Interview by Mike Woitalla
In a new Youth Soccer Insider series, we're asking the leaders of U.S. youth clubs to address key issues on the state of American youth soccer. Tim Schulz is the president and CEO of Rush Soccer, which has affiliate clubs in more than 20 states, representing 34,000 youth players. Schulz has coached at the Colorado Rush for more than 16 years and in 2005-06 served as U.S. U-20 women's national team coach. He is also a USSF national coaching instructor.
SOCCER AMERICA: Perhaps the most common complaint about the American youth game is its high cost. Will playing soccer continue to become more expensive or is any relief on the horizon?
TIM SCHULZ: The expense is getting bigger. As opposed to Europe, in the United States, the better you are, the more you pay. In Europe, the better you are, the less you pay.
SOCCER AMERICA: What is your club doing to reduce or minimize costs?
TIM SCHULZ: It’s important that a club provides many programs at many levels of play. The top players should be able to choose that they want to travel a lot. And the medium-level players should be able to choose that they want to stay in state and play in local tournaments. And the recreational player should be able to say "I just want to play in my local league." The program should allow a player and family to make a choice within their family if she wants to push further for a more elite type program.
Do we offset the cost? It’s foolish to say we give scholarships internally if money comes from within the club because all we’re doing is taking money from one family and giving it to another. You’re just shifting the dollars around.
The only way we can offset these costs is with grants and sponsorships. Then even with that, unless it’s earmarked for the elite athlete, we’re taking money away from the medium athlete and the developmental player.
It is an on-going problem. It is a challenge. But I think free enterprise allows us to stay competitive. For instance, if my neighboring club keeps the cost lower and the product stays the same, our players will leave and go somewhere else. So there is monitoring going on.
SOCCER AMERICA: The Super Y-league, U.S. Club Soccer and the U.S. Development Academy have joined U.S. Youth Soccer in the youth arena over the last decade. Has the increase in options for youth clubs benefited America's young players?
TIM SCHULZ: Absolutely not. I think this is one case where free enterprise does not apply. I believe in one federation almost dictating how we should operate and function.
It has confused the membership. I’m supposed to be an expert in this field and I’m confused.
SOCCER AMERICA: Should the U.S. Soccer Federation create a Development Academy on the girls as it did for the boys in 2007?
TIM SCHULZ: Yes, indeed. Not exactly the mirror image of the boys side but a very similar version.
SOCCER AMERICA: Have you seen significant improvements in youth coaching?
TIM SCHULZ: I think there’s a slow growth, a slow progress, a slow maturation buildup taking place.
Players who have gone through the college system and have played pro -- they have a natural background in the game -- and they’re getting into coaching side.
What’s unique about the United States is I think we’re very advanced in psychology, management, physical fitness, rehab -- so those things can transfer right over into soccer. Now we really need to learn the nuances of the game. The technical side and the tactical side.
The coaching has improved.
SOCCER AMERICA: If you had a magic wand, how would you use it to improve youth soccer in America?
TIM SCHULZ: I would have the [U.S. Soccer] Federation hire technical directors who oversee each and every single branch of our organization and allow him and her the power and authority to create a better infrastructure within U.S. soccer.
SOCCER AMERICA: How is that different than the Federation’s recent hiring of Claudio Reyna, April Heinrichs and Jill Ellis?
TIM SCHULZ: You just named three of them, [but] there's too many factions to oversee. There need to be more and they should be the be-all and end-all.
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)