DiscoverThe Soccer Sidelines
The Soccer Sidelines

The Soccer Sidelines

Author: David Dejewski

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The Soccer Sidelines podcast is about bringing parents, players, and coaches together around the most important aspects of the youth sports experience – and we don’t mean winning games.

Youth sports empowers us to create thousands of teachable moments in the context of a 15-year development window. Kids are open to learning and development in a youth sports environment – physically, mentally, emotionally, and in terms of core character - between the ages of 3 and 18 years old.

The goal of this podcast is to promote enjoyment of the game (and youth sports in general) and to make the most of the gift that Youth Sports gives our families. We hope to help parents, players, and coaches to make the most of the time we have together, and to build a solid platform from which our kids will launch into the world of adulthood.
101 Episodes
Travel tournaments can be full of excitement and fun. What are the pros and cons of travel tournaments for our players and families?
Varsity Soccer Mixed Bag

Varsity Soccer Mixed Bag


I'm hearing some variation of this over and over again: "My kids looked forward to playing varsity soccer in high school, but they (or we) have been disappointed with the experience." Why? In this article, let's explore the downside of the varsity experience and what we can do about it. The Varsity Experience SummaryWhere we live, our Varsity players play 12 games in 6 weeks. After tryouts, selected players get a few weeks of preparation, then a rapid fire schedule of games and practices. There are playoffs at the end and teacher-coaches along the way. Kids play in front of their peers for school pride. Wins are lauded during the school day. Losses lamented. Cheer leaders turn out to fire up the crowds and all manner of fast food is sold, along with $5 tickets to get in. Games are lunchroom, hallway, and even the occasional class time discussion. In other words, varsity sports are very much part of the fabric of the school and everybody knows about them. To get on a varsity team is a big deal. Cultures for each sport evolve each year. Everyone knows the "Lax boys," the "soccer players," the "football players," and the swimmers. Everyone knows how the various teams are doing, and even if a student is not a player on a team, it's often school yard conversation about what happened at the last game, who beats who, and what players are the play makers. To be on a varsity team in high school means a certain amount of celebrity. Youth sports in high school is meant to be "an extension of the classroom" with a focus on developing "the whole child." In our area, this is made clear through pre-gam announcements before every match. Have a listen to this:Listen to this opening announcement from earlier this week. Please: support the show and join our community as a Patron through my Patreon pageChallenges Faced By High SchoolsOut of the gate, I have to admit that although I coach and parent kids of High School age, I am not a High School teacher or coach and I am not privy to the internal politics and budget constraints of high schools in general. I have some very specific experience that I am extrapolating to a bigger picture. My experience as the coach of high school players, as a father of high school students, as the host of this show who reads and listens to feedback from listeners, and the weekly reading I've done on the subject (found in the show notes for every episode) informs my opinion. My opinion doesn't represent every situation. Your situation may be different from what I describe here. These issues are in no particular order: Staff ShortagesI spoke with athletic directors, coaches, and teachers from several schools. They are unanimous about the fact that there are not enough people around who are willing to coach. At least not around here."We're lucky to get anyone to take the job. It pays $15/hour. It takes up a lot of time. And it's a thankless job that comes with a lot of parent hassles." said one person who I spoke with two weeks ago. I heard similar comments from several different people in the last two weeks. I got a sense from those discussions that "we'll take anybody. "I want to be clear about something. I'm not saying that if somebody steps up and takes a job that no one else wants, that the person who stepped up is somehow lesser quality than the person who wins a job that has stiff competition. I'm a fan of taking on jobs that nobody else wants. For the right person, these kinds of jobs are pure opportunity gold. When a hard working, creative, visionary type person steps up and takes on a job that nobody else wants, they often have an opportunity to turn it into whatever they want. The right kind of person can break paradigms, overhaul an antiquated system, bring value beyond anyone's imagination...However, when someone takes the job to avoid doing another job, just because they need the $15/hr, because they're not qualified to do anything else,
Physical exercise like playing soccer is preventative for many disease processes. Diseases brought about by obesity, for example, are often prevented or avoided through regular physical exercise. It's ironic, therefore, that physical activity itself can cause injury too. As with all things: too much of a good thing can be bad for us. Being or getting physically fit isn't something we can rush into. It's a process. Staying physically fit means subjecting our bodies to controlled stress over time. If we over do it, we can hurt ourselves. If we do too much too fast, we can hurt ourselves. If we don't learn to maintain a more physically fit body that is subjected to regular controlled stress, we can hurt ourselves. Let's talk about it. JRR007 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]Injury Prevention in Youth Soccer - TypesInjuries in youth soccer come in many forms. If you've been listening to this show for long, you know that I gather a lot of things under the safety umbrella: Physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual predation, physical injury, etc. For this episode, let's narrow the focus to avoiding physical injuries due to overuse, over stress, or subjecting athletes to situations where either their bodies or their support system is not prepared. Further, let's break physical injuries into a few sub categories, including:Too much, too fast (coming up off the couch after a long summer of inactivity)Overload (not maintaining balance between stress and recovery)Internal injuriesEquipment and Environmental situations Overuse injuries brought about by stacking similar body movements from different sports on top of one anotherAs always, I'm not going to merely describe each of these five physical injury hot spots, but I will attempt to provide some solutions that you can use to prevent injuries for your soccer players.  PLEASE: support the show and/or join our community as a Patron through my Patreon pageToo Much Too FastNot all kids are created equal. As kids get older, their natural flexibility starts to decrease. I'm pretty sure every listener of this show is painfully aware of decreased flexibility that comes with age, but it might not be common knowledge that this decrease in flexibility can start as early as Junior High School. It's true that most kids are still more flexible than most adults, but bones begin to harden, muscles and sinews stretch with the rapid growth of bones and support structures, and additional stress on the body in the form of additional weight all become contributing factors and good reasons for coaches and parents to start paying attention to fitness, stretching, and whole body conditioning early on. I coach high school kids between the ages of 14 and 18. I worry about making sure my players don't get hurt - particularly early in the season before their bodies have a chance to adjust to what amounts to an increased level of activity for most of them. A summer of sitting on the couch seems more and more common these days. It used to be that kids were outside playing street hockey, kick the can, kill-the-guy-with-the-ball (a form of tag), kickball, swimming, frisbee, stick ball, and all manner of creative outdoor games kids use to love. We have a real issue today with kids literally sitting on the couch if they're not being directly instructed to physically play. This makes the Too Much Too Fast problem a real concern. Without adequate pre-season conditioning, players are at risk for stretching, tears, pulls, and even metabolic problems (that I'll talk more about in a minute).  Perhaps equally as important, players who's bodies are not prepared for the rigors of a soccer match won't enjoy the match as much. They won't play as well because they're in their head worrying about being gassed. Or, they find themselves facing an early injury they end up wrestling with the rest of the season, or a season-ending injury that takes them out of the game all together.
The job of being a coach requires men and women who pursue this craft to know the kids they're working with. Different age groups have different needs. They have different communication styles and differing abilities to understand the game, one another, or even instructions given them. Most coach's training programs parse development into physical, mental, emotional, and psycho-social buckets. Today, I'm going to talk with you about age-appropriate mental development. Lest you think this knowledge is just for coaches, I assure you that if you're a parent, you'll benefit as well. I personally believe that every parent would benefit from coaching training & if such a thing as a license to have kids ever became a thing - let's hope it never does - but if it did, I would want parents trained in coaching kids at all ages. The stuff we learn as coaches is stuff that often takes parents years to figure out. We learn the hard way as parents and the stakes are highest with our own kids. A coach works with all types of kids, at all stages of maturity. There are Stages of DevelopmentBefore we start talking about mental development, it helps to be able to frame it in terms of the ages I'm talking about. I base the stages of development in this article on the United Soccer Coaches Player Development Diploma Course. If you're a coach and have a deeper interest in this material, courses taught by United Soccer Coaches het two thumbs up from me. Understanding development across a continuum of 15 years from 3-years-old to 18-years-old not only helps a coach or a parent relate more effectively with kids, but it helps to make the experience more fun. It's frustrating to kids when they are shown material that is too advanced for them. It's boring to kids when they are shown material that is too young for them. Find that goldilocks perfect practice session is a whole lot easier when you understand the development needs of each age group. Please: support the show and join our community as a Patron through my Patreon pageLet's Look At Mental Development in Each of the Five StagesIn the toggle table below, I share some thoughts about each age group within a development stage. My thoughts are by no means exhaustive on the subject. In fact, I'm thinking I could do a separate podcast for each of the elements we consider, but for this one, I'm going to stick as closely as possible with mental development. It's really impossible for me to prevent some bleed over into psychosocial or even physiological aspects of development, because they do affect mental development, but I trust you'll have patience. Stage 1 Kids (3-5-years old)Young players at this stage have short attention spans. They are starting to understand visual instructions, but they tend to do better with concrete demonstrations of what they are expected to do. While many are still "parallel playing" an unaware of team dynamics like passing and group movement, they are starting to become aware of one another and the fact that other people have ideas and emotions. Kids at this age are beginning to become more cautious. They understand there are things in the world that can cause pain and they proceed accordingly. They have wonderful imaginations and can be super spontaneous and creative. In our program, we disguise "lessons" in the form of games. To teach movements like hopping, we might have them pretend they are bunny rabbits escaping from a fox, or we might work on coordination by playing body part tag with a ball (When I say Crumpet, touch the ball with your elbow!). Stage 2 Kids (6-8-years old)Kids in this age group still love games and imagination. Their attention span is becoming a little longer but it is inconsistent. They can focus on one task longer (not as many changes in activities). These kids talk a lot and ask a lot of questions. Their interests change frequently. They learn quickly. They like to try new activities,
Support the Show ( to affordable youth sports is at risk. It's facing extinction in communities all across America. I'm afraid that too few people understand how precarious the situation is. In this article, I share two very personal stories that I hope illustrate the problem as well as some solutions. Volunteers Keep Costs Low and Provide Access and AffordabilityWithout Volunteers, the cost of youth sports easily jumps to 10x what it would be with volunteers. Those who are volunteering are burning out. Too many jobs are being piled onto the few volunteers who are willing to help. For volunteers, it's death by a thousand cuts. Each new little thing that needs to be done - doesn't get done unless the already overloaded volunteers take on more work. This has to change or there won't be anyone left to serve.  PLEASE: support the show and/or join our community as a Patron through my Patreon pageResourcesBrian Barlow's Offside Facebook PageVolunteer Jobs that Support Kids
Support the ShowFinishing in the game of soccer is a string of a complex series of actions and thoughts that end with a net rattle. The finishing mentality follows a flow, from the goalkeeper and defenders through the midfield, to the player taking the shot. Each player in the chain processes a three-part Do loop over and over again in the course of a single attack. As coaches and parents, we can strengthen our player's ability to process the game and bring an effective finishing mentality to the game.The Finishing Mentality Extends Well Beyond the Opponent's Third(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Danielle Johnson)Some might say that a good finish starts in the back field. In the context of game day, I would agree with this. A good finish is a flow that's built up from the back field - payers reading cues in their environment, making decisions about those cues, and acting on them based on how they interpret those cues and how they judge their own abilities.  I would take it one step further back from the game day field though and say that a good finishing mentality starts well before game day. It's something that is made of interpretation skills, confidence (or lack of confidence), and abilities as developed in family and player units both on the pitch and off. Every player carries whatever they have with them - both good and bad - into a game. If they believe it's okay to make mistakes, to be the person who doesn't score, and that they can be creative without judgment in front of their family and friends, they are much more likely to to the right thing or attempt seemingly impossible acts of creativity and courage. If, on the other hand, they are judged as not being worthy unless they sink an asteroid ball into the back of the net, dribble through 5 defenders, or take an over-the-head bicycle kick shot into the upper corner off the cross bar, they're not likely to rise to the occasion. What we do and say in practice, how players interact with one another and come to learn one another's cues, and what we say to players at home - they all make a difference when it comes to that game day shot on goal. Get the first part right, and kids can be kids. Get it wrong and they can choke on pressure or fail to find their own confidence.  PLEASE: support the show and/or join our community as a Patron through my Patreon pageThe Finishing Mentality is About More than Kicking a Ball in the NetA great finishing play requires a string of thoughts and activities pulled together in concert. Capturing the ball, supporting ball movement, re-capturing the ball, timing pressure and runs, creating space for teammates to run the ball through - all of it is part of the finishing play. Every player - on the ball or off the ball - is contributing in some way to a good finish or a miss. Assuming you accept this to be true, the question becomes: what can we do before game day to support the finishing mentality? It's not all on the coach, on the player, or on the parents. It's on all of us in the player's ecosystem. Think I'm zooming out too far? Consider how a player might play in light of a recent family crisis. Don't think coaches notice that stuff? Of COURSE we do.Finishing also includes reading cues from the environment, interpreting and making decisions about those cues, and acting on those cues in a way that either contributes to the finish or detracts from it. Teaching players to read cues, to make good decisions, and to frame the context of their actions is something that takes time and practice. It also takes support from home. A Lesson from EVOC ClassEVOC stands for Emergency Vehicle Operator's Course. I used to teach this to police, fire fighters and EMS personnel when I was int he military. It may seem like an odd thing to talk about in the context of a finishing play in soccer, but it has relevance. While teaching professionals how to drive in high pressure / high adrenaline environments,
My team came to me two years go with the goal of playing varsity soccer. Today, my team makes up half the varsity bench. They didn't pay thousands!
US Youth Soccer Standards

US Youth Soccer Standards


There is a good reason to standardize the training environment for kids in their development years. Do you know what the US Youth Soccer standards are?
Support the Show and our MissionDealing with loss in life can be a profoundly life-changing experience. Learning to deal with loss on a smaller scale before the big life-changing losses affect our lives is a way for us to learn some basic things about staying positive, turning negative experiences into positive ones, and more. In this post, I share some deeply personal experiences that have changed lives and how they relate to lessons we can help our kids learn on the youth sports field.Image by mohamed Hassan from PixabayLearning About Loss in a Scale Model of LifeIf you've been following this show for any length of time, you know that I consider youth sports to be a proxy for real life. Youth sports are a safe place to learn essential life skills. The lessons learned in this environment are lessons that really matter when life serves us much harder losses later. This past week, my 17-year-old daughter and her friends lost someone dear to them. A friend to some. A boyfriend to one. A mirror of their own mortality for all of them. In this sad real-life situations, lessons learned earlier in teamwork, friendship, coming together to overcome challenges came into focus. When kids learn how to deal with life's hardships early, they are much better equipped to deal with them when they inevitably arrive.PLEASE: support the show and/or join our community as a Patron through my Patreon pageA Personal Story Dealing with LossI fell in love with a young woman when I was in college. It was a comfortable relationship. We both found comfort at the end of the day in one another's company. We shared pizza,  hours of overnight conversation, and a bond that I believed deep down would lead to marriage at some point way down the road. Everything felt right with her. She and I would always be close. She was killed in a car accident on the side of Dannemora mountain in New York. Her death had a profound effect on the rest of my life. I was fortunate enough to find love again, but the journey I set out on soon after she died lasted for a very long time. I became a volunteer fire fighter, an EMT, a Navy Corpsman, and set out to put myself as close to death as I could get - to save as many lives as I could, and at some level, come closer to being there for the woman I wasn't able to be there for on that cold day in November. Making Lemonade out of LemonsThe rest of my life was created through a series of decisions. A lot of good came from this loss because I chose for good to come of it. I suppose I could have easily gone the other way and never realized the joy my family brings me or the good things I've done for others. [tcb-script type="text/javascript" src=""][/tcb-script]Learning Starts YoungThere is a big difference between losing a loved one and losing a youth sports game, but many of the fundamentals are there: How do we react and process loss? How do we lean on others (or not) when we face difficult times? How do we empathize with others (or not) when they are down or need our help?We teach our kids how to deal with life in layers. With each new level of complexity, our kids learn to process wins, losses, good times and bad. They learn about the essential ingredients that go into making good citizen adults. They watch other adults for signs of volunteerism and community focus, for how they treat other adults, and how they should react to life themselves when they are older. Youth Sports Provides the Perfect Training FieldIf you cold create a safe space where kids can be exposed to the range of emotions and situations they will be exposed to later in life, and you made it a fun and healthy place to hang out, you'd have the youth sports environment. Careful planning and management of the youth sports space gives us a unique and powerful way to teach life lessons - including dealing with loss.
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