Playing just one game per Saturday can have many benefits for players and teams alike

Rationale:

  1. Injury prevention:

    1. Players are playing too many games without proper time for tissue repair and appropriate subbing or conditioning.

    2. Every team at every age group is realizing an inordinate amount of chronic injuries and/or acute injuries. The trend is to have young athletes play more and more, yet growing bodies need to be respected for the time needed for rest.

    3. At some levels, teams/players are competing year-round and in several clubs. Players are playing more than they ever have without rest.

    4. We need to look at the fact that many players play for several teams; therefore, we need to change our game situations in order to keep players healthier.

  2. Time considerations for players and families:

    1. Allows for players to attend SAT testing if older players’ games are later in the afternoon.

    2. Allows younger players more family time. We are losing players due to families not wanting to share a whole day of soccer with their families.

    3. Allows families more time with multiple children. Same as above.

  3. More players are likely to commit to one game per weekend:

    1. Players desiring more games are already playing for multiple clubs.

    2. Coaches will be able to properly prepare for a full game with a typical two-practice-per-week schedule.

    3. Economics. Families are better able to afford.

    4. There will be a decrease in forfeitures with fewer games.

      1. Coaches will no longer pick and choose based on strength of opponent.

      2. With lower injury rate and/or accessible recovery time, coaches will not cancel or move games due to injuries, need for rest, etc.

      3. Coaches much more likely to play one time rather than dual games.

Other considerations:
Many coaches argue for the economics of going to two games instead of one, especially in Division 3. D3 teams are less likely to be playing year-round and simultaneously with other clubs in the fall. So, they want two games to get more bang for their buck, and to have more games when they are already traveling. My argument would continue to be the same, in that a typical practice schedule of two, two-hour practices a week cannot properly prepare for two games on a Saturday. The best way to prepare for two games is with a three-practice-per-week schedule, and I don't believe this is possible for most teams.

Coaches agreed to my proposal except for the two administrators who wished to continue with two games for U12s. It is an interesting disparity in thought, as the rationale regarding injuries remains true for these younger players. The difference is that the younger players are getting an accumulation of small injuries that will add up to big ones over the years. They recover faster, and/or are not perceived to be seriously injured. This age group does not know how to self-evaluate their injuries, in my opinion.

Coaches also mentioned they liked two games because it increased potential time to play the full 18-player roster. While that may be true for the "fringe" players, it is not true for the strongest players on the team who are used to “holding the team together” while the "green" players get playing time. I pointed out that I thought the same way, but the reality was, there is a minor group of 4-6 players who are rarely subbed. These are the players (not the fringe players) who are getting the worst injuries, becoming burnt out and leaving the sport.

If the concern is for coaches to play more players equally, smaller roster sizes may need to be considered.

Players do not, as a whole, know how to evaluate their aches and pains. They usually take it as part of a the game, when orthotic supports, physical therapy to increase muscle strength and specific stretching exercises may be in order to prevent re-occurrence or worsening of injuries.

The players I see who are overplayed have learned the tricks:

  1. They become glass-injury players — going down and resting with very "light" contact. This often happens with the player who is not typically subbed — it is another way off the field (let me note it keeps their very competitive parents off the player's back, too, as who would complain about their child coming off the field if they are injured, after all?).

  2. Players come to practice "injured" with an injury that was not noticed in the previous weekend's games. Again, this method gets them out of practice. So what is a coach to do? Usually, coaches allow them out of practice, and then start them back in the next game. I have learned to not start them in the next game, and to not play a player (or give minimum playing time) who cannot be 100 percent in the practices preceding a game.

  3. Some players are allowed to limp through practice and give partial effort due to their injury.

My rule is that if a player lets me know they are struggling with the unknown “oweee” vs. injury (or I notice discomfort during the warm-up), I let them warm-up with the team using proper stretching, etc. If they are not able to comfortably join practice (either by being pain-free, or if it is ascertained they are simply muscle sore — this is easily read by the muscles becoming looser and more comfortable with the warm-up with no sharp or pulling-type pain), they are then excused to the sideline for the remainder of practice.

Some players have an injury system by which they go in and out of practice as their "injury" (in some cases their interest) allows. Since not all practices are hard-core for all 120 minutes, many players are able to hide injuries. If coaches allow this type of activity, the coaches are able to limp the player through practices in order to have them available to play in upcoming games. My rule of thumb is that a player must go 100 percent until they cannot go 100 percent any longer, then they are done. They do not get to pick and choose, or come and go. It will affect game time.

Players not required to play hard in practice become "game" players. They set a poor example to teammates, and bring down the team morale.

Players not at practice, partially practicing, late, leaving early all have some sort of game time taken away.

What is the result?
Players arrive on time, report injuries, take care of injuries, don't fake injuries and understand there is a consequence to missing and or being unable to participate in practices, and they tend to make better choices. Since I am fair about these rules, I do not have girls who think they can get away with poor performance and still get full playing time.

Also another result?
I lose games. I am willing to lose games. It is OK to lose games. I start games with 8, 9, 10, players if those are the players who have earned the right to play or start.

I like myself more when I conduct my team this way. It recognizes effort, attitude, attendance, skills, etc. I maintain and believe in a "starting" 11 (or less) based on these qualities.

How are my preaching skills today?
I have made many if not all the mistakes most other coaches have made. As thoughtful as I can be, constant inner evaluation is needed to improve myself and my players. I had a very difficult season recently in high school — the attitudes of the players left me unprepared as a coach, and I found I had to organize my thoughts and prepare mightily. Last year, that team went to sections — complete with bad attitudes. This year we will finish in the middle; yet, I like me, I love my players, and they all get along — this year I am a successful coach. I asked my Athletic Director and Principal if they would support me in my ethics even if I lost matches — they did and have.

My emotional players have smoothed out, my inconsistent players have evened out, and our overall team ethic has been responsible and respectable. I have started two high school matches with less than 11 players, and players are routinely benched if there is an infraction of team rules, regardless of their skill level. Since rules are evenly applied, no one on my bench feels picked on by me or involves their teammates in a pity party! I tell them, "You are late, you need to sit out, I love you!"

I will attach my team rules for high school. I will be changing it slightly for my CYSA team. I use the "gold cards" and find they are incredibly effective. This was a system made up by my CAL college coach, the late Brownell "Bill" Merrill. It gives vacation time to players and families to allow them to plan events. I am still fleshing this system out, but it has been wonderful!

Your feedback is always enlightening....

Please send YOUR feedback on this ‘theme’ to:
Karl Dewazien, CYSA State Director of Coaching

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