CHICAGO (Aug. 24, 2015) – In another step towards its commitment to long-term player development, U.S. Soccer is phasing in new standards related to small-sided games and birth-year registration.
U.S. Soccer will standardize small-sided game participation and field size based on player age groups, while also aligning birth-year registration calendars with the start of the calendar year and run from January to December.
The coaching initiatives, which will be mandated by August of 2017, are focused on advancing youth players’ individual skill and intelligence, and providing players with the best opportunity to improve.
“Our number one goal is to improve our players down the road and these initiatives will help us do that,” said U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team head coach and Youth Technical Director Tab Ramos. “With small-sided standards what we’re trying to do is to help players develop by putting them in an environment where they are constantly involved in the play and our changes in birth-year registration will make age groups easier to understand, while aligning our calendar with the international calendar.”
The small-sided standards are focused at players from the U-6 to U-12 age groups. The field size is based on age groups, providing a more age appropriate environment that will allow players with a better opportunity to develop heightened soccer intelligence and on-the-ball skills.
The field dimensions and number of players on the pitch will increase in size from 4v4 to 7v7 to 9v9 as players age, up until they reach the U-13 age group and begin to play full 11v11 matches.
“In general we would like for players to be able to process information faster, and when they are in this environment they are going to learn to do that over a number of years," Ramos said. "When you have young players in an 11v11 game there are only so many involved in any one play at a time. By taking numbers away and playing 4v4, 7v7, and 9v9, you are multiplying their chances on the ball, increasing their touches and making it overall more for them by making them an active participant at all times. Fast forward 10 years and there are thousands of game situations added to a player’s development.”
Birth-year registration calendars will now align with the start of the calendar year and run from January to December, rather than August to July as it had previously. For example, a U-15 player (players 15 years old or younger) would have a birth year of 2000 (Jan. 1 through Dec. 31) for the 2015 registration year. In 2016, U-15 players would be born in 2001 or earlier. Birth-year registration applies to all player age groups and not just players age 12 and younger.
The initiative will align registration with the international standard, while simultaneously providing clearer information on player birth dates to combat ‘relative age effect’.
Relative age effect refers to the selection bias related to players that are more physically mature than their peers due to being born earlier in the year. U.S. Soccer seeks a balance of players that are born throughout the year so that all players, those born in the earlier months, and those born later have equal opportunity to grow and develop as soccer players.
"It makes the process easier," Ramos said of the birth-year registration initiative. "Over the years you go through coaching youth soccer and you are constantly finding parents and players confused about what age group players belong in. The current August 1 cutoff meant that two players born in the same year could be in different age groups. To make it more confusing, different school systems have different cutoff months for going into the new grades. It was just very difficult for parents to take it all in. This new calendar year system makes soccer easier. If you’re born in a certain year you belong in that certain age group. Simple. It also puts our players on the same age-playing calendar as the rest of the world so they will be used to competing in the right age group. That makes it much easier for us to scout for the National Teams and find players ready to compete internationally.”
The birth-year registration initiative will not cause the dissolution of age-group based teams that already play together, but will rather give players the opportunity to ‘play up’ with older age-groups.