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Global Feb 16, 2016

Youth tournaments adjust to U.S. Soccer birth year mandates

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With the new U.S. Soccer birth year age group mandates coming into effect for virtually every youth soccer player across the country at the start of the 2016-2017 season, club and league directors, coaches, team managers and administrators throughout the country are now tasked with shuffling and in some cases restructuring entire rosters to accommodate the changes.

The game’s primary governing bodies, US Youth Soccer and US Club Soccer, have recently aimed to clarify how they plan to incorporate the U.S. Soccer mandates for the 2016-2017 season and beyond, with the age group shifts being among the most pressing of the changes.

Interwoven into the convoluted process is the entire youth soccer tournament industry, which will need to adjust quickly to the changes along with the clubs and leagues themselves.

For tournament directors with events near the beginning of the new season, the process of sorting through GotSoccer registrations and creating brackets will be more painstaking than usual, as rosters are shaken up and previous team résumés go out the window in many cases. While some teams will lose one or more of their top players to older teams, other teams who choose to keep their rosters in tact may jump to an older division based on the birth year of their oldest player.

+Read: O’Sullivan: Some thoughts on U.S. Soccer’s mandatory changes in youth soccer

Early season events such as the prestigious soccerloco San Diego Surf Cup will be among the very first to operate under the new structure, taking place in the first days of the 2016-2017 youth soccer calendar in early August. Some will even make the shift prior to the start of the new season, such as the Manchester City FC Americas Cup, a qualifier for the Surf Cup held over Memorial Day weekend.

Staff members at Surf Cup Sports, the company which hosts the Americas Cup, Surf Cup and dozens of other events, are among the first tournament administrators to work closely with teams as they sort through the mandates and the ensuing complications with the registration process. Theresa Dawson Davis, one of the directors of the Surf Cup, said that she and her staff have spent substantially more time than usual double and triple checking with every team that applies for their events, making sure they are applying for the correct age group and supplying the correct rosters.

“As soon as the mandates went out I immediately started to get questions from clubs around the country, asking if we were transferring over and how we were going to do it,”  Davis said. “I still get several questions a day about it, and since Surf Cup applications have opened the questions have basically doubled.”

“A lot of clubs are still trying to decide what they’re going to do,” she continued. “Some clubs are splitting teams up, some are allowing teams to stay together and moving them up one or even two age groups. It will be interesting to see how teams will be selected.”

Although Surf Cup Sports has posted clarifications for the age group requirements and what they mean for teams that are applying to their tournaments, plenty of questions do still arise, as the soccer governing bodies have certainly found as well. Fortunately, Davis expects the level of confusion to drop several notches throughout the course of the fall season as teams begin league play and get some tournaments under their belts.

“I think once all the teams get through their first one or two events, it should be good,” Davis said. “It all depends on where in the country the teams are coming from since they’re all on a bit of different schedule. In California all the events that happen in late summer, so all the teams are fully established. It shouldn’t be as complicated once tryout season is done everywhere else.”

St. Louis Scott Gallagher’s Mitch Bohnak is in charge of the club’s nine events, and has one of the busiest Tournament Director positions at any youth club in the country. For Bohnak, adjusting to the mandates will simply require more research of each individual team, and making small shifts to the application process to draw out more specific information on how the rosters have changed.

+Read: Dure – Why do kids play? Birth-year mandate heats up argument

Ultimately, Bohnak’s process won’t change much in nature, but he will need to do more deep diving in his research than usual.

“It’s going to be a challenge for all of us,” Bohnak said. “There’s always some level of confusion any way early in the new soccer season, but this year there’s definitely a lot more. In the past I may have needed to call about 30 percent of the teams for more information or to get clarification from their club director, now it will probably have to be more like 60 percent of the teams, trying to get a handle on things.”

Much like Surf Cup Sports, SLSG Tournaments is among the major organizations that has taken the mandates in stride. Both are going forward with the age group changes immediately, and are phasing in certain elements of the small-sided mandates for 2016-2017 and others at the start of 2017-2018, as U.S. Soccer has outlined.

While the mandates have certainly added a lot of leg work for tournaments around the country, both Bohnak and Davis agreed that since most youth clubs are more professionally run than ever, the proper adjustments are clearly being made for the most part, despite the current rocky transition.

“Sure there are clubs that are ignoring [the mandates] or are hoping they go away, or they just haven’t figured things out yet, but we decided up front that we’re going to go with the mandates,” Bohnak said. “Most of the coaches we work with are from professional clubs that are trying to follow them, and we’re certainly helping anyone out who needs it with our applications.”

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