Bethesda Roadrunners: My Site News: Behind the Rankings - A reflection on what they really mean

Behind the Rankings - A reflection on what they really mean
As the Roadrunners have once again reached #1 (Gotsoccer) and #1 (NSR), we decided to republish a write-up we posted some 3 years ago.

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Youth soccer rankings: What do they signify? Simply bragging rights? A reflection of the level of team and player development?

Many teams (especially their parents and coaches) follow the soccer rankings closely. Some make specific references to their placement as a sign of the development of their team. We admit, we also check our progress--and as was the case for a good part of the middle of our U12 seasons, our drop--in the rankings.

However, we should all be very careful about reading too much into soccer rankings. Being ranked high may give some bragging rights, but there are dangers in attaching too much importance to them:

1. Probably most importantly, from a developmental perspective, ranking is the wrong focus. Paying to much attention to your team's ranking may well hurt team development. Top players develop simply because they love the game, not because of record or rankings. The overconfidence a high ranking can breed also may take away your edge. If you play to ¨defend¨ your ranking, you are definitely in trouble. The RRs finished the U11 year as #1 in the US (in the National Soccer Ranking, which seems to be the most complete and sensible ranking.) It was not helpful for our development. We needed some ¨cold showers¨ and got several of them, some by design (playing up) and some unexpected ones.

2. Ironically, as we dropped in the rankings, our development picked up steam. Everyone on the RRs realized that other teams were simply better. We had to practice much harder and play smarter soccer to stay competitive. Our practices got better. And our game got better too.

3. The difference between the top 50 nationally ranked teams in the US is actually much less than many seem to think. While the National Rankings at any single time might be reasonable based on tournament scores, the tournaments themselves are often very closely contested. In Southern California--prehaps the strongest pool of U.S. youth soccer teams--the same teams win and lose to each other with regularity. The top 5-10 U13B Southern California teams are all very strong. In any given tournament, any one of them might win, and by winning, rise in the rankings.

4. Some rankings (such as GotSoccer) are based on simple accumulation of tournament points. The system allows teams to ¨buy¨ themselves a better ranking by signing up for many tournaments to collect points. Playing up--as the RRs often elect to do--virtually ensures a low ranking (which can be a plus, as explained above).

So what are the lessons?

1. Rankings don't give the whole picture: They're snapshots of relative tournament success, and cannot reflect the many variables that measure a team's true progress. If your team has fallen in the rankings, it might not signal that your team/coach is on the wrong track.

2. Don’t believe in your own press clippings. Just as you think you are winning the rat race, along comes faster rats.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . . we kind of enjoy being ranked up with the fast rats from Southern California and Texas . . . .