Aiming to end Pay to Play and Play to Win

By Ahmet Guvener

The USA is the strongest nation on earth; nobody questions this fact. The USA is a melting pot of races and ethnicities that produces the best overall athletes in the world; nobody questions this fact either.

The USA with 2,802 medals in the Olympics surpasses all of its major competitors by a wide margin; nobody dares to question the overall sports dominance of the USA. The NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL are the best leagues in their respective sports in the world; there is no argument about that either.

Men’s soccer is the sport of the world. But neither the men’s national team nor MLS is one of the best in soccer in the world. The men’s national team is ranked 26th in the world and MLS is ranked 18th among the professional sports leagues in the world based on revenue. Neither one is a success story.

If we put MLS, whose first goal is to be profitable, aside, the development of soccer in this country is the responsibility of U.S. Soccer as manifested in its mission statement: “to make soccer, in all its forms, preeminent sport in the United States and to continue the development of soccer at all recreational and competitive levels.”

The development of soccer starts at the lowest level possible. The reigning soccer countries went through a serious restructuring of their systems and harvested the results in 10-12 years. Germany is the best example; its reengineering project started in early 2000s and they won the World Cup in 2014.

Now U.S. Soccer has just taken what I think is the most radical and reformist step -- including the setting up the Developmental Academy -- toward that end. U.S. Soccer's Player Development Initiatives have just been updated. Through these initiatives, the structure of the U6-U12 age group will be overhauled. You must start from the very bottom to restructure any system in order to succeed, and that is what U.S. Soccer has done.

U6-U12 youth development program is neither an elite nor a recreational development program. It embraces all kids of all talent levels. In these age groups, the kids enjoy and have fun with the game while developing their individual skills. From the age of 6 to 12, kids learn to pass over short and medium range, receiving with the feet and chest, basic passing combinations, shooting and defending in pairs and threes. That is it. Nothing more, nothing less. This is the universal guide to youth development in soccer.

There is no emphasis on team play and there should be no emphasis on winning. They can do that at U13 and above. Basically for those age group kids, they should have fun and “having fun” should be the primary objective for the clubs and the coaches.

Before the initiatives, there were no national standards for U6-U12. The initiatives define for each age group the new birth-year registration (Jan. 1 to Dec. 31), the modified Rules of the Game for small-sided games, the minimal certification required for coaches and the player development philosophy. For each age group, the first statement of the developmental philosophy is “results and standings should not be recorded.” Naturally, they will win and lose games and will be jubilant or heartbroken depending on the result, but the motto should always be “win or lose enjoy the game."

Like any radical change, this change will hurt people, whether they are players, parents, coaches or club officials. So the changes should be communicated well by U.S. Soccer and internalized by the stakeholders.

As the preface to the initiative says: “Players need to be put in the best possible environment to succeed; there are no short cuts; success requires a long-term approach and commitment and there is a need to educate and empower parents and coaches.

Lately, I have seen an article in Baltimore Sun titled “New age rules 'wreaking havoc' in youth soccer.” It is a strong title and reaction to the changes mandated by the birth-year initiative. Naturally, there is concern among parents that their kids will not be able to train and play with their teammates once the new age limits are imposed. True -- but the kids will find new teammates and enjoy playing the game in a few weeks. By the way, the new age guidelines -- birth-year registration -- is in accordance with the rest of the world.

I understand the feelings of the kids and to some extent their parents’. What I do not understand is the reaction of the coaches and club officials. The article talks about an U9 team that claims to be one of the best in the state. Sorry! What! “The best in the state”! Based on what ranking and why is this so important? Pardon me, we are talking about 8-year-old kids who are trying to enjoy the game or should I say should be enjoying the game.

The coaches and the executives are worried that the teams will be broken up. So what? At those age groups based on universal development standards, you are not supposed to build up teams or focus on winning; at those age groups you should develop individual player skills while the kids enjoy the game. Some parents might say “we do not care about universal development standards,” but U.S. Soccer does care and should.

This is the result of the current U.S. youth development system based on pay-to-play system coupled with play-to-win philosophy. The sociological structure of the U.S. youth development system is a well-known fact.

Although there are scholarship systems in some youth clubs for the financially underprivileged kids, they are inadequate. For example, talented but financially disadvantaged Hispanic inner-city kids do not have the same chance to develop their skills as their white middle-class counterparts. Some of the parents of U6-U12 pay-to-play system kids might not care too much for the development of their kids’ individual soccer skills. They pay for them to play, so they want their kids to be happy. They feel and think that their kids will be happy if they win. Most of the time the parents are happier than the kids, when they win a game.

Since they pay for their kids to play, they like to hire coaches who train and tune their kids to win; similarly such clubs are managed by executives who share the same philosophy. Otherwise why would they be so worried about teams breaking up?

The kids will find new friends very fast with their new age group and enjoy the game. It is the parents, the coaches and the executives who are crying foul, since they realized what the new philosophy will bring: Play to enjoy not play to win. Hopefully, the new initiative in the long term will change the pay-to-play system and play-to-win philosophy for the kids. That day will be the birthday of the new U.S. player development system and the road to the global success for the very talented American soccer players.

U.S. Soccer Player Development Initiatives available for download HERE

(Ahmet Guvener is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of Turkish soccer federation [TFF]. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the TFF. He served as a member of the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Austin, Texas.)

41 comments about "Aiming to end Pay to Play and Play to Win".
  1. R2 Dad, September 6, 2016 at 10:40 p.m.

    Great article--thanks for the review. I did see this on the US Soccer link: "Develop intelligence with and without the ball--Promote faster decisions and better awareness. Develop partnerships within the team". To youth coaches all this mean is rondo and wall passes. I'm hoping we get specifics, because this is one of the main weaknesses of coaching today.

  2. Bob Ashpole, September 7, 2016 at 1:24 a.m.

    Mr. Guvener, this is no reflection on you, but I don't see any change for the better in the context of the past 40 years. Registered soccer has grown too structured and will remain too structured. I think the DA program is the wrong approach. Especially extending it to U12s. How to develop players is not a secret formula. Playing 7v7 instead of 8v8 is trivia. Although playing is key, organized play is unnecessary at that age. Age cutoffs and team and league structures are counterproductive. Learning to dribble is not trivial, but dribbling is not on the above list of what youth should be taught. I am sorry but I cannot take these "reforms" seriously. "National Standards" are a waste of paper. The very concept of "standards" are the philosophy of mediocracy--minimum requirements. Do Olympic champions settle for standard anything? Where is the discussion of increasing meaningful training opportunities for both players and coaches?

  3. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 7, 2016 at 10:49 a.m.

    "Organized play" is unnecessary?! This stems from the myth that's out there that kids in other countries just play in the street and somehow become great. That isn't reality. Yes, kids in a country like Brazil for example do play unorganized games more than American kids but the Brazilian developmental system is incredibly organized and structured. Outside, unorganized play is just a part of the development of those kids.

  4. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 7, 2016 at 2:07 p.m.

    Futsal is good but the idea that a bunch of kids just play in the street in Brazil and all of the sudden at 18 they're Ronaldinho/Neymar etc is just not true. Ronaldinho joined Gremio at age 7. He didn't just hang out in the street playing with his buddies. Neymar was playing organized football by age 7 and was signed by Santos at 11.

    And if two kids had the same amount of natural ability but one had only played BB in the playground while another had played for high level youth teams with good coaches, I'd take the kid who had played organized ball every time.

  5. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 7, 2016 at 2:08 p.m.

    My point is you need both ideally. Unstructured street play helps spawns creativity and it's fun but good coaching teaches kids the fundamentals necessary to become an elite adult player.

  6. Buk Rogers replied, September 7, 2016 at 2:15 p.m.

    "Learning to dribble is not trivial, but dribbling is not on the above list of what youth should be taught"

    Dribbling is the least developed aspect of the American game. You dont see this in basketball. Why is that most coaches seek the best dribblers during tryouts, then discourage them from utilizing this great skill (in favor of tiki taka) by calling them "selfish players" or "ball hogs" and limiting touches to 1 or 2?

    I profess this is why the US/we have no Ibrahimovics, Messis, or Pogbas on our senior national team or shining in the MLS.

  7. Brian Quesinberry replied, September 7, 2016 at 2:36 p.m.

    I think the biggest benefit from street ball is that the younger kids can play against older kids which actually challenges them. I see it where coaches and parents egos hold certain players back in development due to not wanting someone else's kid to outshine their own.

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, September 7, 2016 at 2:45 p.m.

    "Futsal is good but the idea that a bunch of kids just play in the street in Brazil and all of the sudden at 18 they're Ronaldinho/Neymar etc is just not true." This comment indicates that you completely misunderstand development. Youth football is about fundamentals, which do not require organized play to learn. Teams are necessary to learn team tactics, which should begin at U14. Without a solid base in fundamentals, no amount of team tactics will produce professional players.

  9. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 7, 2016 at 3:11 p.m.

    This is pointless. Nothing will change your minds and anything that contradicts your narrative is ignored or, at best, explained away. You offer no support whatsoever for the idea that no one needs to play organized soccer until they are 14.

  10. don Lamb replied, September 7, 2016 at 4:22 p.m.

    Fire PG Now is correct that the romantic notion of South Americans only learning soccer by playing in the streets is a complete myth. AA, you used to use Messi as an example until you were shown proof of his involvement in Newell's Old Boys from a very early age and then, of course, FCB. The fact is that players have to learn in a structured environment. There has never ever been a player who has made much of an impact professionally who did not have structured coaching and playing environments. There have been lots who have not had strong influences from the street environment. Don't get me wrong -- there is a ton of benefit from unorganized games, but a structured environment is absolutely vital at some point. And the street ball argument doesn't even carry over to basketball as you suggest that it does. An overwhelming majority of NBA players come from middle class families with two parents households. These guys did not grow up playing in the streets; they grew up on the AAU circuit. Lebron James and Steph Curry are not And 1 guys. They had special talent and were coached from an early age. The And 1 guys are still on the street when those who got coaching and structure developed a real game that translates to the actual team and professional environment.

  11. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 7, 2016 at 5:18 p.m.

    My point was ideally you have both. The structured environment is essential. If, in addition, a kid plays unorganized games with his friends or at the park in his free time, that's great. But a kid isn't going to develop into a pro by playing in the street.

  12. don Lamb replied, September 7, 2016 at 8:40 p.m.

    Well said. Realistically, it takes both for most players to become truly elite. They absolutely need coaching and structure, but they also should have a fire for the game that burns in them and drives them to play anywhere and everywhere. Our culture doesn't really provide enough opportunities for this type of play (in most ares of the country), hence the reason coaching is that much more important in the US.

  13. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 8, 2016 at 11:25 a.m.

    Even if it's true that Michael Jordan and Pele never played organized games before 15 (I doubt it is true) those two examples don't prove anything. Even now, the best South Americans are playing in organized games at a very young age. They may also play on the street (this may shock you but kids play in the street or at the park in Europe too) and that's great. But the structure of organized play is essential.

  14. don Lamb replied, September 8, 2016 at 11:54 a.m.

    AA - It is widely documented that two great coaches made Michael Jordan who he was. Dean Smith, and the structure of the 4 corners offense, and Phil Jackson and the triangle offense. Jordan was off to a good individual career but had nothing to show for it until Phil Jackson convinced him that he needed to play a team game to be truly successful. Saying that Pele and Maradonna were better players than Messi is opinion and cannot be proven ever. We are not saying that playing unorganized games does not benefit the player. What we are saying is that players, at some point, do indeed need coaching and structure to reach their highest potential.

  15. Bob Ashpole replied, September 8, 2016 at 1:21 p.m.

    You are talking about what happened to Jordan in college and making our point for us. We are talking about elementary school children. Some people are interpreting my saying organized play is unnecessary for teaching fundamentals as saying coaching is unnecessary. Coaching is necessary. In many cases young children have an advantage because they are coached in fundamentals by capable friends and family. It is a mistake to think that coaching does not occur during unorganized play. What is needed is good coaching on fundamentals whether by peers, siblings or adults on a regular basis.

  16. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 8, 2016 at 2:37 p.m.

    First of all, why are we talking about Michael Jordan on a soccer forum? And in any event, can someone show me some evidence that Michael Jordan never played organized basketball before high school? I can't find any evidence one way or another.

  17. Bob Ashpole replied, September 9, 2016 at 4:09 a.m.

    FPGN, you are completely missing the point. Brilliant college coaches are not needed to teach fundamentals to children. Players who know the fundamentals can pass them on--parents, older siblings, and neighbors are common examples. At their productive best, neighborhood pickup games are like attending a clinic every day. I responded to the Michael Jordan comment that he became the player he was because of some outstanding coaching, but that coaching came while he was a young adult. What we need is competent coaching of fundamentals, but in my experience more often than not the kids are not getting it. Many don't play neighborhood pickup games, many don't have siblings, and many don't have access to competent coaching of fundamentals in organized soccer.

  18. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 9, 2016 at 10:47 a.m.

    I agree that youth coaching is often inadequate/low quality but I think the solution is to develop better coaches not just give up and hope kids will learn fundamentals playing with other kids in the street. That just isn't realistic.

  19. Daniel Clifton, September 7, 2016 at 7:34 a.m.

    I am trying to see where any of this changes the pay to play system. I see no discussion of any kind of fundamental change in the economics of club soccer that takes club soccer out of pay to play. The Developmental Academies are as I understand it just another form of club based on pay to play.

  20. Fire Paul Gardner Now, September 7, 2016 at 10:50 a.m.

    Haven't looked at these standards closely as yet but generally agree with this article. Have to disagree though that MLS is not a success story. MLS started from scratch 20 years ago. By any reasonable measure, to get the league to where it is now in just 20 years has to be considered a success.

  21. don Lamb replied, September 7, 2016 at 5:11 p.m.

    Not acknowledging MLS as a success story in the area of youth development is either tremendously short sighted or agenda-driven. MLS hardly survived in it's first ten years, so, really, we are talking about 10 years of stable existence. Remarkable progress in that time.

  22. Peter Schuck, September 7, 2016 at 2:13 p.m.

    "By the way, the new age guidelines -- birth-year registration -- is in accordance with the rest of the world." is the fallacious "Argumentum ad populum"

    The international age group cutoff is arbitrary. There is no developmental reason for a January 1st cutoff. It is not in “accordance with the rest of the world.” England’s Football Association follows a school year age grouping: “Essentially the age group that a player joins is determined by his or her date of birth – this also mirrors the school year. The key date is 31st August and the chart below shows which age group applies for next season.” (see

    There are good reasons for teams to be organized according to school year. The obvious, that school age mirrors the social group, but also good cognitive and psychosocial reasons, as players grouped according to school age are all covering similar topics in school and Phys Ed. Finally, having a dual system as the US had previously, where ODP selection was based on a January cutoff and club play was based on an August cutoff seemed to be a reasonable approach to try to combat the Relative Age Effect as frequently the older players are placed on the best teams with the best coaches in each situation. Now with the international standard applied to club play, both ODP and club selection occur preferring the January-March birthdays (no doubt this will happen – the data science shows it!).

    The new cutoff isn't better. it's at best different, and it may be worse (relative age effect reinforcement). We won't know for sure for a couple of years when we see if soccer participation has increased or decreased and whether the best teams are now loaded with January-March birthdays.

  23. Dennis Mueller, September 7, 2016 at 2:21 p.m.

    In 1989 US Soccer mandated the birth date change from January 1 to August 1. Reasons were to more closely match the teams with a single class in school and to agree with the Little League birth dates. There was of course a lot of hand-wringing about that, but mostly in less than a year people adjusted. I expect the same for this change. But the birth date change does nothing for player development.

    Changing pay-to-play is a much harder nut to crack. There has always been a tension between player enjoyment, player development and winning especially for players below U-13.
    People vote with their children's feet when they do not like the coach/team they have. That will not change because of anything US Soccer says, parents will always try to do what is best for their child first and foremost. Coaches will adapt to what the parents want or they will soon have no team. (The parents' ideas of what is "best" likely differ from that of US Soccer and it is the parents' ideas that matter.)

    So it is a question of educating parents to believe more in the fun and development scale of things. The smaller sided teams at younger ages is a way to help with the development and it is one of the few things that US Soccer can actually mandate.
    Changing pay-to-play is not something that will happen anytime soon.

    A friend grew up in a Communist country where the state paid the coaches and the coaches determined which players should play. There was little choice on the players'/parents' part. He was essentially forced to give up on becoming an engineer to play soccer professionally. I do not think such a top-down system would work in the USA. Locally the parents will still determine things for their children.

  24. Bob Ashpole replied, September 7, 2016 at 3 p.m.

    This is what I saw as the problem in my limited experience with youth soccer 20 years ago. It discourages me to see you say it, as I had hoped that my experience was unusual. Apparently not.

  25. ForTheLoveOfPele Gallagher, September 7, 2016 at 3:46 p.m.

    The birth year change may have an impact in a few years, as many of the teams "age out". But all I've seen and heard is that many teams are content with staying together and "playing up" to whatever age group necessary so the kids can stay together. Of course that could also change if wins become fewer. It may be an unpopular thing to say, but most parents equate wins with development. This will also help the academy teams convince players not to play HS ball and just stay with their club team and pay the fees so the FT coach, FT trainer, FT development director, FT Coaching director and all the other administrative people within the clubs can get paid.

  26. stewart hayes, September 7, 2016 at 8:13 p.m.

    An interesting new direction for soccer in the US. The most complete U12 player I had the pleasure to coach was a boy from Morocco. He told me he never had worn a pair of soccer shoes, never had played on grass, never had a coach and never played on a team until he arrived in California. Back home he loved playing, played hours a day and watched games in between. If the changes bring us closer to producing players like this I am all for it. Changing the age groups does nothing except for shuffling some players for a couple of years after that it will be easy. The difficulty is producing an environment where the players and parents are happy and their children are learning and challenged. One problem with the change maybe the unintended affect it may have on the volunteers needed and coaches when the players reach U13. The current system develops many fine coaches, team administrators and referees from parent volunteers over the first 7 years of a soccer player's life. We certainly cannot expect to have parents, referee's etc... picking up the sport for the first time when their child turns U13!

  27. Bob Ashpole replied, September 8, 2016 at 1:36 p.m.

    What most people miss is that organizing players into year groups does not help player development. It only helps organize team competitions. Many people believe players develop quicker in mixed groups. I am one of them. Mixed groups inherently will have situations of varied pressure, which promotes player development. Coaches adjust the pressure by various means in training sessions of organized teams.

  28. Bob Ashpole replied, September 8, 2016 at 1:37 p.m.

    I am still talking in the context of teaching fundamentals. Teaching team tactics is different.

  29. Kent James, September 8, 2016 at 11:33 a.m.

    Lots of good points made, but let me throw in my 2 cents worth. First, the change in age group cut-off is simply administrative, and while disruptive to existing teams, should make things easier (at least internationally) in the long run. The only developmental impact it might have (that I can see) is that by making the youth cut-off different than the school cut-off, players playing both will get a broader variety of teammates (by 6 mos), which would be marginally helpful (mainly to dispel the notion, which is common around here, that the way to improve is to play the same kids with each other for their entire lives so they can function better as a team; not crazy competitively, but certainly limiting as a developmental model.

  30. Kent James, September 8, 2016 at 11:51 a.m.

    The argument a number of people had about street soccer v. organized soccer is filled with good points, but I think the relevance to the current proposals is missed. I think we could probably agree that street soccer encourages creativity and organized soccer is traditionally focused more on discipline and making sure everyone learns a common core (if you will) of skills and tactics, and that the best players are both creative and disciplined, as are the best teams (creative on offense, disciplined on defense, with the primary area in which those tendencies conflict being risk-taking, which should depend on game situations, tactics, and individual abilities).

    Ideally, we would all love a player who eats, drinks, and sleeps soccer, is never without a ball, attends well-coached practices (that are not too all-consuming when they are young, but become more intense as the kid gets older), and in between scours the streets for people to play or walls to bounce the ball off of. I think what the current proposals are trying to do is limit how 'professional' the early youth (U6-U10) environment is to provide an opportunity for creativity to grow. Professionalization too early burns kids out and excludes too many kids who might eventually be excellent players (either because they did not develop early enough, or cost/time/travel pressures). This is the biggest downside of the'pay to play' mentality. The program they describe in the PDI is one I can attest works well, since I ran a program along such lines 15 yrs ago (using practice groups instead of teams, small-sided games, a common curriculum for the coaches, switching the kids on the teams to keep the games competitive, etc.), and it works very well. I can also be a low cost way to spread coaches (since the practice groups are cooperative, a professional coach can oversee the curriculum and training the volunteers, maybe work a bit with the most promising/motivated kids, but the cost can be spread over 150 kids instead of 15).

    The key to eliminating the pay to play model it so eliminate (or at least limit) competition between clubs (either tournaments or leagues) at the youngest ages. When clubs are allowed to compete, they want to win and winning at all costs drives the pay to play model. Until the USSF takes this step (which would certainly alienate a lot of people, so it is understandable that the USSF is reluctant to do this), I'm not sure how useful the suggestions (even if they are right) will be. But it does give backing to people at the grass roots who want to change their clubs along these lines, so I have hope that it will have a positive impact.

  31. Nathan Billy replied, September 8, 2016 at 1:18 p.m.

    Another way to deal with pay to play is allow club to be compensated for training for the few players that go professional. This right now is a point of contention between US Soccer/FIFA/MLS and cLubs. Let the clubs take a risk on training players that will never play professionally for the chance that they can make all the money back on one super elite. This would put focus on producing great players and less on great winning teams as the selling point for the club.

  32. Bob Ashpole replied, September 8, 2016 at 1:49 p.m.

    Kent, your experience, and other's like it, are the reason I say organized play is unnecessary to teach fundamentals. Your model is what I think of as the academy system and what I think is the most efficient model for U-Littles. I think some clubs have taken the model a step further and allow parents to run an organized team/league competition on Saturdays to keep the parents happy and keep them out of training during the week.

  33. Nathan Billy, September 8, 2016 at 11:53 a.m.

    Why is this the Primary Mission Statement of US Soccer? “to make soccer, in all its forms, preeminent sport in the United States". Is the goal really to the win the popularity contest versus all other sports in the U.S. or is to develop the some best players in the world leading to a top flight Team on the global stage. They really need to rethink the mission. Picking a battle with the other major sports is not a winnable battle. But developing great players is. Popularity is not absolutely required. Using the Olympic medals as an example 90% of the sports in the Olympics are not popular as far as entertainment goes. But yet as the article states we dominate as a country in many categories. Why can the US produce the best gymnasts in the wold in a sport that is only popular as an entertainment event once every four years? Even Volleyball "a team sport" in which the US is always a top competitor has very limited commercial success. US Soccer need to focus solely on players only and throw out the business of being the preeminent(definition is Above all others)" sport of the U.S. Let the MLS figure out the popularity part on their own.

    For Comparison here is the Mission for USA Volleyball

    "The mission of USA Volleyball is to lead, serve and grow all areas of the sport of volleyball - including beach, indoor and sitting - achieving excellence while providing a lifetime of opportunities for all to participate in a safe and positive environment"

  34. Bob Ashpole replied, September 8, 2016 at 1:55 p.m.

    The problem is that not all people share your views. To me soccer and athletics generally are participation events, not spectator events. There are 23 members of the US MNT at any given time, but there are more than 23 million US soccer players at any given time.

  35. Michael Helfand, September 8, 2016 at 2:24 p.m.

    Pay to play is not being addressed. We had 1,300 players pay $50 for ODP tryouts. I assumed that $65,000.00 could fund what is essentially a one month program. Nope. To participate you need to pay 5x as much which of course is leaving many of the best players on the sidelines. And there is no coordination with club teams.

    With the younger ages, not letting them play with their school friends is dumb. Those kids/parents aren't thinking about developing anyone and we shouldn't either. The goal should be a good experience so they come back the next year.

  36. GA Soccer Forum, September 9, 2016 at 12:07 p.m.

    This dude is out to lunch.
    The age mandate had a huge impact on small clubs and benefited the larger clubs not just in terms on quality but soccer is about numbers, you need players, and if your club couldn't field a competitive at certain age groups, players left.

    2nd - most clubs were already playing small sided soccer and we needed to slow down the rush to play 11v11 earlier ie at u12. Well guess what, the new age mandate has done exactly that -- its forcing kids to bigger fields faster.

    if this dude is really at a US club, I feel bad for that club.

  37. Bob Ashpole replied, September 10, 2016 at 2:34 a.m.

    Mr. Guvener is a consultant and I expect quite knowledgeable. He also has to work within a system. Here he is simply promoting USSF's latest development policy. Don't shoot the messenger because you don't like the message.

  38. hc metz, January 18, 2017 at 5:14 p.m.

    Interesting discussion. I can agree to some, kind of agree/disagree with some, and completely disagree with other comments.

    Now, that winning thing. One of the aspects of soccer in the US to me (I'm from Germany) is this strange kind of "soccer is track and field somehow involving a ball"-vibe. I actually think for some reason there isn't enough fire in many players, and identification with the team goal, which is... wait... to win! And because that goal isn't there, lots of coaches and players seem to be kind of disinvested (btw Latino teams put more of their heart in than others, because they their families often live soccer).

    Namely, some coaches seem to think they actually have to keep the team from winning (like, I am all for variability and not boxing in kids too early - but what often happens is the moment something works, they change the team configuration - sometimes it seems it's because they think soccer is random: "oh, they combined so well just a few minutes ago, now they play badly" - yeah, that was before you made destructive changes - maybe they were okay for development, but the comment makes it clear it's more random in your brain). That said, there are parents being 100 times more aggressive against the other team than can be healthy, which usually leads to bad fouls. I grew up in the 70s and I am so thankful for how clean soccer has become - I still don't know why I didn't break anything - today, almost all coaches know a player who fouls wont get anywhere and is a problem for the team.

    As for the dribbling - sure, we need players to create chances, opening rooms, breaking through. However, honestly, what we often get are endless dribblers who try to dribble like mini-Messi and lose the ball after the 2nd or 3rd or 4th or whatever opponent, as they will never ever pass. Messi isn't as selfish as these fans. Id rather have someone trying to emulate Iniesta - they will end up as a good passer, supporting the team -, than Messi, because that usually means no constructing the game. And yes, I think that understanding should be nurtured early on, depending on the maturity of the player.

    Now for the pay-for-play: I have two kids, one U9 (semi-interested, AYSO and club) and U12 (mature, ambitious, premier). I am paying a lot for club teams and additional things like clinics, futsal, and for the older one individual sessions. I wish I wouldn't need to spend that much money and I do think it is unfair towards talented but not-so-rich kids - but you know what? The real problem is what you are getting for it. One of the reasons why I have to spend for extra stuff is because the club simply doesn't do its job. No player development whatsoever. My experience in that matches up very closely what Anthony describes above: When you pay for it, someone is doing his job. And as adults we all know: doing a job to many ppl often means not caring. These jobs help a lot of soccer gets to never have to grow up - cool!

  39. hc metz, January 18, 2017 at 5:14 p.m.

    There are major clubs who reel kids in by promising "player development" and all that stuff, dreams of Real Madrid floating in the air, with the parents and all the kids actually being interested (and paying, around here: up to $2800 per year), and then... doing mostly glorified scrimmages. And what's worse: you may join a club doing a good job at that time, but then (maybe after a club merge - yay!) they cut stuff away... until they arrive at glorified scrimmages. And the argument that people will vote with their feet - my experience is that there will always be more new folks, and a lot of folks either don't know any better and/or just duck down.
    And then don't get me started on club favorites! We have one who actually looks great in the way he moves and all, real cool in practices and so on - but on the field, in a game, he takes almost every single decision wrong. Again and again and again. And is still playing through almost all of the time, in what is supposed to be a competitive soccer club. Competition for the coach's favors is what it is. Quality will come through... eventually... hopefully... but it can be very painful to get there, as Anthony attested to.
    But I think that's always been like that, even during my youth soccer times. Oh well

  40. baker bruce, October 11, 2017 at 2:18 p.m.

    Well first let me say that 90% of this article is quite well written but sadly one of the main problems with all sports in the USA is spelled out in the first two paragraphs.  American are by nature (and this is a broad generalized statement and not meant for everyone) are etremely egocentric!

    One the NHL is a International Professional Sports league, 16 country are represented with their players with 451 being Canadian to only 266 being US player, add this to Swedish, Russian, Finish etc etc players in that league and the fact that the USA Mens national team has only been competitive on a few occasions your reference of the NHL as a USA Sport League is almost laughable. Typically just because you own the facilities and teams where players play does not make them Americans.

    The only team in the MLS who really features US stars as STARS is based in Toronto, Canadam i.e. Josie Altidore & Micheal Bradly - other US based teams tend to feature South American or Euro satr of the past. 

    Youth soccer is a mess in North Americam but our 'club' based system is run by parents for their 'own' kids.  Soccer or football is not and never has been run professionally.  It is as you have so elequently said a sport run by 'parents with money'.  Lots of Ex-Pro soccer players who could be teaching and training on a Soccer Club Academy systen like in Europe and Elsewhere are replaced by well meaning 'Joey's Dad' coaches. Who no matter how nice, are first worried about getting what is best for Joey. 

    I just think when USA Soccer gets it's head around that a house is only as solid as it'a foundation, not field conditions or woulda shoulda comments that not only the US Soccer program but US sports will be better off.

    Strongest |Nation in the world, if you really were you would never ever have to write those words, lets face it!  Real Champions put 'team' first and never ever brag!

    Bruce - Good Luck next World Cup!

  41. Fred Rweru, October 12, 2017 at 10:02 a.m.

    this article is now very pertinent, if it wasn't before, with the US failure to qualify for the World CUP. A number of people are voicing concern over how the pay-to-play culture in American sport has affected US soccer, especially the fact that poorer but more talented kids may often be lost in such a system, due to financial/social backgrounds and also the excessive emphasis by adults on winning for kids who's level of growth and development calls for enjoyment not winning.   

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