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AYSO Convention Puts Spotlight On Player Development, Playing Time

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For three days over Memorial Day weekend, it was my honor and sincere pleasure to be the keynote speaker and a guest observer and consultant at the 2009 National Annual General Meeting of the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) in Dallas, Texas. The majority of the more than 700 folks in attendance were regional commissioners-the true backbone of the AYSO. The AYSO has long been at the top of my list of best national youth sports organizations. They have the right values, mission statement and an amazing number of dedicated volunteers and staff.

One of the highlights of the NAGM was the Friday night cowboy cookout. I am in the photo (above) with two regional commisioners. During dinner we were introduced to AYSO's newest Hall Of Fame inductees, Burton Haimes and Cherie Tucker, and a number of this year's award winners. Burton has devoted 33 years (more than half his life) as an AYSO volunteer; Cherie has volunteered for over 35 years. The slide show about Burton and Cherie left me speechless. They truly represent what makes AYSO so special: an overwhelming feeling that all of the people connected with AYSO are connected with each other and, as many folks stated; are part of one big family.

During my time as an observer of the NAGM I had the chance to attend meetings, to learn about various protocols and procedures, and hear about proposed amendments to bylaws, rules and regulations. Yet, most interesting for me was the opportunity to spend time with so many wonderful regional commissioners (RCs) from every state in the nation to learn about issues unique to their state and region (Imagine being the commissioner for New York City. Not like trying to find fields in rural Iowa?)

I made a point of meeting and talking with as many RCs before my keynote to get a "pulse" of what the big issues were that their communities are facing. It was also a chance to see if I needed to tweak or adjust my speech to address those issues. Overall, the general concerns were about the economy (not surprising) and the future direction of the AYSO to keep pace with what families are seeking for their children's sports experience. These concerns were reflected in the proposed bylaw amendments.

Promoting player development

One proposed bylaw amendment was to add Player Development to the five philosophies the AYSO has had since its inception in 1964: Everyone PlaysTM, Balanced Teams, Open Registration, Positive Coaching and Good Sportsmanship.

The amendment (which ultimately passed) stated as follows: "We believe all players should be able to develop their soccer skills and knowledge to the best of their abilities, both individually and as members of a team, in order to maximize their enjoyment of the game." The new philosophy goes into effect August 1, 2009 and the change will roll through materials as they are reprinted to ensure there is minimal budget impact at any level of the organization. The new philosophy will be incorporated into AYSO's by-laws and its mission statement. As I have written in the past, too often in today's youth sports player development takes a back seat to winning. It was great to see the AYSO include player development as an express goal of the organization.

"Three quarters play" rule

Another rule change was dubbed the ‘three quarters play" rule. Proposed by Lorrie Maher of New York, it would have required, in addition to the existing AYSO rule requiring that every player play at least half of the game, that all team members play at least three quarters of the game before any team member would be allowed to play the entire game.

From my years as a soccer coach, youth sports parent and administrator, and from the emails I get from kids and parents every day, I know at the top of their list of complaints is lack of equal playing time. The number one reason kids drop out of team sports, as a recent study by the Women's Sports Foundation again confirmed, continues to be because they aren't having fun (cited by 39% of both boys and girls). I believe most of those kids, and probably some of the 15% of boys and girls in the WSF survey who say they dropped out because they "weren't good enough players," did so because they weren't getting enough playing time and didn't see the point of sitting on a bench most of the game while other kids played the entire game. Kids know that to get better in the sport they need to play, especially in games.

I have long advocated - both in my book, Home Team Advantage, and on this website - in favor of an equal playing time rule for kids before 6th grade and a significant playing time rule during middle school and at levels below high school varsity. I thought this was a golden opportunity to set the AYSO apart from all the other youth sports clubs who have become complacent about the 50% playing time rule.

Worth implementing

Unfortunately, Lorrie's amendment did not pass. But that doesn't mean it isn't worthy of implementation. If you are a soccer coach (or a baseball coach, basketball coach, football coach; whatever team sport you are coaching), why not make it your rule: that everyone plays 75% before anyone plays 100%? Or you could propose it be implemented at the club or league level.

I always made it my policy that everyone on my team played three-quarters of the games and I alternated the players that played the entire game. I encouraged kids to take "byes" as a family day, so that when I had a fuller roster we could pull off the ¾ policy. I hope that Lorrie continues to educate people on the importance of her amendment change.

Imagine how a parent would feel knowing that her child (1) had a chance to play three quarters of every game if he/she wanted to; (2) rest during the game; (3) take a game off occasionally to spend time with his or her family? That's a recipe for a great youth sports experience with tremendous value! The first club that promotes such policies will surely see its numbers double.

I left the weekend with many new friends and a strengthened partnership with the folks at AYSO and plan on many years of writing about all they are doing right.

QUESTION: How do you feel about a 3/4 play rule? Has your child's coach, club or league been one of the first to adopt this rule? Does it work? Please register so you can leave your comment below.