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Resources Sep 08, 2015

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:

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.

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