U.S. Soccer breaks the glass and leaves it up to local clubs to pick up the pieces.
Thousands of soccer coaches met in Baltimore this week at the annual NSCAA convention, the largest gathering of soccer coaches in the world. There is an incredible amount of concern and confusion about how to pick up the broken glass among coaches.
Thousands of coaches from across the country were all in one place looking for help and answers. Where was U.S. Soccer? NOT IN BALTIMORE. There were two sessions at the convention attempting to help club coaches deal with what is coming. They were not run by U.S. Soccer. Hats off to the coaches running them. They were leaders in soccer, but could not answer practical questions of what to do.
So…What is going on you may ask?
And…Why should you, my Recruiting Code readers care?
First, why should you care?
- If you are a soccer player this has the potential to disrupt your recruiting process.
- If you are a soccer player born in the months of September – December, this could damage your recruiting process and your club career.
- If you are from other sports and you like reality t.v. shows, you can get a front row seat into the craziness. You will get to see why 10,000 plus soccer clubs will be trying to pick up the proverbial glass with their bare hands.
- If you are a soccer coach, club director, state director, work for any of the soccer acronyms, or work at U.S. Soccer I am writing this mainly to you.
If you are involved in soccer, make sure you read to the end! For the rest of you, if you are patient with me, your jaw will drop.
If you are from U.S. Soccer, please read to the end. You don’t have to agree, but hear me out. I have a few ideas for all of us to move forward with the changes.
I hope your curiosity is peaked.
What is going on?
On August 24, 2015 U.S. Soccer (the governing body of soccer in the United States) announced two major changes. Click here to see the full announcement. One change has to do with mandating the number of players on the field and size of those fields. This has issues of its own, but is for others to write about.
The second change from the August announcement, “Birth-year registration calendars will now align with the start of the calendar year and run from January to December, rather than August to July as it had previously.”
Let’s first take a look at the benefits U.S. Soccer has given us:
“The initiative will align registration with the international standard, while simultaneously providing clearer information on player birth dates to combat ‘relative age effect’.
Relative age effect refers to the selection bias related to players that are more physically mature than their peers due to being born earlier in the year. U.S. Soccer seeks a balance of players that are born throughout the year so that all players, those born in the earlier months, and those born later have equal opportunity to grow and develop as soccer players.” (If you are interested in what the relative age effect is, google it. It is actually quite important no matter what sport you are in).
To begin, let’s clear up a couple of things.
“The initiative will align registration with the international standards…”
The United States youth national teams and ODP players are already aligned with the January – December birth year for teams. Not only are we already aligned with our top players, these players make up less than a fraction of a percent of the 3 million plus soccer players in the United States. As we continue, ask yourself what is in it for the other 3 million players, not competing at the international level.
“…while simultaneously providing clearer information on player birth dates to combat ‘relative age effect’”.
The athletes born in the first four months of a sport’s calendar year are over represented in athletics. If the calendar year for age groups goes from August – July, you will have many more August – December players than April – July players. Guess what happens when you shift it to January – December. You have many more January – April players than September – December players.
U.S. Soccer has not made a more level playing field for players, they just shifted who is disadvantaged.
“It makes the process easier,” Ramos said of the birth-year registration initiative. “Over the years you go through coaching youth soccer and you are constantly finding parents and players confused about what age group players belong in. The current August 1 cutoff meant that two players born in the same year could be in different age groups. To make it more confusing, different school systems have different cutoff months for going into the new grades. It was just very difficult for parents to take it all in. This new calendar year system makes soccer easier. If you’re born in a certain year you belong in that certain age group. Simple. It also puts our players on the same age-playing calendar as the rest of the world so they will be used to competing in the right age group. That makes it much easier for us to scout for the National Teams and find players ready to compete internationally.”
For you 10,000 coaches out there, we are making this change because Tab Ramos and the other U.S. Soccer coaches couldn’t look at a birthday and identify a player’s birth year for their international calendar.
For you 5 million soccer parents out there, we are making this change because you were too stupid to figure out that your child fell on a team primarily with his or her classmates.
Do we need to change the academic birth year to begin in January to make it clear to all of you what grade your child should be in?
U.S. Soccer has only given these two benefits to a mandate that will disrupt our entire nation’s soccer. Neither reason is actually a benefit, but the pitfalls for our clubs and players are staggering, not to mention the logistical nightmare which has been caused.
I was told by a coach today that I was not progressive and short sighted because I think the change is problematic. I like change. I will get behind change if there is a real benefit, even if pain is involved. Changing the birth year has no benefit.
(Thanks for staying with me thus far). Now it gets better if you are a reality t.v. fan.
Here are the terms I heard used by coaches over the past couple of days regarding our soccer players born September – December: Casualties, screwed, they will survive, out of luck. These were not the coaches in the hallways. These were the coaches speaking from lecterns and panels. Coaches in the hallways had much more choice words.
By changing the birth year to January, player born September – December will be one grade above the rest of their teammates.
First major problem: What happens to the team who has January – August 9th graders and September – December 8th graders? While the 9th graders play high school, the 8th graders will not have a team. They will in essence miss a season of play.
Second major problem: Those same September – December players will be seniors the year after their team has graduated. As a senior, they will not have a place to play.
This is not a short term problem. This is now a problem U.S. Soccer has given to its members. This is the gift that will give year after year.
Parents, what can you do?
- Don’t freak out. All clubs are going through this.
- Make sure your club is preparing a plan (many already are) and will address it before your tryouts. Most clubs have not shared their plans yet because we were all waiting for guidance this week in Baltimore.
- Be patient and understand clubs are working on limited information. There are so many issues to deal with beyond your club such as, tournaments, state leagues, U19 divisions, recreational players, etc…
- There will be many varied solutions depending on your club and region. There is no consensus among coaches for what to do and no guidance from our ‘leaders’ at U.S. Soccer.
- Understand your Directors and Coaches are caught in this, but so is everybody else. When you are emotional remember, your coaches did not ask for this.
- Don’t complain. Be supportive. Be part of the solution. Don’t be part of the problem.
Club Directors and Coaches, what can you do?
- Do your research. Gather all data you can within your club. Determine how it will affect you.
- Confer with all the clubs in your areas and leagues. Share information. Work together.
- Be creative. Think outside the box. The answers may be unlike anything you have ever done or thought possible.
- Communicate with your parents. Be transparent. Be honest. Start dripping out information as you are able. Don’t throw out information to just throw it out. Take your time, but be ready by tryouts at the latest.
- Have a parent meeting when you are ready. Understand they will be emotional.
- Realize there will be things you have not considered. Be ready to be flexible if issues come up.
- Don’t complain. Work for solutions and present this in a positive way to your parents. Coaches and parents need to buy into making the most of the situation. There will be some short term issues, but you can come out stronger as a club if you are a leader.
U.S. Soccer, what you can do?
- Take ownership of your decision and show your faces. Stop hiding. Realize you have set up 10,000 coaches to take bullets because of your decision.
- Understand coaches are not your adversaries, we are your backbone and should be your allies.
- Realize there are 3 million players who are not going to be on your national teams, but are still part of United States Soccer.
- Be leaders who get out in front of the issue. Facilitate a discussion of how to move forward. We know you intended this to help unite, but there are unintended consequences.
A. If you don’t get out front, soccer will splinter further because every recreational and competitive club, every state and league will have to figure out on their own how to deal with this. The solutions will be vastly different and will cause division.
B. Our players with September – December birthdays will be damaged their 8th grade years and their senior years. They could lose two seasons. Players from small clubs will be especially hurt because they have few options for these players.
5. Amend your mandate and tell recreational programs NOT to implement this.
A. If recreational programs implement this, they could lose a lot of players. I believe they could lose as much as 10%.
B. Why do recreational players play? To have fun and be with friends. Friends are those in their grade. It will take a long time to recover if you lose these players. Soccer is not the only game in town.
I know it is a long shot, but here is my request of the powers at U.S. Soccer:
- Talk to coaches on the ground; those outside your bubble.
2. Reevaluate whether this change is necessary and in the best interest of U.S. Soccer, all 3 million of us.
3. Be open and if you determine this was a bad decision, be humble, admit your mistake and drop the birth year change immediately. You may believe you would lose respect, but in fact you would gain our respect.
- Focus on the small sided games and field sizes. Most coaches will back you to work out the kinks on this.
U.S. Soccer take note: There is anger, frustration and confusion. It is not small numbers. It is not a simple majority. It is a huge percentage of coaches. Coaches are not speaking up because you are U.S. Soccer. The unknown coaches feel they have no voice to speak to you and the bigger names fear retribution.
Coaches and parents,
U.S. Soccer may not realize how big of a deal this is and how you feel. Whether you agree or disagree with the new age group decision, here is my last proposal to you:
Every person involved in soccer needs to speak up now. If I am wrong about the mood of you all, support U.S. Soccer’s decision right now. We need the dialogue either way, and we need it immediately.
Every soccer person should do these three things:
- Contact U.S. Soccer and let know what you think. Give them support or let them know you don’t agree. Be respectful. It is about ideas, not about personal attacks.
“Have a question or concern? How about something you really like or something that you might not like so much? Let us know. We are always open to your feedback.”
- U. S. Soccer Federation
- Phone: (312) 808-1300
- Twitter: @ussoccer
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Spread this open letter high and wide on social media. Engage conversations all over the country and at all levels of youth soccer. You may share this article to get the conversation going.
3. Use every social media platform at your disposal to facilitate the conversation.
Thank you all for entering into the discussion. We can and will come up with creative solutions. We will come out stronger as a soccer nation.
To my Recruiting Code readers who are not attached to soccer, thanks for listening in.