Single-Digit Soccer: Is softball different?

It’s official — U10 sports are front-page news.

IMG_1370Granted, the Vienna Connection isn’t The Washington Post. It’s a weekly community paper.

And there they are — the Vienna Stars, national U10 softball champions! They won the Virginia title and moved on to beat teams from Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

The team has two players from Great Falls, one from Lansdowne, one from South Riding, one from Leesburg, one from McLean, one from Warrenton, one from Bristow, and one from across the river in Potomac. Oh yes … and one from Vienna.

(For those who don’t know NoVa geography — these towns really aren’t that close to each other.)

Here’s how they did it:

The girls practiced twice a week as soon as Levin selected his team during a tryout period in August of 2014.

During the winter, the 10-year-old girls practiced in a warehouse.

Some players drove more than an hour to get to practices in Vienna.

So if you’ve read Single-Digit Soccer or Tom Farrey’s Game On or John O’Sullivan’s Changing the Game (and you should), you’ve probably spit out your Gatorade by now. This is exactly what we are not supposed to be doing, isn’t it?

Here’s the legendary quote, as reported by Soccer America‘s Mike Woitalla in 2007:

”National youth championships in the USA are the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” says Horst Bertl, the Dallas Comets longtime director of coaching. ”Whoever thinks these up should be stoned.”

And the turf war Woitalla describes, with multiple national championships, is true in softball as well. The Stars won the U.S. Specialty Sports Association Fast-Pitch National Championship. You can also play in another organization’s fast-pitch “nationals” in four convenient locations! The ASA / USA Softball also has championships down to U10.

In Single-Digit Soccer, U.S. Club Soccer’s Christian Lavers defends the concept of national championship — but not at this age:

At US Club Soccer, we believe that regional competition at U-13 is a good thing, and playing teams from different areas of the country in meaningful games at U-14 is a good thing.

So here’s the question: Are national championships at U10 a bad thing in soccer because of something unique to soccer? Or are they a bad idea, period, even if we don’t want to spoil the fun of the Vienna/South Riding/Leesburg/Potomac Stars?

Part of the answer is easy — “winning” in U10 soccer is a lot easier if you sacrifice development. Put players in set positions, where they’ll learn fewer of the skills down the road. Have the big player blast the ball downfield to the fast player. Find players with the aptitude and love of the game to learn, I mean, find the biggest and fastest players.

Does softball face the same issues? Or is there no harm in having U10s playing a bunch of different tournaments and calling a couple of them national championships?

Single-Digit Soccer is available electronically now and soon in print. Learn more and order here.