Commentary

Soccer must get around obstacles to its fifth pillar without poking the bee hive

I witnessed the blooming of soccer in this country during my stay in the USA 30 years ago (1978-1987). The emergence of women’s soccer fueled by Title IX was especially phenomenal. Although the old NASL folded while I was here, the youth development was very promising. I watched the development of soccer in this country across the Atlantic for the next 30 years. The last 12 months I have been here, I have been researching, reading and witnessing the development of soccer in the USA. Unfortunately, what I see today in terms of development is behind what I would have expected to see after 30 years. As someone who spent 30 years in European football at different levels, I will try to bring a fresh and different perspective to the missing fifth pillar, namely technical development. While doing this I will try not to forget the realities of this country. Today I will discuss the obstacles en route to the development of the fifth pillar.

The first obstacle is the “pay to play” system. Youth development in soccer is big business in this country. I have to point out that “pay to play” model is not only confined to soccer. There are a lot opportunities and lots of people benefit from those opportunities. Through the “pay to play” model, both the customers and the vendors are happy and satisfied. In the case of the “play to play” model, the customers are the parents and not the kids who play in the system. The vendors -- the clubs -- try to satisfy the needs and wishes of the parents. Soccer parents are the second most affluent category of parents in team sports; only lacrosse parents surpass the soccer parents. It is evident that partly due “to pay to play” model, the participation level of 6-12 year old kids is dropping in all team sports including soccer. The “pay to play” model discriminates against the inner-city kids and the kids of less affluent families, namely Latinos and the African-Americans. There are some scholarships available and various efforts by cities like the “Urban Soccer Leadership Academy” in San Antonio try to compensate for these shortcomings. These efforts cannot change the hindrance of development by the “pay to play” model unless you find smart ways of circumventing it. Attacking the “pay to play” model and trying to change it radically and completely would be like Don Quixote attacking the windmills.

One can say that in Europe there are “pay to play” systems of youth development. True, but those are professional clubs using their trademark value to generate extra revenue for their developmental academies. Those “pay to play” football schools extremely rarely develop players who could be utilized by the academies and eventually turn pro. These football schools do not only exist in the home country but in many countries abroad, including the USA. Their real function is not to find talents in those countries for the home club, but to create cash flow.

Another serious problem of the “pay to play” model is the concept of traveling teams for tournaments. This is another way of raising money for the “vendor” club. Sometimes kids play three games in one day. There is very little or no gain for the players in terms of development in those tournaments.

The second obstacle to the development of the fifth pillar is the structural body of youth soccer. There are five different entities under US Soccer who are organizing youth soccer: namely USYSA, US Club Soccer, AYSO, SAY and USSSA. Some of them are just recreational and some of them are both recreational and competitive.  So leagues choose to participate in the organization whichever entity provides better service for less.  The development of players is not the primary driving force in choosing the organizer for the leagues. For the land of the free, this might make sense, but it creates entropy in terms of development.  Forget about the standards of development, each league has its own set of laws for U-12 leagues. If you are a youth referee, you will have to check the local rules for each game you have to officiate in the same state, even in the same city.

In Europe, there are regional associations similar to state associations in the USA. Each regional association organizes all kinds of soccer:  youth -- usually there is no distinction between recreational and competitive soccer -- and amateur adult soccer for both genders. Through the regional associations, the national governing body for soccer can implement whatever developmental plan they have. For example, the standards for youth development and the laws of the game are the same for Duisburg and in Leipzig. Please do not tell me in defense that the USA is a democracy and has a capitalist system. Nearly all of the European countries have a democratic system with a free economy.

The third obstacle is also structural. When FIFA granted the 1994 World Cup to USA, they had one prerequisite: USA must have a professional league. That is how MLS was born, with a completely top-down approach. In Europe, throughout the history the teams moved from the amateur status to professional status through promotion and relegation. Today, a team in the lowest amateur division has the chance to become a professional team through success on the field if they chose to do so. There are very stringent rules (national and UEFA club licensing systems) to become a professional club in the first-tier European countries. So the system is completely bottom-up. Unfortunately, the USA did not have the luxury of developing a bottom-up system in 1994, so we had to start with a top-down model.

The majority of the teams in Europe, whether amateur or professional, have either an academy or a youth development system. These academies or youth development programs are geared to develop players for their A team. For the directors of the academies or youth development programs, the primary objective is to develop players so that the A team can utilize them or they can sell the player to another club to bring in revenue for the club. Winning a game or being the champion in the age group is not their primary goal. That is, they do not train and play to win but to develop.

Today under U.S. Soccer, there is a separate entity for youth and adult soccer. This separation does not help the holistic approach to soccer for the integration of youth and adult systems. For example, where I live there is a premier adult amateur league and none of the clubs in the league have any official affiliation with any youth club in the region. There are youth clubs and adult clubs with no official affiliation between them whatsoever.  Also, they compete in leagues under different entities.

Until the formation of the Developmental Academy a few years ago, not all of the MLS clubs had an academy. Today most of the DA teams that are not affiliated to professional clubs do not have an adult team where the players can look up to play. With FIFA’s training compensation and solidarity payments being not applicable in the USA , the coaches of these non-MLS DA clubs has no option but to focus on winning games or championships rather than developing  players. Let us not forget that most of those clubs are also “pay to play” clubs. In those clubs, the customer is the boss. The parents who pay want their kids to win. Development is not their primary agenda. Even if they focus on development, where will those players play? After a non-MLS DA player is over the age of 18, either he/she goes to college to play college soccer or becomes a pro for another club. There are only 62 men’s and 10 women’s professional teams for over 4 million kids who play recreational or competitive soccer.  We need competitive youth clubs who spend all their energy in developing players and not winning games if we really want a sound fifth pillar. We need to install the systems to achieve this.

In any system, there are always obstacles to success, whether they are social, economic, political or whatever. You need to find a way to navigate your path to success around those obstacles without “poking the bee hive” although you should take the risk of getting a few stings if not fatal. (“Poking a bee hive” is a Turkish saying meaning to create a disturbance when everything is calm and serene.)  Expect some serious resistance to the changes as you go around the obstacles but do not expect different results without reevaluating and redefining the same system that did not bring U.S. soccer to the level it deserves.

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

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50 comments about "Soccer must get around obstacles to its fifth pillar without poking the bee hive".
  1. Chuck Coan, December 13, 2016 at 7:21 p.m.

    Thank you. All true. Not going to change. Money and power talk-nothing else.

  2. Walt Pericciuoli, December 13, 2016 at 7:39 p.m.

    Excellent analysis, exactly how I see our current situation. Player development has not progressed for the past 20-30 years.
    Changes have to happen.

  3. Ric Fonseca, December 13, 2016 at 7:44 p.m.

    Walt: To say that "...Changes have to happen...(sic)" is somewhat disingenuous, so it would behoove ALL of us soccer folks to stop talking and start acting to put something collective and stop the fracionalization of our sport, and sart looking like a united front much in the same fashion as baseball, football, basketball, and even now lacrosse is organized! So, I'm in, are any of you out there also in?

  4. Joe Linzner, December 13, 2016 at 7:55 p.m.

    well said!

  5. Quarterback TD, December 13, 2016 at 8:41 p.m.

    Nothing is wrong with pay to play. In New York and New Jersey the clubs coaches are not free in additional what most teams including the top tier clubs cost is cheap relative to the amount of training and games our children get. It's roughly $2700 and most coaches level are ok sometimes as good as what you see in Europe and South America because they mostly come from those regions. If a child is looking promising most clubs will offer a scholarship for free. The author is wrong in his assessment as far as how far player development has come. Prior to 30 years we were intermittently getting into the World Cup now we are in ALL world cups and even winning in the female side. More players playing in Europe, Asia and MLS i.e. US Pro.. the author give no numbers or facts just generic personal assessments. We are also currently constantly in FIFA top 30 men and top 5 women. And finally the teams with pay to play has proven history of winning, getting kids into college, making kids Pro and most of all are extremely serious about the sport and kids development. Not all kids will develope in pay to play but US parents love to be on winning teams even if it means spending $2700 a year. But not everything is perfect and there is serious room for improvement and that is why we have these discussions. I am extremely happy to see my child play for his club even if it cost $2700 as oppose to a free club that will not make him develop.

  6. Mick Riordan replied, December 13, 2016 at 9:24 p.m.

    Quarterback I agree with you. Pay to play is a way of life. The most successful clubs utilize a scholarship system and most deserving children that want to play can play. Most importantly many of these clubs are developing some very talented players. I have watched games where the technical standards have been very high.What may be missing in some cases is the ability to stick the ball in the net on a regular basis. The problem in the USA is that the want success yesterday in everything they do and this problem was exacerbated by the immediate success the women's teams experienced. The men's game is improving and I believe they will see the fruits of the current club system in time. It takes a lot to win the World Cup and it takes time to develop a large enough pool of supremely talented players to reach the pinnacle. I look forward to watching our players train hard, play smart and reach for the summit.

  7. Al Gebra replied, December 14, 2016 at 11:54 a.m.

    The FIFA rankings are a sham. They are mostly based on friendlies or other games and tournaments that are isolated events in a particular part of the world. The only ranking that is valid is the results of world cup play. In that respect, the US mens team is hardly a consistent top 30 side.

  8. Allan Lindh, December 13, 2016 at 11:08 p.m.

    Alex Morgan started out in AYSO. Probably the highest paid soccer player in the country at this point. AYSO and College

  9. Quarterback TD, December 13, 2016 at 11:19 p.m.

    Ron, not here to discuss whose poor and who aren't as that will be a foolish discussion. I went into the military just to pay for college and saw Desert Storm in 1990 because I had exactly $2 in my pocket out of HS in Queens. to be honest I am not rich or even pretend to be but I am doing good. I am not saying poor kids are not disadvantage but I am saying the $2700 we pay for clubs is worth it and those clubs when you look at their records are solid. In New York and New Jersey poor in soccer DOES NOT mean no opportunity. There are numerous DA teams that are free and many kids of different back grounds attend. In addition some of the best clubs are free for poor kids and even started for poor kids. You need to remember this is America and everything is business and if a club is going to charge you darn well believe they will be held accountable for performance or be out of business..

  10. Footballer Forever, December 14, 2016 at 12:23 a.m.

    @ Ahmet Guvener

    After readimg the following introduction prior to presenting your POV, i must admit it is refreshing to read them unlike PG and some of their high horses columnists tend to write.

    I do not bother to read PG columns and if I do then most likely it has all the negative preachy tone he tends to carry from one column to the other (Get off my American Lawn even though I am British style) . In the end, he is just a bitter or frustrated football writer which even calling it football boils his blood.

    Please do not learn their ways as being a "revolutionary/trouble maker" is not the only way to get people to read your work.

  11. Al Gebra replied, December 14, 2016 at 11:56 a.m.

    ...Yawn ...

  12. Footballer Forever replied, December 15, 2016 at 11:37 p.m.

    @Al Gebra

    Have some manners and cover your mouth when you yawn, your breath stinks, more like your reply.

  13. Footballer Forever, December 14, 2016 at 12:24 a.m.

    reference to introduction previously mentioned:

    "As someone who spent 30 years in European football at different levels, I will try to bring a fresh and different perspective to the missing fifth pillar, namely technical development. While doing this I will try not to forget the realities of this country. Today I will discuss the obstacles en route to the development of the fifth pillar'

  14. Bob Ashpole, December 14, 2016 at 1:23 a.m.

    Ahmet, you have laid out the problem. To what you said I would three points. First being what is the primary goal of youth sports? It should not be to produce professional players. If that is its primary goal, then it is doomed to failure as there are millions of youth players and only 70-some professional teams in the US and Canada of all levels, less than 1500 players. Professional players are no more than a byproduct of youth soccer. Second USSF's development failures have been failures of execution. Third professional players are not developed by assembly line production, rather they are developed individual by individual. Professional players are exceptions, not the norm. Solving the problem by looking at it from the top at USSF is not the solution. USSF should be coordinating and supporting development efforts of others rather than attempting to control them. More progress would be made if--to steal a slogan--USSF would think globally but act locally. As Ahmet alluded soccer in other countries owes its rise to the clubs, not national oversight. I prefer the German approach of breakout supplemental training instead of competing with the clubs. That focus is on training players, not developing teams and winning matches.

  15. Bob Ashpole replied, December 14, 2016 at 1:30 a.m.

    PS: Ahmet, I should have first thanked you for yet another great article.

  16. Quarterback TD, December 14, 2016 at 11:07 a.m.

    Maybe so but Hockey still gets the much better athletes at an early age. Go and watch a U10 hockey game one would think you watching a U15 game and kids were trained by Usaint Bolt on ice for speed and Michael Jordon for agility.. go and watch a U10 soccer and you would think they just started playing soccer yesterday.. it's a big difference.. bottom line we need to get our top athletes or some of them into soccer and once that's done we will see multiple World Cups in our lifetime.

  17. Al Gebra replied, December 14, 2016 at 12:11 p.m.

    Basketball and football don't necessarily get the best athletes. The structure of these 2 sports rewards players who are tall, big or fast. Because These 2 sports have taken the decision-making away from the players and given it to the coaches, the coaches only have to find players who are tall, big or fast and will unfailingly follow the coaches orders. Shaq O'Neal is a good example of this. He would have made a very poor soccer player because all he brings to the table is height. And as good a basketball player Dirk Nowitzki is, the same applies.

  18. Bob Ashpole replied, December 14, 2016 at 5:54 p.m.

    QTD, organized teams are just the tip of the iceberg. Hockey families have their kids on skates before age 2. They aren't born skating, but by the time they are in organized hockey many already have been playing in the back yard or on the neighborhood pond for years.

  19. Eddie Rockwell, December 14, 2016 at 11:41 a.m.

    The goal of youth sports SHOULD be to let the kids have FUN, get some EXERCISE, meet new FRIENDS, learn how to be a TEAMMATE.
    If there is a diamond in the rough, hopefully an astute coach can direct him/her to a higher level of development (not over coaching, but development). Technical Development, in my opinion, only occurs with the ball at feet, constantly, in small groups, with very little "coaching"
    I don't know as fact, but my guess is that Messi, Ronaldo, et al, didn't have a "coach" show them what to do -- they learn by playing...

  20. Bob Ashpole replied, December 14, 2016 at 12:13 p.m.

    Player development looks different at different ages. At early ages coaches don't have a lot of contact time, but give important feedback. In unorganized situations someone is still demonstrating and giving feedback. It may be a family member, a friend or a neighbor, but someone is proving examples and feedback. Without the mentoring, progress is slower. But it is important for development to be involved in organized play by age 10 or so, certainly by 12-13 when the emphasis is on functional training and team tactics. As for technical development, it depends on how you define "technical." Certainly striking and dribbling require a ball, but skill development requires pressure so practicing alone has limits. The coaches contribution is "feedback" such as spotting and correcting bad technique as well as positive reinforcement.

  21. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, December 14, 2016 at 12:43 p.m.

    The myth of the "street" footballer. Messi was at Newell's Old Boys at age 6. Ronaldo was playing in the youth teams of a local club at around that age too. Unstructured street football has its place but it is not the primary means by which professional footballers are developed.

  22. Bob Ashpole replied, December 14, 2016 at 6 p.m.

    Ron, "mentor" is a synonym for "coach."

  23. Bob Ashpole replied, December 15, 2016 at 12:34 p.m.

    It is a pretty poor coach and mentor when watching TV is better training. Watching TV and playing video games is a waste of time compared to playing anything outdoors with others. Video games improve manual dexterity, but that is a skill required of typists and musicians, and footballers. It is a good activity when you cannot play and don't have someone to help you perform the moves on the video clips.

  24. Bob Ashpole replied, December 15, 2016 at 12:35 p.m.

    I hate spellcheck when you cannot edit. The "not" was omitted regarding manual dexterity and footballers.

  25. Jens Jensen, December 14, 2016 at 12:42 p.m.

    All of these pay-to-play clubs dangle college scholarships as the carrot... As someone who played college soccer, I find it humorous that a parent would spend $2700+ per year for their child to get a $1000 scholarship. The number of players who are getting full ride scholarships at competitive D1 programs are shockingly small. These programs normally take the number of scholarships they are allowed and break them up into smaller amounts that they can spread out. You would be money ahead (WAY ahead) to put your money in a college fund.
    Regardless, things will not change until the college coaches begin to take a chance on a player who has not come thru the current system but has the potential to be special. Currently - when faced with a decision between taking a 5'9" minority player from a rural community who does the unexpected - who shows flashes of something remarkable - OR - taking a player like me: 6'3" with good speed and a safe and predictable industrious style and who is a known quantity... More often than not - they take me. I hope that we are seeing a change as we have one player who doesnt fully fit that model and he just won an MLS cup: Roldan.
    My final point is that I am disappointed that the author failed to recognize or address that we do have a place in this country where Pay-To-Play is a non-issue and with some adjustments - could provide the level playing field that we need - A system that has been working perfectly to funnel talent from rural and underprivileged communities to our universities and professional leagues in Football and Basketball... The High School system doesnt care about your income and it doesnt care about your zip code. Currently - just as this author has ignored the HS system - D1 Coaches also ignore it. Its like national politics as these club and college people are all scratching each other's backs.

  26. s@cc@r f@n, December 14, 2016 at 12:45 p.m.

    My experience - sponsored/guided/mentored 4 teams from U7 -U19 in Southern California. Had two sons get college scholarships, one drafted to MLS. I am not a coach and know nothing about teaching technical aspect of game. 80% of players I HELPED were Hispanic. By helped I mean - payed dues, administered teams, provided transportation, helped with tutoring to keep in school. They were generally better technical players at a young age because their fathers got them into the game (ie. had them kicking balls when they could walk, etc). That is first step to building a world class soccer nation - fathers who know the game and teach their sons the game. The US is way ahead of the world in this area because in 10 years when this generation of young women has kids, they will be brought to soccer fields before any where else. Second step is recognizing great talent versus maturity - the Hispanic kids beat the pants off everyone because of technical skills and early physical maturity until about age 15. At that point mnay others began to catch up - and were bigger,taller, faster. The late maturing ones who played with Hispanic kids and learned the game properly then took off and went on. Of the probably 200 players I had contact with, about 10 got D1 scholarships, 2 drafted to MLS, two play (played) in Europe at lower levels. You can rag on college BUT most of those D1 kids would never be pros but got an education. Sadly, very few of the Hispanics got scholarships, although deserving, as their grades were deficient. Of the 4 pro players - one Hispanic (very highyly skilled) on black (very athletic/great speed) - both natural pros. The two Caucasians who made it matured late BUT had heavy technical coaching at a young age and had great success as they did everything right - played with both feet, etc. I believe, at least in SoCal:
    1) the Hispanic kids have a distinct advantage due to their early introduction to the game; this attitude of getting more Hispanics on teams is counterproductive. We need more kids/parents to see soccer as a sport to start their kids at age two with just kicking a ball, more dads to teach their sons;
    2) if you are gifted, there is more than enough financial support;
    3) we need more real SCOUTS who can see a future for kids with talent; two of the present pro players were seen on a dirt field and AYSO by the coach who managed the teams I was a part of. We went to their parents when they were 8 and 10 years old and the coach told them they had a future if they worked hard; both did and succeeded.
    4) my view is that most youth coaches are very short sighted (ie. having winning team is priority), cannot recognize long term talent, cannot teach technical skills. There is not a group of people who just search out talent which involves going to see games on dirt fields in East LA.

  27. Bob Ashpole replied, December 15, 2016 at 12:52 p.m.

    Well put. Thanks for sharing.

  28. Jason Bourne, December 14, 2016 at 1:29 p.m.

    I am sick of these comparison's between how successful the women's national team is compared to the men's side. Women do no play soccer abroad unless is twice a week in a structured environment. I went to England, Spain, and France this summer, as well as Chile and Brazil two years ago and I saw zero girls playing the game in parks or the streets, the belief that soccer is a men's sport still holds true (please don't shoot the messenger). Hence the US Women's team dominance, little girls start playing soccer at a very early age here in the US. The boys have to compete against all those kids that live and breathe soccer year around, so the competition is much tougher. This is why the US national team has a hard time against other countries.

  29. Mauro Nobre, December 14, 2016 at 1:56 p.m.

    The author fails miserably to make his case. The article aims to show that the technical development of US youth players is well behind what the author expected it to be. He does not offer any support for the contention that technical development is indeed behind some stipulated level, but rather offers a very subjective standard: his expectations, based on the “blooming of soccer” he witnessed 30 years ago. He offers three structural reasons for the poor technical development he diagnoses: the “pay to play” system of youth soccer, the fragmentation of youth soccer into five umbrella organizations (each with its own rules), and the institutional separation between youth and adult soccer organizations. But Ahmet Govener provides no argument or explanation for how and why each of these “problems” result in poor technical development for players. It is not self-evident that these should have the detrimental effect he claims it has. How does the cost of the program affect the quality of technical development the players receive? How would free soccer make it higher quality? How would a single umbrella organization improve the technical development of players? How would a single organization for youth and adult soccer affect technical development? The author provides no explanation or insight. He just takes it for granted that there is some magical cause and effect relationship there. Let me counter with a few thoughts. The technical development of US youth players has vastly improved in the last 30 years. What needs to improve is soccer intelligence – the game needs to be taught in a holistic way from the beginning, including fundamental tactics, rather than piecemeal, as if young players were not capable of making good decisions. That is indeed the direction youth soccer is going. Club teams play in the same competitive leagues against each other, regardless which of the five umbrella organizations provide them with registration services. This negates his second point. The MLS youth development academies are fully funded, so their players do not have to pay. This contradicts the author on two points – pay to play, and the separation of the youth and the adult (professional) teams. For those players, the program is free and they are being trained to join the senior teams. In sum, the author takes an unsupported assumption (that technical development is behind some reasonable standard) and offers three reasons to explain it without showing how those reasons can possibly give rise to the problem. He shows little knowledge of the realities of youth soccer in the US, but seems confident in his conclusions. I will part with one thought for all the critics who complain about the pay to play system. continued below

  30. Mauro Nobre, December 14, 2016 at 1:57 p.m.

    I will part with one thought for all the critics who complain about the pay to play system. Let’s put aside that if we want a house to live we have to pay for it, if we want to eat we have to pay for it, if we want to travel we have to pay for it, and let’s agree that it is sad that club soccer excludes millions of kids who cannot afford it. My question to you is, what is the alternative? I am eagerly awaiting your suggestions.

  31. Rankin S replied, December 14, 2016 at 6:41 p.m.

    Mauro- The answer is High School Soccer. They have great facilities, no costs and are inclusive. Clayton Valley is a charter school in the SF Bay Area that has a focus on Football, in fact they compete with De La Salle. Public Charter Schools can recruit and have no borders and they can spend their money from the School District how they see fit. There are already Charter Schools in place in the inner cities. US Soccer should fund a Charter School system in the inner Cities. Create a Soccer based curriculum for the Hispanic and other kids that are playing a lot of Soccer but not in the pay to play Clubs.

  32. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, December 15, 2016 at 10:40 a.m.

    If HS soccer is the answer, I don't want to know the question. Even ignoring all of the problems with HS soccer (poor coaching, over scheduling, the season only lasts 2-3 months), what about prior to the age of 14? It's too late to learn the game at that age.

  33. Bob Ashpole replied, December 15, 2016 at 12:44 p.m.

    I already pay taxes for public parks and school playgrounds. Yet where I live the counties charge citizens to use the taxpayer funded facilities. How does that square with your views about getting what you pay for? Also where I live certain private organizations get favored access to taxpayer funded parks and playgrounds. The favored organizations were in at least some cases upper middle class suburban youth clubs at the expense of Hispanic leagues.

  34. Mauro Nobre, December 14, 2016 at 2:02 p.m.

    What is the alternative to the pay to play system? I don't ask this in bad faith. I think there are alternatives - some of which are already in existence (recreation leagues, urban leagues, Hispanic leagues). The alternative I have in mind is one that would supplement, not replace, the club system. This would be a nationwide program to build soccer fields in every neighborhood that are open to all users at no cost. This could be done with philanthropic funds, as well as public funds. A soccer field in every neighborhood. This would enable free play, but most importantly, free and independent leagues and tournaments.

  35. Miguel Dedo replied, December 14, 2016 at 4:07 p.m.

    Re Mauro Nobre's suggests to provide soccer fields in every neighborhood AT NO COST. A soccer field occupies 2.5 acres, 2.5 acres in my neighborhood would cost $10 million. Of course, no such plot is available.
    Next suggestion?

  36. Mauro Nobre replied, December 14, 2016 at 5:13 p.m.

    Not so fast Miguel. I specifically mentioned philanthropic and public funds to build a soccer field in every neighborhood. They would be free to use, not free to build. And these could be futsal fields in dense neighborhoods.

  37. Mauro Nobre replied, December 14, 2016 at 5:14 p.m.

    So then what is your suggestion Miguel?

  38. Miguel Dedo, December 14, 2016 at 3:54 p.m.

    We get this same story about three times a week, the same weeping and gnashing of teeth about the US not doing soccer things the way Europe does -- against a considerably idealized model of what Europe does.
    I would welcome a comparison of how soccer operates in the US with how "successful" sports operate in the US: basketball, gridiron football, perhaps US or Dominican Republic baseball. Is the US soccer model different from the US models in these sports?
    Is US basketball unsuccessful because it does not do what European basketball does?

  39. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, December 15, 2016 at 10:42 a.m.

    Even in basketball and baseball, the US is far and away the #1 country in those sports in terms of the sport's popularity. In the DR and Venezuela, MLB teams run academies.

  40. Kent James, December 14, 2016 at 4:04 p.m.

    First, this seems to be a pretty accurate assessment of why the US struggles to produce high quality professional players. But it also assumes that the purpose of youth soccer is to produce such players. But that puts the cart before the horse. I think there are two basic approaches to developing such players; one is to find a few exceptional players at young ages, separate them from everyone else and shower them with resources. I think this is the model we tend to have (whether those resources are showered on them in a pay to play system by parents or by clubs who see promise in them). I think a different model might work better; an inclusive model that gets as many players as possible to play (primarily by keeping it affordable by not traveling much and using professional coaches efficiently). So local clubs have inexpensive in-house leagues that are low pressure (not focused on winning, letting kids play other sports, e.g.), but have coaches providing technical clinics for players of all ages (and abilities) who want it (either at the club, or at training sites organized by USSF; I think the latter is the way the Germans do it). Clubs also have regularly scheduled pick-up games that allow kids to play with and against older, more skillful players. Nobody cuts players prior to U13 (though players could be grouped according to ability for large organizations). Starting at U13 clubs can start to develop teams based on talent, but there should not be huge gaps. As the players get older, they get put in gradually more competitive situations. But basically, we should limit excluding less talented players for as long as possible in order to maximize the pool of eligible talent. This would have the added benefit of keeping the quality of play as high as possible for the maximum number of kids (which should reduce drop-outs), which would benefit most players, who will never be pros (and ensure the best players become pros, rather than just the players who had the most opportunities).

  41. Mauro Nobre replied, December 14, 2016 at 5:17 p.m.

    This is not an accurate assessment. The author fails to show how his three "problems" produce the technical deficit he claims to observe. There is no connection whatsoever. See my comments below.

  42. Mauro Nobre replied, December 14, 2016 at 5:23 p.m.

    The real reason why US professional team players and the US men's national team are not ranked in the top 10 list is that the coaches who select them for higher play have selected them based on physical characteristics rather that technique and creativity. They want the tallest and fastest players at the youth levels, and channel those players to the higher levels. The more creative and more technical players get left behind. What is needed is a reframing by coaches of what constitutes good soccer and which players possess the characteristics and tendencies required to play that way. Coaches need to replace the "mental movie" they carry in their heads that constitutes the Platonic ideal of good soccer.

  43. Bob Ashpole replied, December 14, 2016 at 6:11 p.m.

    Mauro Nobre, I am get a sense of deja vu from your words. The coaching problem is not ignorance of what it takes to win soccer matches or of how to develop players. The problem is that many youth coaches are selecting the oldest kids to gain a competitive advantage from these children's temporary physical advantages over younger players. Some of it is intentional, but some of it is due to comparing players without considering their age differences.

  44. Quarterback TD, December 14, 2016 at 5:39 p.m.

    I think we have beaten this horse until it's dead. Almost every comment here are justifiable opioniated to that individual but some folks take the 1% demographics and think it's should be the general consensus. Say what you want and think how you wish in no US sport is a college, Olympiad, pro going to be made without money sacrifices, be it the parents spending thousands for gym class, tennis or basketball or $2700 for soccer which is cheap compare to other sports. If an MLS club or some other club pays your way you should be grateful and ride the wave. For those who think $2700 is too much or the kids should play for fun only I suggest you take your kids to that appropriate skill level because at U13 and above players get seriously injured and that is not fun. Soccer is a serious sport at competitive youth level and any parent will want to give their kids the best opportunity he or she can afford and that means spending cash for good clubs. For that talk about Hispanic players being the best is stupid reckless comment. It may be true in certain areas but this is a big country. It may be the reason some cannot play or advance outside your group because you seem to focus on kicking a ball as oppose to education. My South American wife had that thinking but I kill that crap real quick no soccer unless I see A's because going pro is a dream. This author is so wrong I think he probably spent his 30 years time in Gibraltar where soccer is rarely played.

  45. Bob Ashpole replied, December 14, 2016 at 6:25 p.m.

    Hogwash. Some sports are "country club" sports, but not soccer, basketball, and distance running. Organized hockey gets expensive because of the ice time. At early ages playing on backyard and neighborhood ponds costs nothing. Good amateur players are quite capable of teaching fundamentals, so for youth (not juniors) expensive travel programs and paid coaches add no value.

  46. Ankl Brkr, December 14, 2016 at 9:52 p.m.

    There are so many problems with our Youth and NT systems, it cannot be attributed to one thing in particular. It is incredibly frustrating for someone, like myself, who has a grow-mindset and wants to see progress. Everyone on this post and countless others has said something relevant and important advocating for change, but the question is… how do we fix it, put things on the right track, and end this never-ending cycle of frustration? With whatever new league pops up next, it’s still not going to produce a Messi or Marta or even a Lewandowski or Lady unless we blow up the entire system as it stands. Pay-to-play and regurgitating the same like-minded people at the top is not going to produce one. Coaches that have a fixed-mindset and worry about results first instead of progressive play is not going to produce one. Having athletic and hard-working cookie-cutter players on our YNTs and NTs is not going to produce progressive results on the field either. I love our grit, I love our work ethic, I love our no-quit attitude, but we need world-class players to get to and consistently stay at a world-class level. With that said, I do not want to hear the excuse we are not getting the best athletes in the US to play soccer either.

    It starts with our youth systems and ends with the NTs. Why do families need to pay $2k + a year to play in a quality environment before u13? Why can’t 1000 + kids in the club only pay ~ $50 or less per season and still get 2 sessions/1 match per week in a quality training environment with professional coaches and volunteers working together? Why do we cut kids so young instead of differentiating instruction and groupings so everyone can benefit? Why are we playing 7 v 7 and 9 v 9 on even smaller small-sided fields before u13 when most kids do not know the nuances of the game, have not hit puberty yet, and have not even come close to mastering their craft?

    I’m not concerned about winning State Cups or Nationals Championships, I’m concerned about producing world-class players year in and year out that can compete for and win World Cups. First and foremost, I am a fan of our NTs, but I am beyond frustrated! How can 2002 be our best MNT WC results to date? That’s not progress! How can our WNT still be playing long ball and not be able to consistently and creatively break down a low block in the modern game? That’s not progress! There has to be a better way, and I have plenty of ideas – see one example below for match structures. I’m not saying my idea below is the end-all be-all, but it’s the progressive and out-of-the box thinking that we need going forward in order to make real and drastic changes for future generations.

    - Before u6 – 1 v 1 matches
    - u7-u8 – 2 v 2 matches
    - u9-u10 – 3 v 3 matches
    - u11-u12 – 5 v 5 matches
    - u13-u14 – 7 v 7 matches
    - u15-u16 – 9 v 9 matches
    - u17-u18 – 11 v 11 matches

  47. MA Soccer, December 15, 2016 at 6:23 a.m.

    Need to clean house at the National and Regional level at US Soccer. Get some people with a vision and long term view. Need to change the pay to play model if we want to develop the numbers of world class players we need to be a powerhouse. I do not believe US Soccer has a long term goal for MNT to compete for a world cup in next 50 years. They simply hope to qualify and be competitive. The job to turn around the national program from youth up is way too big for current management team.

  48. aaron dutch, December 17, 2016 at 1:04 p.m.

    We need to stop sending our kids to this whole soccer system, we need to break out and develop coaches while we have a more local/organic/inclusive/fun/social/experimental approach. My POV is we need street/futsal/playground/trick/beach where able/small side. Lots of reps, cheap. Build a club model that opts out of the system and just develops coach/teachers & young players in the simple effective way describes.

  49. uffe gustafsson, December 17, 2016 at 8:02 p.m.

    Anki how many coaches u think each team needs if we where to implement your suggestions.
    We normally have 18 players per team and with that many games going on the 1 head coach 1 asst coach (usually a volunteer coach) couldn't possibly handle all those small sided games.
    And I know you will say, use parents to help out.
    Only a select few parents can help out, some parents should not come any closer then the bleachers to the kids, and how many can show up 4.30 in afternoon to help out.
    Sounds like a big mess for the coach.

  50. Kent James replied, December 18, 2016 at 3:36 p.m.

    Actually Uffe, running small sided games doesn't take many qualified coaches. You can lay out many 20x 30 fields for 3v3 (no goal areas, midway lines, use pop-up goals) on one regulation field (and the lines don't have to be particularly visible, since these are low pressure games), and have one competent adult run each field (with 6-10 players per field). The adult doesn't need to coach, just supervise; if kids do things they shouldn't (push other players, e.g.) the adult tells them to stop, and if they don't stop, they go sit down. We had everyone with the same game shirt (they are not really necessary, but the kids and parents like them), and used pinnies to distinguish the teams. This allows the adults to switch up the teams to keep them competitive. One coach can supervise as many games as will fit on one field (6-8). Practices require more supervision, but if you have a curriculum that includes easy to run activities that involve lots of touches, it works. Such a program also has a great atmosphere (no screaming parents), and teaches kids as long as you have a ball and a relatively flat surface, you can play.

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