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What youth coaches can learn from Gregg Berhalter

One of my favorite memories from my youth soccer days: My teammate shot high with a golden chance to score and our coach screamed at him, "Come on, David! You gotta shoot low!" David turned to the sideline and screamed back, "Don't you think I know I missed!" The players on the bench tried hard to suppress their laughter and David became our hero for having the guts to yell back at our coach.

I recalled the incident recently while observing how U.S. national team coach Gregg Berhalter seems to be so successful in keeping his players' confidence level high through thick and thin. In fact, I've long found it remarkable how high-level coaches often seem more sensitive to players' self-confidence than many coaches at the youth level.

I've seen youth coaches substitute players after they made a mistake, which adds to the public shame and denies them a chance to make up for it and an opportunity to test their ability to cope with a setback. When I referee, it's clear to see how players react to their coaches' negative body language on the sideline and admonishing comments. It doesn't help. It increases the fear of making mistakes. It should be obvious that when people take on a task, feeling self-conscious about the possibility of failure doesn't increase the chances of success.

In some cases, the negative body language I see from youth coaches tempts me to ask them whether they even enjoy being on the soccer field with kids. I can only imagine that they're not conscious of what they look like when kids glance over to the bench. I would advise them to pay attention to some of the world's most successful coaches.

Pia Sundhage, who guided the USA to two Olympic gold medals, and Jill Ellis, the two-time World Cup-winning coach, watched their games from the sideline with body language that conveyed confidence and trust in their players no matter how tense the games got -- and always looked like they were enjoying themselves. Surely coaches who look calm under pressure will ease the nerves of their players instead of adding to anxiety.

Among the many remarkable aspects to the U.S. men's 3-2 win over Mexico was how they rebounded from mistakes and kept their composure during a roller-coaster of a game that included interruptions from VAR and fan misbehavior. The Mexicans took a 1-0 lead in the second minute after a blunder from Mark McKenzie. The 22-year-old misplayed another ball in the first half and looked so nervous I figured he'd be a halftime sub. But McKenzie went the 120-plus minutes and contributed to a milestone U.S. victory.

"I was a defender as well, and I just know the feeling when you make a mistake that leads to a goal," said Berhalter. The USA back twice against Mexico, whose coach, Tata Martino, was ejected and whose players' composure deteriorated.

We're privy only to glimpses of Berhalter's coaching behind the scenes, thanks to the "Behind the Crest" videos, but those must be pretty well representative of the positive approach he takes inspiring his players. We do get his detailed descriptions of his players' performances from press conferences, which if heard or read by his players would surely be inferred as respectful and confidence-building.

Since taking the helm two and a half years ago, Berhalter has been fielding extraordinarily young lineups and has remained steadfast in a tactical approach that creates risky situations while playing out of the back. The recent victories prove he's created a team atmosphere in which players aren't stifled by the fear of mistakes.

When I witness youth coaching that dwells on players' mistakes, I recall Anson Dorrance saying he's been constantly amazed at how little confidence even his most talented players have. If coaches of players at the highest level make great efforts to consider their players' mindset, then certainly the coaches of youth players should be even more conscious of how players interpret criticism.

Amid an infinite amount of coaching education, youth coaches can be well-served by watching how a coach like Berhalter handles his high-stakes challenge. If he can coach with a calm demeanor that instills confidence, then surely it's an approach for youth coaches to embrace.

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Let the Game Be the Teacher

Let the Game Be the Teacher: A Whole-Part-Whole Approach to Practice


by John O'Sullivan March 12, 2020

Reprinted from Soccer America Youth Soccer Insider


The following is an excerpt from John O'Sullivan's latest book, "Every Moment Matters: How the World's Best Coaches Inspire Their Athletes and Build Championship Teams."


When I began my soccer coaching journey, I was frustrated by the way U.S. Soccer* instructed coaches to build their practices. We were told to start small, one child or two per ball, and then build to larger, more complex activities before finishing with a game. I tried this at first, but I found that it looked great on paper but did not work in the real world. If you have ever coached young children, you know what I mean.

They don’t all show up on time. They show up in various states of readiness. They do not need a warm up. And if you start with a small activity that needs lots of explaining, as each subsequent child shows up, you end up explaining the activity multiple times. The kids who show up late have little incentive to hurry across the parking lot as they certainly did not sign up to stand in lines. They showed up to play.

I have always believed that a whole-part-whole approach or, as it is sometimes called, play-practice-play, is a far better method — especially for children 12 and under. Whole-part-whole essentially means to let them play a game first, break it down to a teachable component in the middle, and play again at the end. This solves multiple issues.

First, it does not matter when kids arrive as you only need two to get your first game started. Once your numbers get big, you can break into multiple games. Children tend to run across the parking lot and harass their parents to get them to training on time when you play first. And, playing first does wonders to work off the excess energy that tends to come along with young children who have been sitting in a classroom all day and were handed a sugary snack on the drive to training. Plus, they signed up to play the game, and it’s easy to make sure that they get plenty of game time when they start and end with some sort of game.

There are those that disagree with this approach, arguing that you have to start small and build to larger concepts, but that line of thinking demonstrates a misunderstanding of the difference between technique and skill. This is not to say that we cannot use breaks in the action to do some fundamental movement or stability exercises or a few reps of an isolated technique, but they can be interleaved with the games. You can also modify games, such as attacking and defending multiple goals or altering the shape and size of the field. And you can also do some coaching during these early games, focusing on the theme of your training session so that you are already drawing attention to the topics you are going to cover that day.

Thankfully, U.S. Soccer* and many other sporting governing bodies are now recommending a whole-part-whole approach to practices, especially for our youngest athletes.

As children get older, they certainly need more movement and flexibility/stability in the beginning of training in order to prevent injury, but even professional soccer players play rondos, and basketball players do shootaround activities, albeit not at full speed. Just think about it this way: the kids are there to play, and the more playing you do, the more engaged they will be. The game is a wonderful teacher.

* U.S. Soccer Grassroots courses: Five things to know about play-practice-play.

* * * * * * * * * *

(John O'Sullivan is the founder of the Changing the Game Project and the host of the Way of Champions Podcast. His latest book, Every Moment Matters: How the World's Best Coaches Inspire Their Athletes and Build Championship Teams, from which this article was excerpted, came out in December of 2019. It is available in paperback and Kindle.  His previous books are, Is It Wise to Specialize?: What Every Parent Needs to Know About Early Sports Specialization and its Effect Upon Your Child’s Athletic and  Changing the Game: The Parent's Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes, and Giving Youth Sports Back to our Kids.)

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Game Changes must be submitted through the club representative via our on-line game change function. All changes (placing games on the schedule and taking games off the schedule) must be submitted no later than 11 am Monday for upcoming weekend (Saturday or Sunday games). All changes for other days must be 5 days in advance - for example, scheduling or moving Friday games must be submitted by 11 am Sunday. Coaches -- DO NOT EMAIL GAMES CHAIRS ABOUT CHANGING GAMES!


That depends on its current listing and the reason. While NCSA Rules specify all the requirements, this is a "plain language" explantion of NCSA Rule Section 5.3 and all its subparts:

What if the game is a TBS or otherwise not currently scheduled? It takes the two coaches to AGREE on a date and time with field being designated by the home team's club. The agreement should be in writing (email). Either team's club rep can submit the requested date. To avoid a late submission fee, the request must be submitted at least 5 days in advance (Monday 11 am for following Saturday or Sunday play); amount of late fee increases as submission is later and later. See Rule 5.3.7

What if the game is scheduled already? Then it depends on the reason for postponement.
If the reason is STATE CUP, this is known well in advance and the request to mark the game TBS(SC) must be submitted by the Club Rep 5 days before the game is currently scheduled.
If the reason is FIELD CONDEMNATION due to WEATHER, there are strict timing rules on the teams' obligations, including possibly playing at the Vistor Team's field being required. But if the condemnation is less than 24 hours before game time, which is more typical, then a coach must notify the opposing coach and the Games Chairs (preferably by Club Rep for all that Club's games on that field to minimize communications). See Rule 5.3.6 for full information.
If the reason is ANYTHING ELSE (other than rare exceptions in Rule 5.3.1), it is considered a change for CONVENIENCE under Rule 5.3.8. Such a change requires AGREEMENT of both coaches for a SPECIFIC date, time and field submitted together with the request to postpone. The postponement can not be to a TBS for later scheduling. Again, the timing rules require specific advance submission with added fees for late submision and a change fee which varies in amount.

Moving a Game "Earlier in the season" was developed especially for high school-age teams who wish to move their June games earlier in the season so they have players before exams, proms and end of school activities interfere. Moving a game earlier fora $10 fee does not constitute moving a game "earlier in the day", "by a day" or earlier "by a week", but by several weeks or a month, as explained during Club Rep meeting.

Coaches often ask for fee waivers and exceptions. Games Chairs have heard all these excuses before. Except for extreme situations such as death of a player/parent/coach, there are no extreme circumstances permitting waivers and exceptions. The full procedure for submitting game changes is contained in Rule 5.3.9.

1. First step if opposing coach doesn't respond to you is to have your club rep contact opposing club rep to try and reschedule game.
2. If that doesn't work, contact your NCSA Division Commissioner.
3. Always keep email chain for proof of date time line.


TBS means "To Be Scheduled"
The letters in parentheses after the TBS let us know the reason for the TBS.
TBS(L) means "League" - for example, all 3/22 games are listed as TBS(L) as we do not expect clubs to have fields open by that date. Games can be played before 3/29 opening date if weather and field conditions permit AND if proper rescheduling is submitted by the CLUB REP.
TBS(H) means the Home Team requested not to play on that date, perhaps because of a school vacation impacting number of players available, or some other event preventing fielding a team.
TBS(V) means the Visiting Team requested not to play on that date, for similar or any reason.
TBS(B) means Both teams requested not to play on that date.
TBS(F) means the Field is not known; perhaps the home team had a field permit taken away or had some other conflict preventing the scheduling of a time and field.
TBS(R) means Rain or any weather condition prevented the game from being played.
TBS(SC) means State Cup for one of the teams caused a postponement.
TBS(MBOS) only occurs in a top level full-sided flight of 8 teams; in such a flight, after the first 7 weeks of play, whether the round robin of games is completed or not, an additional 3 game round robin occurs within the top 4 and within the bottom 4 teams - these games are designated MBOS for Matches Based On Standings.

F1 is the default field upon original scheduling - they remain as F1 until a real time and field is first assigned.

TBS games are NOT scheduled games; all TBS games carry (or should carry) a designated time of 12:00 am (midnight) or 1:00 am (which time is assigned simply allows the games chairs to track who entered the data) - only games that have a real time and a real field (CLUB-Field Name abbreviation) are games that have refs assigned and only those games may be played.

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Instructions for Coach Menu After Log In

There is a new left side menu. There are 2 “parent” menu choices labeled PERSONAL INFORMATION and TEAM MANAGEMENT. Clicking a parent menu item will display the sub-menu choices discussed below. Just above the left side menu it should say “Welcome” and your name. If you have multiple roles, this is where you would switch roles.


This is the section where you modify your password. Remove all black dots. You must type in the assigned password in the "current password" section.


This is the section where you edit your address, phone numbers and one email address. Remember to hit “Save” at the bottom. You are not permitted to edit the name.


EACH team must submit its own Match Day Form.

First, if you coach multiple teams – either as head coach or assistant coach in NCSA records, there will be a drop down box listing those teams from which you select the team and then click “Get Games”. If you coach only one team according to NCSA records, your list of games will appear when you click the menu item “Match Day Form”. The Match Day Form is required only for NCSA games.

Second, the entire list of games will appear for the team selected or the only team you coach. The game number in the left column is in blue and is able to be clicked from any time before the game through 24 hours after the game. After that time, you may no longer edit the Match Day Form; however, the right column will display “View”, which may be clicked to view the completed form. IMPORTANT: WAIT UNTIL 1-2 DAYS PRIOR TO THE GAME TO CREATE THE MATCH DAY FORM SO ALL REFEREE INFO IS INCLUDED FOR THAT GAME.

Third, once you click a game number to create a Match Day Form, a form “wizard” displays to guide you to completing the form:
(a) The name of a coach listed in NCSA records as coaching this team will be pre-populated into one of four spaces for coaches – coach names can be removed and replaced – you may add names to a total of 4 permitted coaches per rules – this procedure will eliminate the illegible names on a majority of previously submitted forms;
(b) You must then answer if any players are playing up – it is preset as “no” - if you change it to “yes”, a section will appear for you to list the player’s name, the player’s pass number, uniform number (enhancement in process) and the team from which the player is playing up – again, this procedure will eliminate the illegible names previously written on US Club rosters (you may NOT write names on US club roster forms any longer) – the “add another player” lets you add additional players playing up according to NCSA rules - the teams listed (playing up from) in the drop down are only those teams from which a player may play up – this will eliminate the numerous situations where players improperly played for a team. IF A TEAM IS NOT LISTED IN THIS DROP DOWN, THEN A PLAYER ON THAT TEAM MAY NOT PLAY UP TO YOUR TEAM.
(c) When you are done, remember to click “Save and View/Print” and a PDF version of the form will appear for printing – note that the form will have extra lines for writing in players who are recruited last minute to play up - we understand coaches are accustomed to seeking additional players on a last minute basis and those names, pass numbers, uniform numbers and team playing up from must be entered for the referee – for this season, we are permitting/requiring coaches to return to the form WITHIN 24 HOURS of game time and you MUST add players who did in fact play up on game day. How do we monitor compliance? Referees will report if any players played up and if so, how many. A report compares the numbers reported by coaches and referees and lets us know where they do not match. If you find that you improperly used a player to play up, report it immediately to your division commissioner – your reporting of the infraction will lessen any penalties that would apply.

Fourth, there are many new features on the Match Day Form:
(a) The upper left section is already completed based upon the game number listing date, time, field, teams and flight – this solves the issue of often incomplete information.
(b) The officials’ names are printed on the form provided they are already assigned – for that reason we recommend that you WAIT until Friday to print a form for that weekend – by that time, 98% of all matches have been assigned and accepted.
(c) The upper right portion listing game times, size of ball and referee fees now contains a highlighted section for the flight of the game.
(d) The upper right also displays which team is providing this Match Day Form – EACH team provides one – the delays typical to incomplete and unsigned forms should be solved by each team providing a form – if you do not have your form, referees have been instructed not to permit the game to proceed per NCSA rules.
(e) The coaches are listed here based upon what was recorded by you.
(f) The players playing up are listed (name, pass number, uniform number, team) and you may hand write such information for this season – remember to go back to complete the same information online within 24 hours.


Scores are no longer reported via external websites or via email or telephone. The same rules apply as to who reports the score (winning team, home team if a draw), but both teams have the ability to enter a score. The same 4 hour rule applies, but for now the ability to enter a score ends after 24 hours. While we are tracking timeliness of score reporting, at this time we are allowing additional time without fines. If you miss the 24 hour window, contact your division commissioner.

NOTE: Games do not show until after they are played.
(a) Enter scores for each team.
(b) If a team was not at the field with minimum number of players within 15 minute of game time, click “yes” and indicate which team (rare situation).
(c) If one of the officials did not appear, click “yes” – this allows us to follow up with officiating crews to determine who was missing and why.
(d) You may enter a short comment for the division commissioner.
(e) You may enter scores only once – if a score is wrong, email your division commissioner.
When done, click “Save” – this will take you to the short Match Evaluation page. We hope you will complete it at that time, but if you are pressed for time, you may return to it later.

TEAM MANAGEMENT – Submit Match Evaluation

Click the game number in the left column to access the evaluation form. There are 3 short, simple sections to address pre-game issues, match level and an overall evaluation of the officials. The first 2 sections allow for comments. If you wish to make comments about an official, you must complete the Detailed Referee Evaluation. We hope every coach will take the time to complete this section. You can go back and view it late by clicking the “View” link in the right column.

TEAM MANAGEMENT – Detailed Referee Evaluation

Click the game number in the left column to access the evaluation form. For a game with only 1 official (small sided), there is only 1 section to complete about the only referee. For a game with more than 1 official, there are 3 sections to complete about the center referee and both assistant referees. Each section allows 2 places for comments. We hope every coach will take the time to complete this section. Once you answer questions for a couple of games, you will see how quick and simple it is to help the league by providing your feedback. We used actual comments from coaches during Spring 2011 to discuss coach/club concerns with referees in Fall 2011 pre-season meetings. You can go back and view it late by clicking the “View” link in the right column.
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