Being a former club and state director of coaching, I dreamed of this day! As did many who are in leadership positions in American youth soccer.
Finally we can tell the “membership” that the reason why we are playing small-sided games is that it has been mandated! No more having to convince membership of the long lasting benefits playing small-sided games offers their children. No more dealing with clubs that go play two hours away in another league and state because they allow U-11 teams to play 11v11.
No more convincing clubs and leagues that it will be easier for novice coaches because the numbers of children on the field are fewer. For the very young league (U-6), just put four players on the field, tell them which direction they are going, and let them go!
Now that both small-sided games and birth-year registrations (a switch from Aug. 1 to Jan. 1) must go in effect in 2017, how are clubs, leagues and member associations going to transition? While I work for a club in Indianapolis, I am not in the trenches as much, so I asked a few club directors some questions on how they will approach this transitioning phase.
What is your plan to prepare and address the change to birth-year registrations impact your teams?
James Charette: We held a coaches meeting to review the birth year registrations and small-sided game format. We are asking head coaches for a list of their top players. We are also reviewing each team’s roster for potential impact on specialist players: No. 1, No. 4/5, No. 10, No. 9. Additionally reviewing potential impact players who have been in the club and are at the end of the roster.
We also held two parent meetings the last week of August to educate parents and answer questions.
As a club, we will continue to ensure that our U10-U13 ages where we have multiple teams and are pertinent to PHV (Peak Height Velocity) collaborate and offer joint training sessions throughout the season.
What is your plan to educate your membership of the changes?
Jamie Wood: Our club emailed our membership about the U.S. Soccer Initiatives just after they were released. We reassured all of our families that we would respect the wishes of every family who have a child born in January-July. These are the players who will have the choice to play in their birth-year age group or school-year age group. We will follow up with individual and group meetings in early 2016 to further educate our families and make sure they make an informed decision.
Will the field sizes impact your facilities? Goal sizes?
Jamie Wood: Our fields will accommodate the 4v4/7v7/9v9 changes but we have very few that will be able to make the 11v11 suggested length of 112 yards.
Given the size of our club, we will need to order around $40,000 worth of new goals to use on the 7v7 fields as we currently use a smaller goal. This is a huge financial burden on us as a club.
Karsten Roy: The only issue is we will be at the U8 level when we go down to 4v4. We currently play 5v5 with a GK in our club/league. The league does offer a 7v7 division at U-8 as well but we don't participate in that division.
We just implemented an in-house U-7 3v3 Academy in which they practice twice a week for eight weeks and have four mini-festivals throughout the fall with three other clubs in the area. Moving forward is do we just keep the U-8 in-house instead of joining a league? Something we need to address with the coaches/parents as well. I do know most parents want their kids to play in a competitive environment at U-8 because they like to see them play on the weekends.
Will these changes force you to find more coaches? If so how do you address this?
James Charette: Constant coach development: specifically at the U-10, U-11, U-12, U-13 and U-14 levels. We are currently developing more coaches for the future.
We also have experienced coaches mentoring associate coaches. Our associate coaches develop session plans and the Technical Director provides feedback. When our associate coaches deliver field sessions the Technical Director or Head Coach provides immediate specific targeted feedback.
We will work with our U-10, U11, U12, U13, U14 field delivery and how a coaching staff can work together and conduct bio-banding training sessions throughout the season.
Karsten Roy: I don't know how the staffing will be affected for the teams/club. I guess we will need to wait and find out the parents’ perspective moving forward. I'm assuming it will take a good one or two years for all the dust to settle in making all the changes.
The last sentence in Karsten’s response says a lot. Only time will tell how the mandate to move to small-sided games and birth-year registrations will impact clubs. As a society, we all fear change and changing a culture takes time. The key is for all directors of coaches to get out ahead of it. Be proactive … not reactive.
(Vince Ganzberg, who has coached youth soccer for 25 years, is NSCAA Education Content Coordinator and Education Director for Indy Premier SC. From 2013 to 2015 he served as an education consultant to U.S. Soccer. A U.S. Soccer’s national staff and NSCAA Academy staff member, Ganzberg has the USSF “A” License, NSCAA Premier Diploma, U.S. Youth Soccer National Youth License and a certified teacher’s license.)