The Ultimate Guide to Youth Soccer Levels

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Youth soccer is one of the most vibrant and dynamic sports in the United States. It is a great opportunity for aspiring athletes to take their first steps towards mastering the sport.

Youth soccer caters to a wide range of age and skill levels to help children develop their skills. Over the past few years, youth soccer has made a significant impact on the soccer scene.

Whether it’s the grassroots programs fostering a love for the sport or competitive leagues honing the skills of future superstars, there are many levels to the sport. It’s safe to say that all these levels can get confusing, so let us break down youth soccer levels for you. 

The U.S. Youth Soccer Pyramid

The U.S. Youth Soccer Pyramid is a structured system that organizes youth soccer leagues and competitions in the United States, providing a clear pathway for young players to develop their skills and progress through the ranks. 

This pyramid consists of various levels, each designed to cater to players of different ages and skills, all while nurturing their passion for the sport. Below are the typical tiers within the U.S. Youth Soccer Pyramid for both boys and girls:

  1. Development Player League (DPL)
  2. Girls Academy (GA) and MLS Next
  3. National League Conferences: NPL and ECNL Regional Leagues
  4. The National League: ENPL and ECNL
  5. Town Recreational Leagues 
  6. Town Travel Leagues
  7. Youth Academy 

Organization of Youth Soccer Divisions

Youth soccer divisions are typically organized in a hierarchical structure that caters to players of different ages, skill levels, and developmental stages.

The structure can differ from one country to another, but here is a general overview of how youth soccer divisions are commonly structured. 


United States Sports Specialty Association is a non-profit organization affiliated with U.S. Soccer since 2001. It aims to develop and expand the game of soccer in the US.

It offers youth soccer programs with a focus on providing diverse and inclusive opportunities for players of all skill levels. 

The USSSA currently sanctions the Development Player League and Elite Academy League (EAL). 


United States Youth Sport is the largest youth soccer organization in the country and is divided into four regions; East, Midwest, South, and West.

They register 3 million players and 10,000 clubs every year. USYS hosts the prestigious US Youth Soccer National Championships for the top youth teams in the country. 

They sanction the MLS Next and National League Conferences. 

3. U.S Club Soccer

This organization works to support and assist soccer clubs in the U.S. They focus on providing a player-centric and club-centric approach to youth soccer.

They emphasize player development, coaching education, and flexibility to clubs so they can tailor programs to the players’  needs. 

The U.S. Club Soccer supports ECNL, ECNL Regional Leagues, NPL, and ENPL.

Youth Soccer Levels Explained

Youth soccer levels provide a structured framework for young players to learn, develop, and enjoy the game. These levels vary depending on skill and age.

Next, we’ll break down the key stages of youth soccer to help you understand the opportunities available to young players. 

 1. Youth Academy

The Youth Academy level represents the foundation of a player’s soccer journey. It includes grassroots programs and recreational leagues where children as young as 3 or 4 begin to learn the basics of soccer.

The Youth Academy is a great way for children to develop a love for the game while also learning how it’s played. Starting from U8 to U10, the games get competitive and advanced coaching begins. 

2. National League

Sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Club, the National League is where players start committing to the sport and work on their skills. This allows them to join more competitive local or regional leagues.

These leagues provide more competition and are stepping stones for those wanting to advance to a more elite level. 

3. MLS Next

Previously known as Development Academy (DA), MLS Next is the top level for boys’ soccer teams. It offers a highly competitive environment for talented young players.

Affiliated with Major League Soccer (MLS), MLS Next serves as an important pathway for young players to advance to professional soccer. 

4. Girls Academy (GA)

Formerly Girls DA, the Girls Academy was developed to focus on female soccer players and offer a structured and competitive environment for girls’ soccer development.

5. National Premier League

The NPL consists of regional leagues that offer a high standard of competition for youth players. These leagues often serve as a bridge between local and national levels, providing a platform for young players to showcase their abilities and skills. 

6. Elite National Premier League (ENPL)

This is the highest level under the NPL umbrella. It features top-tier youth soccer teams and offers a pathway to national championships and exposure to college and professional scouts. 

7. Elite Clubs National League (ECNL)

One of the most innovative youth soccer leagues in the US, ECNL provides an elite platform for players to compete at a higher level and gain exposure. While this was a prominent nationwide league for girls, it has now expanded to include boys as well. 

8. ECNL Regional Leagues

In addition to the national level, the ECNL offers regional leagues to accommodate a broader range of players. These leagues maintain a high level of competition and serve as an avenue for aspiring players. 

9. DPL

Development Player League (DPL) is a fantastic all-girls national league that focuses on player development and aims to provide an environment that fosters individual development and skill refinement. In addition, DPL also focuses on elite competition for successful youth soccer clubs in the US.

Youth Soccer Divisions

Youth Soccer Divisions categorize players by age groups and tiers for young players to compete. These divisions are arranged so that players of similar ages and skill levels compete against each other, creating a fair environment. 

The specific divisions can differ by region and organization, but here are some common youth soccer divisions below: 

  • U6: Under 6 years old
  • U8: Under 8 years old
  • U10: Under 10 years old
  • U12: Under 12 years old
  • U14: Under 14 years old
  • U16: Under 16 years old
  • U18: Under 18 years old
  • U19: Under 19 years old

Which Youth Soccer Division is Best?

The success of a youth soccer division depends on the players’ ages, skill levels, goals, and more. Recreational divisions are great for beginners and are focused on fun, participation, and skill development, while competitive divisions are for those who want a higher level of competition and skill development. 

What Is Your Child’s Goal with Soccer?

Your child’s goal with soccer can vary widely depending on their skill level and interest in the sport.

Essentially, it should be about having fun, making friends, staying active, and developing basic soccer skills. If they’re passionate about soccer, then skill development will become their primary goal when playing soccer. 

What To Consider When Choosing A Youth Soccer Team?

Here are a few things you should consider when choosing a youth soccer team: 

  • Age and Skill Level: Assess your kid’s skill level and age. Choose a team that aligns with their age group and soccer abilities to make sure they’re actively participating and practicing in a suitable environment.
  • Goals and Aspirations: Discuss your child’s soccer goals and aspirations. Are they looking for a recreational experience or to develop their skills? Furthermore, do they aspire to compete at a higher level?
  • Coaching Quality: Research the team’s coaching staff. Look for experienced and qualified coaches who prioritize player development, safety, teamwork, and positive learning experiences. 
  • Facilities and Resources: Choose clubs that have sufficient facilities and resources, such as a great playing field and essential soccer equipment. Another thing to look for is resources like first aid and development programs to improve players’ skills.
  • Location and Accessibility: Evaluate the location of practices and games. Choose a team that is convenient for your family’s schedule and doesn’t require too much travel and stress, especially for young children. 

How To Play Competitive Youth Soccer?

To play competitive youth soccer, you need to focus on developing strong technical skills, maintain a good level of physical fitness, and have a basic understanding of the game’s tactics and strategies.

Attend regular training sessions and compete in practice matches to gain experience Hone your skills and showcase your talent to coaches and scouts. 


We have reached the end of this very handy guide on youth soccer levels. We hope this helped you understand all the divisions, concepts, and ins and outs of youth soccer.

Youth soccer is rapidly gaining steam in this country as it molds our future soccer stars. Enrich your fellow soccer player friends or co-workers with this knowledge on all things about youth soccer.

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