A New Format of Youth Athletics

I have been thinking about a new way to do youth athletics, this week I had the opportunity to chat with a high school soccer coach about my thoughts.

This particular coach is in a particular situation where he could easily develop this new format. He coaches at a small high school — graduating classes are roughly 110 students. The local youth soccer league operates in the fall, ONLY. This means that he’s getting kids on his high school team that have had about 2-3 months of developing the proper skills for the first 10+ years of them being able to play soccer.

I believe this particular format can help develop ALL kids properly, but would really like to know the possible negatives that can happen from it.

This type of format probably has several names to it, but I’ll refrain from calling it any that may be wrong. So, I’ll just call it “Lottery League.”

Now, the format of the Lottery League:

  • All participants are number 1 through 30 (or however many participants you have).
  • The League is run on two or three nights a week.
  • For the first hour or so, there is a training session ran for EVERYONE by a particular “League Director” and helped by the parent coaches or any other assistant coaches.
  • For the last half hour or so, the team is divided up into 3v3 teams for their League games.
  • For every game, the 3v3 teams are done lottery-style, chosen randomly and just played. So, for game one, a team may consist of Players 1, 16, 27 v. Players 5, 20, 29. The following game, another lottery is done to get new teams.
  • It is easy to keep track of wins, losses, and draws (if you want to do that) as well as goals and assists.

So, what are the benefits from running youth athletics like this?

  1. All kids are being developed and trained properly. Parent-coaches are great, but there are always complaints about them not knowing what they are doing or stacked teams or whatever. This does away with all that hogwash. All kids are playing equally and trained equally.
  2. The amount of time dedicated by families and travel is reduced. This may be different in different areas, but I’ve seen places where U6’s are training 2-3 times a week and a day dedicated to games. This gets all that done all at once. Train then play. Quality training and games can be played all within a couple of days. Heck, within this league format, more games could be played at a better level and rate.
  3. All kids have a role. Unlike the usual 4v4, 5v5, 6v6, or above game types, at U6 soccer, why not just play 3v3? Why do leagues continuously try to operate with goalkeepers below U8 (some may argue below U10)? Playing 3v3 will allow every kid to play, have increased touches on the ball, have fun, score goals, and be responsible for being a teammate (even though it is hard to teach sharing at 6 years old). Going back to the “stacked” teams, you no longer have that because it’s blindly drawn and every kid can be on a “good” or “bad” team at any time. Heck, they could even be on a middle-of-the-road team the whole league.
  4. Emphasis is taken away from “winning at all costs.” Go ahead and count wins/losses/draws, that way every kid can receive some sort of point every game (unless they lose, don’t score, and don’t assist). Let’s face it, here in America, we put WAY too much emphasis on winning at the youth level which jeopardizes the development of the athlete.
  5. It can help save money. You don’t need to pay officials. You don’t need much area. You don’t need to pay coaches (if you pay coaches at U6). You don’t need to worry about all these different jerseys. Every kid gets the same color of shirt, with a number on the back. Actually, it may be easiest to get a reversible shirt so each time they play they can differentiate from the other team while also showing the number on the back. And you may not have to do as much travel.

In certain areas, this would be real good for developing the individual because it exposes each player to MANY other kids throughout the duration of the league. I think this format can be applied to basically any team sport, but soccer is what I know more — so that’s the reason why I use it as the example. This could be easily done in basketball. Flag football could work with the format, possibly. Baseball would be easy to do as well.

I would definitely like to incorporate this in U6 leagues if I could. A test run at a lower level would be good before incorporating it into older groups and larger groups. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t work. I cannot think of any negatives to the format either. The only “negative” I have heard about running a 3v3 league is that “kids don’t feel like they are part of a team with that few members.” That’s a lousy argument. Some of the most popular tournaments for youth are 3v3 basketball tournaments. And that was also coming from a parent…who don’t always know what’s best for their kids either (yes, I am critical of some parents).

This League could be done relatively cheap and ran on a short-term basis to see how things operate. If you do it for a month, charge $25 or so for 2 nights a week…why not? Is there a negative aspect of it? Why not try it? This would be great for some fundraising for a particular club, team, or organization even. It can help as a “filler” league that may fit in between a particular season (in between basketball and baseball in the spring, where there may be a month of “off” time).

The toughest part is developing the training sessions, organizing them, and getting the help you may need. It will be a lot of work to do that, as well as sorting out the teams — but that can be done easily through randomizing numbers in Excel or some other software.

This may be the step I take for a youth league in the near future…

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3 comments

  1. It’s a great idea! And one that is already in place in many top clubs across the country and also happening at a club in your back yard – Ohio Extreme SC -Lima Ohio.

    Ohio Extreme has a “juniors” program where the kids are randomly given teams each weekend and when they show up, they get to train for the entire first half of the training session and then get to play a small sided game with their “teammates” for that weekend. All of the players and parents love it. In fact, it’s become so popular, we have started a session in both Allen County and Putnam County. Every week is a different week for the kids and our professional staff. It’s a blast…you should check it out!

    http://www.OhioExtremeSC.com
    Brent Ridenour
    Director of Coaching and Player Development

    • Coach:
      Thanks for stopping by! You have me curious…how did you find me?

      After writing this and continuing to chat about this format, I did hear of several places that do it. Apparently A LOT of Florida runs their club systems like such. I am glad that there are clubs that are doing it. But…could this be integrated into the youth rec leagues that may end up helping club? There are a lot of kids that are not able to afford or travel to club — we won’t even get into the discussion about how much kids are doing. So, offering up a league outside would be good, right?

      I just talked to a friend, who coaches club in Pennsylvania, and a “rival” club actually has started a FREE youth league for ages 5-8! This has “yanked” many kids from other clubs even though the club is the most expensive when ages are older. Cheaper options at younger ages may keep the parents and kids engaged in the club at older ages.

      I would be interested in checking out how things are with your Juniors Program!

  2. Come on out and check us out…every Saturday morning from mid August through the end of September in Lima next to the old American Mall. Our fall season is not our most popular because parents and kids sign up for their recreational programs…many feel that because we don’t have “teams” with a “league schedule” that they would rather not sign up. We’re hoping to change that mentality. In the winter indoor season and spring outdoor season, we’ll have over 100 players participate. Around 30 players each season transition from our Juniors program into our full competitive teams, and the difference is noticeable. This will be our 3rd full year of the Juniors program, and we’re very excited to see a few of our first “Juniors” players develop as players throughout their careers.

    Best of luck this fall!

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