Team Disparity and Fairness

Building on the post I recently put up regarding a mercy rule, our league decided to email our parents some further explanations as to why some teams aren’t competing well, why they got the players they did, and what the league hopes to do in the future to ensure more competitive divisions. The background on this is we have a few teams who had certain kids drop off their teams leaving them with a young inexperienced roster and they are getting beaten soundly in most of their matches, rarely scoring a goal. This email was meant to soothe some ruffled feathers and hopefully let them know we have a plan for the future. I figured I’d share it with everyone.

This email may be one of the more important emails we send this season so please be sure to read it completely. While this email is primarily intended for U8 and above where results are kept, I believe it worthwhile for U5/U6 parents to read as well.

As we wind down our Fall 2006 season, many of you have seen a number of matches against a variety of teams. Some of you have children on teams who have won every match while some of you are on teams that have lost every match. The rest are somewhere in between. Every season is different with last year’s team with a losing record going undefeated this season, new teams competing out of nowhere, etc.

I know some of you are frustrated because your teams are struggling. I’ve heard a number of concerns from parents over how teams get assigned, why some teams lose by sizable margins, etc. I hope to address those concerns as best I can. Below are some common concerns we hear and some background on why certain things may be happening.

"Our team got beaten 10-0. That coach just wants to win."

This is a common misconception. Sure, players and coaches like to win, but I know most of our coaches personally, especially those in the upper age divisions. They are some of our most committed and dedicated coaches and usually have experienced lopsided loses as much as they may experience lopsided wins – myself included. I can assure you that beating a team 2-0 or 10-0 is no different. We as a league have often debated internally about how much is ‘too much’ in a mismatched game. A common area of agreement is that it isn’t the end result that matters – it’s how the result was achieved. For example, in a U10 match, if each player on a team scored one goal, you could easily have a 11-0 result. But you might also have a match where a handful of players scored their first goal ever. Many would say – that’s ok. It’s still hard on a losing team, but a winning coach who challenges their team (shoot left footed, 3 consecutive passes before shots, pulling strong players back on defense) is handling things properly. If his 2nd and 3rd lines score after the 1st line is pulled out/back, you can easily have lopsided results where many players score. The flip side is if a coach leaves in their one star to score as many times as he/she can. That is frowned upon and rarely seen in our league. Now many will say ‘if you’re up 4-0 tell the kids to stop scoring’ On the surface that seems to make sense, but in essence your taking away valuable game time and ball touches from a team because they scored a few goals early. If a team scored 5 goals in the first 10 minutes then stops scoring, they are left with no choice but to play keep away for the remaining 40 minutes. This can often be harder and more difficult for a losing team to handle because it’s clear they’re being toyed with. There is no easy answer to this and I’ve written a number of articles and emails about it. I wish there were a hard and fast ‘rule’ we coudl implement to avoid hurt feelings but in the end we can only steer coaches towards doing the ‘right thing’ which is not a stationary target.

"The league officers always get the best kids"

I can assure you that this is not true. All of our league officers have coached winning teams and also coaching losing teams. I may have an undefeated team this season, but many of those same players went 2-5 last year. When we assign teams, we struggle to assign teams as evenly as possible. Yes, we allow special assignments, but we also will not allow a special request if it skews a teams’ perceived strength. Of course on paper it is relative and a team that seems balanced may have kids who blossom and the team dominates or vice versa. Our #1 guideline for kids in the same age division is staying with their team if they return. beyond that, we do whatever we can to assign balanced teams.

We had a unique situation arise for U10 this year. This is the first year the MYSA has had Challenge teams. Many of the players who made U10 Challenge teams also signed up for Recreation teams. We also had some players who signed up ‘just in case’ they couldn’t do football or some other activity. These were often more athletic kids who make significant contributions to whatever team they are on. We assigned our rosters initially with everyone who signed up, not knowing who might drop out. The U10 Coordinator, faced with a shrinking roster size and a record registration pool managed to come up with teams that were well balanced in August. Sure, there were one or two teams expected to do well because they had many older players return from the Spring. However the balance was there. Unfortunately a LOT of players dropped out including many who played Challenge and other sports. The dropouts were not balanced so some teams lost much more than others. That late in the process, it was difficult to adjust for as teams had already formed and started practicing together. So some teams got decimated while others kept all their players leading to significant differences between some teams in U10.

So PLEASE – in the future. if you register your child for soccer, you should be sure they want to play, even if they are involved in another activity. Registering them ‘just in case’ can cause a lot of problems down the road as we assign teams. You can always register them late – we take most late registrants.

"Why didn’t you split U10?"

We debated this at length. Splitting divisions in the Fall is difficult because the teams are all new with some kids dropping out, some moving up and out, others moving in from below, returning players, and finally new registrants, whose skills the coordinators don’t know. It is almost impossible to know which teams will succeed and which won’t. Looking at the results so far and knowing the teams we debating splitting into A/B divisions, we likely would have seem dominant and struggling teams in both subdivisions. We probably WILL split U10 in the Spring based on the Fall results, since the teams stay relatively intact so it is easier to know which team belongs where.

"Why don’t we have a ‘mercy’ rule?"

Youth soccer is about player development – both physically and mentally. While it may be hard on kids to face a 10-0 result in a lopsided match, it is often harder on the parents and coach than the kids. Ending a match early means less ball touches and less time for kids to develop. We all want to protect our kids from hardship, but you’d be surprised by what I’ve personally seen. With my players, the hardest losses to deal with haven’t been blowouts. They’ve been hard fought matches where they lose by one goal in the final minutes. A mercy rule might put an early end to a lopsided match, but the kids one a struggling team would know something was ‘different’ and wonder why none of their matches seemed to last as long as other kids. We’d rather see a winning coach manage a lopsided match by further challenging his players so the losing team players also get more ball touches and further improve, even if they’re begin scored on.

"Why can’t I get my kids on a team with a better coach?"

Our league tries our best to accommodate requests from parents regarding which teams children play for. The majority of these requests are so kids can play with friends, setup carpools, etc. However we know some requests are simply a parent wants their child to play for a given coach based on a coach’s experience and past performance. However, there are only so many slots on each team. When we have more requests than slots for a given team, we take a variety of factors into account including gender, age, and skill balance before we meet special requests. Our division coordinators struggle each season to create the most balanced teams possible using the information they have available. The recent reduction in roster sizes has also made things difficult as we’ve moved to small-sided matches. Now that roster sizes are stable, things should even out a bit going forward.

Losing matches week after week is never easy. It may seem at times like your team is always the one losing and ‘that other coach’s’ team is always winning. There is SOME truth to that – kids that are well coached often do well. But for every successful season a given coach has had, they’ve also had difficult seasons as well. Our league officers spend countless hours debating the best way to handle various situations and roster assignments are always very difficult. We loathe anything that might appear like we’re somehow ‘favored’ A prime example is that my U10 team got a lot of older kids because I was president of the league. In fact, my team had 8 kids return from a roster of 14 kids last Spring, just over half which is normal. However, because the rosters sizes had to shrink to 11 due to small side, this overweighted my team a bit. As I noted above, the roster sizes won’t change anymore so things should begin to even out.

A key point is this. if you have a question about why something was done or why something happened – ASK. Don’t assume it was because coach A is getting favorable treatment or player B is the coaches kid. I’m not naive enough to think favoritism never happens, but you’d be amazed how often people are accused of it in our league when the people involved know that it was completely innocent and a result of rules/administrative protocols, etc. I was once accused of overruling a referee who didn’t call offside and disallowing a goal during one of my matches because I was ‘president’ when, in fact, the assistant referee had seen the offside and raised his flag. Thankfully a parent from the other team asked me what happened and I explained it to them and put them in touch with the head referee to confirm what happened. So just ASK – we’ll be happy to nip controversy upfront and give you the best answer we can.

The league is not trying to sweep concerns under a rug either. Now that we’re an ‘official’ state league and things are, for the most part, running smoothly, the officers have spent many hours discussing and brainstorm ideas for the future. Over and over the same issue has risen to the top: Coaching Development. We know for our league to succeed and for ALL of our kids to have the opportunity to move up to the next level or at the very least enjoy some success in Rec, they need good coaches. So the league is working on programs that will ensure our new coaches are given multiple resources and opportunities to improve and learn so they can, in turn, better teach their players. But we’re not all knowing experts. if you hava ideas, by all means tell us. We can’t agree to implement them all, but we do our best to explain why we do our don’t implement various ideas.

My one request at the end of all this is please don’t lose hope. Even if your team goes 0-8, things DO improve. Scroll through the archived results online sometimes to see how some teams that move up through the age groups can rise and fall year by year. The MYSA is committed to the development of players, coaches, and referees. We’ve obviously had other distractions as our league has grown, but now we feel we have the time and resources to better fulfill that mission. We hope you decide to stay with us as we continue to assess and improve our program.

See you on the fields!

Coach Mike

It was definitely a long email, but a lot of things needed to be covered. Our coaches were encouraged to also talk with their parents about it. We’re working to rework our website and I expect us to add a FAQ where some frequent questions about our league can be answered permanently. I’ll be sure to update/comment with any notable ideas and suggestions from our parents and how this was received.

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