A special soccer tournament is taking shape in Austin, Texas this spring. For the first time in the United States, organizers will use bio-banding to create the teams for the competition.
You ask what is bio-banding? It is the process of grouping players based on their physical maturity and biological age rather than their chronological age. This short video from U.S. Soccer provides an excellent explanation.
You have probably seen sports competitions and teams where some kids on a team look like adults while others on the same team look like preschoolers. By adhering strictly to chronological age, it’s not uncommon to see two 12-year-olds who look as though they are five years apart in physical maturation. This reflects the dramatic differences produced by varying rates of maturation and the onset of puberty, known commonly as the relative age effect.
Through bio-banding, the idea is to eliminate these differences between players and create a level playing field. It’s fairer for competition, and it’s better for player development. After all, having a player who looks like a 16-year-old compete against a player who looks like a 10-year-old doesn’t make sense.
The soccer tournament taking place on April 21 and April 22 in Austin is being hosted by Lonestar SC Academy, and it will include boys and girls teams from the Dallas Texans, Solar Soccer Club, Houston Dash Youth Girls, and Houston Dynamo Youth Boys. Bio-banded teams will be created by drawing from their U-14, U-15 and U-16/17 player rosters.
In theory, it could be possible to see a U-14 player competing on a team of predominantly U-16 athletes, or a U-16 player competing against teams made up primarily of U-14 and U-15 players.
It’s a fascinating experiment. In most youth sports, games and competitions tend to be dominated by early-maturing athletes. They dominate simply because they are bigger, stronger, or faster.
The problem is that these early-maturing athletes are not necessarily the best athletes in the long term. Some of the late-maturing kids might actually have the greatest long-term potential, but too often they get discouraged and drop out of their sport before their latent talents can be developed.
Bio-banding is a great concept for youth sports, all the experts agree. The question is whether it can be practically applied by sports clubs and become an accepted practice by community sport associations at large. This April’s soccer tournament in Austin, Texas will likely provide a good measure.