The barriers Latino players face, explained by California high school coach Rene Siles

North of Oakland in the San Francisco Bay Area, Richmond is perhaps best known for its Chevron Oil Refinery. It’s also home to a large Hispanic population that has yielded high quality high school soccer teams. Rene Siles has coached the Richmond Oilers since 2000, guided them to North Coast Section playoff berths 18 times, more than 300 wins, and the NCS Division II title in 2015.

Also having coached youth club soccer, he has seen the pay-to-play issue in American soccer stagnate players’ development. And for Siles, the problem has only gotten worse -- rising costs of club soccer excluding youth players from a pathway that favors more affluent families.

High school soccer is one area that doesn’t exclude players based on socioeconomic status, and it’s no wonder that while Richmond’s high school teams flourish, there isn’t the same success at the club level in the same area.

Siles’ teams have always been majority Hispanic, and his years in coaching at the youth level have given him insight into why Latino talent is so often overlooked in this country.

A native of France, Siles moved to California in the mid-1980s for post-doc work at UC Berkeley. He is also a Software Development Expert at SAP.

SOCCER AMERICA: How did you get into coaching?

RENE SILES: I played intramurals at Cal. My friend asked me if I would coach. I hadn’t ever done it before, so I said yes. Then again, he kind of pushed me to do it, so I said yeah. I coached Berkeley Mavericks, which is different from the current Mavericks. I was with them from 1987 to about 2002. I coached boys 14 to 18. At that time, anybody who could play, played. It didn't matter. If you couldn't pay, you could still play. Most of the players on the boys’ side didn’t pay or didn’t pay much.

SA: And that’s changed?

RENE SILES: It has changed a lot. I’m trying to get some kids from [Richmond High] to play club, but it’s too expensive. One half to one third of the kids didn't play club or played for a club team without much coaching or not at a competitive level. It’s what we see more and more.

It's not simple, but I mean there's a big problem. Soccer and sports are good no matter what. I can see the benefit. The only time they can play [competitive youth soccer] is high school, because of pay-to-play.

SA: You think it's gotten worse?

RENE SILES: Oh yeah, it's getting worse. Even in 2015 when we won Division II [North Coast Section] a good number of the kids didn’t have a club. They play in adult leagues because it’s cheap and their father or uncle can pay for it. At the school, we have what we call open fields where the kids can come, not during the season, but in the summer they can come. We can’t coach them, but they can come for free.

SA: What does soccer provide for kids?

RENE SILES: In the past, I’ve seen it tends to give them a good direction in their life as teens. There are other pressures from different sides and soccer helps them have some focus. They can avoid things that are risky and it also gives them a sense of discipline and responsibility.

I have a couple of kids from the last few years who are in trouble. Just some really stupid stuff. It happened after they got off [of the team]. ... Many people here tend to see things in economic terms. If the kids stay on the right track, it saves other resources in the long run. It’s not my perspective to say that because providing for these kids is just the right thing to do, but that is one way to look at it.

Rene Siles (right) with his Richmond High School assistant coaches Adison Escobar (left) and Roberto Zambrano (center), both of whom are Richmond High alums.

SA: What is unique about the experiences of the kids who are immigrants, or children of immigrants?

RENE SILES: They're caught between the culture here and the culture of their parents. Some are born here, and some are not but were raised here. Maybe their parents don't speak English well. It’s very difficult to live in one culture while being raised in another, completely different life. They can find their way but there is a disconnect.

They use the disconnect to their advantage, too. The parents don't know much about the school system and they're not connected with it. Students can get away with some things, like not telling parents about grades or if they’re failing. And then it’s too late to fix it and they can’t play in the season.

Soccer tends to help you because it really connects you to both cultures in between. When they find the right balance between the two cultures, they really thrive.

SA: Is there a division between foreign-born and domestically born players?

RENE SILES: Yeah, for sure. They come from countries like El Salvador, Honduras, so they've just come here and they don't speak English well. They don't know the culture well. So, there are levels of misunderstanding between the two groups.

When the kids come across borders there is typically a lot of racism to deal with. So, they come here with all of those negative experiences in their head and they don't understand how things work.

The players who immigrate tend to play at recess, they play before and after school. It’s good for their passion of the game but the style of play is a lot different. There is less structure, so it’s more about dribbling, beating players more than once.

That's the game for them because that’s how they played with their friends. This is similar for the kids who grow up here, but not at the same level. And it’s very different from most styles of play in the USA, that usually has more structure.

SA: Is there a bias against Latino players?

RENE SILES: I think it’s getting better but it’s still there. Now I think you see it most with the assumptions people make. I remember years ago playing in a high level NCS game. My friend talked to the referees before the game and the referees were worried about diving. We’re against that, I hate that stuff. We had one kid who did it a few times and we got on him. But because someone had seen this kid do that some years before the assumption was that it’s the entire team.

Most of the refs are fine but sometimes there are problems. Some look down upon players, don’t give them much respect.

I remember one NCS final against Monte Vista in 2006. And look, I mean I don't complain about referees. I don't yell at them. But this guy was letting everything play on, there was some really physical play. It was really bad. And then that summer he was an AR at the World Cup. So obviously he was a good referee but made the players wonder at that game. He must be good, they thought. So, the kids tend to internalize this treatment. They feel so helpless.

SA: Why isn’t there a greater presence of Latino players in college soccer?

RENE SILES: I think that's because of pressure on the coach. Typically, you have to keep your job, right? The coach can’t focus on player development or changing how their players play, they need to win. They are paid to win. So, it's just too risky. Sometimes it works out with players; they can change their style of play. But it doesn’t happen right away. They still play with their friends in the same style that they grew up with but when they come to training they adjust to a more structured style, where roles and positions are well defined, which is good.

College coaches probably will think twice because there are safer options. I mean, it's the way that they do their job. … If they have a way of winning by relying on big physical players, that’s what’s going to stay.

SA: Have you seen an increase in Latino players in college soccer?

RENE SILES: We’ve had kids at Saint Mary’s or San Jose State. The way they play is pretty ugly. Long throw-ins, long free kicks, my players don’t like it that much. Adjusting to a four-year university is a big jump for my players.

SA: In light of the USA failing to reach the 2018 World Cup, what should the sports’ leaders be thinking about?

RENE SILAS: How do you make what is middle-class sport here more inclusive like it is in the rest of the world? Because the poorer kids have a fiery passion for the sport. To succeed at this sport you need that passion.

26 comments about "The barriers Latino players face, explained by California high school coach Rene Siles".
  1. Bob Ashpole, July 27, 2018 at 10:14 p.m.

    Being more inclusive is the smart thing to do, but it is also the right thing to do.

  2. frank schoon, July 28, 2018 at 7:43 a.m.

    Coach Siles, has done a good job in not only creating a high quality high soccer team but also successful in building an excellent winning record. Realize this was done with half or a third of his players not playing club ball due to monetary problems.
    He laments the fact about those players not playing club ball but instead play on adult teams. As far as I’m concerned it is the best thing that can happen to those kids playing with bigger, faster ,stronger, more experienced, smarter and savvy players.
    If I were coach Siles I would try to get as many kids on his high school team to  play on adult teams as possible. These kids will gain so much more experience and develop better than playing club ball with their own age group. Maybe this is one of the reasons why coach Siles has been so successful because of the fact that  he has a large amount of his kids playing adult ball.  
    I had coached a youth player once that upon turning 13 , I placed him on my men’s first division team  and started him. Later on in high school he was chosen All Met in the DC area.
    As far as I’m concerned pay for play shouldn’t be an issue for these kids by allowing to play with better players will give them a lot more  experience and it is a lot cheaper. Besides pay for play which I’m not a fan of is no guarantee other than you know your wallet will made a lot lighter.

  3. R2 Dad, July 28, 2018 at 10:55 a.m.

    This coach probably pays, out of his own pocket, hundreds if not thousands per year to make this process work for his team and players. We have our own version of this coach on the other side of the bay, serving the same segment of the population at club level. In other countries there are centers that pay these volunteers a stipend. That seems to be a fantastic method of keeping kids off the streets, in school, active and out of trouble. If only we could get the state/feds interested BEFORE kids get into trouble. That would be proactive dollars spent that would benefit everyone.

  4. s fatschel, July 28, 2018 at 1:36 p.m.

    I don't think "big physical players" is an accurate prerequisite and he probably has not watched enough college soccer.  There are plenty of small crafty players in college soccer. The prerequisites are rather a high level of athletiscm, such agressiveness and speed which is often lacking. Also not mentioned is that coaches do not want to babysit kids that have trouble integrating in the locker room and bus or cant handle the academic side with a poor GPA.  

  5. humble 1 replied, July 31, 2018 at 11:08 a.m.

    I tend to agree with coach Siles on this because I think Sile's comments were more about 'his' players playing style than about colleges.  They are so individualistic in their approach to the game - that they struggle to become part of the 'team' discipline- that colleges enforce.  He does point to some annoying aspects of college soccer that make it hard to watch and confine it to friends family and current students for the most part - and make the adjustment for 'his' boys difficult - but his real point is that it is their style of play - that makes it difficult - I don't think he's blaming the college style of play.  Probably, he wishes he could 'his' players to adapt to a more 'team' style whilst coaching them himself.  

  6. Tom G, July 28, 2018 at 10:49 p.m.

    Fantastic story about a committed and intelligent coach Silas. Well done coach. One part is culture. The parents maybe could take a bit time and effort transitioning the culture divide and language then maybe the kids would be better served and perform n learn more in school and go to college in lieu of kids deceiving parents as the article mentioned , just a thought. 

  7. Tom G, July 28, 2018 at 10:50 p.m.

    Fantastic story about a committed and intelligent coach Silas. Well done coach. One part is culture. The parents maybe could take a bit time and effort transitioning the culture divide and language then maybe the kids would be better served and perform n learn more in school and go to college in lieu of kids deceiving parents as the article mentioned , just a thought. 

  8. Tom G, July 28, 2018 at 10:50 p.m.

    Fantastic story about a committed and intelligent coach Silas. Well done coach. One part is culture. The parents maybe could take a bit time and effort transitioning the culture divide and language then maybe the kids would be better served and perform n learn more in school and go to college in lieu of kids deceiving parents as the article mentioned , just a thought. 

  9. Tom G, July 28, 2018 at 10:51 p.m.

    Fantastic story about a committed and intelligent coach Silas. Well done coach. One part is culture. The parents maybe could take a bit time and effort transitioning the culture divide and language then maybe the kids would be better served and perform n learn more in school and go to college in lieu of kids deceiving parents as the article mentioned , just a thought. 

  10. R2 Dad, July 29, 2018 at 3:32 p.m.

    I like the idea of kids playing up in adult leagues, but most U15 kids are scared of playing at U19/adult levels because of the obvious physicality and recklessness that is allowed, usually by an overwhelmed solo referee. The hacking, diving, reckless and excessive force tackles that happen all match long will quickly result in kids getting injured. And these injuries are usually perpetrated by an older player who doesn't care about the health and safety of others.

  11. frank schoon replied, July 29, 2018 at 3:48 p.m.

    R2, I don’t consider u19 adults. I mean adults older guys who have experienced playing, who have jobs, even have families. U19 to me are not adults, they lack maturity, and have little experience themselves, and are at a stage where they still have the need to beat their chest like gorillas.   

  12. R2 Dad replied, July 30, 2018 at 12:45 p.m.

    That may be, Frank, but they are officiated all the same anyway. The best way to integrate young players into adult soccer is when parents and siblings are on the team to support and protect them. That's usually the context I see that works for these young players.

  13. s fatschel replied, July 30, 2018 at 5:15 p.m.

    R2 Try bringing your teens to pick up with 40ish age group. They have kids of their own and I've never seen injury.  It can get nasty when 18 year olds start nutmegging guys in late 20s, early 30s.

  14. frank schoon replied, July 31, 2018 at 1:19 a.m.

    R2, when the adult guys play pick up soccer 2x a week in Reston in all the years there was never a problem. 
    Ofcouse I don’t know what kind of  adults you are dealing with in your neck of the woods that make you feel a little edgy. But as far as  I’m concerned the guys loved seeing younger players apply their abilities for it reminded them when they were young.

  15. Ric Fonseca replied, August 4, 2018 at 3:53 p.m.

    I do not agree that U15's are afraid of playing against U19 "adults", at least I haven't seen this in my four decades in the fields. As a matter of fact, I see this on a weekly basis at the goals soccer center in Southgate (LA area) where players of varying ages, except for age specific youth competition is called for, go against each other. True there are instances, be it few and far apart, where a younger than U19 plays against mature and stronger real adult (many of themn fathers) and get "worked" or "schooled" but they don't back off or away.  And yet I also have seen and met some U19s who are very mature and have taught some "adults" a thing or two, and afterwards there you see them having a soda or water, talking about the game or are watching a televised game.  

  16. Tim Schum, July 30, 2018 at 12:07 p.m.

    I'd like to focus in on the comment about US Soccer's historical role in supposed oversight of youth soccer in this country.

    There is no question that until WC '94 provided some economic stability to the organization that it was basically a Mom & Pop organization. Administrated for years by soccer-loving ethnics with little real ability to focus on short term much less long term planning its lack of focus, to my mind, let youth soccer run amuck.

    While US Youth Soccer was loosely affiliated with USSF beginning in the 1970s and established itself with regional and national competitions and benefitted from a trickle down effect of USSF coaching schools (with its graduates then offering coaching licenses at the the regional and local levels),then-USSF did not work to establish USYSA as its official affiliated partner for the development of the sport in this country.

    With limited resources USSF was the beneficiary of the combined efforts of the country's schools and colleges and USYSA competitions which produced National team players that dominated the 1990 roster that finally represented this country at the 1990 WC in Italy.

    Without a realtime commitment to give oversight to youth soccer development that might have included providing the proper educational balance between the fun and competitive nature of the game, organization of youth soccer has gone off in seemingly a million directions.

    USYSA state organizations are today business fiefdoms and operate with loose ties to the national body. Attempts to bring sort of philosophic uniformity to youth soccer play at the state level is a battle not yet won.

    In the meantime in the absence of US Soccer's inability to control the direction of youth soccer through development of USYSA, other youth organizations have cropped up (AYSO, US Club Soccer, etc.) to further muddy the very uneven approaches to player development we see today in this country.

    Without oversight by a strong national governing body, unfortunately the many issues that seemingly hindering the overall health and development of the sport have no one place to turn to for resolution.

  17. R2 Dad replied, July 30, 2018 at 12:57 p.m.

    I agree with your assessment, Tim. It now seems that in order to change that, USSF has decided to partner with MLS/NWSL to skim the top via their DA teams rather than have to deal with getting their hands dirty at the local level. This is their financial solution to an organizational problem. But to be sucessful, USSF is going to have to grow a spine and fix youth soccer, but any fix can't really be implemented because any solution runs against the vested interests of MLS/NWSL.

    We know this. MLS/NWSL knows this. Carlos will now take 4 years to "discover" this.

    But everything is fine, just fine.

  18. Kris Spyrka, July 31, 2018 at 10:26 a.m.

    Coach Siles coaches just north of me, and this is well written, as it describes exactly what it looks like in this area.  The socio-economic spectrum (divide) is enormous.  Drive twenty minutes in any direction from Richmond and you'll hit a club where Pay-to-Play rarely gets discussed, because the parents can cut a check for their kid for the entire season at the snap of a club director's fingers.  Whereas the families Siles is describing, most likely won't have internet/computer access to tools like TeamSnap to even receive team communications.  The coaches usually collect the team fees from the parents directly at the fields in envelopes filled with cash.  

    In recent years it has become a trend for the affluent clubs to recruit out of these neighborhoods, or the Central Valley by reallocating funds out of their girls or rec program budgets to give certain players scholarships.  Typically, I've seen these players move on to one of the Earthquakes DA's in San Jose.

    With more UPSL teams spinning up, we gain another outlet for these guys who age out around U18 to play somewhere.

    At the end of the day, large markets like Sacramento, the Bay Area's nine counties, and LA, could easily develop and field their own quasi National Teams.  You have enough talent in one state to take on the USMNT and beat them badly.  But, as usual, everyone competes against each other for revenue and we can't get out of each others way.  Also, the infrastructure here does not support the demand.  Fields are poor quality and permits come at a premium, typically more than half of a clubs overall budget.

    Keep up the excellent work Coach Siles!!

  19. humble 1, July 31, 2018 at 11:50 a.m.

    Another good peice.  Thanks Arlo.  Some great comments as well.  There is a lot untapped soccer talent in the USA, coach Siles experience is telling.  These are the boys that cannot do 'club', 'DA' or 'college' soccer for one or more reasons - all touched upon in the article.  They play HS soccer, which USSF and DA has turned it's back on.  

  20. Wooden Ships, August 1, 2018 at 12:39 a.m.

    This situation goes back decades,before the the different national organizations. Style! It’s a clash of ideology and power. Ideology, with regard to athleticism (eggball toughness) or artistry. Stiff hips versus loose, fluid swivels vs Polka. Power, in the politics of control and it’s effects. 
    “Pirlo”, of recent times, “less running, more playing.” Since the 50’s and 60’s, the nod has leaned to athleticism. To this day, we’ve had very few that really, smoothly, are one with the ball. At the National level. The majority are listening to the wrong music, metaphor here-but telling. We’ve had smooth operators (Sade) for years, but they’re without the power. Our USWNT and MNT are stiff with average touches. Until we learn to dance with the ball, we won’t threaten the Cup at all. None of our NT managers have had those skills and until we get one, things won’t change. Hugo for USMNT. 

  21. Wooden Ships replied, August 1, 2018 at 12:54 a.m.

    And, the English which have dominated so much of our style, do they even dance at all? I played with Moyers, Hulcer, Keogh, Hubert, Walters, Twelmans dad and uncle and many more. Trained under under Harry Keogh, Pat McBride, Sorbers dad, Trost, Schwarzen, Mjhailavic, even Pele one weekend and there are many others played with and learned from. The truly great players set themselves apart by how smooth and comfortable on the ball they were. I’ve witnessed countless players with those qualities ignored. 

  22. frank schoon replied, August 1, 2018 at 10:35 a.m.

    Ships...This says it all...<"Until we learn to dance with the ball, we won’t threaten the Cup at all"> BINGO!!!  
    Another Golden nugget, < None of our NT managers have had those skills and until we get one, things won’t change."> BINGO!!!!
    <"The truly great players set themselves apart by how smooth and comfortable on the ball they were">
    There is nothing more that impresses a kid or a youth player, with potential, seeing good smooth ball handling abilities that will influences the youth in copying. That  is why it is so important for youth players to play with older players who are better in order to learn better ball savviness...

    "<Our USWNT and MNT are stiff with average touches."> That is because they players have been basically trained by coaches who themselves lack ball handling talent who see and interpret everything in ball movement as one or two touch "city". The greatest players in the world technically speaking as far as touch on the ball goes are Brazilians. But guess what, these Brazilians grew up in an environment of ball handling skills, DRIBBLING, taking on players. That is how touch on the ball begins, for in order to be able to play 'one or touch" which is the most difficult aspect to play (as Cruyff states), you first need to develop ball handling skills which the coaches who are uncomfortable with a ball themselves cant' teach and therefore skip this important stage in development and proceed into destroying the playing/ball handling abilities of the players. As a result we produce stiffs with average touches on the a ball.

  23. Ric Fonseca, August 1, 2018 at 4:39 p.m.

    I first thought the artciel was about another coach, Rene Miramontes (San Diego) who has been so very much at the forefront of "the situation," e.g. Latino soccer players. But when I saw that it is about anoher "Rene" from Richmond, in NorCal, lo and behold, someone else addressing "the situation" an Brit/US writer and a French-born coach.  But, hey before you get your britches up, it's OK, it is just that it leaves a lot to be desired and I am supportive of Coach Rene and his efforts.
    First, I grew up in the East Bay area, East Oakland and attended Castlemont H.S.  No youth soccer then, other than unaffiliated local Mexican and Portugese adult teams in Oakland; San Francisco, though, did have a semblance of other adult leagues p0laying out of Golden St. Park, and at times old Kezar Stadium, where I am sure Coach Steve Negoesco played and went on to coach excellent Univ of San Francisco university teams, mostly comprised of "foreign students."
    Second, in danger of sounding a bit disjointed, and what needs to be fully addressed, is the question vis-a-vis college-university soccer, and the danged and brutal fact that it ain't a secret that NCAA DI, II, III, and NAIA programs ro very little if any recruitment of Latino high school student-soccer-athletes. I know, I've been there and done that.  
    Third, Tim Schum's article above mostly addresses the current state of youth soccer affairs, but very little on the main article's topic.  I vividly remember when I was at Merritt College in Oakland I reseorted to running - no soccer, and only later in the late 60's when I transferred to CSU Hayward - now CSU East Bay - that I did try out for the team, but was declared ineligible by the AD 'cause I was too old and had been going to college too long. So I became the team manager, and the rest is history.
    Fourth, Coach Rene in Nor Cal has done yeoman's work, and I applaud you Coach!  It is the old line that if not me/you, then who?  If I can do something let me know.
    Lastly, it remains to be seen if Mr. Cordeiro US Soccer Prez will do more than he's proposedm in fact I'd like to be on his committee to look into "the situation" not just youth soccer, but the "Latino situation."  Saludos a todos y a todos mucha suerte!


  24. James Madison, August 2, 2018 at 12:34 a.m.

    I think we pay-to-play issue can and should be addressed head on.

    The two big cost items in pay-to-play soccer are the cost of coaches and the cost of travel.  Now that we have a significant population of adults who have played at the same level as Siles or higher, there is no reason we cannot find individuals who are capable of coaching and willing to do so on a volunteer basis alongside their day jobs. 

    Having begun in AYSO coaching as my primary volunteer activity and having earned my US Soccer "B" license,  I coached club soccer successfully for more than 10 years from U14 through U23 without ever receiving a dime from anything except my day job as a lawyer.  When I say successfully, we won our share, but we saw any number of players move on to colleges and one, at least for a time, to a Mexico professional team.

    As for travel, there are plenty of competitive opportunities within the Greater Bay Area, such that, with organizational effort, competitively appropriate, non-Academy leagues can be formed that do not require overnight travel.  I believe there is now enough community business support that, with the aid of social media, league-wide fund raising should enable winning clubs to travel when necessary to add cream to the competitive milk. 

  25. humble 1 replied, August 2, 2018 at 11:08 p.m.

    Right on James.  Where I am we pay 2k / yr and there are two latino clubs, with good teams, that pay $200 and $25, both have parent coaches and basically one team per age group, so, very little overhead.  This is a similar model to Uruguay where  U6-13 Clubs or 'baby futbol' are almost almost all community based, with a field half the size of a full pitch, like our boys and girls play on until U12, they stay on one more year to U13, and only one team per age group.  Keep it simple, keep it local.  Fees are $20 / monthh.  Of course that's a nation where everyone knows and loves the game, but still, in the extreme, that is the example.  Keep it going!   

  26. Ric Fonseca replied, August 6, 2018 at 5:15 p.m.

    James, you are one of a kind and I must say as dieing breed, a US Soccer "B" coach that doesn't get paid.  However, since this article was printed, and my comment, it is befuddling and amazing that while SA has featured others on the "plight of youth Latino players," many apparently fail to see the elephant in the room, or just ignore it. Perhaps you've read some of my comments, but until US Soccer and the head honchos get their heads out of the sand, and does something concrete, the problem will continue to fester.  Have you or anyone else that reads this soccer magazine are even aware of the problem? And do people out there really believe the recent statistical so-called study of "oh my goodness, there is a decline in youth soccer players across the country," a study that is done IMHO to drive sales of sports products ahile at the same time don't say jack-diddly about the Latino soccer players - except of course in an article written by an American about a transplanted French expatriate, and treats it as if what he has to say is the gospel truth?  In closing, all I will say, is amigos con mucho cuidado del elefante que se encuentra en tu presencia, si no.....  

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