:eye coordination, etc, while conditioning will include mostly non-soccer specific aerobic running (as your practice session plan would suggest). In my mind, it is more beneficial to address athleticism than it is to address conditioning at this age because athletic lessons can be life long lessons, and conditioning lessons can and will be lost as soon as the players stops or decreases the conditioning work. And, as these players are near the beginning of their soccer /athletic development cycle, I think that we need to focus on those activities that will give us the most benefit for the longest period of time, and I feel that that is athletic training rather than conditioning training. Indeed, Sam Snow, the Senior Assistant Technical Director for US Youth Soccer, in his paper on soccer growth ages, "At What Age Should a Soccer Player Peak?" , argues that at the U12 level, athletic and fitness training should be confined to "[soccer specific] endurance, rhythmic movement, flexibility, and running mechanics."
  • Coaches in the U12 age groups should be focusing a tremendous amount of energy on skill acquisition. As Best Practices argues: "The most fundamental skill in soccer is individual mastery of the ball and the creativity that comes with it" (page 4). If the players train these skills in an environment that challenges them all four levels of the game (technical, tactical, physical, psychological), then they are developing realistic skill, as well as realistic decision making ability, realistic athleticism and fitness, and a realistic soccer psychology. If coaches devote energy to realistic skill acquisition, then they will also be focusing energy on realistic athletic skills. Of course, coaches can and should highlight or isolate either the athletic side or the skill side of a specific soccer movement or chain of movements to increase the players ability to both understand and perform the "athletic soccer skill," but the key is that the players are still performing realistic movements and skills in a game like environment.

With the above two points in mind, and to efficiently follow the advice above, coaches in the U12 age group should adopt a small sided games methodology in their training sessions because it is the most economical method by which (youth) players can be trained.

Over the last several years, as US Soccer and the USYSA have been holding up and defending the numerous benefites of a SSG methodology, there have been several interesting studies and evaluations done on the actual economy and effectiveness of SSG. I will refer you to just a few of them, and I will flag up just a few issues of interest to your email:

Scotland Football Association:

There are three main points relevant to conditioning in general that this study points to:

1. The number of ball contacts in a small sided game is massively different than in a larger game. As a result of this, and as a result of small situations and thus fewer possible outcomes, the player's success rate is also higher in a SSG than it is in a larger game. If this is true (as these studies suggest that it is), and if the point above is true, then it follows that more realistic skill acquisition necessarily means acquisition of soccer specific athleticism.

2. When a SSG methodology is adopted (7 v 7 or 4 v 4, for the purposes of this study), the ball will spend less time out of bounds than it will if the players are playing a larger sided game. In an 11 v 11 game at this level, for example, the ball will spend between 32 and 34% of the time played out of bounds. I would argue that that percentage is either exactly right or slightly higher in NTX in general and in TSA in specific. And, as we all know that the U12 player is not tactically developed enough to "play when the ball is out of bounds," a ball that is out of play means that most of the players have stopped moving. This will obviously negatively impact the players fitness levels.

3. In a SSG, the players exhibit more "serious speed" than they do in a larger game. That is to say, the game becomes a better mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercise, and it starts tolook, act, and feel more and more like the real, more adult version of the game.

2. US Youth Soccer: Small Sided Games:

Here, there are several fascinating points to bring up, but the same message holds from above: SSG are more economic than other forms of training for youth soccer because they create challenges technical, tactical, psychological / emotional, and physical that are realistic to a youth player's abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. If the challenges are realistic, then the gains are realistic and more beneficial. In this study in particular, in from a narrow fitness point of view, USYSA argues that "athletic growth is enhanced due to continuous movement," and due to the overwhelming number of successful ball contacts.

So...on to concrete suggestions:

I think that the third practice is good idea (Best Practices recommends a 3:1 training:game ratio for this age group). However, rather than only focusing on "conditioning" in this session, I would focus on athletic development and skill development. I would also combine these ideas by developing fundamental activities that place the players in game realistic situations (realistic space, part of the field, time, pressure from opponents, reception and use of the ball, etc.), that ask the players to perform both athletically and skillfully, and that are highly repetitious.

With reference to your warm-up, then, I would reduce the amount of stretching time (I would also make this a dynamic stretch rather than a static stretch), and I would get directly into a fundamental activity like the above (perhaps you can even intersperse the activity with dynamic stretching).

I also do not think that you need any of the fitness around the field, but If you feel that you have
to include it, then I would highly advise that the players be dribbling rather than just running.

From that point (maybe 20-25 minutes in), I would play several variations on small sided games. Here, however, rather than creating games that have a technical / skill or tactical objective, I think that you can develop games that will place physical stresses on the players. For example:
  • If you play a game that, either, has very extended boundaries for the number of players, or no boundaries at all, then you will find that the games become very physically taxing for the players in a very short period of time, especially if the numbers stay fairly small;
    If you develop scoring methods that are more physically demanding (dribble through goals, dribbling over an endline, stopping the ball on an endline, dribbling the ball past a certain point and then shooting on goal, etc.), you will find that the players are physically taxed;

  • I would also recommend manipulating the time that the players play. For example, if you develop a game where the players will play 2 v 2 for 3 minutes no matter what happens (ball out of bounds, scored, etc.), the players will be forced to play for the required time and, because it is a small sided game, they will not be able to hide or not participate in the action (especially if there is a competitive edge to the session). This will, in effect, place the players in a game-like environment, and ask them to develop game like fitness. One benefit to this kind of a method will be that you can now use the principles of interval training (manipulating rest:work ratios for specific gains). So, now, you are not only playing the game (so the players are developing game realistic abilities), the players are having a tremendous amount of fun (soccer is fun!), you are using proven fitness development methods (interval training), and you are also allowing each player to work and rest so that their overall performance is better throughout the session (the gains from this in particular would help you to address the "end of the match" questions that you asked about). This would be economical training at a great level, and I think that the individual and team gains would be huge.

  • If the first phase is 20-25 minutes, and the SSG phase is 20-25 minutes, and you account for water breaks, you should be 60-65 minutes into your training session now. Because this would be about the time that the players play in a match, and as it is your third session, I think that you can safely end your session after the SSG, and close things out with a warm down activity, some static stretching, and maybe a fun game or two. If you need to satisfy an hour and a half time slot, then you can play a larger game for 10-12 minutes, and then go into a warm-down, stretching, fun phase.

    In the end, there are several ways to address the issues that you bring up, but I think that a method similar to the one that I have mentioned would provide your players with the best short term and long term gains, and that it will be the most economical use of your time.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Importance of a Coaching Philosophy

"No one looks in awe at the gaping hole that is dug, or the concrete laid for a building’s foundations, but in order for a beautiful and majestic building to rise, the solid, but unseen, foundation is necessary. If the game on the highest levels demands free-flowing and spontaneous decisions by the players, the question is what foundations are you laying?"

"Developing a Coaching Philosophy as a Youth Soccer Coach"

Gary R. Allen

US Youth Soccer National Staff

I was doing some reading today to prepare myself for some of the coaching courses that I am going to help instruct this summer, and I came upon this paper thanks to the USYSA's Coaches Connection, which is a great regular email and archive of coaching materials for USYSA members.

Here, Allen discusses how important it is that we, as youth coaches, develop a well-founded and thought through coaching philosophy to inform and direct us in our coaching and stewardship of American youth soccer. For Allen, a coaching philosophy is "the driving force that guide us as coaches and players, and ultimately manifest [itself] in our continued love for the game" (page 2), and he points to the current culture and climate in American youth soccer (a culture that exalts immediate "success" as necessary and desirable, that under trains and over competes its athletes, that holds to a "more earlier is better" worldview) as evidence to suggest that most youth coaches have not done a very good job of developing a coaching philosophy that is based on "underlying values or the 'driving forces' that will really help each of [our] player’s development as athletes" (page 4) and as people. This is a stunning point and I think that it absolutely rings true to my observations and experiences at almost any level of coaching that I have been involved in, and it certainly agrees with most of what I have seen with regard to coaching younger players.

However, I think that one could poll a randomly selected group of coaches at a local recreational or competitive soccer event and ask them questions about their values in coaching (about whether they would win today or develop players, about whether they would prefer to teach "soccer" or a "kick and chase" game, about whether they value teaching and modeling the ethics of the game, etc.), and you would probably get the "right" answer more often than not; I really don't think that too many right minded people would openly and legitimately say that they subscribe to any of the above negatives. In on sense, then, programs like coaching clinics, messages from USYSA, US Soccer, and other like minded groups, etc. have done a good job of changing the coaching conversation at the youth level. But, as Allen points out, though many of these people might be talking the talk, their actions demonstrate that they are not walking the walk. This means one of two things: That coaches are willful deceiving the people asking the questions and they are coaching for their own selfish ends; or that we, as a soccer nation, have not done a good enough job of educating ourselves and our coaches as to why it is that they should be making certain choices as a coach and as a leader, why they should be focusing their time, energies and attention on developing the building blocks of later success instead of on "winning the league" or "keeping their bye," why they should be more obsessed with what ought to be rather than what is; we have not done a good job of providing our coaches with the "driving forces" behind the "right" decisions, with the education, the information, and the structure to make informed decisions as to how they ought to be conducting themselves as coaches and as guardians of the game. In my opinion, the fault for this lies with some of the more rigid outlooks on coaching education that I am sure that some of us have experienced, with those of us who are fortunate enough to occupy something like "leadership positions" in our own soccer communities, and with those of us who care about the evolution of our game: It is our task to ensure that the people who are coaching and impacting youth around us have the background information, education, structure, experience, and resources to allow them to make informed decisions as to their coaching practices with our most fragile of players.

When we take on this task, we must be careful not to believe that education is built on dogma and on orthodoxy, as Paul Gardner points out in this article. Rather, we must remember that (coaching) education is about sharing “best practices” with coaches, both novice and experienced, so that the cumulative experience of those who have spent time learning and studying in the game, those with experience and results, as well as solid educational, physical, and psychological science can have an effect on the game at every level in our country; it is about the dissemination of information, of science, of experience, and of ideas and a coaching or teaching culture to a national or international audience. Of course, there are always going to be some absolutes in coaching education (such as the proposition that playing small sided games at the youngest age groups provides our youngest players tremendous technical, tactical, emotional, and physical benefits that serve them well throughout their athletic careers), but coaching education should always be about making the information and practices that our coaches have and utilize better so that we can make the game better; it is not about positions, dogma, or ideologies. Education is meant to free one’s mind, to ignite a passion rather than to extinguish it, to enliven a debate rather than to silence it, to welcome mentalities that question accepted truths in search of real truth rather than to exclude them. Education is meant to make us better (as coaches, as players, as athletes, as people) because it take us on a journey away from servitude and toward freedom, a journey away from the staus quo and towards the ideal; education helps to make us who we were always called to be.

As Allen says, a well founded "coaching philosophy will determine whether you are willing to spend the time required, and whether you will be patient enough, to provide a decision-making environment for players, to will allow them to gain the experience needed to overcome the unpredictable" (page 5), but it is our job, as soccer leaders, to make sure the our coaches have the requisite resources, experience, structure, and values upon which they can build their coaching philosophies; it is our job to make sure that their foundations are strong and sturdy so that the future of our game can be vibrant and enthralling.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Exploring American Youth Soccer

Welcome to the first blog post for this author's newest foray into the soccer world, Exploring American Youth Soccer! I am glad that you have found your way here (although, to be fair, I have probably invited most of you here!)!!

I will be honest with you: this first post has been intimidating me for some time. I have been thinking that about doing something like this for a while; I have been thinking about reaching out to the community of people who are interested in the current state of American youth soccer, who see the drastic need for change in our game as we evolve into a real and meaningful contributor to the world soccer community, and in having a dialogue with these people about exactly how we can effect this evolution, but I haven't really known how to start our conversation. It was stage fright, I guess. In the end, I decided that I just needed to have some guts, and that the best way to start this conversation was to start it just like any other conversation, with introductions: First of myself, then of the topic, and finally how I plan to address this whole thing.

I want to start with a bit of my background. I am 29 years old, I played competitive soccer throughout my youth, and I played four years of college soccer at an NCAA Division III institution, earning a bachelor's degree in 2003 and a master's degree in 2005. Since then, I have been coaching as a full-time profession on the collegiate and youth levels (3 years as a head coach at two different DIII institutions, and 3 years as a DIII assistant at two different institutions), I have earned an "A" license from US Soccer in 2008, a Premier Diploma from the NSCAA in 2007, and a National Youth License from US Youth Soccer in 2003. In addition to my responsibilities at my University, I also currently work for the North Texas Olympic Development Program as an age group head coach, for the North Texas Coaching Education Staff, the State teaching staff for the NSCAA, I work as an assistant coach at a local high school, and I work with players between the ages of 7 and 12 at my local soccer club. So, even though I have not been in soccer "forever," and I am still a very young coach in the large scheme of things, I still think that I am well qualified and that I have a demonstrated ability to be successful as a coach. I am, however, not professing to be an expert in sports science, in education, in youth development or youth growth, in youth soccer, in American soccer, in coaching, or in the game itself, and this blog is not meant to come across as pronouncements of an expert in any of these fields. Rather, I feel that, like all good coaches, I am starting this conversation so that I can better understand this game and how to impact it, so that I can better myself as a coach, as a professional, as an educator, and as a student of the game, and I hope that it is read and accepted in that spirit.

Now to our topic: Over the course of the past 9 months or so I have somewhat accidentally fascinated with the theory, science, and coaching of players in the U6 - U12 or U14 age groups. Admittedly, I was preparing myself for some new business opportunities, and I wanted to make sure that I was thinking, saying, and presenting "the right things" so I did a lot of reading, writing, and research on the subject from multiple and various sources. During this process I have discovered a hitherto un-noticed passion for this kind of coaching, for devoting one's time, energies, thought and abilities to coaching players in these age groups. Because of my coaching background, and because of my coaching style, this new passion has surprised a lot of the people around me, myself included, but there is something very appealing about working with these age groups. Of course, there are a lot of amazing and engaging factors associated with coaching these players but, for me, I have found that the reason that I am so interested in it, the reason that I am so drawn to it, is that I think that these are the age groups where coaches can make the most difference in players' lives; it is during this period, this "golden age," as some have called it, when we can make the single biggest and most purposeful impact on individuals, on communities, and on generations because we can be the reason that they either fall in love with the game, that they fall out of love with the game, or that they never find the game: We have the opportunity to develop whole generations of "life long fans" and believers if we work to develop strong soccer athletes in the right way. For me, then, working with these groups offers me the chance to impact, to contribute, and to give back to the game itself, to make the game better for the long term in our country, and I am really excited about it!

This brings us to our road map, to how I am going to present my thoughts and feelings as I try to explore American youth soccer. Essentially, I am going to try to write as often as I can, I am going to try to post and link to the most interesting and engaging things that I am able to find that contribute to our discussions, I am going to try to always be open, honest, and conversational throughout this whole process, and I would really like for this blog to be about what "we" think, not just about what I think. So, please, if you are reading this and you are interested in and excited about what we are talking about, please feel free to join in and to let me know your thoughts, feelings, and experiences! I think that we have a good opportunity to build a real sense of community here, as well as to share thoughts and resources with each other, and I hope that we can all explore this thing together!