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Inside Valley AFC

Inside Valley AFC

A Blog by Dave Stuart

Dave Stuart
Director Of Soccer
Valley AFC

Impact of US Youth Soccer Player Registration Changes

Many of you will have read (or be aware of) the upcoming player registration changes mandated by U.S Youth Soccer. For those of you who have not, you can find the press release here.

What does this mean for Valley AFC and it’s families?

Beginning with the next seasonal year (August 2016 through July 2017) players will be registered based on the year of their birth rather than in conjunction with the Soccer seasonal calendar (August – July). As it currently stands, players born between January and July are grouped with players born between August and December of the previous year.

As an example; a player born in January 2004 is currently considered a U12 player for the 2015-16 season. Under the new guidelines this player will be considered a U13 player for the 2016-17 season while a player born in December of 2003 (also a U12 player for the 2015-16 season) would be considered a U14 player for the 2016-17 season.

While there will always be an option for players to “play up”, in this case possibly allowing them to remain on the teams they are currently assigned to, we must be wary of assuming that this will be best for their development and the development of the team to which they are assigned. The assumption would be that by allowing this to happen we would be weakening the team, overall, while the teams we compete against would become stronger (bringing “down” players from the previous years older age group). While I understand that is a broad statement – there is a valid reason for having age groups in the first place. We must look to implement policies that are to the benefit of most situations.

As the Director of Soccer for Valley AFC I have spent time over the last few months discussing on a direct basis with other clubs in the BRSL and Skyline Soccer League. It is important that we work with these clubs so that we can, together, provide the best competitive level for our Xpress teams as we continue to develop our players to their potential. 

During a meeting last month the other 5 members of the Skyline League made it clear that they would be adhering to the new age group policies immediately. To ensure that we remain in line with our partners and provide the best possible environment for player development through competition we will, also, adhere to the new age groups beginning with tryouts this coming May 2016.

Development Over Winning?

"Development over winning" is a term that you will hear consistently throughout the sports world, though in particular in the world of youth soccer. It is placed somewhere on every soccer program's website, often with a nicely written blurb on how this effects the development of each child in that particular program. Valley AFC is no different. In fact, I have personally written that statement in many of the program highlights that I am asked to produce. What does it really mean though? What impact does it have on a week to week basis for the player on the field, the parent in the stand and the coach on the bench?

It is my firm belief that soccer is a game of decisions. Studies have shown that outstanding soccer players make up to 10 decisions per minute in a game. Think about that for a minute, that's a decision every 6 seconds. We have a developmental process at Valley AFC to grow our players into a position that will allow them to make those decisions, and make them while under pressure both physically and mentally.

How does "development over winning" factor into this? By putting little to no emphasis on winning games at the younger ages we allow our coaches to focus on this development process without the pressure of "results". Does this mean losing games intentionally? Absolutely not! What it means is that during our training sessions and games we coach the things that will benefit our players for the long term, not the short term. If that means we fall behind in the moment, then so be it!

Many clubs, coaches and programs do not follow these same philosophies. They use inexperienced or unguided coaches who spend the majority of their time ensuring that the game is won each weekend. That philosophy uses a heavy emphasis on the tactical side of the sport in weekly training sessions and games. Those tactics employ (or at least they should and would if used correctly at the highest level) a vast amount of decision making by the player. In reality those games are not being won by vastly superior decision making, they are instead won by a coaching style that garners short term success or athleticism that will even out over time. So, what exactly is wrong with that? Well, I'll explain.

Every player needs a foundation of technique/skill. Without a complete foundation then the player will begin to see diminishing results in their comparative abilities as they age.

So where does "development over winning" tie into technique, decision-making and the tactical process? This is actually the crux of the subject at hand. To make a true decision on the field a player must be able to execute many different techniques, under pressure and at high speed. If a player is only well versed in a few of the required techniques to play the game then they will not have a decision to make. No decision making ability equals no tactical ability. No tactical ability equals no understanding of the game and how to play at the highest levels. Ball mastery takes many years of repetition, with increases in pressure applied and speed demanded. If each of these steps are not taught in order and at an age appropriate level, then the overall structure of the game can never be built. You wouldn’t teach calculus to someone who could not do basic algebra or algebra to someone who didn’t know how to add or subtract. Ensuring a heavy emphasis of technique with constant positive reinforcement builds the foundation that will ensure our players develop appropriately.

The issue that still plagues the United States and puts pressure on the clubs and their coaching staff is that, though the game is not still new to the USA, the understanding of it is still new to the majority of our parents. Often the developmental process, the successes that come with it and the tangible evidence are difficult for those parents to see. While you may notice that your baseball player who could not make a throw from home plate to 3rd base is now able to, you may not notice that your soccer player has begun passing the ball with their toe up, heel down and ankle locked. Hopefully, through sound parental education from Valley AFC, the tangible evidence will become clearer to those for which it remains murky.

So, next time you are wondering why your U13 coach is not running training session themed on "counter-attacking against the 4-3-3" please know that the developmental process is in place and that by constantly reinforcing the fundamentals of this game, during a crucial learning window, they are continually developing your player to allow them to be the best that they can be in the long term.

If you have any questions for Dave you can email him at [email protected]