Soccer clubs have begun to announce travel team tryout dates for the 2016-2017 year and there is much confusion among parents, players, coaches, and clubs about the new birth-year registration mandate from the U.S. Soccer Federation. The new mandate dictates that kids will be now placed on teams based on the year they were born and not their school year. Will teams be torn apart because some players will be in a different age group? Will coaches try to keep their teams together by moving everyone up? It remains to be seen what impact will this have on youth soccer. As the general manager of a neutral soccer organization, I, Brian Thomsen, have been asked many questions about the new U.S. Soccer player development initiatives. Below are answers to some of the most common concerns.
Why did U.S. soccer change the birth-dates for youth soccer?
US Soccer changed to the birth year registration for two specific reasons. One, they wanted the age groups to become simpler and easier to understand. As it stands right now, the biggest question a new soccer parent has for the system is what age group is my child? With two birth years encompassing one age group in most cases, it was confusing as to what age group he or she would be a part of. With the new rules, if you were born in 2006 that’s what age group you would be part of moving forward.
The U.S. now conforms with what the youth systems are doing globally. It will allow for the U.S. national scouting system to better identify players for our different national teams. In doing so, they have added age groups in our U.S. Youth National Team system to go along with the change.
Are there different standards for recreational and competitive teams?
The rules are the same for recreational team and competitive teams. However, I think the whole point of the system change was to help bridge that gap between the rec and competitive programs at the younger age groups so that more kids can develop into better players technically earlier. This will benefit them down the road. In a sense, what they are doing to the field sizes and field players is a big part of that. More meaningful touches on the ball at both the rec and competitive levels will serve to raise the technical levels of our youngest players.
How can I determine what age group my child will be in August?
The easiest way to determine the age group is to go to the following link that US Soccer provides. It explains what the birth years will be what starting in the Fall 2016. Here is the link: http://www.ussoccer.com/coaching-education/resources/2015-player-development-initiatives
How will the change affect field size, goals and rules for U-6 to U-12 age groups?
Under the new age groups of U6 to the U8 there won’t be much change to the field size but rather the amount of field players. These games will be played on a 30 by 20 yard field with a 4 by 6 foot goal. There will be no goalies or offsides for these age groups. In addition, the length of the game will be 32 total minutes with four quarters lasting 8 minutes each. However, the U8 age group will be playing 3 quarters lasting 15 minutes each.
For U9 through U10, the field size will be 47 by 30 yards with a 7 v 7 field player format. Each team will have a goalie protecting a 6.5 by 18.5 foot goal with 6 field players in front of them. The game clock will consist of two 25-minute halves with a 10 minute break in between.
Lastly, the U11 and U12 age groups will be playing with the same goal size as the two younger age groups, and the offsides rule will be in effect. The game clock will increase by 10 minutes and will include two, 30-minute halves. The only differences here are the increased game clock and it will be a 9 versus 9 format.
Do you think 11v11 starting with the U-13 age group will give players a better opportunity to develop soccer intelligence and on-the-ball skills?
As much of a change this will be for all the clubs across the country, I firmly believe in this change from a developmental standpoint. The number one goal for U.S. Soccer, in my opinion, is to develop better youth soccer players from a technical stand point at our earlier age groups. As Americans, we strive to be the best at everything we do, so our competitiveness tends to take over. I think people struggle with U.S. Soccer’s aims because they haven’t really seen first-hand what the technical standard should be. And, I think more changes need to happen for us to truly match other soccer countries globally.
The small-sided games, with fewer players on the field, will allow for more touches on the ball for each individual. Playing four on four is a great introduction to the game of soccer because it allows for more time with the ball, and helps the individual learn how to play with teammates in a box or diamond formation. Those two concepts will help the younger groups think at a more intelligent soccer level by instilling creativity on the ball and understanding passing angles, and separation.
Will children be able to play with their friends if they were born in different years?
The only possible way they can play with their friends is by “playing up”. For example, if your friends were born in 2006 and you were born the year 2007, you can play in the 2006 age group, but not the other way around. So there won’t be a chance for friends to play in the age group below them, only the age above them.
Can players “play up” or play in an older age group?
My child is small for his age but will be playing with older players because of his birthdate. Can he play down?
YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO PLAY DOWN PERIOD. It won’t be allowed, no ifs, ands or buts.
Will coaches try to keep their teams together?
I am sure that coaches will try to keep their teams together because of chemistry, longevity, or a number of other reasons. However, they will need to play the whole team up, which will actually have the opposite effect of the child’s technical development. I really hope that coaches embrace this inevitable change, and thinks about the soccer player’s development and the broader idea that US Soccer is trying to instill when thinking about this subject.
How will these changes affect tryouts?
Tryouts won’t change that much, the process and sign up process will stay the same. However, you’ll just have to make sure that you show up for your correct age group. This new change should also make the tryout process easier and simpler to understand as you won’t have to deal with the situation of birth date cutoffs.
Will athletes born between August and December will be left without a team in their senior year of high school?
Technically, they won’t be without a team. I highly encourage all players in that scenario to go out and play for their high school teams, keep in contact with their college coaches, get involved in winter leagues, and take advantage of extra training if available. It’s really a time evaluate your commitment level to the sport and if you are going to go the extra mile to get what you want out of it.
About Total Soccer
Total Soccer in Lambertville is an indoor training facility comprised of 5,000 square feet of artificial turf. Total Soccer is a “club neutral” organization that supports local clubs and their players by offering expert soccer instruction for all ages and levels. Total Soccer also has locations in Warminster, PA and Downington, PA. For more information visit Total Soccer or call 609-773-6000.