What follows is a rather long, but informative description of how we approach team formation in AYSO Region 43.
Probably the biggest single benefit in AYSO – and yet the biggest cause of concern for some parents – is our approach to team formation. A founding tenet of AYSO is to (re)form Balanced Teams each season. In fact, it is a firm rule that no player can be “stuck” with the same coach/team from season to season – except for the coach’s own child. The goal is to mimic that neighborhood playground method of picking up sides so as to make the game as close and competitive as possible. Only then is it the best and most positive learning experience created for all. Balanced teams do not stop once the teams are formed and released though. The head coaches are as much a part of implementing this goal during the season by playing all players equally (in time) each game and throughout the season, by avoiding run-ups in the score, and by adjusting their coaching style and strategy to keep the game competitive and fun for all.
So how do we form teams? Unlike the playground where you first pick two captains who then pick the teams a member at a time, we have a different process than a public draft. We need to form upwards of 16 teams in a division. And we try our best to do it without the stigma of a child knowingly being picked first or last. Some regions get all the coaches together and form a draft. This only works if the coaches are all equally familiar with the various players and their skills. A caveat they usually have also is that the formed teams by draft are then redistributed to the coaches in a lottery. This really attempts to prevent any coach from stacking a team.
We have not relied on the coach-based draft in Region 43. Instead, like most regions, we have a single person who oversees forming a balanced division. This is the main, initial role of the Division Coordinator (DC). The DC is aided by a computer program built into our registration system that has recorded statistics about each player from previous years or from parents declarations. This is why it is important not to create a new record during registration.
Many factors are taken into account by the computer and human algorithm that forms teams. Age, previous season goal count, previous coach ranking, parent ranking, school, available practice days, and buddy/sibling request. We try and balance the skill, age, grade, and school spread of each team while trying to honor practice day and buddy preference requests.
The National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) recommends small sided games at the elementary age levels. Both major youth soccer organizations endorse and generally require this. We in region 43 fully endorse the practice of reducing goal sizes and number of players on the field for this smaller kids. This helps the enjoyment and learning for the kids by giving them more action in a given game.
Where possible and practical, we try and honor buddy requests and the single day the player cannot practice when placing a child on a team. The buddy request (entered in the Sibling field during online registration) can only list the name of one other player in that same division and gender. That other player must also list your player in their buddy request. If you are an assistant coach who wants to work with a particular head coach, there is not a guaranteed and direct way to make this request. At most, you can have your players list each other in the sibling field and we will try to place them together. But again, if they are both very strong players, the likelihood of us being able to honor the request is less.
Teams are generally formed in July after registration goes into waitlist mode. We take first come, first served and do our best to place all children on a team. In Region 43, we are very restricted in field availability and sometimes coach volunteers. So we must sometimes limit the number of teams in a division. We generally try to release teams to the coaches in early August, at least 1 or 2 weeks before the first practice.
If you have a problem with your child’s team placement for any reason, you must contact the Division Coordinator for your child’s division. What he or she will do is to move your child off his/her current team and place him/her on the waitlist. The player will be inserted onto the waitlist based on the player’s registration date. You should only request to be moved off a team if there is no way you can participate in the AYSO program with that team. We cannot guarantee your child will be re-placed onto a team if the balance cannot be subsequently met. Parents and coaches must not seek to arrange trades of players between teams on their own. The Division Coordinator is the only person who can make such arrangements.
The waitlist is cleared near the end of August. First priority is any child that has a parent as a volunteer coach or referee. Next, the registration date is used. A child is placed on a new team based on available slots, team balancing factors, and the indicated single day the child cannot practice. This is an over constrained problem. As such, no buddy requests or other special requests can be honored at this point in the process. Our goal is to get every child playing; but not at the expense of unbalanced, uncompetitive teams. Once the waitlist is cleared and uniforms are handed out, players cannot be moved between teams and drops are subject to a fee before refunding the registration payment.
Please remember that we are an all volunteer organization made up of parents with either a strong interest (and sometimes professional experience) in soccer or who want to help in their kids activities. It does not help to get upset with a coach or DC about team placement. If the DC cannot answer your questions, you are welcome to contact the Region’s Divisions Commissioner or Regional Commissioner. But please realize that they tend to encourage those with strong opinions to take on volunteer roles within the Region.
The National Association of Sports and Physical Educators (NASPE) recommends that school-based teams not be formed at the elementary school age level. As a result, in Region 43, we specifically try to spread school kids around to different teams – especially in the divisions for children ages 6 and up. We try to make sure at least one child from the same school and grade is on your player’s team so there is at least one face you know. But if two super-star players are in the same school (or specify each other as “buddies”), the need to maintain team balance is likely to result in these players being placed on different teams.
For our youngest age group – players under age 6 and in our U6 division- we have found that forming teams with a large number of kids from the same school on each team is the simplest approach. In this case, we have minimal skill and other information about the children, and the school based grouping makes for a good introduction to soccer in this non-competitive environment. U6 is the only age division where we strongly emphasize school attendance.
For all other divisions, our goals are:
Only after all of these objectives are considered do we consider school affiliation; where possible, we try to have at least one other child from the same school and grade as your player.
We often find that, due to summer camps or other activities, your player knows kids from other schools already. In fact, this intermingling of kids from schools has been shown to be a big benefit. By the time players reach 7th grade, they likely to know or recognize many kids from the other feeder elementary schools because they have been playing with them. AYSO kids know many more kids in middle school and thus have much less of a shock. So please do not ask us to form a school-based team. It is not recommended and not practiced here.