US Soccer Coaching Initiatives- Age Changes

ussoccer2015UPDATE 10/28/15: The age matrix has been changed by US Soccer since I wrote this article.  Please see the end of this article for updated information.

Phew- there’s been so much going on!  Right now, the big news in the youth club soccer world is the US Soccer Coaching Initiatives published at the end of August.  If you haven’t heard about this, I’d be surprised, but the two basic changes are these…

1- Age groups are going to change from Aug 1-July 31 to align with the start of the calendar year otherwise known as birth year registration.

2- Small sided standards are going to be established for players under 12.  “The field dimensions and number of players on the pitch will increase in size from 4v4 to 7v7 to 9v9 as players age, up until they reach the U-13 age group and begin to play full 11v11 matches.”

I’m just going to talk about the first one this post… (these are just my thoughts and opinions- as always please make sure to do your own reading and research!)

Most of the buzz around our sidelines has been about the change of the birth dates.  This seems to be a logical change that will align the clubs with the National Team dates and the boys Academy team dates. It’s kind of funny because people have had all sorts of misunderstandings about the ages changing including… the season will change, there will be more dangerous play because of a wider age gap, and it’s unfair because kids won’t get to play with other kids in their same grade.  Hmmm…  no, the season doesn’t have to change because the age guidelines change.  Right now the season doesn’t start in August!  Who knows what the future holds, but the season dates don’t follow the age guidelines even now.  The next one just made me laugh- a year is a year is a year no matter when it starts or stops.  The last one I guess could be a logical argument, but on both my girls current teams there are a split of teammates in two grades.  

To me, the most interesting aspect of the birth year registration will be the change of the “great soccer birthday.”  Many top clubs and teams like to recruit players born in August/September/October as they are the most physically mature.  My LSG has a July birthday and has always been one of the youngest.  Her bestie on her team is 11 months and 11 days older than her.  It hasn’t been a problem for her, but it will be kind of funny to have the girls that have always been the oldest move to being among the youngest on the team.  The director of coaching of BSG’s club reminded me that although it may be perceived as a negative for these girls, developmentally it can be advantageous as they will be playing an age group up.  Both my girls who are in the younger year of their current age groups will be repeating their current age bracket unless they choose to “play up.”

Although age groups will now be referred to as 2003 etc… there will still be the U__ designation that will determine pitch size, ball size and more.   Click the image for more information.

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 9.00.39 PM

There’s been a lot of discussion about when the birth year registration will take place.  Although the US Soccer Initiatives mandate compliance by August of 2017, it looks as though the birth year registration changes (at least in California) will take place starting in 2016.  (No, that doesn’t mean that your kid will have to switch teams in January- just that the new season will have the new birth year registration.  For most teams this will mean after State or National Cup)  As far as I know at this time (September 2o15) there haven’t been official announcements from Cal South or ECNL, but it sounds like that is all coming soon.

Several people have likened the age change to a band aid being ripped off and I agree with that analogy.  It’s going to be difficult and will break up established teams, but after a year all should be fine.  I’ve heard several teams that are planning on staying intact with the youngers playing up, but this could be difficult with girls up to 18 months apart playing together.  That doesn’t seem to be a lasting competitive strategy and may especially impact smaller clubs that don’t have teams at every age group.  

For our family the change will be difficult especially for my BSG who has been with her team since U9.  Competitively it may give both my girls more options with their March and July birthdays, but leaving cherished friends, teammates and family friends will be sad.  

More information…

Statement from US Club Soccer (US Club Soccer is the governing body of ECNL)

Statement from US Youth Soccer

Q & A with Tab Ramos, US Youth Technical Director

What do you think about the changes?  How will they impact your athlete?  I’d love to hear what you think!

UPDATE 5/2016


All of the age changes have finally trickled through the age groups and we’ve moved to all birth year teams.  It’s been a difficult adjustment for many as in my post End of an Era.  Below is the updated age matrix chart…

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 5.10.23 PM


17 thoughts on “US Soccer Coaching Initiatives- Age Changes

  1. My husband has following the age change for a few years- ever since the rumors started swirling that it was going to happen. Now that it has (or will), we, too, are discussing it a lot on the sidelines. Also, (I believe, could be wrong) that Ohio South has already stated it will implement the change in 2016. The change will help my daughter because she has a January birthday. She’s smaller than average for her age and currently being “average” in age for her soccer age group and small hasn’t hurt her. But as the club she’s in gets more and more competitive in older age groups, it will be great for her to be on the old end. It will be hard on my daughter to see her “older birth year” current soccer teammates play on a different team but she will be OK. Like you said, it’s like ripping off a band aid. It will hurt for a little while.

  2. We have a petite September birthday girl so she’s been in a great division all along. Now she’s going to really stand out being very small on her team. It’s been nice for her to be the oldest one on the team because she’s the youngest in her class at school. We also started playing 11v11 this year and will have to go to 9v9 for one year to go back to 11v11. Wishing it would have grandfathered in the teams and started u9 next year. Oh well.

    1. Hi Melanie- Yes, I’ve heard many people say they wish it was grandfathered in, but I guess that was too complicated. Her age group is probably the most impacted because of the possible age change back to the smaller field but it doesn’t sound like they will implement the field change until 2017. She will do fine- she’s a tough cookie!

  3. it been a long time coming, my son is a big 2002 he was born January 1st. I believe if he doesn’t play up it could stall his development!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! I’m sure there are many coaches and clubs that would love to have him play up if you are concerned about his development. Remember that most leagues allow for player movement among teams, so that can be a big advantage!

  4. We’re right there with you with a June birthday (so usually one of the very youngest on the team and now will be in the middle!). In some ways I like this change because it seems like it aligns a little better with grade.

    I know that there is a lot of talk about with the current age grouping the olders on a team are a lot of time a year behind in college recruiting because they are a grade older than the majority. My dd is the same age group as your BSG (btw hoping you do a post on your thoughts about playing Premier this season) and there are currently 5 sophomores on our team, they are not getting as much notice at showcases as their U16 classmates.

    On the flipside what happens to older kids who are grade young. When they are seniors and the rest of their team is away at college. Do they take a season off or join an entire new team?

    1. Hi Shannon- Thanks for commenting! I will definitely be writing about Premier, but it just started 🙂 Yes I think no matter how the age groupings fall there will always be girls who are in a younger grade that are on a team where many graduate! I think that’s why the age grouping jumps from U17 to U19 so that it accommodates all those girls. It will be interesting to see how that works!

  5. I have an extremely passionate age 9 soccer girl with a Dec bday who is about average in her play. We were able to move up to an almost club with a dedicated team and extra coaching which I feel will help her this year – we had the opportunity to do a lower level club but we also have some health issues going on so we are staying in the shallow area of the pond. Most of the group is the next year down so I have no idea what will happen. I was looking forward to her sticking with a group for 2 years to give her more experience but we shall see how it goes. Better to tear that bandaid off and maybe we will move to club next year with some of her other friends. She’s been playing since she was 3 and she it’s her #1 priority.

    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! That’s great that your daughter is so passionate. Finding the right “fit” is so important. I’m sure you will find a team that is great for her 🙂

    1. Hi Chris- Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, it looks like the matrix has changed! I was just thinking that I need to update this to the new age matrix. So strange that they changed it.

      1. I think the confusion with the original age matrix was it said something about the year being the end of the season. So Fall 2016 season you’d actually look at 2017 and you’d see that the 2001s would play U16. Of course this “jump” in age group is causing such a huge commotion because it looks like August-December birthdate players are “losing” a year when in reality it’s the same amount of seasons playing soccer just a new name.

        1. Hi Shannon- Thanks for commenting! Yes, I agree with you! It does sound kind of weird though.

  6. Actually the August-December kids currently in the system are losing a year. This is made clear when you look at the 1998’s. Aug-Dec 98’s are currently U17. Look at the chart and explain to me how they are not losing a year of soccer.

    1. Hi Greg- thanks for reading and commenting. I agree it seems like they are “loosing” a year, but in reality none of the designations really matter. Kids will still get to play soccer throughout their high school career no matter what it is called. Looking on the cynical side, there is too much money involved for any kids who want to play to be denied the chance. Yes, kids who are currently on the older side now who are in the younger grade (fall birthdays) will need to find a new team once the rest of their team graduates, but it doesn’t sound like they will be denied the ability to play. I think they will have a U18/19/20 option. It’s all pretty confusing though!

  7. The one thing I do not see is the extreme negative. I coach a U13 girls team made up of 2002 and 2003 players. This fall in PA the older 02 players (Jan-Aug) will go on to their high school teams as 9th graders. The younger 02 (Sept-Dec, 8th grade) will have no team to play on. This will repeat every year for 8th graders. That is not good for development. This cycle will also repeat when these Sept-Dec players are high school seniors. I honestly don’t see the overall effectiveness of this change.

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