Today I wanted to examine how the large number of youth soccer clubs negatively impacts player development in the United States. The first issue is that youth soccer clubs hoard players and the best players in an area rarely play together. The second problem is that the best soccer coaches are rarely coaching the best soccer players, because the number of youth soccer teams and youth soccer clubs easily outnumbers the number of good soccer coaches.
The first issue with the large number of youth soccer clubs is intensified when players from one area are discouraged to play with players from another area for several reasons. Due to the substantial money involved with youth soccer clubs, the goal becomes a number (of players) and not soccer player development. Clubs begin to focus, not on player development, but on the number of soccer players and teams within the club. Why does this matter so much? Several reasons that include competition, money, bragging rights, growth, and/or winning. Notice that soccer player development is not one of them. Why? That’s easy, there’s no incentive for clubs to develop players. In other countries, the clubs receive money for training and developing talent, not here, so why bother. So, the ONLY way to make money in youth soccer is to recruit as many soccer players as possible and charge as much as possible, and yes parents will pay thousands of dollars just so their kid can kick a soccer ball.
While soccer clubs are fighting over players, the soccer coaches take sides and that leads us to the second issue with the large number of youth soccer clubs in the US. One club will have 3 talented top tier soccer coaches, while another will have another 2 good ones, and the other soccer club another 3-4. Some of the best soccer coaches are the soccer club technical directors or the club’s director of coaching. However, each soccer club will have one of these, so in a good size city with 5-6 youth soccer clubs, those good coaches will be divided up into 3-4 top soccer clubs. This leaves many clubs with good soccer teams without qualified soccer coaches.
The goal of a soccer community should be to have all the best coaches in one or two clubs, with the best soccer players going to those clubs so that they can get the best coaching, competition, and training in the area. I know that US Soccer has tried with the DA, but that’s just another made up name for the same league, same coaches, same players, HIGHER PRICE. Same goes for MRL and whatever name they come up with next so they can charge even higher prices. So, what is stopping the clubs from getting together? Money, greed, politics, and stubbornness. The thing that puzzles me is that most of the clubs are “non-profit” and are supposed to be set up to HELP player development, but instead are directly hindering the development of these youth soccer players.
The other issue is parents are almost clueless. The majority of parents will throw money at “training” they think is a magic pill for little Johnny to make it big. Here’s a little secret…… clubs, coaches, and leagues don’t make players. It’s a mixture of DNA, environment, and psychology. More on that later.
I think the solution to this problem is the soccer community coming together and identifying a soccer club that will be the top tier club in the area. The rest of the clubs can support that club and send players and coaches to the club. Those clubs on the lower tier would get compensated for sending players and/or coaches to the top tier club. This way the “lower tier” clubs can continue recruiting and developing youth soccer players, but never hoarding them, as they will move on to the top tier club eventually. That’s how it works in other countries.
In Spain, a small club in Barcelona competes with Barca, but they also are extremely proud and delighted when one of their players makes the Barca academy! Why shouldn’t they be? They were part of that player’s development and now they have a chance to someday play professional soccer. The child is now on a path to professional soccer. Barca has all the resources to help that player, great coaching, the finest soccer fields, a great environment, professional training (and I mean professional), great players, culture, and as I stated before, a clear path to the pros.
So, what if each soccer community could pool their resources and put one soccer club together with the best of everything soccer that community has to offer? I think we would be much more efficient in soccer player development and the ones that would benefit the most from this are the kids and US Soccer. Shouldn’t that be the goal anyway? If we shared the responsibility of training and developing soccer players, we could celebrate the accomplishments of every single youth soccer player we develop as a community of soccer clubs, coaches, and parents. We could also dramatically lower the cost of playing soccer, which would open the doors to even more youth soccer players.
Let me know your thoughts below.