Sam’s Blog will be a weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer.
The only reason soccer clubs got into the routine of single-year age group teams was for administrative convenience.
In the 1970s and most of the 1980s all teams fell into the following age groups: U8, U10, U12, U14, U16 and U19. There were no U6 teams until beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
During the ‘80s and ‘90s the soccer boom was so rapid that the numbers of participants increased dramatically for local clubs annually. In order to manage the numbers from a logistic and administrative perspective many local soccer organizations began having single year and/or single gender teams. However, there was never a purely soccer reason for these groupings.
As is presented in the “Y” License course we can easily group the children into two-year age groups and they handle it just fine. Clearly the children of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s have handled those groupings in stride. Currently many local soccer organizations have two-year age groupings because they do not have the enrollment numbers to have a management need to have single-year groupings. We teach in the course two-year age groups. We discuss the pick-up game of yesteryear when kids in the neighborhood played together and learned games from each other and those games were mixed age groups.
For player development, in fact, it is a benefit to have the children in the two-year age groupings. The younger players learn from the older ones and they learn that they must play more skillfully and intelligently because they most likely will not outrun or outmuscle the older kids. The older kids learn leadership skills. This cycle continues up through the U19 age group.
Some of the stagnation of the development of the American player is due to single-gender and single-year age groupings. The environment slowly becomes one where the players support one another and take part in the development of each other.
Of course this does not happen by the environment alone. The coaches and administrators must guide and support the attitude and actions that create and sustain such an environment. The result could be a healthier soccer culture for the club. If the circumstances in your club allow you to have two-year age groupings, I actually recommend it as it will have a positive impact on the growth of your players.