"The B-Team Always Gets Screwed"

Can an A-team/B-team arrangement work in youth sports or does the B-team always lose?

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.

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soccer mom March 17, 2012 at 12:15 PM
I agree with your daughter's coach! "The B-Team always get screwed". If the coaches could figure out a way to keep the talented balanced in order to keep both teams on a level playing field., it may work. I might also add that too many parents are driving the coaching decisions. This is a problem, why do we pay our coaches if we can't step out of it?
Michael H March 20, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Thanks for reading, Soccer Mom! Even if coaches try to keep teams balanced, I think there are always parents who presume that one is better than the other or that the coach is secretly creating an A/B. A lot of coach-parent and coach-player communication has to happen to make balanced teams work because there is a battle against perception.
andrew einsmann March 28, 2012 at 01:24 PM
The other issue with the balanced team approach is the level of talent of the average player. If you have two balanced teams and neither team is performing well then you have the parents and players at the top of the pyramid asking why am I here if my child is not getting pushed. If you lose the top of your pyramid then it all backfires. I am not a big fan of the balanced team approach simply because no individual club will ever have enough skilled, motivated kids to field a highly (D1 or D2 WAGS or NCSL) competitive teams. It would be interesting to know what the parents and the players of the U14 MSC Coyotes feel about the systems because they turned out well and were in both systems.
Michael H March 30, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Andrew - I'll see if I can track down someone from the Coyotes. Your point is a good one and one that I've seen play out because parents too often equate "winning" with "performance" too soon (when being the biggest and fastest means being the best). This is unfortunate but seems to be part of our current cultural norm. The collapse of the pyramid that you describe severely affected one of the two teams when their one goal-scorer left. I wonder if it would be possible to counter this by actually starting with an A/B split to guarantee success early at tournaments (no records are kept below U12 in WAGS) for those parents that are results-oriented and therefore attract the "better" kids early. This may give a coach enough of a talent pool to periodically rebalance teams once kids hit 11 v 11 and start to have natural field positions and playing styles. Would this counter the feeling by those who feel stuck on the B team?
andrew einsmann April 27, 2012 at 09:53 PM
With WAGS, after talking to a couple of coaches and noticing myself. Even though records are not kept under U12. If a team is not in WAGS at U11 they can not be in Division 1 WAGS in the Spring of U12. In the Fall season at U12, the teams are placed in weighted divisions based on their U11 results from there the top 3 or 4 teams from these top 3 weighted divisions because the Division 1 for WAGS so it is misleading when the records are no recorded publicly because they are tracked internally...
Michael H April 30, 2012 at 12:41 PM
Andrew - Thanks for the comment. I have heard the conspiracy theories myself with WAGS but have haven't been able to substantiate anything, even when asking them directly. Clearly scores are tracked in the U12 Fall - that is known. But, for U11 and below, unless the refs are sending in score cards, there isn't a mechanism for reporting scores as far as I know. I asked WAGS directly at one point and was told that they aren't tracked - however, for my daughter's U12 Fall year, it was clear that one division had all of the top teams...so, either they are tracking scores or they are doing divisions solely based on club reputation (which is worse).
andrew einsmann May 23, 2012 at 02:00 PM
I still tend to believe that it is tracked at a younger age and here is why. Take CASA, Onley and MSC. In certain age groups, one team is performing better then another team there is not consistency where CASA is always better then MSCs two teams which is always better then Olney. You will then see in the Fall of the U12 season the best of those 4 teams most likely in the weighted division where the top Virginia team that stay in WAGS are. The wierd thing which is making more difficult then when we grew up is the different league coming up everywhere. Now there is this VCCL league and some of the top teams in Virginia and now Maryland have left WAGS and fielding thier 'B' teams in WAGS.
Michael H May 23, 2012 at 08:48 PM
The VCCL expansion and WAGS will be the topic of another post - I am still trying to gather some information on that. The problem with tracking at anything younger than U12 is that it doesn't take a skilled coach or team to win games at U8-U11. This can be done with tactics at the expense of skill and genuinely teaching the game. Therefore counting wins and losses is a meaningless way to determine which teams are "better". These teams tend to center on the scoring attributes of one player and when that player leaves (or their advantage of being the biggest/fastest eventually evens out), the center does not hold. This could be another blog post on its own! (Before you respond, I know that there are quality programs that both win and teach quality soccer at a young age. There may also be quality programs that teach winning at young age to draw in the quality players from other teams and then cut out the early-bloomers when they have served their purpose. It has been rumored that WAGs sends people to actually watch games and would adjust divisions based on feedback about the quality of play. I doubt that is true but I think they could reasonable ask for coaches feedback and adjust that way. By the way, if you haven't already, check out the Potomac Soccer Wire forums. If you can look beyond the rancor and sniping, there is good information there too.
SoccerMomx2 July 16, 2012 at 12:53 PM
My daughter is on the B team in her Club, and I consider her to be among the top 3 performers on that team. The B team never seems to pull together: the team dynamic is horrible because 75% of the girls are focused on making the A team rather than their own team, this becomes shamelessly obvious during combined practices where it's "every man for himself." As soon as the team just begins to pull together, someone is chosen to guest play on the A team. The player now thinks she's too good for the A team and the rest of the B team starts infighting. Then there's the 15% of the B team that just doesn't care enough to try - they chronically don't show up to practice and games and aren't reliable when they do. All of which leaves the remaining 10% of players, like my daughter, who truly want to get better and develop their skills extremely frustrated because it's hard to play a team sport when there's no "team" and sensitive to the undercurrents on the B team. I will never again let my daughter be on the B team - the drama and the infighting amongst the players are toooooo counterproductive.
Michael H July 18, 2012 at 10:49 AM
SoccerMomx2 - Thank you for reading and thank you for your comment. You raise one of the inherent issues with B teams. I think a way to counter that is through a coach/club that also values the B team and enforces the same policies and level of commitment. I hope your daughter finds a place where she is happy. Happiness and joy of playing *should" trump winning.
V.B. October 17, 2012 at 03:32 PM
My son is on the 'B' team. Solid skills, fastest, biggest. A shut down defender, he never comes out. His former teammate was just siphoned to 'A' in mid season leaving a huge hole in the front. No more scoring is a problem, but worse, coaches teach and ask players to buy into 'team' only to have the 'A' team coach select our best attacker, to sit on his bench. Our teams' psyche is thus affected in a negative way and it is tough for the boys to show up emotionally and 'leave everthing on the field'. I do not know the answer though. All our sons wish to move to 'A' eventually, again leaving the disappointed former teammates behind..
Trisha miller February 05, 2013 at 02:39 AM
Our Club is now trying to institue the AB approach at U9/10. Really , these kids are just starting out , i truly believe that the B team does get screwed, and at this young age were its about development not sure what our Club is thinking. At U13 maybe. What do you think, when should we begin this AB concept.
Michael H February 05, 2013 at 01:34 PM
Trisha - thank you for your comments. I think U9/U10 is too young. I've noted a few times above that these probably needs another whole blog post but essentially, I think this due to combination of several things. First - why do we get our kids involved in sports in the first place. For most of us, I hope, we don't initially put them on a team so they can win games. Second, the physical changes that will take place between age 8 and age 13 are enormous, making the fine distinctions between an "A" or "B" player to be guesswork at best. I will try to expand on this in the next few weeks. [one note: MSYSA prohibits a coach from 'cutting' a rostered player during a seasonal year]
Dr. Wilson March 05, 2013 at 08:17 PM
With respect to the Coyotes approach, I think most observers would say that it has worked out reasonably well. Since they moved from somewhat even to more consciously A/B a couple of years ago, both have won WAGS Division 1 titles and both are now playing Region 1 (Green in Premier League, White in Colonial League). In 2012, seven White players were invited to guest with Green at the Region 1 and National Championship events, and there has been a fair amount of player movement between teams in both directions. The teams have the same coaches and train together more often than they train separately, so there are always opportunities for players to develop and to prove themselves against each other. Fourteen Coyotes play MD ODP, a number that would have been higher if several with ODP experience hadn't decided not to try out. I believe 30 made their HS varsity teams. To appreciate the development: 13 of 16 Green and 7 of 16 White players have been with the team for at least three years; 11 have been with the Coyotes since U9. This is not to suggest that everything is perfect or that everyone is happy all the time, but rather to point out that it is certainly possible to begin with an even teams approach, transition to an A/B team model, and achieve success both in terms of player development and competitive accomplishment. The Coyotes are certainly unusual in the level of success they have had, but they are also a prime example of what is possible.
Michael H March 05, 2013 at 08:40 PM
Coyote Fan - Thanks for your comment! The Coyotes certainly are a success story that many would love to replicate. Coach Gould has done a good job, certainly, and I don't think anyone who has paid attention would really label either Coyotes team a "B" team (especially not one designed simply to support the "A" team). One element that would be helpful to understand is what the landscape like when they were U9 - U10. Were they winning or were parents/players patient with the development? My hypothesis would be that if a coach can have moderate success with both level teams early AND show consistent player development, parents and players will be patient with development and can handle losses of games and players here and there. There is a lot of value for players sticking around for a long time with one team, for both soccer success and development as a person. The Coyotes figured it out but seem to be a rarity - I do wish them continued to success! [Full disclosure - my daughter's team is MSC as well. They idolize the Coyotes. 10 of the 18 are either original members of the team or have been around for at least three years.]


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