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Become a Professional Soccer Player

Become a Professional Soccer Player
Written June 4th, 2012 by Mike Slatton  | Edited February 22, 2015

The Dream

The day your son was born, you had dreams.  Heck, if you’re like me, those dreams started a decade or more before they were even conceived.  vending machineAs time goes on however, those dreams (and subsequently, your son’s goals) have been dashed to the harsh reality that the odds to become a professional soccer player in the United States are as probable as being crushed by a vending machine at a vegan market.

Europe vs America

In the United States, nearly every adult over 30 will tell you that “it takes luck to become a professional athlete”.  If you’ve analyzed the European systems of athlete training, you know that luck has NOTHING to do with becoming a professional soccer player.  Saying you have to be lucky to become a professional athlete is like saying you need to be lucky to become a doctor, engineer or scientist.  Soccer – like law, medicine, mechanical engineering, computer animation, etc. – is a skill that is learned through intensive training and real life experience.  Like most trade schools and colleges, not everyone is cut out to be a professional athlete. Just like any other learning environment, there are drop-outs and fail-outs all along the way.  Even after the education is acquired, some players are still better than others, just like some teachers are better than others and some lawyers are better than others.

Professional coaches will tell you that the average athlete needs to train about twenty hours a week to become professional and to remain competitive.   When you break it down, that means that to get all of the training you need to become “professional”,  it’ll take 8,ooo to 10,000 hours.  And there lies OUR problem.

Even if American youth soccer coaches knew WHAT to teach our players and HOW to train them, they’re still limited to just three hours of training a week (average).  That equals just 105 hours per year (35 weeks) and only 1,000 hours per decade .  Since a player requires 6,ooo to 10,000 hours of training to learn the skills and develop the reflexes he needs to play soccer for a living, that means it will take a player in the American youth soccer club system (at any level) about 100 YEARS to get that training.

You ARE dreaming if you think your kid can become a professional athlete in America!

What’s Being Done

Slowly, local clubs in cities with professional (MLS, NASL, USL) and semi-professional (NPSL) teams are affiliating and integrating their youth programs with the big league teams, but for the most part, this is just a program to build up the local fan base and sell tickets (of course, without fans, you don’t have professional sports) – practice schedules are still aggressively limited to just a couple of hours a week, and the parents must still pay for their kids to play.   The fastest way to get American Soccer over the pay-for-play crutch and turn it into a  super-power may be the European system of promotion and relegation (see article: “Why America NEEDS Promotion and Relegation“).

Europe has geographic systems of training, identification and referral that channel talented youth players into professional club Academies, assuring that they have the best of the best athletes playing at the highest level possible.  By contrast, the U.S. has a haphazard system that requires players and parents to figure it out on their own.  There is no system of referral and no incentive for weaker clubs to encourage their better players to play elsewhere. Subsequently, talented players in most clubs are oppressed and overconfident in their abilities, surrounded by a culture of mediocrity and lethargy.

But the problem doesn’t just lie with soccer.  It’s that way with EVERY sport: basketball, football, soccer, baseball, hockey.  We don’t have true “development” clubs that prepare players to become professionals by the time they’re 16, 17 or 18 years old.  We don’t have a system in place that recognizes and recommends players to professional development clubs.  Our youth athletic organizations in every sport keep the dream of playing professional sports from ever becoming a goal.  Our passive, weak system of training athletes means that countries like the Dominican Republic can dominate the Great American Game – baseball.

Case Study

The Dominican Republic is a small country sharing half of an island in the Caribbean, with a population of about 10 million people.  The United States, by contrast, dominates a continent with 311 million people.  Major League Baseball  has about 928 Americans playing in the league, or .000298% of the American population.  The Dominican Republic by comparison, has 127  representatives in “the Show”, or .00127% of their population.   If both of these training programs were equal, the number of  Dominicans playing in Major League Baseball would be about 30. Instead there are 127!  In fact, a full 20% of professional baseball players at any level in the U. S. are DOMINCAN! The American population is 31 times larger than the Dominican population, and in theory, should be able to produce enough home grown talent to produce a proportionate number of players for the league.  For some reason though, the Dominican Republic is 400% more likely to produce high level professional baseball players than we are.

Dominicans are considered to be the best baseball players in the world – ahead of the U.S., Cuba and Japan.  Why?  Is the Dominican Republic more prosperous, with better equipment and tools?

What is it about this little country’s baseball program that makes it so much better than anyone else?

Of course, Major League Soccer is even worse.  Of the 540 players in the MLS (2011 stats), only 294, or 54% are American.  To add more salt to our youth soccer wounds, the majority of those Americans actually learned the game abroad – in Mexico, Europe or elsewhere.  An American who learned the game in America and plays in the MLS, is an anomaly –  and is in a lower wage bracket, for obvious reasons: Youth soccer practices are usually limited to just 3 hours a WEEK (recreational teams are limited to just 1 day per week), with one game on Saturday.  Practice times for teams are limited by clubs to allow more teams access to the fields.  More teams in the club means more money for the club.

So how do we fix it?

Look into the mission statement of any American youth soccer club, and you will see statements similar to this “… to provide a fun and safe environment to play soccer”.   To state anything else would be deceptive, because our clubs and coaches are not educated or prepared to actually train athletes to become professional.  Insinuations by soccer club directors may indicate that your son can become a professional soccer player, but these are just to keep the dream alive, and the money flowing.

The real reason that clubs don’t develop players is that there is no incentive.  In Europe they have what’s known as “transfer fees” (see “Development” in “Where Does All the Money Go?”) for professionals and youth players in their academies.  In essence, it’s payment for the time and effort a club has put into training a player.  Youth clubs in the U.S. have no real incentives for training players, as the professional leagues (MLS, NASL and USL) are mostly removed from the youth programs.  Therefore, clubs require payment up front (pay-for-play) in order to operate, which perpetuates the problem and promotes a culture of winning over development.

Since our youth clubs are failing so miserably, colleges and universities have become the crown jewel of pay-for-play systems, as they provide a venue for players to feel like professionals, without really being professionals.  The college programs in the United States are even run by youth soccer coaches, many of whom are technical directors and coaches in their local youth clubs.   For nearly all American college athletes, their last day in college is the closest they’ll ever come to being professional athletes.

Jay Demerit

Jay Demerit of the U.S. Men’s National Team is the premier example of what happens when you rely on the American system of athlete training .  Demerit played soccer in high school and college and even spent a year with the Chicago Fire’s Premier development team, but all of that still wasn’t enough to get him drafted into the MLS.  The American program that he wanted to play in wasn’t good enough to train him. So he did what he should have done sooner – he went to Europe.

Isn’t it ironic that America won’t buy the products it produces?

Within just 3 years of playing in England, Jay Demerit was named to the U.S. Men’s National Team.  After 6 years in England, Jay “retired” from English soccer to play in the league that he wasn’t good enough for 6 years earlier.

The Solution

The issue is “training”.  U. S. Soccer is ill equipped to train players to play at the highest level.  Even the US Men’s coach, Jürgen Klinsmann recruits players for the national team from European professional leagues.  The European game is faster and the training for youth players is more focused.  So, if your son wants to play professional soccer, is Europe the only option?

No.  There’s also South American countries like Argentina and Brazil.  Heck, China is even a viable option now, as they’re pumping millions and millions of yen into their soccer training programs to gain more influence in the soccer world.

If you’re not willing to move, the only other option is to just accept the fact that America’s youth soccer system provides a nice recreational outlet for our children to get some exercise, and learn how to be part of a team. With hard work and self-discipline, they’ll even be able to play in college, where they can get an education in something that will actually pay the bills.


Mike Slatton is a 30+ year youth soccer coach and the Chief Editor of the Soccer Mom Manual


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Comments (43)

  1. Mike says:

    “Youth soccer practices are usually limited to just 3 hours a WEEK (recreational teams are limited to just 1 day per week” OK I am not sure what Youth program your looking at but in my area we have plenty of youth teams that get way more then 3 hours a week training.

    At age 7 and above teams have organized practice 3 days a week plus game days (which are still really practice as well as it is where you learn how to use what you learned) BUT they are also instructed to continue to use their own free time to practice skills alone and with friends as is done all over the world KIDS play. Also we play year round off season is just the gap between leagues. Most play indoor in winter Spring season and Fall season. With summer left to camps and tournaments. But they still train. SO I am not sure exactly what youth teams you are watching but in Western MA (and through out the area) are youth players are putting in the time. THE problem is the quality of the coaches and trainers. Most are parents with little to no coaching credentials in the US most soccer players don’t get a paid coach with credentials until they are at least 13-14 years old. THAT is the difference They are practicing But if you practice poorly you learn to play poorly.
    The goal should be to improve the level of those giving the training first then we can improve the level of the players. Also the Normal US sport path from Rec leagues to High school to Collage then Pro followed by Basketball Baseball and US Football does not work for Soccer. When most player in Europe are signing their first pro contracts US players are in high school most likely meeting their first paid coach (who at many schools is just a teacher that also once played soccer himself and little to no coaching credentials) THAT is why it is hard to be a professional Soccer player from the US. Even the best players the US has turned out that stay in the US are YEARS behind players from outside the US. Lets compare 2 US players one Landon Donovan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landon_Donovan the other Jay Heaps http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_Heaps

    I saw Jay play when he was a teenager playing at the high school level physical ability he had what he did not get was direction and training at the youth level from those who were actually Top level coaches.

    Now they are not the same on many ways but the training both got in their teen years Was worlds apart and THAT is why one has 4 caps for the US mens team and the other has over 100. By the time Heaps got his first National team cap he was 2 years from retirement as a player. Heaps went the normal US athlete path he was a MLS rookie of the year. In the NFL or the NBL the best league in the world for those sports is full of players who also just follow the high school collage path and the US league is the ONLY or Best league for those sports but in Soccer (football) the MLS is a rookie league just a baby (like basketball leagues in Europe) And players that follow the typical US athletic career of youth high school and Collage then pro you are WAY too late to make it in Europe even if your a really good pro you may finally make it to Europe but you will have maybe a few years before your body starts to give out on you. AND your knowledge of the game will be years behind your counter parts. So what does a US athlete with hopes of a being a footballer well if your parents have the financial ability to drop it all and get you in to a Academy in Europe then GO that is your best shot and it is just that a shot as you most likely will move from there to a non-league or lower level league teams and then retire never making it to a top European club. that is the reality it is VERY hard to make it as a footballer on the world stage. AND it take a dedication to making it that is I have nothing to fall back on if I do not make it I will die trying. Most US Soccer athletes have too much too lose they mostly come from middle to upper class families and to risk that standard of living for what for most turns out to be a failed dream is just too much of a risk. To a poor kid in Brazil or a poor African nation they have nothing to lose and everything to gain and should the fail they are not lowering their level much so why not take a shot. Simply put a US kid playing soccer has it too good (we see poor youths making in the typical US sports for that very reason it is a path to wealth while Soccer has not been traditionally played in poor neighborhoods in the US and the path to pro soccer player in the US costs money so a poor kid must find someone to pay his way to the elite teams and clubs. In Europe their are plenty of scouts at all levels looking to exploit the dreamers for their own gain be it a non-league club team to lower level team there is someone looking for players and they sign Kids with skill and make them footballers some make it to the pros some just flounder in those lower level teams until they retire. (like AAA baseball in the US) You can players of all level can play Pro soccer in the US you just are not going to get paid much. There are hundreds of PDL teams in Europe there are thousands of football clubs at all levels and those clubs most of us have never heard of is where millions that dream of being a professional footballer end their careers a few hundred make it to the teams known the world over. the truth is it is not easy to be come a professional Soccer player anywhere in fact it may actually be easier to become a professional Soccer player in the US then anywhere else it is just not going to be if highly paid professional Soccer player (if you can live in $100/week (when your in season I know a team looking for players maybe it can be you) Now to a kid living in a favela $100/ week to play football sounds pretty good to a kid who grew up in a family where he had a iPhone at 12 and has a collage fund in the bank to drop everything for a dream that may end with making $100/week is not much of a appeal does it?

  2. Johnny B says:

    I’ve recently read your article about players going to open tryouts if it truly is their goal to make it to a premiere level team. Im trying to give you an idea of my background I’ll do my best to keep it short. I started playing at seven years old, played competitively through high school. I sustained a meniscus knee injury at 17yrs old but did my best to get back and made a D2 college team as a walk on (20 yrs old). Due to financials and other personal reasons I dropped out of college and continued to play on indoor teams and other adult leagues but stopped playing competitively. I’ve recently finished my schooling, but I am currently turning 30. I’ve gone to Brazil recently completely out of shape, and held my own against some of the semi-professionals in local street games. I am contemplating an ultimate come back going into a 12-18 month training program and seeking out tryouts at that point. My question I guess would be is if you think at my age it is realistic to have an expectation of getting to a tryout and being successful at that tryout if part of my training included 6 months of training in Brazil. The question lies heavily on the factor of age and if there could be any success at all. I know it’s a long shot but I’d like some feedback if possible. Please remove the comment if it does not merit a response. Thanks.

    • Mike Slatton says:

      Johnny,

      The sad fact is that most professional soccer teams in the MLS, NASL and USL are looking for young, moldable talent. Most of the teams are actively scouting players and if you’re not on their scout list, they won’t look very hard at you, unless you show up to tryouts and are CLEARLY the most dynamic player on the field. Tryouts are a dog and pony show, and you have to be the fastest, prettiest and jump the highest. If you are only "as good as" all the other players there, you won’t make it, because in the eyes of the club, the young players are increasing in value, while you are declining in value – VALUE being the keyword.

      If you’ve ever watched the miniseries ROOTS, by Alex Haley, there are scenes where they have the slaves standing on a stage and they’re inspecting them very closely, looking for any excuse NOT to buy one of them. Professional athletics is the same. Your age is a reason not to by you.

      Now, if you just want to play at the highest level possible in the U.S., there is the NPSL, but Phoenix currently doesn’t have any teams playing. In fact, the teams closest to you are in California. Of the nearly 70 teams in the NPSL, there are none in Colorado or Texas. All of them are either on the east coast, west coast or in the Midwest.

      So, what next? Coach.

      That’s probably not what you want to hear, but if you want to be involved in the game, start coaching.

      It’s easy to get started and you probably already have coached one or two recreational teams. If not, go down to your local club, tell them your story and tell them that you will take any team they offer you. You’ll probably end up with a lot of fat kids. That’s ok. That first team will give you a lot of answers and give you a solid direction.

      Next, get some coaching licenses. The USSF and NSCAA are the primary soccer coach licensing organizations. I personally prefer the NSCAA, because they appreciate your individual input. The USSF is more like a college course where they expect you to do it the "American soccer" way, or you won’t pass the course. On the other hand, the USSF carries more weight in coaching circles. I would suggest starting with the USSF "F" License. It’s done online and is a prerequisite for the "E". The "E" is an 18 hour course.

      Either way, start taking some courses.

      SMM Articles

      Next, write some articles for the Soccer Mom Manual. Based on your lengthy comment/question, you don’t mind writing, and I need some content. This website currently draws traffic from every country on the planet, with the majority coming from the United States and Australia. Average DAILY viewership is 600 new visitors. That equals about 20,000 new and returning readers monthly.

      Writing for the Soccer Mom Manual will establish you as an expert (or aspiring expert) in your field. And, I will forever be grateful for your contribution.

      First article you can write is about your experience in Brazil.

      Mike Slatton –
      Chief Editor, The Soccer Mom Manual

      • Danny Bruce says:

        Another option (besides coaching) is to become a professional soccer referee. The US needs good officials at all levels. It’s a decently paid gig, you’re still active and you still get to work between the touch lines.

        Just a suggestion…

  3. james says:

    What are your opinions about ODP (Olympic Development Programs)? Do they help young players and help them get exposure to coaches or just a waste of money?

    • Mike Slatton says:

      James,


      Most US sponsored and run ODP programs don’t charge players, or charge a minimal amount. If US Soccer is charging parents for their kids to train to one day represent our country, then the problem is only getting worse.


      When a player development program charges parents to train their kids, then it’s a business with the sole intention of making money. A true US sponsored and run development program won’t charge parents, because they would be ignoring a large segment of the population. The goal should always be to find the “best-of-the-best”. Instead, programs that charge end up only with the best of those that can afford to pay.


      So, it sounds like the program you’re mentioning is just a money maker for someone. However, you also should stay away from 1-on-1 coaching. Time and time again I see players 10 and up training with coaches who have them dribbling through cones, pulling on a bungy strap, shooting on empty nets, etc. While these practices may help their core techniques a little, they’re also promoting SLOWER PLAY. All you have to do is watch to see what I’m talking about. If you actually WANT to spend $25 to $40 an hour for your son to shoot on an empty net, trap and shoot, juggle or whatever, pay THEM. Give your son or daughter $20 to $40 an hour to train in the front yard or the field while you watch. At least you’re keeping the money in the family.


      As for overall player development: The best thing you can do for your child is find places for them to play. The more they play, the better they’ll get. And players learn better from other players, playing in an expressive environment. That means: NO COACHING; a mix of older and younger players; and no time limits (set by you or anyone else).


      The biggest problem in today’s “competitive” soccer environment is that kids are not allowed to really expressive themselves on the field. Instead, they’re expected to follow the coach’s instructions, and if they don’t they’ll be benched – REGARDLESS of how much you paid for them to play.


      Over-coaching has created “drone-players” who stick to their stations and don’t think critically on the field. US Soccer standards promote freedom and expression, but many coaches at the competitive levels aren’t listening, and are only coaching to win games. I see it even at the u-10 and u-8 rec levels. You’ve got coaches coaching the game to a 7-0 drubbing at half-time, and they still won’t pull their strongest players out.


      The real problem is that rosters are too large, coaches are too self-centered and clubs are too money motivated. Playing time is development time. Every roster should be as short as possible so that everyone gets plenty of game time, and opportunities should exist for every player to play as much as possible. Instead, clubs lock up their fields, lock up their goals and continue to increase their fees.


      Every club administrator, coach, parent, player, referee and American soccer fan is a member of Team USA. Our goal is collective, and it’s to win a World Cup. Period. When everyone starts to think that way, American youth soccer’s problems will fix themselves.

      • James says:

        I agree entirely with your comment and the practice of today’s clubs are not to promote competition but fairness. I see parents push their kids to play and you can totally tell on the kid’s face that he/she does not even enjoy it which portrays poorly onto the field as well. Also, the individual training is bogus because a kid can learn it his/herself just by watching youtube videos and it is free skill training.

        The ODP programs are part of the US Youth Soccer organization. They charge development fees (training fees) and camp fees and I’ve read that many pro’s in the US went through this program which serves as a gateway for players to be recognized. So I was curious as to whether it would be worth it to put a child in this program and would my child be going against bias decisions when it comes to picking a national team.

        • Mike Slatton says:

          Look at any pro team or national team and you’ll see lots of ex-pro’s kids and coaches kids. Like government is rife with politics, so is soccer. In fact, any professional sport is. If your dad was a pro, you’re likely to be given a shot. If you’re dad never played, then you’d better be – no argument – the BEST player on the field.


          We don’t have the best of the best in professional soccer; We have the best of those that can afford to pay the fees. That makes competition light. That light competition coupled with coaches who take a micro-managing-American-football-type approach to strategy results in drone-players who are afraid of being creative or taking risk, thereby holding back the entire development process.


          So, to answer your question: Yes, and no. Ha ha ha.


          Your child WILL improve by training in any program that is run by competent coaches, but they will never be brilliant players playing in our current youth soccer environment where every child is micro-managed and threatened with benching if they don’t play their “position”.


          Soccer doesn’t have “positions”; Soccer has responsibilities. If you’re a left-back, then your responsibility is primarily defensive, but that shouldn’t mean that you can’t move up and score or assist on a goal. If the left-back moves up, the midfielder that he overlaps should drop back, and so on. But teaching that concept can be very challenging for most coaches. Many coaches will tell you that it’s “too early” to teach certain strategic concepts, but that’s just really a dodge.


          Your solution is to have your child train & play in a competitive environment for a year or 2, and then stop to play recreationally in leagues or pick-up games for a while to, basically, improve his self-esteem (which WILL be damaged playing in the competitive environment) and to experiment with his-her ball handling and creative play.


          Basically, you need to balance the work and play aspects of the game for them, because Soccer won’t.

          • RJB says:

            I agree totally with your solution Mike of playing 1 or 2 years of competitive soccer and then switch back to recreation or pick up soccer to reintroduce creativity and self esteem to the player. My son is a very technical and skilled 11 yr old who has been playing club soccer for 3 years and the micro managers have tried to squeeze every ounce of risk taking, dribbling, and creativity out of him. Just last week the coach who is an assistant D1 coach yells out as loud as he can “we don’t dribble around here!”. This is after my son tried to dribble into the box but was broken up. Dribbling last time I checked is part of the game. A Messi or CR7 would never come to fruition in the current US Youth soccer environment. The coaches and parents would yell at the young Messi to ” pass the ball!”. I informed the coach we will not be coming back next year and that goes for any pay for play club. If you want your kid to be a robot then by all means join a pay for play club to become a automaton. Next time you watch the US National team play just think to yourself this is a direct byproduct of our current US youth system (especially pay for play clubs). Can someone tell me where is the value in club soccer?

      • Bobo says:

        Your responses are on point about club development. Everything you mentioned is exactly my experience for the last 3-4 years here in NY (My son being 11 now). My son who loves to dribble and has been punished by coaches for this reason. They want to develop robots as players. What do you advise for the players who love to dribble? Thanks

        • Mike Slatton says:

          Soccer is a game of passing, like the United States is a country of automobiles. We could walk everywhere, but it would take a lot longer. Soccer players pass the ball because it gets the ball down-field faster.


          Dribbling is a skill used to get OUT of trouble. However, most new/younger/developing players use dribbling as a means to get INTO trouble. It’s also a skill used to create opportunities, but most new/younger/developing players dribble the ball at the wrong times, so that they actually LOSE opportunities.


          Now, whose fault is this? Coaches.


          What’s the first thing a coach teaches his new/younger/developing players? How to dribble. When the coach gives a homework assignment to their new/younger/developing players, they give them ball-handling assignments (dribbling, juggling). So, new/younger/developing players spend their formative soccer years learning how to dribble and handle the ball, with no real explanation of WHY they need to dribble or WHEN dribbling is appropriate.


          Since the new/younger/developing player has only been taught how to dribble, what does the coach expect them to do on game day?


          PASS, OF COURSE.


          The most successful team I ever coached was a team full of brand new under-8s, all of whom had never played soccer before. I LITERALLY only taught them 2 things: Passing (technique) and throw-ins (technique and strategy). Twice a week for 4 weeks until our first game, I taught some basic positioning and responsibilities and passing to the open player. I never brought cones out and we never did any shooting or ball drills. I taught them to quickly throw the ball in down the line, and because their teammates knew where the ball was being throw in to, they were always ready.


          Cut to the chase: We won everything that year. I never played any player longer than any other player, because my best athletes would take the lead, and then my weaker athletes would just maintain the score. EVERYONE learned from playing and applying what we did in practice.


          Now, more than one parent expressed concerns about this method, but after the first game, they never said another word. And, you might say that by not teaching them to dribble, I’m neglecting their soccer education, but first and foremost “Soccer is a game of passing.” Dribbling and ball handling are tools that are used for getting out of trouble. If you don’t teach the kids how to pass correctly, then they will always be in trouble… and they will always be dribbling trying to get out of trouble… and then make a bad pass to someone else who now has to dribble to get out of trouble.


          It’s a vicious cycle that continues to hurt the development of all of our soccer athletes, and every parent is kind of forced to buy into it, because of the over-emphasis put on dribbling. Not until players are much older do coaches train their teams to pass, but by then it’s incredibly difficult to break those instincts. This is where you find the players that are most COACHABLE, though. And ultimately, “coachability” is what every coach is looking for in an athlete.


          So, maybe teaching players to dribble FIRST isn’t a mistake after all.

      • RJB says:

        My child is playing ODP and we do pay fees although financial aid is available. I agree it should be free to all if you are truly trying to create quality national team level footballers.

        The quality of players and coaches is not that good. ODP coach said this week that players should not use the outside of their foot and that is a bad habit. I guess he never heard of Franz Beckenbauer or watched him play!

  4. cel says:

    Great article. Straight and forward. My son is 4yrs old turning 5 this year. He has been asking me to put him in soccer for the past months. Can you please recommend me on what/where to Start looking. I would love to start him off as a great soccer player and move forward from there, if he is still highly interested. Ive searched for academies/camps development programs that last 1week. Is 1wk enough? I was expecting monthly. We live in Texas.

    • Mike Slatton says:

      Texas has great soccer, and of course Dallas has the Dallas Cup, which is the largest, most prestigious tournament in the United States. The best thing to do is teach him the very basics and encourage him. Don’t over coach him, but be there for him. Don’t offer help unless he asks for it. Don’t bother with private training, unless it’s with a group of players who are learning to play faster. Give him a break from the game – for a year or 2 – when it’s obvious that he or you are getting burned out on the game.

      I started teaching my son Noah the game when he was learning to walk. Here he is at his very first game. He is so used to being the best on the team that he doesn’t try as hard as other kids. Now, at 12 years old, he’s a good, high level competitive player, but he’s not quite good enough to play Super Y or US Soccer Development Academy. Not because he doesn’t have the skill. It’s because he doesn’t quite have the heart.

      You have to find the balance to not burn him out too young.

  5. Michael says:

    Hey im 23 I am going to play D3 soccer this year and I want to play pro. Please anyone give me advice I know im too old but I don`t want to give up yet.

    • Mike Slatton says:

      First of all, why are you going to college if you want to play professional soccer? College is for getting an education that is usually, completely UNRELATED to soccer, and soccer is just used as a tool by the college to either:


      • – Lure you in and keep you busy so that you forget how much you’re spending on your near worthless degree (which is everything except engineering or medicine)
      • – Entertain the student body (AKA: “Campus life”

      Second of all, 23 is not old by any stretch of the imagination. Many professional athletes are competitive into their 40s, so in the grand scheme of things, you have about 20 good, competitive years left.


      So, where do you start? Well, college isn’t going anywhere, so get the HELL out of there, because it’s a distraction from what you really (I assume) want. You need to be training and going to tryouts. 9 to 15 credit hours of college are a total and complete distraction from your goals. If, at 32 or 33 you are a complete failure in the soccer arena (because you didn’t train, and just chased girls), then go back to college. I guarantee you that it will still be there. In fact, you could probably still play soccer, too.


      Next, find every NPSL, USL, NASL and MLS team in a 100 square mile area of your location (which looks like Huntington, New York) and go to tryouts. These things aren’t free (to weed out the dreamers), but you need to go to one open tryout to see where you stand. You may be good, but if everyone is good, you need to be GREAT.

      Find an open tryout and see if you are indeed great. If not great, then you may be able to get some feedback from those holding the tryouts.


      If this sounds like a lot of work to commit to for very little reward, then stay in college.


      Honestly, if you’re not playing pro soccer by now, it’s because nobody thought that you had the work ethic to make it in the first place.

      • Michael says:

        Thanks for replying it means a lot. I definitely have a lot of work to do but I’m fairly certain I can make one of the teams you mentioned near me. I’ll be practicing and go to a try out next month.
        I should’ve done it a long time ago but I’m glad it’s not too late.
        Also what do you think about this overseas program I was thinking about doing this for a year if i could save up http://www.ifxsoccer.com/soccer-training-programs/international-summer-camps/clubs/german-soccer-camp/
        Thank you!

        • Mike Slatton says:

          For the most part, programs like that are strictly money makers for the people hosting them. Can you learn something, though? Absolutely. In fact, any soccer education you get in Europe is probably better than anything comparable here. However, don’t enroll in that program thinking that they are going to turn you into a pro.


          You’re probably better off staying home and training 25 hours a week, playing soccer with a high level amateur or semi-pro team and watching EPL & La Liga games when you’re not on the field.


          Good luck and keep me updated on your progress.

  6. joe says:

    iam 19 years old looking to make step foward i was thinking of playin college soccer but after reading these article i dont know what to do how can i just go to europe and try to play over there?

    • mslatton says:

      Joe,


      Miami has great soccer and an MLS team on the way. In fact, Florida has a great selection of semi-pro and pro soccer from the panhandle to where you are (based on your IP address).


      At 19 years old, you should already know the fundamentals of the game and have enough vision to play at the highest level possible. What you’re lacking is probably fitness. It’s what the overwhelming majority of American youth soccer players lack.


      You need to set up a DAILY training regiment that includes 3 to 7 miles of running, 100 pushups, 100 pullups and about 500 crunches. Check out Cristiano’s training plan for a better idea of what YOU need to do.


      Frankly, at this point, if you’re not recognized as one of the best young soccer athletes in the South Florida area, it’s because you did the absolute minimum to get by when you were younger – just enough to please your coaches and your parents. NOW you need to step up your training to “elite athlete” level, to make up for lost time.


      Once your fitness is up, go to Google and find the location of every USL, NASL, MLS and NPSL team in the Southeastern U.S. and start going to tryouts. Open tryout for most teams are past or happening RIGHT NOW, so you can go to one or two to find out what they’re looking for. Professional soccer tryouts in the US usually cost $50 to $350 to tryout out – to weed out the “dreamers”.


      In all honesty, you can probably make an NPSL team. Regardless, you still need to be playing while you’re training, so even if you don’t have a local NPSL team, join an amateur Level 1/Premier team.


      Give yourself a 12 month period of pro level training and playing, then go to some more MLS, NASL and USL tryouts. If you get denied again, listen to their feedback and go back to training.


      If you really, truly want this, you can have it, but it’s hard, physical work. And for the majority of professional players, it doesn’t pay much better than car sales or retail management.

  7. Paul says:

    My son is 6 years old and is very good at soccer, he’s is playing one year up and one of the best players at that age level. Considering he is only 6, and suggestions on how to continue his development so he has a chance of becoming a professional one day? I see you recommend 20 hours a week, is that recommended for his age too? He is currently only playing 6 hours a week.

    • mslatton says:

      At 6 years old, about the only thing you can do is keep him active in the game without burning him out. Keep giving him opportunities to play without making demands or setting performance expectations. Many parents will pay for 1-on-1 training for soccer players, but in my experience, 1 on 1 training only benefits new players 6 to 9 years old, and should just focus on technical aspects of the game, like passing form, trapping balls of various delivery and dribbling OUT OF TROUBLE. Your son can probably benefit from 1-on-1 training from a licensed soccer coach, but keep it to a minimum. In fact, if you have soccer experience, what you provide should be adequate. Once players have mastered passing, trapping and dribbling technique, 1 on 1 training is actually detrimental because all of the ball handling is in a vacuum without pressure, thereby promoting slower play.

      Regardless, you have to keep the game fun for him, and DO NOT show displeasure or disappointment in his performance. He’s only 6 now and as long as he stays interested, he will naturally improve. As he gets older, he just needs to play as often as possible, in as many recreational/unstructured settings as possible. Structured soccer has it’s place, but real development comes from being able to experiment and try new moves. If you start making it a job for him before it’s a “job”, he’ll quit making an effort on the field.

  8. james says:

    My daughter is 11 years old and loves soccer and she is very good compared to her peers/teammates and I fear that she is not getting enough training to boost her potential in soccer. I live in Wisconsin, can you recommend any clubs or leagues to get her the top training and games she needs to develop her skills?

    I try to practice with her atleast 4 days a week doing drills, ball handling, passing and touches but I have no soccer background, just a dad watching and learning from youtube videos. Any advice?

    • Editor says:

      James, what is your end goal? The U.S. is one of few countries where women can earn money playing soccer, but VERY few make a decent living. In fact, Sarah Huffman is #9 of the top earning women’s soccer players and earns $25,000 a year. Yes, that’s THOUSAND. Waitresses make more money. Teacher’s make more money. In fact, any person with a college degree working full time in a professional environment earns more than One of the best women’s professional soccer players in the world. Another fact is the bottom 5 of the Top 10 Highest earning women’s soccer players earn less that 50k annually. You’re better off focusing your time and energy on an Engineering Degree at ANY university.

      However, if you are really intent on her playing professional soccer, the competition is actually very, very low. Most professional women’s soccer teams are always looking for players and will literally take anyone with decent skills, so as long as she sticks with it, she’ll get there.

      The real money in women’s soccer though comes from endorsements. Hope Solo has earned about $2.5 million annually in the past from endorsements. With that in mind, you should probably balance soccer with modeling… and engineering, in case she gets hurt.

      • James says:

        My end goal is for my daughter to get a good scholarship to a good school playing the sport she loves.

        • mslatton says:

          That’s not a bad plan, but keep in mind that SOCCER scholarships for boys and girls are minimal, and that the best schools in the country do not offer ANY sports scholarships at all, as I suppose that just being accepted to Yale (or any Ivy League school) is reward enough.

          Just keep playing with her and encouraging her and she’ll play soccer in college. DON’T however waste your money on “private lessons”. Private lessons will not benefit advanced, competitive athletes who already have a good fundamental understanding of the game. Soccer’s a team sport and 1-on-1 training will actually slow a good player down and make them overconfident on game day. Instead, she should play pick-up games when possible and put together a 3v3 squad for the off season. 3v3 is incredibly beneficial for increasing speed of playing and getting lots of touches on the ball.

  9. Farhan says:

    Hello, I am 21 years old and I play for a 2nd division club here in Bangladesh. As you know my country is not a country to develop athletes. And my dream is to play for top tier clubs. What would you suggest me? I was planning to come to USA but then I read your article. My country is very bad at soccer and they would concede 12 goals within 30 mins to USA! So that explains .. now please advice me something. Thank you

  10. Amiin says:

    I’m 16 year old guy, very crazy about being a pro soccer player i just watch everyday on the tv when the athletes playing the games and i always try to copy with the way that they play, it works for me, Sometimes i play with my friends and they told me that i could play well if i were stay in europe. And i know that i can play like them if i work hard, practice well etc. I’m expecting to come to the U.S in january 2015. So what i have to do first when i come to U.S? Some advise please

    • Editor says:

      First, why are you coming to the US? Many American parents wish they could get their players to Europe, for no other reason than to expose their athletes to better training and an environment that is more supportive of player development. However, it’s my understanding that it’s VERY competitive to become a professional footballer in Europe, and getting “discovered” by a professional club is difficult.

      You have a dilemma: You want to play professional soccer, but you need European training to make it in the US. Most American soccer clubs are ill equipped to develop professional level soccer athletes. That goes for the USL, NASL and MLS. Now that doesn’t mean that you aren’t already good enough for their programs, but understand that your growth will all but STOP once you join one of these programs.

      You’d be better off staying and playing in Europe until you’re done growing, while developing your skills in a more immersive footballing environment.

      However, if you are set on coming and playing here, be prepared to travel the country, going to open tryouts of USL, NASL and MLS clubs. Your best bet is to get on with a USL club that has a close relationship with a Major League Soccer club. The USL is the UN-official farm system of the MLS, so your easiest way into the professional game would be the USL. http://www.uslsoccer.com/

  11. Cara Ferris says:

    Thank you for this article. It’s brutally honest, which is what more American parents need to hear. I am a single mom with two boys, ages 13 and 9. I am only now starting to realize and understand how much time, not to mention an insane amount of money, I have wasted participating in American youth soccer clubs.

    My children are extremely athletic, very tall (my 13 year old is 6’1 with a size 13 shoe) and are very good players. They practice every day on their own whenever they aren’t playing with their teams. Other than move to Europe, which I would in a heartbeat if I knew how to get over there and live versus just visit, what do you suggest is the best way to get them noticed by professional clubs in Europe?

    Also, I was looking through the website http://soccercampsinternational.com
    They offer camps in Europe for two weeks, but I’m incredibly leery about sending my kid over to Europe by himself to a camp that has no individual vested interest in him, and also bc I don’t want to be another “desperate soccer mom” who falls victim to more American “dreams and lies” that require an insanely large amount of money and won’t even open up the first door to authentic opportunities. I mean let’s face it, any parent can spend the money, whether their kid is good or not, to go to a highly recognized camp. In your opinion, would this international camp be worth the investment and travel for my boys? Thanks!

    • Editor says:

      Cara,

      Our club is managed by a former NASL (1970’s/80’s) professional player, and one of our coaches is the President of the USL. I’ve had multiple conversations on the subject of what’s necessary to become a pro soccer player in the U.S. today, and what I’ve determined is that: If your kids are bound and determined to play professional soccer in the U.S., and you are fully supportive of this, you should move to a USL Pro city or an MLS city and get them involved with their Academy program. The USL is working DIRECTLY with the MLS to develop talent if for no other reason than to take advantage of the very lucrative TRANSFER FEES that define soccer as the international game of billionaires. The USL Pro and MLS Academies don’t cost anything, but your boys need to be good enough to make the squad. If they aren’t, do worry, because there’s always college. If your kids have played for any length of time at a competitive level, they can get a soccer scholarship SOMEWHERE.

  12. Thank you so much for posting this.

  13. Tyler says:

    Im a 14 year old male, that will be playing at a little high school in a town in indiana. I know that it is very hard to get pro, but it is my dream. Any advice?

    • Editor says:

      Tyler,

      The easy and best things you can do are:

      1. Play EVERY DAY. Touch the ball every day. Juggle, practice dead-balls, dribble through parks. Know the ball. You don’t control the ball; the ball responds to your touch. The more you touch the ball, the better you will know how it will respond.

      2. Watch soccer on TV and YouTube. See what they do and how they do it. You’ll notice that the game is more about passing and running than dribbling and scoring.

      3. Talk with your feet. Actions speak louder than words. If you play hard, practice hard and train hard, people will tell YOU that you’re going to be a pro. You won’t have to tell THEM.

      4. Get to know your local professional players or ex-pros. Let them mentor you and emulate them. Act like them and you will become one of them. Your local club probably has one or two coaches that played professionally.

      Don’t be a “wanna-be”. Be a “gonna-be”. Send me a note when you sign your first pro or semi-pro contract, and I’ll write a story on you.

      Mike Slatton
      Chief Editor, The Soccer Mom Manual

      • Noel says:

        i am currently 17yrs old (male) and i play with a club and my high school. i have been told by alot of coaches that have watched me play that i have a lot of potential. i wasnt born in the usa so i started playing soccer in a west african country until i moved to the us at the age of 13.one thing that i have struggled with over the years is that i loose my confidence very easily which greatly affects my game. back in my home country i played almost everyday for atleast 2hrs. i and my friends played for fun, we tried to emulate what we saw the pros do on tv but we never realy got to play on an organized team in a leageu(because of the poor system for youth athletics in the country.so only playedon a team when i came to the us for the first time.i have learned and gotten as much experience as i could on the field.i want to ask if you can please give me some advice on how to stay confident especially when things are not going my way and how can i tell if the team in which am playing is beneficial to my growth as a soccer player or if its just a waste of time.i hope to a professional football player one day.

        • Editor says:

          Noel,

          At 17, it’s time to take the leap. The time for preparation has ended and it’s time to ACT. You need to find all the professional and semi-professional teams in a radius that you are comfortable driving and go to their OPEN TRYOUTS. Start with teams in the NPSL, which is the 4th division of the American professional soccer system (http://www.npsl.info/). Then check out the USL and NASL. Find the office phone numbers of the teams in your area of comfort, and call them to find out when they’ll be holding open tryouts. Then GO. Every team has open tryouts at least once a year. Most of these teams charge a fee, for no other reason than for you to prove to them that you are truly a serious player. These fees are anywhere from $75 to $300. There’s a good chance you will not make any team at the tryouts, but you’ll get good feedback from the coaches and directors holding the tryouts, and you’ll be able to use that information to improve and prepare for the next tryout.

          Mike Slatton
          Chief Editor, The Soccer Mom Manual

      • Laura Ross says:

        Can you recommend a summer training program or camp for a 14 yr old boy who is serious about soccer?

        • Editor says:

          Laura, Serious and talented are 2 different things. Camp will benefit someone who is committed and has the athletic prowess to take advantage of what is offered. However, no amount of training is going to help a child with no natural abilities. The BEST programs are going to be expensive. Check out IMG Academies in Bradenton, FL. They develop professional athletes in multiple sports. A more budget minded approach would be college promoted or hosted camps. You’re child will not get great instruction, but he’ll play with better players all week long.

          Another option is NorthWest Soccer Camps (http://www.nwsoccer.org/Home.asp). This camp has helped a number of internationally recognized soccer players improve their skills and learn good training habits.

          Regardless of what camp you choose, every player who is committed to playing at a high level needs to be training at least 20 hours a week. That includes strength training, speed training, endurance and ball work. Ball work alone will only make you a good recreational player. Only practicing 2 days a week with your team will only make you as good as the weakest player on the team.

          Success in any sport requires a lifetime commitment to it. It requires obsession. Once any person becomes obsessed with an idea, then nothing will quell it but completion or accomplishment. If your son has other hobbies or activities they’re involved in, then they may not be as committed as they think they are.

        • John Bigwood says:

          Hi Laura,

          I worked with Jeff Johnson he now has his own camps named onesoccerschools. With my experience of working in the U.S.on Soccer Camps. I found this one the best.

      • bobo says:

        I have to disagree with you on one topic. if you watch the World Cup games that are going on now most of the players wanna pass the ball to the player who can dribble such as Lionel Messi, Shaqiri from Switzerland, Cristiano Ronaldo and etc. the other players are always looking for that player who can dribble with a ball and has amazing control because they don’t have the confidence in themselves. so it is about dribbling and having master ball control

        • Editor says:

          Boris, I respectfully disagree with you. The Barca model calls for a DESIGNATED FINISHER. Messi is THE FINISHER. That is his role and the strategy for the team. You will never make me believe that any player on Barca or any other top-tier professional level team lacks confidence. The Barca strategy is to draw attention and opponents away from their finisher, and then feed him the ball. Only a few teams actually use this strategy, and when they do, they end up turning one man (Messi) into a deity of sorts. No doubt that Messi has great ball control, but he also has great CHEMISTRY with his teammates.

           

          There are others with the same amount of control and vision (Wondolowski of the US, for instance) who could play a similar role for any team, but a clear strategy for scoring and chemistry are the most often overlooked components when building teams. If you watch most teams participating in the World Cup (Algeria, Uruguay, Chile, USA, Costa Rica for instance), it appears to be every-man-for-himself. There is very little chemistry and no real plan for scoring. Real Madrid, Barcelona and other top tier professional club teams have a clear path to the goal, and it usually goes directly through a designated finisher. Messi is that man for Barca… and even Argentina.

           

          America is decades away from the designated finisher strategy, because everyone wants to be the guy who finally kicks the ball into the net. Everyone wants to finish the goal, but no American coach has the education to even recognize the DESIGNATED FINISHER as a strategy. And if it were an obvious strategy, it wouldn’t work, because everyone would just cover the finisher… which is why you never hear anyone talking about it.

           

          As a youth coach, it’s always my goal that everyone on the team score at least one goal during every season. I rarely fail, no matter what the age group or league, because we use a designated finisher. Half to half, that person usually changes, but it makes scoring a lot easier, because the other team is covering the goal, while WE are not trying to get the ball into the goal at all. WE are actually trying to get the ball to just one person, and then that person has to just poke the ball into the net.

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