Say what you will about Jurgen Klinsmann but at least he is trying to change things. On Monday, U.S. Soccer announced dramatic changes to how youth soccer will be organized and trained. The changes will be fully enacted on August 2017.
To continue to enhance their efforts in improving the quality of play at the youth level U.S. Soccer will be making two changes to their structure and planning. The organization will switch their birth registration certificate schedule to a January to December schedule and will mandate the use of small-sided games for youth teams and create a unified field-size model for different age groups.
The first change is perhaps the more important move on paper. For years U.S. Soccer has operated under a birth registration system where players are slotted into certain age groups based off of a calendar from August to May. While this system fits in with most public school systems, where the cut-off date is July for one grade over the other, it goes against the international cut-off date of January 1st. That will no longer be the case with U.S. Soccer adopting a January to December model.
Although this change might sound small it is actually quite large. The older model, which was a actually close to the public school system model for cut-off dates for grades, allows for certain older players to play against younger players who might not be ready for the change. That in effect creates a bias in favor of older players who were born at an earlier date in the year. Since this change will not occur until 2017 it will allow players in their current system to continue playing with their current team.
The second change to how the game will be played is far more interesting for the long term. Small-sided games are often considered to be the more effective ways of teaching younger players the tactical aspects of the game. It encourages individuality particularly among attacking players and gives them the chance to focus on individual tasks.
Regulating field size should also help players improve at the youngest levels. For years the lack of a single unified system has hurt younger players development. Rather than focusing on the technical aspects of the game players have to adapt to differing field conditions something that even senior players struggle with.
All of these things point to U.S. Soccer maturing and taking a much more professional stance on development. For years U.S. Soccer was run almost like the Wild West with every team in every local municipality having a different way of doing things. Under Klinsmann U.S. Soccer has streamlined many of these activities and created a much more unified system. U.S. Soccer might not be doing everything right at the senior men’s national team level but at the youth level it seems that they are finally getting it.