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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.

 

Ranking youth players is often more than a number

Sam Snow

Recently an online registration company announced it will begin to rank U9 to U11 teams. Right up front here’s my take on that – bad move! Fortunately the soccer public responded immediately and loudly against such a move. From our Men’s National Team head coach to Soccer America magazine to state and club coaches the pushback was strongly against the ranking of such young teams.
 
I am sure though that many adults will jump at the chance to have their U12 and younger teams ranked. Why? Bragging rights and revenue streams. Those are the only two reasons that otherwise reasonable adults would sell out the kids. Not to mention stalling the growth of the game in the USA.
 
The players will have been sold out since they will be robbed of the incentive to improve. After all, why have a growth mindset and a strong work ethic when you’ve been told you’re number 1 in the nation at the tender age of ten. Good soccer coaches, administrators, moms and dads know that to help young players improve their skills you praise their effort not the outcome. [Read the book Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck for more information on the growth mindset.]
 
Players are already disrupted in their development continuum by jumping from club to club. Rankings at such young ages will exacerbate the problem. This outcome will happen when soccer club customers (parents) quickly change from club A to club B as soon as club B goes up in the rankings with their U9 to U1_ teams. Buyer beware! Choosing the right soccer club for young players (consumers) is more complicated than picking your new refrigerator. Yet many parents will research the new fridge more thoroughly than the club; even though the development of a young soccer player is far more complex than the features on a refrigerator.
 
The aspect of the decision to offer national rankings for U9 to U11 teams being about money is obvious. The registration company will only rank teams in the events with which the company is affiliated; i.e., creation of a revenue stream.
 
A club that buys into ranking systems is also looking for a deeper revenue stream. They hope that by achieving a high ranking they’ll attract more players (consumers) along with their parents (customers). Let’s be clear, rankings have nothing to do with player development.
 
Rankings themselves are dubious at best. The only ranking that can be valid is one in a league with head-to-head competition. Even the FIFA rankings of national teams are a guessing game. No national team coach thinks the world rankings are absolute. I spent six years on the NCAA Men’s Soccer Committee. At the end of the college soccer season we had to rank teams to sort out the post season bids for the NCAA national championships. We considered head-to-head competition, common opponents and strength of schedule. We had three different mathematical formulas to help with those evaluations. We had six to eight hour long conference calls to sort it all out. Ranking college teams who hadn’t played each other wasn’t easy. And this was evaluating teams with adult players on them, not children’s teams.
 
In short, ranking preteen teams is not only a fruitless effort; it can be one that hinders the healthy growth of players and clubs. Just say NO to rankings!
 
 
What is your opinion on rankings? Are 9-year-olds too young? What about 13-year-olds? We want to hear from you, so let us know what your feelings are about ranking youth players by commenting on this article.
 

Comments (8)

 

Behavior Modification Through Exercise

Sam Snow

"My son is 9-years old and participates on our local soccer team. His coaches use "corrective conditioning" (push-ups, running, frog jumps) for bad behavior or poor performance. How do I convince the coaches that they can get optimal response/performance without using corporal punishment?"
  • Punitive coaching rarely works for the betterment of the player or the team, especially in youth sports. To use physical exercise as punishment with 9-year-olds is just wrong! The kids need exercise – yes, but in a healthy approach.
  • Even college and professional athletes are not given corporal punishment as the result is poor morale, not improved drive and determination by the players.
  • Exercise should be presented in a positive fashion with youngsters. Not only for the immediate effect on their soccer performance, but also their life-long health, we want exercise to be a positive experience. Using exercise as a punishment gives a negative connection to the experience. Exercise is then likely to be avoided by the children as they age. So both for the short-term and the long-term the negatives outweigh the positives of "corrective conditioning".
  • Bad behavior during a training session is often the fault of the coach. Misbehavior by children can occur on the soccer field when they are bored. Boredom usually stems from the use of drills instead of game-like activities. So if a coach wants to avoid the kids being unfocused and perhaps misbehaving, then shun drills in a training session. While we’re at it lets also dismiss the 3 L’s – Lines, Laps and Lectures.
  • Poor performance by a 9-year-old in a match is to be expected. Let’s be realistic – they are only 9! Soccer, like all team sports, is a long-term developmental sport. Players in soccer peak in their match performance in their 20’s and early 30’s. The adults need to be patient with the game-day performance of children whose life span is still counted in single digits.
  • Fitness improvement must come from playing many game-like activities in a training session.
  • The bottom line is that sports are supposed to be fun for kids. They are not little adult professional players. Always ask them to try their best, but live with the outcome of the match. They’ll get over it and so must the grown-ups. Be sure they give it their all (that’s a life lesson as well as a soccer one) while letting the joy of the game infuse them.

Comments (0)

 

To travel or not to travel

Sam Snow

This question was posted on the US Youth Soccer Facebook account.

"Sorry to bother you with what might be a silly question. I was unable to find this on your website. We were told by our local organization (not the State) that a child cannot play on a travel soccer team at the U9 level unless the child is at least a U8. My son is a U7. We were told this was a USYS rule? Any help you can provide would be great. Thank you."
 
To be clear, the restriction noted in the question is not a US Youth Soccer policy because it would be the local state association policy.
 
Here are some portions of the Position Statements from the State Association Technical Directors that pertain to this question.
 
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 vs. 8 at U12
 
FESTIVALS FOR PLAYERS UNDER-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.
 
 

Comments (2)

 

Leightweight Soccer Ball

Sam Snow

New in the American soccer marketplace is the availability of lightweight size 4 and 5 soccer balls.  They are the same circumference as regular soccer balls of those sizes, but not as heavy. Now that has some intriguing possibilities for youth soccer player development.

Young players whose ball skills are still primitive could use a larger ball. The larger ball has a bigger "sweet spot" and it’s easier to track its movement, especially when bouncing or in the air. These facts are especially true for the U6 and U8 age groups. The problem with them using a size 4 or 5 ball is that it’s too heavy for them to dribble for very long or shoot at the goal from far away, much less to make a pass. With that in mind we have been using a size 3 ball for the two youngest age groups in organized youth soccer.

With the lightweight ball young players could expand their ball skills at a quicker rate. Take the U10 and U12 age groups for example. With a lightweight size 5 ball they could have that larger "sweet spot" but also be able to play longer passes, shoot from farther away from the goal and make crosses to the far post. With the lightweight size 4 or 5 ball players in these two age groups could add the air game into their repertoire sooner in their developmental timeline. The lightweight ball might alleviate some children’s anxiety with receiving the ball out of the air or to head the ball. Skills such as chipping and volley shots become more realistic for the U12 player using a lightweight ball.

There may be one pitfall to the lightweight ball though. Because many players will be able to hit the ball farther it may encourage them, and some coaches, to fall deeper into the abyss of kickball style soccer. Kick-n-run soccer is not in the best interest of the American player.

Whether you use the lightweight soccer ball in just your training sessions or in your matches too, I encourage you to give the ball a try as another component of player development.

Comments (2)