Now What Do We Do? Transitioning to small-sided games and birth-year registration

By Vince Ganzberg

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.

The directors of coaching asked to contribute are:
James Charette: Blackhills, Olympia, Wash.
Karsten Roy: Team Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Ill.
Jamie Wood: Indy Premier, Indianapolis

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.

We also updated website with U.S. Soccer media video and content support.

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.)

26 comments about "Now What Do We Do? Transitioning to small-sided games and birth-year registration".
  1. Dan Allen, September 23, 2015 at 5:03 p.m.

    To James Charette:

    The fact that you are;
    "asking head coaches for a list of their top players."
    "also reviewing each team’s roster for potential impact on specialist players: No. 1, No. 4/5, No. 10, No. 9."

    Shows clearly that these changes have gone completely over your head.
    The point is that identification of top players before the age of 13 not to mention that you are already "specializing" shows how much you've already bastardized the development process at the expense of the youth players.

    ABSOLUTELY NO player should be "tagged" or "cast" until post-puberty.
    At the age of 15, we would expect that all players will be on a level playing field and that the small-sided changes will have yielded their benefit.
    This is about technical skill.
    The second you call out positions such as the "10" or the "9" you've moved to tactical and completely miss the point.

  2. David Israel replied, September 24, 2015 at 1:41 a.m.

    David the to roster he is concerned with are for the older age groups that will continue to play full sided 11v11 games.

  3. Santiago 1314 replied, September 24, 2015 at 6:18 a.m.

    Humm.???..#9, #10 at 8v8..??? Laws of Math say they Don't Exist...Jajaja... How about we Quit Pigeon Holing kids at such a Young Age.!!!

  4. Raymond Weigand, September 23, 2015 at 5:11 p.m.

    U9 + U10 playing on a space 47 x 30 ... can't wait to see all the shots from midfield (only 23 yards away) and all the loose ball shots from everywhere ... I guess the change is to develop an over crowded field of play where the player default will be to play kick ball towards the goal. Yippeee. (Just like the old daze ... when it was 22 on a 80 x 40 field, however - now the midfield shots are more reachable)

  5. Wesley Hunt, September 23, 2015 at 5:34 p.m.

    Lots of shots....what is so wrong about that? They might actually have high scoring games? They will learn to shoot quickly? Crowded mean they will have to make quick decisions on there own before a coach can say anything? Quick decisions, lots of shooting, never too far from the ball, positions not so important. Sounds like the game for me and my kids. If it is passing you are worried about don't. We play futsal in the winter and practice technical skills and small sided in the regular season even if we get beat by bigger kick and run teams when playing full field at U12. However my older kids can move it around quickly. No problem adjusting to the bigger field once they grow into it. This change has been a long time in coming.

  6. Soccer Madness replied, September 24, 2015 at 3:47 p.m.

    Be careful not blow anybody out by more than 3 goals or you are unsportsmanlike. That is so stupid. We cry about everything in this country, especially the stuff we dont really know much about. Like soccer11

  7. Chris Kovalcik, September 23, 2015 at 7:06 p.m.

    David Alper's comments on James Charette are right on. I only hope that Mr. Charette's comments were taken out of context.

    But I guess many of these select clubs are only worried about how it will affect their revenue streams. Build the best team, find the bigger faster kids so you can win trophies, and then all the parents think they have to join your club. Ignore individual player development by having them specialize as young as you can.

  8. Ric Fonseca, September 23, 2015 at 9:49 p.m.

    Folks, why try and re-invent the wheel? Just get the kids in their age appropriate teams, show them the field, the ball, and tell to go have at it!!! And to distinguish them by positional numbers??? Come one now, please give me a break AND the kids a break! I also agree with Chris Kovalcik, his comment is also spot on!!! So, as game refs will say, PLAY ON KIDS!!!

  9. James Froehlich, September 24, 2015 at 11:38 a.m.

    Poorly written article. Stupid comments! Try this:

  10. Kelly Quinn, September 24, 2015 at 2:18 p.m.

    Why is it that there is no transition in the change to birth year? It seems that some of the older teams may be hurt by this instead of helped. For instance the U13 & U 14 teams have been together as a team for at least 3 years, if not longer, and now these teams are being broken apart. It takes time to build chemistry, why can't a certain age group remain as is, and the younger age groups be birth year?

  11. David Israel replied, September 24, 2015 at 3:37 p.m.

    We particularly need the older to move because they are already in conflict with the academies on calendar year. So club teams can't play academy teams head on and that means less good local games for both of them.

  12. Greg Morris replied, September 25, 2015 at 2:50 p.m.

    It is even worse at the older ages. Aug-Dec 98 kids will find themselves pushed to U19 their senior year in high school. They essentially lose a year of soccer

  13. cony konstin, September 24, 2015 at 5:41 p.m.

    We need radical change. We need 600,000 futsal courts in our inner cities and suburbs. We need our kids to play futsal from age 4 till 13. Then the kids can decide if they want to play futsal, football or both. Then you will revolutionize soccer in the US and create magical soccer players. We don't need $400 cleats, coaching manuals, nice uniforms or pretty soccerfields. We a soccer. We need a Revolution in the US.

  14. Byron Clarke, September 25, 2015 at 12:04 a.m.

    I support the changes. If this is important though then why not make the changes next season. I have never understood people who say we need something, but then put it off to a later date?

    Three issues:
    1. some kids will become average and others overnight sensations. It is well proven that players born on the front end of a cycle have higher rates of success.
    2. clubs, cities, counties may have to buy new goals depending upon how they are running their current system. Since these are the younger ages I would say work with what you have and give 3-years to make these changes.
    3. US Soccer needs to now put teeth in here and not sanction clubs, leagues, and tournaments that purposefully do not make these changes.

    Here is another radical suggestion ... US Soccer putting money into youth soccer so that the entire nation can get away from a tournament based system for youth and to a league based system that relegates and promotes based upon competitiveness and development levels. Isn't this suppose to be the genius of the Academy system.

    I will be working on a tournament schedule this weekend ... This is how we scholarship players that cannot afford to play and keep the cost down for everyone else. Parents and coaches losing their mind, emphasis on WINS over substance and long term development ... this will be the real change.

  15. Steve Unger, September 25, 2015 at 7:55 a.m.

    What rec league has Tab Ramos been running? Yes, futsal develops the short-passing/skills game (and we do that in Surf City, NC) but players need sufficient space on the outdoor field to develop as soccer players. 6v6 provides that space on a 55x45 modifield field and introducing that at U-8 and U-10 creates a transition to the actual game. Next thing you know the soccer gods will call for a 10 minute halftime so we will never get games played under an hour ... oh, that is in this proposal, too. Just wait -- US Youth Soccer will create another BEST formula again in another year or two ...

  16. Santiago 1314 replied, September 25, 2015 at 10:58 a.m.

    You do Realize, Tab has His Own Youth Club..??? ... Like really His Own!!!.. Not Running someone else's...So I will side with him on the Small Sided stuff...Sure there will be some Tweaking to be done...Especially u8; 3x15 "halves"..How do you have 3 ?? I see u8 coaches spending more time on how to win the Coin Toss, than on to have that "Good Side"

  17. Greg Morris, September 25, 2015 at 2:47 p.m.

    David Israel:
    "We particularly need the older to move because they are already in conflict with the academies on calendar year. So club teams can't play academy teams head on and that means less good local games for both of them."
    Birth year conflict has nothing to do with academy sides not playing club teams. The Academy prohibits such games with the exception of a couple of events because the idea is supposed to be fewer, high quality matches, more high quality training.

  18. aaron dutch, September 25, 2015 at 7:41 p.m.

    The core of the issue is the development understanding is very weak. If you ask coaches in any of the top 25 countries the system of play & focus on development of technical / tactical is the complete focus. Why not use this year to develop coaches, build a system of play, it shows our complete lack of coaching development without this we really cant change anything. If you look at rec soccer we have about 300k uncertified/semi(F- license) coaches (parents) who have never watched football, dont know the rules, cant play or have much organization/structure of football. Until we address the Rec/Travel level. This is the core group. Most of them should be on a path if you coach more then a year to get your E & D lic. that would at least give you basic development training. If you coach at the high level travel / local state/ high school/ (30k coaches) should have their C & B license and more mentoring from USSF/ State coaching leadership. Of course the elite/college/academy top coaches for U-15 to U-23 (5k coaches) they should all be A / Pro Lic paths with full professional mentoring. If USSF drove this our coaching could be much stronger and we would build a future culture for future generations of players/ coaches/leaders

  19. Soccer Madness, September 26, 2015 at 9:32 a.m.

    Aaron, I think Licenses have little value. It couldnt hurt but problem is these A/B coaches base their entire theory on what they learn. We need innovators that will always continue to study and learn from the game. Look at refs in USA. They do their 2 day class and never evolve into better refs because they dont care to watch the game on TV. They dont want to learn or improve. Zero ambition. Then they quit because of abuse. Then leagues send out emails about how to better treat refs instead of better educating them and raising their pay to make competitive. Back to coaching. I have seen many A license coaches that are complete garbage but walk around like they are God. I have seen no license coaches that are 10 times better. Great trainers some times make terrible game coaches. Most parents cant make that disguishment. It is very important to be able to play with a certain comfort under a developmental theory. Good trainers turn into Mourinho with U8's because their job depends on winning. Not devlopment. That eliminates any good a License or education will do. First, we must compensate clubs for developing top players. Then everything else will follow without us even having to talk about it. The reason we scratch our heads so much is because it is helpless right now under current system.

  20. aaron dutch, September 27, 2015 at 5:35 p.m.

    Soccer Madness,

    if you are running a club or even a small region you can have pure innovation. But we need to scale 100's of thousands of adults & young adults who can bring a stable proper development of technical/tactical football. I dont think getting coaching badges alone is enough its a key step that has proven world over how to develop the core foundation level of football federation quality. It allows for transmission & feedback thru the coaching development lifecycle & pyramid all the priorities, auditing, quality control, evaluation process. If someone knows another way at SCALE not for hero's 1, 2,s but 100's of thousands please let us know.

  21. James Froehlich, September 27, 2015 at 5:57 p.m.

    Soccer Madness---great comments and said much more diplomatically than I would have. USSoccer needs to set up a "Fulbright" scholarship program whereby every year several promising young US coaches are sent to train with European clubs (Ajax, Barcelona, etc) for two or three years. Hopefully some of them will catch on with a European club and continue. Then at some point they would come back to the U.S. and thereby improve the level of our coaches. The current situation is really ridiculous where you have in-bred US teachers with no real experience other than college, semi-pro, or the U.S. Licensing system teaching new coaches!! A case of the old ignorant teaching the young ignorant. And we all wonder why we can't develop good world-class players!!!

  22. Brian Allen, October 10, 2015 at 2:16 a.m.

    Can someone explain why it would not still be better to begin the birth year switch at the low age only and then gradually bring it up through the ranks, such that no current teams are forced to separate players who have been together for years? In my case, the team I have assistant coached for 6 six years would now be split, and our club does not have a team in the next age group up. My son would be forced to move up, and therefore out of our club, and I will be forced to stop coaching with a coach and kids that I have been with for 6 years! This tears at the fabric of what our team is/was about and the relationships we have built, and for what reason?...simply because there is no phasing in of this change. We have another coach in our club who's entire team, except for his own son, will remain down. He now has to decide whether to abandon his team and stop coaching, or coach a team which his son cannot play on. How is this change good for coaches, players, or families unless it is phased in over time? Where is the harm in transitioning and avoiding the irreparable harm this is causing to people's lives? I don't understand what is so important about this that it cannot be phased in without destroying the fabric of relationships which exist in our soccer community. Can anyone defend this legitimately and explain how this situation is good for my team, my family, and my son? I'd love to know how this can be justified when the alternative that avoids all of these issues is right there in front of us all. Why not slow down and phase this in over time, beginning with the youngest players only?

  23. Ric Fonseca, October 21, 2015 at 9:54 p.m.

    To Mr. Allen: The changes are being done in order to bring this country on hopefully an even keel with the rest of the futbol-soccer playing world and NOT wallow in self despair and continuously self flagellate ourselves because we get our butts run into the ground - virtually at all levels by better and higher skilled players. Sadly, the USA has been mired in a recreational concept of playing soccer, and this HAS to - and will - change for the better. Lastly the entire system will include ALL ages.

  24. Rob Kalal replied, January 22, 2016 at 2:12 p.m.

    Um - except the USA women just won the World Cup and are currently ranked number 1 in the world. So the 'recreational concept of playing soccer' seems to be working alright for 48% of USA's soccer players (most recent numbers show that of all the registered soccer players in the US - 52% are male, 48% are female).

  25. Todd Neff, January 12, 2016 at 11:54 a.m.

    The age chart in this article now conflicts with what US Youth Soccer is now showing on their website. Which chart is correct?

  26. Peter Barc, January 25, 2016 at 1:52 p.m.

    Thank for destroying my 12 y/o sons love for competitive soccer. He plays five+ days a week 365/days a year. He attends academy training twice a week - because he loves the sport! He will lose one full year – being forced to skip U13 and go directly to U14. More importantly - he will not be playing with his team who play's competitively at the local Premier level. Oh yes - and thank you for having my 10 y/o decide he will QUIT soccer rather than play without his friends. (Time to sell those MLS seats) Nice job boys …. I guess it’s not really about the kids, is it? There must be another reason …..
    Let me introduce you boys to a term you may not be familiar with: "Grandfather Clause"
    A grandfather clause (or grandfather policy) is a provision in which an old rule continues to apply to some existing situations while a new rule will apply to all future cases. Those exempt from the new rule are said to have grandfather rights or acquired rights. Frequently, the exemption is limited; it may extend for a set time, or it may be lost under certain circumstances. Often, such a provision is used as a compromise or out of practicality, to effect new rules without upsetting a well-established logistical or political situation. This extends the idea of a rule not being retroactively applied.
    This should start at U7 and move forward.

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