In youth soccer today, there are many more players playing soccer. In fact, in youth soccer, there are more girls playing today than ever before. 20 years ago, most clubs had one team in each age group with roughly 20 players to a team. As the sport has grown, youth clubs have had to expand to accommodate the growing number of players. This has resulted in most clubs adopting a new type of structure. This new structure usually has 3 teams to an age group that coaches label different colors but for this article can be called High Medium and Low. Players tryout, make one of those levels but can, in some clubs, constantly be moving from team to team based on their ability and performances. This new structure has many positives and possibly a negative. But more than anything a question arises: Does the structure and coaching within it, affect females and males differently?
First of all, this new structure has created so many more avenues for soccer players to play youth soccer. Soccer has become a popular sport for kids ages 5-18 to play as an afterschool sport, competitively or for recreation. This structure is helping to grow the sport here in America, where it isn’t the most popular. Often times, kids in other counties such as Brazil or England, grow up playing this sport from birth, and now here in America, kids can start playing as young as 2 in mommy and me organizations. This system also has created more coaching jobs for players who finish their playing careers and enables them to transition to a job in the sport they love. And probably one of the best benefits to this structure is that players get more playing time. 20 years ago, players were on rosters that were up to 22 players and they often competed for 11 spots with many not getting much playing time. Now with three teams to an age group, clubs are able to accommodate roughly 40- 50 players to an age group and these players are able to grow in their development because they get the chance to play more often.
Lastly, this structure has created a level of competition that helps players have incentives to get to the next level. With the movement throughout the age group, players can aspire to play at the highest level in their age bracket and due to the constant movement are being watched to make sure they maintain that level. It can be compared to being a starter or non starter on a collegiate or professional level team. This is helping clubs have different levels of competitive programs and has led to Academy teams and ECNL teams.
So far, this system sounds dreamy right? However, I argue that there is one small negative or rather question that seems to creep up. Does this structure work the same for both genders? It’s not that simple, in fact I argue that there is a bit more to it. Girls and boys not only are physically different, but they tend to have a different style of play from each other. Stereotypically the men’s game tends to be more physical and the women’s game , more finesse. There also is evidence that men and women need to be coached differently. For example, Anson Dorrance, head coach of the women’s program at UNC, tells the NSCAA that confidence seems to be a key difference between the way men and women play and perceive the game. Check out his video here where he goes on to talk about the many mistakes he made when trying to coach men and women in the same way.
So taking this into account, that men and women play differently and need to be coached differently, can this structure work well for both genders? I think it can but it also can’t. I think it depends on the club implementing it. I think if the club does it right, the players in each age bracket need to practice together and create a culture of camaraderie among all the girls involved. Camaraderie promotes trust in each other. In addition, the coach needs to have a lot communication so that girls learn to elevate each other in this structured environment rather than tear each other down when being compared to one other. Therefore, if the club doesn’t have coaches that understand how to coach girls and they don’t infuse camaraderie, this tiered structure can become a recipe for disaster. Girls, as young as 8, are joining competitive teams in this type of structure where this healthy competition exists. But if coaches in this type of tiered structured environment don’t help their players to understand how it can work successfully, then it can easily cause girls to leave the sport entirely because it takes the fun out of it. And isn’t FUN why we play soccer in the first place?
What do you think? Is it working for your children? Please let us know your opinion!