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Tryouts: Coping with Cuts

By Tony DiCicco

The most difficult part of coaching isn't dealing with losses, it's cutting or rejecting people from the team. It's not just a simple matter of reducing numbers, it's a matter of making decisions that in essence short-circuit the dreams of players. I don't think there's any coach, either at the professional level or the youth recreational league in a small town, who doesn't feel the pain of not choosing someone or cutting someone from the team. 

Sometimes young athletes put themselves in situations where they say, “If I don’t make it today, I have no chance of ever reaching my goals.” That’s not true and it’s up to parents and coaches to deliver that message strongly and consistently. 

Getting cut and having to rebound from disappointment is part of what some great athletes have had to deal with. 

When I was cutting players from the national teams, it wasn’t because they were bad players. In fact, they were often very good players. I frequently had to make choices because I felt there were two or three players who were better for a particular position or role on the team. Coaches have to make decisions and players and parents have to understand that putting together a team is a game of numbers, of roles, of needs and responsibilities. 

When someone doesn't make the squad, initially they feel hurt or even angry. It’s regrettable, but understandable. Some players who are cut will use it as a source of motivation for continued practice to get good enough to eventually be on that team. Others will shy away from further evaluation and tryouts because it was such a belittling and scary experience for them. 

What I’d like to stress is that being cut from a team is not the end of the world, and it’s not, although it may seem like it at the time, a personal attack. If parents can somehow make their children understand this fact, then it will allow them to move forward – and maybe next time they will make the team.
* * *
As tough as it may be for a coach to cut a player from the team, it’s a lot tougher on that player and her parents. There’s no getting around the embarrassment, the emptiness, the rejection.

The best thing I can suggest to parents is to offer unwavering love and unconditional support. It may seem like it to your child, but the world hasn't ended and it’s up to the parents to keep the sport experience in proper perspective. 

If parents get upset, it will be projected onto the child, only making matters worse. 

What isn't constructive is making excuses for your child by saying it was a political decision or that the coach made a poor decision (which might even be the case). If you make excuses, you’re only teaching your child to deflect responsibility and discount the value of merit. 

What you have to remember is that for the most part, coaches really do try to get it right. If there are 20 players on a team, odds are that practically every coach will agree on the first 10 players for the team. And most coaches will agree that the next five should be on the team. But probably more coaches will disagree on the last five players chosen. 

Coaches have an image of what they want their team to be, and they’re looking for players who can help them attain that image. 

As a parent, you must show love and support for your child, but that doesn't necessarily translate into judging and criticizing the coach’s decision. If you do, everyone’s a loser. 

(Tony DiCicco has coached all ages but is best known for guiding the U.S. women to the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal, the 1999 Women's World Cup title and the 2008 U-20 World Cup crown. DiCicco, the founder and director of SoccerPlus Camps, coached the WPS’s Boston Breakers in 2009-11.) 

(Excerpted from "Catch Them Being Good: Everything You Need to Know to Successfully Coach Girls" by Tony DiCicco, Colleen Hacker & Charles Salzberg courtesy of Penguin Books.)

Navigating Your Child's Path

Friday, Feb. 18, 2011
How to navigate your child's path

By Christian Lavers 

The choice of where to have your child play youth soccer can be very difficult. Multiple clubs, “select teams,” or leagues will tout their services or programs, often with promises of glory down the road. There is no shortage of choices for where your child can spend the next year of development – and in the United States, parents have more choice than in any other country. 

The number of choices can be overwhelming -- especially to parents without a soccer background. When there are different people selling different services, often in different leagues, and all emphasizing the importance of choosing their club, it is no surprise that people make choices that they will regret in the future. This raises a key question: 

How do I choose a soccer club for my child? While there is no easy answer to this question, there is one key principle that should guide your decision: the single most important external factor in any player’s development is the quality of the coach working with the player on a regular basis. The impact of this individual, especially at U8-U14, far outweighs the league the team plays in, the success of the team, or any other factor. Quite simply, great coaches at these ages help motivated players maximize their ability. Because of this huge impact and influence, consider the following in trying to evaluate your options:

* Being a great soccer player does not automatically translate into being a great teacher of soccer players. 

* Beware of any coach who takes credit for the success of his or her past players; the best coaches understand that players earn their own achievements.

* Beware of any coach advertising the number of college scholarships their players have received, (and run the other way if they promise one to you).

* Though earning coaching licenses doesn’t guarantee a great coach, it does show effort on the part of the coach. (That said, a license does not certify honesty or integrity.) 

* Be sure the “name” attached to the team will be the coach attached to the team; bait-and-switch is not uncommon. 

* Is the coach offering a training-based program with appropriate training-to-game ratios (at least 3-1), or is the coach promoting a program overly emphasizing competition? 

While these guidelines help narrow your choices, you may still have several options. If that happens, consider having your child attend a training session with the potential coach, and evaluate the session on the following criteria: 

* Did your child enjoy the session, and does he or she want to go back? 

* Is your child receiving coaching points that are detailed, personalized, and technical, or are they general, vague, and primarily focused on hustle and attitude? 

* Are the players consistently engaged and active, with frequent contact with the ball? 

* Does your child leave the training feeling that he or she has learned something new, or excited to try something new? 

While the quality of the opposition in games and training gradually becomes more important as players age, (and is very important at U14 and above), these factors are far less significant when the player should primarily be learning individual technique and decision-making. 

Unfortunately, no matter how much you research your decision, you may make a mistake -- the world is full of great salesmen. To minimize the impact of a bad decision, you must be able to recognize when the coaching your child is receiving is slowing their development. Without being a “helicopter parent,” be mindful when watching your child’s team play: 

* Are players encouraged to solve problems and think, or are they simply running around and kicking? 

* Does the team try to possess the ball (good sign), or do they seem in a rush to go to goal immediately every time they get the ball (bad sign)? 

* Is coaching in the game given to players away from the ball (good sign), or is the coach joysticking the player with the ball (bad sign)? 

* Is most of the coaching concerned with “working harder”? (What do you do when “working harder” is no longer sufficient because of a lack of knowledge or skill?) 

* Does the team rely primarily on serving the ball forward to a fast player up front to score, and on a fast player in the back to cover for mistakes? (Very bad sign) 

* Does the team play differently at the end of the season than it does at the beginning? Is your child a noticeably different (and improved) player? 

While the focus of this article has been primarily on coaching, it is important to realize that if parents do not encourage self-directed play in the hours their child is not with their coach, to some extent the selection of a club, team, or coach is a moot point -- the player’s ceiling is already established. 

(Christian Lavers is the Executive Vice President at US Club Soccer. He holds the highest coaching licenses in the United States -- the USSF "A" License, the USSF "Y" License, and the NSCAA Premier Diploma.)

The Beginnings of Barcelona's Superstars

Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011
The Beginnings of Barcelona's Superstars

By Mike Woitalla 

The world's three greatest players have a few things in common. 

Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi all stand barely 5-foot-7 tall. They're teammates at Barcelona and they all came out of the club's youth program. 

The trio finished tops in voting for the 2010 FIFA Ballon d’Or, the world player of the year award won by Messi. 

2010 World Cup champs Iniesta (age 26) and Xavi (31) joined Barcelona at age 11 and 12, respectively. Messi (23) arrived from Argentina at age 13. 

One person who had a close eye on all three of them during their youth days is Albert Benaiges, the coordinator of Barcelona's youth teams, which spawned seven players who played for Spain in its World Cup final win. 

After the Ballon d’Or honors, Benaiges recalled his impressions of the trio in their early years. 

“No one back then knew they would be world-class players,” he told Germany’s Kicker Magazine. “For sure, Messi’s great talent was already apparent. Also in Iniesta and Xavi one saw early on that they offered something special -- or else we wouldn’t have brought them in. 

“But anyone who says that when he saw those three players at age 11, 12 and 13 he knew they were future superstars is a liar.” 

Benaiges says that it’s at age 16 when they can predict if a boy might mature into a very good player. 

“Before that age it’s nearly impossible,” he said.

Benaiges does recall that Messi was incredibly fast with the ball. That even at 11, Xavi almost never lost the ball. And that Iniesta was a sensitive, considerate boy – shy but always willing to help others. 

Messi, during one year, played for teams at five different levels within the club – and never complained whether it was with the A team or C team – always giving his best. 

Regarding the type of training Barcelona youth players receive: 

“Technical skills we can improve up till the age of 13,” Benaiges says. “But every pro was born a soccer player. Instinct and game intelligence we can’t create. Both of those come within.” 

Asked what is trained, Benaiges responded: “Only technique and tactics, not fitness, which they can catch up on later.” 

The ball is the focus:

"The most important aspect of our program is always ball work. In all the exercises they do, whether it's physical preparation or any other kind of training, the ball is always there."

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at


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