How to win youth games, for a few years.

What is your coach teaching the kids? Are you as parents focusing on the right things during games? And if you have a coach who really understands the game at a deeper level and how to teach it, then show your support during games and conversations between parents by focusing on what’s important.

long balls vs passing

The Making Of Ronaldo

Great documentary on Cristiano Ronaldo. Enjoy!

The lifeblood of soccer

ENTERTAINMENT.

The more entertaining the games are (at all levels, including youth games) the more time and money players, parents, coaches, and spectators are willing to invest in this beautiful game. And the higher this willingness to spend (in time and money), the more resources can be invested in improving facilities, fields, training, coaches, and ultimately the players. This, in turn, further increases the entertainment value. It’s a virtuous cycle.

So what does this imply for youth soccer and player development?

The ‘actors’ performing on the field have to be entertaining and the context within which these actors perform has to be positive. There has to be a reason for why parents should return again and again to watch their son/daughter and his/her team. And it might not be entertaining from a performance perspective, but simply a joy to watch their son/daughter try hard and be with a group of friends. For the most competitive minded players and parents ‘entertainment’ might have more to do with a satisfying performance and application of recently learned skills or movements – in this case satisfaction comes from seeing and feeling player development progress. This also is a form of ‘entertainment’, but probably specific to strong players at the youth level.

The more everyone has a good time and is satisfied with the game, the better it is for the growth of soccer in this country.

So we need:

  • boys and girls that enjoy the game, that want to be out there playing (and in front of their parents and coaches!) – spectators can ‘feel’ this positive energy
  • boys and girls that are creative and use technical skills, balanced with smart teamwork
  • a safe environment to prevent (serious) injuries – good fields and sanitary facilities, goals that are weighted down, players wearing the correct equipment, etc.
  • consistent and balanced application of the laws of the game that reflect the realities of the specific game and the level and age of the players
  • referees that work as hard as the players and coaches to make sure that the flow and outcome of the game isn’t impacted by questionable decisions – nobody is there to watch the referees
  • positive coaches – nobody likes to listen to negative coaches during games; it takes away from the enjoyment for both players and parents

And what we don’t need:

  • relatively boring, predictable patterns of play
  • players that don’t really want to be there
  • frustrating referees
  • negative coaches (it’s terrible to have to listen to them)
  • egoistic players
  • negative parental behavior (that’s a whole separate topic…coming soon to this blog!)
  • boys and girls that don’t get to play much
  • bad fields and facilities

At the youth level there are clearly many other reasons to participate in youth sports as a player and parent, at least over the short to medium term. Developing a work ethic, developing healthy habits, and learning to be part of a team are some obvious examples. But those only go so far. Players and parents will eventually lose interest in the game if they aren’t enjoying playing and watching it.

And at the professional level, we have a long way to go. Frankly, college and MLS games are, by and large, boring to watch if you’re used to the entertainment value of games in Europe and other parts of the world. Take a look at this ranking of 25 top leagues around the world. The MLS ranks dead last in terms of quality of soccer given the cost of tickets. The good news is that there appears to be a surprisingly high willingness to pay, but if the entertainment value doesn’t rapidly increase we will sooner or later see a considerable reduction in attendance and revenues, and hence downward slide in investment in soccer in our country.

This HAS to change and the only way it can is for new generations of exciting players to emerge from our youth programs. And it starts with your child, your coach, your club, and your own behavior as a parent.

Maybe take a moment to reflect on how things are done in your soccer microcosm and consider to what extent those ways of doing things align well with making soccer more entertaining. Which ways increase entertainment and which ways decrease it?

Great way to watch games from around the world

I can strongly recommend FoxSoccer2Go. It’s about $20 per month but I get to watch games from all the major national leagues and tournaments, including the UEFA Champions League. It streams nicely on my laptop, tablet, and smartphone.

Enjoy!

Shin guards are very important

As a referee I see many players that wear shin guards that are too small or ill-fitting. Players typically view them as a necessary evil and feel that their weight interferes with their leg movements. Very few understand how critical shin guards are.

One youth player I know very well plays central defender on a top U13 team and really doesn’t like to wear them (here’s looking at you Sammy). She wears what looks like shin guards that are size XS and she also doesn’t like to pull her socks up. Half of her shin is exposed, the shin guards don’t stay in place (they rotate around her legs), and often fall out during games. My kids don’t like them either and try to wear a size down.

Shin guards worn during soccer matches can reduce the force delivered by a kick to the leg by 44-77%, depending on the type of protective guard worn. A study conducted at the Institute for the Preventative Sports Medicine and reported in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that shin guards can significantly reduce the risk of injury.

The shin is the third most common area of the body injured in soccer (after the ankle and the knee). Blows to the shin commonly occur when players kick each other instead of kicking the ball. Bruises and fractures are the likely injuries resulting from being kicked in the leg. (At this point I was going to post an image of a soccer player’s broken leg, but it’s simply too distressing to see. Google ‘broken leg soccer’ images if you’re feeling up to it.)

The force delivered by a kick from a fast moving player is enormous. This weekend I refereed a U17 boys game and at one point a kick was delivered by an outstretched leg (or possibly two at the same time – it happened too quickly for me to be sure) to the shin area of another player. Both players were traveling at high speed to be first to the ball. I am absolutely convinced that the leg would have snapped in half (or at least fractured badly) if it wasn’t for the shin guards and probably a somewhat off-center impact.

This kind of impact can easily occur at younger age groups too, and for both boys and girls. Older boys and girls deliver more force, but also have stronger legs. Younger boys and girls don’t deliver the same force, of course, but they also have weaker legs that don’t need much force to be seriously injured. And a player’s leg will never be the same after this kind of injury.

Please wear the right-sized quality shin guards and pull your socks up, Sammy. Thank you!

Click here for a good shin guard guide

P.S.: Make sure to replace them every season and/or wash them regularly. They get very sweaty and dirty and typically don’t get cleaned. Your son/daughter is more likely to wear them and not develop a rash.

Hydration is critical

A friend of mine, who is also a very good soccer player and coach, strongly suggested that I remind folks of the critical importance of fluid intake, especially for youth players. Here are the US Soccer Federation guidelines regarding fluid intake:

Hydration Guidelines USSF

2015 US Soccer Heat Guidelines

For ease of reading I am quoting here key passages from the first document:

Heat-induced illness is one of the most preventable sports injuries. Parents, young athletes
and coaches need to understand the factors that put children and adolescents at risk for heat related illness and take steps to prevent it. Children face unique stresses when they exercise in the heat. Here are physiological/psychological reasons placing children at risk:

1. Children absorb more heat from a hot environment because they have a greater surface area to body-mass ratio than adults. The smaller the child, the faster they absorb heat. They also have a reduced ability to lose heat through sweating.

2. During prolonged exercise, children and adolescents frequently do not have the physiological drive to drink enough fluids to replenish sweat losses.

3. Some youth athletes may be under intense pressure to make a competitive squad and may not want to report feelings of heat distress or take the appropriate amount of time to rehydrate.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

• Before prolonged physical activity, the child should be well hydrated. The child should drink 12-16 ounces of fluid approximately 30 minutes before getting to the field.

• During the activity, periodic drinking should be enforced even if the child does not feel
thirsty. Each 15-20 minutes the child or adolescent should consume:
− 5 ounces of fluid for a player weighing 90 lbs or less
− 9 ounces of fluid for a player weighing more than 90 lbs

• Once the activity is over, players should drink water or a sports drink every 15-20
minutes for the first hour after activity. The rate of fluid ingestion is generally 1.5 pints
of fluids for each pound of weight lost.

• Adolescent males typically lose 1-1.5 liters per hour when performing intense soccer practices/games in the heat, while younger males and females will lose from 0.6 to 1 liter per hour.

ManU players not happy about playing like robots

Very interesting news coming out of one of the top soccer teams in the world:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3228934/Manchester-United-players-rebel-against-Louis-van-Gaal-senior-stars-complain-manager-s-regimented-regime.html

Key parts pasted here:

Squad members feel like ‘robots’ under the manager’s famously methodical approach and as though they are wearing ‘straitjackets’ when they go onto the field of play.

Rooney and Carrick told Van Gaal that the players felt they had become suppressed, and that many were not enjoying their football.

Nobody is allowed to take a chance. They feel like they are wearing straitjackets. Everything is in zones. It’s a case of “you can only go this far”. The feeling is that they are being turned into robots.

Now imagine this kind of approach with youth soccer teams. Eleven, twelve, thirteen year old players with fixed positions, focusing on doing a couple of things well, coaches and parents upset if a twelve year old player tries to dribble and loses the ball, young defenders being taught not to take any risks, etc. Kids basically just playing a move-pass-move-pass-move etc. system of play.

There is no doubt that teams at the younger age brackets will perform better over the short and probably medium term with this kind of disciplined system of play, but is this really the way we want the kids to develop as players? Is this really the way to create creative players that enjoy the game and want to stick with it over the years? Do we really want to teach this to twelve year old kids or can we wait until they are, say, 16?

I strongly suggest that we find the right balance and time the introduction of systems of play better. Let’s encourage and celebrate risk taking and creativity and balance that with smart passing and movement. We don’t want egoistic players, of course, but we surely do want players that have the confidence to take risks and try unexpected and creative things. We need this to reach international standards of play. We need this to make sure our youth enjoy playing for as long as possible. And we need this to increase the entertainment factor of soccer in this country.

Great team shelter

I can fully recommend this team shelter: http://premier-sp.com/home. It’s expensive (around $350 to $500 incl. shipping, depending on degree of customization and volume discounts) but provides very good protection against sun, rain, and wind.

It’s sturdy and looks sharp too, especially with a club and/or team logo. The sides and backs roll up and down and set-up is relatively straightforward. It can be weighted down on turf and there are stakes for grass surfaces. One person can carry it, but it’s definitely heavier than the typical lightweight canopies.

Please note that I do not know the folks that make this shelter nor do I gain financially in any way from recommending it. I’m simply sharing something that I’ve seen work well and benefits the players. This is probably worth the investment for busier teams that play two games per weekend and compete in multiple tournaments per season.

Big changes for youth soccer development

Great news for youth soccer development in our country. Download the full document here:

US Soccer Player Development Initiatives 2015

The key change is to move to smaller teams playing on smaller fields. The new standards to be implemented in 2016/17 now have youth play 11v11 on full-sized fields at U13, not Spring U11, and the younger teams now play 7v7 and 9v9 as shown in the chart above.

This is incredibly important for youth development as explained in the attached PDF above. Great step forward for soccer in our country and we’ll see the benefits of this new approach in our national teams over the next five to ten years.

US Soccer will also change to a calendar year system to align with the rest of the world.

Additional changes are needed also, of course. These include better coaching and a stronger emphasis on technical skills, but these changes are a big step forward.

Great job U.S. Soccer!

Possession obsession and lack of creativity

I came across the following article on The Guardian website that for me describes a very real concern for youth player development:

http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2015/aug/27/louis-van-gaal-manchester-united-jonathan-wilson.

The article talks quite a bit about Van Gaal and Manchester United, but let me summarize the following key excerpts to make a broader point about youth player development in the Bay Area (and probably the country):

“For Cruyff, Van Gaal’s version of total football was overly mechanised.”

johan-cruyff
Johan Cruyff – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johan_Cruyff

“Cruyff wasn’t the only one who found himself unmoved by Van Gaal’s interpretation of total football. Sjaak Swart, who had been a winger in the great Ajax side of the early 70s, was appalled by the way his 90s counterparts, Finidi George and Marc Overmars, would always check back if faced with two defenders. “I never gave the ball back to my defence, never!” Swart told David Winner in Brilliant Orange. “It’s unbelievable! But that was the system with Van Gaal. Many games you are sleeping! On television, they say: ‘Ajax 70% ball possession.’ So what? It’s not football. The creativity is gone.””

Paul Breitner - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Breitner
Paul Breitner – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Breitner

“Paul Breitner expressed similar concerns: “We swapped Bayern’s traditional style for this high-possession game but there was still no flexibility in terms of players’ positions and everyone had to stick rigidly to his own area,” he told Marti Perarnau in Pep Confidential. “In some matches, we ended up with 80% possession but there was no real rhythm or pace. After half an hour, everyone in the Allianz Arena would be yawning at this display of constant passing. Our game was well executed but very, very predictable … the basic idea was sound. What we lacked was speed and regular changes of rhythm.””

Possession is, in itself, a good thing, of course, and it can be beautiful to watch and is very effective when executed by elite teams like Barcelona (http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2015/02/23/barcelona-tactics-luis-enrique-lionel-messi-champions-league):

Barcelona typically plays 4-3-3 with a single pivot. This shape gives the team easy ability to create triangles of support with short distances between players. Players can overload any area of the field, particularly the middle, with simple off-ball movement. This allows the team keep possession of the ball.

BUT it is absolutely critical that a coach is able to teach possession while also encouraging risk taking and creativity, especially when the players are young. If the primary metric of player evaluation and development is possession then kids will, over time, stop trying clever tricks or movements or dribbling or ‘riskier’ passes. They are likely to play a relatively risk-averse mechanistic passing game and their focus will be on not losing the ball instead of creating opportunities. The team will probably play decent passing soccer but not ‘great’ soccer. They will play a relatively one-dimensional game.

And, most important, individual players that might have developed into creative, exciting players never fulfill their potential. It is also likely that players that do well on a team that uses a relatively mechanistic system won’t succeed on other teams that are not using the same system. The player might not be able to adapt and that would be a big roadblock to their development as they get older. And I am convinced that young players will lose interest sooner if the focus is primarily on ‘quick passing’.

We need to find the right balance to make sure we develop well-rounded creative players that understand the value of ‘team’ and enjoy the game for as long as possible. Importantly, this will make for entertaining games for families to watch. Let’s not underestimate the role of entertainment for the continued growth of soccer in this country.

P.S.: Note that possession in itself is only a weak predictor of success: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/competitions/champions-league/10793482/Do-football-possession-statistics-indicate-which-team-will-win-Not-necessarily.html.

Where are the crazy youth soccer players?

There’s been a notable emphasis in recent years on a primarily passing-based style of play. I see and hear this consistently during many games that I officiate and observe it first-hand during my kids’ practices. Some clubs do it more than others, and this can also differ significantly from coach to coach, but the overall trend seems to be toward ‘quick passing’.

Parents typically also encourage quick passing to a player who is ‘open’. They get frustrated when a player who is holding the ball and tries to dribble past players loses the ball….”Why didn’t he pass? Johnny was wide open!”.

And the large majority of parents don’t have the understanding nor patience to support a coach who isn’t ‘winning’. Keep in mind that coaches have to make a living so it is very difficult for them to resist parental pressure for long.

The focus during practices and games is on being ‘open’ in the right position and then quickly finding a teammate when receiving the ball. The ideal case would be quick one-touch passes and movements into open space to give your teammate another ‘open’ option. It’s what Barcelona in Spain is known for – beautiful ball possession through quick passing and constant movement of players. A style of play perfected during these last twenty years or so.

There is little doubt that this quick passing game is effective for youth teams if the key metric is ‘winning’. For example, two weekends ago I officiated a tournament Final between a U13 boys’ team from close to where I live and a hispanic team from Sacramento.

The local team played the above passing game but the Sacramento team didn’t have this kind of formal playing style – the kids were improvising and they didn’t appear to have the same endurance as the local team. The local team looked better and won the game. Players, coaches, and parents were happy and surely encouraged by their team’s performance. However, note that I saw little creative and/or technical play (apart from good first touch and reasonably accurate passing) from the local team. Good touches, smart decision-making, and good movement, but no creativity.

A couple of months ago I officiated a tournament Final and a third-place game for top U16 boys’ teams. The contrast was striking.

The two teams playing for third place played solid passing soccer. Athletic boys from Mountain View, Los Altos, Sunnyvale and Cupertino hustled hard. The game ended 0:0 and went to penalty kicks primarily because they were evenly matched athletically and stylistically and there was little creativity and inventiveness that might have opened up more scoring opportunities.

The two teams playing in the Final were from the East Bay and San Bruno. These primarily hispanic teams played a much more creative and less scripted style of soccer. They did many unexpected things, showed very good technical skills, and dribbled more. Their ‘tool bag’ was larger. The game was very entertaining for the spectators – even my wife commented on how entertaining the game was. It was a privilege to officiate this game.

So which teams will that U13 local team resemble more in three years from now? The solid, athletic third-placed teams or the creative, entertaining Finalists?

My premise is that introducing the passing game early increases the early success rate for teams and the kids will grow into good, solid players. But these kids will most likely never become very good or even great players. And it is probably also safe to assume that they are more likely to lose interest in soccer because there’s little room for self-expression. It’s all about practicing a system of play and becoming physically stronger and faster. That gets boring after a while. Here’s an article that should be informative in this context: http://changingthegameproject.com/the-massive-importance-of-play/.

This doesn’t bode well for the competitiveness of U.S. Soccer at the international level. Solid college teams, yes, but not good enough to compete against quality players from other countries. And it doesn’t bode well for the ongoing growth of professional soccer here because the lifeblood of a sport – entertainment – isn’t exciting enough. Folks pay for entertainment – the more entertaining, the more money will flow into soccer, which in turn gets more youth to play and allows us to build better facilities and invest in better player development across the country. It’s a virtuous cycle.

On a related note I observed an eight year old girl on my youngest daughter’s team who clearly had a spring in her step during games a year ago. She was clever, inventive and she clearly enjoyed playing. She was a high-impact player and a joy to watch. Her mom told me that she was playing soccer with the boys during every break in school. This was a lot of unstructured street soccer! And she had little formal coaching at the time.

That was a year ago. Unfortunately, she doesn’t look the same anymore. She’s still ‘good’ and hard-working and follows the coach’s instructions, but I don’t see the spunk anymore. I asked her mom about her school soccer and she told me that she stopped that about a year ago. So no more ‘street soccer’. And a change in coaching about a year ago led to much more emphasis on passing over skills and dribbling. We don’t know for sure what the underlying cause-effect relationships are, of course, but it might be a useful anecdote nevertheless.

Why don’t we wait until, say, U14 or even U16 to introduce and perfect systems of play? The creative aspects of player development should be deeply ingrained by then and we are more likely to keep more youth playing for longer. And top coaches know how to introduce systems of play without extinguishing the creative/crazy aspects of the players.

How about we encourage more street soccer? How about we focus more on skills and creativity? How about we dial back the formal systems based coaching and add more free play? How about we encourage and celebrate ‘the crazy ones’?

This iconic Apple clip applies equally to top soccer as it does to technology innovation in my view:

TED Talk – Changing the game in youth sports

Click here for the website of Changing the Game Project

About John O’Sullivan:

John started the Changing the Game Project in 2012 after two decades as a soccer player and coach on the youth, high school, college and professional level. He is the author of the #1 bestselling books Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes, and Giving Youth Sports Back to our Kids and Is it Wise to Specialize? John is also a regular contributor for SoccerWire.com, and his writing has been featured in many publications including The Huffington Post and Soccer America. John is an internationally known speaker for coaches, parents and youth sports organizations, and has spoken for TEDx, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, IMG Academy, and at numerous other events throughout the US, Canada and Europe.

Originally from New York, John is a 1994 graduate of Fordham University, where he was a team captain as a senior, and a member of the 1990 Patriot League Championship team. After a stint playing professionally for the Wilmington (NC) Hammerheads of the USL, John began his coaching career as the Varsity Boys Soccer Coach at Cardinal Gibbons HS in Raleigh, NC. He then moved on to become the Assistant Men’s and Women’s Soccer Coach at the University of Vermont, before delving into the world of youth club soccer. Since that time, John has worked as a Director of Coaching for Nordic Spirit SC (Vt), Ann Arbor Youth Soccer Association (MI) and most recently as the Executive Director of Oregon Rush Soccer Club in Bend, OR. He is currently the Central Oregon Regional Training Center Director for the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer. He holds his USSF A License, NSCAA Advanced National Diploma, and US Youth Soccer National Youth Coaching License.

John received his BA in History from Fordham University, and his Masters in History from the University of Vermont. He resides in beautiful Bend, OR, with his wife, Dr Lauren O’Sullivan, and two wonderful children and aspiring young athletes: Maggie Shea, age 9, and Tiernan, age 7.

Our experiences at Surf Cup 2015

SoCal Soccer Complex Bues Cup 2015 Low Res
Pano of SoCal Soccer Complex where the girls compete during Surf Cup, taken during Blues Cup 2015, one month after Surf Cup. Click on image to enlarge. About 25 full-sized fields covering an enormous area – this photo doesn’t do it justice. On the far right you can just about make out the car parking area.

surf cup

We just returned from the elite Surf Cup Tournament in Oceanside, CA (http://www.surfcup.com/). This is arguably the top tournament for youth soccer in the country. Or at least in the Western half of the country.

Both of my daughters played (U10 and U13) – the younger one didn’t win a game, the older one went to the Final but lost on penalty kicks against a team from Seattle.

Irrespective of win or loss, this tournament was a very good experience for my older daughter from both a soccer development and team bonding/social perspective. The tournament was well organized. It’s a nice venue, the referees were good, games started on time, the hotels are good, the area has many restaurants and attractions including nice beaches, Legoland, and shopping. So I can fully recommend the event.

However, I wonder if the younger kids really have to travel to tournaments like this. There is a lot of competition and quite a few tournaments in our home region and I strongly suspect that the player development of younger kids won’t suffer if they focused only on regional events.

Keep in mind that the cost for Surf Cup for one parent and one player is around $1,500 to $2,000 (including flights, hotel, rental car, and dining), depending on how long the stay is. Then there’s the time lost for the parents – pretty much the entire weekend plus often an extra day to travel on a Friday and Finals are typically on a Monday. So this can be a four-day commitment. Add more money for every additional parent and/or sibling, of course.

We decided to drive from our SF Bay Area to the tournament because we made it a family trip (for six of us). This saved a lot of money on flights, but the hotel cost increased, of course. Just the hotel was $1,350 and each meal ended up being ~$100 for a total estimated cost of around $1,800 (including fuel and misc cost). Keep in mind that families have to stay in tournament-mandated hotels, which is typical for tourneys like this. So your ability to shop around for cheaper hotels or stay with family is limited.

Of course, the tradeoff to ‘only’ spending $1,800 is that we spent nine hours door to door on the road, each way.

My older daughter also played in the Manchester Cup at the same venue in June and will be playing in the Blues Cup at the same venue in early September. So we are spending roughly $4,500 this summer just for her three tournaments. She is a top player and old enough to benefit from the experience, so we are making this commitment in money and time for her.

But for boys and girls younger than her we simply don’t see the value. Competitive youth soccer is already costly without these travel tournaments. Regular season fees are roughly $1,000. Add to that cost for additional weekly clinics, equipment and uniform plus local/regional tournaments and the time it takes to bring them to practices and games. Total cost for a typical year is roughly $3,000. I just don’t see the value of a nine year old (U10) playing in a tournament in San Diego that costs $1,500.

My suggestion is to wait until the kids are at least 12 years old (U13).

The dangers of sun exposure

I am pasting below an article I came across recently from a U.S. Soccer Referee. I can’t find the actual website anymore despite googling for it so I can’t add a link here. But I pasted it into an email and sent it to my wife so I’m pasting the actual (shortened) text below:

My Time in the Sun – Mike Krebs, U.S. Soccer Referee

George W. Bush. John McCain. Maureen Reagan. I’ll never make the headlines like these people, but I suffer from skin cancer just as they have. Skin cancer is caused by too much exposure to the sun over a long period of time. The problem usually does not appear until later in life, twenty or thirty years after exposure.

I spent my teenage years outdoors – camping, hiking, swimming at a pool or the beach, playing baseball (soccer was not an option then) and working as a lifeguard and summer camp counselor. I loved the sun but hated the greasy, oily feeling of sun lotions and a white zinc oxide nose was just not cool.

I have been visiting a dermatologist every three months for many years and every visit yields new skin pre- or cancerous sites that need to be treated. I will be doing this for the rest of my life.

Here are a few facts about skin cancer:

  • The chronic effects of overexposure to the sun are cumulative, persist throughout life and are irreversible.
  • People can acquire 50% of their lifetime exposure to the sun’s rays by age 18.
  • By age 21, more than 80% of a person’s lifetime sun exposure can be acquired.
  • One serious sunburn early in life can increase the risk for skin cancer by as much as 50%.
  • It is estimated that one of five people will get skin cancer at some time during their lifetime.
  • There are over one million cases of skin cancer reported yearly, increasing yearly.

Regular use of a sunscreen of SPF-15 starting at age 6 months through 18 years is reported to reduce the lifetime incidence of skin cancer by as much as 78%. An SPF-30 or higher product would be even better.

When UVA and UVB (ultraviolet) radiation is absorbed by the skin, it causes a series of damaging reactions called photo trauma. Sunburn, blistering, and redness are typical signs of photo trauma; even tanning is damaging to the skin. Prolonged exposure to either natural or artificial sunlight can cause a range of problems:

  • Prematurely aged, or photo-aged, skin appears dry, scaly, leathery, deeply wrinkled, rough, sagging, age-spotted, freckled, or yellowed.
  • Actinic keratosis – a pre-cancerous lesion or rough, crusty spot on the skin.
  • Basal cell carcinoma (cancer) – the most frequently reported skin cancer develops slowly over a lifetime and does not metastasize or spread to other parts of the body.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma – may develop into tumors and metastasize to other parts of the body.
  • Malignant melanoma – the most serious skin cancer; can spread to other tissues, resulting in death.

Most of my sites have been actinic keratoses. They are usually found on the face, neck, arms, hands and legs, the parts of the body most exposed to the sun. Sometimes a site appears more advanced and a biopsy (a test for cancer) is needed. With three biopsies in the past two years, two have identified sites of skin cancer, one a basal cell carcinoma and one a squamous cell carcinoma; both were surgically removed.

How can you minimize the risk of skin cancer? Easy, if you are going to be in the sun, use an SPF-30 or higher sunscreen. There is even a mixture of sun lotion and insect repellant available for those spring matches near the woods. Apply it before you leave home. If you will be outside all day working a tournament, reapply every couple hours and find some shade under the trees or in the referee tent in between matches. It will help prevent the ultraviolet rays from reaching your skin. Simple!
Play Hard! Play Fair! Have Fun! And Use Sunscreen!

The only thing to say to your child after their game

I love to watch you play.

father_and_son_soccer_game

Germany 2014 FIFA World Cup Champions

My country of birth, folks, and where I grew up playing the game. My first post simply had to be about this. Fully deserved after many many years of hard work by the German Football Federation and countless coaches and players.

Fourteen years to be precise, with the introduction of a revamped youth development system. Germany has always been a soccer powerhouse, but to become true World Cup contenders again required many improvements in player development and coaching.

Here are a couple of articles summarizing some of those improvements:

http://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/may/23/germany-bust-boom-talent

P.S.: I just have to add this 7:1 win over Brazil in the semifinal. Arguably the worst defeat in the history of soccer.

My first blog post – finally.

Friends and family have been nudging me for a while now to start a blog covering soccer related topics from a parent’s perspective and I’m finally ready to give it a try. I have a passion for the game having played and watched it practically all my life, first in Germany, then England, and then most recently here in the U.S. And, just as important, my two girls and one boy (9, 11, and 13 as of 2015) are very active in their competitive soccer programs here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I volunteer in our soccer community in various ways, helped build new soccer programs at established clubs, and ‘coach’ a couple of Futsal teams during the winter months. And, as a certified official U.S. Soccer referee, I officiate competitive soccer games for boys and girls from ages 8 to 18. I still play in adult leagues here, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with younger adult players. And my body often can’t do anymore what my brain wants it to do, but such is life. I tell myself that I’m compensating for lack of speed and energy through smarter play. Don’t burst my bubble please.

I’ve experienced countless competitive youth soccer games as a parent on the sidelines and as a referee in the middle of the field, observed many coaches up-close during practices and games, and know most of the clubs reasonably well. So youth soccer development is high on my list of interests and I hope my perspectives are useful for other soccer parents out there.

I will share the good, the bad, and the ugly, but please keep in mind that these are just my perspectives, of course. They might evolve over time or might be plain wrong or misguided or based on incomplete information. But I hope this blog nevertheless provides some food for thought for other soccer parents out there.