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Practicing soccer during a compressed High School season.


I recently received this interesting email from a High School soccer coach who’s struggling with the absurdity of the soccer calendar season.

I think that it’s a problem that affects all the High schools.


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Hi Coach Gianni,
I enjoy your emails and as a Coach I appreciate your insight and dedication to the most beautiful game. I would like to know your thinking on practicing before a game and how often with 2 to 3 games a week schedule. High school is brutal during the Holidays soon as you have the team working together they're off on Holiday break.

I currently have 4 practices a week 1hr and 45 minutes Monday-Thursday and really strive to have my girls focus on their grades too. This Thanksgiving we did Weds. Fri and Saturday practice and my Asst Coach says he wants to do Friday too. I want them to achieve but not get burnt out in the short season. The fun they have is the best asset and I want to continue this attitude these girls possess. Please give me your thoughts and comments.

Yours in Soccer
Coach Michelle Lee
MVC Varsity Girls Soccer


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Dear Coach Michelle,

Thanks very much for your question, which permits me to develop a topic that is recurrent in youth American soccer.

I coached at High School level so, I know exactly what a 'nightmare' the absurd sequence is, of practices and games and, at the same time, what it means for the 'students-players' to take care of their grades and enjoy the holidays, too.

So, in my opinion, the way sports are managed at the high school level in our country, is deeply wrong! For the girls, to have different sports seasons during the year and participate in soccer, basketball, volleyball and track & field, compresses every season into a period of time that makes practices and games incompatible. For the boys it's even worse, because they add lacrosse and football.

To correctly practice a sport, any sport, athletes need a pre-season, a long season with the correct proportion of practices/games and a post-season, SPECIFICALLY focused in practicing in developing skills for that sport. There is no meaning in having such compressed seasons, because the players don't develop their skills, don't practice enough and basically play games. If, to the compressed soccer calendar, you add the make up of some games that were canceled for bad weather, teams can even play 4 games a week, without ever practicing. Simply ridiculous!

The correct proportion between practices and games is 3 practices and 1 game. In America it's the opposite. 2 or 3 games and 1 practice! When do the players learn to play soccer? Mystery! There is no pre-season, there is no post-season, there is no practice. Only games.

If a High School wants to create an orchestra, the musicians will learn to play the instruments all year round and when there is a concert, they come together to rehearse the pieces that will be performed. They can't begin to learn to play the instruments a few days before the concert because it's impossible. I'm sure that everyone will agree (High Schools, too!) that doing this would be nonsense, but this is EXACTLY what every High School does with every sport.

The soccer season needs to last a minimum of 6 months, with games on Thursdays. So, Monday practice, Tuesday study (more than the other days!), Wednesday practice, Thursday game, Friday soft practice and analyze and fix what was wrong during the game.

As you can see, 3 practices and 1 game. This way, the games become what they really should be. Practices are for learning and games are to see if we have learned!

This is the right way, but because America likes to do it the wrong way, and this is the reality, we need to face this problem. There is only one way to try to learn something: literally practicing before the games, transforming the warm-up and stretching, into a kind of practice and use the game as a final 'scrimmage' at the end of this long warm-up-practice-game!

You said:" I want them to achieve but not get burnt out in the short season."

To avoid this, compatible with the time you have before the games, the 'pre-game-practice' has to last a minimum of 1 hour and during the game, you need to activate a complete turnover of all the players on the team roster. Let's forget starters and reserves. If you have an 18 player roster (plus the keepers) and for example you play 4-4-2, you'll rotate 7 players in defense, 7 players at half field and 4 players as forwards. If you have less, do a rotation 6-6-3. Everyone will play 20/25 minutes per half, by giving EVERYTHING that they have to give in that time!

A clarification. There is enough time between the end of classes and game kick off, but in coming to the field, the girls shouldn’t walk in 'slow motion' and at the field collapse on the ground like they are already tired! They can run from school, as a warm up. When they arrive to the field, it doesn't take 15/20 minutes to put on shin guards and soccer cleats, unless trying to attempt a new world record!

When I say 'rotate', make sure to form groups that always play together when they go in, so they find each other on the field as if they were there from the beginning of the game and, in waiting outside, if there is space, make them pass the ball around between them in fixed groups.

For this warm-up-practice, create exercises that simulate what will happen for real in the following game. So, even the initial warm-up, will be with the ball handled individually (1 ball each) in a big circle, where the players constantly interact like during the game. Stretch every few minutes, alternating with foot-exercises. Make sure to create situations that involve a growing number of players that will lead to almost a game reality.

Have the forwards shoot against a fence for minimum 10/15 minutes. This means, shoot with the correct technique, sprint to pick up the ball, sprint back, shoot, repeat. Don't walk around and look for someone that, maybe, will kick the ball back to them! This way, they will enter in the game, like they have already played half time. They will start like rockets, surely surprising the other team.

Good luck and keep me informed about this way of working, supposing that you follow my suggestions.

Ciao Coach Gianni


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By the way, before publishing this article, I received this new email from Coach Michelle that, among other soccer topics, let me know that:

Anyways I wanted to let you know I resigned from High School soccer and will stick with Santa Cruz Breakers Organization who really cares about the development of soccer players. High schools do not give the coach the freedom to teach the sport year round and they expect so much for so little.

I was really involved with some of the girls taking them to Santa Clara games, taping World Cup games to watch and wanting them to dream and love soccer still is my passion or mission. Can you believe I was forced out due to not following procedures about having paperwork in the office or letting games go on when I was told to cancel them because the officials were not assigned in the arbiter even though we had officials. The Athletic director who was only interim for 1 month said "I do not care about the soccer program". I was furious!!

The girls cried when I left and I told them to keep playing and I would be there to support them in the stands. I have a great reputation in the soccer community then they announced I was dismissed in the newspaper. I can't tell you how frustrated it is to love soccer so much and be told they don't care!!!

Anyways I move onward to tryouts for Class I where soccer players want to be there and love the game.

Thanks for your emails I think I love them 98% of the time but we can agree to disagree that's what makes are country great. Your right on. Keep the good work up!! I know you must be seeing some fruits from your labors.

Coach Michelle


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Up to all of you to draw the conclusions. I’m just a messenger who tries to connect people who share the same passion and, very often, are prey of other people who, not only don’t understand anything about soccer but, much more important and really dangerous, they don’t care. Very quickly kids abandon sports that traditionally are considered the REAL American sports and in many places in the USA, American football has already DISAPPEARED, so for many of these supposed Athletic Directors, the wake up call, will be really………………………………....................................sudden!

Coach Gianni

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Posted on 01 Mar 2007 by coachgianni
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