A Parent’s Guide to U.S. Soccer’s Birth Year Changes

Soccer Moms and Dads throughout New Jersey are left wondering how U.S. Soccer’s new birth-year registration will affect their child, team, and club.  There are a lot of questions to be answered and not a lot of information out there to go through.  Below I have listed my ideas, comments, and questions that need to be asked when deciding to stay with your current club or seeking a new one.  I think this topic needs to be explored in some depth so I welcome your personal comments at the bottom of this article to make this a truly open discussion.

First of all Talk to your Club Directors and Trainers:  The best answers to your birth year registration questions can likely be answered in-house.  Reach out to your club director and coaches to find out what they are doing to be pro-active in preparation.  Attend club meetings where valuable information and likely answers to all your questions will be shared.  Visit your club’s web page and read club newsletters as there likely has already been information sent directly to you.  Most importantly trust that your club already has a plan in place.  If you have doubts that your club is moving forward with U.S. Soccer’s demands then you should begin with the steps below.  However the best solution to getting through the birth year registration is likely with your current club.

If you don’t like what you hear… Shop Around:  Clubs expect this now a days, especially in the age of the “one year contract.”  Players are on 3 teams before they are 11, it’s sad, but true, and clubs understand the game is this way now.  We as club directors are looking for these types of players and are willing to put time into communication and free training sessions to get them in the door.  So reach out to DOC’s and team trainers and ask them any questions you may have.  Trainer experience, club philosophy, program cost, and player development concepts are all good starting points of conversation.  As a trainer I am happy to at the very least invite players to practice sessions to have a look at the athlete as well as show the parent that I will deliver professionally motivated sessions that drive player progress.  If a club won’t do this for you, or won’t give you the time in response, generally they aren’t worth approaching.

Ask the right questions.  I touched on some of the topics above, but there are some specific things you should look for…

  • Do you employ professional trainers?  and what is their experience?  This question needs to be asked when $1000 is an average cost of a year of travel soccer.  Professional trainers will get the most out of your child development wise, but what is their experience with that age, gender and level?  What type of certification do they hold? is another good question.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of quality parent coaches out there, but someone who makes this their full time profession is going to put the most time and energy into your soccer team and program.  Just make sure you are getting what you have paid for.
  • What is your club doing to adjust to the birth year changes?  Not having a plan yet or saying we will address it when it is mandated in 2017 would scare me away.  The best answer you can hear from a club is that they plan on making exclusive birth year teams where possible for Fall 2016 (this is the strongest model), but in reality they will make hybrid teams filled with players that are on the same playing level.  Essentially they will allow players to play up to aid player development and fill in the gaps so no one is left out.
  • How does your club implement player development?  There are a lot of good answers to this question, but you want to make sure the club is connected from 5-18 years and there is a clear path from year to year.  That the club isn’t divided by “island teams” is key.  This is where certain teams just decide to do things their own way.  For example, a coach holds his own tryouts or refuses to allow players to play or practice with other teams in his own club.  This is to me is a giant red flag.
  • How much does your program cost per season/per year?  This should be on everyone’s mind these days as the most expensive clubs run around $4000 a year (w/o travel) and the bottom dollar is about $300 a year, but you can’t be getting more than a recreation level team at that price point.
  • What level is the team my son/daughter will be playing with?  This may be the most important thing to know.  You want your child to be challenged and motivated at the proper skill level.  Bigger clubs (w/25 plus travel teams) will be able to provide this experience in most cases as they probably have multiple teams at each age group.  This is where taking your child to a practice session will come in handy.  Then ask your kid, how did practice go?  Trust me, they know if it was too easy or hard or just not for them.  If they have a smile on their face and are excited on the ride home, then you may know you are onto something.  Find out if they play NPL, EDP, JAGS, or a MNJYSA/MOSA type league to understand the level of play even further.  Not to mention the time and travel commitment you will be making.

Finally talk to your kid!  This is probably the one thing that is chronically overlooked and under-communicated these days.  Before taking them to 5 different tryouts, get a feel for their level of interest in soccer, their desire to play with their friends, their current confidence and skill level, and really listen to them.  Your kids will answer some of the above questions if you give them the chance.  I can’t imagine how stressful it may be attending tryout after tryout for 2-3 weeks straight.  Just one tryout is enough to ruin a 10 year old’s confidence.  So seek out the right club and team for them before subjecting them to constant pressure to perform.  They already have enough of that with you on the sidelines!


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