Sam Snow is the US Youth Soccer Coaching Director
Youth Soccer News: Is U13 Too Young for National Level Competition?
There have been endless discussions on the merits of national competition for pre-teen and teenage athletes. Many people believe there is too much emphasis in the United States on winning and competition. In simple terms, pundits say ask if it is good for kids as young as 12 to be tossed into the national spotlight in sports or any other field of endeavor.
On the other hand, you the players eager to compete and zealous parents packing their bags for tournament travel. There is the Little League World Series, which is a truly global event that includes players under the age of 13, as well as the recent Volkswagen Junior Masters Cup in Poland for U13 teams from around the world. Clearly there are different schools of thought on the lowest age for higher-level youth sports competitions.
This came into focus again when US Youth Soccer recently announced that beginning in 2013 the US Youth Soccer National Championships will include U-13 age groups for both boys and girls.
Previously the farthest a U13 team could advance was the Regional Championship competition, with U14 being the youngest a team could move on to competition at the National Championships. The addition of the U13 age group marks the first time US Youth Soccer has extended the age range since U14 and U15 groups were added in 2001.
I spoke with Sam Snow, US Youth Soccer Coaching Director, about the addition of the U13 group and the new challenges that it will present to players, coaches and parents alike. While players across the country will be excited to know they can now participate in the National Championships, will they be ready?
SNN: Are players at the U13 level ready to participate in a national-level competition?
Sam Snow: We feel it is age appropriate to have the U13s participate. The teens have been the line for where we begin to get players into a results-oriented environment.
SNN: Are they psychologically ready for the ups and downs of the competition?
Sam Snow: Yes, they are psychologically ready to get out and compete, and they are old enough to handle the results. However, they will need a lot of support from the adults involved in order to handle the disappointing losses and the come-from-behind victories.
SNN: When the U13 teams meet, will there be any surprises we should watch for?
Sam Snow: When the four corners of the U.S. meet on the soccer field, it is not going to be that different as compared to the U-14s. Regardless of where the teams come from, there is a marginal variance in their play. The real key is the inexperience in dealing with that type of environment.
SNN: What makes this environment so different?
Sam Snow: What is most different is the quality of play – the teams that make it all the way to the national competition will be all regional winners. Because of this, the competition will be tight.
SNN: Will the kids be able to handle the emotions of the competition at this level? Should we be concerned about the “win at all costs” mentality creeping in from the adults?
Sam Snow: The kids will pick up on the emotions of the adults, and the adults are likely to be more uptight now that they are playing for all the "marbles in the world".
For a lot of parents, having their players compete on a national level may be a new experience as well.
It is not just the parents, and of course there are exceptions, but it is all the adults who surround players at a tournament who have to keep their emotions in check as the kids travel all across the U.S. to compete. The players will reflect the attitude of the adults, so the adults need to maintain a focus on the long-term effects on development as well as the short-term gain.
If adults are too hyped up, they are going to end up not helping kids handle the psychological pressure. The kids will pick up on that vibe and may end up not playing their best.
Adults just need to be aware of the long-term perspective and keep an eye on the value of the experience and not focus just on winning. Enjoy the moment and don’t be too concerned with the outcome.
You see the same thing going on with the National Team, with Jürgen Klinsmann preparing young players to go to the World Cup. If you look at quotes from Landon Donovan, you can see the difference between how he felt going into his first World Cup in 2002 and how he feels now.
SNN: What advice can you give parents and other adults who might be involved next year at the U13 level?
Sam Snow: Take regular deep breaths and count to ten. Look to the other parents to help you remind yourself that it is just a game. Enjoy yourself and relax. This is a special time.
Related Article: 2013 US Youth Soccer National Championships Open to U13s