Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Travel soccer at the U10 age level?
So often it is the questions and comments I receive from members of US Youth Soccer that provide useful content for this blog. Here's one more and this time we talk about the U-10 age group.
Our local youth soccer association is dealing with a youth development conundrum with which we hope you can assist. During the past years, we have read many US Youth Soccer technical papers regarding youth development recommendations. Although the assortment of subjects about which advice is given is vast, some of the basic principles, for the younger ages, that we have gleaned from many of these papers are:
1.) At the "in-house" (i.e., games only against teams within the community) ages (U-6 to U-10) minimize the emphasis on winning, emphasize fun, and teach through fun games, small-sided scrimmages, etc.
2.) At these in-house ages, emphasize comfort with the ball (i.e., dribbling ability, good touch, etc.).
Our current problem has to do with our U-10 in-house age group. We strongly feel that, at this age, winning should still be de-emphasized and skill development and fun emphasized. In the past 5-7 years, there has been a push to start to "travel" (i.e., travel to play against other communities) at this age U-10 group. In fact, we see that there is a drive, nationwide, to travel at even younger ages! We feel that when teams begin to travel and play against other communities, the emphasis to win is also increased; whether a coach willingly does this, or not. This simply is because of greater pressure from the parents, players, coaches, etc. to beat other communities. Because of this, we also believe that short cuts are more apt to be taken to win a game (i.e., booting the ball up field to the big forward rather than trying to dribble or work the ball up field). Therefore, we have continued to argue against travel at the U-10 level so that our kids can continue to develop during the U-10 level in an environment where winning is not as much of an importance.
The other side's counterpoint is that in-house soccer at the U-10 level is not fun (i.e., not as exciting because of the lower emphasis on winning) so we are losing some kids that are quitting as a result. In order to attempt to address this concern, we have tried to make the U-10 age level more fun by entering the US Youth Soccer Kohl's American Cup, conducting an end-of-season U-10 in-house tournament, bringing in the Pittsburgh Riverhounds or Classic/Cup team DOC's to conduct about half of the U-10 trainings, etc.
Would you please comment and let us know whether we are on the right track and whether we need to modify what we are doing?
You are indeed on the right track. While travel for the U-10 age group outside of the club is not forbidden, if travel does occur it should be to events that focus on player performance first and outcome of the match second, or even not at all. One such program I suggest you look to for ideas and methods is being run by North Carolina Youth Soccer.
Please also note the directive from the US Youth Soccer Board of Directors from their meeting on March 5, 2011.
2. The Board encouraged the Coaching Committee to continue to develop an outline for implementation of "academy" programs for players at U-10 and that focus and information regarding skill development be included.
Here too, are a few of the Position Statements from the 55 state associations Technical Directors which pertain to the question.
Age of competitive play
While it is acknowledged and recognized that pre-teen players should be allowed to pursue playing opportunities that meet both their interest and ability level, we strongly discourage environments where players below the age of 12 are forced to meet the same "competitive" demands as their older counterparts therefore we recommend the following:
1. 50% playing time
2. no league or match results
3. 8 v 8 at U-12
Festivals for players under 10
We believe that Soccer Festivals should replace soccer tournaments for all players under the age of 10. Festivals feature a set number of minutes per event (e.g., 10 games X 10 minutes) with no elimination and no ultimate winner. We also endorse and support the movement to prohibit U-10 teams from traveling to events that promote winning and losing and the awarding of trophies.
Finally here's an excerpt from the soon-to-be released US Youth Soccer Player Development Model.
"NO U-10's should be involved in competitive tournaments or tryouts. Play Days, Jamborees or Festivals where U-10's all get a participation award are fine.
U-10 players should –
1. Not be exposed to tryouts
2. Not be labeled 'rec' or 'competitive'
3. Not be allowed to go to tournaments where there is a winner"
Thank you very much for the feedback, very informative. The problem at our youth association is that our parents are pushing hard for our U-10's to travel in the state league where there are league and match results. We feel this is unnecessary and causes coaches to take short cuts to win instead of placing more of the emphasis on player development. For that reason, we would like to keep our U-10's playing in our in-house league.
The biggest push to travel is not so much from the players, but from the parents who want to see their kids play like little pros. Little do the parents realize that they are doing more harm than good by ramping up the competitive pressures at such an early age. We feel that there will be plenty of time, in the kids' older years, when we can play to win championships. Any further information you might have on the subject would be very welcome.
You are absolutely right that it tends to be more the adults than the kids who want to push the results oriented environment sooner than later with 10-year-old children. That is contrary to the approach taken by U.S. Soccer and US Youth Soccer. It is also contrary to the research in sports sciences and specifically Long-Term Player Development (LTPD). Take a look at the magazine Olympic Coach, Spring 2004, Volume 16, Number 1
from the U. S. Olympic Committee for the details on LTPD. Also read on the US Youth Soccer website an article that speaks to this topic of too much too soon
. Since many adults do not know the timeline for the development of a soccer player they want to push the matter too quickly. To develop a player properly requires patience on the part of the adults.