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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.


Lincoln in Baltimore, MD said: How about telling me who the # 1 ranked U12 team in the US is with the highest GPA? Now that would be very interesting...
25 October 2013 at 10:16 AM
Rich Pekmezian in Oceanport, NJ said: Sam- Great topic. Great presentation of the reasons why the business operator is ranking teams and why parents want rankings and why in your opinion it is "wrong". And for the record, I agree it is wrong. But what is your idea or plan to change this? You need to provide parents with enough "blood lust" associated with rankings and winning (and now proposed at younger ages) while also understanding that this is a free market? The answer will cut across many lines. And the answer will require tough decisions to be made by people in leadership positions within US soccer and all of it's permutations. I have an idea if you'd like to discuss. Let me know and we can connect off line.
25 October 2013 at 9:37 AM
Jesse DeMello in shreveport, LA said: Dito! you said it all and I could not say it better. thank you.
24 October 2013 at 11:12 AM
Brian Kevin Johnston in Temecula, CA said: Good Article... Good Or Bad, USA Has A Culture That Promotes This... It's Called Capitalism... Too Many Youth Coaches Make A Living Coaching Little Kids, It's The Same Thing... I Wonder If We Stop Rankings Teams All Together, If The Coaches Would Also Coach For Free? When You Exchange Your Hard Earned Money, You Deserve An ROI...
24 October 2013 at 9:32 AM
Steven Samry in Daphne, AL said: For this Craziness to stop it must come from the top of us soccer on down. How about this if any club participates in the ranking of U-16 and below, players or teams. They must pay a Fine.or be dropped from there respective State organization. Because it is always about the money. If some thing is not done about this. US Soccer will not reach it potential of producing the best players in the world.
23 October 2013 at 2:47 PM
Steve Shackelford in Huntington Beach, CA said: Thank you for speaking out on this. Unfortunately the business of youth soccer coupled with parents' egos drives this. Thank you for being a voice of reason.
23 October 2013 at 1:02 PM
Brian Braswell in Decatur, AL said: Bravo! Spot on blog. One thing I have noticed is the ranking system used by sites like GotSoccer and Sincsports are incomplete and have no reflection of the true skill level of teams. Unfortunately many of the tournaments use these mythical rankings to place teams in different divisions. Often it creates a situation where less skilled teams are placed in higher divisions. Personally I think rankings should be done away with all together.
23 October 2013 at 12:12 PM
John in Lebanon, PA said: Personally, I think that rankings are unnecessary at any level of youth soccer. Just let them play the game and enjoy it. Most will have no career in the game and so we need to make it about the things they can learn as a soccer player that will help them in later life!
23 October 2013 at 11:31 AM

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