The Build Out Line
While taking my US Soccer grassroots licensing courses last week, I came across the above side, explaining the federation's mandate starting at the U9 level for what they call the "Build Out Line."
For those unfamiliar, the Build Out Line is a boundary on each side of the field equal distance from the goal line and the center line. When a team in their own half begins a new possession from either a goal kick or the keeper picking up the ball, those attacking towards the goal are supposed to drop back behind the Build Out Line.
The reasoning for the rule change is simple in theory: if defenders aren't guarded in their own defensive third (or fourth, really) of the field, the goalkeeper will be incentivized to play the ball short, something our men's national team has struggled with at the top level.
Essentially the mandate was put in place by US Soccer in order have players from a younger age be comfortable playing the ball out of the back and build up using short passes rather than just kicking it long.
If you go visit youth academies in Europe as I did in 2016, 2017, and 2019 in the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain, you'll see the same Build Out Line on all of their fields for younger players.
Except that for over there, it's not a Build Out Line and there's no rule regarding where a player can or can't be in their attacking half when the other team has the ball.
In the US the secondary purpose of the Build Out Line is to serve as an offside line for those age groups -- a player cannot be offside unless they're past that line on the opponent's half.
This incentivizes younger players to stretch the field and make better use of their space.
In Europe, that's the primary, and only, purpose of the line.
So where did this Build Out Line come from? When I went to Spain in 2016, the rumor was that US Soccer had recently made a trip over there and then made an assumption of what that line was and then incorporated it into their youth soccer standards without any data to back it up.
Google searches lead to several results explaining that the Build Out Line is mandated, but nothing pointing to a concrete reason why the mandate was developed or what it was based on.
In Spain, we asked the former Athletic Bilbao Director of Methodology if they used those lines as Build Out Lines. He was confused by the question to the point where we had to explain what the line was used for in the US>
I'm paraphrasing, but his response was something like this: "No, this is our offside line. Maybe what you're doing will work, perhaps you can tell us in 10 years, but we don't use it for that purpose."
Of note: Athletic Bilbao is potentially the best youth academy in the world and their former director had never even heard of the Build Out Line.
So maybe it will work? Just know that it doesn't appear to be based off of anything that top European academies were using, other than possibly a misguided assumption.