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Is Your League Following A Good Development Model?


As a parent or a coach you have seen the the practice sessions where coaches run out of ideas after about 30 minutes, so they instinctively turn to playing a one ball scrimmage. In many recreational leagues parents let it slide and think to themselves, "well they have to play a game at some point, so getting some experience in that type of setting is probably a good thing." But, there are real reasons why coaches shouldn't resort to playing a one ball scrimmage at practices. Are your league directors and coaches following a proven development model? If not Second Nature Sports can help. Our training plans give coaches 8-weeks of full practice plans that will guide them through each and every practice in a developmentally focused manner.

In this week's blog our friends at PCA give us a brief overview of why children under the age of 12 shouldn't be playing your traditional 11v11 one ball games, especially in practice.

Chris Arndt
Second Nature Sports

PCA National Advisory Board Member Jay Coakley (@SiSCoakley) is Professor Emeritus of sociology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. He has done 40 years of research on connections between sports, culture and society, much of that focused on the play, games and sport participation of young people. His Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies(11th edition) is the world's most widely used sports sociology text.

In this video, Coakley describes why youth sports needs to be simplified for children under 12 years of age. He states that, “prior to the age of 12, kids are not socially and cognitively ready to play complex team games.” Research shows that children under the age of 8 can only take on one role at a time. So for sports like soccer, where there are 10 teammates, a soccer ball, and coaches, it is difficult for children to understand all of these roles simultaneously.

Since we cannot expect children under the age of 12 to truly understand these complex concepts, Coakley recommends that instead of putting children in a complex game they do not understand, we should:

  • Simplify game models
  • Change the dimensions of the fields to fit the size of the children playing
  • Cut the size of teams so that all children can get more touches, opportunities to pass, and opportunities to score

A link to the original post can be found here.



TedxColumbus - Steve Locker - Youth Sports: The Fast Lane To Retirement

In today's youth sports culture, parents seem to be in a race to competition. Steve Locker helps reassure parents that a patient approach to sports can work by examining the stages of child development and how they relate to athletic development. Find out how I can help your organization today!

Now that my TEDX Talk is available for viewing, I hope that you find it helpful and insightful. I draw from many years of working with both young children and advanced players at every level, and share my experiences of a better way to progress children through their athletic endeavors.

Pointing out that a “real” game of soccer for 4 & 5 year olds, with one ball, quickly becomes boring because too many children are not touching the ball. A more sensible approach where every child has his or her own ball makes perfect sense.

Building on the notion that we must be patient and allow children to participate at age appropriate stages, a case is made that this type of approach actually works quite well. The concept of intrinsic motivation far surpasses our current method where parents are providing the motivation.

Enjoy the storytelling and “real life” examples that illustrate how we parents can find a more enjoyable way to enjoy sports with our children. Don’t forget to share this with your friends, neighbors, and relatives who may benefit from this message.

- Steve Locker



Football Players Target Referee

In this week's blog Steve Locker responds to the controversy surrounding two high school football players from San Antonio, Texas who intentionally hit a referee during a game. The video above provides one take on the situation, but you can also read's more in depth take on the situation and hear the two boys speak for themselves here.

Below is Steve's response:

Sadly, I watched the video of the two high school players from San Antonio who viciously attacked a game official from behind during a recent game. This incident is wrong on so many different levels, and it’s worthy of further examination.

Coming from a soccer background and knowing the intense level of passion that many countries share for this sport, I have heard of some pretty heinous crimes committed against officials, even murder. I know that in soccer, a physical altercation with a referee by a player carries a lifetime ban.

Because this situation is related to youth sports, and not the fanatical environment that we typically associate with the professional ranks, it is especially troubling. (There are certainly those who would very quickly tag the youth sports ranks as fanatical as well.) While I am not surprised by this incident, it is further confirmation that our youth sports world has gone way too far in the direction of uber-competitiveness. It seems difficult to find the differentiation between amateur sports and professional sports when it comes to the physicality of the game.

While the perpetrators in this case are juveniles, there will surely be debate about a fitting punishment. Personally, I feel the punishment needs to go beyond a team or school sanction, and the judicial system needs to look at this. Further, an assistant coach is being investigated for possibly instigating the attack. There’s a surprise!

Our media outlets are always on the lookout for anything alarming that pertains to youth sports, and they certainly don’t suffer from a lack of material to work with. Usually, it’s parental behavior that is drawing the most attention, and this is where things are becoming very dangerous. Our children begin to model our behavior, and in this case, we see a couple of young kids going way too far to exact revenge upon someone that they feel may have wronged them.

This incident is a blaring first look at an attack upon an official, but what about the everyday occurrences of excessive play involving other athletes. After twenty years of collegiate coaching I witnessed only one concussion. Yet in just one year of coaching 14 & 15 year olds, I witnessed 5 concussions.

Our parents and our coaches need better training and they need someone to step up and educate them about the purpose of sports. We have gone too far in the wrong direction and I’m not sure how long it will take for us to start heading in the right direction. Something has to give. I feel really bad for this poor man in San Antonio, and for the thousands of others who are also needlessly injured in youth sports contests.

- Steve Locker



Decision Making


One of the beauties of soccer is that it is truly a “players” game, with coaching from the sidelines forbidden. Unfortunately at the youth level, this rule is never enforced. Unlike most of our sports though, soccer has very few stoppages, and this allows for players to make their own decisions during the flow of the game. Because of the environment that exists in soccer, it really is a wonderful avenue through which to develop children.

In a typical game, there is lots of running (fitness), change of direction and change of pace (agility and athleticism), decision making, risk taking, ball skill development, vision and spacial awareness, fakes and scheming, teamwork, and most importantly, fun! Kids can experience the ups and downs of sports in so many ways, and this is an excellent environment to learn how to deal with these challenges in a positive manner.

One of the best methods for developing good soccer players is to play “pick-up” soccer with friends. In this environment kids often play with children of varying ages, they play uninhibited because parents are usually not around to yell instructions and set demands, and they get to “own” the game on their terms.

Over the past weekend at a soccer tournament, I heard countless coaches directing their players non-stop. It was truly annoying. As I sat and quietly watched my team play on their own, I was complimented by many referees, field marshals, and opposing parents for my quiet demeanor. It didn’t hurt that our girls were able to relax and play some really beautiful soccer....on their terms. They were the champions of the weekend in every category!

All of us as parents would love for our children to grow up and be good decision makers. If we can have the patience and the fortitude to allow the process to work in youth sports, stop all of the screaming and yelling, our kids now have a better chance of learning these very important decision making skills.

Enjoy the games!

- Steve Locker



What's Happening to Our Coaches


Thinking back to my youth, when we used to show up to practice on our bikes and parents were no where to be seen, coaches were treated with great respect and rarely ever questioned about their methods and decisions. Nowadays, the complete opposite is true. Parents arrive at every practice with their folding chairs, park themselves on the sidelines, and critique the coaches every move. Frighteningly, much of the criticism happens on the drive home, completely undermining the coaches authority, and we wonder why children aren’t learning the wonderful lessons that sports have to teach.

As our adult-centric youth sports world continues to spiral out ofcontrol, the youth sports coaching model has changed immensely. Parent coaches with great attitudes and age appropriate philosophies no longer want to be involved. They don’t want to deal with parents calling them out after games about playing time, why my kid was forced to play a certain position, and a whole host of other issues that demand the coach’s immediate attention. Then there’s the phone calls at night, invading the privacy of the coach and his/her family.

This shift has caused many parents NOT to volunteer, and the side effects are quite drastic. It has led towards a “pay-to-play” model and with more “professional” coaches getting involved, and the fees keep getting higher and higher. Has anyone stepped back from this scenario and asked, what the heck is going on?

In looking at our professional coaches, it’s important to note that the term professional refers to the fact that they receive pay for their efforts. (Please note that this is not an indictment on all professional coaches...there are many good ones out there.) In most cases, these newbies have not yet gained the confidence and the security to teach much needed skills and focus on development, as they feel a huge amount of pressure to justify their income, and that generally shifts the focus towards winning. Without evolving this topic very far, it’s easy to see where it is going. Nowhere positive.

Coaching, if done well, can have an incredible, long-term impact on the lives of our young people. They can learn accountability, responsibility, how to fight through adversity, all kinds of wonderful things; qualities that will serve them well in their adult lives. We desperately need parent coaches with these characteristics in the lives of our children.

As Americans, we place a huge priority on our sports, yet we seem reluctant to place a premium on the training and education of our most important coaches....the parents. With a little effort and planning, we have the opportunity to impact significant change that will lead to more kids staying in sports longer.

-Steve Locker