I’m writing today to discuss the U9 (birthyear 2009) playing options this winter and for this coming spring/summer league. Our Rec soccer program will only offer U9 soccer through July 2018. After that, Rec soccer will only encompass U5-U8 ages.Any player currently playing U9 in Rec will be allowed to play U9 through Rec this summer (2018) but we would also like to extend the option of jumping onto a competitive team before the summer. We are hoping to form 1-2 MORE U9 teams on both the boys’ and girls’ sides.I’ve put together a little Q&A for parents considering jumping into Competitive (aka “Traveling”)…Q. What are the expectations of competitive?A. Players will practice 2x/week (schedule set by parent-coach), with a game 1x/week (Girls T/Th game days, Boys M/W game days).Q. What is the cost for competitive?A. Spring/Summer fees run around $200 for 8-10 weeks of league play. There are no coaches fees. Teams will decide as a group, if they wish to play in any weekend tournaments. This would be an additional cost (approx. $30/ea. tournament). [We just paid over $280 for my son to play his first season of competitive, not including tournaments – not $200].Q. What is the cost/info on uniforms?A. Good news! We are just now ordering for the next 2 year uniform cycle. Uniforms will be in this January. There will be 3 uniform try-on options next week…[Soccer club] staff will be recording sizes and/or entering your order online (I’m not sure if they’ll be ready to enter now or not. Either way, I do not think payment is due at this moment). The cost for the full uniform kit will be around $125-130. [So, after we order uniforms we will be paying over $400 in order for my son to play summer soccer – not including tournaments, travel expenses, or extra training].Q. What are the winter dome training options?A. Winter dome training is an optional “add on”. [Our club] would like all of our players to play 1x/week during the winter. Winter dome training would be the perfect time for your kiddo to get acquainted with the other U9/10 players.Q. Why should I consider moving my U9 to competitive this summer?A. Playing competitive this summer will give your player a season “under their belt” before the U10 competitive tryout and season.Q. How far will I have to travel for games?A. Each team will have 8-10 league games. Half will be home games. Away game locations can vary; [most locations will be within a 1/2 hr. drive].Q. What if I have a U8 (2010) that is ready for Competitive?A. Players that have already played Rec soccer and wish to move into Competitive “early”, will be accepted, as long as there are roster spots available (and they do not take the place of a true U9 wishing to play). U8 play-ups are “first come, first served.”Q. I see no reason not to play Competitive.A. That is not a question. 🙂
Declining Participation in Youth Sports
What the drone can’t see is how many other children – those who aren’t early bloomers, or whose families don’t have the funds, or time, to take part – have fallen away from the game.
They are often unable to join the best teams, which have the best coaches, training environments, and access to college scouts.
Football [American soccer] has declined among those left behind, with fewer children joining either local teams, or playing informal games in the park.
Since 2011, the number of six- to 17-year-olds who play football [American soccer] regularly has fallen 9%, to 4.2 million, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.
The number of children who touch a football [soccer ball] at least once a year, in any setting, was down 15%.
Increased demands of time and money aren’t the only negative effects of sport specialization.
The Cost of Leaving”The Sandlot”
Have you seen the 1993 movie “The Sandlot“? The movie is about a young boy who moves into a new neighborhood. This boy befriends a group of boys who get together at the sandlot to play baseball after school. The boys have many adventures together, but their passion is baseball. They play every day after school – no parents – their own rules. Fifty to one hundred years ago, most sport was sandlot-type sport. Today, most sport is adult-run, year-round, repetitive training.
According to Hawkins and Metheny (2001), year-round, repetitive training has led to an increased incidence of musculoskeletal injuries from overuse. They estimate that 50% of all youth sport injuries can be attributed to overuse-type mechanisms. Jayanthi et al. (2013), found that for most sports, there is no evidence that intense training and early specialization are necessary to achieve elite status. They list that sport specialization has the following risks:
- higher rates of injury
- increased psychological stress (player burnout)
- quitting sports at a young age
A poll from National Alliance for Youth Sports estimates that 70% of kids who play in organized sport will quit by the age of 13 because it’s not fun anymore. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children delay sport specialization until late adolescence (15 years of age or older) and encourages children to play in multiple sports.
For the parents, coaches, and trainers that believe that early sport specialization will develop an elite athlete, Brenner (2016), Council On Sports Medicine And Fitness, states:
Studies have shown that Division 1 NCAA athletes are more likely to have played multiple sports in high school and that their first organized sport was different from their current one. Many examples exist of professional athletes who have learned skills that cross over to their sport by playing a variety of sports into high school and even college. There were 322 athletes invited to the 2015 National Football League Scouting Combine, 87% of whom played multiple sports in high school and 13% of whom only played football. Other studies in elite athletes have shown that intense training did not start until late adolescence and that these athletes played other sports before specializing… In addition, athletes who engaged in sport-specific training at a young age had shorter athletic careers.
Out of Options
I have spent the last year researching soccer options for my children. We are not ready to have our children specialize in a sport at the ages of seven and nine, but we don’t have any options. Our club will be offering recreational soccer through the age of eight. Likewise, our community recreation department offers recreational soccer through the age of nine. When I approached the club about other options, they replied that this is the direction youth sports is going in. You can check around the state. Unfortunately, they were correct. Almost every city has their own club, training academy, and year-round program with costs that are equal to or more expensive than our city’s.
When I approached our community recreation department I was told that they plan on continuing to offer recreational soccer through the age of nine. I asked them if there was any possibility of offering recreational soccer to kids for a few more years, as this is what many families have been looking for. They replied that they didn’t want to go down that path because they didn’t think there would be enough interested players, and they didn’t want to step on toes. I told them that I bet they would be surprised by how many people would be interested, and that this is exactly what our community needed. A recreational soccer option where players of any skill level could come and play the game of soccer with and against other kids in the community. Currently, our community recreational department offers fall soccer for the reasonable price of $45, which includes a jersey.
Give Sport Back to Our Children
In the past three weeks, we have explored the effects of the overuse of individual skill training in youth sports, the effects of not keeping score, and the effects of youth sport specialization – three facets of modern youth sports that are driving children away from playing sports. Parents, coaches, and trainers, I implore you to decrease the time spent on individual skill training and increase the time spent on game play, put the competition and meaning back into the game by allowing children to keep score, and contemplate abstaining from sport specialization, especially at the younger ages – and supporting community recreation programs. Bring the fun back to the games. Give the sports back to our children.
Thank you so very much for joining me on this journey.
Brenner, J.S. (2016). Sports Specialization and Intensive Training in Young Athletes. Pediatrics, 138(3), doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-2148
HAWKINS, D., and J. METHENY. (2001). Overuse Injuries in Youth Sports: Biomechanical considerations. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., 33(10), 1701–1707.
Jayanthi, N., Pinkham, C., Dugas, L., Patrick, B., & LaBella, C. (2013). Sports Specialization in Young Athletes: Evidence-Based Recommendations. Sports Health, 5(3), 251–257. http://doi.org/10.1177/1941738112464626
Author’s background: Erin is certified in K-12 physical education and adapted physical education with a master’s degree in physical education pedagogy. She is also a long-time soccer player and youth soccer coach who loves to share her love of the game with young athletes.