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Ask the Coach


Coaches have to deal with all sorts of scenarios week in and week out. Each week AYSO's coaching experts will address a question that has been sent in by an AYSO coach. If you have a question that you want answered please email Hey Coach at heycoach@ayso.org. This week's question is:

February 14, 2012

Fill in the Blanks - Evaluating Your Coaching Performance

Learn more about CATZCoach



In this week's Ask the Coach, CATZ Coach founder and AYSO coach Jim Liston engages in a fun game of Fill in the Blank while explaining how to evaluate your coaching performance at the end of a season. Follow along with Jim and try to guess the answers before he reveals them!

Embed this video on your Region website. Have questions?



February 09, 2012

In this week's Ask the Coach, CATZ Coach Founder and AYSO coach Jim Liston answers the question "How do I teach my players to lift their heads while dribbling?"

Learn more about CATZCoach



Jim goes over two easy practice drills that will naturally encourage your players to lift their heads. Check out Jim's drills and watch the video above.

Embed this video on your Region website. 

January 31, 2012

In this week's Ask the Coach, CATZ Coach Founder and AYSO coach Jim Liston answers the question "How do I deal with a disruptive player?"

Jim goes over a few easy steps to help coaches deal with a restless or negative player that may be disrupting practice. Have you dealt with an issue like this? Send us an email to let us know how you dealt with a disruptive player.

Learn more about CATZCoach



Embed this video on your Region website. 

January 10, 2012

In this week's video, Ask the Coach, John Ouellette and CATZ Coach President Jim Liston discuss: "How do I measure my success as a coach?"


October 11, 2011

In this week's Ask the Coach, John Ouellette, AYSO's National Coach Instructor, goes over his four components to a successful practice. These include: warm-up, an technically-focused exercise, a tactically-focused exercise, followed by "make sure they get it" which is asking your players to apply the technical/tactical skills in a short-sided scrimmage. John adds that every practice should be ended with a cool down.


September 19, 2011

Question: Parents have asked me why we don't have goalkeepers on the U-8 teams. How should I respond?

  • Answer: This is a common question parents of the younger players have. Soccer games without goalkeepers provide a better experience for 5, 6 and 7 year olds for several reasons, which is why not only AYSO but also U.S. Soccer, the national governing body of soccer in America, discourages the use of goalkeepers at the U-8 level and below.

    First of all, the goalkeeper is denied a chance to run around and chase the ball. The boy or girl who must guard the goal is being prevented from doing what he or she signed up for - play soccer!

    Depending on the game, the young goalkeeper is also likely to get bored (if the action is on the other end) or get discouraged if the ball keeps flying into the goal.

    In their early experiences with soccer, we want young players to shoot on goal as much as possible because striking the ball is such an important skill for players to master. Young kids are more likely to shoot often when there's no goalkeeper. With a goalkeeper there, they become apprehensive, looking for the perfect shot that they are not physically mature enough to pull off.

    Nor are the very young kids physically prepared to make saves. They may get in front of a tough shot now and again, but they just don't have the tools for the position's requirements and are inclined to feel devastated when scored upon.

    Also, not using goalkeepers makes the coach's job much easier because the coach doesn't need to cajole players into taking turns in goal.

    Coaches and parents who have soccer knowledge, but not much experience with coaching young children, are most often the proponents of including goalkeepers in soccer games with even our youngest kids. They mean well, but don't realize that there is a more effective way of teaching soccer skills at this early age.

    The use of goalkeepers at such young ages creates a temptation for the coach to make his bigger and more advanced athletes play goalkeeper, because this will greatly increase his team's chances of winning. In other words, the use of goalkeepers encourages the results-driven approach to coaching that hinders long-term player development and can suck the fun out of soccer. The players who are more advanced athletically at the young ages shouldn't be kept from enjoying field play so that the coach can rack up some wins.

    In the worst-case scenario, players who are forced to play goalkeeper at the early ages lose their enthusiasm for the soccer.

    When goalkeepers are used, at the U-10 level for example, the goalkeepers should be rotated frequently. Even players who enjoy playing goalkeeper should not be restricted to the position and should get plenty of time playing in the field. Players shouldn't specialize at any one position until they are well into their teens.

    Many of the nation's best goalkeepers - Hope Solo, Tim Howard, Brad Friedel and AYSO alum Brad Guzan - spent much of their youth as field players. This not only prevented them from burning out on the position, but honed great foot skills and their ability to read the game, which is crucial to being a good goalkeeper.

    Do you have any questions for Coach John? 

    May 10, 2011

    In this week's Ask the Coach, AYSO National Coach John Ouellette and CATZCoach Founder Jim Liston answer the question: "As a coach, how do I handle injuries on the field?"


    April 26, 2011

    In this week's Ask the Coach, AYSO National Coach John Ouellette and CATZCoach Founder Jim Liston answer the question "How do I teach my players to stay in their positions?"


    April 19, 2011

    In this week's Ask the Coach, AYSO National Coach John Ouellette and CATZCoach Founder Jim Liston discuss how to properly condition a team while staying away from "boring" conditioning drills.


    March 15, 2011

    In this week's video, Ask the Coach, John Ouellette and CATZ Coach President Jim Liston discuss: "How do I measure my success as a coach?"


    March 08, 2011

    In this new series of Ask the Coach, AYSO National Coach John Ouellette sits down CATZCoach Founder and President Jim Liston to answer this week's question: "How do I keep my 11-year-olds focused?"

    Read a transcript of John's answer.

    March 01, 2011

    Question: Parents have asked me why we don't have goalkeepers on the U-8 teams. How should I respond?

    • Answer: This is a common question parents of the younger players have. Soccer games without goalkeepers provide a better experience for 5, 6 and 7 year olds for several reasons, which is why not only AYSO but also U.S. Soccer, the national governing body of soccer in America, discourages the use of goalkeepers at the U-8 level and below.

      First of all, the goalkeeper is denied a chance to run around and chase the ball. The boy or girl who must guard the goal is being prevented from doing what he or she signed up for - play soccer!

      Depending on the game, the young goalkeeper is also likely to get bored (if the action is on the other end) or get discouraged if the ball keeps flying into the goal.

      In their early experiences with soccer, we want young players to shoot on goal as much as possible because striking the ball is such an important skill for players to master. Young kids are more likely to shoot often when there's no goalkeeper. With a goalkeeper there, they become apprehensive, looking for the perfect shot that they are not physically mature enough to pull off.

      Nor are the very young kids physically prepared to make saves. They may get in front of a tough shot now and again, but they just don't have the tools for the position's requirements and are inclined to feel devastated when scored upon.

      Also, not using goalkeepers makes the coach's job much easier because the coach doesn't need to cajole players into taking turns in goal.

      Coaches and parents who have soccer knowledge, but not much experience with coaching young children, are most often the proponents of including goalkeepers in soccer games with even our youngest kids. They mean well, but don't realize that there is a more effective way of teaching soccer skills at this early age.

      The use of goalkeepers at such young ages creates a temptation for the coach to make his bigger and more advanced athletes play goalkeeper, because this will greatly increase his team's chances of winning. In other words, the use of goalkeepers encourages the results-driven approach to coaching that hinders long-term player development and can suck the fun out of soccer. The players who are more advanced athletically at the young ages shouldn't be kept from enjoying field play so that the coach can rack up some wins.

      In the worst-case scenario, players who are forced to play goalkeeper at the early ages lose their enthusiasm for the soccer.

      When goalkeepers are used, at the U-10 level for example, the goalkeepers should be rotated frequently. Even players who enjoy playing goalkeeper should not be restricted to the position and should get plenty of time playing in the field. Players shouldn't specialize at any one position until they are well into their teens.

      Many of the nation's best goalkeepers - Hope Solo, Tim Howard, Brad Friedel and AYSO alum Brad Guzan - spent much of their youth as field players. This not only prevented them from burning out on the position, but honed great foot skills and their ability to read the game, which is crucial to being a good goalkeeper.

      Do you have any questions for Coach John?  Let us know!


    February 22, 2011

    Question: My U-10 boys' practices are frequently disorganized. The players seem more interested in throwing balls at each other, wrestling, and lying down on the field than in doing any drills. It seems all they're interested in is scrimmaging, which we do for about half of every practice. I'm considering doing scrimmages for the entire practice. What suggestions do you have?

    • Answer: Players learn by playing, so there's nothing wrong with scrimmaging (playing a lot of small-sided games). In fact, your practices should simulate the games they play on weekends. These boys spend all day in school, sitting in class and following instructions. It's natural that they'll be rambunctious when they hit the field. Letting them play soccer - instead of doing drills — is just what they want and need.

      Try various forms of fun, competitive games, like 1-v-1, in which they try to dribble past each other to the other side of a grid. All variations of small-sided games -  2-v-2, 3-v-3 and so on - keep them active and help them learn soccer skills. Also try scrimmaging with multiple goals, giving each team two goals to shoot on, for example. Scrimmaging in a variety of formats will have them working on the same individual skills that the drills do - but it will be more fun and more effective, because they'll be in game-like situations.

      Don't hesitate to scrimmage all practice long.

      Do you have any questions for Coach John? Send them in and we'll cover the answers in Hey Coach!

      Is there a coach in your Region that you would like to nominate to be Hey Coach's Coach of the Month?  Let us know!


    February 15, 2011

    Question: Many of my U-14 and U-12 players have Facebook pages. Recently, they discovered that I also have one. Now I'm getting friend requests from 14 year olds. As much as I'd like to keep in touch, an adult 'friending' a child I'm not related to seems a bit creepy. I'm aware that some individuals will create a secondary profile and tie it to a Region Facebook page. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Answer: It's hard to believe that social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn and Twitter were barely heard of five years ago! Today, Facebook alone boasts over 500 million users worldwide, with 11 percent of its users under the age of 18. While Facebook is a useful communication tool and another way to build connections with your players, there are also potential problems that can arise for you as a volunteer coach.

      Coaches should not use Facebook as a means of communicating with your players. "Friending" players on Facebook can give way to misconduct, misunderstandings and accusations. For these reasons, AYSO strongly recommends that coaches, and all other adult volunteers, do not friend minor AYSO players on Facebook, or communicate with them through any other social media.

      Some Regions have created Facebook pages that are used for everything from notifying players of upcoming tournaments or other events to sharing photos of games. Parents and volunteers can also share game-day and tournament photos with Shutterfly - a safe and easy photo sharing site that makes preserving AYSO memories simple.

      Also, if you'd like, you can show support for your Region by "liking" their Facebook page, and connect with other volunteers and parents in your community.

      You are certainly not the only coach facing this concern, as there are currently almost 500 AYSO-related profiles or groups on Facebook! When utilized in the right way, Facebook can be a great resource for you as a volunteer coach.


    February 8, 2011

    Question: I have nine players on my team. Four are 7-year-olds and five are 6-year-olds. The problem is in a game situation, the players are not playing as a team. Rather, each of them plays as an individual, except for a couple of them who go to same school and are in the same grade. Nine players are from four different schools. Do you have any thoughts how I can build the team and develop trust among each other?

    • Answer: What you describe is perfectly normal regardless of whether players go to the same school. At this age level, the team concept is beyond their comprehension. Some may be showing signs of some simple teamwork, but don't expect them to start stringing a series of passes together or to work as a unit.

      Most important is that the players start becoming comfortable with the ball by playing fun games in practice. Slowly, over time, they'll begin understanding how to combine these ball skills with other teammates. Do not try to force players at this age to play in organized, disciplined fashion, because it will interfere with their natural development.

      Sigi Schmid, who coached AYSO soccer before going to the college and pro ranks, explains how young players learn the game: "The first thing is, 'It's me and the ball.' The second is, 'It's me and the ball and where's the opponent?' Then it's, 'It's me and the ball, and where's the opponent, where's my teammate?' He's taking on more information. That's how he develops."

      As far as integrating players who aren't as familiar with each other, mix teams up when you play small-sided games in practice. When they play 2-v-2, pair up players who don't go to the same school.


    February 1, 2011

    Question: What's behind AYSO's policy of requiring all U-8 coaches to get coaching certification?

    • Answer: The initiative, which begins Aug. 1, 2011, will require all coaches and assistant coaches in the U-8 division to complete AYSO's age-appropriate training and have AYSO Safe Haven certification before they step on the field. This initiative is another move to ensure that every AYSO child has the best possible soccer learning experience. All coaches in the U-6 division were required to meet these standards starting last year, in August 2010.

      The U-8 age group brings youngsters into organized sports at a young age and how they are coached will have a major impact on whether or not they embrace soccer and even physical activity or other sports participation..

      AYSO's coaching courses stress an age-appropriate approach that helps coaches create a fun soccer environment and educates coaches on what to expect from players at each age level. One of the biggest problems in youth coaching is applying training methods that are too advanced for a particular age group.

      The courses have been designed using extensive research in child education and the way soccer players the world over are developed, technically and tactically. We have found that coaches - whether they're novices or have a deep background in soccer - come out of AYSO courses with more confidence, which leads to more enjoyment for them and their players.

      The coach training policy will continue to roll forward, adding one additional level of required age-specific coach training each year until, by the 2015 membership year, every AYSO coach and assistant coach at every level will be appropriately trained for the team they will coach.

      AYSO is increasing its efforts to deliver this important training in more locations and more frequently. Regions can and should look to their Area and Section Coaching staffs to secure additional support in staging this training.

      U-8 coaching certification can be done with an online training course that will provide full certification for a prospective coach when a live course is unavailable.


    January 25, 2011

    Question: Is it a good idea to single out a couple of players for 'extra effort,' 'nice pass,' 'great goal' after a game or does it make the others feel bad?

    • Answer: The answer is yes! One of the best things you can do as coach is to give players some concise one-on-one feedback. You don't need to stand up in front of the whole team and say, "That was a great goal, Sally!" But you can bend down to Sally after the game and deliver your praise.

      In fact, coaches should strive to say something positive to each of their players individually at each practice and game. This is easily accomplished if you are looking for the good things your players are doing. So whenever you have a chance, you can quickly look a player in the eye with a friendly smile and say something positive about his or her play.

      It can be a simple, "Good job today, Johnny!" Or something more specific when possible, such as: "Anika, I liked the way you used your left foot today!" ... "I saw how you dribbled past three players!" ... or to the goalkeeper, "No biggie about goals they scored, you made a great save on their No. 9's shot!"

      And coaches, remember: a smile is worth a 1,000 words!


    January 18, 2011

    Question: The parents on the team I coach complain about the referee all the time. Should I be concerned or is that just part of sports?

    • Answer: The ref criticism must stop. There is no upside to diverting the children's focus from playing the game to an "injustice" by the referee. There is, however, a good case to be made for allowing children to deal with a referee's decision without their parents' interference.

      Most of the sideline ref criticism is unfounded and a referee's errors in youth soccer are generally insignificant. But even if a call is unfair, it's better for the players' long-term development if the adults allow them to cope on their own. Complaining about the officiating within earshot of young players teaches them to blame others when things don't go their way.


    January 11, 2011

    Question: What advice can you give me on inspiring and encouraging my U-10 team that loses every single game? I believe my players all learn some great skills and have fun, but game days are disappointing.

    • Answer: It's a fact that the final scores at the youth level aren't an indication of which players are becoming better soccer players. Nor do final scores determine how much fun kids are having while they're on the soccer field. But in today's world of organized youth sports - in which children play to an adult audience - the final scorelines can become an issue.

      First of all, don't convey any disappointment in the final results to your players. Your players read your body language. If you look upset, they will be more likely to get down on themselves after a loss. Always greet them with a smile when they walk off the field.

      If you believe they need encouragement, communicate to them the positives of their performance. If they gave up more goals in the first half, tell them you were proud that they did better in the second half.

      Break the game down into periods: "Hey guys, we 'won' the third quarter and we were awesome in the first quarter."

      Emphasize the positives. While you're watching the game, keep note of the successful things your team does, and point them out after the game. "That team was really good. But in the fourth quarter we made four passes in a row and almost scored. Beautiful stuff out there!"

      And have short conversations individually with your players. Try and remember any good dribbling moves, passes, shots or defensive plays your players make. Go up to each of them and briefly tell them what you saw: "Peggy, you stole the ball from their tall girl and then hit a really nice pass"..."Joe, you almost scored with that shot! That was a good save their keeper made. I couldn't have stopped that!"..."Susie, you used your left foot today. Bravo!"..."Jack, make sure you have a good lunch, because I can't believe how much you ran today!"


    December 14, 2010

    Question: Should I have my players do off season conditioning to prepare for next season?

    • Answer: Well coach, I think there are a lot of issues that come into play when you talk about off season and preseason conditioning. You have to understand that young players really play a lot. Most of us are really concerned about conditioning when we really should be concerned with their overuse and how much they are playing.

      Many moms and dads think that off season conditioning will lead to better players. I believe it leads to players who have been playing all year and don't have fresh bodies and fresh minds. The mind and body are things that need to be refreshed, so players are anxious to come back and play next year - and this means getting away from the sport.

      I understand that we as coaches want our players to come in the best shape they possibly can, but we don't have the ability to require off season conditioning. And, even if we gave them a plan to do off season conditioning, many of them wouldn't follow that plan. My recommendation is to give your players the off season off. I think you'll have athletes who come back healthier and ready to play when the season starts.


    December 7, 2010

    Question: I'm a U-8 coach, and a few of my players are on the younger side. Those players have a tendency to zone out during practices. Do you have any advice on what I can do?

    • Answer: At the younger ages, we want to give them a taste of the game and a positive experience. Last year, I coached a U-8 boys team and you're right, it's hard! My team's name was the American Screaming Eagles, and they could scream.

      They are 6-and 7-year-olds, so they want to play! They play hard and they work hard. In my U-8 practices, I play a lot of 2-v-2 and I try to make sure the younger ones get a chance to play with the older ones. It's a lot more game realistic and they will enjoy it more.

      Most coaches put goals on the end lines, but I want you to try moving them around. Take a goal from the end lines and put one central. Put three goals out on the grid you're working at. Playing the same games you normally do with your team - whether its dribbling or passing through the gates - while changing the location of the goals will give the game a whole different look to the kids.

      You can also try reducing their practice time. They've been to school all day, they've worked hard and everyone's been telling them what to do. They don't want to come and practice - they want to play, so make sure you're playing them.


    November 30, 2010

    Question: How do I know if my players are improving?

    • Answer: The progress children make isn't measured by wins and losses, but rather by how they're improving on their individual skills and comprehension of the game.

      Watch your players closely and you'll notice their progress - and you'll be able to explain it to parents in case they're only focused on the final score. When a player figures out how to control the ball while being aware of what's going on around him or her, that's a huge achievement, regardless of how the game ends. It's very difficult to dribble while looking up and weighing the options. When a young player begins doing that, it's worth a celebration.

      Here's an example of a young player acquiring awareness of the game:

      An 8-year-old dribbles toward the goal and realizes there are two defenders there. Because she's reading the game, she pulls back the ball and goes to her midfield. At this point, her grandmother yells, "You're going the wrong way." But while the two defenders chase her away from the front of the goal, the girl puts on the brakes and the defenders blow past her. The girl turns around and heads back toward the goal to score.

      Here's where the player read the game better than her grandmother: She knew she needed to create space for herself and was aware enough of her surroundings to figure out how to do it. She had the technical ability to pull off a clever tactical move.

      That's an important achievement for a young player and when parents (or grandparents) realize that, they begin to understand that the final score isn't the yardstick they should use to measure their children's progress.


    November 23, 2010

    Question: I have a great player but he's a ball hog and I can't get him to pass enough. What should I do?

    • Answer: Coach, are you saying that you have a player who is very comfortable on the ball or are you saying he is making bad decisions? Pele, Diego Maradona, Mia Hamm and Marta were probably called "ball hogs" when they were really just confident little kids enjoying the thrills of dribbling while becoming some of the best players the world has ever seen.

      But they played lots of soccer in their early years without adults around. The other kids - not adults on the sideline - were telling them when to pass.

      Players who don't "share" enough will begin to feel the peer pressure to pass and are more likely to respond to that than adult instruction.

      Teamwork is a concept that is gradually comprehended by children and they generally figure it out on their own. The art of deciding when to pass and when to go it alone isn't something that should be dictated from the sideline.

      Dribbling is the foundation for all soccer skills - ball control, passing, shooting - and should be encouraged.

      At the very early ages, players should never be discouraged from dribbling. As they get older, practice games in which passing is rewarded can be incorporated. For example, set up a scrimmage (short-sided game) in which a one-two (also known as give-and-go or wall pass) counts as a goal. Or try games with "gates" in which a team gets one point when a player dribbles through the gate/goal and two points if a pass is sent successfully through the cones to a teammate.


    November 16, 2010

    Question: I play my players by position (forwards, midfielders and defense) but I am having difficulty teaching the kids how to play their 'zones' or 'area' and not go after the ball. How can I teach the zone concept and assure them that the ball will come to them?

    • Answer: First of all, don't discourage players to go after the ball. Going after the ball is a natural instinct that shouldn't be stifled.

      At the very young ages, children don't need be assigned "positions." As they progress and the concept of positions is introduced, it's very important not to shackle them. Explain the basic responsibilities of positions, but also give them the freedom to figure things out on their own.

      It may be counter-intuitive, but the less you stress positions, the more likely players are to comprehend good positioning. That's because soccer is a fluid game and the ability to figure out how to be in the right place at the right time comes from exploring the game and learning by trial and error.

      Indeed, one of the most distressing things one witnesses in youth soccer is when players aren't allowed to move past the halfway line because they're "defenders."

      Tell the players what the various positions are, but don't restrict them to zones on the field when the game starts. Most important is that young players learn to solve the challenges of the small battles - 1-v-1, 2-v-1, 2-v-2, etc. The best way for them to learn to deal with time and space, how to move around on the field, and how to work with their teammates, is by playing lots of soccer - not by becoming the coach's chess pieces.


    November 9, 2010

    Question: I have players who hate to run laps, to the extent that it keeps them from coming to practice. Some coaches say that running laps builds up the stamina to outlast the other team during a game. I think it puts me at odds with what we're out here for - letting them have fun. Is running around the field necessary?

    • Answer: No. Running laps is not necessary. That kind of running doesn't replicate the physical challenges posed by a soccer game, it wastes time that could be spent with the ball and running laps isn't fun for the kids.

      The best way to get players physically fit to play soccer is by letting them play soccer - and small-sided soccer is the best thing a coach can do to work on conditioning.

      Playing small-sided games will actually get them to run more than they do during the official games because with a small number of players on each team, players are much less likely to stand around waiting for the ball to come to them. In small-sided games, such as 2v2, 3v3, and 4v4, players are always in the middle of the action. This means they're moving and getting an aerobic workout.

      A soccer game requires players to alternate between sprints, jogs and recovery. Players sprint for the ball or to keep track of opponents. They jog to get into position. They recover when the opportunity presents itself, such as when the ball goes out of bounds. A good soccer practice replicates this.

      There are so many ways to keep players moving and improving their aerobic fitness while getting touches on the ball that you don't need to resort to running laps. You can find a variety of fun practice games on our Coach Training Games page.


    November 2, 2010

    Question: "I keep hearing it's a good idea to encourage kids to juggle. But it's not something they do in a game, so why is it so important?"

    • Answer:Tapping the ball in the air over and over means they're learning to hit the sweet spot while developing a good touch.

      Juggling with feet, thighs and all controlling surfaces trains players to be comfortable with the ball and develops striking and controlling skills. It helps with foot-eye coordination, and is a great way to work on balance. It also develops the weak foot.

      A key to developing soccer skills is to play with the ball as much as possible, and juggling can be done anytime, anywhere and by one's self.

      If you can encourage your players to juggle, you're giving them a way to work on their skills outside of organized practice and games. One way to inspire them is to give them incentives, maybe even small prizes when they reach a certain number.

      You can set a team goal - when all the players' individual juggling records total a specified and reasonably attainable number, they get an ice cream party after a practice, for example.

      You, as coach or parent, can try as well. Even if you don't have a soccer background, learning how to juggle will help motivate your child when you do it together and compare each other's progress.

      It's difficult at first, so have them let the ball bounce in between. Ask them to drop it on their thigh or foot once and then catch it. Then go for two, and so on. The more they advance, the more fun it gets, and the more they juggle.


    October 12, 2010

    Question: I coach too much on the ball and during the game. Are there specific techniques to use to help me not over-coach - especially on the ball?

    • Answer: Bring a folding chair and watch the game while seated in the technical area (AYSO recommends a technical area for our coaches). If you're sitting down, instead of prowling the sidelines, you're less likely to be screaming instructions.

      Also, try taking notes during the game. If you see something you want to comment on, write it down instead of screaming. Track your player's touches, especially the ones that had a positive result.

      Was the team more successful when the whole team attacked? Was the flank exposed? Tracking these things will also remind you what to address at practice or at halftime.

      Another idea is to sit next to somebody. Perhaps your husband or wife (who will tell you when you're coaching too much) - or your assistant - and when you feel like yelling, share your observation with your spouse or assistant instead.


    October 5, 2010

    Question: What should I say to parents who complain about losing?

    • Answer:This is a parent issue, not a player issue. One of the things I would recommend you do is talk with the parents during the preseason or after the game, explaining that winning isn't going to judge whether you are a good team or a bad team. Some days, some seasons you just don't win. What's important is: are they getting a chance to play? Are they learning? Are they trying their best? Are they enjoying the game? Are they enjoying each other, and are they having fun? If we can only enjoy the game and enjoy each other when we win, then we've lost the concept of youth sports and what they should be all about. I promise you the kids are about having fun, playing as hard as they can, and the outcome, whatever it is, they can live with it. So coach, talk to your parents. They are the ones that have the problem. Seems like you have it in perspective and I'm sure your players do too.

       


    September 14, 2010

    Question: The father of a player on my team keeps screaming instructions at his son during games. Most of them don't even make sense. What should I do?

    • Answer: Children need to make their own decisions during a game in order to truly master soccer's challenges. Screaming at them while they're playing hurts their ability to focus and learn how to read the game. One of the biggest complaints of high-level coaches is that players lack creativity and decision-making acumen because they were sideline-coached in their early years.

      If the "problem dad" keeps yelling at the next game, then it's time talk to him one-on-one. Tell him you are all ears to his opinions on his son's play, but the sideline screaming must stop.

      Point out that young children don't learn much about playing soccer from instructions, especially when the instructions are shouted. They learn by playing. They'll play more if they enjoy it. And they're more likely to enjoy it if adults aren't screaming at them.

      Another option is to send out an e-mail to the parents or parent meeting, mention the perils of sideline-coaching. You don't need to single out the dad; just remind the parents that they shouldn't coach from the sidelines because the kids need to explore the game on their own terms. Explain that you, the coach, will give tips one-on-one to your players when you think it's helpful.

      Kids Zone is AYSO's initiative to help parents understand they must be sideline cheerleaders not critics. Visit Kids Zone to learn more. 

    September 21, 2010

    Question: I have a problem with some of my players not showing up for practices. How should I handle this?

    • Almost all kids who miss practices miss them not because they don't want to come, but because mom or dad doesn't get them to practice. We don't want to punish the kids because their parents aren't getting them to practice.

      Why does this happen? Parents know that AYSO guarantees that each player plays at least half of every game. If the parents have other priorities, they just don't take their kid to practice. Some Regions across the country have guaranteed at least three quarters a game - even if they don't attend practice - and I think that's a great thing.

      So what can a coach do? Make every practice so much fun that those kids bug their parents and give them heck if they don't get them to practice. Make it a good time!

      Also, have a talk with the parents. Ask them why their child is missing practices. Is there a transportation problem? Maybe a car pool can be worked out. Have a gentle, friendly conversation with the players who miss practices. The answers may help you come up with a solution.

      If your practices keep the children active playing the wonderful game of soccer - as opposed to standing in line to do drills or listening to lectures - the kids will try hard to make sure they get delivered to the practice field.

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      September 7, 2010

      Question: What is the easiest way to assign jersey numbers?

      • Answer: I'm an old school coach, and used to hand out numbers and tell them that this is the number you will wear. Now that I'm getting a little more mature in my coaching ability, I think it's a great opportunity for a coach to bond with his team. I recommend two things. A jersey drawing - so you put all the jerseys in the bag and the kids pick them out, but before they pick out their jersey they have to get in a drawing to get the order they will be picking out of the bag. So if the first player reaches in and pulled out number five from the drawing, that player will be fifth to pick out a jersey from the jersey bag. You'll find that it's a great icebreaker and that the kids love that. It's fair, and everyone will have a good time. What I also recommend for the coach is to put a note on each of the jerseys as to who was the famous person who wore that jersey. For example, David Beckham wears this number or Mia Hamm wore the number you picked. It takes a little time for the coach, but it's a lot of fun for the kids.

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      August 31, 2010

      Question: How do I deal with disruptive parents?

      • Answer: Remember the importance of a parents meeting. A parents meeting is critical, and at that point make sure you talk to your coaches about team management. Part of that team management is not only developing team goals and developing your coaching philosophy, but there is one part that says conduct a parents meeting. A lot of new coaches and even older, experience coaches think they don't have to do that or shouldn't do that. That it might be too much to ask a parent to come to a parents meeting. It's critical. You want to set those standards right away about how you expect them to behave. Talk about several things. Talk about the AYSO Philosophies, discuss team goals, but most importantly in your team parents meetings talk about the players' behaviors and discuss your expectations for the players and the parents at practices, at games and after games. There is also a piece that we call the players and parents pledge-make sure you get a copy of that. You can find it in the coaching manual. Make sure you get a copy to each one of the parents. It will help your game day behavior.

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      August 24, 2010

      Question: With the new season here, I'm afraid some players on my team will be out of shape and struggle in practices and games. How can I get them into shape?

      • Answer: First of all, reject the old-school approach for kids. Running laps will only increase the chances that they'll avoid physical activity, because that's not fun and it can be humiliating. However, all coaches must understand that conditioning is part of training, so instead of running laps, let the kids play! That's right-just let them play.

        One idea is to have the kids play small-sided games in short intervals. For example, you can set up 2-v-2 games that last for a few minutes and then give the players a short rest before starting another 2-v-2 game. It's like circuit training. After a little rest, the kids may be more eager to play again.

        You can also introduce variations of small-sided games. Take your best player and pair him or her up with the out of shape child. Tell them the aim is that both players score. The players will try hard to score and won't even realize they're "working."

        The beauty of soccer is that it demands physical exertion but can be so much fun that it doesn't feel like exercise.

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      July 20, 2010

      Question: My son had a concussion last season, can I let him play this season?

      • Answer: The question really is should you let him play before he's been medically cleared. The answer is absolutely no. I don't care if it was yesterday, last season or last year. Until your son has been medically cleared from the concussion to go back and play, please don't let him play. However there is a general rule for all coaches, if you have players that have head-to-head contact or run into a goal post and you need to take them out of the game or a practice situation, do not put them back in. Send them home; get them medically cleared and then when they come back, make sure they've been medically cleared. Just remember, you never diagnose or treat, you only prevent. Most head cases you cannot prevent. Make sure they come back with a medical release, not just the parents say so.

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      July 13, 2010

      Question: "My daughter had a bad experience at a soccer camp. Do you have any suggestions?"

      • Answer: AYSO Soccer Camps! We are in the middle of our camp season, so check with your Regional Commissioner about AYSO Camps in your area. We have day camps across the country for players 4-16 years old. I highly recommend AYSO Soccer Camps for a couple of reasons. One is that I review and approve all curriculum, so kids learn soccer and develop their skills in a positive, supportive environment. Another reason is that all the coaches at AYSO camps are trained and certified by AYSO. They start by being soccer knowledgeable, but we train them how to teach soccer the right way. I also highly recommend the annual AYSO residential camp in Southern California for players 12-17. This is the most positive soccer development experience they will ever attend. For more information visit www.AYSO.org/Camps to find an AYSO camp near you.

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      June 15, 2010

      Question: "Should I have my players do off season conditioning to prepare for next season?"

      • Answer: I think there are a lot of issues that come into play when you talk about off season and preseason conditioning. You have to understand that young players really, really play a lot. We adults, don't always understand that.

        Most of us are concerned about conditioning when we really should be more concerned with their overuse and how much they are playing. Many moms and dads think that off season conditioning will lead to better players. And, what However, I believe it leads to is players who have been playing all year and don't have fresh bodies and fresh minds.

        The mind and body are things that need to be refreshed, so they are anxious to come back and play. When I talk about rest, I'm talking about getting away from the sport. I truly understand that we as coaches want our players to come in the best shape they possibly can, but we don't have the ability to really train off season conditioning. And, even if we gave them a plan to do off season conditioning, many of them wouldn't follow that plan. My recommendation is to give your players the off season off. Truly let them take it off. I think you'll have athletes who come back healthier are ready to play when the season starts.

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      June 8, 2010

      Question: "Why does AYSO recommend no goalkeepers in U-8? Is this really soccer?"

      • Answer: Soccer games without goalkeepers provide a better experience for 5, 6 and 7-year-olds for several reasons, which is why not only AYSO but also U.S. Soccer, the national governing body of soccer in America, discourages the use of goalkeepers at the U-8 level and below.It's the right way to teach soccer for these young ages.

        First of all, the goalkeeper is denied a chance to run around and chase the ball. The boy or girl who must guard the goal is being prevented from doing what he or she signed up for - play soccer!

        Depending on the game, the young goalkeeper is also likely to get bored (if the action is on the other end) or get discouraged if the ball keeps flying into the goal.

        In their early experience with soccer, we want young players to shoot on goal as much as possible, because striking the ball is such an important skill for players to master. Young kids are more likely to shoot often when they're aiming at a goalkeeper-free net. With a goalkeeper there, they become apprehensive, looking for the perfect shot that they are not physically mature enough to pull off.

        Nor are the very young kids physically prepared to make saves. They may get in front of a tough shot now and again, but they just don't have the tools for the position's requirements and are inclined to feel devastated when scored upon.

        In fact, not using goalkeepers makes the coach's job much easier because the coach doesn't need to cajole players to take turns in goal.

        Coaches and parents who have soccer knowledge, but not much experience with coaching young children, are most often the proponents of including goalkeepers in soccer games with even our youngest kids. They mean well, but don't realize that there is a more effective way of teaching soccer skills at this early age.

        The use of goalkeepers at such young ages creates a temptation for the coach to make his bigger and more advanced athletes play goalkeeper, because this will greatly increase his team's chances of winning. In other words, the use of goalkeepers encourages the results-driven approach to coaching that hinders long-term player development and can suck the fun out of soccer. The players who are more advanced athletically at the young ages shouldn't be kept from enjoying field play so that the coach can rack up some wins.

        In the worst-case scenario, players who are forced to play goalkeeper at the early ages lose their enthusiasm for the soccer.

        When goalkeepers are used, at the U-10 level for example, the goalkeepers should be rotated frequently. Even players who enjoy playing goalkeeper should not be restricted to the position and should get plenty of time playing in the field. Players shouldn't specialize at any one position until they are well into their teens.

        Many of the nation's best goalkeepers - Hope Solo, Tim Howard, Brad Friedel and AYSO alum Brad Guzan - spent much of their youth as field players. This not only prevented them from burning out on the position, but honed the foot skills goalkeepers need and their ability to read the game, which is crucial to being good goalkeeper.

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      June 2, 2010

      Question: "Many of my U-14 and U-12 players have Facebook pages. Recently, they discovered that I also had one. Now I'm getting friend requests from 14 year olds. As much as I'd like to keep in touch, an adult 'friending' a child I'm not related to is a bit creepy and seems to invite the evening news. I am aware that some individuals will create a secondary profile and tie it to a Region Facebook page. Do you have any suggestions?"

      • Answer: It's hard to believe that social networking sites like Facebook, My Space, LinkedIn, Friendster, Plaxo and Hi5 were barely heard of five years ago! Today, Facebook alone boasts over 115 million users worldwide, with 17 percent of its users under the age of 18. While Facebook is a useful communication tool and another way to build connections with your players, there are also potential problems that can arise for you as a volunteer coach. For example, once someone "friends" you on Facebook, they can see everything you post on your profile, but you might have personal items on there that you don't want your 14-year-old players to see. To keep your personal life and coaching life separate, if you are going to use Facebook as a means of communicating with your players and their parents, you should create two different profiles - one for AYSO and another for your non-AYSO friends. Having two different profiles can help avoid any perceived impropriety as well; since parents might be confused as to why you appear on their 12-year-old's friend list (even though Facebook prohibits children under the age of 13 from having their own accounts, younger kids do seem to be using the site). For these reasons, it's better to have a separate AYSO-only profile - it will keep from misunderstandings in the future.

        Some Regions have also created Facebook groups that are used for everything from keeping teams in touch, to notifying players of upcoming practices or other events and sharing photos of games. It is very important that if you create an AYSO-related group that you ensure the privacy setting is set to at least "closed," which means that you, as the Administrator, will have to approve any new members to the group. You must also monitor the content of the group page, ensuring that it is being used appropriately by the members and immediately removing any content that is inappropriate. You are certainly not the only coach facing this concern, as there are currently almost 500 AYSO-related profiles or groups on Facebook! Used carefully, Facebook can be a great resource for you as a coach.

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      May 25, 2010

      Question: What's behind AYSO's new policy of requiring all U-6 coaches to get coaching certification?

      • Answer: The initiative, which beginning Aug. 1, 2010, requires all coaches and assistant coaches in the U-6 division to have AYSO's age-appropriate training and AYSO Safe Haven certification when they step on the field, is another move to ensure that every AYSO child has the best possible soccer learning experience.

        The U-6 age group brings youngsters into organized sports at a tender age. How they are coached will have a major impact on whether they embrace the sport.

        AYSO's coaching courses stress an age-appropriate approach that helps coaches create a fun soccer environment and educates coaches on what to expect from players at each age level. One of the biggest problems in youth coaching is applying training methods that are too advanced for a particular age group.

        The courses have been designed using extensive research in child education and the way soccer players the world over are developed, technically and tactically. And we have found that coaches - whether they're novices or have a deep background in soccer - come out of AYSO courses with more confidence, which leads to more enjoyment for them and their players.

        The new coach training policy will roll forward each year, adding one additional level of required age-specific coach training until, by the 2015 membership year, every AYSO coach and assistant coach at every level will be appropriately trained for the team they will coach.

        AYSO is increasing its efforts to deliver this important training in more locations and more frequently. Regions can and should look to their Area and Section Coaching staffs to secure additional support in staging this training.

        U-6 coaching certification can be done with an online training course that will provide full certification for a prospective coach when a live course is unavailable.

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      May 18, 2010

      Question: I'm definitely going to be watching World Cup games this summer. Is there anything specific I should be looking for to help me be a better coach?

      • Answer: First of all, enjoy the games! Be a fan! And try and get your players to watch the games. You can entice them by pointing out that Landon Donovan played AYSO just like they do. Encourage them to pick favorite players and teams, and to follow their progress.

        As far using the games to learn more about game, focus on the players' individual skills, not so much the team tactics. Youth soccer is not expected to resemble high-level professional soccer.

        You'll find yourself amazed at Spain's fine passing game (my pick to win it all), but don't expect your youngsters to play such sophisticated soccer. Although, if you can get your players to watch these games, it will help them progress. And hopefully they'll try to emulate the skills they see on TV.

        Most important, being a World Cup fan this summer will continue to build your passion for the game, which leads to more enjoyment when you're on the field.

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      May 11, 2010

      Question: I often yell at the kids from the sidelines, but it's all positive and "directional." Getting them into position when they drift, telling them when a player is approaching them, when they have time to settle the ball, etc. One day I stopped and my son asked me: "Why didn't you let me know what was happening during this game?" Is there a place for directional coaching, or is it all just screaming?

      • Answer: You answered your own question, Coach. The fact that a player expected your advice is exactly why you shouldn't be instructing during a game.

        If, at this crucial stage of their development, you tell players what they should do and when they should do it, they will be lost when they can no longer depend on sideline advice. Despite your good intentions, you are denying them the chance to learn how to read the game.

        Soccer requires making split-second decisions. "Should I pass, shoot or dribble?" Players must learn to deal with time and space, and how to move around - to combine with teammates and how to anticipate the opponents' movements. Mastering this is a gradual process that requires the freedom to experiment and learn from trial and error.

        Telling them when and how to make decisions interferes with their natural learning process. If they are to become high-level players they must be allowed to play without coach interference. Besides, this is their playtime, and they have a right to play without adults dictating how.

        You may have good advice for them. If so, you can give it at halftime or - better yet - during practice. ("Take your time to settle the ball. You don't need to kick it right away.")

        But the best thing you can do to help players learn how to read the game is put them in small-sided game situations during practice. All of soccer, at every level, is constantly about 2 vs. 2 situations. The more they face this challenge in practice, the more likely they are to figure out the best options.

        And finally, the truly great players are those who improvise and do the unpredictable. If, at a young age they become dependent on sideline instruction, they are less likely become creative, intelligent players.

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      May 3, 2010

      Question: It seems like soccer's a pretty simple game. Why should I take courses and get "certified" to coach little kids?

      • Answer: You'd want your children's teachers to be trained, right? The classroom may be far more challenging than the soccer field, and children's soccer is mostly about playing. But coaches, like teachers, will be more successful if they understand the stages of development of the children they coach.

        That's why AYSO courses focus on an age-appropriate approach. Even someone who has long been around the game - watched it, played it, and coached it - will benefit from learning about how motor skills and social development differ from ages 6 to 8 to 10, and so on.

        This is also why we encourage continued education, as a coach moves through different age groups.

        For those without much of a soccer background, AYSO's courses provide a fun way to familiarize you with the game. We have also found - time and time again - that our courses give coaches that extra confidence that really helps when they hit the field and are greeted by an energetic group of young children.

        The courses also provide a chance to exchange ideas and experiences while meeting fellow coaches. To make coaching education as convenient as possible, AYSO also provides online certification.

        Spring is the time to take advantage of AYSO's coaching education opportunities. Visit the Training Course page for more information, or call the AYSO national office at 1-800-872-2976.

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      April 27, 2010

      Question: My daughter has a coach who screams so much at the players that it's becoming dangerous. He screams at them whenever there's a one-on-one battle, and many girls dive right in. Players are getting hurt. How do you deal with a coach like that?

      • Answer: First of all, I don't want any screaming at children from coaches. Screaming has no place in youth soccer. It takes the fun out of playing and it doesn't help create better players.

        The scenario you describe is, of course, particularly disturbing. When players face a one-on-one battle they need to focus on the ball. To be screamed at only throws off their focus. It is simply counter-productive, and, as you point out, dangerous.

        The defender wants to keep her ground and make a move for the ball at exactly the right time. If the defender prematurely lunges at the attacker, the defender is giving the advantage to the attacker. For a coach to scream at a defender to make the first move makes no soccer sense.

        A defending player's first aim is to prevent the attacker from moving past her. It's a matter of proper body positioning and can be trained during practices. (Lead with the shoulder, one foot in front of the other, so you can shuffle laterally.)

        That's a matter of soccer technique. Most important is that this coach is out of control. And he might not even know it. It's true! The screamers often don't even realize they're screaming. They get caught up in the moment.

        So the first step is indeed to talk to the coach: "Do you realize you're constantly screaming at the players?" That alone might make him reflect on his behavior.

        If this doesn't work, and the coach actually believes that this screaming approach is acceptable, it should be addressed by the administrators of the league.

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      April 20, 2010

      Question: How can I get my players to listen when I am talking, especially during halftime?

      • Answer: If they're not paying attention, it could be because you're talking too much.

        Halftime isn't the time for a training session. If you have some advice that might help the players, limit yourself to one or, at the maximum, two suggestions.

        Address the team not when they come off the field, but after they've had their orange slices and water, shortly before the second half begins. That's when players will perk up and listen, because they'll want hear whether they're starting out on the field or as a sub. Then you make your one or two concise suggestions.

        The most effective approach, if you believe you have information that can help a player, is to give advice one-on-one while looking the player in the eye.

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      April 13, 2010

      Question: I have players who hate to run laps, to the extent that it keeps them from coming to practice. Some coaches say that running laps builds up the stamina to outlast the other team during a game. I think it puts me at odds with what we're out here for - letting them have fun. Is running around the field necessary?

      • Answer: No. Running laps is not necessary. That kind of running doesn't replicate the physical challenges posed by a soccer game, it wastes time that could be spent with the ball, and running laps isn't fun for the kids.

        The best way to get players physically fit to play soccer is by letting them play soccer - and small-sided soccer is the best thing a coach can do to work on conditioning.

        Playing small-sided games will actually get them to run more than they do during the official games because with a small number of players on each team, players are much less likely to stand around waiting for the ball to come to them. In small-sided games, such as 2v2, 3v3, and 4v4, players are always in the middle of the action. This means they're moving and getting an aerobic workout.

        A soccer game requires players to alternate between sprints, jogs and recovery. Players sprint for the ball or to keep track of opponents. They jog to get into position. They recover when the opportunity presents itself, such as when the ball goes out of bounds. A good soccer practice replicates this.

        There are so many ways to keep players moving and improving their aerobic fitness while getting touches on the ball that you don't need to resort to running laps. You can find a variety of fun practice games on our Coach Training Games page.

        So remember, no laps and lots of small-sided games.

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      April 6, 2010

      Question: "I see many parents of children as young as 5, 6 or 7 wanting them to play U-9 or even U-10. Is this OK? Can you advise on this?"

      • Answer: As an organization, we discourage children from playing out of their age group. It has also been my experience that the idea of playing up is one that is usually advocated by the parents - not a reflection of what the children want to do.

        The desire to have their children play with older kids usually comes from the perception that advanced players are better off playing alongside players of a higher skill level. But it is a misconception that they won't improve if their teammates aren't as advanced.

        Instead of worrying that a talented player's development is being impeded by playing with less advanced players, consider that the stronger player is being given the opportunity to take on a leadership role. A standout 7-year-old among same-age peers takes on a greater responsibility on the field than he or she would while playing with older players.

        Move those more advanced players with older players, and they become role players instead of playmakers. While playing with their age peers, they help minimize the weaknesses of their teammates while maximizing their own strengths.

        Coaches can also play a role in ensuring that the more advanced players are challenged in practices. In small-sided games, the best player faces off with the second best player. Or in a 2-v-2 the most skilled player is paired with the least skilled player, forcing him or her to support that player - which challenges the more advanced player physically and encourages him or her to read the game and anticipate the play more than if the teammate was equally strong.

        Even at the highest levels of soccer, teams are comprised of players with varying strengths and weaknesses. So it's perfectly natural for that to be the case at the early ages.

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      March 30, 2010

      Question: "I've really enjoyed coaching and am looking forward to the next season. What should I be doing in the offseason to become a better coach?"

      • Answer: First thing - stay close to that game. It's not that hard. There's lots of soccer on TV to watch every weekend. This summer, we've got the World Cup from South Africa to tune into. Go to local high school or college games.

        Watching soccer helps develop a feel for the game. It doesn't mean that after watching a European Champions League game on Fox Soccer Channel you should try and get your players to exchange passes like Barcelona. But the more you see good soccer, the more likely you are to comprehend what it takes for players to excel at the game.

        Kick the ball around with your son or daughter. Maybe even go and find pickup games or join an adult team. Playing yourself will help make you a better coach, because you'll be able to relate to the challenges your players face.

        The off season also provides an opportunity to continue your coaching education by attending coaching courses, whether by AYSO, National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), Soccer Champions Coaches' Clinics or a goalkeeper clinic.

        Not everything you learn from other coaches has to become part of your repertoire. But researching the various approaches to coaching will help you create your own philosophy about the game.

        The more you learn about soccer, the more confident you will become as a coach. Your players will notice that confidence and it will inspire to them.

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      March 23, 2010

      Question: "How can I give my players shooting practice without making them wait in line?"

      • Answer: You're right to want to keep your players as active as possible during the limited time you have at practice. It's also true that shooting is a very important skill that requires repetition to master.

        Think about shooting this way: The shot is the final touch, but finishing begins immediately when your team goes on the attack - so train your players to finish. The shot on goal is the technical piece and finishing is the tactical piece of the game.

        There are many ways to keep the whole squad active while teaching finishing, even with only one goal.

        For example, split the team up in two groups. Play in an 18x18 yard grid with a goal on each endline. If you only have one goal, teams alternate going toward that goal.

        The team with the ball must shoot as quickly as possible. When the defending team gains possession, it must go to goal as quickly as possible. The coach serves a neutral ball after every goal. Rotate the keepers on every goal.

        The first team to score five goals wins. This is a very fast-paced activity and players love it.

        Coaching note: You need many, many soccer balls when you train finishing. If you only have one ball that you must constantly fetch, your players will not get in the reps they need.

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      March 16, 2010

      Question: "I believe that if my players watched more soccer it would help them with their game, but they don't seem to be soccer 'fans.' What can I do?"

      • Answer: You're right that, to excel at the sport, the next best thing to playing soccer is to watch it. It's also true that our young players often aren't living in a soccer culture - like in other countries where dad might always have soccer on TV and schoolyard conversation revolves around the weekend's games.

        But the good news is that there is plenty of soccer on American TV now. And there are ways to get children to watch stars they can emulate.

        Getting young children to watch a 90-minute game on TV may be too ambitious. But you can help them discover the pleasure of watching good soccer.

        With digital recording it's easy to show them some spectacular plays and goals. The Internet is a fountain of soccer highlights. You can search through YouTube and find great highlights of players they can relate to.

        Encourage parents to show their kids a montage of Landon Donovan's goals - and explain that this is the U.S.'s top men's player who played AYSO "just like you do." Do some research on stars like Mia Hamm, tell them about her childhood soccer, and show them her highlight clips from YouTube.

        You can rent age-appropriate soccer-themed movies - there's a bunch out there.

        After practice, tell them about a game that's going to be on TV - "The USA's playing Mexico this weekend! You think we can win? Let me know what you think about the game at the next practice."

        And, of course, this summer presents a fantastic opportunity with unprecedented U.S. television coverage of the World Cup from South Africa. Start talking about the World Cup at practices. When you scrimmage, give the teams names - "You guys are Brazil, and you're Spain!"

        You might also consider taking your team to a local high school or college soccer game. It can be fun and very enlightening for players.

        Not all the children will become soccer fans, but the more you act like a fan, the more likely they'll turn into fans.

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      March 9, 2010

      Question: "I keep hearing it's a good idea to encourage kids to juggle. But it's not something they do in a game, so why is it so important?"

      • Answer:Tapping the ball in the air over and over means they're learning to hit the sweet spot while developing a good touch.

        Juggling with feet, thighs and all controlling surfaces trains players to be comfortable with the ball and develops striking and controlling skills. It helps with foot-eye coordination, and is a great way to work on balance. It also develops the weak foot.

        A key to developing soccer skills is to play with the ball as much as possible, and juggling can be done anytime, anywhere and by one's self.

        If you can encourage your players to juggle, you're giving them a way to work on their skills outside of organized practice and games. One way to inspire them is to give them incentives, maybe even small prizes when they reach a certain number.

        You can set a team goal - when all the players' individual juggling records total a specified and reasonably attainable number, they get an ice cream party after a practice, for example.

        You, as coach or parent, can try as well. Even if you don't have a soccer background, learning how to juggle will help motivate your child when you do it together and compare each other's progress.

        It's difficult at first, so have them let the ball bounce in between. Ask them to drop it on their thigh or foot once and then catch it. Then go for two, and so on. The more they advance, the more fun it gets, and the more they juggle.

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      March 2, 2010

      Question: "I have several parents who scream at the kids during our games. How can I convince them to pipe down and stop yelling instructions?"

      • Answer: Parents who yell at their children while they're playing soccer are intruding on their kids' playtime. Screaming does not help them become better players and it certainly decreases the chance that they'll enjoy soccer.

        So you must address the subject, perhaps in a team-wide e-mail. But what I really like is a face-to-face meeting with the parents; you can even do it right before your next game.

        Explain that cheering (in a positive manner) is OK, but any screaming they do - or calling them by name - will take the players' focus off the game. Besides, you are the coach and you will coach the team as needed.

        Adults wouldn't want to be screamed at while performing a difficult task, so why would children be any different?

        These screamers may think they're helping or inspiring their kids. But soccer is a sport that requires split-second decision-making while performing difficult skills and reading the game. Players learn to meet these challenges when they are young, by trial and error. Sideline instructions rob them of a process they need to go through at that stage of their development.

        Besides trying to explain to the parents why their screaming is inappropriate and counter-productive, you as coach can send a message by being a good example. Do your coaching - at an age-appropriate level - at practice, before the game or at halftime, but sit quietly in your chair during the game.

        There is the possibility that these parents aren't even aware of what they're doing - because watching sports seems to bring the screamer out in even otherwise well-mannered people.

        So consider assigning a parent to be a sideline monitor. If the monitor goes up to the screamer and says, "Hey, Joe, remember Coach doesn't want us yelling at the kids" - it just might do the trick.

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      February 23, 2010

      Question: "My star player, a 10-year-old, still scores goals but she's not nearly as aggressive as she was when she was younger, when she used to chase down opponents and win lots of tackles. How can I get her to be more aggressive and hustle like she used to?"

      • Answer: There could be many factors at play here and chances are you probably shouldn't be concerned.

        Focus on the positives. She's still scoring goals, which means she's reading the game. When she was younger, she played on a smaller field. Perhaps now, on the bigger field, she's pacing herself and is running at the right times.

        Also, it's perfectly normal during the many stages in their development for players to approach the game differently. Girls at that age go through dramatic growth spurts and physical changes. Girls with a higher center of balance or lanky legs may feel more vulnerable going into a tackle or for a 50-50 ball.

        They should tackle and go into one-on-one battles when they feel confident - not because they are urged to by, for example, a coach screaming on the sidelines.

        Building confidence can be done at practices in small-sided games - 1 v. 1, 2 v. 2, etc. - in small spaces. This presents the players with low-pressure situations in which to work on ball-winning and closing down the opponent's space.

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      February 16, 2010

      Question: "On my U-8 team I have a player who always runs back to a 'sweeper' position, no matter what general position we ask her to play (we only designate a players' primary role as offense or defense at this age). Should I be counseling her to trust her teammates? Or should I not fight it and let her play last girl on defense if that is where she wants to be?"

      • Answer: Players this young should be allowed to follow their instincts. It sounds like she has a knack for playing in the back and a desire to help her team.

        For sure, you can tell her that she shouldn't feel obligated to aid the defense all the time. You can mention, "You're really doing great and I like that you help out in the back, but go ahead and focus on creating some goals when you feel like it."

        If you're playing different types of small-sided games in practice - 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2, 3 vs. 3 - she will be playing plenty of offense, so you needn't worry about her not developing attacking skills and having chances to shoot on goal.

        But remember if she is going forward and recovering the entire game, that is a very good thing.

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      February 9, 2010

      Question: "Now that we're playing with goalkeepers, I'm having a hard time convincing my players to take their turn in goal. What can I do?"

      • Answer:Young players might not want to take their turn in goal because they're intimidated about getting shot at, because they get bored during the lulls, or for the fear of public failure when the ball hits the net - or they are just plain afraid to play in goal.

        Rotating goalkeepers frequently - a different keeper each quarter is optimal - is good for the players and makes it easier to convince them to take a turn, because they'll still be getting a good share of field play.

        Stress to the keepers that it doesn't matter if they get scored on. Look them in the eyes with a smile and tell them, "Do your best, but no worries about getting scored on!"

        During your practices, you can spend a little time letting players throw and catch. You can even play some team handball in spurts, which also works on teamwork and positioning for passes. These are fun activities and build their confidence to catch.

        You might let them practice punting the ball in training. Kids seem to like punting and will look forward to doing it in a game. Punting also helps develop striking skills.

        It's also good to let your goalkeepers take all the goal kicks. That's another thing kids like to do and could help encourage them to take their turn between the posts.

        However, if a child is just plain afraid to play in the goal, don't force them to do it.

        Finally, always greet your keepers quickly with a smile and high-five when they've finished their stint in goal.

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      February 2, 2010

      Question: "I keep seeing kids at practice without shinguards and even players allowed to wear their shinguards outside their socks. Should this be tolerated?"

      • Answer: Players should always wear shinguards. They must be worn during training sessions because play can get more rambunctious at practices, when kids may be less tentative. And you want players to be accustomed to shinguards because they WILL be wearing them in the games.

        It's a great thing about soccer that the sport doesn't require expensive gear, but it's a wise rule that requires players to wear shinguards to protect a vulnerable bone.

        Those children who feel uncomfortable in shinguards should be encouraged to try out different sizes and kinds of shinguards to discover a good fit. The shinguards should, of course, be properly worn under the socks, to provide maximum protection.

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      January 26, 2010

      Question: "During scrimmages or the actual games, my U-12 players give it their all. It's a different story when I put them through conditioning drills. What can I do to motivate them?"

      • Answer:At that age level, conditioning drills shouldn't be part of practice nor are they necessary. Practice time is best spent playing soccer - which in and of itself promotes fitness.

        One of the beauties of soccer is that, while playing, the kids are getting physically fit without even realizing it - because they're having fun playing. The key is to create practice sessions in which they are constantly moving. And it's quite simple. Avoid drills that require standing in line and instead set up various forms of small-sided games.

        During a game, players sometimes exert themselves at full speed, other times they jog around, and they rest when there's a lull. That's the perfect formula for physical fitness, and one that's easily replicated at practice and makes running laps or doing wind sprints unnecessary.

        In practice, play some games in which the goals are close together and other games in which they are farther away from each other. This will require your players to run various distances, exercising both aerobically and anaerobically.

        Avoid assigning them positions during these games, because that will prevent them from running around freely.

        Play games with more than two goals. If you set up four goals on each side of a square grid, this will encourage them to cover even more ground. They'll be chasing the ball, going for goal, running around defending, and getting in good shape when all they're thinking about is how much fun they're having playing.

        You may have players who don't run as much because they're timid or they cling to a position. So have them play some 2-v-2, in which they won't have a choice but to keep active and pursue the ball.

        Keepaway games, such as 5-v-2, in which the players in middle swap positions once they gain possession, are also excellent ways of getting players to exert themselves while they're learning defending, passing and positioning skills.

        It's only at the higher levels, when teams practice every day, that coaches can afford to use up time with drills that focus on conditioning. The youngsters should be getting as many touches on the ball as possible, and that should be the priority during the one or two days a week you have them at practice. Indeed, everything you do at practice with players that young should involve the ball.

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      January 19, 2010

      Question: "I play my players by position (forwards, midfielders and defense) but I am having difficulty teaching the kids how to play their "zones" or "area" and not go after the ball. How can I teach the zone concept and assure them that the ball will come to them?"

      • Answer: First of all, don't discourage players to go after the ball. Going after the ball is a natural instinct that shouldn't be stifled.

        At the very young ages, children don't need be assigned "positions." As they progress and the concept of positions is introduced, it's very important not to shackle them. Explain the basic responsibilities of positions, but also give them the freedom to figure things out on their own.

        It may be counter-intuitive, but the less you stress positions, the more likely players are to comprehend good positioning. That's because soccer is a fluid game and the ability to figure out how to be in the right place at the right time comes from exploring the game and learning by trial and error.

        Indeed, one of the most distressing things one witnesses in youth soccer is when players aren't allowed to move past the halfway line because they're "defenders."

        Tell the players what the various positions are, but don't restrict them to zones on the field when the game starts. Most important is that young players learn to solve the challenges of the small battles - 1-v-1, 2-v-1, 2-v-2, etc. The best way for them to learn to deal with time and space, how to move around on the field, and how to work with their teammates, is by playing lots of soccer - not by becoming the coach's chess pieces.

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      January 12, 2010

      Question: "What advice can you give me on inspiring and encouraging my U-10 team that loses every single game? I believe my players all learn some great skills and have fun, but game days are disappointing."

      • Answer: It's a fact that the final scores at the youth level aren't an indication of which players are becoming better soccer players. Nor do final scores determine how much fun kids are having while they're on the soccer field. But in today's world of organized youth sports - in which children play to an adult audience - the final scorelines can become an issue.

        First of all, don't convey any disappointment in the final results to your players. Your players read your body language. If you look upset, they will be more likely to get down on themselves after a loss. Always greet them with a smile when they walk off the field.

        If you believe they need encouragement, communicate to them the positives of their performance. If they gave up more goals in the first half, tell them you were proud that they did better in the second half.

        Break the game down into periods: "Hey guys, we 'won' the third quarter and we were awesome in the first quarter."

        Emphasize the positives. While you're watching the game, keep note of the successful things your team does, and point them out after the game. "That team was really good. But in the fourth quarter we made four passes in a row and almost scored. Beautiful stuff out there!"

        And have short conversations individually with your players. Try and remember any good dribbling moves, passes, shots or defensive plays your players make. Go up to each of them and briefly tell them what you saw: "Peggy, you stole the ball from their tall girl and then hit a really nice pass"..."Joe, you almost scored with that shot! That was a good save their keeper made. I couldn't have stopped that!"..."Susi, you used your left foot today. Bravo!"..."Jack, make sure you have a good lunch, because I can't believe how much you ran today!"

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      January 5, 2010

      Question: "I've got a great player but he's a ball-hog and I can't get him to pass enough. What should I do?"

      • Answer: Coach, are you saying that you have a player who is very comfortable on the ball or are you saying he is making bad decisions? Pele, Diego Maradona, Mia Hamm and Marta were probably called "ball hogs" when they were really just confident little kids enjoying the thrills of dribbling while becoming some of the best players the world has ever seen.

        But they played lots of soccer in their early years without adults around. The other kids - not adults on the sideline - were telling them when to pass.

        Players who don't "share" enough will begin to feel the peer pressure to pass and are more likely to respond to that than adult instruction.

        Teamwork is a concept that is gradually comprehended by children and they generally figure it out on their own. The art of deciding when to pass and when to go it alone isn't something that should be dictated from the sideline.

        Dribbling is the foundation for all soccer skills - ball control, passing, shooting - and should be encouraged.

        At the very early ages, players should never be discouraged from dribbling. As they get older, practice games in which passing is rewarded can be incorporated. For example, a scrimmage (short-sided game) in which a one-two (also known as give-and-go or wall pass) counts as a goal. Or games with "gates" in which a team gets one point when a player dribbles through the gate/goal and two points if a pass is sent successfully through the cones to a teammate.

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      December 8, 2009

      Question: "I have nine players on my team. Four are 7-year-olds and five are 6-year-olds. The problem is in a game the players are not playing as a team. Rather, each of them plays as an individual, except a couple of them who go to same school and same grade. Nine players are from four different schools. Do you have any thoughts how I can build the team and develop trust among each other?"

      • Answer: What you describe is perfectly normal regardless of whether players go to the same school. At this age level, the team concept is beyond their comprehension. Some may be showing signs of some simple teamwork, but don't expect them to start stringing a series of passes together or to work as a unit.

        Most important is that the players start becoming comfortable with the ball by playing fun games in practice. Slowly, over time, they'll begin understanding how to combine with teammates. Do not try to force players at this age to play in organized, disciplined fashion, because it will interfere with their natural development.

        Sigi Schmid, who coached AYSO soccer before going to the college and pro ranks, explains how young players learn the game: "The first thing is, 'It's me and the ball.' The second is, 'It's me and the ball and where's the opponent?' Then it's, 'It's me and the ball, and where's the opponent, where's my teammate?' He's taking on more information. That's how he develops."

        As far as integrating players who aren't as familiar with each other, mix teams up when you play small-sided games in practice. When they play 2-v-2, pair up players who don't go to the same school. I also recommend that you use some good ice-breakers. Jim Liston, president and founder of the Competitive Athlete's Training Zone, has some great ones on his Website.

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      December 1, 2009

      Question: "My U-10 boys' practices are frequently disorganized. The players seem more interested in throwing balls at each other, wrestling, and lying down on the field than in doing any drills. It seems all they're interested in is doing scrimmages, which we do for about half of every practice. I'm considering doing scrimmages for the entire practice. What suggestions do you have?"

      • Answer: Players learn by playing, so there's nothing wrong with scrimmaging (playing a lot of small-sided games). In fact, your practices should simulate the games they play on weekends. These boys spend all day in school, sitting in class and following instructions. It's natural that they'll be rambunctious when they hit the field. Letting them play soccer-instead of doing drills-is just what they want AND need.

        Try various forms of fun, competitive games, like 1-v-1, in which they try to dribble past each other to the other side of a grid. All variations of small-sided games - 2-v-2, 3-v-3 and so on - keep them active and help them learn soccer skills. Try scrimmaging with multiple goals. Each team aims at two goals, for example. "Scrimmaging" in a variety of formats will have them working on the same individual skills that the drills do - but it will be more fun and more effective, because they'll be in game-like situations.

        Don't hesitate to scrimmage (small-sided games) all practice long.

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      November 17, 2009

      Question: "I have a player on my U-8 boys team who is always in the middle in the action. He's quick and a great attacker, though he tends to throw his entire body into the plays, causing harm to himself and other members of the team. How can I help him change this habit?"

      • Answer: Endangering himself and other players is indeed an issue that must be addressed. Although you want to keep your practices as free-flowing as possible, in this case you need to take on the role of referee and call him for fouls when he commits them. When he commits a dangerous foul, make him take a "timeout." Explain to him that in Saturday's game the referee will kick him out for that kind of play and he'll have to sit and watch the other kids play. Remind him that no player likes to sit out. Make sure he understands what you are talking about.

        He also needs some one-on-one coaching on the proper way to battle for a ball. Have two of your players with reasonable skills play some one-on-one and you can have him watch as you explain what, why and how they are doing what they are doing.

        Explain to the boy that he's a player of great potential and if he overcomes his undisciplined style, he will be become a truly good soccer player.

        Coach, remember that he is only 6 or 7 and is just starting to begin to grasp the moral rules of the game. U-8 players are just starting to understand that they are part of a team.

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      November 9, 2009

      Question: "How do I know if my players are improving?"

      • Answer:The progress children make isn't measured by wins and losses, but rather on how they're improving on their individual skills and comprehension of the game.

        Watch your players closely and you'll notice their progress - and you'll be able to explain it to parents in case they're only focused on the final score. When an 8-year-old figures out how to control the ball while being aware of what's going on around him or her, that's a huge achievement, regardless of how the game ends. It's very difficult to dribble while looking up and weighing the options. When a young player begins doing that, it's worth a celebration.

        Here's an example that I witnessed of a young players acquiring awareness of the game:

        An 8-year-old dribbles toward the goal and realizes there are two defenders there. But she isn't just dribbling, she's reading the game. So she pulls back the ball and goes to her midfield. At this point, her grandmother yells, "You're going the wrong way." But while the two defenders chase her away from the front of the goal, the girl puts on the brakes and the defenders blow past her. The girl turns around and heads back toward the goal to score.

        Here's where the player read the game better than her grandmother: She knew she needed to create space for herself and was aware enough of her surroundings to figure out how to do it. She had the technical ability to pull off a clever tactical move.

        That's an important achievement for a young player and when parents (or grandparents) realize that, they begin to understand that the final score isn't the yardstick they should use to measure their children's progress.

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      October 27, 2009

      Question: "Should there be goalkeepers in U-8?"

      • Answer: Soccer games without goalkeepers provide a better experience for young children for several reasons, which is why not only AYSO but U.S. Youth Soccer and the U.S. Soccer Federation discourage the use of goalkeepers at the U-8 level and below.

        First of all, the goalkeeper is denied a chance to run around and chase the ball. The boy or girl who must guard the goal is being prevented from doing what he or she signed up for - play soccer!

        Depending on the game, the young goalkeeper is in danger of being bored (if the action is on the other end) and getting discouraged if the ball keeps flying into the goal.

        In the worst-case scenario, players who are forced to play goalkeeper at the early ages lose their enthusiasm for the sport.

        Also, we want young players to shoot at goal as much as possible, because striking the ball is such an important skill for players to master. Young kids are more likely to shoot often when they're aiming a goalkeeper-free net. With a goalkeeper there, they become apprehensive, looking for the perfect shot that they are not physically mature enough to pull off.

        Nor are the very young kids physically prepared to make saves. They may get in front of a tough shot now and again, but they just don't have the tools for the position's requirements and are inclined to feel devastated when scored upon.

        In fact, not using goalkeepers makes the coach's job much easier because the coach doesn't need to cajole players to take turns in goal.

        And the use of goalkeepers at such young ages also creates a temptation for the coach to make his bigger and more advanced athletes play goalkeeper, because this will greatly increase his team's chances of winning. In other words, the use of goalkeepers encourages the results-driven approach to coaching that hinders long-term player development and can suck the fun out of soccer. The players who are more advanced athletically at the young ages shouldn't be kept from enjoying field play so that the coach can rack up some wins.

        When goalkeepers are used, at the U-10 level for example, the goalkeepers should be rotated frequently. Even players who enjoy playing goalkeeper should not be restricted to the position and should get plenty of time playing in the field. Players shouldn't specialize at any one position until they are well into their teens.

        Many of the nation's best goalkeepers - Hope Solo, Tim Howard, Brad Friedel and AYSO alum Brad Guzan - spent much of their youth as field players. This not only prevented them from burning out on the position, but honed the foot skills goalkeepers need and their ability to read the game, which is crucial to being good goalkeeper.

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      October 20, 2009

      Question: "The parents on the team I coach complain about the referee all the time. Should I be concerned or is that just part of sports?"

      • Answer: The ref criticism must stop. There is no upside to diverting the children's focus from playing the game to an "injustice" by the referee. There is, however, a good case to be made for allowing children to deal with a referee's decision without their parents' interference.

        Most of the sideline ref criticism is unfounded and refs' errors in youth soccer are generally insignificant. But even if a call is unfair, it's better for the players' long-term development if the adults allow them to cope on their own. Complaining about the officiating within earshot of young players teaches them to blame others when things don't go their way.

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      October 13, 2009

      Question: "Is it a good idea to single out a couple of players for 'extra effort,' 'nice pass,' 'great goal' after a game or does it make the others feel bad?"

      • Answer: The answer is yes! One of the best things you can do as coach is to give players some concise one-on-one feedback. You don't need to stand up in front of the whole team and say, "That was a great goal, Sally!" But you can bend down to Sally after the game and deliver your praise.

        In fact, coaches should strive to say something positive to each of their players individually at each practice and game. This is easily accomplished if you are looking for the good things your players are doing. So whenever you have a chance, you can quickly look a player in the eye with a friendly smile and say something positive about his or her play.

        It can be a simple, "Good job today, Johnny!" Or something more specific when possible, such as: "Anika, I liked the way you used your left foot today!" ... "I saw how you dribbled past three players!" ... or to the goalkeeper, "No biggie about goals they scored, you made a great save on their No. 9's shot!"

        And coaches, remember: a smile is worth a 1,000 words!

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      September 29, 2009

      Question: How can my players improve their weaker foot?

      • Answer: It's valuable for soccer players to be able to use both feet. But at the early ages, the focus should be mainly on getting children to be involved in the game and play enough so they're naturally challenged to use both feet - as soccer demands.

        As they get older, there are certain ways to encourage players to use their weaker foot. I don't recommend a small-sided game where you force players to only use their weaker foot-but you can help them by tweaking the rules. Play a small-sided game with the aim being for a team to score twice as many goals as there are players on their team. So if they are playing 3 vs. 3, the winning team must score six goals and everyone on the team must score with their right foot as well as their left foot.

        Another way to accomplish this is to award three points-instead of one-when a goal is scored with a player's weaker foot. If one team is behind, I'll bet there will be a right-footer trying pretty hard to score with his left.

        Juggling is also a good method to hone the touch of the weaker foot. For beginning players, challenge them to drop the ball and kick it up with one foot and then the other before catching it. When they get better at this juggling, ask them to juggle 10 times - six with the left foot and four with the right.

        Using both feet well is important, but even the greatest players rely more on their dominant foot. Don't expect the kids to be able to use both feet equally overnight.

        Player development is one of the fundamental philosophies of AYSO - a coach's role is to help each player develop to their personal best.

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      September 22, 2009

      Question: How do I know I'm a good soccer coach?

      • Answer: It's quite simple to figure out if you're a good coach: Are the kids having fun?

        If the kids have a smile on their faces, they're enjoying it. If the kids want to wear their soccer shirts to school, they're enjoying it. If the kids are crying because they can't get to a game or a practice, they've started to love soccer!

        But the opposite is also true. If the kids have to be dragged kicking or screaming or there's no smile on their faces, they're not having fun.

        If it seems they're not enjoying themselves, then it might be that they're not given enough freedom at practice to play, explore and enjoy the game. Maybe the practices are too drill-oriented and there's not enough playing. Maybe they're getting screamed at too much.

        Don't get obsessed with evaluating their play. If they're having fun, they'll become better players on their own. Embrace the joy of them playing and, eventually, the positives of the game will stick with them.

        AYSO has accredited, age-specific coach training. Check with your Region's Coaching Administrator on when the next AYSO coaching course will be offered in your community. Selected age-specific courses are also available online at www.aysotraining.org .

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      September 8, 2009

      Question: I'm a U-8 coach, and a few of my players are on the younger side. Those players have a tendency to zone out during practices. Do you have any advice on what I can do?

      • Answer: At eight, we want to give them a taste of the game and a positive experience. Last year, I did in fact coach U-8 boys and you're right, it's real hard. My team's name was the American Screaming Eagles, and they could scream.

        They are 8-year-olds - they want to play. They play hard, and they work hard. I play a lot of 2 versus 2 and when you say you have some younger ones - make sure one of the younger ones plays with one of the older ones. I guarantee it will be a lot more game realistic and they will enjoy it more. Play the same game a lot - 2 versus 2 - but change it just a bit.

        Most of us as coaches put goals on the end lines, but what I want you to do is just move them. Take it from the end lines and put one central. Put three goals out on the grid you're working at. Have them play the same game you are having them do whether its dribbling or passing through the gates, but changing the location of the goals will give the game a whole different look to those 8-year-olds. You can also try reducing your practice time, but they're eight. They've been to school all day; they've worked hard, everyone's been telling them what to do. They don't want to come and practice - they want to play, so make sure you're playing them.

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      September 1, 2009

      Question: Can you ever be too positive with U-10 girls? And, should I have a set of rules for them?

      • Answer: You can never be positive enough. I look at it as "positive coaching always elicits positive results." Remember, they are U-10 girls. At that age group, we want to give them a taste of the game. We want to work them together. Positive coaching, a positive introduce to the sport is what we are looking for. The second part of your question confuses me a little bit - if you are asking should there be team rules for U-10 girls - sure there should be. The rules should come from the girls and not the coach. Let them make the rules, because if the rules are important to them - they will be important to the team.

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      August 25, 2009

      Question: My daughter had a bad experience at a soccer camp. Do you have any suggestions?

      • Answer: AYSO offers great, great soccer camps. We are coming to the end of our soccer camps season this year. But it's not too early to start thinking about next year. I highly recommend the AYSO Soccer Camps for a couple of reasons. One reason is that I review and approve all curriculum. All the coaches in the AYSO camps are trained and certified by AYSO people. We have day camps and we have residential camps. If you have a child that is 12 to 17 years old and who would like to send them to the most positive experience in soccer they will ever attend—I highly recommend the AYSO Residential Camp. If you have some young ones, the 8, 9 and 10 year olds, and you just want them to get a great experience, talk to your Regional Commissioner, talk to your Area Director, go to our Web site and find out what you can do to get a camp in your Region next year. I guarantee that your child will have a positive experience at an AYSO Soccer Camp because our coaches understand that they are there to enrich children's lives.

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      August 11, 2009

      Question: I recently saw a U-14 game where a player went down with an apparent injury to his ankle or lower leg. The coach was able to get his player to resume playing by numbing the injured area with an aerosol. I wanted to know your thoughts on this.

      • Answer: Coaches, our job is to prevent injuries, not to treat them. Remember that. If you go to your manuals, injury prevention is what we do. If there is any doubt at all in your mind, Coach, never put the game ahead of a child's well-being. A coach who puts a kid back into a game after they're injured is only about winning and losing. Don't play injured players. If there is any question about playing them, don't.

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      August 4, 2009

      Question: For the coach who wrote, can you teach speed to a player?

      • Answer: You really can't teach speed to a player, but you can teach him to be quicker. Speed is a gift - a gene-pool gift. Some have it, some don't. But we can make all players a little quicker. How do I do that? I recommend that you see some new agility, some explosiveness training that's all over the Web . The three things that I'd like you to consider when you start thinking about speed training are the three elements of speed. That's P.A.L., which is Posture, Arms and Legs. So make sure that players have good posture when they're running, that their arms are energized and they get the full stride length as quickly as they can. But again, pick up a good book or a good video on teaching speed. One I really recommend is Speed Wins. It's the ultimate speed training for soccer players. It's a video available at the AYSO Store .

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      July 28, 2009

      Question: Are there specific ball sizes for each age group?

      • Answer: There certainly are. For our U-5, U-6 and U-8 players, we use a size 3 ball. A size 4 ball is used for our U-10 and U-12 players. And a size 5 ball is used for everyone else—from U-13 to U-19, high school to college to the professional leagues. I used to say, "Hey, as long as a kid has a soccer ball, it's a good thing." But what they really truly need is a ball appropriate for their size and age.

        Now if you want to have some fun with the ball, that's a totally different question. I recommend some of the high bounce kickballs. There are a lot of great, fun activities to do at training. It takes a nice touch to be able to control the kickball, which can end up traveling all over the field if not controlled properly. They will have a good time with a smaller ball, but when you train and play in the game use the appropriate sizes as mentioned.

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      July 21, 2009

      Question: I have 5 and 7-year old boys who participate in all regular season team sports. I am getting pressure to have my kids participate in the select/travel teams at this young age. I want my kids to play because they like to play, not because I pushed them into it. What is the balance?

      • Answer: I had a question that was referred to me by the Positive Coaching Alliance. They are a great organization—one of our partners.

        I'm finding that many of our coaches and parents are asking the same type of question. My answer would be this: Most coaches when asked an opinion about their kids, they don't look at it from the coaching side; they look at it from the parents' side. My recommendations would be to watch your kids when they play. Are they always playing? Do they ask you to play with them in the yard or on the street? Are they always playing outside with their friends or are they inside playing with the computer or watching TV? Are they engaged with their play? Do they really, truly get involved in what they are doing or are they just going through the motions? The response doesn't have to come from the kid, but what you see. Do they wear their soccer uniform? Would they love to wear their favorite team's hat?? You can see if they are truly into it. Are they creative in their play? Are they free spirited in their play? Do they just want to play and really have a good time? And the last question I really want you to look at is are they enjoying team sport?

        I'm going to be a wise guy right now. It's going to sound like sarcasm, but listen to this. You ask the question, "my 5 and 7-year-olds, should they be more competitive?" You know the right answer, I really believe you do. The right answer is you'll know that when you watch them.

        They are five, they are seven. Just let them play. They'll tell you when they are ready for more pressure and a more competitive environment.

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      July 14, 2009

      Question: Should I have my players do off season conditioning to prepare for next season?

      • Answer: Well Coach, I think there are a lot of issues that come into play when you talk about off season and preseason conditioning. You have to understand that young players really, really play a lot. We don't understand that. Most of us are really concerned about conditioning when we really should be concerned with their overuse and how much they are playing. Many moms and dads think that off season conditioning will lead to better players. And, what I believe it leads to is players who have been playing all year and don't have fresh bodies and fresh minds. The mind and body are things that need to be refreshed, so they are anxious to come back and play. When I talk about rest, I'm talking about getting away from the sport. I truly understand that we as coaches want our players to come in the best shape they possibly can, but we don't have the ability to really train off season conditioning. And, even if we gave them a plan to do off season conditioning, many of them wouldn't follow that plan. My recommendation is to give your players the off season off. Truly let them take it off. I think you'll have athletes who come back healthier are ready to play when the season starts.

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      July 7, 2009

      Question: "Many of my U-14 and U-12 players have Facebook pages. Recently, they discovered that I also had one. Now I'm getting friend requests from 14 year olds. As much as I'd like to keep in touch, an adult 'friending' a child I'm not related to is a bit creepy and seems to invite the evening news. I am aware that some individuals will create a secondary profile and tie it to a Region Facebook page. Do you have any suggestions?"

      • Answer: It's hard to believe that social networking sites like Facebook, My Space, LinkedIn, Friendster, Plaxo and Hi5 were barely heard of five years ago! Today, Facebook alone boasts over 115 million users worldwide, with 17 percent of its users under the age of 18. While Facebook is a useful communication tool and another way to build connections with your players, there are also potential problems that can arise for you as a volunteer coach. For example, once someone "friends" you on Facebook, they can see everything you post on your profile, but you might have personal items on there that you don't want your 14-year-old players to see. To keep your personal life and coaching life separate, if you are going to use Facebook as a means of communicating with your players and their parents, you should create two different profiles - one for AYSO and another for your non-AYSO friends. Having two different profiles can help avoid any perceived impropriety as well; since parents might be confused as to why you appear on their 12-year-old's friend list (even though Facebook prohibits children under the age of 13 from having their own accounts, younger kids do seem to be using the site). For these reasons, it's better to have a separate AYSO-only profile - it will keep from misunderstandings in the future.

        Some Regions have also created Facebook groups that are used for everything from keeping teams in touch, to notifying players of upcoming practices or other events and sharing photos of games. It is very important that if you create an AYSO-related group that you ensure the privacy setting is set to at least "closed," which means that you, as the Administrator, will have to approve any new members to the group. You must also monitor the content of the group page, ensuring that it is being used appropriately by the members and immediately removing any content that is inappropriate. You are certainly not the only coach facing this concern, as there are currently almost 500 AYSO-related profiles or groups on Facebook! Used carefully, Facebook can be a great resource for you as a coach.

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      May 12, 2009

      Question: Why don't we have U-5 teams practice?

      • Answer: We must always remember that while we are talking U-6s, they are five and four year olds. The objective of this program is to provide young players and their parents with a pressure-free introduction to the beautiful and simple game of soccer. At this age, players should be exposed to soccer by playing simple, fun activities and games that require little or no practice and a minimal time commit. Years down the road, we'll know if they have a love and passion for the game. We want to make sure we don't burn them out at four or five because there is an overzealous parent or coach. This program allows players to discover the game for themselves, while their parents are giving them a soccer foundation on which to build and grow into good AYSO players. We also work with our referees and Referee Administrators to understand our U-5 program. Talk to your Master Coach, and if you don't have a Master Coach, please assign one to your U-5 program.

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      May 5, 2009

      Question: Coach, what is the proper warm up I should be using for my team?

      • Answer: A lot of coaches ask about warm ups. Warm ups are critical. A general warm up should consist of a light physical activity, both in intensity and duration for the sport they're doing. The aim of a general warm up is to simply evaluate the heart and respiratory system. This will increase the blood flow and help with the transportation of oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles. What does that mean for us? What it means is start lightly and get to more intensely. I know that the "old school" use start with stretching, but warm up the muscles first. Those of you who run laps, don't run laps just to run laps because you think you are working on conditioning. You're not. What you are really doing is warming up the muscles. My recommendation is-send them to do a lap, but send them with a ball at their feet. Have them run that lap, go around, and then do another half of one passing back and forth. And do technically without any opposition what you want to do tactically during your workout. What I'm trying to say is start out with the gentlest and easiest activity first, building upon each part with more energetic activities until the body is at physical and mental peak and ready to perform. When they start to break a sweat, then you can add on defenders and get into the tactical development of what you are trying to accomplish for the day.

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      April 28, 2009

      Question: How long should I wait between coaching courses?

      • Answer: For the coach who asked how long he should wait between coaching courses, it's highly recommended that you wait at least a year before you go from one course to the other. Especially when you get the U-12s, Intermediate and Advanced levels. Let me just tell you a quick thing. If you take the Intermediate course, it covers the coaching cycle, and a week later you go through the Advanced course which also covers the coaching cycle. You really won't understand the nuances between what you learned in the Intermediate and the Advanced course. And that's just because there are small tweaks that unless you stay at that age group, the Intermediate level, you truly won't understand what is being said about the coaching cycle that works with that age group. Just to throw something additional on it the following week or the next month-you just won't get it. It seems small and it seems simple, but the coaching information really advises that you spend at least one year between coaching courses. I think that if you absorb all that information and use it, and then go to the next course after a year, it will be more beneficial for you.
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