With the fall 2010 youth soccer season fully underway in Massachusetts, a troubling and all-too-familiar tendency has already begun to emerge as games between mismatched teams result in lopsided scores. This is nothing new, but what can be done about it?
These results are easy enough to track. In the well-established Mass Premier League (MAPLE), game results go back for years. But look no further than fall 2010’s first two weeks to see that scores with a goal difference of eight or more goals are commonplace. Based on scores posted as of midday on Monday, September 20th, 16 games were decided by eight or more. Some scores are mind-boggling, like scores of 19-0 and 12-0 in U11 boys divisions and 16-0 and 15-0 in girls U11 divisions. Those are the most egregious examples, but they are certainly not alone and most likely will be followed by more beatings in the weeks to come.
The reasons behind this phenomenon shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with club soccer in this area. There are so many club teams that, inevitably, games are scheduled between one team that is stacked in talent and athleticism and one team that is not. This is especially true at the U11 age in MAPLE’s fall season because teams haven’t been separated based on previous results, and divisions are more geographically grouped. MAPLE U11 teams also play 8v8 format. Although appropriate for developmental reasons, when teams aren’t grouped based on relative strength, blowouts are bound to occur.
When games like this unfold, it doesn’t take long to realize what could happen. As a competition, the game is usually over long before the first half is finished. The players on the field cannot be responsible for altering their play. That responsibility lies with the coach. There is no slaughter rule, so coaches need to employ other means.
Taking some of the better players out of the game or moving them to different positions, focusing on possession and requiring a certain number of passes before players can go to goal, instructing players to play only with their weaker foot, using different tactical formations that focus less on going forward, perhaps even taking a player or two off the field and giving the kids a chance to learn how to play a man down. These are some often cited examples of how a coach of a superior team can change the way his or her team is playing to reduce the number of scoring chances, without building bad habits and while respecting sportsmanship.
But the superior team is not alone in this situation. Responsibility also lies with the league, the other team, and parents. MAPLE is set up so any team can enter. Clubs strive to field teams that may not be prepared to play at a “premier” level. Some parents want to brag about their kids playing premier club soccer whether the child is ready for it or not. The end result of this set up is that these types of scores happen all the time, and there doesn’t seem to be any willingness on the part of the league, the club team system, or parents to limit the number of teams in an attempt to ensure that the number of lopsided games is kept to a minimum.
It should be noted that MAPLE is not the only competition struggling with this problem. The New England Premiership (NEP), a newer league that is open only to select clubs, hasn’t made ridiculous scores go away. To be part of the league, clubs must meet certain qualification standards. They can’t be a mom-and-pop club with only a handful of teams. Coaching directors are supposed to have at least a USSF B license. And the focus is meant to be on player development with no promotion/relegation. However, several lopsided results have taken place, including a 10-0 win at the girls U12 age.
The Mass Soccer Conference (MASC) is also not immune to this situation; a 14-0 score in the boys U14 group is an example of that. Local preseason tournaments held on or before Labor Day were full of these scores as well, including several scores of 10 or more goals at the Delta FC pre-Labor Day Cup and the Stars Cup and Bandits Cup over Labor Day weekend. These are just more examples of a problem that won’t go away, and town soccer around the region is probably full of these games as well.
Soccer is not alone in dealing with this situation, but people in a position to influence games have to make an effort to keep this from happening so much, especially at the youngest ages. If Mass Youth Soccer cannot change the way clubs, leagues, and tournaments operate, the responsibility lies with the coaches on game day to call off the dogs. Without showing some restraint and respecting the opposition and the tenets of sportsmanship, the sport is bound to lose players with potential who quit playing because getting a regular beating when they are 10 years old takes the fun out of the game.