The coaches of teams are allowed to protect 2/3 of their roster for the team’s second year in the age group (U10, U12, U14 & U16). For all other drafts (U9, U11, U13 & U15) coaches would be able to designate their own child and child of one assistant coach. All other players would be selected in an open draft. Exceptions to this system would occur at any time the Mustang Board of Directors found it necessary to increase or decrease the number of teams in a particular age group. Those cases would be treated in the same manner as the odd year drafts.
Such a system allows coaches the opportunity to build a team over the span of two years. They are able to reap the benefit of their hard work in team development for a finite period of time. At the end of that time, they might either reassemble the same team for another two year period, or they might assemble a new group of players who would benefit from their experience.
It enables the League to have the flexibility to increase or decrease the number of teams at designated and predictable points within a team and its players’ Mustang career. The League is able to respond to discrepancies in the strength or weakness of Mustang teams relative other teams in the District and in CYSA, with a minimum of additional dislocation.
It encourages the development of players by facilitating their exposure to different coaches and different philosophies of play. It brings greater equity to the experience of all of our players. It may not always be best for you and your current group of players, but I think it is best for the League.
Why this System? Why Not a permanent system of protection?
Here’s what I think the goal of the Division 3 is: To provide as many opportunities as possible to children with exceptional athletic abilities and an exceptional interest in soccer to: 1) have fun; 2) learn the game; 3) develop their skills; and 4) compete successfully.
There are conflicting elements to this goal. At some point, the more players you bring into the program, the less likely they are to compete successfully (read: win) and the less fun they will have (winning is fun). This can be mitigated over the longer term by teaching them the game and developing their skills, but that takes time and in the meantime they are not having as much fun. You could guarantee successful competition by restricting the number of players. A small number would have lots of fun. The rest will be excluded.
If we are to err, on which side should we err? My own preference is to err on the side of opportunity. I think we better serve our community when we push the envelope of opportunity. Our team formation policies should facilitate the widest practical expansion of opportunity.
A permanent system of protection clearly has some advantages. Protection allows for the development of stronger teams. It facilitates the development of continuity by creating a core group of players and allowing these players to stay together year after year. It creates a foundation from which coaches can build their teams. Coaches do not need to start from scratch every year. They can reload as opposed to rebuilding. It can be good for the coaches and players on existing teams.
Permanent protection also has some disadvantages. The disadvantages of protection tend to reduce flexibility of the League in the creation of new teams and constrict the access of new players to the division. As a result, the disadvantages tend to accrue to players who have not yet been included in Division 3.
Specifically, what are the disadvantages?
1. Permanent protection tends to encourage the concentration of talent. And what is wrong with that? The concentration of talent makes it difficult for the League to expand participation in the Division 3 through the creation of new teams.
From time to time it may become apparent that the League could support expansion of the number of its Division 3 teams. Protection makes this difficult because in any draft the most talented players are by rule unavailable to the coach of the new team. Imagine a draft, with two "protected" teams and one new team. The best players in that age group are already protected onto the two existing teams.
Give the new coach the first pick. Who does he draft? None of the top players in the age group are available. The team must be built from move-ins, Division 4 players and players from the bottom of the other two teams.
Will this team be competitive with the other two teams in the age group? Will the experience of the players on this team be the equal of that on the other team? How happy will the players who come off the existing teams be?
The difficulties inherent in this scenario would impair the ability of the League to expand participation in certain age groups. If we had permanent protection, in order to expand, we would have to place the new players at a substantial disadvantage when compared to the players on existing teams. This does not seem fair.
2. With permanent protection, advantages and disadvantages tend to be permanent. Once a team develops an advantage, a permanent system of protection enables that team to retain the advantage indefinitely. This is particularly true under the format of age pure teams. Under our current system, the player pool is likely to be very stable. The same players will be in the draft year in year out.
Unless an exceptional talent moves into our League from one year to the next, it is unlikely that the weaker team can use the draft to turn things around. What that means is that if a team becomes disadvantaged for some reason, it would be likely to retain that disadvantage year-in and year out.
One of the goals of Mustang Soccer has always been the parity of teams. We hope that at the beginning of every season, all of our players have the opportunity to compete for the championship at their level. With a permanent system of protection it is clearly possible for a team to create and retain such a marked advantage that the other teams have no reasonable prospect of overtaking them.
How could this happen? For those of you who do not already know how one could manipulate the projection system I will discuss that below. For the moment I would simply ask again, whether or not this is fair to the players on the disadvantaged team? Does this improve their soccer experience?
3. Protection locks players onto a team. You can imagine that now and then, there will be differences between teams. It is possible for these differences to be carried forward from one season to the next. Imagine that there might be a player, (one of the better players on their team) currently rostered on one team, who would like to play on the other (perhaps, because the other team wins every year?). Does this player have an opportunity to move from one team to the other?
It is very difficult under a permanent system of protection. It could be accomplished by trade, but then the coaches would have to find a player (of equal talent) who was willing to come off the first team and move to the second. The player could also ask the current coach simply not to protect. The impact of that is, of course, to move a strong player from the weak team to the stronger team. Is that fair to the remaining players on the weaker team? Players tend to get stuck. They may be happy where they are stuck, or not. But they are stuck. We do not think that is good for player development.
4. Protection is easily manipulated. And what is really being protected? The advantage of one team over others is being protected. It is not just players. If it were, there would be no logic for protection at all. If the distribution of talent between teams were equal, in an unprotected draft, coaches would simply re-select the players already on their team. There would be no need to move talent from one team to another, since no competitive advantage would be gained by doing so and the coaches would only accrue the disadvantages of having to start the new season with all new players. If the teams are equal in strength, coaches will tend to get back the majority of their players under any circumstances.
So, what protection actually preserves is inequality. How does this inequality develop? Of course, it may come from a variety of sources. It may come from one coach’s superior ability to recognize talent in a tryout process. It may come from one coach’s superior ability to develop talent. It may come as a result of a coach’s ability to convince the best player’s parent to become their assistant coach. It may come because the talent from one team has been attracted to Division 1, while the best players on another team elected to remain in Division 3. It may result from the misfortune of drafting a player who later leaves the League, either moving to another city or to another league’s team. It does not really matter how the inequality develops, the reality is: it does develop.
The question is, when inequality develops, as a League, what should we do? Is it in the best interest of the players to preserve the inequality, permanently? We do not think it is. We believe we need to compromise between the competitive advantages of allowing player protection and team continuity and the disadvantages of inflexibility and inequality that come from the same source.