Monday, July 19, 2010
A coach from New Jersey had the following inquiry:
I wanted to get your opinion on a discussion we are having in our community regarding the possibility of a U-9 girl playing with the U-9 boys travel team. We are obviously split in our opinion as one school of thought is to allow her to seek her level of play regardless. The other side of the coin believes our education environments are equal for the boys and girls these days and debates whether an eight-year-old is better socially with their own gender.
After coaching a U-9 and U-10 team during the past two years, my opinion is that the 8 vs. 8 game is challenging enough for a young athlete (i.e., opponent, space, transition, technical/tactical speed) and she would find plenty of challenges in the middle of the field with her gender.
Here then is the response from the state association Technical Director:
Oh boy travel at U-9's...
Well, let's take a look at the 1999ers: Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy, Carla Overbeck and Michelle Akers-Stahl. All these women grew up with the game playing on boys' teams pre and post pubescent (no girls teams existed then) and probably their sharp skill is derived from those environments.
All the research shows that up until puberty it's OK to have boys and girls playing together. Actually, in their prepubescent years girls develop faster physically than boys (girls reach puberty around nine years of age, much earlier than boys for whom it is around 10-years-old) so physically there really is no danger. My concern in this case is the travel team situation where there are consequences for performance and the level is much more competitive than at a recreational level, so psychologically it could be an issue. How will the girl deal with things like the social aspect, and likewise the boys as her teammates, and the opponents? Also, what if the girl is hurt? Are you willing to hear/deal with all the consequences and issues?
Professionally speaking, I would have strong psychosocial reservations about her playing in the games, but maybe train with the boys for her soccer skill development if in fact she can hold her own physically.
I'll add to the Technical Director comments with the thought that we tend to be too quick to move very young players up an age group or to the next level of competition. By doing so, we often miss the chance to let that young talent be a star for a moment in their career. To be a leader in their age group or their division means they must take on more responsibility. This further develops American soccer talent, which must be deeper than just ball skills and athleticism. We need to also develop team leaders who can read the game and become impact players.
Some players should move up, but not before they measure their years on Earth in double digits, so let's all hold off on the movement of children to other age groups or levels of play before the age of 10 at the very earliest.
When it is time to consider moving a youngster up then the decision must be reached only after a 360° review of the player's talent and the predicted impact on the player. I am not against girls on boys' teams or players moving up, but I think the decision is made too hastily or without a full review in many cases across the country. Let's keep more kids in their age group to develop soccer leaders within a team. Train with older teams, play in coed games, have friendly matches with another competitive division, but let more of the kids stay in their age appropriate team and learn how to be tactically impactful upon the game and to be a psychological leader of their teammates. There will be time to move them up age groups and competitive divisions when they are teenagers, which for this girl is a mere four years away.