About a month ago, I wrote an article about the current roster of the USMNT and its implications. To narrow the gap between the leading MNTs of the planet and to play a semifinal in the World Cup 2026, I suggested the following based on my analysis of the recent USMNT roster. Naturally, I assumed that the best American citizens were chosen for the roster even though some might disagree with the choices.
The first two represent the top and bottom of our soccer development pyramid. Even though I dug into this area about a year ago, I once again will concentrate on the youth soccer clubs, the bottom tier of our soccer landscape. My next article will be about the professional leagues, the top of the developmental pyramid for soccer development.
Let us have a look at our youth soccer club scene:
To summarize, the youth soccer club system is unique to our soccer landscape and cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. We must live with this reality.
So, what could be done at the club level to develop elite players?
The first step is to understand that there is a need for club development just as much as the need for player, coach, or referee development. We should also understand that mandating a lot and in detail by the National Governing Bodies is not always welcome in our socio-political landscape. The National Governing Bodies should encourage club development and may have a very few basic standards.
The club boards should also realize that developing players requires not only good coaches, well planned curriculum, and a playing philosophy but also a sound business plan as well as an organization with appropriate governance structure. In any soccer – or sports -- organization – there are three pillars: Game/player development, business development and organization development.
In my many years as a soccer executive, I reached the conclusion that successful soccer organizations – whether they are National Associations, Leagues or Clubs – always have a very coherent and well-balanced governance structure with a functional organizational structure and staff that can reach the goals of their soccer organization. Once you have that foundation in place, then you can erect the other two pillars with less of a problem.
The problem is that especially with non-profits it is very difficult for the board to assess itself. In our soccer landscape, for youth soccer clubs the parents are customers, and the players are consumers. For non-profit clubs, this translates itself into a “parents association.” Parents are usually the presidents and Board members of the non-profit club. In most cases, when their kids become non-consumers – quit playing – then their board-member parents lose all their interest in the club. Succession planning and planning for more than their term is not usually on their agenda. Unless they realize the importance of the club for their community, they will not feel the need to assess their governance and organizational structure. Even if they do so, they might need professional help to reorganize. It is important that youth soccer clubs convert themselves from “parents associations” into community clubs embracing schools and unaffiliated clubs in their community.
In our landscape, youth soccer clubs rely heavily on players’ fees. They must create other sources of revenue and should have a sound business plan. Since the recent pandemic showed us how vulnerable our youth soccer club system is, they should have plans for risk and crisis management. They should have a communication and marketing strategy in place. Although the parents who are not on the board do not usually realize that management of youth soccer clubs – even though they are a non-profit organizations – is a business and should be run like a business. Unfortunately, since they do not have any financial liability once their term is over, some of the board members of these “parents associations” do not realize this fact. Youth soccer is real business. With some estimates, it is a business ranging from $5-6 billion.
The third pillar of game/player development is not my area of expertise. So, I will leave that to the experts. I still know that for the development of the game and players, you need basic developmental principles like player development philosophy, game models and principles and curriculum development to name a few.
If we do not have all the three pillars in place for our youth soccer clubs, then it will be very difficult to develop elite players for our MNT through them.
Ahmet Guvener (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former Secretary General and the Chief Soccer Officer 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 Georgetown, TX.