Commentary

Youth soccer factions united in frustration with U.S. Soccer Federation

By Mike Woitalla

The USA has so many organizations involved in youth soccer the term "turf war" often comes up.

However, last December representatives from U.S. Youth Soccer, U.S. Club Soccer, AYSO, Say Soccer, the USSSA, MLS and U.S. Futsal (USFF) met to discuss the U.S. Soccer Federation’s player development initiatives.

These organizations, often at odds with each other, came together as a “Youth Council Technical Working Group” in a quest to help the associations’ membership implement the USSF’s various new mandates, including a switch to birth-year registration, small-sided guidelines and a heading ban at the younger ages.

Last week, the Youth Council Technical Working Group released this statement:

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The USSF's mandating a switch to birth-year registration has been particularly problematic, leaving many club coaches and directors feeling that the Federation had not considered how complex the transition would be. And while the small-sided mandate is generally seen as a good idea, the particulars of the Federation's field-size and team-size guidelines have come under criticism, especially when combined with the birth-year registration. For example, some believe 9-a-side is too big for 10-year-olds. And as the statement mentions, players moving up one age group because of the registration change means they might not align appropriately with the mandated age-appropriate play guidelines.

Moreover, the USSF's small-sided field chart gives specific field sizes instead of minimum and maximum sizes, leaving clubs and leagues to wonder what the consequences are if they're unable to provide the exact sizes mandated. The USSF's "Field Types and Progression" chart shows how to line various size fields within a full-size field that is 75 yards wide -- not a common width in youth soccer communities.

Says U.S. Club Soccer CEO Kevin Payne, "What has brought us together is a common desire to work more closely with the Federation in advance of decisions being made. We are all very anxious to support the Federation’s efforts. But we want to be part of the conversation about what direction those efforts should take."

25 comments about "Youth soccer factions united in frustration with U.S. Soccer Federation".
  1. Francisco Bejar, February 8, 2016 at 6 p.m.

    Yes, 9v9 is outrageous for 10 year olds and 2004 boys playing U12 in the spring and U13 in the fall is plain silliness, they are skipping a whole year of soccer and are moving to 11v11 way too fast.

    What happened to the small sided initiative? A lot of frustrated coaches around the SF Bay area

  2. Ric Fonseca replied, February 9, 2016 at 7:38 p.m.

    These comments are all over the field! First, IMHO, that the above committee finally got together to discuss something, is quite astonishing, and so why didn't they do it several years ago? Second, haven't many of us been talking about small-sided-games for quite some time for age appropriateness, and now that it is upon us, some are crying over it? Third, if Johnny wants to play with Paul one year younger, and Charlie two years older just because they're friends, then fine to at it, but they'll do so recreationaly - nothing wrong with this; fourth, there will ALWAYS be the pay-for-play clubs NO MATTER WHAT and HOW you slice the pie, eg the ECNL Elite club mentioned by Mr. Ashley; and lastly, fifth, someone please tell me just how old Leo Messi was before he was allowed to play in a full field in Argentina and at La Messia? And I do want to say, that when a committee was formed to design a horse, their end result was a camel, and the disruption is coming only from those who do not want to upset the apple cart, especially when change is absolutely and urgently needed.

  3. Brian Ashley replied, February 11, 2016 at 9:28 p.m.

    Ric - Telling people who want to play with their age mates to go play rec is a little out of touch with what we as parents and coaches are trying to do here.

    You see, we're trying to promote the game of soccer and attract youth players. We're not trying to tell them how much we don't want them.

  4. Brian Ashley replied, February 12, 2016 at 2:56 p.m.

    All American -
    I;m sorry that you don't seem to understand my point. Thunk back to when your kids were U9 and first thinking of "traveling league". Did they want to play with strangers or with buddies. this isn't about rec v club. Or about a derisional comparison of 'fun' v 'serious'. This is about a change that affects our efforts to introduce kids to the sport and to help them learn to love soccer as we do. AFTER they start playing they can decide what level of play they aspire to. The main thing is to help them to want to START playing. I certainly understand the feeling of parents of good and even elite players. My daughter plays ECNL and all through her career so far she's always been frustrated with players who don't take their physical and game development seriously. But that doesn't mean that I only focus on my daughter's level of play. I also coach. And I know, through my involvement with the club and the parents and players, that the vast majority of players want to play to have fun. And some want rec, and some want club. But they aren't looking for a soccer career. They just like to play. And, even if folks don't quite understand that helping kids to love to play is the PRIMARY goal of we coaches and parents, they should at least understand that all those hundreds of thousands of players who aren't looking to play at an elite level make it possible, through their playing, their support of state soccer organizations, and through their money, for the very few elite players, like my daughter, to be able to have the organization of youth soccer in the US that makes it possible for them to play at an elite level. And again, there is no reason for this change. As we've done in the past, all we need to continue doing is to align the teams that play internationally to the rest of the world, for the very tiny fraction of our elite players who will actually get to play, as youth, internationally.

  5. SAL LARA, February 8, 2016 at 6:44 p.m.

    i think they should also change the season format from Fall (of whatever year) & spring (of the following year) TO spring & fall (of the same year) so the season falls in the same calendar year.

  6. Gregory Yorke, February 8, 2016 at 9:22 p.m.

    One issue unaddressed with birth year is that high school seniors will have their club teams broken up their last, critical year before college. In California, school grades are Sept 1 - Aug 30, so a current U-17 club team is (for instance) mostly juniors with a few seniors and a sophomore or two. The bulk of that team would have stayed together through their senior year. Now when that team goes birth year, it will be a mix of seniors and juniors, and when the seniors graduate and go away over the summer, the rising seniors born in the latter part of the year are left with half a team.

    Almost every state's birthday cutoff is between 7/31 and 10/1 (see https://nces.ed.gov/programs/statereform/tab5_3.asp) so this will impact a lot of players.

  7. Kevin Sims, February 9, 2016 at 8:23 a.m.

    The US Soccer model of leadership via heavy-handed mandates without seeking input from those who feel the direct effects of those policies offends fundamental American democratic sensibilities. Yes, US Soccer must make final decisions. Yes, US Soccer should seek input and be transparent. No, US Soccer has no chance of making everybody happy with their decisions. Yes, US Soccer should model inclusive decision-making.

  8. Ric Fonseca replied, February 9, 2016 at 7:49 p.m.

    Mr. Sims, whose fault is it? Participatory management and participatory decision making can while it may satisfy some, like you said, not everyone will be happy or even satisfied. This reminds me of something a coach once told us, many years ago (I am sure some may have heard it also) " Gentlemen, on a an athletic field, court, diamond, etc., there ain't no such thing as democracy and there is no "I" in t-e-a-m."

  9. Brian Ashley replied, February 11, 2016 at 9:31 p.m.

    Ric - I think you may want to re-read your statement. Isn't US Soccer putting the 'I' in team by making a change that benefits, if at all, only a few hundred players of of hundreds of thousands?

  10. John Bada, February 9, 2016 at 9:52 a.m.

    What is holding the Youth Council Technical Working Group and their affiliated organizations from not implementing the mandates until they have their sit-down with US Soccer and get their concerns addressed?

  11. Brian Something, February 9, 2016 at 1:58 p.m.

    Sounds like a classic case of upsetting the apple cart for everyone only for the benefit of the elites (in the NT pools).

  12. Brian Ashley, February 9, 2016 at 2:05 p.m.

    I'm not sure what problem they're trying to solve. We're told that they're making this change to align US Youth Soccer with other countries. But how many US youth soccer players will ever play internationally? Figure that there are probably tens of thousands of kids playing at every age group and then figure that, at most, 100 kids of each gender will be in the pool for international play at U15, U17, and U18 (anything older is not youth, that means at most 50 kids total of each gender out of tens of thousands will need to be 'aligned' to international soccer.
    Are they really making this change for hundreds of thousands of youth players simply to solve a problem that affects only a tiny fraction of a percentage of players? And is there really a problem for that tiny fraction anyway? We've always worked it out just fine before.
    It's possible that some players will drop out because they can't play with their friends. And that's bad enough. But how many players will never start in the future because they can't play with their friends? How many will go to a sport that allows them to play with their friends?
    Please remember that most of us are trying to introduce kids to the fun and joy of soccer. How does telling kids they can't play with their friends help to do that? And to a 9 year old, the people they go to school with are their friends and age mates, not the people they happen to share a birth year with.
    I have little patience with people who 'don't care' about the 'low level' players who might drop or will never start playing soccer because of this. My daughter plays ECNL so she's certainly elite enough. But youth soccer is mostly about the hundreds of thousands who will never play at an elite level. They're the ones who we are trying to reach to teach the love of the game. And when a very few become good enough to play at elite levels we should also promote and encourage them. But let's not get confused about who we actually do this for. It's both the few elite AND the vast majority who play simply because they love it.
    This change is a solution in search of a problem and doesn't need to happen. Especially when it causes such disruption.

  13. Paul Roby replied, February 19, 2016 at 8:08 a.m.

    I see the point that the age change will disrupt teams but that will be the case no matter when they come into effect. There is no good time to implement these changes so it might as well happen sooner than later. I'm sorry if someone's team was championship-bound and got derailed by the changes but if we delay the same thing will happen next year. Even tradititional England is being dragged into the same changes by the FA and there is a reason for it: the countries who play under the new rules do it better than them, and better than us too. It's time to join the 21st century where soccer is concerned.

  14. Will Ayers, February 10, 2016 at 1:14 a.m.

    Regarding the International "Standard", there are a LOT of countries that have their soccer age groups and academic calendars aligned. We should follow their model and keep things here the way things are to "align with the international standard." The three best soccer players to ever grace a soccer field (Pele, Maradona, and Messi) interestingly come from south of the border where almost every country's academic calendar aligns with the calendar year, i.e. kids can play with all their classmates at school:

    Countries with Academic Calendars Better Aligned with the Start of the Year

    Argentina (Beginning of March)
    Bolivia (Beginning of February)
    Brazil (Beginning of February)
    Chile (Beginning of March)
    Colombia (End of January, beginning of February)
    Costa Rica (Beginning of February)
    Ecuador (majority of schools start in April and end in January)
    El Salvador (End of January, Beginning of February)
    Guatemala (Beginning of March)
    Honduras (Beginning of February for the vast majority)
    Nicaragua (early February)
    Paraguay (February)
    Peru (beginning of March)
    Uruguay (Beginning of March)
    Kenya (half of the country starts beginning of January)
    Nigeria (early January)
    South Africa (mid-January)
    Sudan (the majority start March 20)
    Tanzania (mid-January)
    Cambodia (November)
    Japan (April 1st)
    Malaysia (beginning of January)
    Maldives (beginning of January)
    Nepal (April)
    Pakistan (April)
    Singapore (beginning of January)
    South Korea (March 3)
    North Korea (Beginning of April)
    Australia (End of January)
    New Zealand (End of January/Beginning of February)

  15. Martha Diop replied, February 11, 2016 at 3:11 p.m.

    To Will Ayers
    Your note gives plenty of information and I am REALLY interested in understanding better, as I am very confused. You wrote "where almost every country's academic calendar aligns with the calendar year". Given that calendar year starts in January, do you mean in those countries school begins in January as well (academic calendar)? If the answer is YES, I am good
    Thanks

  16. Brian Ashley replied, February 11, 2016 at 9:59 p.m.

    Will - But the problem here is that this causes a ton of disruption, discourages new young players from starting soccer and provides no benefit to our youth soccer players. Simply saying that everyone else does it is not a reason for us to do it. And your post points out that in some other countries their academic year and calendar year coincide. Ours does not. And youth, particularly at the younger ages when they are just starting to play sports, identify most strongly with their school age mates. It's not worth talking about what other countries do or what you think the US should do, or feel. This is the way that it is. And to do something, of so little, and very dubious, value when it obviously encourages very young players to explore other sports that don't have this rule is more than passing strange.

  17. Will Ayers replied, March 3, 2016 at 11:07 p.m.

    Brian, sorry I guess I wasn't clear. I do not support the age group change. Keeping it Aug 1 in the US is aligning with all of the western hemisphere. By the way, the Seattle Youth Soccer Association has rejected the age group change for this fall in rec. In Massachusetts, for recording they twisted the change totally inside out where the change is no change except in name only. And for those records leagues who are till moving forward with this bad change, jusjust wait until the parents find out.

  18. Margaret Manning, February 10, 2016 at 10:44 p.m.

    USSF is just excelling across the board. Has anyone considered sacking management and starting over?

  19. aaron dutch, February 11, 2016 at 12:22 p.m.

    This is going to be 1.0 of the change process its a start not the finished product. I think everyone agrees that 9 v 9 shouldnt happen until U12 not U10 and 6 v6 should be the core development model from U9-U12 and 4 v 4 U6-U9. I'm sure we will get thru a few cycles until we get a small sided driven model.

    I'm for shorter matches & few matches, less torneys more local competition (U9 select can play local U12 prem etc..) thats also free friendlies.

    Field size should be all about building a touch, movement, fun configuration which large fields are a waste of space, development, decision making etc..

    Great points by everyone

  20. Francisco Bejar replied, February 11, 2016 at 4:42 p.m.

    well said!

  21. Dave James, February 11, 2016 at 4:14 p.m.

    This splits the team I coach that has been playing together for 9 years. I have 9-02 birth years kids and 8-01 birth year kids. We are a small club with no older teams to draw players from. Most will no longer play youth soccer and myself, a licensed coach will no longer be involved. U.S. soccer is doing damage to the game, to the youths fitness, learning to work together and comradery, which is what most of them are there for. It will have a terrible impact on the number playing the sport, for what gain? NONE... We were going to U15 select in Fall 2016, now we would need to play U16 with 11 fourteen year old girls for our club season, and it appears the new bracket here is U16/U17 for SECL where we'd play. Not going to work for us. Here's the number of registered youth players in 2014 - 3,055,148 this will affect, from
    http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/media_kit/keystatistics/

    HOW MANY WILL THIS HELP, HOW MANY WILL THIS HURT?

  22. Brian Ashley replied, February 11, 2016 at 10:01 p.m.

    Hurts far more than it helps. But no one has ever said how this helps anyone. Just that it "aligns: US Soccer with the rest of the world. But they never say why that might be necessary.
    Change for the sake of change. Work those levers.

  23. Joe Wilson, February 11, 2016 at 6:44 p.m.

    No one born between 1/1 and 7/31 is moving up an age group, so I don't get that hysteria. My March 2007 born child is going from U9 to U10 this fall quite naturally. Her old teammates born from 8/1 to 12/31 are getting hosed and have to go to U11. But they're not really "skipping" anything - they and their friends born after 7/31 now have to compete against girls that are older than them by 1-7 months. Sucks for them, but plenty of girls have had to do it for years in the old 8/1-7/31 cycle, my kid included.

    As for field size - some of the suggestions aren't great, especially the 7v7 U9-U10 field length (too short). But 10 year-olds have begun their U11 fall season playing 11v11 in Colorado for many years, and we have 3 girls on the USWNT right now, so the complaints are silly. U9-U10 have been playing 8v8 here for a long time...

  24. Brian Ashley replied, February 11, 2016 at 10:06 p.m.

    But those current U15s playing ECNL who are just starting to get looked at by D1 coaches will play, not U16, but U17 next year. Why is that important? Well, everyone knows that U17 ECNL players don't get looked at past December. Look at the coaches looking at U17s at the Orlando event then try, just try to find a tenth as many coaches looking at U17s 4 months later in San Diego.

    So yes, players are negatively impacted. But for what reason? No one has said why it's necessary. After all, we've always managed to play internationally before. And no youth soccer player plays internationally as a U anything. They've always made teams out of calendar years for that. So what is the problem that they are trying to solve? there is none.

  25. Rob Kalal, February 15, 2016 at 4:06 p.m.

    I wouldn't have a problem with the birth year change if it didn't screw the kids born from Aug - Dec. How is making potentially 1/2 of all players skip an age group helping the overall development of US soccer and helping us catch up to the rest of the world? There is no reason why US Soccer can't grandfather the existing age groups and implement this change starting with next years U9's.
    Also it is very annoying to hear over and over how far behind the US is in soccer to the rest of the world. A more accurate statement would be - US men's soccer is behind the rest of the world. Judging by last years Women's World Cup - I think US women's soccer is doing just fine. I think it's very disrespectful to the female soccer players in the US to call US soccer rec league.

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