LeBolt: September is “Youth Soccer Month” – and bad press is killing us!

WendyLeBolt-HeaderWhen did the youth soccer community get so ornery?

That’s what I am asking myself, a full week into the month when we are all supposed to come together to celebrate youth soccer. I know that because I got an email that proclaimed, “It’s Youth Soccer Month! Here’s what’s going on: www.youthsoccermonth.org.

It’s September! Time to kick off of the new season, meet your coach, get your uniform — fingers crossed that no one takes your favorite number before it’s your turn! — dust off the cleats or break in the new ones, try out your new moves, make some friends, have some fun.

+READ: LeBolt: A Costa Rican lesson on “Pura Vida,” and youth soccer’s real value

Did you hear? US Youth Soccer designated Sept. 2 for Street Soccer Day to get kids out playing the pick-up soccer we all say they need to do more of, and invites us to Make Your Own Ball Day on Sept. 17  to foster the creativity, civility and problem-solving we all say our kids are missing.

Maybe you couldn’t hear over the hubbub that’s been created by the new “mandates” set out by U.S. Soccer to be adopted by the state programs and phased in over the next few seasons. According to the federation, “Next year … all members of U.S. Soccer will begin to transition on two key factors to encourage further youth development. The first change will be the nationwide adoption of Small-Sided Games and the second will be a shift from school-year to calendar year for the age grouping of teams.”

Honestly, when I read it, I figured they just chose September to promote these initiatives along with all the other events that were slated for September. Somehow September got derailed.

Youth players take part in a FASA-National Guard clinic in Fredericksburg, Va. on Aug. 11, 2013.I was surprised to read posts, blogs and article from people I admire and trust in the game of soccer who are objecting, speculating, and calculating the “impact” of the new rules. Suddenly, the new regulations are under scrutiny and suspicion.

Somehow, they’re gonna benefit X over Y, gonna undermine the American way, and gonna separate small children from their friends and families and probably their pets and stuffed animals. These pundits second-guess not only the wisdom of the new age demarcations, but call into question the intentions of the decision-makers. One even postulates a conspiracy!

+READ: Resentment, conspiracy theories simmer as youth soccer bodies push birth-year change

Really? What has happened to us?

When did we become people so quick to presume the worst, looking for things to divide us, and supposing everyone is in this for themselves?

Yes, we now have competitive leagues of a rogue-ish sort, which have formed in response to a need they saw and a demand they thought they could supply. That’s America for you, always trying to build a better mouse trap. If the new organizations, clubs and would-be leagues spur U.S. Soccer to take a deeper look at how they are doing things, all to the good.

But why are we so quick to distrust each other and divide ourselves? Has the shadow of FIFA’s misdealings made rotten tomatoes of all of us? Do we now suppose there is no one we can trust? Are all large organizations wrong? Are their proponents automatically untrustworthy? Their policy workers immediately subject to debate and distrust?

BROLL-MorvenPark-WAGST14-SmallSidedHonestly, I’m okay with the new rules, the small-sided games, and even the simplicity of the birth-year cutoffs. After a hundred conversations as a coach and an AGC about whether an August birthday plays in this age group or that one, and an equal amount of confusion about why my 10-year-old still gets to play “Under 10” in the spring, I actually welcome age groups by birth year. So. Much. Simpler. And it’s the world’s way.

Let’s not suppose parents of kindergartners are not savvy enough to figure it out, or able to decide if they want their child to “play up” with his friends or not. I’m way more wary of the family “redshirting” that kindergartner so he’ll be “bigger” to play the game with his “peers.”

Now I understand the trend is to red shirt your 8th grader to make him bigger to show well for high school football so he has a better shot at the pro’s. (For an utterly amazing story, check out “The Engineering of 15 year old Josh McKenzie.”) Oh my. Is anyone other than me pulling for the scrawny average kid who just wants to play?

While I am all for accountability in policy and absolutely about the truth-telling with the facts, I am always leery of folks who try to distract me with the details and derail me with technicalities. The ones who are quick to judge make me wonder what their agenda is in this wild, wonderful world we call youth sports.

+READ: Dure: U.S. Soccer’s birth-year plan is shortsighted, helping coaches, not kids

What do you say we all suppose, just for a moment, that the folks in our state and national sporting organizations are actually trying to do the right thing. Let’s acknowledge that people who work with the International Olympic Committee to develop an “American Development Model,” and partner with over 40 national agencies and sports organizations to support Project Play, may, when they decide that the this mandate is the best way to go, may actually be just trying to do the right thing for soccering kids.

Hey, none of us gets it right all the time. We are all learning, need to be flexible and admit when something isn’t working. But we also need to be broad-reaching, non-discriminatory and fully inclusive. Can we say that for our own organization? Own club? Own team? Own school or for the conversation at the family dinner table?

Maybe, especially in this season where derision, division and distrust are rearing their ugly heads most everywhere, that’s the best reason to keep our focus on what unites us. Soccer: The Game for All Kids!

If you want to know more about Youth Soccer Month, head here, and if you want to collect a boatload of helpful ideas, links and educational tools for your coaches, players and parents, free of charge, head to the USYS home page.

You be the judge. Youth soccer friends, we’re better than this. We have to be.

By | September 8, 2015 | 5 Comments | Tags: , , , , , , ,


  1. Joe Koppenhaver says:

    I wanted to join in just to voice my frustration on this decision. I get that the youth national team plays on the world stage and they need to be aligned with the international teams. What I don’t get is why completely screw up all the teams that play because they love soccer? My son was born Xmas day of ’02 and 2 other kids on the team were born in ’02. Everyone else on our team that have been playing together for almost 6 years was born early ’03. With this change my son will no longer be allowed to play on the team he has grown with. He will no longer be playing alongside his friends or his classmates that he has been playing alongside for almost SIX years. Our club will not have enough kids born in ’02 to field a team and the only other local club that may have an ’02 team is an ‘academy’ team charging almost $3 THOUSAND a year to play. With that my son and one of if not both other ’02 boys will no longer be playing the sport that they love. What I don’t understand is how this will help the sport. Yes, with the new changes we would be more aligned with the international teams so that if all of our parents won the lottery we could go play internationally but until that happens none of the parents care if we can play internationally or not. Why potentially split up dozens, hundreds, thousands (maybe) of teams that have potentially been together for years just to align with the international leagues?

  2. Wendy LeBolt says:

    Thanks Yeatts. A level-headed approach to the changes that are coming, and conversation among and between teams, coaches, parents and kids is what we can do to ease into this. Your time and consideration in commenting is much appreciated.

  3. Kim says:

    Once again, someone who is for the change to birth year registration and the only “pro” thing to be said about it is that “the rest of the world does it this way”…. Instead of calling all the parents who are concerned about their children “divisive” and our very relevant questions “hubbub” perhaps an an answer can be given to us? And the question that I hear over and over and has yet to be answered is this: What will happen to the later year kids (Aug-Dec birth dates) in both 8th grade and especially in their senior year of HS when the rest of their team has moved on (for middle schoolers, that would be HS and for seniors that would be either college or the workforce). In addition, no one seems concerned with RAE and how Jan-Jul born kids will now have that advantage both at club level and ODP (yes, RAE is very real in youth soccer. Take a moment to read some scholarly journal articles on it). The mandate will only exacerbate this already prevalent problem.

    • justaSoccerParent says:

      “So. Much. Simpler. And it’s the world’s way.”
      Wendy … you’re an idiot!
      I agree with Kim, this change will screw over the 8th and 12th grade kids…. perhaps the ‘world’ goes to school on an annual basis, but the US doesn’t. The other changes, we will see…

  4. John says:

    Great post! Someone has to start beating the drum for cooperation and good will.

    I am one of those parents who began in youth soccer with my child and had great hopes for a true community based on youth soccer. It was working for a few years, but the overly competitive instincts of some parents and many coaches and clubs began to take over and has gone hand in hand with the professionalization of our larger clubs in the last decade. The lack of cooperation and egos are a sad, sad result.

    I agree that most any large organization is not perfect, but there are may good people involved in USYSA trying to do the right thing. Most that I knew truly loved the game first and foremost.

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