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How to Manage a "Leap Year"

Life happens. Commitments to club soccer at the high school age has become tougher than ever. Players are doing high school activities, making new friends, injuries, and of course becoming young adults. It is the typical cycle of what happens in youth sports across the board. It can be frustrating for both players and coaches. So, how do we manage it?

One of the worst things, in my opinion, US Soccer has done is switch the age groups from school year to calendar year. This step destroyed teams and clubs throughout the country. Especially the mom and pop shop clubs who have been operating based on their local talent playing with their friends. With the idea of having players playing “age appropriate” this did more harm than good. Teams broke up and it became tougher to find a place to play. Players are competing against and with players who are two grade levels different than them. 8th graders and sophomores get put in the position that has them looking for a new team during certain phases of the seasons. Which of course have forced, what I call, “leap years” for players to adapt to.

Coaches and players need to be honest about expectations of the team and themselves for the year. For players, if you know that you are going to be a multi sport athlete then let the coach know early enough. There is absolutely nothing wrong with playing multiple sports. Same goes with working. Players are going to feel burnt out over time, so account for some personal days in your schedule throughout the year. You need to take care of yourself first, but know what you committed to. Just keep a clear line of communication with your coach.

For coaches, it is tough to adjust and to put on a session for only 30% of the team on a weekly basis. It becomes demoralizing for those who are fully committed and it plays a huge part in the way that the team performs on the weekend. You combine sessions with other teams that are equal technically and allow them to learn from one another, but that purpose can be lost when the outside is looking in. Development is development with coaches doing the best that they can with what is provided to them.

I have experienced this “leap year” for multiple seasons. This photo is after beating a quality Ukrainian’s team 9 v 11 with no real keeper. It is tough, but doable when you have players who keep the standard that you set for them. You are going to be dealing with negativity that starts on the car ride home after training, that then transfers to the sideline during matches, then travels throughout the team on the field. It can be tough to manage, but your efforts to make what you have work do not go unnoticed to the people that matter the most.

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