Commentary

Immigrants, Latinos and our soccer landscape (2)

Respecting others who did not read part 1 of this series and to remind the others of what was discussed in part 1 we will start by summarizing part 1:

There are about 15-20 million Latinos or first-generation immigrants of both genders under the age of 18 who are immersed in a soccer culture following their ancestral roots. Immigrants do include Latinos but are not restricted to Latinos. Also second- or third-generation Latinos and second-generation non-Latino immigrants could be left out of this picture since those are more adapted to the USA sports landscape and hence might not have as strong cultural ties to soccer as the first or second generation ones. 

The Latinos' geographical distribution is to the west of the Mississippi River – close to the Mexican Border – and at the tip of the Florida peninsula. Non-Latino immigrants might have a more even distribution around the country but there are no studies on that.

In these articles, we will try to see whether the system has a good access to the Latino and immigrant population of our country. Naturally, we are making an assumption here that these Latino and immigrant boys or girls have a greater affinity to soccer than the other racial constituents in our society.  

To begin with there is no direct study or research done to address the question of the accessibility of the above-mentioned group of boys and girls into our soccer system. 

There are two studies that might help us. Let us look at two quotes from the Aspen Institute’s report and let us analyze:

  1. While Latinos below the age of 18 make up 25 percent of the US population within that age group, they comprise only 12.3 percent of male and 7.4 percent of female NCAA soccer players.

Although the 25% quoted above is not in line with Census Bureau results of 2018. According to the Bureau as of July 1, 2018, 18.1% of the USA population is Hispanic. 22.6% of the USA population is under the age of 18.” 12.3% of the male and 7.4% of the female population playing NCAA soccer is well below the U.S. average of Latinos. This is the only data that shows accessibility of the Latinos for both genders into the college soccer system and it is not very promising.

  1. That was made evident in 2015 when journalist Roger Bennett and University of Chicago economics professor Greg Kaplan produced a study comparing the background of each US men’s soccer national team member from 1993 to 2014 with every NBA All-Star and NFL Pro Bowl player over the same period. Socio-economic data from the players’ hometown zip codes were compared. The study found the soccer players came from communities that had higher incomes, education and employment rankings, and were whiter than the US average. The NBA and NFL players came from communities that ranked lower than average on those same indicators.

For instance, the median household income for the hometowns of 2008-14 U.S. men’s soccer players was $68,266, well above the U.S. average ($52,762) and the hometowns of NBA All-Stars ($52,701) and NFL Pro Bowlers ($51,139). Household income for the communities of 2008-14 U.S. soccer players was down 6 percent from 1993-97, when soccer hometowns had an even greater gap with elite NFL and NBA players. Kaplan said via email that the study, first reported by The Guardian, was never published or widely disseminated.

The first study – which nobody can lay a hand on for a complete and comprehensive look – is only for the male gender. It is obvious from the results of the study and from my personal subjective observations that elite male soccer players come from whiter – non Latino – families and their families are wealthier better educated and better employed than elite basketball and football players.

This all what the study says: A very strong statement but does not serve our purposes completely.

There is another more recent study (Jamie Hill February 2019) in American Soccer Now.  This study talks about the geographical distribution of elite men players, namely players who were developed by the U.S. youth development system and play in a professional club. Unfortunately, this study does not address the female elite players or the ethnicity of players.

The data used in this analysis was assembled in the following fashion:

• All active professionals as of fall 2018, which means MLS and USL players are classified with their 2018 clubs and foreign-based players are classified with their club in the fall of the 2018-19 season.
• Players are organized by metropolitan area of origin, as defined by the U.S. Census. In a few cases, where players came from rural areas, they are organized by micropolitan area, also defined by the U.S. Census.
• The metropolitan area of origin is based on where a player grew up, not where he was born.
• All players who grew up in a metropolitan area are counted, even if they play for another country or don’t have U.S. citizenship. Likewise, American players who developed abroad were excluded from this analysis.

According to the study:

Location

Definition

No. Of Cities

No. Of Players

Population

           Player/Pop.

Small Cities

Less than 1M

 103

183

44.113 M

241,057

Midsize Cities

1-2.5 M

    27

156

46.013 M

294,955

Big Cities

Over 2.5 M

    23

598

133.476 M

223,204

Total

   153

937

223.692 M

Average

238,732

  1. There are 937 players in 153 different localities.  That might not be a big number for the country of our size but if you look at the number of professional soccer clubs (57) in the USA (even though you add those who play for foreign teams), then it does not surprise you.
  2. These 153 localities have a total population of 223 million people. (It represents 68% of the US population.)
  3. There are 10 states that did not develop a single male professional player
  4. The average is one professional player is developed per 238,732 people. So big cities (223,204) were better developers than midsize cities (294,955), surprisingly the small cities (241,057) were better in developing professional players than midsize cities.

Both studies (Kaplan & Bennett 2015 and Hill 2019) exclude women in their analysis. On adding a more robust gender lens, my suggestion would be to get a statistic about the prevalence of Latinas in youth sport landscape in general. I think there are inferences that can be made. The best resource for this is probably LA84's Increasing Young Latinas Participation in Sport report.

In 2008, a national survey of third- through 12th-graders by the Women’s Sports Foundation found that 75 percent of white girls play sports, compared to less than two-thirds of African-American and Hispanic girls, and about half of Asian girls. And while boys from immigrant families are well-represented in youth sports, less than half of girls from those families are playing. The gender gap is also worse in urban schools and among kids from low-income families.

In the last and third sequel of this series we will look into the objective data of Jamie Hill and its relation to the Latino and immigrant population of our soccer landscape. We will also discuss some subjective data based on my personal observations in Texas.

Until then…

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, TX.

6 comments about "Immigrants, Latinos and our soccer landscape (2)".
  1. Bob Ashpole, May 4, 2019 at 3:43 p.m.

    The conclusion about population locations ignores the sizeable Hispanic populations in the North East. While the percentages of Hispanics in some Western states are higher (especially New Mexico, California, Texas and Arizona), very significant Hispanic populations are located in New York, New Jersey (both over 18% Hispanic) and several other Eastern states. 

    Your rejection of the 25% figure from the Aspen Institute report is based on a false premise that birth rates are identical for Hispanics and Non-Hispanics. In the last decade the Hispanic birth rate has declined 31%, but it is still significantly higher than White non-Hispanics. 

    My greatest misgiving is depending on generalities about race to draw conclusions about soccer in the US. The people are not data. I don't believe effective solutions will be found in treating people like data.

  2. R2 Dad replied, May 5, 2019 at 5:31 p.m.

    Not sure what that means, Bob. "Effective solutions" to my mind means Policy. Effective Policy must be made based on data, not a single person or personal experiences. My takeaway here from AG's article and Ric's comment is there isn't much in the way current data. So I would like to see a timely study, financed by US Soccer, to determine 2019 player numbers. However, given the current angst about the upcoming census, this may be a very tall order.

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, May 5, 2019 at 10:27 p.m.

    I thought I was clear. I am not against using appropriate data. I don't believe data about race is appropriate to base a sports program. The day we give all participants equal opportunities is not going to come by examining racial and ethnic data. We look at racial and ethnic data to determine if there is racial and ethnic discrimination, but we already know that there is discrimination.

    I happen to think it is cultural discrimination rather than racial or ethnic. Some people refer to the struggle as Cruyffian vs. Anti-Cruyffian or Latin vs. English or something else. I would describe it as a tension between physical dominance and tactical/technical dominance. 

    From a player development viewpoint, mastering tactics and skills is much more difficult than improving physical performance. It only takes about six months to bring an athlete to peak physical abilities, reaching peak tactical and technical performance takes 10 years of development and then constant training to maintain. Unsurprising, the emphasis on player development out to be on tactical and technical performance until just before they are ready to participate at the senior level (it only takes 6 months and earlier investment on dedicated training for physical aspects is wasted training time that would better be spent on tactical and technical training). 

  4. Ric Fonseca, May 5, 2019 at 1:50 p.m.

    Hola amigos!!!  Once again I want to thank the author Senor Guvener for having taken the time to present this issue, a thorny one at that some times - but I must that I am mystified when he cites two studies, one that no one where it may be archived (read: hidden) and another that seems to comingle specific statistical information.  As a former NCAA coach, the information vis-a-vis Latino college players is very interesting and I doubt, but would like to know the NCAA universities chosen for the study. But I was even more mystified reading his citation to a 35-year old report.  Now mind you, there are some very interesting points, and I wait with bated breadth to read Part III before I can launch into his conclusions on this very topic that I've lived, exprienced, and commented on.  So, gracias mil Sr. Guvener, waiting for the third chapter and your conclusions!

  5. Ric Fonseca replied, May 5, 2019 at 1:53 p.m.

    I failed to indicate that the 35-year old report is the LA84 he mentions, a report that was written after the 1984 LA OLympics and may be found at the LA 1984 Olympic House in Los Angeles.  

  6. Ahmet Guvener, May 5, 2019 at 5 p.m.

    LA84 reported is dated 2012

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