Pros should compensate youth clubs (Q&A Lorne Donaldson, Real Colorado, Part 2)

Interview by Mike Woitalla

Lorne Donaldson is the Executive Director of Coaching of Real Colorado, which has nearly 5,000 players and competes in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and ENCL. In the second part of our interview we spoke about youth soccer's high costs, how his club evaluates coaches, and the field-size problem.

(Read Part 1 HERE.)

SOCCER AMERICA: You mentioned that traditional youth clubs in the Development Academy must compete with MLS teams that don’t charge the players. And that high costs in general remain a major problem in youth soccer. Do you see any solutions?

One thing that’s frustrating is when a youth club produces a player for a pro club, it doesn’t receive a dime. We’ve got a kid trying out in Europe and if he signs we don’t get anything. In other countries, clubs get compensated.

Nobody’s addressing it. They just, “Well, it’s a labor law issue.”

But if I have a player for nine years and he leaves for an MLS club, they could make a donation for scholarships. That’s legal! We’re a 501(c). The MLS club could say, “Here’s 5 grand,” or whatever. “Hopefully you can use to it find more players.”

We would use that money to get more inner-city kids.

SA: Why is it important to bring inner-city kids into the fold?

The players who tend to be exceptional are the ones who are hungry day-in and day-out. I think it’s the same in football and basketball. The players who come from a background of need tend to be a lot hungrier. We need more of those kids who are very, very hungry and need a way out.

When we become more inclusive, we are more likely to produce more exceptional players. We produce a ton more good players than in the 1980s and 1990s. I’ve seen some very, very good young players in the younger generation coming through. But the exceptional players -- we’re still not producing enough of those. …

SA: How does your club pay for its scholarships?

We try our best never to turn away players because they can’t afford it, no matter if they're recreational or Academy players. We have people who from the kindness of their heart give us scholarship money. Usually getting scholarship money is from a private donor.

SA: If income from pro clubs isn't on the horizon, what are other solutions?

I don’t see why the big company supporting soccer doesn’t take a club and say, “Here’s X amount of money, go out and get kids from the inner city.” And they would hold us accountable. …

Trying to develop them in the inner city is very, very difficult because they don’t face that competition in their environment -- sometimes their diet is not right -- and you have to get them kind of away from that so you can get them proper training. ... We’re in the suburb. They have to get transportation. They can’t afford it.

SA: What are some qualities your club looks for in its coaches?

First and foremost is they have to be able to relate to the parents and the kids.  A lot of coaches might say, “Well I’m not going to talk to the parents because they don’t do that in Europe.” This is not Europe. Here this is a parent-driven business.

They have to be smart enough to relate to the parents and the kids.

I also look at education. If my coaches are telling our players to go to college, they have to be guys who have done it before, at least been there. Not everyone, but coaches with a little college background know the experience and can actually say, "I have done it." That helps out a lot.

Obviously, coaches have to know the game and know the stages of development.

SA: And oft-cited detriment to player development is an overemphasis on results at the younger ages. …

I always say there’s a very fine line between winning and development. You’re developing players but if your records aren't good, players feel discouraged and they’re going to switch teams.

We put in a lot programs with an emphasis on development over results, but when you try to do that and people pack up and leave. Good thing we’re a big club.

They tend to come back. They’ll leave us at 10, 11 because they’re not winning. They come back at 14 and they can’t make the team anymore. And it happens a lot. ...

Clubs will recruit just like colleges coaches, sitting in their living room making a pitch to parents of a 10-, 11-year-old.

SA: One thing I see a lot that does not seem conducive to player development is having young teams play on huge fields. ...

I agree. I think 11v11 can be fine, but the problem in this country is little kids playing 11v11 on fields 120 yards long.

Even if we don’t make the numbers smaller, shrink the field. I’ve watched games where it takes them five minutes to get to the other end.

We should mandate field sizes appropriate for the age level. I’ve tried to get our state to do it, but they say, “Lorne, everybody doesn’t have a complex to do that.”

I say, just mark the field size. You have portable goals, move them in, mark the field size. Spray the lines for the box. It’s the easiest thing.

11 comments about "Pros should compensate youth clubs (Q&A Lorne Donaldson, Real Colorado, Part 2)".
  1. Tyler Dennis, March 16, 2012 at 1:26 a.m.


    Here is a quick fix for the issue of not getting money for the development of your players. Write a training contract with a parent, no kid labor law issues. The contract stipulates that the parent owes you $X,XXX dollars if the kids goes to a European club. However, if the kid doesn't go to a European club, then the training cost is forgiven. Make the contract for the age of the player + a certain number of years to get them past an age that European play is determined (21?).

    I'm sure the essence of this could be worked out with a decently creative attorney.

  2. John Smith, March 16, 2012 at 10:41 a.m.

    This strictly focuses on inner city but what about the rural areas as well. Clint Dempsey had to drive at least a couple hours to find a quality program and look what he is doing. Also the opportunities presented help keep kids hungry. If the opportunity to achieve is limited they will find something else.

  3. Michael Tesla, March 16, 2012 at 10:53 a.m.

    Are the Academies going to compensate the High Schools?

  4. Bill Anderson, March 16, 2012 at 11:13 a.m.

    Lorne Donaldson quotes "One thing that’s frustrating is when a youth club produces a player for a pro club, it doesn’t receive a dime. We’ve got a kid trying out in Europe and if he signs we don’t get anything. In other countries, clubs get compensated." You can't have it both ways, charge $2,000 a head for 5,000 players (99% will NEVER go pro) or focus on the 1% that have potential, sign them to a contract, pay all their expenses. In other countries the clubs are compensated because they pay all the freight. You can't have it both ways.

  5. David Flanagan, March 16, 2012 at 12:43 p.m.

    Interesting comments, too bad this coach fails to recognize that the Colorado Youth Soccer recognizes and uses small sided play for the younger age groups. It is the Academy and US Club who places emphasis on 11 V 11 at every age group> How about offering compensation to the club the player and his parents signs to play with when they start out, or the club the player was with when the Academy clubs recruit them away from. People need to see the MLS and their teams will cherry pick the best talent, they will get these players under contract and be compensated should the player move to another club. Not tady or tomorrow but soon enough. We all need to admit this is a business once a player moves past the grass roots level.

  6. jeff tackett, March 16, 2012 at 1:10 p.m.

    His point draws interest because Klinsmen just came out and said he cant understand why kids have to pay for club....well, in europe the pro teams pay to hire qualified coaches to make these u10-u17 coaches here dont have that luxury so kids pay for that service...europe has town and city teams that the youth play as recreation to get better (as klinsmen explains) so do we,
    howerever our volunteer rec coaches have no clue about soccer, european parents do....its all they see and play...would be similar when volunteer parents coach baseball...they have a pretty good concept of fundamentals and can get the kids on the right track...not here, God bless them but they usually have no clue. So if you want the youth to develop in the right way, take over the youth as tgey have begun to do, pay these coaches and let the kids play for free...big bridge to cross however someone still needs to fix the huge hole to be able to link the two sides. Big, big job

    andcan s

  7. Bart Schultz, March 16, 2012 at 2:24 p.m.

    Since kids and parents are still looking to College as an option for continuing to play after High School, than maybe College Soccer programst could step in and provide some support. Whether it is coaching or financial, they stand to benefit from a better pool of players to recruit from. There are a lot more Universities, Colleges and Junior Colleges with soccer programs than there are professional teams in the US. They are not involved at all in the youth soccer experience but still are a goal for many players.

  8. Luis Arreola, March 16, 2012 at 4:10 p.m.

    What would be an average fee for a contract with a parent if the player in fact goes pro? Would thus be legal?

  9. David Flanagan, March 16, 2012 at 10:21 p.m.

    The US Youth Soccer ODP Program has been driven by college coaches, they have made up the bulk of ODP staffs in all regions. They are engaged with the youth on a local level as well. It may not be the head coach but the assistant coaches do work with clubs and rec programs in a number of cities in the Midwest. Sorry Bart but the college coaches are involved in many, many local programs.

  10. R2 Dad, March 19, 2012 at 12:42 a.m.

    "They tend to come back. They’ll leave us at 10, 11 because they’re not winning. They come back at 14 and they can’t make the team anymore. And it happens a lot." We train the kids how to play the game, but what we really need to do is do a better job training the parents. They are the decision-makers, but usually know nothing about the game.

  11. Jill Francis, March 19, 2012 at 8:07 p.m.

    Some of the comments made by Coach Lorne are right on however, as a soccer mom and knowing Real so well. No, Real Coaches do not like to talk to parents at all at any level. Ask any parent currently at REAL.

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