Changes coming to youth soccer in 2016

Age Group and Small-Sided Games Mandate from U.S. Soccer

This year, the world of youth soccer will continue its evolution as all members of U.S. Soccer will begin to transition on two key factors to encourage further youth development. The first change will be the nationwide adoption of Small-Sided Games and the second will be a shift from school-year to calendar year for the age grouping of teams.

US Youth Soccer, the largest member of U.S. Soccer, will assist members with information on these changes through the national office and our 55 member State Associations.

US Youth Soccer director of coaching education and long-time advocate of Small-Sided Games, Sam Snow acknowledged, “Since the mid 1980’s US Youth Soccer has been an advocate for Small-Sided Games. Why? The many benefits to the players and even to novice coaches are clear. With fewer players on the field making quick tactical decisions is easier. Players are in the vicinity of the ball more often which engages them in all four components of the game. The players are realistically exposed to the principles of play frequently. In short, Small-Sided Games will accelerate the development of American soccer players.”

Small-Sided Games

Small-Sided Games will be mandated come August of 2017, with specific changes occurring in regard to alterations to the field size, goals and rules. The result will be a decrease in 11-vs-11 competitions in lieu of more 9-vs-9 and 7-vs-7 competitions. U.S. Soccer will encourage the adoption of Small-Sided Games best practices in August of 2016. US Youth Soccer has been encouraging Small-Sided Games for more than 20 years and most of the 55 member State Associations have adopted the philosophy during that time.

The benefits of Small-Sided Games for players include more fun, more touches on the ball and more tactical decisions. The style of play will allow players to learn different positions, learn tactics quicker, increase fitness and allow players to be more emotionally and socially involved — creating a more fun and enjoyable game. 

Small-Sided Games FAQ: [Download PDF] 

Calendar Year

Effective August 2017, the grouping of players will also change nationwide, with encouraged adoption of best practices in August of 2016. U.S. Soccer will go back to calendar birth years to align with international standards and Youth National Team programs.

US Youth Soccer will implement the best practice of calendar year age grouping for player registration beginning with the 2016-2017 soccer year for US Youth Soccer program and competitions.


Using the school calendar for age groups is practiced only in the United States and Canada; as all other FIFA members go by the calendar year. 

Previously, age groups were determined based on players born between Aug. 1 and July 31. The change to calendar year age groups will reflect the calendar year, or Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. Players are still allowed to “play up” or play in an older age group.

US Youth Soccer, a respected leader in player development for more than 40 years, has seen the evolution of the game and various changes. The US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program has used the birth year for the grouping of players since it was established in 1977. In fact, the James P. McGuire Cup, the oldest trophy in youth sport, awarded at the annual US Youth Soccer National Championships also shows the history of teams named for their calendar year age group.

Calendar Year FAQ: [Download PDF]
Calendar Year Age Matrix 2016-2021 
[Download PDF]

More details will be provided as available regarding specific implementation for these mandates from U.S. Soccer.