Barry I always enjoy reading your posts on youth soccer, this one is no exception.
I've been observing our local rec and travel soccer for about ten years now - for six years as a parent and ten years as the wife of a coach. Our club does the things that Barry mentioned at the end of his post and here are a few other things that I would highlight as good, positive steps for a youth soccer program. My apologies if they are obvious.
1) Small-sided teams: 6 v 6 for U8 - U10 (offside rule not in effect), 8 v 8 Ull - U12 (offside rule in effect), 11 v 11 for U13 and older. Kids get more touches on the ball and you avoid the pack of players around the ball.
2) The club has a philosophy that all the kids will get to play every position in the games with the exception that they will not put kids in goal if they dont want to be there. This is emphasized to the coaches and for the most part they comply. My husband is very good about doing this and you can really see the difference it makes when you observe the improvement our travel teams make relative to other clubs that dont have this philosophy. Also, I think my oldest can serve as an example in this regard. He was not interested in sports but my husband and I believe our kids have to play sports so he started playing soccer in our local rec league. He made the travel team at U8 not because he was good but because only 9 kids tried out. For the first several seasons it was painfully (and I mean painfully) obvious that he had no interest in doing anything on the soccer field. Every time the ball came to him (small sided games) he would get rid of it as soon as possible and the result often was not good. Now some coaches might get frustrated with that, stick him in defense, and point in the direction he should kick the ball. But he was always played at all the positions and now after six years of organized team play, you will struggle to find a player, even at the premier/select level, that is as good as he is at one-touch passing and bossing the center midfield. It helps that now he watches a lot of soccer and enjoys playing the game.
3) Everyone plays equal time. No stop watches or anything but the coaches do their best.
4) Parents are required to sign a code of conduct agreement at the start of the season which says they will not yell at the players, refs, coaches, or other team. From my observations our parents pretty much follow this - I'm not sure if it's because they have to sign the agreement or not, but I dont think it hurts.
5) In addition to free footskills clinics our club has weekly free goalkeeping clinics. One thing the club doesnt do in regards to goalkeeping that I think they should is consider a kid's goalkeeping skills at travel team tryouts. I think this penalizes kids who are willing to play a lot in goal. Also, since our travel players will make up most of the high school team it doesnt help develop decent goalies for the high school program. This season our high school team (both JV and varsity) doesn have any kids that have played goalie so we are in for a long one.
6) Our club has rec level, travel level, and premier level. The premier level allows an unlimited amount of players from other cities (travel only allows 2) and it competes with the best teams in the state league. A kid that plays premier is also required to play travel. This prevents our best players from leaving our club program and helps maintain the overall quality of play for the benefit of all. Some would say it's a disadvantage for our premier players because they have to play travel, but I disagree. I think it is beneficial for them to also play on a team in which they are one of the best players - they will be more likely to lead and more likely to experiment or do things other than what they are best at. It also keeps the cost and travel time down for our parents.
Now I think something was said about "playing to win" and how the Dutch dont worry about this in their youth programs. Here are my thoughts on that. I think if you do items 2, 3, and 4 from the list above, you've addressed the unsavory elements of "playing to win" that are counterproductive to youth level development, but then you "play to win". I think there are positives about playing to win. First of all, a lot of the kids care about winning whether you want them to or not. I saw this when the state league tried to replace the league competition for U8s with Saturdays of 20 minute scrimmages between several sides because it was more age appropriate. The kids, not the parents, said "no thank you". And it is usually the most naturally competitive and agressive kids that care about winning and these are also the kids that tend to be the better soccer players. For the life of me, I cant understand why you would want to take the desire to win away from a kid. As long as you require them to show respect and shake hands at the end of the match, wanting to win is a good thing. Winning and losing builds character, does it not? Kids need to know they might lose; they need to believe they can win. They need to believe that even if they are playing the best team on the planet, or even if they are down 2 - nil with 20 minutes left and are relegated, they can still win. Between the Confederation's cup, WC qualifying, and the WC itself, how many times did Bradley's boys do the un-doable? Same with Fulham. Then ask yourself why the Netherlands, for all their methods and skill, havent won a world cup.