Longtime MLS executive Kevin Payne served as D.C. United president during its golden years of the 1990s and has also held key positions with U.S. Soccer. Payne became U.S. Club Soccer’s CEO in January. U.S. Club Soccer, which gained U.S. Soccer Federation membership in 2001, has member clubs and leagues in all 50 states, runs national and state cup competitions, a player identification program (id2) and sanctions the girls Elite Clubs National League (ECNL).
SOCCER AMERICA: How would you explain what U.S. Club Soccer is to someone unfamiliar with the American youth soccer landscape?
KEVIN PAYNE: The easiest way to put it that distinguishes us from other youth soccer organizations is that we are a youth soccer organization that focuses on soccer clubs as its members as building blocks for the game. We’re not a political organization. We’re a soccer organization.
SA: In a few years from now, what do you hope you’ll have achieved as CEO of U.S. Club Soccer?
KEVIN PAYNE: The biggest change that I hope to accomplish is to really begin to change the youth soccer environment at the club level such that parents have a better understanding of how to gauge whether their son or daughter is in a good soccer environment than what they have to gauge that by today -- which unfortunately generally is winning and losing.
SA: As someone who’s on the record as saying the overemphasis on results is a detriment to player development, how do you reconcile that with U.S. Club Soccer having State Cup for 8-year-olds?
KEVIN PAYNE: I don’t live in a Pollyanna world where nobody cares at all about results. What I’m talking about is where the emphasis placed.
Kids want to compete. They want to keep score. They want to know who won the game. What I’m talking about is trying to establish an environment where the coaches’ livelihood isn’t tied to winning and losing. It’s tied to creating the right kind of environment for kids to play the game.
Because parents today generally don’t really have another set of metrics to use, they tend to look at clubs that win more than other clubs and say that’s where I want my kids – and that’s what coaches respond to.
This is an enormous economy at work and people respond to market forces.
I don’t know the exact dollars, but I would guess organized youth soccer in the U.S. just within those organizations affiliated with the Federation is probably about a $5 billion business.
That’s a lot of money. That’s a bigger business than the Bundesliga. That’s going to create tensions. That’s going to create some real challenges when any part of that is threatened. …
People’s focus -- certainly individual coaches – is on winning games and you can’t really blame them. That’s why it’s so critical important that we have to change how parents make their decision on what they should look for in child’s youth soccer experience.
SA: So what can U.S. Club Soccer do to change the way parents judge their coaches?
KEVIN PAYNE: It’s a very long-term process. It’s not an easy process by any means. But we think maybe U.S. Club Soccer has some advantages because we deal more directly with clubs – we think that it’s at the club level where this change needs to take place.
What we hope to do is provide a number of different resources to clubs, in many cases just acting as a conduit for them to have access to resources – to provide support for club development. To provide support for club coaching development, which I think is critically important. And I’m not talking about licensing, although we will try to establish a licensing program in conjunction with the Federation under the new policies that have been adopted.
But I’m talking about an ongoing educational process to try and provide more opportunities to more coaches to be exposed to different kinds of types thinking in the coaching world, particularly from other countries that are, frankly, better at developing players than we are.
Along with that obviously comes player development. … We certainly want to encourage clubs and club coaches to think more in terms of individual player development as opposed to team development but it’s more difficult for us to influence that directly. The way we want to influence that is by educating coaches.
And then we also want to be looking at ways that we can better communicate to parents what clubs are doing, what they’re trying to do to improve.
One of the important pieces of that is we’re looking into ways in which we can provide more resources for clubs for their coaches to create a safe environment for players. I think in the years to come that’s going to be in many ways the first identifier for parents. The first thing they’ll look at is, “Is this a club that’s going to take care of my son or daughter?”
Look for Part 2 of our interview with Kevin Payne in which he discusses which nations U.S.
Club Soccer is looking to for coaching insight, comments on club turf wars and the U.S. Development Academy.