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I coach a U10 boys recreational soccer team. In my area, we generally have more players wanting to play than coaches available to field teams. That said, some degree of turnover on a team seems to be normal but I have noticed lower turnover with each season.

I have a looming problem for this next season. My current roster is full (it's capped by the league) and all of the players have tentatively indicated they want to return next season. The parents of a former player recently contacted me and asked if their son could play on my team again next season instead of the competitive team he currently plays on.

So the problem is having a past player who wants to play but possibly not having a slot in the roster for him.

In the past, I have guaranteed slots on the next season's team to returning players. That has seemed the most "fair", but I'll acknowledge that has created logistical friction when the club has new players needing a team and I can't get the parents of the returning player to provide an answer. And by "fair", maybe I really just mean easy.

The player wanting to play is a good player, and having him on the team would help pull up the skills for the rest of the team.

Of the players I would consider cutting, their minds simply aren't focused on soccer. Specifically, they make most of the practices and games, but not all due to other commitments. And even when they are at a practice or game, they're frequently distracted by something else like the clouds or the grass or ...

On the one hand, that's completely developmentally appropriate. On the other hand, their absences and lack of focus pull down the rest of the team. For example, they'll miss plays during a game because they weren't paying attention or they'll interfere with practice because they're aren't following instructions.

My question:

Given my looming problem, I'm trying to figure out if my current guaranteed slot policy is the best approach and if that's truly fair to all of the players involved.

On a competitive or premier team, the answer is easy as there is a stated focus on building the best team and the coach is expected to replace under-performing players with stronger ones when possible.

On a recreational team, the focus is on fair play; skills development; and developing a passion for the sport. The crux of the question is how to balance between what's fair for an individual player versus what's fair or beneficial for the rest of the team.

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Seems to me this is pretty similar to how our park district does things for sports/gymnastics classes/teams. They have a slightly different approach.

What they do is have an early signup period, during which the only option is to confirm your enrollment for the next season/year/whatever of the exact class/sport you're in: same exact schedule, etc. So if you're in Thursday Nights Soccer, you can re-register for Thursday Nights Soccer, but can't change to Tuesday Afternoons or whatever.

Then, a week later, regular signup begins. This gives parents a week to make up their mind. After regular signup begins, it's up to first come first serve. You still can reregister - if there's a spot open, but you could lose your spot if enough new people already applied before you got around to registering.

You could easily do something similar. Decide on a date. Tell everyone they have until that date to officially register (pay, confirm explicitly they'll be playing, etc., with an understanding that they will only do this if they absolutely will be playing next year). Then, if there are some slots open after this period, your returning player is welcome to the slot (as long as he/she pays/commits). Set that date fairly early - before your current season is done, typically, so you have more leverage.

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