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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on USYouthSoccer.org every Monday. A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom." 
 
 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.

 

Changes are Difficult

Susan Boyd

The dates of a school year are generally fluid depending on your community, but the birthdate requirements are firm. Since children develop both physically and mentally at very different rates, there will be a wide variety of ability and maturity within the confines of those dates. My husband, born in October, missed the school-age cutoff but started early anyway, and was only 4’ 11” when he entered high school, growing two inches in college. I have a September birthday, missed the deadline by a week, but still began school with my older friends. However I was lucky to be tall, measuring 5’ and the inches of my grade (5’ 3” in third grade up to 5’ 9” in ninth grade). Our oldest daughter has a December birthday, yet after first grade she was moved up to third because she fit in better with the children who populated the next school year. In contrast, our second daughter has a July birthday which met the cut-off though at the late end. She took after her father as a late bloomer and would have benefitted by waiting a year to enter school. Dates on a calendar don’t predict anything about readiness for school, sports, or socialization, yet they dictate much of our children’s participation in their lives’ activities. There is no hard and fast rule in nature like there is in officialdom.

For many years youth soccer has used the school age template when determining where to place a child. It make sense because it kept kids together with those from their grade letting them play with friends and facilitating car pools. US Youth Soccer goes by calendar year which is how every FIFA nation (with the exception of the US and Canada) conducts their registrations for youth, development, and national teams. Last year US Soccer (USSF) decided to switch to calendar year registrations beginning in August 2017. Most organizations, including US Youth Soccer, implemented this standard in August 2016. So you may have noticed the change when your child signed up for his or her team. It does complicate some issues while simplifying others.  Players can still play up, so I imagine several teams will remain intact despite the date changes, and that clubs will slowly transition into teams based solely on calendar year registrations as younger players enter. It will finally place the United States on the same competitive composition scales as the rest of the world, solidifying our membership in this global community. It changes the dynamics for players because now those born in the early months of any year will switch from being the youngest on a team to being the oldest. It also provides for a wider range of competitive interactions since kids will be playing with and against those in different grades. It may cause some carpool hiccups, but neighborhoods don’t change even if age limits do, so the likelihood of creating a travel network remains good.

Calendar year registration simplifies deadlines since it isn’t based on a child’s expected grade level which can be fluid based on several factors.  Even with the school year standard, kids were never guaranteed to play with classmates and friends. Skill levels, limits on team size, and convenience of practice schedules always have played a role in team assignments. The calendar year insures that kids will play with some grade level peers even if they skip a grade or are held back. That helps remove some stigma from the process. Likewise it puts us on equal footing with our developmental programs which have always been calendar year based since they had to mesh with all the other teams in the world when it came to cross-nation competitions. However, parents may now be confused by the designations of U-6 through U-23 which were previously based on school year calendars. This link to the new matrix which should help . With the calendar year implementation the U designation will truly mean “under” the age. Until the dust settles, many clubs may opt to keep older teams together by having those born in the earlier months “play up” with their classmates with birthdates in the later months of the previous birth year, effectively maintaining the school year designations. Clubs can then delay fully enforcing the calendar year birthdates only beginning with the youngest teams this year and restructuring teams as opportunities to do so become available.

The blow back on this change has been strong. Parents argue that the new guidelines unfairly target players born in the later months of a calendar year who aren’t as physically developed as players born earlier in the year. However the truth is that a player born, for example, July 28, 2001 in a 2000-2001 school year calendar scenario was subject to the same argument of being developmentally behind a player born August 2, 2000. When ages are spread over a year there will be discrepancies. Other parents argue that teams have been split apart, though that doesn’t need to happen at all should a club want to keep teams together by having the players born in a later year play up in the birth calendar year of the older players. The argument could be made that these kids playing up will lose a year of competitive soccer, but they could also elect to move back down to their calendar year should their team disband or change dramatically in make-up. U-13 to U-15 turns out to be a very volatile period of team registrations as kids drop sports to focus on studies, to focus on just one sport, or to move to a different competitive level team, so staying with a team of schoolmates does become harder as kids grow older.

Having the option to play in a calendar year or up a year provides players with lots of team options. One parent complained that his league dropped U-8 because no one wanted to travel for 4-v-4. I’m guessing those parents didn’t find this to be “real” soccer and therefore not worth the time investment. Most of the youngest teams play against teams in close geographic proximity, even playing teams from their own club, so travel to a game shouldn’t be a factor and certainly that decision has little to do with a change in age parameters. Another parent voiced concerned that her daughter “would be left behind” while her peers got to advance. This isn’t school where being “held back” relates to not being able to handle the material. There’s no failure in adjusting to the new age template, and I would argue that her child will benefit from more developmental training and from fostering new friendships. In truth no one likes change because each person sees it in terms of how it affects them personally. Changing the age registration standards certainly can present some individual concerns, but overall it doesn’t need to be a seismic shift.  

The other big change will be a greater emphasis on small-sided games especially 7-v-7 and 9-v-9 rather than 11-v-11 on a regulation pitch. For many years these smaller teams have been fielded for the youngest ages, and US Youth Soccer has been encouraging this philosophy of training for over 20 years. However, there has been parental pressure to move as quickly as possible from small-sided games to full field games because they see it as an advancement for their kids. However, the studies on development of soccer players have overwhelmingly established that small-sided games promote far better improvement by allowing players more touches on the ball, giving them the opportunity to learn different positions, and requiring them to make more tactical decisions. With fewer players on the pitch and a smaller field, players need to interact often and quickly, opening the door to developing the collaborative and social skills that make stronger teammates. From the instructional perspective, coaches can more easily keep track of players, work with them on how to play off the ball, and control the speed and level of play needed to insure all players have equal opportunities to practice skills. Therefore, in conjunction with the new age guidelines, 11-v-11 games are limited to those U-13 and older, giving players two years to adjust to full field play before high school. These guidelines will be required by August 2017 as overseen by USSF, but US Youth Soccer is implementing them as best practices as of August 2016. They have asked their 55 state association members to adopt this training philosophy which will be extended to league and tournament play. Most of the member associations had already moved to small-sided training formats along with their league and tournament play, but will now be doing it under the new age guidelines. These standards can be found at .

Coaches recognize the immediate benefits of this training philosophy. Players are constantly engaged in the play since the fields are small and the ball moves from space to space quickly. If kids are involved consistently it not only boosts their skill development but makes the game more enjoyable. Likewise parents will have the opportunity to see their kids in action rather than sitting on the sidelines or daisy picking on the pitch when nothing is happening around them. The focus is on how to play rather than scoring goals, so even when players have the strength to make long shots, these are discouraged in lieu of fostering strong team play with passing and positioning. Small-sided games give coaches the freedom to advance the more subtle aspects of soccer play which ultimately create sharp, capable, and wily players. Coaches can spend time working with players on their off-the-ball movement and strategy.

Again, there has been some strong displeasure with these standards. Many parents complain that the fields and goals are just too small leading to kids scoring goals from the opponent’s touch line because they can kick so powerfully and kids playing in “mobs” on the pitch. These shouldn’t be issues if kids are coached in small-side tactics and techniques. Unfortunately, some coaches don’t understand how to instruct players within a small-sided atmosphere. The emphasis should be on learning to find and keep one’s space, first touches, various team formations, and keeping the ball contained through strong passing and appropriate dribbling. Kids shouldn’t swarm to the ball, although that’s where they start off because everyone understands the primary principle of soccer is to possess the ball.

It’s up to coaches to teach kids that through planned and spaced formations and using one another to move the ball down the pitch, a team can actually be more productive. That’s difficult to do on a big field where coaches can’t watch all the players and react to their play quickly enough to show in real time how to improve a particular move or decision. How players learn these lessons will be uneven for the first few years, but good coaching recognizes that kids need to make mistakes to understand what does and doesn’t work. They also need immediate instruction. Doing a post-practice evaluation won’t help a child whose retention of what went on in a game is limited to probably the last few minutes. The best coaching can be done when coaches can step in immediately and use various actions and outcomes on the pitch as teachable moments. Volunteer coaches are encouraged to use resources and take courses offered by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) beyond the minimum license required. The NSCAA provides lots of educational materials for both paid and volunteer coaches through their website: www.nscaa.com. For our part as parents, we have to refrain from expecting that developmental soccer will be played the same way as competitive soccer. Even though developmental level teams (U-6 through U-12) do compete they are evolving in how that competition is practiced on the pitch. It’s important that the emphasis be on skills at first and slowly grow into tactics and formations. Once a player has confident skills and has had the opportunity to practice these in all the positions including the right, left, and center spots then he or she will be fully capable of settling on a position and a level of competition with which they feel most comfortable.

Things will take some time to settle out because changes are always disruptive. To many parents, these changes may seem unnecessary and ridiculous, especially if the message boards are any indication of the opinions out there. The age registration changes do create some upheaval, but overall the actual impact will be negligible despite the “sky is falling” feelings being expressed. Most of the concerns have been addressed and resolved. The benefits include a less complicated and more transparent set of dates and bring the United States into alignment with the rest of the world. Parents may ask if being in step globally really benefits anyone except those few players who move on to the highest levels of play, but I know from personal experience that even younger players compete across national boundaries against teams who follow the FIFA age guidelines.

When my sons were U-10 and U-11, they played in tournaments which included international teams from schools in England, Germany, France, and Croatia. Standardizing the age ranges helps standardize the competition. Small-sided games may seem far from what we all consider soccer to be, but in truth they end up creating players who have a greater knowledge and skill base than players tossed onto a huge pitch. In fact, despite what some parents have complained about, small-sided games don’t discourage kids from playing because they actually get far more activity and contact than they would get on a larger pitch with more teammates. The discouragement may actually be an outgrowth of hearing the grown-ups moan about how boring these games are to watch and how impractical they appear to be. Kids who have the opportunity to feel successful, which small-sided games almost universally ensure, are more likely to stick with an activity. Kids learn to respect all the positions on the field, how to interact socially and collaboratively, why certain decisions are made in terms of formation and tactics, and how to enjoy being a fully significant member of a team. I’m hoping people can give this all a chance, look at how some of their concerns are addressed and resolved, and how overall our children will benefit from these changes.

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Youth Sports by the Numbers

Susan Boyd

The Internet can be a wonderful thing. If you enter keywords into a search engine, up pops thousands of possible connections to those words. Occasionally you become unpleasantly surprised by a discovery that you want to delete from your browser history immediately, but in general taking a journey through the offerings can lead to some interesting outcomes. That’s what happened to me last week when I was researching an entirely unrelated topic and an enticing article appeared from ESPN magazine. The authors, Bruce Kelley and Carl Carchia, were attempting to uncover what they soon realized up to that point had been a complete mystery: what are the full demographics of youth sports? Certainly, various data has been explored and published but the authors never found it in a cohesive study, and in general that data was not collected in a scientific manner but haphazardly often anecdotally. Therefore, Kelley and Carchia decided to try to collate all the actual scientifically generated information they could find and publish it. I was mesmerized by the results. Here is the link to the article: www.espn.com/espn/story/_/id/9469252/hidden-demographics-youth-sports-espn-magazine. I think it is worth perusing, but I want to focus on interpreting some of the data they compiled, especially as it relates to youth soccer.

There were three major revelations that I either hadn’t even consider as significant factors in youth sports or didn’t know had so much impact. The first would be the important role that income plays in so many arenas of youth sports. The second is how the range of opportunities affect participation. The third is how much sports defines a child’s life. These revelations span several of the demographic results that the authors collected, so I wanted to examine them as groups rather than as separate statistics.

We all know how expensive soccer can get. It starts out relatively affordable but once players get more involved and advance they begin to travel, require better equipment, and join teams with higher level coaching. As sports go, soccer probably has some of the lower overhead. It requires minimal equipment and can be played on any open surface with or without nets. Nevertheless, membership costs to be on a team can top $2,000 which don’t include travel expenses. What Kelley and Carchia found was how many ways cost can impact the participation of youth players. This wasn’t just the intuitive aspect of those with lower incomes not being able to continue playing a sport. Those from families making $100,000 or more a year enter sports at the mean age of 6.3 and the age increases as income decreases to the point that those families earning less than $35,000 a year don’t have children starting sports until age 8.1. Children who begin a sport earlier in life have a leg up on learning skills, developing team friendships, being part of a community of players, and experiencing several different sports when the pressures are less. I saw this play out with my grandson who attended a basketball camp for the first time when he was nine and was so far behind the other campers. He felt awkward and like a failure. Even if he might have developed into a good player, he never tried because of his frustration and discouragement. The experience also affected his overall interest in participating in other sports, being wary of further embarrassment. I believe that income has a stronger impact on youth sports than just not being able to continue in a sport. It actually affects the matter of entering a sport in the first place. Furthermore, income shapes a child’s exposure to sports. The data collected by ESPN shows that 34% of girls from household incomes greater than $65,000 a year are more likely to be involved on three or more teams, which implies being involved in multiple sports.  While, 27% of boys from families earning less than $35,000 a year are least likely to be on three or more teams. Finally, the total percentage of children from urban areas participating on at least one team is generally less than those percentages from suburban and rural areas. Suburban children had the greatest participation and they come from communities with higher incomes.  Rural areas have the second highest rates and, even though one could argue that rural kids may have farm responsibilities that conflict with organized sports or fewer teams available, they still have a greater participation percentage than children in urban areas. This indicates a troubling statistic since urban areas hold 81% of the total US population. This means that a huge percentage of our children are missing out on organized sports due in part to economics.

Another issue that affects participation in youth sports are the number of opportunities available to young athletes. This ESPN article points out that the problem isn’t just teams available within the community, but also the exposure to sports in school. In a Robert Woods Johnson Foundation study, they concluded that for the poorest schools in the country 8th through 12th graders had only a 25% participation in sports. For the 2009-10 school year, 15% of high schools had absolutely no sports due to budget constraints with the majority of these in the poorest school districts.  More importantly, struggling states have cut way back on publicly supported sports programs.  In these cases girls are more adversely affected than boys. The data shows that 31 states have enough slots on high school teams for 50% of all boys to be able to play compared to only 18 states where there are 50% roster spots for girls. Some interesting graphics in the article show that North Dakota has roster positions for 104% of boys and 79% girls, while Florida can only accommodate 30% of boys and 23% of girls in high school sports.  My sons, Robbie and Bryce, attended a high school where every students was expected to participate in either competitive or intramural sports, which was certainly not the norm at many other high schools.  Amazingly the top five states offering the greatest percentage of high school sport positions to their students were states that were primarily rural: North Dakota, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. This may be reflective of the difficulty to run organized sports leagues with vast distances between communities so the emphasis is on high school teams. States with large urban populations had the lowest rates: California, D.C., and Florida.  The other factor to note is the gender gap; in all cases girls had fewer high school roster slots than boys.  If girls come from a single-parent household, 59% of them have never participated in an organized sport. Overall 3.5 million kids will lose high school sports in the next four years, which is 500,000 more than the total number of registered youth members in US Youth Soccer.  These statistics clearly point out how unfairly sports opportunities are distributed across geographic, economic, and gender groups.

A lack of opportunity further impacts the significance that sports have on a child’s developing self-image. Kelley and Carchia uncovered surveys indicating that 34% of girls and 61% of boys reported sports were a huge part of how they identified themselves.  This means that kids who are disenfranchised from playing sports may see themselves as less significant than their sports-playing peers. When self-esteem is so closely tied to sports participation, it makes the lack of organized sports for children who come from poorer families and neighborhoods even more significant. They may feel isolated from the America they see in commercials and movies, but especially from the culture of sports. Every kid sees how America reveres its sports icons, and when these same kids misses out on the opportunity to play sports they may feel they are missing out on being successful. It shouldn’t be surprising that when asked what they want to be when they grow up, many kids will cite an athletic ambition.

How does this directly impact youth soccer players? It points out the need for more outreach by local clubs to bring in as many players across socio-economic and geographic groups. Likewise, youth players could be seeking out summer and indoor leagues, giving them a chance to engage with players within the spectrum. Encouraging your soccer club to open up more recreational teams coached by parents might offer opportunities to underserved youth and provide some pools of talents from which to draw for the select teams. On occasion, clubs can be awarded grants to cover programs where they open up their membership to youth who couldn’t afford the club without scholarships. There are hours when club fields are not being used, so a club could offer those times to teams that don’t have a place to practice or play. Every state’s youth soccer association can offer help in identifying communities in need of assistance and providing access to association membership which would include insurance coverage.

Growing soccer participation can only help our players moving forward. It will mean increased opportunities for competition, more monetary support in school athletic budgets, and greater access to schedule public field time. Likewise we parents can encourage our schools to increase opportunities within the community. We all need to address the gender gap that still exists in sports. Parents should ask for data on their high school to discover how many roster spots are available in sports to both boys and girls. It’s possible that we may need to fight to add slots or even add sports to increase participation. We can also encourage schools to increase their support of intramural sports that don’t require the strict guidelines, scheduling, and coaching that the competitive sports require. Opening up gyms at all age levels during lunches and after schools to allow kids to play pick-up games of basketball, field hockey, dodgeball, and indoor soccer might have some minimal increased costs to cover insurance, utilities, and oversight staffing but the benefits could outweigh the costs. Expenses might be covered by a small fee to participate, finding money in athletic budgets, and through parental volunteers.

Boys primarily play football, basketball, baseball, and soccer. Girls play basketball, volleyball, softball, and soccer. It shouldn’t be surprising that these four sports rank in the top – with the exception of football they all are played across gender lines. However, basketball is the only sport that sustains and even increases its youth participation numbers as kids get older. We should look for ways to make that true for soccer as well. The statistics for soccer are that participation is around 55% for boys and 45% for girls. It would be great if soccer could boost the girls’ involvement since there is great power in having strong female participation. Numbers equate to monetary power and access to facilities. Soccer is also a sport that enjoys world-wide attention. With a concerted effort we should be able to sustain the participation in soccer through 12th grade. Finding players in nearly any community should be easy and recommended, but that requires making the sport more available to underserved populations. We can work to boost membership through affiliation between urban and suburban clubs and by reaching out to female players. Soccer doesn’t need to be expensive, and other than college showcase tournaments, teams can get competitive and play close to home with little travel expense. Since 81% of the population lives in urban areas, it makes sense that spirited competition can be found within driving distance of most club teams. Therefore, it might be a good idea for clubs to field not just travel teams but also teams that play within defined geographic perimeters. The addition of these types of teams can only strengthen a club’s reputation and abilities. Locating grants to provide scholarships or to underwrite travel costs should be pursued. Finding local businesses willing to provide small sponsorships in return for the club promoting their services to the community can help expand the membership. We don’t have to accept the data that the ESPN article uncovered as a final pronouncement of youth sports in America and in particular of youth soccer. We can use these figures to challenge the status quo and move the sport forward not only for our own children but for their peers and for children yet to play.

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A Different Option

Susan Boyd

Much of the talk throughout youth soccer focuses on the journey beyond – high school, college, semi-pro, professional. That’s a wonderful route for a select few players, but what about the youth player who yearns to continue in the sport? Early in August I had the pleasure of attending the National Amateur Cup Championship which was held in Milwaukee. Just as in youth soccer, there are adult leagues overseen by the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA) and divided into the same four regions: I – Western U.S., II – Upper Midwest, III – Southern U.S., and IV – Eastern U.S.  Teams compete in their state, in their region, and then in the national competition. Many youth clubs also sponsor adult teams called Majors and Reserves. There are also other leagues which play primarily in the summer as a place for strong adult and former and present college players to compete. These include the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), Premier Development League (PDL), W-League (for women), and Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL). In some cases players have moved on from these latter leagues into semi-pro and professional teams, but the true purpose is to provide adult players with strong competitive soccer beyond the youth level.

The USASA operates under the same umbrella of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) which oversees US Youth Soccer and are further governed by the world organization of FIFA. This provides a nearly seamless transfer from youth to adult soccer. Likewise the NPSL, PDL, W-League, and the WPSL are sanctioned by the USASA. Players of all ability levels should be able to find a team that fits their talents, passions, and time commitments once they “graduate” to adult soccer. Recently I saw the mother of a former teammate of Bryce who said her son was “finally done with professional soccer.” I knew what that meant. He had just graduated from college, had his first job in his career, and was moving into a more career-centered life. But he was not giving up soccer. He had already found a strong adult amateur team in Minnesota near his new employment, and he’d be starting practices with them before he even went to his job orientation. The love of play doesn’t just shut off.

The Amateur Cup involves the adult club teams of Majors and Reserves around the United States. At the tournament I got to watch a local club team who had won the Region II championship. That meant I got to once again cheer on several players I’d had the pleasure of watching grow up in soccer. On the team were several of my sons’ former club teammates, several ODP players who I had first seen when they were twelve, and a smattering of old college standouts from the area. The team lost in the finals to an amazing team from Maryland representing Region IV who surprisingly had a former player from University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. These amateur teams generally train two or three evenings a week since many of the players have full-time jobs. The season is approximately fourteen games throughout the late spring and summer demanding on their success to reach the tournament. It requires tremendous dedication and expense since there is rarely some benevolent sponsor covering all the training and travel costs. These players love the game and crave the competition. In many cases they have wives and children, who all attend, and lend a party spirit to the occasion. At halftime of each of the semi-final, consolation, and final games the pitch was filled with youngsters dribbling, shooting, and doing a few gymnastic moves. The scene was a special reminder of how soccer binds generations, genders, cities, and nations through a shared love of the game.

Most adult teams welcome players as young as high school age and as old as a player feels comfortable still playing. Just as youth players have to register with a team and are bound to that team for a year, so too must adult players sign with a particular team through their state association of the USASA. An interested player can locate teams in his or her area by contacting their state association or going on their web site and getting the phone numbers of the coach or club president. In general the youth clubs in the area will have an adult division, so a player should feel free to contact youth clubs. I’ve known many parents of youth players who play for the same club on the adult teams. It certainly adds to the complexities of scheduling practices and games for a family, but also adds to the mutual enjoyment. Generally the fees to be on an adult team are far less than those of a youth team and uniforms are minimal – players may just need to buy a set of t-shirts and then supply their own shorts and socks. Often attendance at practices and games can be a bit ragged due to the tougher scheduling conflicts for adults, so teams will maintain large rosters to cover all the competitions. The great thing is that if anyone wants to continue playing past youth soccer there will be a team nearby where he or she can indulge that passion.

In general youth players transitioning to college and looking to continue playing competitive soccer but who either can’t or don’t want to play college soccer can turn to the adult Major and Reserve teams of local clubs as a reasonable option. Additionally players may find on-campus soccer teams that use the same fields as the university team. It gives them a convenient opportunity to continue playing and to do so within the same training facilities as the institution’s teams. Likewise they may get the chance to participate in practices and friendlies with the team giving the non-college players a chance to be seen once again by the coaches. If players choose to participate in a club team, they will still reap many of the same benefits as college team players in terms of social contacts and developing time management. Even during high school, many clubs may sponsor recreational U-15 through U-19 teams that players who looking to play soccer for fun and fitness can join. These teams will play in organized and sanction leagues through the state youth soccer associations, but the intensity of play isn’t the same as for travel teams allowing for a more relaxed atmosphere.

NPSL, PDL, W-League, and WPSL teams have more stringent requirements for team membership and participation. These leagues often have several active college players on the teams looking for a place to maintain their edge in the off-season. The teams are sanctioned by the NCAA as long as the college players adhere to certain standards relating to monetary and playing time rules. Likewise, to prevent a college “ghost” team from getting to practice together outside of the regulated NCAA times, these summer league teams are limited – the last I understood it was five players from the same college on any of these intensive teams. Likewise college players can’t play with paid players, but can play against them, so often you’ll find a mix of semi-pro and amateur teams in these leagues. Generally unless a player has college experience he or she won’t be considered by these squads, but they all hold open try-outs in the spring, so everyone is welcomed to try. These teams often will have sponsors who cover costs of competition. College players can be on teams that are sponsored so long as the players don’t receive any direct compensation beyond uniforms, training, and travel costs to compete.

Even for much older adult players there are over-35, over-45, and even senior leagues offering options for anyone who wishes to continue playing. All of these leagues can be located in your state by contacting the state adult soccer association. Indoor soccer facilities run leagues as well where players form their own teams to participate. These don’t fall under the same sanctions and rules of the USASA, but are independent and generally short-term teams formed solely for the purpose of playing in an indoor tournament or six-week league. Players should contact the facilities directly who can guide them to teams looking for members for indoor sessions. Older players can also contact organizations such as the YMCA, churches, health clubs, and city and town adult recreation departments who may sponsor teams for friendly pick-up games.

Soccer doesn’t need to stop if a player foregoes his or her high school squad. Statistically 70% of kids in organized sports quit before high school. The biggest reason for quitting a sport (39% for boys and 38% for girls) is that it just wasn’t fun anymore.  Perhaps if youth soccer players knew that there were other options out there not dictated by the intensity of high school to college to professional parameters, they might be persuaded to keep playing. As parents, we should find out why our kids want to abandon the sport and if the reason has to do with lost enjoyment in the sport, it might be a good idea to back off of expecting our kids to make the next step to higher levels of play and accept that they want to play because they enjoy the activity. Options are available which help preserve the opportunity to play while providing the atmosphere our players seek. Letting our children maintain their carefree approach to the sport won’t diminish our enjoyment at all. We’ll get to watch them compete, see them improve, and continue to participate in both the highs and the lows of organized sports while insuring that our children don’t feel under pressure to perform or succeed. One of the parent coaches at our local soccer club when my sons, Robbie and Bryce, were in high school formed a U-15 team for players who weren’t interested in high school soccer, but wanted to continue playing. Several of the parents of my sons’ teammates questioned why the club was agreeing to sponsor such a team, which they saw as a waste of resources and possibly snatching good players away from the competitive and high school teams. At the end of the season, the players on that recreational team overwhelmingly agreed to play another year with the same parent coach, while our competitive team only got four players to show up at tryouts. It was a strong message that kids will stick with a sport if they are having fun and feeling good about playing. That team only broke up when the boys all left for college. I’m hoping their example will remind us all that ultimately playing soccer should come from and be sustained by a real joy for the game.

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A Letter from a Future Division I Player

Stickley

Several years ago, we featured the following letter written from a young female soccer player to her father.

stasi letter

Mallin_0148The author of that letter was Stasia Mallin, and it's clear she grasped some concepts at a young age that many parents have a difficult time understanding as adults. The freedom she played with as a young player has proven to be beneficial, as Stasia's father, Kevin, recently followed up to let us know that she is now a Division I athlete.

Mallin recently began her college soccer career as a freshman defender for the Memphis Tigers. In her first two games, she played 81 and 90 minutes to help Memphis begin its season with a pair of victories.

Her success shows the importance of giving young players freedom while watching from the sidelines. Resist the urge to shout instructions for each little challenge a player encounters on the field. Show support and realize that mistakes can lead to benefits down the road as players learn to solve problems for themselves.

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