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Kids playing on their own: Juggling...

Reprinted from Soccer America Youth Soccer Insider
March 15, 2020
By Mike Woitalla

Juggling develops skill and provides fun with the ball

Pele  juggled with a grapefruit or a ball of old rags tied together with string when he didn't have a real soccer ball available. He later reflected that juggling helped him develop control with his left foot, concentration, balance and touch, both gentle and hard. While Rose Lavelle  was helping the USA win the 2019 World Cup, she recalled how backyard play, just her "having fun with the ball," contributed to her current skills and creativity on the field.

For beginners -- balloons and beach balls

Juggling is difficult. It requires sophisticated coordination of balance and touch to send the ball on a path convenient for the next touch. With a regular soccer ball, that means missing the ball's relatively small sweet spot sends it too far away for the next contact. One way to encourage beginners to juggle is to have them try with something easy, like a small beach ball or even a balloon. With a regular soccer ball, letting the ball bounce on the floor or grass between touches can be a good entry phase.

Set goals, consider rewards

One thing that makes juggling fun is to set goals: from 5 to 10, to 20, etc. Reaching those creates a sense of accomplishment, juggling gets more fun, and usually improvement begins to increase exponentially. Parents or coaches offering prizes when certain numbers are reached offer extra motivation. In my childhood, it was running into the house from the backyard with joy to announce I'm due a quarter -- $1.60 in 2020 money -- from dad. Coaching preteens I set a team goal, adding up every player's record to reach a number that promised a post-game ice cream party. Coaches can set up an online doc for kids to take pride in their progress.

From thigh to foot

I've seen some coaches insist that kids have to begin juggling with no-hands, ball on the ground, but I believe that should depend on the individual skill level. You want the start to be as easy as possible. Such as dropping the ball on the thigh, counting thigh touches, and using the feet when the ball drops down. Or starting by dropping the ball to the foot. As the kids progress, the challenges can be more complex. But starting with thigh juggles can help build confidence.

Once it's obvious the young player is building confidence and enjoying juggling, the challenges can be foot-only counts, or alternating right foot-left foot counts.

But I recommend not interfering much into how the kids approach it. The aim is for them to build a relationship with the ball and find enjoyment on their own terms. There's a video of a 10-year-old Leo Messi juggling 100-plus times only with his left foot and left thigh. He turned into a pretty good player.

Right foot, left foot

Coaching players to improve their weaker foot at practice is a difficult task. You can place restrictions during game-like exercises, like shooting with only your weaker foot. But do you want a player to awkwardly adjust for a weak-foot shot when the pass was delivered to the strong foot?  Or take a poor shot during a game with the weak foot rather than take an extra touch for a better shot? Also, young players don't enjoy failing miserably in front of peers or what they perceive, rightfully or not, the judgmental coach who's contemplating the weekend's starting lineup.

The best time for kids to work on their weaker foot is on their own, whether that's passing and shooting against a wall, or juggling. If you can juggle 10 or 20 times with your right foot, try 5 or 10 with your left foot. Alternating feet when you juggle is excellent practice. And even if kids aren't trying to use the weaker foot, juggling naturally challenges them to do so.

Different types of balls

With NerfPoof-Slinky or others types of soft balls, kids can juggle, or play off the wall, inside the house. Volleyballs can be fun for juggling, and I really like the Coop hydro balls, which are designed for water play. They’re soft enough to juggle indoors with minimal risk of causing damage -- although I don't recall ever interviewing a great player who never broke something in the house -- perfect for barefoot play, and, of course, great to bring to the beach. For advanced players, there's the Hacky Sack, tennis balls.

I don't know the science on how juggling different types of balls may be beneficial, but doing so is something that great players have in common. Even superstar Messi, with unlimited access to soccer balls, can't resist mixing it up.

The Newspaper Ball

Combine art and soccer by making a paper ball -- with newspaper, or what ever scrap paper is available in the tablet age. The first piece needs to be crumpled up and squeezed tightly, because that's the core. Wrap more sheets around the core and tape a big cross around the orb. Athletic tape is best, but masking tape will work. Add more sheets of paper. Then wrap tape around it until you can't see any of the paper. Kids can use colored markers to decorate the ball. Then can juggle or play against the wall with their custom-made ball, which because of its limited spring can be used indoors.

The Brandi Chastain Challenge

"Casual skill sessions don’t have to last for hours. Even 15 minutes a day of juggling or footwork can be a significant addition when compounded over time. ... Try this ultimate challenge. It’s called 720, and here’s why. Using these 12 ball-juggling surfaces (laces/instep of both feet, outside of the feet, inside of the feet, thighs, chest, shoulders, head) and keeping the ball up in the air, use as many of those surfaces as you can in 60 seconds. Multiply the number of surfaces you successfully use (at least once), by the number of seconds you keep the ball up. Your maximum scored would be 12 x 60 = 720."

-- From “It’s Not About the Bra: How to Play Hard, Play Fair, and Put the Fun Back into Competitive Sports” by Brandi Chastain with Gloria Averbuch.

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Game Day Reminders

Full uniform, including alternate shirt for all games
Shinguards providing an appropriate level of protection, covered by socks
Soccer cleats (not baseball or other illegal spikes)
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Code of Conduct

The Player . . .
1. Treats opponents, teammates and coaches and referees with respect. Plays hard, but plays within the rules of the game of soccer.
2. Plays hard, but plays within the rules of the game of soccer.
3. Demonstrates self-control.
4. Respects the officials and accepts their decisions without gesture or argument.
5. Wins without boasting, loses without excuses and never quits.
6. Remembers that it is a privilege to represent Northern Counties Soccer Association.
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A new goal: Stop blaming the refs for everything

Reprinted from USYS Common Goals Newsletter
October 4, 2016

You’ve got no one to blame, but yourself.

This is an important lesson for all participants and fans, read parents of student-athletes, as we get going with high school sports. Penalties, fouls and bad calls are going to happen this year.

Deal with it.

A new goal

Last year, I wrote a column about how coach turnover was surprisingly high and talked about how our community, like just about every other place in this country, has a tendency to blame the coach for a team’s shortcomings rather than, say, the actual athletes, who really control the outcome of an event.

All four schools seemed to do a pretty good job of minimizing coaching comings-and-goings. So this year, it’s time to lay off the refs.

I know that some officials are better than others. I know there are places where the officiating is screwy — say like soccer in Glenwood Springs or basketball in Delta or Soroco.

The bottom line is that ref is doing the best job he or she can do. They don’t have a hidden agenda against a team. They’re trying to do their best not to be noticed, the sign of a well-officiated contest.

Teaching by example

From a coaching perspective, there is the art of working a ref. I get that. But when a coach turns his or her focus entirely on the ref, the team tends to follow. (By and large, coaches get this.) It doesn’t help when Mom and/or Dad is screaming at every call.

When all of this happens, the student-athletes start playing the refs, instead of their opponents. That doesn’t end well.

Of course, parents love their kids. Of course, parents are invested in how things go on the field, the court or whatever playing surface. I know the miles you drive all over this state. (No, I don’t have kids, but my mom gets upset when she reads an angry letter to the editor to the Vail Daily on our website. You should have seen what she did to the kid who was throwing sand at me at the playground when I was a tyke. I understand the parental bond.)

But not only is harping on the refs unproductive, it sends the wrong message to the student-athlete. Not to sound like a broken record, but high school sports are just another learning environment.

If they really are wrong calls — and parents or fans have to admit that sometimes they’re a little biased — well, bad breaks happen. Sports are a way of teaching student-athletes to overcome adversity.

A call in a game isn’t going to be the only time in a kid’s life that something bad is going to happen to him or her. Life is unfair a lot of the time. How you deal with it is often the measure of a person.

That’s what the student-athlete is learning in sports.
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Reprinted from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider
By Don Norton Jr

"If I was asked to find one word to describe one of the main differences I have noticed in 25 years of coaching, the word would probably be 'Why'? Today's players want to know the reasons behind each session on the training ground – and, of course, you have to be ready to give them a good answer."

Gerard Houllier

As coaches we all want every training session to start on time with all our players in a safe, positive and nurturing environment. By nurturing I mean that very young players want to come to practice because every time they arrive they know they will get to touch the ball as much as possible which is always fun. A youth soccer player’s first experience with soccer must be fun.

Hopefully over the course of time our youth players develop a love for the game because the training and games were enjoyable, and they want to continue playing the world’s greatest sport. As our players grow older we want them to continue to enjoy training because it is also remains enjoyable, has technical repetition, small-sided games, and more tactical information taught and learned from training that replicates the game.

If cones are required for training, which they usually are, coaches should arrive early and have them already placed on the field. The time we have with our players is valuable and usually limited, so we don’t want to waste a few minutes having players stand around and lose focus while we place them down.

Coaches always take the sun and turn players around to avoid distractions behind them when addressing the team. If you are tall and coach very young players drop to one knee so that you are better able to speak to them at eye level and remove your sunglasses if you are wearing them so that your players can see your eyes.

I always tell my players, “If I can’t see your face you are in the wrong place.” This means you speak to all your players together in front of you. For example, all the many world-class players at Barcelona traditionally meet together with staff in a small circle to hear the opening remarks from the coach before training begins.

Some coaches carry note cards with the sessions’ activities and objectives to remind them of what they hope to teach their players. Sometimes goals are met, but sometimes the session turns in a different direction than originally planned, which is fine and not at all unexpected.

With all young players the most important objectives are to instill a passion and love for the game. When our players aren’t training with us hopefully they are touching the ball somewhere, whether it’s in their backyard, at the local park or numerous other ways of “being with the soccer ball.”

Youth coaches usually only have two, perhaps three nights a week to train their players, so if you have players excited to play the game, hopefully they are eager and able to find a way work daily with the ball after school.

The words we use with our players from the very first training session sets the tone for the entire season. By tone I mean a calm yet enthusiastic voice, with information given to our players in a clear and concise manner using words that our players understand.

You very briefly say what you expect of your players for that activity, ask them if they have any questions, and then let them have a go at it.

As time goes on the experienced coach will anticipate the questions that he will get from his players. As a longtime men’s college assistant at some prestigious programs I’ve always had players who will occasionally after I have explained the drill, ask “but what if” regarding an aspect of it. The questions range from the rules, players responsibilities, how score is kept, time limits etc.

Questions from your players are to be expected and encouraged by every age group that you train. No matter how much you try to anticipate every question in your description of that day’s activities, your players will always have questions, which is acceptable. I want my players to always feel free to ask questions because it is our team, and we always want to be clear about what we are about to do in a drill/activity, so that every player knows what we are hoping to accomplish. When I am training a very young team at my club, my goal is to see many eager smiling faces that are all moving around getting the chance to touch the ball as much as possible in a game like environment.

Carefully explaining the session’s first and subsequent activities for that training session is very important at all levels of soccer. As my opening quote suggests, players at the highest levels of the game want to know not only what they doing, but why they are doing the drill. The words we choose are vital because we want to very clearly give our players the information they need to begin the activity.

One mistake some coaches make is to start talking and not stop. No lectures! (Or lines and laps) Players come to “touch” the ball, not to listen to a coach give them a lecture.

If you must discuss the previous game or some important team matter with your players do it as quickly as possible. The younger the players, the more emphasis you put on keeping your comments as simple as possible.

If I am coaching very young players I start my opening statement in a very positive voice by saying, “Hey guys, tonight we all going to work on scoring goals.” Then we quickly start training that will lead to a game-related activity with many shots on goals. And yes I do realize that “coaching” very young players can be, as they say “like herding cats,” so patience and a sense of humor is certainly required.

Always be aware of the words you choose to convey information to your players. Not that it would ever happen, but training very young youth players and asking them to “play out the back with proper spacing, playing quality two-touch balls, moving up the field as a unit, compacting space, etc.“

The kids would look at you like you were from another planet. You need to know and be able to speak to the age-appropriate characteristics for different age groups.

Taking a state level NSCAA or USSF course can help you better understand the social and psychological progression of young age groups and their development. Common sense would dictate that what we expect a 7-year-old to comprehend when spoken to is much different than that of a teenager.

One of my pet peeves in coaching is to hear a coach yell during training “good stuff.” Well what was the “good stuff”? The pass? The angled run off the ball to receive the ball? The weight of the pass? The first touch away from pressure? You get the point.

Be very specific and always positive in the words you choose. As we all know when players mature and grow older they are able to comprehend more soccer concepts regarding attacking and defensive theories. The words you use reflect

In April, 2011 USSF Youth Technical Director Claudio Reyna presented his national curriculum guide and gave an interview posted on the federation’s web site about his many influences during his wonderful career across Europe. He spoke about his former Dutch coach Dick Advocaat at Glasgow Rangers and said “What really struck me more than anything about the Dutch philosophy was that it was simple. It was very clear. He wasn’t a coach who spoke a lot and he was one of, if not the best coach I ever had.”

It has been said by many coaches throughout the years that “the game of soccer is the great teacher.”

Keep your words kind, age-appropriate, and to the point. If your players are in that soccer environment, then all you need are a few words because the game has already spoken to them.

(Don Norton Jr. is the men’s assistant coach at Rowan University. He has the USSF “A” license, NSCAA Premier Diploma, F.A. Ireland “A” license (UEFA “A’ License) Scottish F.A. “A” Certificate and USSF National Youth License. He is a NSCAA associate national staff coach and a USSF state coaching school instructor for the New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer Associations and has been published in several soccer magazines. He has a BA from Gettysburg College and a MA from Rowan University.)
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