Fans' View

Fans’ View: The ongoing changes in age registration in youth soccer

Last fall I wrote an article about the age changes coming to youth soccer this year. I was surprised by the amount of discussion in the comments section.

I’d like to revisit the changes today now that our youth clubs have had a chance to discuss how the changes will affect the players, teams, and clubs.

Our sons’ club has come up with a plan that looks like this:

Up to U-14, we recommend that players try out based on their birth year. However, if a player chooses to play “up,” she must be selected for the top team in that age group and the team can’t displace a player of equal skill that is the proper age.

U-14 and older, teams may choose to stay together. Players will still need to tryout and placement is not guaranteed.

It gets interesting at the U-8 age bracket. US Youth Soccer is recommending 4 x 4 with no goalkeeper. There are two possibilities here:

We create a U-8 academy where kids train together and on the weekends we invite other clubs for “play dates.” This I think is what US Youth Soccer had in mind when they made the changes. It allows players more touches on the ball and more opportunity for development.

The second option is that we form a U-8 team that plays in a U-9 league. This option becomes viable only because parents can be a competitive group. The concern is if another club offers this, then parents will take their kids to that club because they’re concerned that if their kids aren’t playing in a traditional league they will fall behind.

Here’s my concern with the second U-8 option: If a U-8 team plays in a U-9 bracket they might not win too many games. I know we are not supposed to be focused on winning or losing at this point in youth development. But, I’ve seen it in indoor/futsal tournaments where the league has combined age groups (or even skill levels, with  “A” teams playing “C” teams) and our team is getting cremated 20-1, 15 – 7. Such lopsided scorelines suck the joy out of playing for the kids. How does this create a positive experience for a child?

I will be interested to see in the older age groups how many players decide to play age appropriate. My oldest son is ’00 and currently plays U-15. He will be U-17 next year. If the current ’01 players on his team choose to play their proper age group, and the current U-16 players that are ’00 choose to play U-18, my concern is that there won’t be enough players to create a team. I’m sure many players will be in this same boat, so there will be a lot of transferring to different clubs.

These new changes also affect girls more than boys (or so I’ve been told). Girls tend to be a friend-driven group, with many playing soccer because their friends do. By changing the ages, many girls will no longer be playing with friends they are in school with and I wonder how many girls will leave soccer because of this.

I still haven’t come up with any reason the age change will actually benefit the sport. Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill and five years down the road we’ll look back and wonder why we ever worried.

But, at the moment, I just don’t see the positives.

23 Comments

  1. Thank you Staci for taking the time. This change in the youth system is interesting. I’ll follow that by saying I normally stay out of the youth soccer debates. I don’t have any children, so I really don’t feel like I should get involved. But something you wrote caused me to wonder. You talk about the dilemma with the U-8’s and U-9’s and how score lines can get out of hand. So basically I’m wondering should they be keeping score at that age? Shouldn’t the whole idea be about getting the kids involved, interested and having fun? I agree it would be demoralizing to lose 20-1 or 15-7. Isn’t the scoreline, at that age, more for the parents than anyone else? I honestly can’t see that keeping score at ages 12 on down, serves any purpose. If anything I see it as detrimental.
    .
    Again these are just thoughts of someone who doesn’t have a horse in the race. Feel free to shoot them down.

    • Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

      IN SJSL (South Jersey) you are not allowed to beat a team by more then 6 goals. If the margin exceeds 6 goals, you are fined $100 per goal and can have points deducted (if you are over U11, technicly there are no standins at U10 and below.) This makes for some tough games in the U8 and U9 brackets as teams can be pretty mismatched since their is no way to determine how good a team is if they havent played any games. The league keeps score and records to try and match teams up the next season with like teams so the games can be competitive. However, unfortunately, the parents keep running tallys of score, record, goal scorers, etc.

      • With this and what you write below, I think you help to prove my point. The major beneficiaries of keeping score are the parents. I get that keeping score can help to judge the “quality” of the teams. Who does this help though? Should lesser teams only play lesser teams? What will the kids learn from that? Stay in your defined area and don’t try harder because someone is better than you? This seems the antithesis of development.
        .
        To be clear, I’m not going at you. I’m just trying to further my point. And it seems you have similar concerns for youth development.

      • Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

        I don’t take it as coming against me at all. You do need to have some semblance of balance for the kids. My feelings are always that if you are going .500, then you are in the correct division. You are being challenged, but if kids are so over matched that they are losing every game by 10 goals, then that is not going to develop them either, just as if you win every game, then you are not being challenged enough.

      • Well good I’m glad I didn’t come across in that way. Also what you say above does make sense. Being .500 sounds like a good average to shoot for.
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        I shall now bow out, since I think I’ve already commented too much.

      • I appreciate the penalties (standings wise or fines) for running up the score, though as a club team coach, it’s equally frustrating and awkward to have the far superior team start playing keep-away for half a game. That’s every bit as demoralizing (I’ve been on both sides of this as a coach…usually in tournaments where teams aren’t always placed appropriately). On the losing side, I’d almost prefer the other team put that 7th goal in so we can at least touch the ball a bit on the tap!

        With U8 teams playing in U9 brackets, they typically try to place them in a lower level U9 bracket where they are not at a disadvantage. A U8 team from a top club won the U9 division I coached in. Proper placement as far as league and division is incredibly important to avoid the situations Staci describes.

      • James Lockerbie says:

        I am glad, I am not the only coach that feels this way. My boys were fighting hard, yet we were out matched. The coach told his team to hit the brakes, but failed to instruct them to keep it quiet or sportsman like. The opposing team played keep away and then the goal keeper came off the line and played as a field player. At that point three defenders stood on the goal line. My boys were getting very annoyed and confused.

        At one point I was going to throw in the towel. It was one of the most disappointing experiences I have endured as a youth coach.

  2. Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

    There is no reason to play the U8s up at U9. 4v4 will allow the kids more touches, more engagement, and teach them soccer shapes (trianges and diamonds). When a parent argues that it should be more competitive and their kids will be bored unless they are playing for a purpose (a win!)and move up, what they are really saying is that they want to live vicariously through their child’s teams wins and losses and that the parents themselves will be bored unless their is more competition. They are also saying that they are more concerned with Ws then their own child’s development.

    • Ah…. a happy exhale from me…. man I see it so often too… the first value of any team I coach is pay NO attention — at all— to the voices from the sidelines…they do not exist…
      .

  3. First U-8 option for sure. We should be educating parents as to why this is the best choice, especially if you’re anticipating that their kids will be the next Messi. More touches. Less structure competition. More time on the ball. More play!

    • I agree. I currently coach a U8 team and if playing 4v4 I would recommend the first option. However, I would make sure I could set up enough “play-dates” with other towns so my more advanced players got the challenge of playing other advanced players.

      • Advanced players need to play up or travel to compete against players at their level, otherwise they will not progress.
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        If you play up there is no need to lose 20-1. I have seen many very competitive games between U8 and U9 teams; it all depends what kind of U9 teams the U8 team is playing!

  4. Scott in LV says:

    Great thoughts Staci!

    I’m a father and coach of current U12 girls with late year birthdays and agree that this change is going to be difficult for them and their team to deal with.
    .

    I know and am sure that all will be fine in the end and that they’ll quickly settle in with new teammates eventually, but don’t really see the sense in making these changes.

    .
    As for their fall season as 8th graders when most of their birth year will be freshman, I’m really at a loss and hope that maybe the local HS coach will let them work with the JV team or something.
    .

    I get why US Soccer wants this, just don’t see the value or benefit it brings to the average player.
    .

    I’m also on my local club’s board and my biggest fear is that many young players U4, U5, U6 won’t stick with the sport when their neighbors and school friends are either playing above or below them because of this mandate.
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    To be honest, I’ve yet to come across one person who thinks this is a good idea for anyone other than elite players who will eventually be involved with international level games.
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    I recently heard (but have no verifiable proof) that last year there were only 5 Eastern Pennsylvania players recruited to play D1 college soccer. Again not sure thats totally accurate, but even if that # was 50, why make a seismic change that makes things convenient for such a small group of players?
    .

    Makes zero sense to me.

    • Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

      Has nothing to do with college. Has everything to do with lining up with the interntational age dates, so the these changes are for an even smaller, minute sample size. The 0.00000001% that may ever get a sniff at a US INTL team.

      • Scott in LV says:

        Agree and that’s what makes such little sense to me.
        .
        Does US Soccer hate scholastic soccer that much?

      • with all due respect… everything should be aligned to the “international age” so in short the answer to your question, as evidenced by the direction the game is finally taking… yes… though I would say— ‘hate’ is the harshest of all words.
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        In fifteen years will any of this still matter is the question… change hurts and is challenging but ultimately this change is ‘progressive and necessary’… by relative US Soccer cave-like thinking.

      • Scott of Nazareth says:

        OK – bad use of the word “Hate”.
        .

        I recognize that the goal here is to align with how the rest of the world does it – I just question how well it fits in the US where scholastic sports and the multiple sports options that are out there have a stronger influence versus other countries where soccer is the be all/end all.
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        This is especially true on the girls side and has seemingly worked out pretty well so far for US Soccer.

      • Indeed… all viable questions and concerns.
        .

  5. Your first U8 solution is the one I argued for in your previous article… which in reviewing it…did get rather heavy in discussion.
    .
    This is one of your writing gifts to the group… here’s soccer…here’s life… here’s intersection…here’s a function… domain and range….a parabola..rise over run….y intercept…discuss.
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    btw..pleasure to make your acquaintance this afternoon.
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    .
    also regarding running up the score as some above have pointed out… if you realize early on in a game your team is superior… I would recommend assigning a designated scorer… this alleviates much tension and pressure on the kids trying not to score by playing keep away… every game my team knows who the designated scorer is and it rotates by half and it is the job of teammates to ‘find’ the scorer…no body scores unless it is the designated scorer.
    .

    • Designated scorer is a really cool idea – gonna run it by the hubbie coach.

      • Scott of Nazareth says:

        Great idea EP!
        .
        In those situations I’ve usually told my players that they can only score one goal and that I’d have to sit them on the bench if they score again.
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        Then what usually happens is everyone is “saving” their goal for later in the game which results in unexpected passes and stilted overall play which does nobody any good.
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        Next time I will definitely try the “Designated Scorer” approach!

  6. I am only just going to be expecting my first child, so I’ve yet to be fully immersed into this world since my own playing experience. I’m not sure I’ve decided either way. It does seem to me that the first year or so will be the most difficult until the newer, younger kids begin their soccer careers under the new rules and things don’t seem strange to those families.
    .
    One thing I would like to add from personal experience is the benefit I feel there can be from playing with kids who are not only in your own grade. I have a 8/2 birthday, and my parents chose to put me in school earlier, so everyone in my grade was typically older. Because of the sports rules with soccer, I was playing with kids mostly in the grade below me. I feel, especially as I aged into High School, that having the exposure to both age groups with school and then sports, I had a greater life experience and more friends then I would have otherwise. Kids adapt much easier at that age and may end up better because of it.
    .
    I was talking about this with a few good friends who have kids playing ages 9-14, and honestly they were more concerned with the social aspect than anything else. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but it’s interesting to think about.

    • …. I tend to agree with your POV… if we are talking about this from a social perspective that is where I begin to have trouble as most here know my position with where the game needs to go… kids are wildly adaptable and you make a really good point about having your child go to school with one age group all the while playing the game with kids in another age group… for a year or two as the changes take hold kids will be a bit outside their comfort zone but after that… it will be normal and typical for young children joining the game.
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      To me this is really not that big a deal at all… and as I’ve written…it has a drastic affect on my son who will be the absolute youngest kid on his team forevermore — and still I think it is good and important for the progression of our game with the world standard..
      .

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