Check out the weekly blogs

Online education from US Youth Soccer

US Youth Soccer Intagram!

Check out the national tournament database

Sports Authority


Capri Sun


Wilson Trophy Company

Nesquik - Great For Team Snacks!

Nike Soccer - Play Now!

Play Positive Banner

Print Page Share

Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on every Monday.  A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom". 



Susan Boyd

How about this? We should stop holding tournaments for U-13 and younger teams that channel participants into a championship game. Why? Because the competitive nature of those “win or go home” contests doesn’t facilitate the development of young players. Additionally, consider the cost to benefit ratio. The expense of attending tournaments for young families often eats up a big percentage of any discretionary funds they may have. Shouldn’t they be able to get a full complement of games for their time, trouble and money instead of having the tournament cut short if they don’t advance?  Shouldn’t they be able to challenge themselves against a variety of skill levels? Isn’t it rather demoralizing to spend money on a hotel Saturday night knowing that your team is already out of the race but you still have to play one last meaningless game on Sunday? How does a club and a coach justify the expense and time of a tournament to players who get little to no playing time because the team wants, one might even argue needs, to win?            

Some experts contend that youth players shouldn’t participate in tournaments at all. Health professionals believe playing several intense games in the brief period of a weekend accelerates serious stress injuries. Other experts will say tournaments put the emphasis on performance rather than on development, which should be the most important factor for young players. Clubs and parents have bought into the theory that tournaments played (and by extension won) increase the club’s and the player’s worth. For the club, that can mean wooing better players for future years, and for the players, it can mean being identified by scouts. So, the popular opinion is to enter competitive tournaments early and often. In some cases, teams will play twice to triple the number of tournament games than regular league games that have an accompanying expense, both financially and physically. Many parents feel pressured to buy into the tournament mentality and actually go into debt just to support their child’s tournament play. Bob Gansler, the former U.S. Men’s National Team coach, stated that America “suffer[s] from a huge case of tournamentitis.”              

There are definitely both benefits and allure to tournaments. I remember when the boys’ teams were accepted into the Disney Soccer Showcase at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. We thought we had died and gone to youth soccer heaven, only to get there and discover that, like most tournaments, only a small percentage of the games were played at the main venue with all the other games scattered around a 25-mile radius. Nevertheless, we had fun attending games, playing against teams from all over the world, and, of course, visiting Magic Kingdom. The opportunity to play teams outside of your usual regional pool helps teams measure their development and give them targets for development. We attended a tournament in Tampa, Fla., where our U-11 team played a team from England. The boys were nervous since their image of English soccer came from watching the dexterity and power of the English Premier League. They quickly discovered that U-11 players from England aren’t necessarily any more advanced than U-11 players in the U.S. They actually won the match. It was a great experience for us and the banner the English team members gave to each player is still proudly displayed in Robbie’s room. Of course, for the British players and parents, it was an exciting trip to the U.S. made possible through soccer. Tournaments can offer families, not just players, the chance to travel to parts of the U.S., even the world, they might not usually go. It can be an enriching experience for everyone.            

Therefore, how can we address the problems of tournaments while keeping the benefits? US Youth Soccer speaks to the importance of the issue: “We believe that excessive play at competitive tournaments is detrimental to individual growth and development and can reduce long-term motivation. Multiple matches being played on one day and one weekend have a negative effect on the quality experience and development of the individual player. Further, far too many playing schedules include so many tournaments and matches that there is never an offseason.” We might resolve these difficulties by instituting some simple boundaries.

  1. Teams younger than U-14 should not participate in more than three tournaments a year (one or two a season). 
  2. Youth teams should be allowed a larger roster so players can rest for a half or an entire game during the event.
  3. Rotating playing time should be strictly enforced for tournaments.
  4. Reduce the “competitive” pressure of tournaments by eliminating championships for U-12 and below. Do a round robin with tournament directors being careful to pair up teams from different regions and giving as many teams as possible international opponents.
  5. Limit the number of games concentrated on the days of the event. Offer a special for teams that want to come a day early. Many teams that travel a great distance have to arrive on Thursday or Friday, so they might be excited to spread games out over more days. Local teams would probably be happy to participate as opponents on a weekday afternoon.
  6. Clubs should try to only do one tournament a year requiring air fare (or a really long drive) in order to mitigate family’s expenses.
  7. Clubs should offer parents the chance to select tournaments from options the coach has gathered rather than just being told this is what is going to happen. This allows sensitivity to expense and family vacation disruptions.
  8. Guest player rules for younger teams should be relaxed through state associations. Clubs might even consider joining forces and merging two teams for a tournament, clearing this officially with their state association. If the rules don’t allow for tournament mergers, then perhaps the board should consider updating the rules.
  9. Parents should be able to opt out of tournaments without any adverse effects on their child’s position on the team. This would be easiest to implement if guest player regulations were more liberal for younger teams.
  10. Since these youth tournaments won’t be about winning, coaches have no risks and will be able to sub regularly to reduce the risk of stress injuries, fatigue and inadequate muscle recovery. The added benefits are that parents who make major financial investments in attending these tournaments will be rewarded by being able to see their child play throughout the weekend.

Tournaments are money-makers for clubs, not to mention for businesses that specifically manage competitions throughout the country. There’s very little likelihood of tourneys being cut back in the near future. However, we can do things to make tournaments part of the overall development of players rather than events adding stress to schedules, finances and health. There’s no reason for teams to be whittled down to find a champion at these young ages. Instead, tournaments should be places where teams can not only further the development of their players, but enrich their competitive experience playing unusual opponents. Teams could still be ranked based on their league performances in order tobe sure not to have blow-out games, but because the quality of any league in any region can be difficult to accurately assess, it doesn’t necessarily follow that tournament rankings will be fair and exact. Therefore, it’s most important that teams all participate in the same number of games for their fees, they don’t overdo the number of games for any particular player through the benefit of larger rosters and making frequent substitutions, and they experience a variety of teams and levels in their matches. With some creative thinking, “tournamentitis” can still be infectious without worrying about its risks.

Comments (0)


Coed Soccer

Sam Snow

Thoughts on coed soccer training sessions and games between club, state and national coaches…

My name is Ed Leon and I'm the Director of Coaching at NSA Premier in Illinois.  I just wanted to get your opinion on some observations I have made with coed training.

My son, a U16, and daughter, a U15 player, train once per week in a coed environment. Both teams are high level and have tremendous technical skills. Currently during the indoor season, we've been doing cross fit type training (body weight only) and then playing coed futsal. It is a controlled environment and the boys are extremely respectful and aware of the physiological differences between themselves and the girls. The teams are selected on a boy, girl, boy, girl fashion and are balanced.

My general observations:

  • The two teams are great friends and have formed close bonds.
  • I've noticed an increased speed of play with the girls when they play only girls. They are far more aggressive as well, without being reckless.
  • On the boys’ side, I've noticed the boys are willing to experiment more with their 1v1 skills, maybe because they feel they have time to do it, whereas when they play boys of their own caliber, they combine more and depend on working together as a unit. However, if they need to go 1v1, they can do it, in part because of their futsal training with the girls and keeping those technical skills sharp.

As we transition outdoors, hopefully, if the weather improves in Chicago, we plan to maintain the once per week coed training environment. The emphasis will be more on the 7v7 thru 11v11 topics. I hypothesize that we will continue to see similar results as we have during the indoor season, improved speed of play and technical 1v1 mastery.

I hope you can provide me with further suggestions to improve our training environment for our players.

Hi Ed,

Thanks for your note.  I think what you are doing with coed soccer is a great format.  I am sure the kids get many benefits from the training you are providing.  I am sure they learn both intrinsic (leadership, communication, etc.) as well as the more obvious extrinsic (ball skills, tactics, etc.) from each other.

As you transition to outdoor play this spring may I suggest that you follow predominately a 7v7 format as you note below, so that the sheer athleticism of the boys (speed, strength, etc.) doesn't become their solution to each tactical dilemma the girls will give them.  Occasionally though do play 11-a-side.  By keeping that format a unique experience the kids will value it more when it comes around.

Ed, I imagine there are indeed other clubs across the nation doing a similar format for coed soccer, but I've not had any reports from them. I’ve asked the 55 state association technical directors to find out from them if they have clubs doing anything along these lines.



Thanks for taking the time to respond in a thoughtful and thorough manner. I will certainly take your advice on keeping it more on 7v7 and have the boys rely less on their physicality. I'm always curious to learn what others are doing to help our kids develop as players and people. With what I've observed with my two older kids, I started using the same format this winter with my U12 daughter and my U11 boys. Very cool stuff from soccer to socialization. I will follow that into the spring season too.

Ed Leon


My experience here in Arkansas has been very similar to yours. I first noticed that our 11v11 adult leagues were small, and consisted almost exclusively of young men who had grown up playing the game at least past the high school level.  Our 7v7 adult leagues, on the other hand, were thriving, and featured a much better mix of men and women as well as a broader mix of playing levels. A very high percentage of our 7v7 adults never played the game until they had children of their own, so this was proof to me that we have to use small-sided games to introduce novice players to the game, regardless of their age.

As Sam pointed out, the 7v7 format does a great deal to neutralize the physical advantages that males have over females, and it shifts more of the game toward the technical and tactical aspects.  The other big benefit I've seen is that players are physically much closer to each other in 7v7, which leads to much greater social interaction than you see in 11v11.

I would differ from Sam in that I would reserve the 11v11 games for gender-specific play at the U13 and older levels.  I recall that the US Women's National Team played a series of scrimmages against the La Jolla Nomads U16 Boys back in 1999, during their training camp ahead of the 1999 Women's World Cup that they went on to win. The boys beat them comfortably (3-0, from what I remember) in those scrimmages, because they could simply kick and run past the women even though the women were tactically and technically superior. This was useful for the women to improve speed of play, but it certainly is not the kind of thing that makes much sense to do on a regular basis, because it will lead them to change the way they play (in a negative way) over time. Keep in mind that most of the '99ers grew up playing as the only girl on a boys team for significant portions of their childhood -- we lost that when the numbers grew to the point where gender-specific became possible, and I think there is a need to bring some of that integration back. The Germans currently select a few of their top girls to train with their top boys at their regional training centers (comparable to our ODP training sites across the US), so they obviously see a need for this, too.

Because of these observations, we introduced 7v7 coed divisions to our recreational leagues here in Little Rock three years ago. We still haven't convinced enough clubs to take advantage of this division, but it has been very beneficial for those teams that have participated. I have also incorporated two coed training sessions for my oldest players during our ODP Winter Training Segments, which allowed me to reduce the travel demands on some of my players while also taking advantage of the effects you've noted below. Again, I have to choose my training topics wisely for these sessions (to focus mostly on technique), but it has been well-received by the players thus far.

One final extension of this concept I'd offer is to ensure that you have your female coaches working with your boys just as much as you have male coaches working with your girls (to the extent that you have staff to do so). My ODP coaching staff is still 3/4 male, but all my women work just as many sessions with the boys as they do the girls. I've found this to be valuable for both players and coaches in their development, and it is something that I feel should be done much, much more across the country.

If you'd like another take on this idea, see Pia Sundhage's recent comments...

Robert Parr, Director of Coaching - Arkansas State Soccer Association


That's great feedback. I do agree with you on the introduction of coed environments; controlled of course, but coed. The more I hear, the more I'm convinced that this is the direction we need to look. As you mentioned, a key X factor for the 99ers was involvement with boys. I can really see the difference in how my daughters play due to their involvement with my older son and the boys. I guess this would be analogous to resistance training. By simple stress adaptation, you become stronger and faster.

You make a lot of sense with recommending small-sided as the way to go; however, if you keep the 11v11 games as a true mix of boys and girls on each team, you counter balance the impact of male vs female physiological differences. Also, as coaches, we have the power to ensure that physical strength is not the only means to beat the girls. I would suggest placing strong restrictions such as limited touches or everyone has to touch the ball before you can score, or whatever.

I will keep you posted on our progress and sometimes old school is the best way to move into the future. We can artificially replicate the 99ers experience. Maybe call the method, Project 99ers? Let's keep talking so we stay cutting edge.



I do use the co-ed training with my U14 boys and girls on a U12 field and they absolutely love it.

Steve Kehm, Technical Director – South Dakota State Soccer

Comments (0)


Progression of Small-Sided Games

Sam Snow

Across the nation and around the world soccer clubs have already made the change or are in the process of making the change to small-sided games (SSG) for preteen age groups. If your club hasn’t already made the modification then it’s behind the times. This change in soccer culture is an acknowledgement of societal impacts on sport, especially in the nations within CONCACAF and UEFA.

In the USA, the move to SSG is advocated by the United States Olympic Committee, U. S. Soccer, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, American Youth Soccer Organization, Soccer Association for Youth and of course US Youth Soccer.

US Youth Soccer has promoted SSG in the early 1980’s. The initial effort was to change U8 soccer from 11 vs 11 on a full size field and with a full size goal to something saner for the players. The result was 8-a-side soccer.  Since then the game has evolved and the need for SSG is more poignant than ever. Beginning in 2000, US Youth Soccer has advocated a stair step approach for youth players into the adult version of soccer.

Here is the logic behind our progression of 3 vs 3 to 8 vs 8 and eventually 11-a-side. Our work on SSG began under the direction of Dr. Tom Fleck in the 1980s.  With a doctorate in primary school education, Dr. Fleck wanted to modify soccer so that it made more sense to young players and to novice coaches who had not ever played soccer themselves. Keep in mind that in the 1980s perhaps 95% of our coaches had never played the sport that they now found themselves coaching. We needed a format that made sense to them and to very young players. We could not say to a 6-year-old just go play with other kids in the neighborhood or with a parent, because none of them were playing the sport.

We recommend 3 vs 3 for the U6 age group. Given the ego-centric nature of 5 and 6-year-olds, to account for parallel play and for there to be some notion of soccer shape we settled on 3-a-side without goalkeepers for this age group.

We recommend 4 vs 4 for the U8 age group. Still no goalkeepers – let all of the kids be near the ball and chase it up and down the pitch. The ego-centric approach to soccer has improved, but not much, so let’s keep the numbers small. Also with 4-a-side it makes it easier to teach partner play and for the kids to understand it. Finally, the purists like these numbers as it theoretically allows for width and depth for the attacking team.

We recommend 6 vs 6 for the U10 age group. The position of goalkeeper is now introduced to the game. Small group play is now possible and 6-a-side allows for various combinations of triangles around the ball. For the less experienced and/or knowledgeable coach 6-a-side allows for a formation without a midfield line in the team, so it is easier to understand for the coach and young players. However, a more knowledgeable and experienced coach may introduce a midfield line into the game for the advanced group of young players.

We recommend 8 vs 8 for the U12 age group. There is now a midfield line in the team. We think that adding two more field players into the team is enough for children this age to absorb (cognitively and psychosocially) and actually be able to use in a match. The coaching emphasis now is on large group tactics. The State Associations, along with US Youth Soccer, started working on implementing SSG for the preteen age groups in the 1990s. Many of the State Associations have already established 8-a-side for the U12 age group, which is a fulcrum age group.

In a nutshell, this is how we have come to this place on the player development pathway.


Figure 1 From the Player Development presentation in the National Youth License coaching course

Comments (1)


Chasing Butterflies

Susan Boyd

Monarch butterflies are the original “snowbirds” flying south to Mexico or Southern California every October to lay their eggs in the same trees every year, then returning to their northern summer homes in the spring to live, feed, and enchant us.  They love drifting through the verdant open spaces of our kids’ soccer fields, so practices and games are often populated with flurries of monarchs adding a splash of brilliant color to the scene.  For very young players, the butterflies can prove to be a major distraction encouraging children to observe them at a minimum and chase them down at a maximum.  The usual chaos on the field becomes heightened as players twirl and frolic with their new winged teammates.  Staying focused in a game can prove to be nearly impossible.

Distracted players are frustrating for coaches and usually even more frustrating for parents who hope to will their sons and daughters to greatness through the power of their desire.  Watching John or Jane chasing butterflies instead of the ball leaves adults in despair.  I can definitely sympathize.  Robbie was well-known for his inability to remain focused on the game.  He loved to watch the clouds overhead, try to find four-leaf clovers, and chase butterflies in his Under-6 to Under-8 years.  If the ball came to him, he politely passed it off the nearest player without regard to uniform color – we even got asked if he was color-blind.  He loved participating. He gleefully put on his gear twice a week, ran onto the field for practice or games, jumped around with his friends, and stayed happy throughout the game no matter the outcome.  However, he could not stay focused on the rules and strategies of the game.  He loved his outdoor time for his own purposes.  He played with a carefree abandon that spoke to joy and innocence.

So imagine our surprise when he moved from a recreation club to a select club and the coach approached us with the news that he was a special player.  We had moved to the club because Bryce had been asked to join the U-11 team there, and so we decided to bring Robbie over to simplify transportation to practices easier with both at the same club. We had no expectation that Robbie was ever going to be a soccer player.  Yet somehow, in the space of a short winter break, he developed a keen interest in assertively playing the game.  We didn’t notice it because we were not expecting it.  Within a few months Robbie moved from major daisy picker to a focused and, I would argue, far too aggressive player.  The joy he had brought to his practices in the earliest years continued but was overshadowed with intensity.  I have no idea what caused the change; if I did I would market it to all the soccer parents who want their children to excel so I could retire with a million dollars.  His brother had always been intense, so maybe he just started trying to emulate his older sibling.  Or maybe the structure and pressures of a select club as opposed to a recreation club initiated a change.  Maybe maturity in his brain did it.  Whatever it was, the age of innocence came to an abrupt end.

We parents recognize that our kids will always be a reflection of us – translating their success into a measure of our own success.  So it’s natural to want our kids to be like those YouTube phenoms from Brazil, Germany, even the U.S. who dribble wildly and aggressively down the field against much older players and score.  We hear about kids signed by major professional clubs at young ages, so why not our prodigy.  There is a youth football coach called the QB Guru, Steve Clarkson, who regularly gets kids in their early teens committed to colleges before they even enter high school.  His professional graduates have earned, according to Forbes’ magazine, over $300 million in contracts with the NFL.  Joe Montana sent his own sons to the camp.  So why wouldn’t parents fall over themselves to get their child coached by this successful man?  With a monetary prize out there for the driven player, there’s no surprise that parents are not only willing, but wishing, to have the innocent, playing just for fun days finish quickly and the focused, high expectation days begin.

I’m very proud that my sons played in high school and college and that Bryce has even signed with a professional indoor team.  But I also worry that both boys have paid with serious social, psychological, and competitive costs to achieve these goals.  They both experienced several months in their soccer playing years of sitting on the bench and even more time (for Bryce it was two years) of little to no playing time.  The frustrations of not being able to contribute can lead to depression, self-doubt, loss of initiative, and anger.  With increasing pressures many of the boys’ excellent soccer-playing friends quit the game, looking to find an easier, more enjoyable way of getting through high school and college without the stress of performing at a peak level constantly.  Robbie left his college team when the coach became verbally abusive, using racially loaded language on the field and in the locker room.  He returned when the coach was fired for his behavior, but not immediately.  He hesitated because he wanted to be sure that he would experience pleasure to counteract the pressure.  His friendships and his natural passion and drive for the game tipped the scale.  No one achieves at the highest levels without serious sacrifices which may include free time, happiness, grades, friendships, love, family time, participation in normal childhood activities, putting up with surly coaches, dealing with nasty opponents (both verbally and physically), and major responsibility early in life.  We hear the stories of Olympic and professional athletes who hit the ice at 3 a.m. or leave home to live and train with a coach as pre-teens with no guarantee of success and the threat of injury always present.  We experienced our own version of this story when Robbie played with the Chicago Magic.   I picked him up at school at 2:48 p.m., driving three hours through rush hour traffic to get him to practice by 6:00 p.m., two hours of practice, and then a two hour drive home getting in between 10 and 10:30 p.m.  He did his homework in the car on the way home and used the phone to stay connected with his friends.  I did that three or four days a week with the weekends devoted to games all over the Midwest.  It continued that way for four years.  I persevered because Robbie loved playing at a top level and being an important part of a team that regularly went to national tournaments, but he also gave up most of a “normal” high school life.  It split our family into the Milwaukee half and the Chicago half.  I would see Bryce when he woke up and when he went to bed, which was tough on both of us.

We parents need to be really sure that moving to a selective and intensive team properly serves our children.  Every year in the weeks before tryouts, we reevaluated their team decisions with the boys.  Our rule was that once they made the commitment, they had to honor it for the year, so they needed to be very sure that they wanted this more than other things they would be missing out on.  We talked about missing football games with their friends, missing after school activities, missing going with friends just to hang out at a burger joint or the mall, missing some major landmarks in high school such as prom (we tried to avoid that as much as possible, but it had to be factored into the decision), and dealing with the pressures of their team including the chance that they would be benched in favor of a player with more skills, aggression, and/or experience.  Even with weeks of consideration and planning, there were still days during the year of just wanting to give up.  On the plus side, their teams often played in the same tournaments, and if not Bryce would guest play with Chicago Magic, so we were able to enjoy those events as a family.  Nevertheless we paid a price as a family unit and the boys paid a price on their own. 

I have no idea if later in life the boys will regret taking the pathway they did, but, of course, hindsight allows for an unclouded perfect assessment.  We have constantly reinforced the idea that you can only do so many things in the time you have, so you need to be content with your choices.  Still, I occasionally get wistful for another history where their sacrifices disapper.  I think that Robbie had the right idea all those years ago when he just enjoyed being out in nature, watching the clouds, looking for clover, and chasing butterflies.  Such a carefree existence can’t last forever, but it would be wonderful if it lasted as long as possible.  What a fantastic foundation for happiness.

Comments (1)