We believe our player’s 7v7 Experience is a critical time in that pathway and are designing the program with this in mind. For our 7v7 teams, we believe providing a similar approach across the teams is generally best for the players as they begin their first years of Travel soccer (you can see the details of our program at the bottom of this email). We are not rushing to create “mini-professionals” with too much training and an over-abundance of games at such a young age. We believe in a multi-sport experience for our young players but we also believe in providing a strong competitive development pathway in soccer. We believe our program provides this balance at the right level for our players. We believe in:
- Rotation of players rather than “locking” players in positions (HERE)
- Generally equal playing time for our players (HERE)
- Rotating goalies rather than having specialized goalies (HERE)
- Focus on development rather than winning (HERE)
- Encouragement of teamwork but also an emphasis on individual skills (HERE)
- Building out of the back (HERE)
- Focusing on long-term development of our players (HERE)
The above principles don’t always lend themselves to winning games. Unfortunately, despite the abundance of best practice literature and training out there, many other teams or clubs take a win-at-all-costs approach. Things they often do are:
- Lock players into their “best” position
- Play only one or two players at goalie so they can “specialize”
- Leave “weaker” players on the bench and only play them when games are already decided
- Put the biggest strongest player at striker and have the other teammates “boot” the ball up the field to her so she can use her speed and strength to score easily
- Put the second biggest strongest player at centerback so he can “boot” the ball to the above striker
The above approaches are the exact opposite of what you should be doing at this age. It’s a dis-service to the players to run a team that way. Players that are locked into position never develop other skills. An offensive player may never learn to make strong tackles. A defensive player may never develop their shooting technique. Specialized goalies at this age are against the advice of soccer experts. Many high level and professional goalies were star field players when they were younger. The big strong striker who always plays there and muscles players off the ball at 9 years old finds himself lost at 14 when players are bigger than him since he never developed the proper technique and relied on purely size and speed. If you consider these things for a moment, it’s quite obvious that this is not optimal for player development. Yet so many coaches and teams fall back on this approach because they feel pressure to “win” at 8 and 9 years old. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to measure progress or development in soccer so people resort to easy-to-measure wins and losses. If you are on social media and you follow soccer clubs, you will often see posts proudly boasting of lopsided wins. If you win a 9U game 10-0 you have basically wasted an opportunity to develop. It certainly happens in youth soccer but it’s really not something to be proud of – you were simply in a mis-matched game where neither side got much development out of it.
Prior to Travel at 9U, many clubs have programs at 7U and 8U that focus on building a team rather than building individual players. At the younger ages, the focus should be on developing individual players and their skillsets. You should want winning teams when they are 13 or even 15 or maybe even at the High School Varsity level. No one needs to be the best team at 8 years old. Consequently, we have our programs at 8U and 7U developing the player first and foremost. This follows the very best practices communicated by US Soccer. It’s a bit uncomfortable for some parents (everyone likes to be on a team and have that “team feeling”) but we are following the best practices here and doing the right thing for our players by running 8U and 7U in an academy pool format.
Taken together, what all this means is sometimes our 9U and 10U teams are “behind” vs. other clubs whose teams have played together at 8U (or even since 7U) and are playing to win rather than develop. We believe our long-term development approach is the right one to take as it is backed by soccer experts and US Soccer (you can see that in the many links we have included in this email but there are many more that we did not include). We also have been doing this for 40+ years. Our teams develop and improve over time relative to our competition and generally our older-aged teams (and the Chatham High School teams) win more than our younger-aged teams.
Many clubs think of Travel Soccer in the same way once it begins at 9U so they treat all their age groups similarly. We think of Travel Soccer in three different components: 7v7 at 9U & 10U, 9v9 at 11U & 12U and 11v11 at 13U-15U. We want to build our players and teams at each step. Our 7v7 program is still very much focused on individual players and as they progress the focus will shift a bit more towards a team-focused approach as they move to 9v9 and then 11v11. Tactics and training will develop also. At 11U & 12U our Travel Program offers a more varied experience as the teams differentiate and they can work with their trainer to design options that work more for them and the current skill level of the team. This is where we introduce play in EDP (generally considered a higher-level league than MCYSA) for our highest ranked teams. Teams can also enter State Cup competitions or often seek out more varied tournaments. We won’t go into all that here and will keep the focus on 7v7 but the point is we are building up to a higher level and greater development at an appropriate time to avoid burnout.
On another note, we have selected professional training organizations to lead our 9U and 10U teams that we believe incorporate the values of our 7v7 Experience. We all need to support them, our parent coaches, our players and the Club’s administrative team in believing in the 7v7 Experience. Our professional trainers have conflicts with other teams and programs and they cannot make every single game. We have parent coaches that go through over 12 hours of training that take the lead when our professional trainers are not there. In youth soccer, parents seem to get a bit more worked up over not having a trainer at a game. There are generally no professional trainers at Chatham Travel baseball or basketball games and the teams manage quite well. This is the case in these sports that are much more dependent on a coach than soccer. In a youth basketball game, when the ball gets turned over, the first thing a player does it look to the coach to see what play to run. This never happens in soccer. The players decide what to do and when. The coach, try as he might, has very little influence on the course of a youth soccer game. It’s a player’s game not a coach’s game. Of course we prefer to have the professional trainer at the games but there is an overreaction to that coach’s influence on the outcome of the game. Please consider that for a moment. Great coaches bring their coaching and influence to the players on the field during practice. In the game, it is nearly all on the players. In addition, much of the best practices around in-game coaching at the youth level are to keep quiet and let the players create (HERE, HERE and HERE). If you consider what we are trying to do at 9U and 10U, which is focus more on individual skills and long-term player development, you will find that a few games without the professional trainer may even build resiliency in our players and free them to be even more creative on the field.
So, having explained a bit more about our philosophy and where we are trying to go, what can you as a parent do to help contribute? A few things:
- Please do not coach from the sidelines (HERE, HERE, and HERE).
- Please do not criticize referees (HERE).
- Please do not criticize your child or their play (HERE, HERE, and HERE)
- Support your trainer and parent coaches by communicating when your player has a conflict and cannot attend a practice for game
- Think about what we have written in this email and try to consider soccer development in a different way than perhaps you grew up with or are used to with other sports
- Don’t focus on winning!
- Be patient with the process. Every team and every player develops at their own pace. It will happen for your child and it will happen for your team – it does sometimes take a long time. Don’t overreact!
- Sometimes you may want to skip one of your children’s games. When you are over-involved in every game and talk about the sport with them all the time you are sending the message that soccer is all about you. Skipping some games can send the message that this is not about you but about them and their experience.
- Take a look at the US Youth Soccer Player Development Manual – this is the recommended model for developing top-level players. You will be surprised at how many clubs don’t follow this guidance and how much of what you see in the soccer landscape goes against these recommendations. We are not perfect either of course, but in most cases are following or moving in the direction of following these guidelines. We are trying to create initiatives like our 7v7 Experience to more closely align with best practices and to continue to move forward and improve. To do this we need your help…
- Get involved at the Club level. Our team volunteers are amazing and we love them but many parents don’t realize there is a very significant impact you can have at the club level if you volunteer a little bit of time. We are one of the largest clubs in the state – we have resources to do things but we don’t always have the volunteers. Recently we had three parents step up at the club level and volunteer some of their time. Each of these individuals didn’t do an enormous amount but they made a big impact overall. As a result of their efforts we now have a six-week goalie training program for our goalkeepers, new goals being delivered to Lower Esternay, and an on-going program of ball runners at the Chatham High School girls soccer games. THERE IS MORE WE CAN DO WITH MORE VOLUNTEERS!
To really make an impactful change we need our parents on board and believing in the best practices. This is not Chatham United laying out what we think is the best approach. It’s experts in the field and NJ Youth Soccer, US Youth Soccer and US Soccer. We should all believe in their guidance.
Finally, we have included below what we believe is a good simple article on what to look for as a parent when watching a 11U and above game. It’s a reflection of what we want our teams to do. They won’t be able to do many of these things as 9U or 10U teams and maybe not always at 11U and above but it’s what we all should be striving for. By focusing on development over winning and not rushing to create mini-professionals, we hope to build teams and players capable of the things the article mentions. If you don’t play the right way at 9U and 10U, you likely will not be able to achieve them. We noted earlier that it’s difficult to measure progress in soccer so everyone falls back on wins and losses. The article below provides you with some other things to measure. It’s not as easy as looking at a batting average in baseball or shooting percentage in basketball, but they are concrete things you should be looking for in a game. We challenge you to look at these things and try to measure them in your child’s games. Let’s cheer your children and teammates when they achieve the positive aspects of 1-10 below. Let’s not focus on winning. Let’s not be fearful of losing. Let’s not stray from the best long-term development pathway for our players.
Chatham United Soccer
Questions to Help Parents Analyze Their Child's Team
By Stan Baker
The 10 questions found below are especially directed toward parents who have children 10 years old and above.
Below this age level, the players are still very egotistical and focused on themselves rather than on any sort of collective play. The infamous swarm is actually just a reflection of the natural process. To avoid confusion and disappointment from parents, coaches of players under 10 years old should communicate to them that it is OK at this age level for the players to gravitate to the ball, and that the game played by the youngest players shouldn’t reflect that of a professional team.
The intention of this list of 10 questions is not to put any extra pressure on the coach, but rather to help solidify the parent support for long-term development.
Parents who understand what the team is trying to accomplish and what our style of play looks like, will be more likely to lend support and back what the coach is attempting to do. With this said, the process will require much more ongoing communication throughout the season. It should be communicated that the process of long-term development requires patience.
10 QUESTIONS FOR PARENTS
(Analyzing my child’s team -- U-11 and above)
1) Are the players attempting to pass the ball on the ground to teammates, or are most passes just played long and far into space?
2) Does the team try to possess the ball? How many passes does the average possession last?
3) Is the ball up in the air or out of play for a large part of the game?
4) Does the team pass the ball laterally from one side of the field to the other switching the point of attack? Are they patient in building an attack, or do they hurry to kick the ball forward?
5) How often is the ball passed backwards? On a more evolved team the ball should be played back once every three to four passes.
6) Does the team rely almost solely on kicking the ball forward to a big fast player up front to score, and on another big fast player in the back to cover for mistakes and send the ball forward? If so, what kind of soccer experience is the rest of the team getting? (As the players move to a more advanced level of play we must remember that most defenders will be as big and fast as our team’s primary goal scorer. Also, better players and well-organized teams learn to defend long straight passes quite easily.)
7) Does the game appear to be out of control? Are there frequent, consecutive changes in possession?
8) Are all players moving to create space or to support the ball, or does the team rely on only a few players?
9) Do the players always play in the same position on the field or is there a rotation?
10) Has the team evolved from the beginning to the end of the season? Has your child progressed as a player?
In 2015 Chatham United made some modifications to our 9U program in order to provide all of our full season 9U teams with a consistent experience. At the 9U level we believe providing a similar approach across the teams is best for the players as they begin their first year of Travel soccer. We also believe it makes it easier for parents, the Club and our trainers to plan their season well before it starts. The program we have laid out is consistent with what nearly every 9U team has experienced the past several years. In 2019 we are also rolling this out to our 10U teams to create a consistent experience for all of our 7v7 teams.
This also provides the ability to provide more certainty around the cost of the 9U/10U Travel Program. For 2019/20 we expect the total amount paid to CU to be in the range $915 - $950. ($330 at registration and then team fees of $585 - $620 paid in installments prior to the fall and spring seasons via credit card). In addition all players need to purchase a uniform for approximately $90.
- 1 week of pre-season training (five sessions expected to be the last week of August). Parts of the sessions will be combined across the age group
- Approximately 10 weeks of training (Sep-Nov) - 2 sessions per week
- 10 Morris County Youth Soccer Association games (generally Sunday between 12-7pm)
- 2 Fall Tournaments
- Essex Fall Tune Up Tournament (early September – 3 or 4 games on Saturday and Sunday – possible Friday night) or a Columbus Day Tournament (Pequannock Fall Classic or Parsippany Pride)
- Mt Olive Halloween Tournament (mid-October – 2 games on Saturday only)
- End of Season Evaluation & Feedback - Each player receives a written evaluation that contains both qualitative and quantitative performance feedback. The "report card" will highlight strength areas and areas for improvements and grade the players on a meaningful achievement scale
- Approximately 10 weeks of training (Apr-Jun) - 1-2 sessions per week
- 10 Morris County Youth Soccer Association games (generally Sunday between 12-7pm)
Teams may still enter additional tournaments if desired (the team will pay for these tournaments themselves).
Optional Winter Sessions
These will be completely optional and will be a separate fee – participation, or not, in any of these optional activities will in no way impact the team formation process for the following year.
- WINTER - indoor training set up and run by training organizations at Chatham Day or similar local gym