Why are we always in a hurry to turn children into mini-adults? The topics of premature professionalism and challenging parents dominate youth football. Former US Men’s U17 Coach, Erik Imler shares his thoughts on the upside of a long-term approach.

Recently, I found myself in a conversation with a group of youth academy (U9/U10 age group) directors from a neighboring club…a big club.

We were discussing the new US Soccer youth initiatives – the number of players on the field format – to be more precise. US Soccer has mandated that U9’s and U10’s play 7 vs 7 then graduate to 9 vs 9 at U11….then onto the adult version of the game (11 vs 11) at U13.

Our league currently plays in a 6 vs 6 format.

Given the new mandates, we will have to adjust to a 7 vs 7 format by Fall 2016. For many clubs, adding one/possibly two additional players to a roster is not a big deal. For a smaller program (like the one I am associated with), this may prove to be a challenging endeavor for three reasons:

  • Limited player pool
  • Migration of players due to new US Soccer birth year mandates
  • Migration of players due to desire to tryout for another program

Given these challenges, I am eager to learn what decisions neighboring clubs will be making regarding the small sided games format. Are they going to keep the 6 vs 6 format we currently play or will they fall in line with the 7 vs 7 mandates?

When I probed for answers to these questions….my frustration level elevated…because their directors answered with these statements:

“I like 7 vs 7 because you can play with two center backs which translates well to the next level.”
“If we keep them at 6 vs 6, what happens when they have to go to 9 vs 9 and 11 vs 11? We need to go to 7 vs 7.”
This troubles because I don’t necessarily agree that our players are ready to move to 7 vs 7. While relevant and needing to be addressed, their answers don’t directly address a more immediate issue. Technically and tactically our players need to get better. What do we do about now?

“If the game you are watching (now) lacks style, clear ideas, crisp passing and receiving, communication, scoring chances, build up play, etc…. what do you do about it?”

It seems – according to their answers – we should just push them into a more grown-up version of the game simply because the governing body and/or their birth year says so. That’s like promoting a student into trigonometry despite a failing grade in geometry.

Answer the questions the game is asking first.

Just like most things, a level of difficulty can be added once proficiency is displayed. Until that time, create an environment which breeds competency….not one that complicates it.

Consider this – 4 vs 4 to small goals (no GK’s) through U9’s. Then 7 vs 7 up until U13/14’s. Imagine what kind of a player we might develop if we weren’t in such a hurry.

Why are we in such a rush to get to the adult version of the game?

About the Author

Erik Imler is a retired professional player & NCAA Champion (1989,1991,1992)He played MLS and featured on the
1992 U.S Men’s National Team. Erik is determined to change the landscape of youth club soccer in the USA. Following his playing career he has gone on to be the Olympic Team Coach (youth, collegiate, U.S. Youth National Teams), a Youth Academy Director and holds the U.S. Soccer ‘A’ License.

Passionate about making a difference, Erik is dissatisfied with the status quo of youth soccer development in the United States.

You can read more from Erik here.

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