Professional Baseball has several levels of minor leagues. The NBA has a developmental league. Even the NFL has college. It seems like a natural progression in sports that, at some point, the better players get grouped together as an “A” team and the players with potential get placed on a “B” team to develop further.
But does the A-team/B-team arrangement work in youth sports?
I have no idea.
My daughter's soccer coaches have ruminated over an A/B split for a few years and there are definitely positives to such a system. Ultimately, even after trying craft a plan that attempted to address the drawbacks discussed below, the coaches decided that an “A/B” team system is not in the best interests of the teams or the kids. In the words of her coach, “The B-team always gets screwed.” Instead, they've opted for a friendly partnership between the teams but with each designed to compete as best they can.
In theory, the A/B concept should work. With players of similar skill-levels grouped together, the coaches can work at a pace that is best for the development of each group. With regular combine training sessions, the B-team players can improve their skills by working with the better players too. A-team players have some competition to motivate them to perform and the coaches can absorb players that leave by pulling from the B-team. In premiere youth soccer, recent changes to WAGS “club pass” rule makes it easier for coaches to even pull from the B-team to handle absences caused by short term injury or sickness.
However, both human nature and roster restrictions combine to create trouble in paradise.
First, other than the summer before U13 soccer, roster spots are limited on the A-team. In my experience, ordinary attrition is only two or three players a season. However, A-team coaches are not going to look solely at the B-team for replacements and will look at any player that might be a better fit over a B-team player. As a result, it is likely that only one or two kids get a chance to “move up”.
Of course, the kids that move up should be the best players on the B-team. With the best players constantly being siphoned off, I know some B-team parents that get frustrated that the team just can't quite reach their full potential.
And then there is the third or fourth best player on the B-team...what about them? Since relative skill level is very subjective, it might be within the realm of possibilities that a parent or player (or both) feel that the coach got it wrong and they should have been moved to the A-team instead. So, they leave for greener pastures. This can also happen to kids who feel that they have paid their dues on a B-team and it is their turn.
B-teams are often sold as a place for players to get a foot in the door of premiere sports for a season when moving from rec or classic leagues. The prospect of moving to the A-team is dangled out for those kids without pointing out that only 10% of the team is likely to move up at any one time.
If you've read any of my posts, you'll know that I generally feel that team sports are great for kids because of the “team” aspect and the life lessons to be learned. B-teams, however, can be seen as transitory and detrimental to the concept of "team". Players want to get on the A-team and are expected, when given the opportunity, to move their without question. The best B-team players are competing against each other for recognition rather than working together as a team, hurting player development, team performance, and even poisoning the mood around parents (if you have ever spent time in the waiting room at Hills, you know what I mean!). The one season of tryouts for my daughters team when there was a bit of a split happening, once friendly parents because cold and standoffish.
In technical terms, the B-team always gets screwed.
Of course, I'm not saying it can't work. There are surely coaches dedicated enough to both groups to figure it out. There are clubs with such reputations that players may be willing to wallow on the B-side or even sit on the A-team rather than play on the B-side just to be associated with it. There are certainly groups of kids that rise above petty competition regardless of labels. I'll also even surmise that there are great team managers or club directors that have figured out how to avoid the pitfalls above. Anecdotally (this is a blog after all!), the parents I know who like the A/B system are on the A team. B-teamers seem less enthusiastic after a season or two.
So, I'll ask – what do you think? My limited experience is, well, limited so I leave it to you, Dear Reader, to hash this out.