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Coaches Blog

Sam's Blog is a bi-weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Coaching Director for US Youth Soccer.

 

Playing Up

Sam Snow

Fairly often we are asked about players moving up in age group or level of competition. So here first is a check list of questions to be asked by the coaches, parents, administrators and the player to make a decision on whether to move up or stay put. The check list is followed by several of the Position Statements pertinent to this topic from the state association Technical Directors.

If a club is considering moving a player up then several questions need to be answered.
  1. Is the player physically capable of playing with and against older kids?
  2. Is the player socially capable of playing with and against older kids?
  3. Is the player emotionally capable of playing with and against older kids?
  4. Is the player tactically aware enough to play at a higher level of competition?
  5. Does the player have the ball skills to play at a faster and more physically challenging level of play?
  6. Does the player want to make this a permanent move, leaving behind teammates and friends?
  7. Is this what the player's parents want for the child?
  8. Are the two coaches of the two teams in agreement on this move?
  9. Is the move allowed by club and/or state by-laws?
  10. What will happen to the player in the older age group who will be displaced by the younger player moving up?
STATE ASSOCIATION TECHNICAL DIRECTROS POSITION STATEMENTS

Age of competitive play        # 4
While it is acknowledged and recognized that preteen 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 twelve 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 U12
Minimum age for play     # 5
We believe that a child must be five years old by August 1 to register with a soccer club for the soccer year September 1 to August 31. Children younger than five years old should not be allowed to register with a soccer club.

Festivals for players U-10      # 9
We believe that Soccer Festivals should replace soccer tournaments for all players under the age of ten. 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 U10 teams from traveling to events that promote winning and losing and the awarding of trophies.

State, regional and national competition for U-12's # 10
We believe that youth soccer is too competitive at the early ages, resulting in an environment that is detrimental to both players and adults; much of the negative behavior reported about parents is associated with preteen play. The direct and indirect pressure exerted on coaches and preteen players to win is reinforced by state "championships" and tournament "winners." We therefore advocate that, in the absence of regional competition for under 12's, state festivals replace state cups. We also strongly recommend that with regard to regional and national competition the entry age group should be U14.

Playing up       # 17
The majority of clubs, leagues and district, state or regional Olympic Development Programs in the United States allow talented, younger players to compete on teams with and against older players. This occurs as a natural part of the development process and is consistent throughout the world. Currently, however, there are isolated instances where the adult leadership has imposed rules or policies restricting the exceptional, young player from "playing up." These rules vary. Some absolutely will not allow it. Others establish team or age group quotas while the most lenient review the issue on a case-by-case basis. Associations that create rules restricting an individual player's option to play at the appropriate competitive level are in effect impeding that player's opportunity for growth. For development to occur, all players must be exposed to levels of competition commensurate with their skills and must be challenged constantly in training and matches in order to aspire to higher levels of play and maintain their interest in and passion for the game.
               
When it is appropriate for soccer development, the opportunity for the exceptional player to play with older players must be available. We believe that "club passes" should be adopted as an alternative to team rosters to allow for a more realistic and fluid movement of players between teams and levels of play. If there is a concern regarding the individual situation, the decision must be carefully evaluated by coaches and administrators familiar with the particular player. When faced with making the decision whether the player ought to play up, the adult leadership must be prepared with sound rationale to support their decision. Under no circumstances should coaches exploit or hold players back in the misplaced quest for team building and winning championships, nor should parents push their child in an attempt to accelerate to the top of the soccer pyramid. In addition, playing up under the appropriate circumstances should not preclude a player playing back in his or her own age group. When the situation dictates that it is in the best interests of the player to do so, it should not be interpreted as a demotion, but as an opportunity to gain or regain confidence.
Some rationale for the above includes:

Pele played for Brazil in his first World Cup as a seventeen year old; Mia Hamm earned her first call to the U.S. Women's National Team when she was fifteen. An exceptionally talented young player playing with older players has been an integral part of the game since its inception. Certainly, a player that possesses soccer maturity beyond that of his or her peers should be encouraged to "play up" in order that his or her development as a player is stimulated.

The playing environment must provide the right balance between challenge and success. The best players must have the opportunity to compete with and against players of similar abilities. Players with less ability must be allowed to compete at their own level in order to enjoy the game and to improve performance.

In conclusion the development of players and advancement of the overall quality in the United States is the responsibility of every youth coach, administrator and policymaker in this country. It is our obligation to provide an environment where every player is given the opportunity to improve and to gain the maximum enjoyment from their soccer experience and ultimately, what is best for the player.