Changes Coming to Youth Soccer


Parents of GYSC and GYSC Players

We are providing you with information regarding several significant changes coming to youth soccer.  Here’s what we know, who is impacted, what we plan to do and what information is still needed.

What are the changes?

The change causing the biggest impact to youth soccer is the change in age groups from the current school year (August 1 to July 31) to birth year, but there are other mandated changes regarding the number of players on the field for younger age groups.  U6-U8 will be 4v4, U9-U10 will be 7v7, U11-U12 will be 9v9.  Three different field sizes are needed for this structure along with some new goal sizes.  Full sized fields with 11v11 begins at U13 as it currently does.

Also there is a new heading protocol, children 10 and under will be barred from heading the ball during any official session – practice or game – while players ages 11 to 13 will have heading limited during training sessions.

Who is initiating these changes?

In recent years, U.S. Soccer has been discussing moving from our current age group format based on the school year to one based on the calendar year. Calendar year is used around the world, and for our state, regional and national teams. In July, U.S. Soccer made the decision that the change to calendar year would be mandatory beginning in 2017-2018 soccer season, and recommended that the state associations adopt this change in 2016-2017 soccer season.

Even more recently, following 15 months of litigation, U.S. Soccer announced a brand new series of initiatives designed to reduce the number of concussions suffered by youth soccer players, including the limitation and/or outright banning of heading the ball for players under the age of 13.

According to statements on their website: “These changes are recommended for U.S. Soccer’s youth members. Although these are only recommendations, they are based on the advice of the U.S. Soccer medical committee, and therefore U.S. Soccer strongly urges that they be followed.”

FYI – U.S. Soccer runs the show in the United States.  They set the rules and guidelines for youth soccer (USYSA) to follow.

Why are they making these changes?

With regard to the age groups, they say it’s to align with the rest of the world and that it makes it easier to identify players for higher level training programs. Further they say it’s an easier age system to understand.

U.S. Soccer continues to try to find ways to build better soccer players that can help the US compete at the international level.  While there are many opponents to this change with very rational arguments, it is a done deal.  It must be done and clubs have the task of figuring out how.  The small-sided games are supposed to provide more touches for younger players so they develop better skills and enjoy the game more.

From the U.S. Soccer press release regarding the heading changes:

The United States Soccer Federation and the other youth member defendants, with input from counsel for the plaintiffs, have developed a sweeping youth soccer initiative designed to (a) improve concussion awareness and education among youth coaches, referees, parents and players; (b) implement more uniform concussion management and return-to-play protocols for youth players suspected of having suffered a concussion; (c) modify the substitution rules to insure such rules do not serve as an impediment to the evaluation of players who may have suffered a concussion during games; and (d) eliminate heading for children 10 and under and limit heading in practice for children between the ages of 11 and 13. The complete details of the initiative along with a more comprehensive player safety campaign will be announced by U.S. Soccer in the next 30 days.

When are the changes effective?

For the Age Group and field and team size changes, US Soccer recommends starting in 2016-2017 (next season) but is not mandating until 2017-2018.  

Regarding the concussion changes since they were just announced minimal information is known about the implementation.  Since these are recommendations from U.S. Soccer to U.S. Youth Soccer it appears to be U.S. Youth Soccer that must further define the implementation and requirements.

From our perspective while the intent is clear and for the right purpose, there remains a significant number of issues regarding how this will be implemented.  It is unclear if these changes will affect how corner kicks, goal kicks and direct kicks are taken and what happens if heading occurs.  Until those items are resolved we will promote cautions regarding heading for our younger teams.

Will we be able to field teams in every age group?

Without knowing what new players this may bring to our club, it appears that every age group will have a team. We believe our competitiveness level won’t be negatively affected by this in any age group.  Further analysis of the birth year age groups in conjunction with coaches of those age groups will help give us a better understanding in planning teams.

Will we still allow players to play “up”?

We will continue to encourage and support players who have the ability to play up to do that.  As always those players must be evaluated to be in the top group of that older age group team.  We will be encouraging all players to tryout in their age group. More planning will go into how to handle the tryout challenges that will arise.

What happens with the U15 age group with regard to the high school soccer season?

This is a tough one.  We believe that the impact of this change affects this age group more than any other.  It appears that part of US Soccer’s intent is to impact high school soccer as this certainly will. Essentially half the team in this age group could be playing high school soccer while the other half is in 8th grade and not playing until spring.  We will need to look at what leagues can offer to allow the younger players to continue to train/play during the fall season.  Then what can be done in the spring when middle school soccer is active for the 8th graders.

In a recent meeting with EPYSA officials it was clear they didn’t yet grasp the significance of this issue.  We will look at this issue much more closely and meet specifically with our current U14 coaches that are most immediately impacted by this change.  (Under the new age groups, their players will be either U15 or U16 next year.)

Will this change affect the Recreational Soccer Programs?

We believe it is US Soccer’s desire to have clubs change to the birth year in all their programs.  Given the complexity this will add to online registration systems having two different age group criteria would make it even more complex and more confusing to parents and players.  Since recreational soccer doesn’t have the strict rules on birth certificates there may be some flexibility in how we group these players and teams.

Are there any other changes being considered?

One very good change is regarding goal kicks.  To limit the headers and encourage keeping the ball on the ground and playing with your feet, a “build-out line” is to be part of the new field layout requirements.  This line is to be placed somewhere between the midfield line and the top of the box.  Defensive players will not be allowed inside that area until the ball is put in play from the goal kick area.  The intent is to have teams bring the ball out of their defensive end by passing.



Thanks for your continued support of GYSC!