Monthly Archives: February 2012

Feb 26

U8 Soccer Fitness for Kids: Five Areas to Always Work On

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

Picture of girls playing soccer

There's a lot ot cover for soccer fitness

Youth soccer fitness is a large area. Soccer coaches and parents are looking for ways to improve their kids skills and fitness.

And there isn’t a lot of time to do it in. Typically, a U8 soccer practice is 45 to 60 minutes. Not much time to teach ball skills, team skills, soccer fitness and have fun.

But there are ways. The best coaches and teams do it. Here is my advice from working with kids for over 30 years.

1. Always put fun first

Having fun to kids is more important that winning. It’s more important than getting better. It’s the most important thing in the world for kids.

There’s lots of ways to have fun during practice…and a few ways that can wreck it. Keep things short and simple. Allow kids to experiment and make mistakes. And the big mistake coaches make is they yell and threaten.

Screaming is not fun for anyone. It just means that you’re frustrated. So go play.

2. Combine Skills, Fitness and Fun

Since there are so many things to work on, put them together and work on them at the same time. For instance, combine a ball control drill with running. And at the end of the run, players have to do a jump bump. The jump bump makes it fun and goofy (also working on the physical aspect of soccer) and the rest develops fitness and skills.

The more you can combine kids soccer fitness, the better it is.

3. Teach Running Mechanics

Too many kids are overweight, don’t run enough at home and run poorly. Kids have to be taught how to run correctly or they will have no chance at being successful at higher levels of soccer.

And running poorly, besides being slow, hurts. Good running technique is faster, easier, and less likely to cause injuries.

So add a running technique drill like arm pumps to a conditioning and footwork drill. The benefits to your team will be seen very quickly.

4. Youth Soccer Fitness: Full Body Strength

Kids need to have their whole bodies developed for soccer. True, it’s mostly in the legs but if their back and core is under developed, then their legs will never be fully utilized.

Push-ups, sit-ups, planks, burpees, pull-ups, bear crawls…all these exercises develop the whole body. They will give kids the full body strength needed for soccer and will make them all around better athletes.

5. Secret to Successful Youth Soccer Teams: Mental Training

Call it mental toughness training, sports psychology, or whatever. However you want to call it, it should be done. This includes visualizations and team bonding. Anything you do to improve the mental state of the soccer team is going to help greatly.

The best time to do this is throughout the practice. Before you start, tell them what you’re going to work on, why you’re doing it and how it will make them better. This might take one minute.

Not a lot of time out of the practice but critical time for developing complete athletes.

Do the same during drills and scrimmages as well as at the end of practice. Let them know what they did, why it made them better soccer players and a better team.

By working on these five areas of soccer fitness, your players will be better athletes and better soccer players.

Coach Ron Usher helps coaches, parents and kids bring out their athletic skills. To learn more about how you can improve your child’s or team’s fitness for soccer, click the link.

Feb 22

Top Five Soccer Fitness Exercises for Kids

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

Soccer Fitness for Kids

picture of kids playing soccer

Get outside and play

Maybe where you coach or live, the kids get a lot of outdoor exercise and movement. Here in the Bay Area (California), I don’t see it. The parks aren’t full and the sport fields aren’t filled with kids on the weekends.

After school, there’s a lot of kids participating in youth teams like soccer, swimming and basketball, but they aren’t outside playing afterwards.

So as a soccer coach or concerned parent, I believe you have a responsibility of providing more fitness than just playing soccer. Here are my top five fitness exercises for kids to do.

1. Burpees: I went over these in a previous post. They build cardiovascular endurance as well as full body strength. I like the six count variation, where you add a push-up and a jump at the end.

2. Hindu Squats: This was written about here. They are tough, and develop great leg strength and endurance. They also work on balance. One thing I like about them, if done correctly they teach kids about breathing and controlling the breath.

3. Leg Swings. Leg swings are great warm-up exercise for balance and strength. Improving balance will go a long ways to improving a kids ability to kick the ball, especially with the weak leg.

4. Skiers Drill (Alternating side to side hop and balance). This is a modified plyometric exercise. It develops strength and balance. It prepares the legs for the agility and change of direction that soccer requires.

5. Chicken Walking (Kick heel up, pull through). This is a great drill for teaching running technique. The more I watch kids run, the more I realize that 1. They don’t run well. 2. Coaches don’t teach it. This drill teaches two of the key techniques for running correctly; lifting the heels and landing underneath the body, not in front.

If I was to have one more exercise, it would be the pull-up. Unfortunately, not every team of family has access to a pull-up bar. But pull-ups develop the entire back and core which is necessary for running, kicking and injury prevention.

Youth soccer requires a high degree of fitness for a kid to be successful. Some kids will have it. Many kids have to be taught how to be fit and given the skills necessary. Athletic Skills for Soccer teaches parents and coaches the fundamental athletic skills needed on the pitch and in life. Click the link to order your copy now.

 

Feb 21

Great Soccer Books

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

There are some excellent resources for youth soccer coaches, fans and parents. I thought I’d share some of mine in a few posts.

Coach Dewazien has some excellent products. I love his Fundamental Soccer books. I guess you could say he’s a business competitor with my Athletic Skills Program. He focuses much more on the complete practice and game of soccer…I’m focusing more on the exercises needed to build an athlete.

I’ve got numerous copies of his books and every time I go through them, I learn something. Sometimes it’s about soccer, sometimes its about running a youth practice. Sometimes it’s even about other sports and how his principles can be applied to other flow type sports.

Anyway, if you’re looking for practical information that’s well written and very developmentally appropriate, you can’t go wrong here.

Click the link to his website and pick up a book or DVD. They are excellent sources for youth soccer.

 

 

Feb 19

Hindu Squats for Kids

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

Soccer requires great strength and stamina in the legs. There are countless ways to develop and condition the legs for soccer, but one of the best are Hindu squats.

I don’t think many soccer coaches or parents know this variation of the squat. I first heard of them from Matt Furey, a fitness expert who works mostly with combat athletes.

picture of hindu squats for soccer

Hindu Squats Are Great for Legs and Youth Soccer

Since then I’ve experimented on myself and my youth athletes and I agree with Matt. They are excellent for strength, balance and endurance. There is an incredible cardiovascular benefit as well.

As you can see from the picture that you go down much further than you do in typical squats.

The knees do go in front of the toes which is normal and correct. A lot of unknowing trainers say not to have the knees go in front but that is flat out wrong. Watch anyone jump or walk down steps and you can see that the knees do go in front of the toes.

Two other things to notice from the picture. First, they are done on the toes. This works on balance as well as strength. Some recommend to do it with flat feet. I feel that it takes some of the dynamic movement away from the exercise. It also requires more flexibility in the calves (which I don’t have!).

I’m not sure which is better. I recommend you experiment and find out which version you like.

The other point is the breathing and rapid fire of this exercise. Hindu squats should be done quickly…one breath for each cycle. As you go down, exhale and as you stand up, inhale. This means you will do about one every two seconds.

Hindu squats are demanding. I think they are great for U9 players. I wouldn’t do them with U6 players though they could be taught the movement and then do them very slow and with limited repetitions.

Start off doing them with only a few at a time. Ten is what I typically start a group with. Then I will increase the number of sets from two, up to five spaced out over a workout.

Personally, my teams have done as many as 30 at time…and they were about to drop and their form went to pieces. I know, that Matt Furey has mentioned doing 100s of them but I don’t recommend that for kids. My personal best was 60 in a row.

If you’re looking for an exercise that can be done inside or out, on the practice pitch or at home, then teaching your youth soccer players how to do Hindu squats is one of the best things you can do.

For more ways to improve your team or child’s fitness for soccer and life click the link and order your Athletic Skills for Soccer program today.

Feb 18

What’s the Best Way to Strength Train for Youth Soccer?

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

Kids should do strength training for soccer

Not this

Some coaches think kids shouldn’t do strength training.

The reasons are varied: It makes them too slow. Their bones aren’t developed. It stunts their growth.

Hogwash. Even the Mayo Clinic sites reasons for why kids should do strength training:

  1. Increase muscle mass
  2. Stronger bones
  3. Protects joints from injuries (critical for soccer)
  4. Improve performance
  5. Positive cardiovascular effects like blood pressure and cholesterol
  6. Improves self-esteem
  7. Helps maintain a healthy body weight.

So if your child should do strength training, what’s the best way to do it?

I think for most kids and soccer players, bodyweight exercises are the way to go.

bodyweight exercises for youth soccer

Do this instead

For the most part, kids can handle their own weight. And if they can’t, then it’s fairly easy to modify the exercise so that they can.

It doesn’t take any extra equipment or a different location to train. You can do strength train for soccer anywhere and anytime.

It uses the bodies natural movements in functional ways. You’re not strapped to a machine doing a bench press, or pressing up weights in a rack.

You might be lifting your body off the ground (something we’ve been doing for thousands of years) or doing squats and lunges (another movement we do every day).

Another advantage of bodyweight exercises for soccer is that there are countless varieties and modifications you can do. If push-ups are too hard, do them on your knees. If they are too easy, elevate the legs.

Every muscle and movement can be improved by strength training. And strengthening all the muscles kids will improve their running, kicking, stopping, turning and endurance.

My next article will list my five favorite bodyweight exercises for kids to do.

Get your kid and your team to do them and you will have a faster, fitter, healthier and better team.

 

Feb 18

Practice the Athletic Stance for Soccer

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

a good athletic stance

Even dribbling requires an athletic stance

During the course of a soccer match, there are many times when a good athletic stance is necessary.

When I watch high school JV matches and youth soccer matches, I see lots of kids who should be in an athletic stance but never get there.

An athletic stance should have the knees bent and the weight on the balls of the feet. This position allows the body to move quickly and in any direction.

The head should be up and the hands low. Again, this permits the player to move quickly and in any direction.

This position does not come naturally for most players. It takes strength and awareness to get into the position.

It takes good conditioning to maintain the position.

It takes excellent endurance and lots of practice to be able to get into the position at the end of a game.

How do you get your team to practice the position?

Whenever the team is doing soccer drills, conditioning, or ball control drills have the players rest in an athletic stance. It’s not really a rest…they will have to be focused and working to do it.

The athletic stance is not just a stance. It is a position to achieve when you move. When playing defense players have to move backwards and diagonally. The should confront the ball handler to the side, forcing them to one direction of the pitch.

Or away from the ball, moving from an athletic stance to a run can give you a moments head start. One second is all a player needs to get advantage.

Again, this has to be taught, practiced and rehearsed.

At the lower level games I observe, the players don’t do it. They stand up straight with straight legs. They have to get ready before they run.

At the higher levels, the best players do it. I don’t think they got there because they are at a higher level of play.

They are at a higher level of play because they do the basics. They do the soccer basics all the time.

The kids on the bench are still trying to figure out why.

For more ways to bring the athletic stance to your team or child go to www.athleticskillsforsoccer.com. Soccer success is not just about ball control and tactics. If your kids don’t have the fundamental athletic skills, they won’t be successful. Click the link for soccer fitness and athletic skills.

 

Feb 17

Soccer Drills to Keep the Ball and Players Moving

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

keep moving and keep the ball moving

Keep the ball moving!

Soccer is all about keeping the ball moving…and the athlete. Yet how often are our drills and practices revolved around standing around and listening or watching.

A team that can pass without having to stop and control the ball is going to win most of the games. The players are going to be more successful. And if you can get the players to be faster and have greater endurance you have the recipe for success.

When kids are learning to pass, trap and control the ball they have to be stationary. Especially if they are younger players.

But at the end of any skill workout, add movement to the drill. And then have the kids see if they can keep the ball moving.

Here is what I mean.

Let’s say you have a U6 team. They are learning to the instep pass. They stand five yards away from each other and perform ten passes with a partner.

Then they switch partners. Soon they move a little further away.

The next progression would be to have them pass the ball and then run five meters around a cone. The player who received the ball would wait till the first player returned and then pass.

After doing this a few times, the next step is to pass the ball while running side by side using the instep pass. Here they always move and they pass without the trap.

Encourage the players to keep the ball moving at all times.

While the ball is moving, so are the players.

Older players can add more aerobic conditioning to this type of workout. And they should be able to move quickly and keep the ball moving and under control for at least ten minutes without a problem.

To make it even more challenging, after the ball control work, add some sprints at high speed to get them fatigued…and then back to ball control and steady state running.

This type of practice will get them in great soccer condition and hone in on the ball skills that are needed at the end of the game.

Your players will have the ability to dominate the other teams. While the competition gets tired and loses their ability to control the ball, your team will be fresher and have greater skills.

So keep the ball and the players moving

 

Feb 17

Balance Drills for Youth Soccer

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

Soccer requires excellent balance

Soccer requires excellent strength and balance

Balance is crucial for soccer. You need balance when you kick the ball, when you run and when you stop.

You use your balance when you change direction. Good balance can prevent injury as well.

There’s two types of balance; static and dynamic.

Static is standing still and dynamic is when you’re moving. Obviously, dynamic is what soccer players use the most, but there is a place for practicing static balance as well.

Static balance develops strength. It also gets the smaller muscles, tendons, neurons, and the entire proprioceptive system activated.

Craig Ballentyne, a fitness and exercise expert, recommends doing balance exercises before doing strength or cardio training. He sees better performance and results when his athletes do it. And he trains world class athletes.

I think there’s a place in youth sports and kids soccer for balance training as well. It is fun to do and doesn’t take a lot of time. Here are some ways to incorporate balance training into a soccer practice.

Standing on one foot will be the starting point for all of the following exercises. Standing on one foot is fairly easy. But to make it more difficult, we are going to throw in some variations.

  • On the balls of your feet.
  • Eyes closed.
  • Leaning over to the side.
  • Leaning forward. This is great for running technique.
  • Touch the ground then stand up. Touch in all four directions
  • Make circles with your body. Go in both directions.
  • Head the ball.
  • Play catch. Younger players really benefit by working hand/eye coordination as well as foot/eye coordination.
  • Pass with different parts of your foot while standing still. Inside, outside, instep, even the heel.
  • Hop on one foot and pass while moving ten yards. Very difficult and develop a lot of strength in the legs.
  • Play tug-of-war with a partner.
  • Use a medicine ball for exercise or by working with a teammate.There are hundreds of ways that medicine balls can be used in practice. This is only to give you an idea.

As you can see there are countless ways that you can develop balance in your kid or on the soccer team. They are also great for adults to do as well.

Working on balance doesn’t take expensive equipment. Somethings are nice to have but in a team setting with fifteen to twenty kids, it’s difficult and expensive to have enough for everybody. Plus, they take up a lot of room and are heavy to lug around from the car to the pitch.

Take some time to perform balance exercises with every practice. I’ve even that  kids tend to focus better when they spend some time balancing. They listen better and aren’t as fidgety.

Use a few balance drills every day. Two to five minutes is all you need. Your kids will be having fun and improving their soccer skills at the same time!

Coach Ron Usher helps parents, coaches and kids bring out their inner athlete. To learn more go to www.athleticskillsforsoccer.com.

Feb 16

What Exercise Develops Full Body Strength and Endurance for Soccer?

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

If you had to choose one exercise to develop all around fitness for your soccer players, what would it be?

*Running?

*Push-ups?

*Sit-ups?

The four count burpee for kids soccer conditioning

A four count burpee without the push-up

If I had to chose one exercise, it would be the six count burpee. The burpee develops full body strength and very quickly gets the heart rate up like nothing else.

It’s great for soccer because it takes the kids to the ground for the push-up and then makes them get up quickly which they have to do in a game. If you add a jump to it, it develops explosive power, needed for speed, agility and kicking.

Here is an video of someone doing them: Burpees for soccer players.

There are also lots of variations that can be done to keep them interested as well as develop soccer skills.

One way to vary it is to change the type of exercise on the ground. They could do staggered arm push-ups or clap push-ups. They could do five dips and then a jump.

The jump could be straight up as in the video. It could also be with a split kick or a turn.

Or you can add an exercise between the burpees…

For instance, have them work with partners. One partner performs a burpee and jumps. Upon landing, the other partner tosses a ball which has to be volleyed back. They perform five in a row and then switch.

Another variation is to have them run between burpees. They do a burpee, then run 20 yards and repeat. The running could be for running form, it could also be a ball control drill such as dribbling.

Burpees are tough. Like most exercises it is easy to overdue. The most I’ve ever had a high school group do is three sets of 20. It took us six weeks to build up to that many and not all the kids could do it.

Of course, burpees like push-ups or running should never be done as punishment. Make them a part of your weekly fitness plan. Or encourage your team do to them at home as part of conditioning homework.

To get your team more fit, faster, and to be better athletes really doesn’t take too much. It doesn’t have to take any time away from any portion of your workout. It’s easy to intermix soccer conditioning and fitness with strategy, skills and tactics. All it takes is a little knowledge and planning.

Want to learn more on how to condition your team for soccer or other youth sports? Go to www.athleticskillsforsoccer.com or click the link here for soccer fitness and conditioning.

 

 

Feb 16

What’s The Most Important Skill For Youth Soccer Players?

By RonUsher | Uncategorized

What do you think it is? Speed? Ball Control? Athletic Skills?

Or what about mental skills? Drive, Desire, Hard Work?

All of them are important. Very important. But to me, the most important skill a kid or adult can have is resiliency. The ability to bounce back. The ability to deal with frustration, aggravation, fear and failure.

Resilency is critical for succes in sports and life

Never quit or give up

To me, that is the most important trait.

Problems, difficulties, failure and plateaus always happen.

It’s what we do when we encounter them that is what separates the best from the middle of the pack.

Some kids want to quit. Some kids do quit…at least temporarily.

Others act out. They might yell, scream or pout. I’ve seen kids take it out on themselves, their parents, the coach and their teammates.

None of those responses are appropriate but they are common. Its not even the end of the world if they happen.

What the coach, teacher or parent needs to do is to first prepare the team and kids BEFORE the problem occurs. Let them know that there will be setbacks. Talk about it before practice, during practice and after practice.

You can even have practices where the entire team will fail or not succeed on a goal. This would be with a more mature or older team. Don’t try this with U8’s. But a good team of U12’s might be able to handle it.

Failure might be to perform a skill at a higher level than they are capable of. It might be a soccer conditioning or fitness test. After they fail, talk about the importance of being resilient and coming back. Failure and frustration are a part of life. They have to learn to deal with it, accept it and then move on.

If a soccer player is blowing out, don’t yell at them at the time. Remove them from the field, and let them calm down. When they are calm, then you can start to teach them what they should do the next time they get frustrated.

Also, coaches need to model good resilient behavior. Screaming at the officials or the team, being out of control emotionally is not good modeling. And when you notice yourself losing it, refocus and come back centered.

Kids and people are different. We are born with different traits, skills and families. Some situations might be more conducive to being resilient.

But all kids can learn to be more resilient. By teaching them about the skill, exposing them to difficult times, frequently and often, you can give your kids a skill that carries over in soccer at every level…and beyond to school and life.

What do you think? Do you have a story about a time in your life or your team’s that they could have been more resilient…or maybe they displayed great maturity and came back from a heart breaking loss.

I’d love to hear your stories!