As our members are hopefully already aware, US Soccer has started implementing Player Development Initiatives that will change the landscape of youth soccer starting with the Fall 2016 season. The spirit of these changes is to help coaches and families focus more on individual skill development less on the outcomes of games.
"Despite the increased popularity of soccer and the success of our national teams, the youth soccer landscape at the entry level needs to be improved. Our soccer culture at the youth level focuses on winning and results rather than focusing on developing the skills of individual players. The concept of a team outweighs the importance of players having fun and developing to the best of their abilities. As a country, we need coaches and parents to spend less time caring about wins and loses, and more time devoted to teaching individual skills. Part of this initiative is to educate and empower coaches and parents to change the way we look at the sport."
This post is intended to inform our membership about the 2 biggest changes that will go live at the start of the Fall 2016 season: Birth Year Registration and Small Sided Standards. While WBSA is supportive and excited about these changes, they are being driven by US Soccer and adopted by our governing bodies (such as CAYSA and STYSA) as requirements for continued participation from clubs such as ours.
WBSA has been planning for these changes over the past few seasons and is arguably better prepared than any surrounding club. That said, we do anticipate some disruption and potential discomfort for our members, which is why we are attempting to be as collaborative and transparent as possible.
As with every decision, the guiding focus will be on the well-being and safety of ALL our players. We would like to empower our families with the relevant information so they can help us make the best possible decisions regarding their children as they pertain to these changes.
Birth Year Registration
Before the Change
Age groups were determined by birthdays but were somewhat aligned with school grades. For example a child born after August 1st could be "held back" (or in this case "play down") with players in a later birth year.
After the Change
Age groups will be determined by a player's birth year. A child born after August 1st can no longer "play down" with players in a later birth year. All players born in a given year are in the same age group.
US Soccer Rationale
"Not only will this change align our players with the international standard, but it will allow us to be better informed to combat relative age effect when making teams for youth players."
Detailed Standards by Age Groups
As always, we will empower our membership to make the most informed decision for their respective children That said, we want our membership to be mindful of how their decisions will impact both their child, and all others in the club. When considering what age group is best for your child, please consider the following.
Potential Pros of "Aging Up" to Maintain Team:
Potential Cons of "Aging Up" to Maintain Team:
Questions to Consider:
Regarding health...would you push your kid to join an advanced swim team before they were ready? Larger kids, increased velocity of the soccer ball, and larger fields do present serious risks.
Regarding development...would you want a piano teacher skipping musical notes and scales in hopes that your kid can play Motzart? There is a lot to master (both individual and team concepts) before moving to an more advanced playing format in soccer.
All that said, if you child is "swimming every stroke" and "reading sheet music" at a level consistent with older players, following their peers and "aging up" would make sense. Especially given the social benefits and considerations mentioned above.
Small Sided Standards
Before the Change
Field sizes, game length, and even the game ball varied wildly from league to league across the US. Roster sizes were also inconsistent and too many clubs were placing players in the 11v11 format at a far too early age. Playing on larger fields and giving players substantially fewer touches is hindering long term development and engagement.
After the Change
Playing standards and a focus on small-sided games will create a better development environment (and more touches) for players. Fundamental principles will begin at the youngest ages and will be reinforced via an additive process as players progress from 3v3 to 4v4 to 7v7 to 9v9 and ultimately 11v11 soccer.
US Soccer Rationale
"We want to develop players with more: individual skill, intelligence, creativity and confidence. Players should be having fun, and feel free to make their own decisions. These standards were created based on the needs of the players and they also provide for a consistent approach across the country."
Detailed Standards by Age Group
Our club is proud to have already been operating in a manner that is aligned with the Small Sided initiatives. Our U4-U6 teams have always utilized a 3v3 format and older age groups were slowly building, holding off on 11v11 soccer until it was appropriate. Likewise, our field sizes are already near these recommendations and will be tweaked for next season (and at the new complex).
There will be minor changes to the number of field players at each age group (i.e. 7v7 as opposed to 6v6 at U9/U10 and 9v9 as opposed to 8v8 at U11/U12), which will also mean that maximum roster sizes will increase slightly at these age groups as well. Our leadership team is very excited about these changes, as they will lead to much better team fundamentals that are rooted in / build towards key principles in the 11v11 game. The 6v6 and 8v8 formats were more restrictive and less aligned in our opinion.
The only deviation from the table above that WBSA may choose to implement is keeping the 3v3 format for our U6 divisions. We will rely heavily on feedback from our coaches and families, but are considering that course of action for 2 main reasons. First and foremost, as a highly recreational club, we think more touches will greatly benefit our younger players and is more appropriate for our typical member at this age.
Secondly, the smaller team sizes will allow us to maintain a healthy U4-U6 division by ensuring strong team counts. Moving to the 4v4 format for U6 would seriously hinder our ability to offer a great development environment for our youngest players given the size of our club. However, we are confident that continued growth will allow us to implement a 4v4 U6 format eventually.
Finally, we are considering some evolutions to the U6-U9 divisions to create a better development environment for these players. We are exploring the best practices from US Soccer as well as our highly successful "Hybrid" models. These creative solutions for blending age groups has allowed us to introduce unprecedented parity amongst our teams (i.e. creating evenly matched games) and better group players with similar skill level.