Powerful concussion video released by U.S. Soccer

As part of the ongoing efforts to educate the soccer community, U.S. Soccer recently released the below powerful video.

It follows a player through her journey on the road to recovery; from the initial impact, assessment, recovery, and finally back on the pitch.

The message in the video is simple, “Recognize the symptoms, take the appropriate action, and come back to the game 100%”.

This message is one that we cannot fail to share enough with the soccer community. Only with your diligence on the pitch during games and practices, can we make an impact on our players’ road to recovery.

Please share the below video with your players, parents, coaches, administrators and friends in soccer. Also share this U.S. Soccer webpage and this link to useful shareable resources, including impactful printable materials.

The above text is taken, in part, from Cal North’s website and edited for brevity.

Finally, please keep in mind that concussions are just the tip of the iceberg. There is growing scientific evidence that even repeated sub-concussive impacts on the brain can lead to severe lifetime brain damage. Click here for more information.

Where to play futsal in NorCal

Please leave a comment at the end of this post if you know of any more futsal clubs, leagues, and/or tourneys so I can update this post. It would be great to make this list as complete as possible. Thank you!

Tens of thousands of kids across NorCal are getting ready for the winter futsal season. Most of the clubs mentioned below offer year-round futsal programs, but there’s definitely a huge surge during the winter months when the outdoor soccer season slows down.

I can’t say this enough – you MUST try futsal. Your sons and daughters are almost certainly going to have a blast and will learn a lot too. It’s excellent for player development. And you will enjoy watching the games – there’s much more action than outdoor soccer and your son/daughter is in the middle of the action pretty much all the time – there are only four field players per team.

If these clips don’t convince you then I don’t know what will: FIFA clip on futsal and superstar Falcao and this compilation of futsal skills.

You don’t have to join a futsal club or be part of one of our soccer clubs to participate – many futsal teams are coached by volunteer parents with soccer background. Simply pull a group of seven to nine outdoor teammates or friends from different outdoor clubs together, register your team, and go play.

With the help of awesome soccer mom Gaby and encyclopedic soccer dad Mark, here goes:

FUTSAL CLUBS (click on the club name for website or FB page)

Futsal Kingz – skills and fun for all levels and age groups, both boys and girls, across various locations in the South Bay. Tim Newsome and his team are GREAT! I can’t recommend them enough. Sessions and camps year-round, both competitive and recreational. Also compete in tournaments, most recently winning U.S. Futsal Nationals in the U8 and U9 age bracket.

World United Futsal Academy (WUFA) – competitive futsal mostly for boys, but girls are welcome too. Led by Vava Marques, USA National Futsal Team Coach, who grew up playing the game competitively and pro in Brazil, and Daniel Berdejo-del-Fresno, who grew up in Spain and most recently was the Head of Coaching & Sports Science at the International Futsal Academy in England and since 2010 on the coaching staff of the England Futsal National Teams. Daniel also wrote a free book on futsal coaching.

World-class coaching for the strongly committed soccer/futsal players. Year-round sessions. Close relationship with FC Barcelona’s futsal program in Spain, including training at FC Barcelona’s facilities and hosting of FC Barcelona futsal coaches in Palo Alto.

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Burlingamer in the North Bay and in Evergreen (South/East San Jose). This also includes the Gamer Futsal School. Nice facility and quality coaching year-round. GFS owners Jen Short and Roxy Kamal also serve as the U.S. Futsal Women’s National Team Coaches, and teams compete in various tournaments.

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Legends Futsal in Central and South San Jose. One of the oldest futsal clubs in the Bay Area. Very competitive across all age groups for both boys and girls. Also now have a semi-pro mens team I believe.

legendsphoto

Futsal Without Borders in San Jose. Organized by passionate soccer mom, Diana. Compete in Bay Area, regional, and national futsal leagues and tourneys, and also organize international futsal trips, but little ongoing coaching and player development. Primarily recruiting kids from the strongest outdoor soccer clubs to maximize performance at tourneys.

Bulldogs Futsal – based in Pleasanton and affiliated with Ballistic United Soccer Club. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Also click here for more information. Founder Rob Bell wrote a book on futsal.

Futsal 415 in San Francisco. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.

Stanislaus United in Modesto. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.

Futsal Factory in Sacramento. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.

Anthem FC in Sacramento. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.

Futsal Gilroy Fuego in Gilroy. Compete in leagues and tourneys. Regular practices.

Liga De Leon in Marin County. Regular practices and in-house league.

There are lots of futsal camps and weekly drop-in practices, plus futsal coaching workshops. Some outdoor soccer clubs such as De Anza Force, Red StarLFC Bay AreaSan Juan SC, and Lamorinda SC organize in-house futsal activities too, but I’m not listing those here. Some of these are small-sided games played on turf, so make sure you confirm if these clubs offer real futsal.

WINTER FUTSAL LEAGUES (click on the league name for website or FB page)

Futsal San Jose – this league is the most popular in the South Bay/San Jose area. Hundreds of teams across all age groups, both boys and girls, compete from the first weekend in December to end-February. This league uses a clever ranking and game scheduling system that matches teams based on previous weekends’ game results. Sign up now!

Stanford-Palo Alto Futsal League – teams compete in January & February. This league is organized by Vava Marques from WUFA (see above). Teams are grouped by age and ability. Sign up now!

San Francisco Futsal League – organized by SF Recreation & Parks and played at 13 centers across the city from January to March, U5-U18 boys and girls teams compete in recreational, intermediate, and advanced divisions. Note that the city website refers to ‘indoor soccer league’, but it’s futsal.

Gilroy Futsal League – based down South in Gilroy. Facebook page here.

Alameda Futsal – their website is a little outdated, but click here for the Facebook page.

Diablo Valley Futsal League – based in Walnut Creek/San Ramon. Facebook page here.

NorCal Futsal League – based in Martinez.

East Bay Futsal League – based in Oakland/Alameda.

East Bay Winter League – based in El Cerrito. Hosted by Tottenham Hotspur East Bay.

Mustang Futsal League – based in Danville. Organized by Mustang SC but open to all.

Northern California Futsal League – based in Rocklin and Mather. Run by Futsal Factory for competitive teams/players. Also run the Northern California Developmental Futsal League for less competitive teams/players.

Marin Futsal League – based in Mill Valley. One of the longest-running and largest futsal leagues in NorCal. Also have a Facebook page here.

Also, this webpage lists leagues and clubs including some that aren’t listed above. Some of the information seems to be out of date though.

FUTSAL TOURNAMENTS (click on the tourney name for website or FB page)

Blackhawks Annual Holiday Futsal Tournament – December 29/30 in Sacramento, CA. Open to comp, rec, and high school teams.

U.S. Youth Futsal Northern California Regional Championships – December 3/4 in Rocklin, CA. Only four weeks to go if you’re interested – sign up now! Winners of this tourney can compete at Nationals in Kansas Feb 17-20.

U.S. Futsal Northwest Regional Championship – March 10-12 at the San Jose Convention Center. Very competitive tourney. Winners and runners-up can compete at Nationals below.

U.S. Futsal National Championship – July 13-16 at the San Jose Convention Center. Very competitive.

Keep in mind that the above two Nationals don’t actually attract the various Regional/State Champions from around the country because youth teams are not (yet) willing to travel far (and incur the cost) for futsal. So Regionals can often be more competitive than Nationals. This will change over time with futsal’s continuing growth.

By way of background, U.S. Youth Futsal and U.S. Futsal are the two competing national futsal organizations. My understanding is that both have the same status with the U.S. Soccer Federation, and that USYF is stronger on the East Coast while USF is stronger on the West Coast.

Please leave a comment below if you know of any more futsal clubs, leagues, and/or tournaments. Thank you!

Futsal season opens in six weeks! It’s super fun and awesome for player development.

Offside during recent Liverpool game

Probably one of the two most contentious issues during soccer games are offside decisions (the other is ‘handball’). This comes up during pretty much every game – coaches and parents protesting ‘obvious’ bad offside calls by the referees.

I’m not going to get into the technicalities of precisely what offside is here, but if you want further background please click here for a blog post that includes a discussion of offside and why it’s so very difficult to determine unless you are the AR in the right position. Even the CR can’t make that decision unless it’s blatantly obvious.

Instead, let’s take a look at a very difficult offside decision during a very recent EPL Liverpool game.

First, what does this screen shot tell you? White #8 is clearly offside, correct? He’s closer to the goal than the red defenders when his teammate heads the ball towards him.

liverpooloffside1

Next, let’s rotate our field of view. What does this next screen shot show?

liverpooloffside2

It clearly shows White #8 NOT in an offside position because he is level with Red #11 the moment his teammate heads the ball towards him.

Quite amazing the difference the angle of view makes, right?

However, the play isn’t over yet. Let’s take a look at the next screen shot.

liverpooloffside4

The white player at the top headed the ball towards White #8, but it lands short in front of the white player barely visible in front of Red #6. Both that white player and Red #6 stretch their left leg to reach the ball.

The moment the white player’s leg touches the ball is another potential offside infraction by White #8. However, White #8 is again NOT in an offside position because the red player’s outstretched left leg (or more precisely his left foot) is closer to the goal than any body part of White #8 (please note that hands and arms don’t count for offside decisions).

The ball then landed in front of White #8 who scored. The referees rightfully awarded the goal.

Now imagine all this unfolding in realtime and you’re one of the referees. This is very difficult to get right unless you are highly trained and have the experience to apply the laws of the game in realtime as the action unfolds.

Please consider giving the referees the benefit of doubt during your youth games. Referees do make mistakes, of course, and they are the first to admit it, but please keep in mind that coaches and parents simply aren’t close enough to the action, nor have the right angle of view, nor fully understand the offside law and how to apply it.

For the good of the game and your kid’s enjoyment please think twice before reacting to an ‘obvious’ offside ‘mistake’.

If there’s one learning clip your youngster should watch it’s this one. Over and over and over again.

What it takes to become a national team player (talent is a given)

“You are very strong technically and tactically. But you are not fit. Mentally, you are weak. You don’t push yourself hard and you are lazy. You aren’t the sort of player who is going to thrive under pressure.

And your character? That is poor. You make excuses and find people to blame. You always have a reason things are not working out, instead of focusing on what you can do to make them work out.

If you keep working at 80%, you won’t get anywhere. You need to stop with the excuses. You need to start treating every training session, every game, as if it were a World Cup final.

You need to be the hardest-working person out there every time. You can’t just sit behind the strikers, feed them through balls and be a one-way player. You need to play box-to-box, defend and do the dirty work.

Soccer needs to be No. 1 in your life – not your boyfriend or your social life or anything else. Soccer. If it’s not, let’s go home right now.

If I call you at 10 p.m. on a Saturday and say, ‘Meet me at the field in a half-hour,’ you turn to your friends and say, ‘Sorry, everybody, I have to go train.’

You have to be ready and willing to train on Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving – that’s the commitment it’s going to take.”

-Carli Lloyd’s new coach after she was cut from the U21 national team

It took Carli a couple of years to work herself back into the national team player pool, and many more years to ultimately end up playing in the 2015 World Cup Final against Japan where she scored a hat-trick, including one of the best goals ever scored in the WWC. Later that same year she became the Fifa World Player of the Year, alongside Messi.

Clarifying rules for development academy players (boys and girls)

With the recent expansion of the US Soccer Development Academy (DA) to the younger U-12 age bracket (which will actually be the ‘old’ U-11 age bracket starting Fall 2017) for boys and the launch of the Girls’ Development Academy in the Fall next year, it might be helpful to clarify the rules for DA players doing non-DA activities.

The rules are more difficult to understand and interpret than I expected, and even emailed clarifications I received directly from the DA aren’t necessarily 100% clear, at least to me.

Please let me know in the comments below if you think there are inaccuracies and/or missing pieces of information.

With that in mind, here are the rules for all DA players, boys and girls, starting at U12:

DA clubs are responsible for developing an individual development plan for each player. This plan is meant to have each player’s best interest in mind to further his/her soccer development.

With that in mind, the DA is very focused on an appropriate train-to-play-to-rest ratio for the longer-term healthy development of players. This ratio is understood by all DA clubs and is taken into consideration when designing the individual player development plans.

Given that the DA-mandated activity load is already substantial, any additional outside activities are cause for concern.

Therefore:

DA players are not allowed to compete in *any* non-DA league or tourney. This includes activities such as high school soccer, beach soccer tourneys, and winter futsal leagues/tourneys. In fact, this applies to any *sport*.

DA clubs can apply for exemptions to compete in elite non-DA activities such as Dallas Cup, Surf Cup, and tournaments in Europe, but this is at the club/team level, not for individual players. Approval requires a written request by the club to academy staff for decision making.

And any non-DA *training* done outside the club’s training program such as additional strength conditioning sessions, private clinics, or weekly futsal practices are at the discretion of the player’s club and have to fit into the player’s overall development plan.

In other words, the player’s club can make a case-by-case decision to allow non-DA *training* if the DA club believes it to be beneficial for the player’s development.

However, my understanding is that any training exemptions are rare, so for all practical intents and purposes you should assume that non-DA training won’t be allowed.

During the DA off-season from mid-July (after Nationals) to the first week in September (about 6-8 weeks), players are permitted to get outside training and attend outside camps (ID camps, soccer, camps, college camps etc.).

But any consideration of outside training even during the off-season has to be brought to the attention of the club and discussed with them to make sure the training is in the best interest of the player.

I’m in two minds about this.

On the one hand, having flexibility to pursue soccer activities outside the regular DA structure could help youngsters enjoy the game more and for longer. For example, traveling to Spain during the Christmas/New Year break to train and play futsal at FC Barcelona (with a Bay Area non-DA futsal group) would surely help motivate a soccer-passionate youngster.

But on the other hand, the schedule for DA players truly is heavy already. The time commitment and physical exertion is considerable. And how many parents are in a position to make the right decisions regarding their youngster’s possible over-exertion? Many of us might think we can make the right decision “because we know our son or daughter best”, but I’m not sure about that, at least not at this elite level.

And then there are the resources that USSF and the DA clubs invest in the development of our elite players. Shouldn’t the DA and the clubs be able to protect that ‘investment’ for the longer-term?

Nevertheless, clubs need to do a much better job providing individualized holistic player development, not just focus on improving team-level play. And this is supposed to set the DA apart from non-DA programs – individual player development.

In contrast to non-DA players, who have a lot of flexibility to change teams/clubs/coaches and engage in a range of different soccer activities, DA players have to put a lot of trust into their DA club and coaches to truly take care of their entire player development needs and interests.

This isn’t easy – there are many points of view supporting both sides of this debate. Please let me know what you think in the comments section below. Keep in mind that we are talking about the most elite girls and boys players in our country when you consider the pros and cons of these DA rules.

Thank you!

Here are some relevant links and pasted information from those sources:

From http://www.ussoccerda.com/overview-program-benefits:

No Outside Activity/Competitions

To maintain a focus on club training environments, Academy players and teams do not play in any outside competitions without written permission from the U.S. Soccer Development Academy staff.

This includes any other leagues, tournaments, State Cup competitions, ODP or All-Star events. Development Academy players for all teams must choose to participate in the Academy full-time and forgo playing for their high school teams.

Full-time Academy players can only participate on their designated Academy team, with only two exceptions: U.S. Soccer Training Centers and Youth National Team duty.

The Development Academy upholds this rule because we believe elite players require world class environments. The Development Academy’s 10-month Program allows for a greater opportunity to institute style of play and implement a system according to U.S. Soccer’s Development Philosophy.

It also gives teams increased opportunities for younger kids in their club to “play up” against older players in both training and matches, thereby accelerating their development.

From http://www.ussoccerda.com/overview-academy-structure:

Outside Activity/Competition

Academy players and teams cannot play in any outside competitions without written permission from the Development Academy staff. This includes any other leagues, high school season, tournaments, State Cup competitions, ODP or All-Star events. There are two potential exceptions to this rule, provided they are approved by Development Academy staff:

  1. Domestic and international tournaments: Domestic & international tournaments may be permitted if they meet Academy’s technical standards of one game per day and elite competition. Examples of permitted events include the Dallas Cup, Surf Cup, Disney Showcase, and other International events
  2. Possibility for friendly games: Academy clubs can schedule friendly games to provide players with a heightened development experience. The games must not be part of an organized competition (i.e. tournament, league or camp) as defined in the non-participation regulations, and all competitions must adhere to all Academy standards and guidelines.

From http://www.ussoccerda.com/faq:

Can Academy players participate with non-Academy teams during the season? Full-time Academy players are only permitted to participate on their Academy team, and National Team duty.

Which teams participate in 10-month programming and do not allow high school participation? The entire Academy program does not participate in high school programming.

Phenomenal 13 year old Karamoko Dembele – you will watch this in stunned silence

Astonishing freestyler – enjoy!

The American Soccer Culture Problem (3Four3)

Some of you might be familiar with the Kleiban brothers already. Brian is a coach at LA Galaxy’s youth academy and Gary writes about soccer in our country through their blog 3Four3.

They have a reputation for, shall we say, ‘rocking the boat’ and their most recent post definitely hits hard. You might not agree with everything they say below, but their views are worth reading if you’re interested in the broader debate about coaching quality and player development in our country.

I wanted to re-blog their post, but couldn’t figure out how to do that, probably because we’re using different blogging platforms. So I decided to simply paste their post here.

To be clear, full credit for all of the content below goes to Gary @3Four3.

I suggest you first watch this clip and then continue reading Gary’s comments.

First, I want to applaud both Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock for bringing an important truth about the state of American soccer to the masses. It speaks volumes that these sports generalists call it like it is, while entrenched American soccer media doesn’t.

American soccer media, hence its consumers, coddles our players.

You don’t hear much public criticism for a variety of reasons

1) Incumbent American soccer media has been practically curated by the establishment. An establishment that naturally doesn’t want to be critically examined, particularly not at the foundational level. Hence, it neuters its media. How does it accomplish this? Well, it  holds a monopoly over the ecosystem. Anyone who doesn’t align with its foundational narrative, its founding culture, is in danger of losing access.

2) Incumbent culture has a recreational mentality – a property that is the antithesis of the hardcore culture the rest of the world has. The soccer structure we live in has been built of, by, and for a casual soccer demographic. It extends from youth all the way to the pro level being addressed here.

When something is casual, there are no stakes. When there are no stakes, nobody gets too heated over things.

After all, “it’s just a game“. That phrase, right there, is the (convenient) foundation upon which American soccer has been built. It’s no wonder we’re mediocre, anybody with that kind of mentality will not achieve excellence.

Contrast that with the rest of the world, where a portion of people’s very identity and self esteem is hinged on their clubs and national teams.

Now, before you robotically react and think that’s sad, reserve judgement until you understand that clubs and national teams across the world represent people at a social, political, economic, and cultural level. It is their flag.

3) Most soccer-first households (the largest and most critical of demos) in the United States aren’t paying attention to American soccer. Because well, it’s low level, inauthentic, and most importantly has historically discriminated against them – preferring instead to cater to the soft suburban soccer-mom demo.

As a consequence, it’s that soft culture that both dominates the narrative and creates policy when it comes to the American game – it has inculcated that softness into the very fabric of American soccer.

Yes, the soccer-first demographic, like 3four3, does call it like it is (e.g. as Colin put it in the above clip, “Michael Bradley is completely pedestrian”) but that has historically, and to this day, primarily occurred in relative isolation – as anyone from this demographic is not hired and graced with a large media platform. If one is hired, they are systematically neutered.

But there is someone with a heavyweight platform that has dipped his toe in the culture challenge.

Jurgen Klinsmann

Jurgen has criticized the players, and has been trying to send the message of “not good enough”, and lists reasons.

The result of his action and criticism?

The soft soccer-mom media turned on him and (at the behest of its master, MLS) launched a smear campaign against him that continues to date.

  • Prior to the World Cup, he stated the US can not win it. In other words, he told the unvarnished truth. He was real.
  • He deemed Landon Donovan not a good fit for the 2014 World Cup squad. (Note: Assessment of a player goes beyond his ability on the field, there are other critical factors a coach considers in making selections. This is a team game, after all. It’s not about 1 player.)
  • Players should go overseas to challenge themselves. This was an indictment of MLS, and the domestic culture.
  • He transmitted disappointment when he saw some of his key pieces coming back to MLS (e.g. Dempsey, Bradley, Altidore).
  • He said many moons ago, and continues to say, that our players are naive and “need to be nastier”.

There have been a variety of other incidents where the soccer-mom culture looked at him as “throwing players under the bus”.

They were also pissed when he suggested the media needed to further educate themselves in the game.

See, the culture here is precisely as Cowherd observes. The culture is soft. Even the words and phrases we use are soft.

If you look at what incumbent soccer media’s reactions/responses to Cowherd & Whitlock’s comments were, you a hard-pressed to find support for their observations.

Quite the contrary, most that’s been published whether on established media outlets, or social media commentary, was crafted to undermine these observations and uphold the soccer-mom status quo.

“We need to tell US soccer players, coaches, and fans the truth” – @WhitlockJason

“We’re not catching up with the rest of the world as long as soccer’s a sport for the upper class.” – @WhitlockJason

Alexi Lalas represents the establishment’s (convenient) myths

Jason Whitlock hits the truth, again.

Absolutely. Absolutely that certain cultures are a better fit to becoming great at soccer than others. Those coming from an affluent suburban American culture, in general, just don’t “have it”.

Those coming from a socio-economic strata below affluence, in general, are better suited. There’s a particular mentality and set of values the latter has, and the former does not.

Some of the biggest inhibitors the suburban players face are:

  • The “it’s just a game” mentality. The other demo treats it as an arena to “best” others, since from a societal perspective they are looked as ‘lower class’. It’s personal.
  • The suburban players are brought up in an environment where ‘following the rules’ of the traditional American industrial complex is sacred, where self expression is only ok within narrow boundaries. In other words, being robot-like automatons vs flavorful full-range humans. Top level “creativity” isn’t being stifled by coaches on the field, their cultural upbringing is doing that job.
  • The suburban player derives his self-esteem from things other than how good he is in sport. For instance, getting good grades on some standardized test. They measure themselves on how good they are at following societal norms. They don’t need to be great at soccer.

“The people in our stands, at the MLS games, they’re wondering where their next glass of wine is coming from.” – @WhitlockJason

Alexi has it totally wrong about pretty much everything. And he really goes off the rails at the end of the video when he tries to defend the absurdity of expecting the US to beat Argentina. It’s completely disingenuous, derived from the campaign to fire Jurgen Klinsmann, and frankly condescending to all US Soccer fans.

“And I saw the 3 American [analysts] pick us to win [vs Argentina], I was like … ‘nah man, don’t lie to us’” – @WhitlockJason

When an admitted soccer layman like Jason Whitlock can sniff out the bull shit, you know we have a serious problem.

Unprecedented probably in any sport: *opponents* celebrate retiring futsal legend Falcao after defeating his Brazilian team in the Quarterfinals of the Futsal World Cup

Have you ever seen a professional sports team celebrate an opponent during a major competition? This speaks volumes about Falcao’s status in the world of soccer, and futsal in particular.

Falcao retired today at age 39. He brought immeasurable joy to futbol and inspired a generation of players, including Neymar, through his ginga. He lifted futsal to new heights and will be forever remembered alongside greats such as Pele, Cruyff, Maradona, Ronaldinho, and Messi. Thank you for the magic, Falcao!

And respect to the Iranian players for this kind of sportsmanship!

Here’s a 40-second clip showing the celebration immediately after the Quarterfinal and then take a look at the FIFA clip on Falcao.

 

Dribbling, creativity, and movement of U12 FCB vs RM. I doubt they hear “stop dribbling, pass quicker” much! And notice the size difference.

Italian youth soccer “calcio” culture

SoccerAmerica published a great article on one Bay Area family’s experiences in the Italian youth soccer scene. It’s written by Chris Pepe who’s son plays on the U12 Juventus DA team here in the Bay Area. Thank you for sharing your experiences, Chris!

Click here for the full article. For brevity, I took the liberty of posting only the key parts of Chris’ article below. I recognize immediately what Chris describes from my time growing up in Europe. The same observations apply to Latin America.

The difference between a soccer culture that is deeply embedded within society and one that is just another scheduled sports activity shows itself on the fields of play.

If you’re interested in my views on this please click here, here, and here for additional articles.

Ok, here are Chris’ observations in Italy:

“At some point in the evolution of soccer in the USA, it seems we all became convinced that our children could or even would play professionally … statistics be damned! A truly American belief, born out of our eternal optimism and sometimes nauseating can-do spirit.

Despite the lack of a broad-based structure to scout and identify young talent, we still believe our kid will be the one. Irrespective of the millions of kids playing soccer for countless hours every day, we think the two hours on Monday, Wednesday and Friday is enough.

Despite the desire buried deep inside the impoverished kid that needs to play to find a better life, we are convinced it can be done. It’s a matter of expectations, and if there is one area where the USA over-indexes against its soccer-rich counterparts, it’s in confidence and its closest offsprings: expectations.

In Italy, instead, it is generally accepted at an early age that your kid won’t play for Inter or AC Milan. The best talent is selected early on, in some ways lowering the level of expectations that your son will become a professional player, and easing your desired outcome for this weekend’s game.

Nationwide rankings are not discussed or, to the best of my knowledge, even kept at the youth level here. The game is not played to bolster coaches’ ratings or build association points or prestige.

The Italian youth soccer game forms part of an intricate social structure that contains layers of amateur teams and professional associations that neatly ladder up to the professional Serie A.

Every town and village has its own top-flight squad, and a structure below that ladders its way up. Whether the top team plays in Serie A, B or C, or somewhere below, matters little other than the fact that it enables every player in every town to continue to play for as long as they may choose.

In our adopted town in Italy, knowing that the ‘best’ and most connected kids were playing for our local Serie B youth team, Vicenza Calcio, weekends have become much more relaxing. Oh sure, you do get to play against them, if only to see how the game is properly played.

And, yes, exposure is possible even at the lowest levels and in the smallest town, but is identified early on freeing the mind and the soul to play for the love of the game and with no particular professional ends in mind.

My son’s new school in Italy is attached to one of the many local churches, Chiesa del Carmine. As tourists, we had often marveled at the number of churches in Italy, rarely seeing the hidden courtyard sheltering a small calcetto court behind. Think small-sided 5v5 games on a basketball-style court. [Side note from this blogger: click here for a similar neighborhood court I came across wandering around downtown Barcelona recently.]

The Carmine courtyard has a small-sized soccer field, and numerous well-spaced trees that act as goalposts for any number of after school pick-up games. As the courtyard turns into a public park in the afternoons, kids from the neighborhood rush to pick teams, wearing last years Juve or Milan shirt bought at the market for 10 euro.

They Ro Sham Bo to determine teams, and proceed to play with reckless abandon. There is no structure or hired coach, there are no fees or scheduled breaks. Kids only stop play to cheer the slickest new move, or to get pointers on how to execute the latest trick. Older kids look out for younger kids, and younger kids test their toughness against older kids.

No meals will be missed, but kids play until darkness descends and their hearts are full of the beautiful game. It is here among friends where new moves are tried, individual skills are honed, and confidence is built.

In the USA, I would drop off my son at assigned times to run and kick and learn soccer’s structured basic skill-set. I would then rush to bring my daughter to her practice at the same time; do a bit of shopping; or maybe sneak in a run.

There was never an after school pick-up game or other opportunity to play. I could often convince my friend Marvin, a Salvadoran-American, to bring his three sons and meet at the local park. But even then, we never had enough players for a spirited match, and would make up games or run through drills.

I have often believed that U.S. youth soccer is dominated by ‘organized’ babysitting, as opposed to spontaneous play, and this notion has been reaffirmed while living in a country that has soccer as part of its very DNA.

While soccer remains perched on the cusp of a real mainstream following in the USA, we continue to excel at ‘soccer-by-appointment,’ rather than evolving into a sport driven by passion. Kids in Italy, while not quite filling every piazza with neighborhood match-ups, still play calcio more for the fun of it than for the appointed necessity of it all.

On my son’s Italian team (San Lazzaro), sponsored by the local pizza joint (Pizzeria Albera), there is no one outstanding athlete that can out-run the pack, and score off a long ball sent from the defense. It helps of course that, at this age (until age 13), kids play 9-a-side games on small-ish fields, with even smaller goals. There are three periods of 20 minutes a-piece, and little substituting.

At the start of each game, kids line up and walk to the center circle, while parents applaud both sides in an effort to set a standard for fair play. Once play begins, the focus is on playing the game properly and as one cohesive unit, one team. When the ball does cross the end-line, the keeper, no matter his skill level, must always play the ball from the back to his expectant defenders.

The team will then work the ball up through the midfield, and across the halfway line. Sure, this leads to countless mistakes and numerous unaccounted-for goals; irrespective, the emphasis remains the same, and the game must still be initiated from the back. It’s a rare match when the keeper punts the ball more than twice, and even more rare for a long ball to be played.

Winning remains an objective, however it’s the appearance of play, the ‘bella figura,’ that matters most. Losing well and looking good are acceptable; losing bad and looking bad are not.

Calcio and life are inextricably intertwined in so many ways here. Here you learn from a very young age that soccer is much more than a game. It’s a way of life.”

Pitfalls of affiliation with European pro soccer clubs?

You might have read this blog post about the many changes in our Bay Area youth soccer landscape and also one with two recorded calls from two US youth soccer clubs discussing their experiences affiliating with European pro teams.

This post is a guest post written by Andrew Hogg, a Bay Area soccer dad, with his perspectives on the value of affiliations of our youth soccer clubs with European pro clubs.

The insights and views in this post are Andrew’s only, and he takes a strong position on this issue that won’t agree with some of you, but I hope that his views help to at least inform the debate about the value of these affiliations.

Please also refer to the comments section below for additional/opposing perspectives.

Over the last few years an increasing number of youth soccer clubs have ‘affiliated’ themselves with European pro soccer clubs. Those clubs include West Ham, Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Bayern Munich.

The big question for parents and youngsters should be what the benefits will be on the field and how will the youngster improve as a player. Ask this question of many US youth clubs who have been affiliates for a few years and they typically only speak in generalities and typically point to overall ‘club growth’ as a benefit.

So let’s examine some of the promises made by our local youth clubs and their affiliated European clubs:

  • Access to their European youth development curriculum
  • An ID program or player development camps
  • Monthly calls with pro club coaches
  • One or two visits a year from pro club coaches
  • ‘Select teams’ formed from multiple affiliated US youth clubs to travel to tournaments in Europe
  • The possibility of select youngsters being able to train with the European clubs’ home youth academy

In return for these benefits, the US affiliate youth club pays an up-front fee, some annual fee, and requires their players to buy (typically once a year) and wear the Euro clubs’ uniforms.

But are these affiliations actually delivering an improved soccer experience to the youngsters at our youth clubs? Or are they just a way for those European clubs to get US parents to pay for the privilege of wearing Euro clubs’ jerseys and propagating their brand?

Is the main reason for our US youth clubs to affiliate with a Euro club simply a smart marketing strategy to grow their clubs, generating more revenue, but not necessarily better soccer?

Keep in mind that youth soccer is a business here in our country and youth clubs in our Bay Area are competing for players and resources, including money, fields, and coaches. Click here for a recent article on this topic. And here’s another one on pay-to-play.

Let’s take a look at each of the promised and implied benefits:

Curriculum

Let’s start with asking what a curriculum even is.

Is there a “system”? Does that system include number of days of training, training focus (technical, tactical, physical etc.) by age, a step-by-step progression model a-la Common Core, practice methodologies, workout drills, discipline models by age, a training ethos (# positions per player by age, playing time models by age, etc.).

Or, to be blunt about it, is the ‘curriculum’ just a bunch of drills that any coach or player or parent could just pull from the Internet?

When you’re promised a curriculum, ask your club to explain what that means, what aspects of training it will cover, in detail. And ask to see the curriculum. Many times the answer will be vague and no actual Euro club curriculum will be forthcoming.

ID Programs and Camps

Usually for even more money, your player can attend an ID Program. This is usually an additional practice, run by your club’s normal coaches, using the Euro club “curriculum”, and ostensibly used to “ID” players who might get “promoted” to the next ID Program (costing more money) and ultimately invited to play on a travel team in a tourney in Europe or on a “tour” to the affiliate club.

Often you are just paying for an extra practice with the club’s normal coaches using their standard curriculum. The camps are much of the same, offered to those in the ID Program, and probably more driven by the revenue they can bring the club than any real desire or ability to deliver superior training to your player.

Monthly Calls with Euro Club Coaches

What actionable items are produced from these monthly calls that have a direct effect on the field for your youngster? Or are these calls just to make the affiliate coaches and/or parent board members feel good?

Are European 2nd or 3rd tier youth coaches really that much more insightful (from 5,000 miles away, with no presence on the field) than a well-educated, motivated and experienced US youth coach? And are calls really enough to transfer the know-how that these Euro coaches have?

Annual Visits by Euro Club Coaches

Which coaches are coming? How long are they staying for? Who’s paying for their flight, hotel, rental car and per diem food expenses? What training of either coaches or players are they doing? For how many hours on how many days?

In reality most of these visits are for a week or two at most, by perhaps two second-tier coaches, sometimes in the summer when half the kids are “gone”, and are given to a specific age group or ‘level’ for a few hours during those two weeks.

‘Select Teams’ for Travel Tournaments

These are teams like a “West Coast Girls U15 Euro Club”, made up of players from multiple affiliated youth clubs. The kids are chosen as much for their parents’ willingness and ability to pay as for their soccer credentials.

They will travel to Europe, on the parents dime, to play in a tournament, or go on what’s commonly referred to as a “tour”, where they play a couple of friendly games, visit the stadium and tour some of the local sights.

These are tours that have been organized for years by third party companies for anyone with a team (and the money), but are now advertised directly by the affiliate club.

Are they worthwhile? For sure, as much as they have always been. It’s a holiday to Europe for parents and players, and it’s a way to get your player jazzed about soccer. That’s a genuine choice parents can make, of course.

But does it improve your soccer player? Does it increase your chances of playing for the Euro club? Of course not. What else could you have done with the thousands of dollars you spent (US tournaments, 1-on-1 training, summer camps, etc.) that would have improved your player’s chances of improving their game, getting to play at college, etc.?

The Big Promise

The big carrot often dangled in front of parents and players: players can be chosen to train in Europe with the pro club.

Many parents think their player is better than they really are. Many don’t understand the US Soccer system, think that NorCal Gold or Premier is the pinnacle, don’t know that USSDA exists, don’t know that their kid might be good in their local pond (even in a big pond like LA or Dallas) but is mediocre at best on a global scale.

Do one or two get chosen to go, all expenses covered? Maybe. But that’s after 1 or 2 have been chosen from your club to go to state tryouts, from which 1 or 2 were chosen to go to US tryouts, from which 1 or 2 were chosen to go to Europe. In other words the odds, after spending many thousands of dollars for travel and hotel stays, are miniscule.

For example, Liverpool have been doing this for years in the US, longer than probably any other club, and my understanding is that to date they have only taken 2 boys to Liverpool for a 1 week tryout, and neither progressed beyond that week. This isn’t a criticism of the Euro club (their only goal for their youth academies is elite talent identification after all), but parents needs to be aware of the reality of this.

In summary, these Euro club affiliations make many promises and often deliver on too few of them. There are probably exceptions, but in general the ‘return’ often isn’t good enough to justify the additional cost and inevitable changes at your club. Carefully evaluate your club’s implementation of any affiliation and how that implementation affects specifically your son or daughter.

Think carefully about which players might benefit more than others. For example, do the top 20% benefit because the club now attracts better players, but the bottom 80% get “pushed down” to make space for the new (and better) players but nevertheless have to pay more money every year for uniforms etc.? Consider carefully if and how the promised benefits of an affiliation trickle down to the large majority in your club.

How long will these affiliate programs last? In some cases, only until parents smell the bacon burning in the kitchen. Those affiliated youth clubs that make a much better effort to deliver the benefits to the majority of kids in the club can be successful with this if success is measured by a better soccer experience and education for the 80%.

We hold this truth to be self-evident, but let’s hear it from one of the best coaches in the world

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Even mild childhood concussion linked to lifelong health and social problems

The scientific evidence is mounting: even mild childhood head injuries can increase the risk of low educational attainment, psychiatric hospitalization and early death, according to a highly respected team of scientists from the US, UK, and Sweden.

“Even a single mild traumatic brain injury will predict poor adult functioning.”

-Amir Sariaslan, University of Oxford, UK

To be clear, ‘traumatic brain injury’ sounds like a major head injury to us non-medical parents, coaches, and players, but in the medical world ‘just’ a concussion is considered a traumatic brain injury.

Click here for the just-published scientific paper if you’re interested. And click here for an easier to digest article summarizing some of the findings.

And I also wanted to share the following recent comments published in the New York Times by Dr. Omalu, the forensic pathologist and neuropathologist who first discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy in American football players. He is featured in the movie Concussion. The last sentence struck me as especially profound so I bolded it.

“Our children are minors who have not reached the age of consent. It is our moral duty as a society to protect the most vulnerable of us. The human brain becomes fully developed at about 18 to 25 years old.

We should at least wait for our children to grow up, be provided with the information and education on the risk of play [in American Football], and let them make their own decisions. No adult, not a parent or a coach, should be allowed to make this potentially life-altering decision for a child.

We have a legal age for drinking alcohol; for joining the military; for voting; for smoking; for driving; and for consenting to have sex. We must have the same when it comes to protecting the organ that defines who we are as human beings.

To be clear, there is a big difference in risks between American Football and soccer. Like probably in any team sport, there are brain injury risks playing soccer, but those are arguably manageable through smart and prudent preventive measures, including heading rules for youngsters and stricter enforcement of challenges on players that risk injury to the brain.

But let’s get ahead of this in soccer. Take the risks of head injuries seriously folks, even mild ones!

Sportsmanship message from NorCal Premier Soccer – unfortunately too easily forgotten as the season unfolds

As we head into the fall season, we would like to encourage players, coaches, family members, club officials, and referees to take a moment to consider how they will behave around their upcoming soccer games. All play an important role in our small piece of the “World’s Game”, all deserve to be treated respectfully.

While we absolutely encourage everyone to give their best effort, trying to win, we also believe a sense of soccer fellowship should be maintained at all times ­among opponents, opposing fans, and referees.

Treat each other with courtesy, remember your opponents are just like you, fans of the game, only in a different uniform, playing for a different club, supporting a different team, or in the case of referees, with a different role to play.

Whatever part you play, be a role model. Set an example. Your positive example is incredibly valuable to those who witness it!

The rules must be respected – they maintain a player’s health and safety, provide everyone a fair chance to win each match, and provide necessary checks and balances to govern a game full of emotions.

Referees must be respected and treated properly ­- without them the games cannot be played. Remember they are sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers. They are our fellow soccer fans and they deserve our patience. Our praise, respect and admiration should be shown to them for taking on what is often a thankless task.

Finally, respect the game! Soccer, futebol, fussball, football, whatever you may call it, is the greatest sport in the world – for it to continue to grow and remain healthy in our country it absolutely needs us to respect… its fields, its players, its fans, its referees and its coaches.

Thank you very much,

Norcal Board of Directors

Why modern goalkeepers need to be good with their feet

Blind players in Brazil using sound to play the game they love

Youth National Team coach: “Players aren’t as creative as they used to be”

If you’re familiar with my blog then you know how important I think creativity is for player development and that I’m concerned about an overemphasis on quick passing at too early an age. I hear “don’t dribble” too often.

Click here, here, and here for just some of my posts on this topic.

So I was glad to read the following comments from our U16 National Team coach, Shaun Tsakiris, during an interview with GoalNation at Surf Cup a few weeks ago:

“It’s interesting, I think our youth soccer players aren’t as creative as they used to be.

We’re so structured in training that we’ve lost a little creativity in our players. I think we’ve created more good players and less special players.

I often remind myself not to take the love of the game and the creativity away from my players.

While the Federation has made great strides in coaching education in the past few years, even I have to remember not to over-structure.

It is our responsibility as coaches to help our players develop the creative aspects of the game.”

Sydney Leroux: “Parents, chill out!”

The making of a futbol genius – and I predict the best it yet to come

22 more clubs get Girls Development Academy status for a total of 74

Cedar Stars Academy – Monmouth (Tinton Falls, N.J.)

Indiana Fire (Westfield, Ind.)

Real So Cal (Woodland Hills, Calif.)

Empire United (Rochester, N.Y.)

La Roca Futbol Club (Kaysville, Utah)

SC del Sol (Phoenix, Ariz.)

FC Fury New York (Bay Shore, N.Y.)

Burlingame SC – MVLA (Burlingame, Calif.)

Sereno Soccer Club (Phoenix, Ariz.)

FC Kansas City (Prairie Village, Kan.)

Nationals (Royal Oak, Mich.)

Sporting Blue Valley (Overland Park, Kan.)

FC United (Northfield, Ill.)

Oakwood Soccer Club (Glastonbury, Conn.)

Texas Rush Soccer Club (The Woodlands, Texas)

Houston Dash (Houston, Texas)

PA Classics (Manheim, Pa.)

West Coast Futbol Club (Laguna Hills, Calif.)

Houston United (Houston, Texas)

Pateadores (Costa Mesa, Calif.)

Western New York Flash (Elma, N.Y.)

PSV Union (Palo Alto, Calif.)

First in-game use of video replay in soccer last Saturday – and it worked well!

New dropped-ball law – who cares, right? Well…

A blog post on this topic? Nothing ever happens during a dropped ball, right? Well, here’s what happened during a recent U17B tournament game that I officiated.

I stopped play because of a suspected head injury when the attacking team (white) was in possession of the ball in the final attacking third, close to the penalty box.

(By the way, referees should not stop play in these attacking situations unless the injury might be serious, including a possible head injury.)

As you probably know, the restart in these situations is a dropped ball at the spot where the ball was when the referee blew the whistle.

And as has been customary (for decades probably?), I suggested that the blue player kick the ball back to the white team. This isn’t really an ‘instruction’ because every player and coach knows to do this for sportsmanship reasons. So it’s more of a reminder or clarifying statement to make sure there is no confusion about what is going to happen next.

What do you think happened next?

I dropped the ball (near the blue team’s penalty box) and the blue player boots the ball hard diagonally across the field and into the open space behind the white team’s defensive back line. The blue left forward takes off and scores a goal.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen this happen and I believe that the blue forward truly didn’t understand what was going on. He was completely focused on scoring.

I had no choice but to let the goal stand. Referees have no power to overturn this kind of goal. You can probably imagine the confusion on the field and the sidelines (to put the best possible spin on this) and the reaction of the white team coach.

To the blue team’s coach’s credit, he asked the white team to kick the ball to his goalkeeper during kick-off, who then kicked the ball into his own net for an own goal.

So at least the goal difference was cancelled out, but the white team didn’t get the extra point that one typically gets at tournaments for a shut-out (white won 5-1).

Now, with the above context in mind, here’s the change in the Laws of the Game that went into effect worldwide this summer (bolded):

“The referee cannot decide who may contest a dropped ball or its outcome.”

In other words, referees are not allowed to ‘manufacture’ the outcome of a dropped ball anymore.

So my reminder during the U17B game to blue to kick the ball back to white (to make sure the outcome of the injury stoppage was going to be ‘fair’ as has been custom) wasn’t correct in the strict application of the new law.

The new law is meant to preempt precisely what occurred during my U17B game.

I was also assigned to officiate the U19B Final for that tournament the following day. Guess what happened? Stoppage in play due to injury in the attacking third, but this time, with the previous day’s event fresh in my mind, I told the players that the new law now forces me to execute a properly contested dropped ball. There was a little confusion, but the players and coaches accepted it and we got on with it.

Now here’s the tricky part.

It is not obvious what “the referee cannot decide its outcome” actually means. Referees can’t ask/tell/instruct the players what to do anymore, but the moment one of the players asks a question we can simply tell them to “ask your coach what to do”, for example. Or, in general terms, referees could describe the options the players have, but that the referee will not get involved in that decision.

So the referee will execute a proper dropped ball and will refrain from making any suggestions regarding the ‘right/fair’ way, but the players/teams, either on their own or through coach’s instructions, might decide to kick the ball back to the team that had possession. And that’s completely fine.

Also keep in mind the age and level of the players. For example, nine year old boys and girls mostly don’t know what to do with a dropped ball, so you’ll probably see some referees be more actively involved in creating a ‘fair’ outcome. And parents and coaches will support that fair outcome.

There will be some amusing/unusual dropped-ball situations until everyone adjusts to this modified law.

Practice explains only a small part of the difference in performance between soccer players

The Washington Post published an interesting article discussing the latest scientific research on the role of ‘practicing’ on performance.

The data shows that deliberate practice accounted for only 18 percent of the variation in performance for a sport like soccer.

In other words, practice is a necessary but not sufficient factor to becoming a top soccer player. Other factors play a much bigger role, including genetics, mental strength and flexibility, the efficiency of a player’s internal biological processes, and luck.

Deliberate practice is important to become the best you can be, but there is going to be a limit to how good you can become based on those other factors.

Your son or daughter will reach his or her ceiling at some point, despite deliberate practice, commitment, good coaching, and full parental support. Manage your expectations accordingly and focus on what really matters: helping him/her enjoy the game for a lifetime and benefit from the life experiences that being part of a team brings, both good and bad. And make the right tradeoff with time spent on academics.

So if your son or daughter becomes, for all practical intents and purposes, the best he/she can be in soccer and does so with a smile while also reaching his/her potential in school then you’ve been successful.

But if the smile is gone then he/she won’t continue playing soccer for much longer, and if school performance is suffering materially then you’re jeopardizing his/her future as an adult. Your son or daughter has a natural ceiling to what he/she can achieve in a sport, unfortunately. Recognize this and make smart decisions.

I’m pasting the entire article below and leave it to you to chew on. Here goes:

Practice makes perfect. It’s a mantra we hear all our lives, from simple refrains in kindergarten to the more nuanced versions that populate self-help books.

It’s everywhere at this year’s Olympic Games in Rio, as athletes credit the long hours they spent working with coaches and trainers for their success. It leads us to believe there’s a chance that each of us could be an Olympian, a concert pianist, or an expert computer programmer — if only we put the work in.

In popular culture, this idea was probably best publicized as Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000-hour rule,” which says that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at any skill.

That rule was in turn loosely based on a 1993 study of accomplished violinists in Berlin, which found that the most accomplished students had spent 10,000 hours practicing by the time they were 20 — far more hours than the less accomplished students had spent practicing.

Gladwell estimated that the Beatles and Bill Gates had also put in 10,000 hours of practice fiddling with guitars and computers, respectively, by the time they went big.

There’s one problem with this idea: Research suggests it isn’t true. Practice is helpful in improving performance in a variety of fields, from athletics to chess. But it plays a surprisingly small role in determining whether people become virtuosos.

One of the most vocal critics of Gladwell’s theory has been David Epstein, a Sports Illustrated writer who critiqued the 10,000-hour rule in his book “The Sports Gene.” Epstein argues that 10,000 hours is just an average and that averages are highly misleading (e.g., a person who takes 20,000 hours to master a skill and someone who takes zero hours will together average out to 10,000).

Epstein insists that biology and genetics determine how long you need to practice to acquire a certain skill. Speaking to Outside magazine, he said, “genetics is continually finding now that one person’s hour of practice isn’t as good as the next person’s hour. Talent isn’t something preceding you trying something, but your biological setup that allows you to benefit more than the next guy.”

New research published earlier this summer in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science and recently written about in New York Magazine supports Epstein’s argument. 

The researchers performed what’s called a “meta-analysis,” in which they re-examined 52 independent samples of data from other previous studies. That data comprised a pool of athletes who competed at levels varying from local clubs up to the Olympics, some with as little as four hours of practice, and some with as many as 12,839 hours.

The researchers found a positive correlation between practice and performance: Those who had practiced more definitely did better, and athletes at higher levels of the sport had typically spent more time practicing than those lower down the ladder.

But the effect of practice on performance was surprisingly small. They found that deliberate practice accounted for only 18 percent of the variation in sports performance.

Among elite-level performers, those who were competing at a national or international level, the proportion was much lower. Deliberate practice accounted for only 1 percent in the difference in their performance, a statistically insignificant difference from zero.

Practice accounted for more of the variation in performance in what’s called “internally paced sports” — those where the athletes get to determine the timing when the skill is executed.

It explained about 41 percent of the variance in performance in internally paced sports, like the javelin throw, compared to only 17 percent in externally paced sports, like basketball or soccer.

Practice also explained slightly more of the variation in performance in individual sports compared with team sports, in ball sports compared with non-ball sports, and in “closed skill” sports (where the environment is stable and predictable, like archery) vs. “open skill” sports (where the environment is dynamic, such as receiving and passing a puck in hockey).

The analysis also showed that athletes who reached the upper levels of their events did not begin practicing their sport at an earlier age than lower skill athletes did. Some have argued that starting to play a sport very young gives athletes an advantage, in part because they have many more years to train.

But the researchers found that the mean starting difference in age for different sports between high skilled and low skilled athletes was only 5.6 weeks.

The collective data suggested that a whopping 82 percent of the variation in performance was due to factors other than practice. So what were they?

While some of that figure might just be due to measurement error, the researchers say a large part is probably due to biology and genetics.

Some people’s maximum oxygen uptake will increase sharply with training, for example, making them particularly suited to athletics. 

Other people may have more ability to gain muscle mass or better motor control. Others may benefit from certain psychological traits, like confidence, a lack of performance anxiety, a high level of focus or a fast perceptual speed.

This is not to say that we should get rid of practicing altogether. Especially if you’re a beginner, practice is important. But for most people, practice won’t bring you anywhere near perfection.

One club’s view on parent refereeing: “a paid job”

First off, to avoid any misunderstand, this post is NOT meant to point a finger at a specific club or individuals at that club. The decision makers at this club were acting without malice in what they considered to be reasonable and in the best interest of their club. So the intention of this post is only to help ‘educate’ our youth soccer community, including decision makers at clubs (and leagues), triggered by an actual situation I encountered with one of the big clubs in our area.

One of my kids plays for one of the well-known clubs in the Bay Area and this club collects an additional $100 per player every season that parents can earn back through six hours of volunteering during the season. Any money left over at the end of the season is automatically donated to the club.

Volunteer tasks include activities such as lining a field or manning a tournament booth or helping to sell club spirit wear during a club event.

As you might know, I am a fully certified USSF referee and try my best to officiate as many youth games as I can every weekend to help our Bay Area soccer community, including many games for this specific club.

You probably already know that there is a big shortage of referees, but if you don’t then please take a moment to read this before continuing.

To my surprise, when I submitted my refereeing to this club as my volunteering contribution to claim the $100 back at the end of last season, I was told that this club doesn’t consider refereeing ‘volunteering’ because it is compensated.

The ironic thing is that in response to this same club’s request for parents to consider becoming certified referees “to help make sure games can happen” some years ago, I volunteered to become one.

And every six months or so this club’s referee coordinator sends out an email to all families asking for help officiating and the details of the next entry-level referee course. And, partly in response to this club’s recent shout-out, two of my kids are also now certified referees and volunteer their time on weekends in addition to their own soccer games.

Before I continue, let me emphasize that this is not about the $100. I am fortunate enough not to have to worry about the $100. Instead, it’s about the principle of this policy and the message that it is sending.

Also, let me be clear one more time that I don’t think this club is in any way ‘against’ referees. The club leadership and Board members are good people that want their club and kids to succeed. I have to assume that the majority on the club’s Board simply don’t understand what’s involved in becoming a referee and then officiating every weekend.

I am going to first talk about money, then my non-monetary commitments, and, finally, I will describe arguably the single most important and hidden volunteer contribution that goes along with a parent referee.

The club is correct that referees do get some compensation for games. It’s anywhere from $25 to $55 per game, depending on factors such as whether you’re the CR or AR, the age group, duration of the game, and level of play (e.g. CYSA league game or NPL or ECNL etc.).

So, for example, if I’m the AR for a 50-minute U8 CYSA game then I get $25. And if I’m the CR for a 90-minute U18 ECNL game then I get $55.

The total time commitment for the U8 game is around 2 hours and around 3 hours for the U18 game, when adding halftime (around 10 minutes), pre-game set-up and team check-in (we try to arrive 30 minutes prior to kick-off, but it’s often only 15 to 20 minutes because we’re rushing over from another game), post-game handshakes and paperwork etc. (10 minutes), and then, say, 30 to 60 minutes driving to and from the field. Sometimes we have back-to-back games at the same field so that saves us one leg of the drive.

So that’s $12.50 per hour for a typical U8 game and $18 per hour for a typical U18 game.

But that’s before deducting expenses!

Deduct from this the cost of fuel plus an allocation for wear and tear for my car. This wear and tear includes factors such as added mileage and the effects of usage on parts, tires, brakes, fluids etc. The IRS calculates the fully loaded cost for this to be $0.54 per mile. I drive an average of 10 miles one way to a game so that’s around $10 just for car usage.

Also deduct from the compensation the cost of additional food and drinks that I often grab on-the-go while driving from one game to the next. A per-game allocation of, say, $5 for extra food and a Peets coffee (to get my tired mind and body caffeinated for the fourth game under the sun that day) that I would not have bought if I wasn’t refereeing, and we’re looking at a total per-game cost of between $10 and $15.

And then there’s the cost for annual USSF certification and membership in the referees association, plus the cost for my equipment, which I estimate to be around $500 to $750. And I’m about to spend another round of money on equipment because USSF is introducing new referee uniforms.

I’m probably missing a couple of cost items, but I hope this gives you some insight into the expense side of refereeing. Nevertheless, a referee can come out ahead if he/she officiates enough games and thus covers his/her fixed cost.

Now, I’m fortunate enough not to have to worry about ‘coming out ahead’. Any money I ‘earn’ over and above my cost makes zero contribution to my family’s standard of living. And I can say with 99% certainty that the same applies to any parent at that club who decides to help out by becoming a referee. You would agree with me if you knew which club it was and the neighborhoods the families live in.

Next, let’s focus on the non-monetary aspects of what I do. It’s easiest to simply run a list:

  • 4 to 6 games per weekend (sometimes no games if I’m taking my daughter or son to an overnight tournament, and sometimes more if needed, especially during local tournaments) – a total of 10 to 20 hours per weekend and probably 200 to 300 hours per typical season;
  • I jump into games on short notice and drop whatever else I was planning to do with my kids or wife when I get an urgent email or call asking me to help out because a game is short referees or a referee fell ill;
  • I attend, on my own time and cost, referee association meetings to discuss and learn about becoming a better referee;
  • I attend, on my own time and cost, quarterly referee training seminars to become a better referee;
  • I read, on my own time and cost, articles on refereeing and study case studies on a daily/weekly basis to become a better referee;
  • I mentor, on my own time, new/young referees when asked by assignors;
  • I write, on my own time, about refereeing on this blog to help educate our soccer community here in the Bay Area;
  • I encouraged my two oldest kids to become referees, helped train them, often discuss refereeing decisions and the laws of the game with them, and take them to their games so we have new young referees to fill the shoes of those aging out;
  • I am studying, on my own time, the recently updated Laws of the Game – the biggest revamp of the laws in the history of the game;

I could go on.

Now let’s get to the typically overlooked yet most critical volunteer contribution of all. And this volunteer contribution gets zero recognition. At least a referee can get some personal satisfaction from officiating a game.

This critical volunteer contribution comes from my wife. She sacrifices her time every weekend to enable me (and my kids) to help out with officiating so that games can take place.

My wife puts up with all of this. Who takes care of the kids when I’m gone for the day or even weekend helping make sure youth games can happen? My wife. Who adjusts her schedule when I get an urgent call to help out with game? My wife. And who takes our kids to their games if those overlap with my officiating? My wife.

And my wife earns zero compensation and recognition for this volunteering. In fact, it is often a source of considerable stress in our family.

And, finally, at the end of an especially long weekend officiating, my body and mind are exhausted. I often have no energy to go out on a Saturday or Sunday evening, and Monday then becomes my recovery day – guess how productive my workday is on some Mondays?

I don’t like to talk about this. I’m not into self-promotion. I’m not looking for a pat on the back. I do all this for a passion for the beautiful game and to help the kids in our Bay Area soccer community. For futbol…and a smile on the kids’ faces.

Yes, there are often many negative emotions during and after games as you can imagine, dear parents and coaches ;-), but, on balance, the positives of refereeing outweigh the negatives for me.

I couldn’t care less for any ‘compensation’ and I couldn’t care less for the $100 donation for this club. This isn’t about the money. And the same applies to practically any other parent referee.

But what I do care about is that refereeing by parents is viewed as a ‘paid job’. At a minimum, it completely ignores the very real sacrifices of the referee’s spouse.

I simply can’t see how a referee family’s contribution to our youth soccer community, including a specific club’s community, is worth less than spending a handful of hours manning a booth.

I strongly urge clubs to respect and recognize the contributions of parent referee families to our soccer community.

Anyway, I hope this is a useful perspective on parent refereeing that is probably not fully understood in our youth soccer community.

For futbol, for the kids!

If you love your child read this

Please consider sharing this with family, friends, and coaches.

Brown University scientists have captured in real-time video (see below) what happens to a brain cell after experiencing a significant impact on the brain. And, crucially, it’s not just the hard concussion-causing blows that cause permanent brain damage.

When the brain was hit with a slower blow, “the cells gradually retract all their connections to the surrounding networks and sort of silently shut down. What is striking to us is that within the first four to five hours, the brain cells look healthy, and you think everything is OK.

Then you see the cells changing, and then they start to change rapidly and degenerate, and they’re dead within a few hours. [the below clip shows that clearly]

The reason why there is a delay is because it’s a chemical process that plays out inside the cell. There are certain enzymes that, once they become activated, start to chop down the cell from the inside out.” Christian Franck, Assistant Professor at Brown University

So what does this mean for soccer? Well, for one, I believe that we need to err on the side of caution and prevent youngsters from heading balls until they are, say, 14 or older. Coaches and referees also need to be much more vigilant about head injuries.

CYSA now bans heading for all U13 and below games and NorCal for all U11 and below. This is a very good step, of course, but my personal preference is to see this extended to U14 across the nation.

By the way, even medical professionals and scientists don’t yet know what an acceptable number and type of blows to the head should be. Research is underway, but it will take many years. But I just look at the fragile floating brain in our skull in the clip below and just can’t help but feel that we’re not cautious enough.

And what does this mean for American Football? Pull your child out immediately. You are causing lasting long-term brain damage to your child and there is no way to repair that damage. I simply can’t see how American Football can be modified to make it safe.

There is nothing more precious than our brains and especially a child’s developing brain. For some reason, as a society, we are prone to ignore the health of our brains and just assume that the brain keeps working as designed. And we don’t seem to understand that many brain injuries cause devastating effects only years or even decades later.

But why should we treat the brain with any less care than other body parts? If you knew that a certain type of activity causes repetitive micro-fractures in your legs’ bones and eventually complete lifetime loss of use of your legs, would you continue to encourage your child to perform that activity?

So why would you do this for activities that damage the brain and lead to lifetime impairment and possibly even early death? It doesn’t make sense!

Take this seriously folks!

For more background, please see below for an overview of how impact head injuries occur and click here for a CNN clip on the impact of concussions in soccer.

 

Fun, freedom and focus – essential for peak performance

I came across an article in GoalNation about a sports psychologist who works with players and clubs in the English Premier League. He describes the following three key attributes of a top-performing player’s state of mind:

I want every player, no matter their level, no matter their age, to play with fun. 

Excellence starts with fun. A man-of-the-match performance starts with a fun mindset. Being determined and being disciplined starts with a mind attuned to having fun on the pitch. So aim to go have fun.

Fun is a building block to playing with freedom – without tension, worry and doubt.

What does playing with freedom look like to you? What does it feel like?

I hope your coach gives you permission to play with freedom – when I say freedom I mean two things.

Firstly, I mean being on your toes, being ready for the next play, being sharp, alert, alive and lively. I mean not weighed down by the burden of fear.

Secondly, I mean being given permission to make mistakes. All soccer players make mistakes – even Ronaldo, even Messi.

If your coach hasn’t mentioned this then I ask you to give yourself permission to make mistakes. Because when you do (and it’s a case of when rather than if), you will have a mindset to simply carry on.

Free players carry on no matter what happens. They don’t dwell on a past mistake. They don’t dwell on going a goal down. They play with fun and freedom.

Of course you need to be focused as well. A great competitor is focused on each play at hand. Having fun and being free gives you a great platform to play with focus.

I want you to pick one or two things you can focus on accomplishing during the game. Make these things controllable. For example, “complete my passes” isn’t controllable. “keeping great body language no matter what” is controllable.

U.S. Soccer’s Gender Wage Gap