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New U.S. Youth Soccer Mandates –Trials & Transitions

Congratulations on the past Fall recreational playing season. Unless your team participated in postseason tournaments, the fall season wrapped up a little over two months ago. For the leagues within District 7 that had already implemented the new playing rules that U.S. Youth Soccer will mandate nationwide this coming August 2017, it may have been quite a change for many across the board. Clovis Junior Soccer League was one league that moved to adopt the new playing rules for this past fall season. The two main changes included the conversion to Small-Sided Games for Under-8 through Under-12 and the other being a shift from school-year to calendar year for the age grouping of teams.

Going into my ninth straight season as an Under-12 Boys Coach with Fugman Soccer Club in North Fresno, I experienced firsthand the challenges that these initiatives bring.

First, our team lost many returning players due to the new age grouping as several of our 6th graders were now considered Under-14. On the younger end, there were several new Under-12 players in the pool who would have been considered second-year Under-10 players under the former age rules.

Also as Commissioner of the Fugman Soccer Club overseeing a league-high 19 teams, I saw the domino effect this had on all of our teams. It was difficult informing parents that their 6th grader who attends our elementary school was ineligible to play recreational soccer with their classmates. The option that was presented was for them to join FC Clovis, our teen recreational league. Some players opted for that while others, unfortunately, chose to leave the game a year earlier than intended. For our younger teams where I had coached my first 10 seasons, we saw friends and team “cores” split up as some players were required to move up to the next age group. We even had one Under-10 Boys group all move up to Under-12 a year early in order to stay with their teammates who were aged out of Under-10.

Transition is never easy, especially when most people do not see it coming. We tried to get the word out regarding these new age mandates by placing the information on our club website, sending club email, informing our returning coaches, and just plain word of mouth to our soccer parents. I fielded concern for several weeks leading up to the season as well as during. Parents didn’t want their player moving up to the next age level “prematurely” and/or preferred to continue playing with their friends. That is totally understandable, and my advice was always the same: allow your player to give it a shot, they just might surprise you.

I witnessed and heard much success from players and teams after the season was over. I saw younger players perform very well in matches that they did not expect to be playing in when they first registered. I also saw many new teams that were unexpectedly formed challenge for first or second place in their respective brackets. Finally, the Under-12 Boys team that I coached (Fugman SC Mamba) showed wonderful improvement every week. In August, I had challenged my son, and older and experienced player, and his counterparts to embrace the task of integrating the new, younger players into the Under-12 play. Naturally, it was a rocky start with plenty of bumps along the way, but we continued to preach never losing the enjoyment of the sport while stressing teamwork, discipline, accountability, and the basic fundamentals of soccer. I saw a beautiful product come together by season’s end that earn our team the CJSL Under-12 Boys Open Division Championship.

A shift to the Small-Sided games was also very challenging to our club. Under-8 play would now resemble Under-6 play with two side-by-side fields except Under-8 would be 4 v 4 on each side. Furthermore, Under-10 play would now be 7 v 7 on a smaller field. Finally, Under-12 would now feature 9 v 9 on a much smaller field. That alone had my son wanting to move up to find placement on an Under-13 competitive club team or register for an Under-14 teen recreational team since he loves the 11 v 11 on a full-sized field with full-sized goal frames. Ultimately, he opted to stay with our club’s Under-12 team (and keep me as his coach) since he already had his plate full with school football and AAU basketball.

Looking back, we are both happy he did. As I saw with other players at the different age groups, there was opportunity for move involvement in the matches since they were fewer players on the field. This equated to more touches on the ball and quicker decision-making. The hard part was keeping the ball in play since the field dimensions were smaller – players get stronger as they get older and the ball starts to fly. But that is the opportunity to teach ball control and possession as well as movement to open space to give your teammate a passing option.

I personally wasn’t a fan of the new mandates when I first heard of their forthcoming implementation. Really, who likes change if it doesn’t seem broken? But of course, I am not viewing it from the national perspective. I embraced the concept of having more players involved on the field during the matches and the other proposed benefits of Small-Sided Games including more fun, more touches on the ball, more tactical decisions, quicker tactics, fast transitioning between phases, increasing fitness and allowing players to be more emotionally and socially involved. Overall, we as coaches must continue to create a more fun and enjoyable game while always incorporating the FUNdamentals of soccer as we undergo this national transition.

By Michael Calvillo

In 2015, Michael Calvillo was named  District 7 Recreation Coach of the Year, State CYSA-North Recreation Coach of the Year, and Region IV Recreation Coach of the Year.

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