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Resources Oct 18, 2013

Soccer executives, coaches speak out on GotSoccer’s new U-10, U-11 rankings

By Chris Hummer

In case you missed the news earlier this week that GotSoccer.com had announced they will now be ranking Under-10 and U-11 teams, be sure to check out the official news here, along with my personal opinion here. There is also a good article about it on Soccer America by John O’Sullivan, with a long list of comments from readers (including my own entries in that comments section).

When I was preparing the first blog post on this topic, I sent the same four questions to about a dozen coaches, league administrators and tournament directors. I also asked contacts at U.S. Soccer and locally posed the questions to Gordon Miller, Technical Director of the Virginia Youth Soccer Association.

Nearly every request was answered, some with extreme detail, and the feedback was near universal from arguably some of the most influential minds (and feet) in the game.

Today I was going to publish a more detailed “rant,” outlining some of the flaws I see in GotSoccer’s ranking system. But so far the feedback on this topic from public comments on articles and social networks has been rather extreme on one side or the other. So at this point, I feel like the people who know in their bones this is wrong don’t need any more convincing, while the people who basically claim “This is America, we are winners, so let the free market of rankings run free” are not likely to be swayed by diving into the detail.

I will be back later with more posts examining that detail, but for now, I hope we can do a little more work towards explaining to some why so many people who work in the game full-time are so upset about this move.

One issue though… most respondents asked to remain anonymous. Their private reasons make a lot of sense, but I also thank those who were willing to put their name on their thoughts in public. For the ones that did not, I understand it was more “could not” versus “would not”, with one such respondent likely encapsulating why:

“Unfortunately I’m going to ask you to keep my name and our club name out of this. Since I am a club representative, I have to consider the size of the “hammer” that GotSoccer has at the moment. I’m sure other people [in our club] would be unhappy, and blame this response if they don’t get into a GotSoccer tournament. Coaches fear GotSoccer like it is some kind of a holy grail. So I have to be careful not to do anything that could negatively impact any teams from our club.” – Club executive and coaching director

For those who don’t want to read all the responses in full, here are a few highlights:

“In general, we don’t support the concept of ranking teams at the youth level. Our approach is to reduce the idea of winning trophies and concentrate more on the development of the players.” -U.S. Soccer Federation spokesperson

“There is absolutely no correlation between teams winning games at U-10 and players going on to play at a higher level when they are 18 years of age.” Gordon Miller, Technical Director, VYSA

“With a system like this, soccer clubs need to hire statisticians instead of coaches to try and figure out which tournament will give them the best chance to earn ‘points’” – Anonymous club executive and coaching director

“I certainly believe that rankings (all rankings) do more good than bad at, say, U-15 and above. I believe they are counterproductive at U-12 and below. In between…who knows?” – Anonymous major regional league director

“This decision could honestly be a gamechanger with more tournament directors making the switch to competitive products; especially those tournaments run by high-level clubs.” – Major showcase tournament director (current GotSoccer client)

“Seasoned and experienced coaches can easily manipulate lineups and positions to win games at these ages but it’s at a long-term detriment to the player.” – Girls director of Coaching and college coach

 

Okay, summary out of the way. Here are the four questions I asked, with responses to each. I’ve varied the order of the responses to further protect the anonymity of the respondents. Some respondents did not answer all the questions.

How do you feel about GotSoccer’s move to ranking lower age groups?

“I think it creates needless competition amongst parents and coaches. When coaches should be focused on development they will instead focus on winning to obtain more points. Tournaments are also to blame for basing their brackets and entrances on these points.” – Terry Foley, President of FC Virginia

“Glancing at the formula, it appears teams will be forced into GotSoccer events in order to be ranked, which makes no sense. Also, younger teams should be focused on individual player development and less so on winning/results. A ranking system will certainly impact that directive. Teams/clubs will have to consider focusing on results and possibly doing more GotSoccer tournaments to accumulate points. Unfortunately the reality is that parents will pay attention to the rankings and subsequently it will cause more ‘team jumping.’” – Anonymous

“I think this creates more pressure to win, travel, spend money and de-emphasizes development relative to results at a lower and lower age. I think it was a mistake.” – Anonymous

“Frankly, I pay very little attention to GotSoccer rankings unless I’m trying to seed teams for a tournament. I think it’s silly to rank teams [with players aged] 9 and 10 and I’m certain it will just lead some of these coaches who want to make a name for themselves to drive nine- and 10-year-olds to focus on winning instead of learning to play the game.” – Anonymous

“I think it’s ludicrous to rank U-10 and U-11 teams. We have been pushing the idea of younger players playing in a pool or academy concept for years. This will now cause coaches to put all the best players on one team and exclude those that could end up to become good players in later years — if only given the opportunities. Coaches will start to stack teams, parents will get sucked into this idea that they need to win and become No. 1 in the state or nation. If anything we should be doing away with rankings altogether.

“This decision seems like it’s financially driven and not based on sound player development principles. When you start to narrow the scope too soon, for the sole reason of winning games, then you are doing a disservice to the youngsters and ultimately the game itself. There is absolutely no correlation between teams winning games at U-10 and players going on to play at a higher level when they are 18 years of age.

“Let the kids experiment in a stress free environment that allows creativity to flourish. By placing too much stress to win too soon, we will probably see more kids drop out in their teens then we are currently seeing now. In fact, we should be creating more situations and mediums where they get a lot of touches on the ball, are allowed to play with different players, play in different positions and all close to their homes. Don’t create a vehicle that ratchets up stress, limits player development and excludes others.” – Gordon Miller

“I think GotSoccer has made a huge mistake and sends the wrong message. It contradicts many lessons and teachings of what U.S. Soccer and good development clubs across the nation are trying to do to educate players and parents, especially at the U-9 to U-13 age groups. The focus there has to be on skill development and a real passion to continue to play the game.

“Ranking teams in the U-10 to U-11 bracket leads overzealous and non-soccer-background parents and their teams to use this as a measurement tool of success rather than measuring success by skill acquisition, a good nurturing training and league environment, and that their own child falls in love with the game.

“Seasoned and experienced coaches can easily manipulate lineups and positions to win games at these ages but it’s at a long term detriment to the player. The focus should be on if my players correctly receive and pass with both feet, as just one example.  

“I am a firm believer [that] players should work very hard to improve skill, tactics and their competitive nature but coaches must always coach within the bigger picture and give significant playing time to all members of the team. Coaches should be versatile in having all players experience playing in different positions throughout the season to improve their play on both sides of the ball. A coach should never play with a “win at any costs” mentality to gain a higher ranking… especially at U-10 to U-11 [level].” – Anonymous

How do/have the GotSoccer rankings influence(d) you or your coaches’ ability to develop players?

“GotSoccer rankings have had zero influence on how my coaches, nor my ability to, develop players.” – Anonymous

“Below a certain age, emphasis on winning is counterproductive to development. Clearly, at some age that is no longer relevant. I certainly believe that rankings (all rankings) do more good than bad at say U-15 and above. I believe they are counterproductive at U-12 and below. In between…who knows?” – Anonymous

“I think it creates needless competition amongst parents and coaches. When coaches should be focused on development they will instead focus on winning to obtain more points. Tournaments are also to blame for basing their brackets and entrances on these points.” – Terry Foley, President of FC Virginia

“All Tournament rankings are flawed in some way or another.  And there probably isn’t a possibility that anyone will ever come up with the system that will [be completely fair].  But GotSoccer’s integrated results do allow tournament directors using their software for their scheduling an important tool to help determine bracketing and in some cases acceptances. But I doubt that any tournament director running one of the nation’s top tournaments would use rankings to solely determine acceptances.” – Anonymous

“Our club has never been focused on GotSoccer for the reasons above, we believe in developing these players and do not worry about winning tournaments or gaining points.” – Terry Foley

“It forces coaches to consider GotSoccer events specifically, especially when showcase events that utilize GotSoccer appear primarily to use these rankings to place teams.  Also, it may pressure a coach/club to alter development plans and look to do more GotSoccer tournaments in order to accumulate “points” — increasing the number of tournaments a team does which lowers the “practice to game” training ratio.  Players develop by training.  Reducing training and adding games can impact development (especially at younger ages).  Another issue specific to player development is, coaches may play their “best 11 players” and minimize opportunities for other players in order to win and get “points” at a GotSoccer event.  For older teams, that’s fine.  However, younger age players don’t necessarily grow or develop physically at the same time.” – Anonymous

Can you share direct examples of GotSoccer rankings scenarios that reveal fairness or unfairness in your opinion?

“I think GotSoccer rankings do a good job in an imperfect market. Their system is quite a bit better than other prominent ranking systems. The criticism that traveling teams benefit in GotSoccer points is unavoidable in a world where we try to rank 5,000 teams.” – Anonymous

“First and foremost, it is ridiculous that only GotSoccer events accumulate points.  Our club has had teams that played in highly rated tournaments — fully sanctioned, results posted, etc., and had GotSoccer not give a team credit for winning, evidently as a way to “punish” the tournament event for not using GotSoccer services.  Defeating a team at a tournament that uses GotSoccer shouldn’t be more “valuable” than defeating them a tournament/event that doesn’t.  Also, the point system is confusing and illogical.  In many cases, a team that wins an event gets less points than teams that lose.  T

here is no way that a team that loses a match should get more “points” than a team that beat them.  I have seen second place teams get 4-5 times the points for losing a match 5-0 than the team that beat them.  If GotSoccer wants to “downgrade” the win because they were a better team, fine, but the losing team should never get as many or more points than a team that beat them. The entire system has no credibility. They go up in rankings for getting shellacked. With a system like this, soccer clubs need to hire statisticians instead of coaches to try and figure out which tournament will give them the best chance to earn ‘points.’” – Anonymous

“It is very unfair, look at the WAGS Tournament [last] weekend, teams highly ranked nationally in GotSoccer struggled to win games.” – Terry Foley

Can you discuss your thoughts on the omission of DA, ECNL, and other regional league competitions from most of the rankings?

“I think they do it on purpose; if you do not work with them they do not include you.  These leagues are not worried about these rankings and they have no bearing on the elite teams in these leagues for the most part.” – Anonymous

“Once again, there are some leagues that seem to earn points, and some that don’t. Either all sanctioned leagues must accumulate points – or none do. For it to be based on who contracts with GotSoccer is a highly questionable practice.” – Anonymous

“It appears that GotSoccer are a little behind the times if they’re not including teams that are playing on the highest level of youth soccer.” – Anonymous

“Selective rankings are never going to give anyone a full picture of the actual quality of teams or the true levels of competition.  You can’t choose to rank US Youth Soccer leagues because they are your “customers” and not rank ECNL and DA leagues because they are not.” – Anonymous