Youth Program Philosophies

The Williamston Soccer youth program emphasizes individual skill development, good sportsmanship, and teamwork so that our players have an opportunity to flourish and develop to their full potential. As a community-based organization, our primary goal is to keep as many players playing as long as we possibly can, and to make it easy for them to do so. 

Team Formation

Williamston Soccer forms teams strictly by school grade level. When more than one team is formed in an age bracket, we will seek to create teams that are competitively balanced. Rosters may change from one year to the next in order to maintain that balance over time.

At the conclusion of each season, coaches submit a player evaluation which provides an understanding of each player’s development against Williamston Soccer’s individual development objectives. The Youth Program Director and Director of Coaching review the player evaluations and use this information as input to create balanced teams for the following season. Coaches do not have direct input or control over selecting players for their teams.

Why do we require teams to be formed by grade? Why can’t my player “play up?” Why does our team have to play against older, faster players?

US Soccer introduced a national birth year requirement for all soccer leagues which play under their umbrella, including the Michigan State Youth Soccer Association (MSYSA). The requirement is that divisions are split by using player birth years as the primary criteria.

Despite these requirements, Williamston Soccer prefers to place teams together by grade level. Why is this important to us?

Kids want to play with their classmates
We have seen an increase in player involvement since we moved to grouping teams by grade.  Kids want to play with their classmates and when we had to split kids up because they were in a different birth year, we lost a lot of players.  We attract new kids each year because someone sees their friend in class playing soccer and that makes them want to play as well.  Player retention is high because of this.  

It gives us better numbers for teams (most of the time)
For small communities like ours, numbers could be an issue if we went by just birth year.  For instance, we have a few birth years where we only have 9, 10 and 12 kids in that particular year.  While that’s ok for 7v7, it creates an issue when they go to 9v9 and 11v11 games.  Instead, most of our teams have 15+ players which makes for a good number when they go full field.  

Playing together creates chemistry
The longer you play together, the more chemistry you have.  The non-soccer side of that: you make some incredible friendships, too!

Are there any downsides that we considered?

This system means that many teams end up playing one age bracket higher than they might otherwise, because we must still adhere to US Soccer / MSYSA / CASL rules. For instance – in the 2022/2023 school year, most 6th graders are in the 2011 birth year. These players are eligible to play in the U12 age division. However, there are some 6th grade players who are born in the late months of 2010, which makes them eligible for the U13 division. In order to keep the team together by grade, the entire team has to play up to the U13 division.

Many of our teams get matched against teams that are formed strictly by birth year, which can lead to physical differences. However, this can happen even when playing in their correct birth year. There can always be a player or a team out there who is bigger and faster and stronger.  We can’t control that….so we don’t focus on it. 

Instead, we ask the coaches that they focus and encourage our kids to dribble to take on players and to find space to dribble into.  Focus on making quick decisions on whether to dribble, pass or shoot.  Focus on the kids love of the game and the process of improving in the game and in practice.  Focus on getting the players to think and execute faster in practice so that they think and execute faster in games against those bigger/faster/stronger kids.  Don’t think about formations and positioning nearly as much as you think about skill development and speed of play.  To sum it up: focus on making the kids better players each and every day.   

Why do we prefer balanced rosters instead of “A / B” teams?

Several misconceptions happen when organizations like ours create A/B teams. First, the assumption that the “B” team is here “just to have fun”.  It can be natural to think of it that way, but it is not always the case. Some of those players want to be competitive, too, they just aren’t there yet with in their personal skill development.  By placing those players on the second team, we are inevitably labeling those players as “less than”, just because of the A > B structure. That “B” team knows and feels that they’re “just the B team”, and some of them get frustrated & quit. Others don’t try to challenge themselves. This goes against our principle to keep players playing as long as possible with a focus on individual development.

Meanwhile, the “A” team tends to believe that they are already great players, that they don’t need to continue improving their skills – they already made the “best” team, after all. It’s possible to overcome that attitude, of course, but we generally find it easier to challenge players to continue growing as individuals within the context of a balanced team amongst classmates.

Competition Levels

We not concerned about wins & losses. Player development is the goal, and it can happen within a game that we lose by ten goals. Likewise, players can make zero progress as players when winning by ten goals.

With that said, we do our best to place our teams with appropriate levels of competition within the Capital Area Soccer League (CASL) structure. This often means playing in the lower divisions as our teams are often matched against older, more physically developed teams due to the grade-level vs birth year formation issue.

There will always be cases where we didn’t get it right. If teams are running up the score on us, there’s often not much we can do to stop them, but we are firm with our coaches that they are not to let that happen to our competition.  We can reduce the number of players on the field, we can put extra restriction on players (i.e., “5 passes before you shoot!”) to help mitigate an unbalanced game. We want to remember what it’s like to be on the other side of that kind of match, and always be respectful to our opponents and the game.

If Williamston Soccer forms balanced teams, why is one team in “Division 1” and another team is in “Division 2”?

Using Williamston Soccer’s balanced teams philosophy, we would expect that two or more teams in the same age group would be placed into the same competitive division within CASL.

There are two reasons that this might not the case:

CASL rules do not permit “guest players” between teams in the same division

Sometimes our teams are not quite full enough to make sure we have enough players at every game. For instance – if eighteen 3rd grade boys are registered to play, we will create two teams of nine players, but that only leaves two players as subs in a 7v7 match. Sometimes a player or two might not be able to make it to a match.

In these cases, our coaches are expected to work together to utilize CASL’s guest player system to get enough players to play the game, but that system requires that players are not being shared between teams in the same competitive division. This is a more recent rule (enacted Fall ’23), and it forces us to split our teams into separate divisions.

CASL rules utilize a promotion / relegation system between the fall and spring seasons

If two Williamston teams did play in the same division in the fall, and were an even balance between each other, and finished with identical records, it might be the case that the tiebreaker system slots one team as 2nd place and the other team as 3rd place. Per the CASL rules, the 2nd place team would be promoted to the next highest division within that age group for the spring season.

In either of these cases, Williamston coaches, players, and parents should not presume that CASL division placement means one team was created to be “better” than the other.

Other Soccer Opportunities

If players want to seek a more competitive team option, we 100% encourage them to go play club soccer (Cap City, Jags, Nationals, etc.). There are several great options in the Lansing area and we love to see them grow in the game via that route. Keep in mind, too, that our players’ #1 reason for wanting to play is to be with their friends, so some club players actually do both club & community.  Club comes first when there’s conflicts, but they would also be eligible to play with their classmates.