Feeling Out League Flighting This Fall

The season ahead for many NJ travel soccer teams is going to be filled with anti-developmental games directly due to the US Youth Soccer birth year initiatives.  This is an understood consequence of the restructure of every club in the country.  Teams have been forced to feel out, or essentially guess, the flight their team belongs in this Fall.  What I mean by anti-developmental games are lopsided score lines filled with 20-30 minutes of keep away once a team has hit the score limit (i.e. 6 goal differential).    These types of games are exactly what we do not want as coaches and trainers.  What we want are highly contested, tight matches with 1 or 2 goals between teams.  However, the guessing game every club has been forced to play with entirely new teams being formed, big scorelines will be unavoidable.  I have yet to read anything online from US Youth Soccer regarding this issue.  Nor has there been any solutions suggested by local leagues to adjust to this growing concern.  In this article I hope to bring to the forefront “the flighting issue” as well as suggest some solutions before it is too late.  I also hope as coaches and directors you can provide your suggestions (in the reply section below), rather than just accept that this season ahead will be full of unproductive soccer games.

What I imagine most club directors, administrators, and coaches have done is look at their current roster for the Fall 2016 season; and looked at prior results of the teams those players have come from; and then made an educated guess as to where their team should be flighted.  For me this is an unacceptable, but unavoidable method created by the US Youth Soccer restructure.  For an example:

Fall 2016 – 2005 Boys Team  –Where would you flight each team below?

  • Coach A – Has players from previous:  U11B Flight 5 team (record 5-4-1) and U10 Flight 1 team (record 3-3-4).
  • Coach B – Has players from previous:  U11B Flight 2 team (record 8-2) and U10 Flight 4 Team (record 8-2-1).
  • Coach C – Has players from previous:  U11B Flight 4 team (record 2-6-2) and U10 Flight 3 Team (record 3-5-2).

*Hypothetically each team is split 50/50 from their previous groups.

Questions that have to cross your mind are:

  • How strong are my players?  What role/position did they play on their team last year?
  • What size are my U10 players?  Can they handle the physicality they will face?
  • How many players are new to the club?

You can over-analyze this all day and in the end we will all probably come away with different answers, and that is the point.  There are coaches that will flight their team a little lower to ensure success in their first season together, and there are coaches that will think too highly of their group and ambitiously over-flight them in the end.  A common response to this underlying issue is “it is what it is, and there is nothing we can do to control everyone.”  I beg to differ.

I don’t want my players looking like this after games!

Leagues Can Help:

  1. By creating larger flights.  Some leagues have 6 team flights where you play 10 games.  That means you play everyone twice which means a “miss-flighted” team is going to have potentially 4 or more anti-developmental games.  All it would take is 1 really strong and 1 really weak team in your flight to have this occur.
  2. By adjusting schedules mid-season.  Now this may seem like a lot of work, and a scheduling nightmare, but what else does the league do?  They should look at results at the mid-way point and adjust the schedule accordingly to create closer matchups.  This will not be easy to coordinate with fields, refs, and coach’s schedules, I realize that, but it is a little extra work for all to ensure the kids are playing close games.
  3. By creating a playoff to end the season.  Teams can advanced to the top or bottom half of their bracket according to previous results and play a playoff to ensure developmental games at the end of the year.

Coaches Can Help:  

  1. By really thinking it through before flighting your team.  Do your due diligence and ask the questions of your roster I have posted above.  Don’t take a wild guess and talk to previous coaches (if applicable) about new players and the difference they will make.  Get your team together before the season starts to assess them as a group.
  2. By communicating with coaches of opposing teams/clubs.  Talking about the makeup of your squad, how it was formed, and the experience it possesses.  If you talk to a coach and he/she says that most of their team has remained the same and is going with flight 2 and your team is entirely new, it should give you a bit of a barometer.
  3. By attending league meetings.  Conveying the issue at hand and getting in the same room with other club coaches/administrators to see how they are handling this necessary task.

Personally, I just want to avoid as many lopsided scorelines as possible this season, but I know there will be an inevitable few.  This is a product of the youth soccer initiative and will shake itself out after a season, but I do not want the 2016 Fall league games to be anti-developmental.  There are steps we can take as leaders in the NJ youth soccer to avoid some of these conflicts, and I am worried the proper measures are not being taken.  I could be wrong, and I hope I am, and would love to hear of any pro-active leagues or clubs in this conversation.  This is an issue that needs to be talked about State and Nation wide, because just accepting this as an inevitable consequence is unacceptable.

* By the way I would Flight the hypothetical teams above the following:

Team A – Flight 5 – based on where the U11 teams fit the previous year

Team B – Flight 2 – based on the success of the U11’s in the previous year, and hoping the U10 group can step up to that level on the merit of their success.

Team C – Flight 7 – I would drop them down do to their lack of success in the previous year and wanting a confidence boost as they step into the Fall 2016 a new group.


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