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Commentary Oct 15, 2013

Hummer: has jumped the shark by ranking U-10s, U-11s

By Chris Hummer

Editor’s note: The views expressed here are the opinion of founder and Executive Editor Chris Hummer, who reacted with dismay to this week’s news that the nation’s largest and most influential youth soccer rankings system will expand to include Under-10 and U-11 teams.’s recent decision to begin ranking Under-10 and U-11 teams — while also refusing to rank those age groups for events not using their own software — should be a leap the youth soccer community refuses to take.

But for this motorcycle to crash, coaching and tournament directors as well as other decision makers in the game need to be the ones to stop the madness.

To do so, they must stand up to an army of ego-driven parents and money-motivated coaches who already “game” the system to “earn” higher rankings so they can continue to brag or command higher fees – all based on what I believe is a false measure of a team, club, or tournament’s quality.

Ranking kids at anything already leaves a sour taste in most people’s mouths, but the “industry” of youth soccer has come to accept them as a necessary evil. Not because of the thousands of ego-driven parents that like to boast about their 12 year-old’s “nationally ranked team,” but because tournament directors truly do need a way to both decide what teams to accept to their events, and/or where to “seed” the teams they do accept.

At least a line had been drawn at the U-12 age group, where most teams move to 11v11 play if they weren’t there already.

Until now.

How can you really rank a game that isn’t even played by the “real” rules anyway? Anyone with a set of eyes can see that U-11 teams that win games almost exclusively do so with a goalkeeper who can punt the ball to the opponent’s goal and a fast, tall, strong striker who cleans up the mess.

Small-sided games are not real soccer yet, and winning absolutely is not the goal.

The only reason we play small-sided games is to give players more touches, and force them to solve more complex problems on a smaller field. In other words, the whole reason we play small-sided at all is to DEVELOP THE PLAYERS.

And from the lowest coaching licensing course to the highest — not to mention any book or article written about what’s “wrong” with player development in America — they all say we have too much of an emphasis on winning at a young age.

And now the most influential company in pushing — whether intentionally or not — the “need” to win at early ages is going to go even earlier?

They have built a juggernaut of an organization, consuming tournament after tournament, and moving aggressively into league play of late. That’s great for their business, and they’re free to do so. But that juggernaut is primarily driven by the egos of parents’, and many coaches’, obsession with rankings.

Enough is enough.

Don’t let this decision destroy the last refuge of the development-minded coach. If rankings of U-10 and U-11 teams take hold, we’ll have 9-year olds playing to win who can’t even juggle a ball 10 times, receive the ball on a half-turn, or strike a ball with their laces anywhere close to a proper technique.

And don’t even think about holding off on teaching heading at the younger ages while more research is done on the effects of concussions in soccer.

These still-developing brains, encased in heads without fully developed neck muscles, might just have to win the game with that crucial header — or else their place in the rankings could suffer.

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