Lyndon Area Youth Soccer: Mission Statement/Ability Based Coaching

The goal of Lyndon Area Youth Soccer is to introduce the area youth to the game of soccer in a manner that encourages teamwork, personal growth, and physical activity.  LAYS coaches aim to guide players to develop skills needed to play beyond the middle school level while modeling and reinforcing the principles of fairness, respect, good sportsmanship, and a love of the game.

When an approach to education is so compelling, why are so many people involved in youth soccer so skeptical and unwilling to accept the mounting evidence supporting ability based approach over mixed ability groupings?

In speaking with most education professionals you will find few that will argue against the merits of an ability based approach to learning… but try having a similar discussion with non-educators on a Board of Directors in a youth soccer organization and you really have your work cut out to make a persuasive argument.  Research, logic and emotion often clash when debating the topic of ability grouping and there are few topics that are more emotive in youth sport and education than passing judgment on a child’s ability and then moving that child to a group/team of similarly talented players. 

As an example, let's look to another sport - swimming. Children starting swimming lessons are usually grouped in the ‘beginners’ group, unless they are accessed by the instructor and found to be at a higher ability level than beginner.  This instruction of a beginner’s class usually consists of basic paddling in the shallow end of the pool with the aid of a floatation device.  As the child improves in ability the instructor increases the range of strokes, reduces the need for buoyancy aids and moves the child to a deeper part of the pool – in other words - ability based education.  Other sport examples include the ‘belt’ system in martial arts – each color representing a higher ability and in schools ability based grouping is universally accepted as common practice at the elementary school grades – starting with reading, writing and arithmetic.  Two or three groups are formed with each group working on different materials tailored to the unique needs and abilities of the members.
Defining Ability and Mixed Ability Grouping:

The term ‘Ability Based Grouping’ refers to segmenting players based on their perceived capabilities for learning and performance, usually determined by a performance assessment.  Ability based grouping can occur within a team or group, within an age group or school grade and/or between age groups or school grades
  • Within a group: separating the players within the same group into subgroups of similar ability.
  • Within an age group/school grade: separating the players of the same age into groups of similar ability.
  • Between 2-3 age groups/school grades: separating the players of a dissimilar age into small groups of similar ability.
The Facts:

Ability based coaching enables coaches to present activities, instruction and pace of delivery to meet players’ needs within a group more effectively.

There has been extensive research examining the effects of ability grouping on achievement in education and sport.  Like most research, there are conflicting conclusions, but the wealth of evidence support the following facts:
  1. Grouping players based on ability within a team produces larger improvements in performance than mixed ability grouping.  The benefits are slightly better for low-achieving players than for mid or high performers.
  2. Grouping players based on ability within and between a year/school grade leads to significantly greater improvements in performance than mixed ability groups at all levels (High, Mid and Low) of achievement.
  3. There are no significant differences in performance when High, mid and Low ability groups use the same content.
When the curriculum is differentiated to meet the achievement levels of the ability groups, the effects are consistently positive. 
7 Key Factors in Implementing Ability Based Programming for the Long Term:

The following is a list of ‘tips’ from  experiences of implementing ability based grouping:
  1. Development and changes in performance can change so rapidly, that the training and playing environment must be ‘fluid’.  Movement between ability groups for players should be easy and seamless.
  2. The assessment process must be well designed; it must measure the key competencies important to the stage of development and must be extremely transparent
  3. Parent education is imperative.  The aims, objectives and processes need to be communicated effectively at registration and during the season; the coaches/Director of Coaching must be readily accessible to answer all questions and concerns.
  4. Leadership on and off the field should be clearly evident and the presence of an ‘authority’ in education and coaching will add a considerable degree of validity to the model.
  5. Equitable distribution of coaching talent is particularly important if the achievement gap between high and low achievers are not to increase.  Achievement inequalities can be reduced significantly by raising the caliber of coaching in low level groups. We need volunteer coaches to help us achieve this!
  6. A phased approach of moving from mixed ability to ability based grouping is highly recommended particularly in an existing program where change can and will be met with resistance.  LAYS has been slowly migrating this way for the last few years.
  7. Communicate group changes to parents prior to the session when the changes are to take place.  Don’t assume a parent will be delighted to see their child move up a group and always be sensitive to sharing decisions when a child is moving down a group. 

In simple terms: player development does not necessary happen by playing within an age group or together as a team. Player development cannot be rushed, facts show that ability based coaching offers players the opportunity to play with and against children of similar ability, technique and physical attributes.  There is no doubt that with the right, off field support, from LAYS and with coaches well planned approach, ability based groupings will have significantly greater improvements in player performance than mixed ability programs.


Information leveraged from Danvers YSA