In one of my first Gladwyne Sports Association meetings, I remember the President of the club talking about a player in our youngest
age group, the 5-7 year olds. He joked about how the poor kid was really slow, couldn't get to the ball fast enough in games and
probably went the entire season without actually touching the ball in a game . Remember that games were played 11 vs. 11 so 22
players were on the field at a time, swarming around the ball. He always laughed whenever he told this story, but I thought it to
be really sad. The thought of 22 players running around a field, crowded around one ball, seemed wrong, especially when some kids
would go the entire game without even getting a touch on the ball.
Fortunately, in the coaching courses that I took, the topic of small sided games was often discussed. There were many benefits to
playing small sided games, most notably that all players would be more involved with the game and get many more touches on the ball.
It seemed logical that we should start to implement these ideas with our younger players. Within a few years, we changed our younger
intramural age groups to play 7 vs. 7 instead of full sided 11 v 11. The problem with this was that in the 1980s, there were no
manufacturers of smaller sized soccer goals. Travel team soccer would continue playing full sided 11 vs. 11 into the early 1990s,
even at the youngest age groups. Since there were no known manufacturers for smaller goals, we had to create our own goals. At
first we just used corner flags for goal posts, with no crossbars. Soon after that, we used PVC piping to create goals with crossbars.
We hammered re-bar rods into the ground and slid the PVC piping over the rods to make goals. There were no nets for these goals,
but at least we were able to easily construct small sided goals and play 7 vs. 7 games.
Players immediately became more involved in the play with smaller sided games and player development took place at a faster level.
Unfortunately, these changes only took place in our intramural program. Travel teams still played full sided 11v11 into the 1990s.
The girls Tri-County League eventually changed their format to having younger age groups play two games of 8 vs. 8 against each opponent.
Teams would still consist of up to 18 players, but now when teams played each other, there would be two games played and each
team would be split their roster in half. There were a lot of arguments about whether teams should be split equally in talent
or whether there should be a stronger team and weaker team. This argument never got resolved. The problem with having a stronger
team and a weaker team was that players' feelings (and parents' egos) would be hurt if they were not on the stronger team. Still,
the small sided games helped with player development and players enjoyed being in the action more.
Eventually our entire state association would change to 8 vs. 8 for travel team age groups up through Under 10. Soon after, most
of the nation was in line with this. Unfortunately, there was no set standard for what size goals should be used for 8 vs. 8 play.
This problem still exists today. LMSC, like most clubs, uses 7 x 21 foot goals but some organizations use smaller 6 1/2 x 18 foot goals.
As the travel team world finally incorporated these changes throughout the nation, LMSC was becoming even more proactive, switching
to even smaller sided games for our intramural program. Our younger age groups went from 7v7 to 6v6 to 5v5 and finally down to 4v4
for our youngest divisions. Using smaller sided formats, players became much more involved in the play and got many more touches
on the ball each game. Player development increased at a MUCH faster rate and the players had a lot more fun since they were always
involved in the play.
Of course there were problems that came with all of this change. One problem was that we would not have enough head coaches if teams
consisted of only 6 to 8 players. There were not enough parents willing to step up and be head coaches. Because of this, we made
the decision to have 12 - 14 players assigned to each team, with one head coach per team. On game day, each team would split into
two and play two simultaneous games of 4v4 or 5v5, similar to how the girls PAGS League implemented their 8v8 games at Under 9 and
Under 10. We simply took their idea and modified it to fit our 6 - 8 year old divisions who would play much more scaled down games.
The head coach would be responsible for training all the players on the team. Each team would hopefully have an assistant coach to help
the head coach, but this was dependent on how many parents would sign up to coach. Using the information I gathered at the coaching
schools and numerous coaching clinics I attended each year, I wrote age appropriate coaching manuals for our various intramural divisions
to help the our coaches run effective practices that would enable each player to get many touches on the ball in each activity and be fun
for the players.
The issue of making small sided goals was solved as soccer grew throughout the country and companies such as Kwik Goal, JayPro, Pugg Goals
and others emerged to provide different size goals for different needs.
The other problem we occasionally had was that some coaches wanted to be able to teach 11 vs. 11 tactics to their players and said that
they could not do this with us implementing smaller scaled games. It took some time, but I finally was able to convince these coaches
that they should focus their coaching on skill development (technique) and not advanced tactics with young players. It was essential to
teach players to master the basic skills of the game. Each player should have his / her own ball to work with at each practice. Coaches
eventually bought into this and as they did, we found much more skilled players showing up at travel team tryouts. The intramural program
was producing much better players and our new teams were much better prepared for the competitive world of travel team soccer. I often told
our coaches of the philosophy preached at the coaching schools: "Without technique, there can be no tactics." We asked our intramural
coaches to focus on technical skill development and limit the amount of tactical instruction.
Our youngest divisions, for the 4 and 5 year olds, played 4 vs. 4 games. With only 8 players on the field, players were getting plenty of
chances to dribble down the field, shoot, defend, etc. With the players being so involved in the play, player development increased
significantly and players had more fun, making them more likely to want to continue playing in future seasons.
We also changed the structure of the games to eliminate the use of goalies in the 4-6 year old divisions. We did this because goalies
do not get to run around the field during games so the young kids playing in goal would get easily bored. Also, players that age had
trouble catching balls played in the air so they would often stop shots with their faces. By eliminating goalies, all players got to
run around and have fun while being less likely to get injured.
Unfortunately, travel team soccer was very slow to adapt to small sided games. Games were played 8v8 at Under 9 and Under 10, but that
did not change for a long time. Finally, in 2011, the Under 11 age group switched to 8v8 soccer. The Under 12 age group will change to
8v8 in most leagues starting in the fall of 2012 and U-12 state cups will only be played 8v8 starting in 2013. Unfortunately, some travel
leagues remain in the dark ages and still are not making this change. Many other state associations have already made this change at U-12.
Another change that might take place in the future is for the Under 9 age group to play 6 vs. 6. I'm sure this will take awhile for other
clubs to realize the benefits of this. LMSC will be supporting changes like this since it helps player development and is more fun for the
players. Our intramural program made those changes well over a decade ago, hopefully the travel team world will eventually make this change as well.
Other clubs are sometimes reluctant to make such changes due to a lack of vision from their leadership. Also, some clubs fear having to
make different sized fields for smaller sided games. They also are worried about being able to afford purchasing goals that are different
sized from the goals used in 8v8 or 11v11 play. Hopefully these changes will take place, though I am afraid that changes like these will
continue to be made at a snail's pace because of the lack of vision from the leadership of other clubs.