Ignoring the 4v4 Professional Development Initiatives and the Effect on Younger Players
Mike Barr is the Technical Director of Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer with constant contact with coaches, players, and parents. His insights into the growing game of soccer in America often reflect on what people are thinking — just not saying out loud. Here is his latest column on youth soccer.
When the Professional Development Initiatives (PDI) came out in the 2016/2017 soccer season there was confusion on the part of parents, administrators, and coaches.
Would these new ideas create a stronger environment where there would be technical and tactical growth by our players — or would it be a program that falls apart after a few years and U.S. Soccer decides on a new approach?
When the PDI’s arrived, I was confused about who were the actual authors of this curriculum.
I was unsure of the studies and the models they examined that went into making the decisions.
I also was doubtful if the standards would be adhered to by the membership of U.S. Soccer.
I looked at the PDI standards in a way a school district may decide to alter their curriculum. When a school district changes its curriculum, there are years of study assessing various curriculums before their decision. Teachers are assigned a lengthy examination of school districts with a similar model. The eventual implementation of the proposed curriculum in small case studies within the school district is made. Once the members of the curriculum study are close to making a decision, they bring in the teachers who will be affected and provide them studies on why they chose the curriculum and the benefits of such a decision. Other soccer federations have followed the model I just described. Why not America?
In evaluating the decision three years later there are still issues which need to be examined:
Birth year registration caused confusion and disrupted clubs, teams, players and parents. Should it be re-examined to align with the school calendar?
Was the birth year registration necessary and what were the benefits?
Should all clubs adhere to the standards provided and is there a process available how do we determine what clubs or even state associations are following the standards?
Within U.S. Soccer Education are the courses meeting the needs of volunteers or parents who are coaching at the recreation or intramural level or are the coaches taking these licenses, primarily travel and paid coaches.
How many coaches are taking advantage of recommendations for small side games and routinely making their own decisions that affect young players?
When the standards for small sided played were put into place I thought it would have a positive impact on our young players especially if there was uniformity throughout the country. After all, small-sided games especially 4v4 have proven to improve skills, improve tactical knowledge, develop confidence with the ball and better field awareness. It was proposed to be an in-house program for all kids up to age eight.
Unfortunately, numerous clubs and coaches had other ideas and went in a different direction to circumvent the PDI. Within many clubs, the decision was made to make travel teams for players seven- and eight-years-old and allow them to play up within the 7V7 standards. In my opinion, this decision has affected not only individual players but clubs, teams and the growth of the sport as well.
4V4 was meant for players from U6 to U8 to be played in-house. In that way, numerous children are involved and are playing with friends and classmates. You create a comfortable environment for players and parents alike and you explain to parents the value of this process as soon as they register with the club.
You can alter your teams, play within different 4v4 models and track player development. You can play with assigned teams or split players up on game days. You design fun activities in training as well as following the 4V4 National License structure. Coaches can be switched from team to team and every coach follows a curriculum for all the players to make sure they are being served properly.
Some clubs have drifted away from the standards the PDI suggested and have created travel teams to play up. Many clubs have two teams playing up, denying more players the benefits of playing 4v4. This decision, in the long run, will affect the number of players participating because the parents whose child is not chosen will pull him or her from the program.
Does playing up at an early age have an impact on players who choose to drop out later? Could that be the core reason for the high dropout rate as players get older?
The biggest issue to me is how can any coach or individual predict the progress and development of children who are 6, 7 or 8 years of age?
I dislike the term “think outside the box” but following the standards suggested at 4V4 could be a benefit to all.
Clubs and coaches should not feel trapped by following the playing up decision of other clubs.
Explain to parents the benefits of 4v4 from U6 to U8 in-house and the positive development it brings to these young children.
Some countries in Europe see the benefits of playing even 2V2 or 3V3 at these ages. Let’s keep these players in a safe and fun atmosphere and allow them to grow and by following the standards provided at 4v4 and have US Soccer continuously examining the PDI to make sure it is meeting the needs of our players.
Michael Barr is a motivated, teacher and soccer coach with nationally recognized expertise and a thirty-year history in working with top-level soccer players, instructing youth coaches and speaking to numerous groups about player development.