At the recent NCYSA Annual General Meeting, the VP of Tournaments noted during his annual report that he felt the existence of a ‘State Cup’ for recreational soccer below U13 was inappropriate and felt it needed to be done away with. At the Recreation Council meeting the day before, it was noted that attendance at the Rec State Cup was declining and that something had to be done to ‘offer a better product’ for Recreation Soccer. It was clear the Recreation State Cup was in for some significant changes.

At the Recreation Council Meeting, it was decided that a committee would be formed to assess the current state cup and recommend changes for the council to consider. That meeting took place in late January and the result was significant.

I apologize for not getting notes of this up sooner. I’ve been swamped with local league stuff as we get our Spring season underway. As a usual disclaimer, what I’ve included in this post is the best recollection I have of what happened according to my own notes. If I missed anything and you were there, by all means let me know. This should NOT be considered an official record of the meeting.

A total of eleven people participated in the meeting, including 3 NCYSA representatives. The meeting started off with a brief overview of where the Rec State Cup was. Attendance has been a continuing problem. This year’s cup saw a drop of 16 teams (from 66 to 50), though 8 associations participated in 2006 that had not in 2005, bringing 10 teams. Three associations from 2005 did not return in 2006 and almost every association from 2005 brought fewer teams in 2006.

A recent survey of recreational associations found a wide variety of reasons why associations didn’t bring teams to the Rec State Cup. These included:

  • Didn’t know about it
  • Too expensive (fees AND travel)
  • Too far to travel
  • Not what Rec Soccer is about (competition)
  • Not all associations form Rec teams the same way. All Star teams common.
  • Commitment deadline too early

As NCYSA Districts take shape, they are starting to offer regional festivals. District 5 has put on a very successful festival for U7 through U14 in the Fall. They had over 50 teams attend their last festival with most teams traveling 45 minutes or less. District 1 (Cape Fear) is working to setup something similar in the Spring. District 2 is just getting organized, but hopes to offer an annual festival as well. It was clear there was demand for some type of regional soccer event at the Recreational level.

We then went around the table for each person to talk about what they thought about the current Rec State Cup.

The NCYSA reps felt there should be no competition for players under 12. The 1999 Time survey that talked about 73% of kids dropping out of sports when they hit 13 years old was used to back this assertion up. There are 47,000 players in the NCYSA and only 750 participated in the Rec State Cup, so clearly it’s not working [Editors note: These numbers were a bit off as the latest membership numbers from the NCYSA show 34,649 registered Rec players. Even at 34,649, that includes a lot of U6 and U8 players who can’t participate in the cup. Firm numbers of U10 and above registrations aren’t available, though I would venture to say ~40% of all Recreation registrations are in U10 and above. That’s a conservative estimate – so figure out of 13,859 eligible players, only 750 or 5% participated in the Rec State Cup]

I noted the great experience my kids had had last Fall and that I had not seen, at least within the U10 Boys division, any major bad behavior. I think there was one lopsided match. Every team we played substituted frequently and the parents were well behaved. The other U9 and U10 matches going on around us seemed to be going well though I wasn’t able to watch them closely. The reason we brought our team was because they had had a very successful season and we wanted to let them experience something new and play against teams they had not played before. It also meant a lot to the families.

Even though we were going for the experience (we had no preconceived notion about winning by any means), the fact that the kids were going to ‘play in the NC State Cup’ meant a lot to relatives, grandparents, etc. Even though the parents knew it wasn’t a huge deal, given how many teams actually came, the extended families of some players flocked to Shelby to cheer the kids on. It was great seeing over 50+ people on our sideline cheering the team on and the kids loved it. Plus they loved just staying in a hotel, seeing the sights (Lawnmower Races – w00t!), and hanging out with their teammates. I doubt the local Pizza Inn recovered from our Saturday night visit when we took up half the seating with our team! The idea was this was a neat experience for kids who may never play travel soccer to play in a tournament and experience it. A key point I brought up was that most associations work hard to provide even keeled rec programs. Competition is not the main focus – development is, or should be. Why is it bad to have a competitive tournament at the end of the season? It’s hard to argue that this one weekend of competition alone will drive a kid away from the sport. As I’ve noted before, had we not ‘placed’ the kids wouldn’t have cared. The fact that they did AND got awarded for their efforts was a huge confidence boost.

Other points raised from other associations included the idea that while district festivals filled a void, was it a bad thing to still have the State Cup as an option? Why make it one or the other? Most had good experiences at the State Cup and regularly sent teams. A few had seen bad behavior, but it seemed to be an exception.

There seemed to be a mix of opinions and everyone knew something had to be done to increase participation. But it was clear that there wasn’t enough support within the committee (3 NCYSA Reps and 8 league reps) for keeping the State Cup in a competitive format for U12 and below.

Further discussion dealt with the amount of travel involved, especially when there weren’t enough teams to hold East and West divisions. Most felt we should break things up on a district basis. Eventually there seemed to be a consensus to have each district hold a Rec State Festival for U10-U12. There would still be a State Cup for U13 and above. Suggestions included having each district rotate the State Cup or having each district hold qualifiers for the older kids with each District sending winners on to Greensboro for the finals.

The main risk with this proposal is that some of the districts still haven’t been organized yet. District 3 is much too big (includes Raleigh, Greensboro, AND Charlotte). Efforts are underway to form sub-districts, but that will take time. We’re still trying to form a District 3A among clubs between Greensboro and Raleigh, but haven’t gotten much response yet.

So this, to me, is the main risk of this proposal – the lack of consistent district organization statewide. That said, this also may be the push that is needed to get the districts up and running statewide.

Based on the meeting, here is the proposal which will be sent to the Rec Council for approval in March. It also includes some additional notes from the meeting. The goal is to have the first Rec State Festivals in the Spring of 2008.

This was one key suggestion: to have the State Cup/Festival in the Spring instead of the Fall. However, certain districts prefer the Fall, so it’s not clear if ALL the regional festivals will be held at the same time. That was left ‘To Be Determined’.

As I’ve stated before, I worry about the push to eliminate competition at all levels of soccer for U12 on down. I don’t think it will fix the bad coaching that is the root cause of much of the problems with competition. I think that kids at the U10 and U12 levels CAN handle the pressures of competition and should be exposed on a limited basis to it. My son has experienced some VERY tough losses in our league’s tournaments and I think it has been a good learning experience for him. I think waiting until he is 12 would be a bit too late. I agree piling on competition on kids this age can have an adverse effect – but an end of season tournament is not going to wreck the kids for life if they lose. Why can’t you spend the regular season on pure player development and let them have competition towards the end?

That said – it was clear the current Rec State Cup wasn’t working. Not enough people attended, so something had to be done. Personally, I think with most Rec teams playing in festivals within their own associations, there is nothing wrong with keeping the Rec State Cup a competitive tournament. I suggested that we could make it a regional qualifier, just like the plans for U13 and use a round robin format to ensure everyone got 3-4 matches. But the pressure to eliminate competition is fierce and the festival concept won out.

Festivals are a fine idea and if that’s where the state’s associations want to go with U12 and below Recreation – that’s OK. Not my first choice, but it’s not the end of the world. That said I do believe there are a few key risks with this proposal:

  1. The fact that it is a festival may make it less appealing to teams to participate. So while having regionals close by will help, having it be just a festival may not attract teams to it. Or it may make it more attractive. The survey of the rec leagues above as to why they didn’t come had responses all over the spectrum – it’s hard to know how this will pan out.
  2. Cost – especially with it being a festival format, will teams pay $350+ to attend? Now the cost issue wasn’t addressed, but it is clear that it needs to be cheaper. District 5’s festival is in the $100/team range. If these new festivals can stay near that, it should be fine.
  3. Uncertainty of statewide district organization. While some districts are up and running very well, others haven’t even been formed.
    I think this is the biggest risk for some areas of the state.

the Rec State Cup as we know it won’t be around much longer. It isn’t clear if it will be held in 2007 or not, but the goal is to have the festivals up and running in 2008.