Getting to Know the League You’re In

Getting to Know the League You’re In

Youth soccer leagues vary across the country as millions of kids wear leg guards to play in. You can find external and internal tournaments. The numbers go from 4-on-4 to 11-on-11. Ages fluctuate from tournaments 5 and younger to 17 and younger. You even have the option of same-sex tournaments or mixed tournaments.
Along with this diversity comes the diverse set of rules that are part of every league. Some strictly adhere to the official rules of the sport and do not allow any modifications. However, the majority of programs change the rules to suit the age and experience level of the children.

brushing on the rules
Reading a football rule book isn’t as exciting as reading a Stephen King novel, but bedside reading should be for you. To be successful in coaching, you need to know the rules of football, as well as the special rules that your league imposes this season, and be able to teach them to the players. Even if you have extensive knowledge of soccer and may have played at the high school or college level, take a look at the league’s rulebook. Consider it an activation before you enter the field. It’s good that the league uses some rules that were never applied the same way you played when you were young. If you don’t know and understand the rules, don’t expect your team to do that either. And if the little ones don’t know the rules, playing soccer can be a very frustrating experience.
Do not indulge in and try to memorize all the rules in one sitting. Review a few pages each night before the season begins until you feel comfortable with it.
Don’t assume that older kids have a solid grasp of all the rules just because they’ve been playing the sport for years. If someone does not take the time to explain certain rules that can be somewhat confusing, the children may not have learned them before. As kids progress from league to league, they are faced with new rules that may not have been applied in the previous season. It is up to you to find out what rules are in place and share this information with the team before the season begins.

Focus on fun or first place
The two premium ratings that exist for football programs are recreational and competitive. Each type requires a completely different approach to training. Do you know what kind of league you are training this season? Before agreeing to volunteer, check with your recreation director to find out more about the league and make sure it’s a good fit for you.

Entertainment tournaments
If you’re coaching soccer for the first time, you’ll likely be involved in an entertainment league. This type of program focuses on teaching children basic game skills. In general, the software has rules in place regarding equal playing time.
Often, with kids 8 or younger, the league scales from 4 to 4 and has them play games on much smaller courts to allow each child plenty of touches with the ball. Usually, these teams do not have a goalkeeper. Since the players are very young and just learning the skills, placing a kid as a goalkeeper will result in a tremendous amount of standing and little movement for the little ones. Usually, towers (orange cones) are erected at the end of each field to serve as targets.
Recreational tournaments also feature rules that have been modified to meet the age and experience level needs of children. In the smaller sections, you don’t see corner kicks, indirect kicks, or penalty kicks. Referees do not call offside. There will be no throw. A child who touches the ball with his hands more often is not whistled for an infraction but is gently reminded that the action is not considered a ‘no’.
Another brand of the entertainment program is that coaches are allowed on the field during games with young children. Typically, the league allows a coach from each team to stand in each half of the field, giving coaches a chance to speak with their players during the course of play and provide positive feedback and encouragement.
As kids get older and stay involved in sports longer, they naturally become more competitive. Winning takes on a more prominent role with a lot of kids aged 10 or 12. If these kids continue to play in an entertainment program, some focus will shift to winning, but not to the detriment of the league’s policies regarding equal play time.

Competitive Leagues
Kids who can’t quench their thirst for competition in their local entertainment program can turn to the avalanche of competitive tournaments that exist. These tournaments are usually referred to as select teams or travel teams.
This type of program is for young people who have demonstrated higher skill levels than many other children of their age. These elite programs give children a chance to compete against others of similar abilities in their state or region. Children participating in these programs typically focus on long-term advancement in sports, such as playing at the university level (or, as is often the case, their parents considering college scholarships and pushing the kids into this highly competitive environment).
Coaches for teams selected or traveling have a range of issues to deal with that a Recreational Volunteer coach does not face. You have to organize the tests. Make cuts and at older levels make game strips to send to potential college coaches.
Your schedule is full of workouts and usually tournament-heavy, with plenty of travel and weekends away from home. The environment is very different because victories in tournaments push the team into the national spotlight and get a lot of attention for the players involved. Coaches are only given the reins of a select team or travel team if they have a solid coaching background and have demonstrated through their experience that they are well-versed in all areas of the game.
If you are in a highly competitive league and do not think you are adequately prepared for it, report it to the league manager immediately. Let him know that for the sake of the kids, you’d rather coach a less experienced team in a less competitive league. Do what works best for you at this time in your training career.