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Kid Want to Play Pro Soccer? Read this…

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Dear Soccer Parent,

The key to success in soccer is “enjoyment“.

The Lack of Player Development in America

You’re right about the American club soccer system: It is set up to generate revenue – NOT produce great soccer players. In fact, the “competitive” league your child is currently playing in, really just makes them the best-of-the-worst of American youth soccer players. I’m sure that sounds harsh, but watch the play on the field in your child’s next game, and count how many bad traps result in a 50/50 situation where both players must battle for the ball. You’ll lose count in the first 10 minutes. That’s because real BALL CONTROL is not a priority of most youth coaches; They look for aggression, speed and size.

From the beginning of their soccer endeavors, the kids who hit puberty first in the age group, will get the most attention. Those players will feel like things come easy for them, and their parents will act like their child is “the chosen one”. Then, when everyone catches up to them in size, and the soccer world stops revolving around them, they will quit.

Oh, your son or daughter is playing up an age group or two? It sounds like they might be one of the bigger kids… or more aggressive, or just very fast. Regardless, they probably don’t have real ball handling skills that will make them a contender to play high-level professional soccer.  Lucky for them, that’s not what AMERICAN professional soccer (MLS, USL, NWSL)  is looking for, anyway.

If you watch any MLS game, you’ll see the same 50/50 challenges repeated over and over again. In fact, MLS looks just like American youth soccer. That’s because MLS (like club soccer) is ALSO just a money making endeavor, in which they look for speed, aggression and size FIRST, then consider ROI (return on investment). Salaries in the USA average about $160k/annually in Major League Soccer and much, much less in the USL ($25k), NWSL ($20k) and MASL($15k).

Salary caps in the leagues are in place to prevent any one team from dominating the league, like the Cosmos did in the 1970’s and 80’s. The result is VERY mediocre soccer.

When signing players, clubs and teams first consider fan interest (butts in seats), then consider whether the player fits into their system of play with appropriate speed, aggression and size. Ticket sales is always the #1 priority, though.

All Work and No Play

Regardless, the world of professional sports is not actually fun for the athletes. Players are little more than trained monkeys, all competing against EACH OTHER for playing time. Secretly, every player in the locker room wants someone else in the room to get hurt – to ensure their own place on the squad, and to keep the checks coming in. Sure, they play because they love the game, but love of the game doesn’t pay the bills. On-field results are what ensure a future in the game.

The American soccer style of play makes injuries all but guaranteed. The kick & chase, limited skill, 50/50 style of play that the U.S. has embraced, results in a high level of injuries, that shortens the careers of all but the most agile of players. And when their career suddenly ends – as it does MOST of the time – they will probably become youth soccer coaches.

So, you’re not actually raising a pro athlete. You’re raising a youth soccer coach, which is, of course, a noble profession.

Solution

OK, so that’s some of the realities of pro soccer, but if your child still wants to be a pro, YOUR solution should be to limit club soccer participation altogether and instead enroll your athlete in an indoor soccer league and encourage them to play pick-up soccer with older players, in a more open and less structured environment. (Read about the benefits of “free-play” here: Free-play Soccer)

The greatest players in the world developed their skills on the streets and in facilities with very little structure and oversight.

In the U.S., we appear to have money to blow, and we tend to throw money at coaches for “private training” that does nothing more than encourage slow play and indecision, because it removes all of the obstacles that encourage quick decision making.

Irrational Fears

The #1 fear of most parents is that quitting club soccer will somehow hurt their player’s development. NOTHING could be further from the truth. Club soccer is like a mafia-run insurance company that preys on your fears. Real player development requires LESS structure, thereby encouraging independent thinking, without the distractions of yelling coaches and parents, who all have their own agendas.

Club soccer is NOT a gateway to the pros. In fact, it’s a dead-end. Even the DA is not a gateway. US Soccer is just one huge profit-motivated business, proven by the fact that we can’t even qualify for the World Cup. The greatest players in the world developed their skills on the street and in independent facilities. They were only “discovered” by professional clubs because of the skills they developed OUTSIDE of organized clubs and academies.

Pro Scouts in the U.S.

So you’re hoping to be scouted, and think club soccer is where it will happen? Think again.

Scouting in the U.S. is poor, at best. Most scouts who represent pro teams go out on assignments to colleges, looking for already developed players, recommended by coaches or referees. Pro scouts are NOT going to local clubs looking for talent that they can develop, because pro clubs aren’t in that business. In Europe, teams sell players, but in the U.S., we sell tickets and (a few) jerseys. There’s no need for scouts here, when there are plenty of pro-ready players in college to look at (many of whom are INTERNATIONAL students, recently cut from pro academies in Europe).

Therefore, if you want your athlete to be seen, video is your best tool. Pro scouts ALWAYS ask for raw game video, to see what the player is doing on and OFF the ball. They look for movement around the play – not just directly with the ball. If your child is under 15 years old, you should still be focusing on development, giving him or her all of the opportunities to play whenever they want, in free and unstructured environments. Then, at 16, starting shooting game videos. Zoom out a little, to include all of their surroundings. The best tool on the market for shooting what you need is the SoloShot – https://soloshot.com/

Learning the Game

You can’t make your child be awesome – you can only provide them with opportunities. However, if he or she has no distractions and nothing to do but play soccer, they may develop the skills needed. You need to “Let the game be the teacher“, though. Give them opportunities to really PLAY, and they will develop the skills for the circumstances – provided their passion hasn’t already been crushed.

Basically, your player needs FREEDOM, so break away from the mental chains of club soccer and find the many places where soccer is played for fun – not for profit.

Share.

About Author

Mike Slatton is a 2nd generation American youth soccer coach since 1984, and the son of one of the nation's first female licensed youth soccer coaches (Anita Slatton, 1979). He's also a professional soccer scout, a player since 1977, and the father of three adult and teenage children who all play or have played the game. "My job as a youth soccer coach is to develop confident, detail oriented problem solvers who can react quickly under pressure. It's important that players NOT be afraid of making mistakes, to encourage an appreciation of failure as a learning tool. This relates to life - not just soccer."

20 Comments

  1. I wanted to let you know that this is an excellent article and I couldn’t agree with you more. My son played for FC Golden State in California and the Director kicked us out of the club when we voiced our concern that he was more interested in moving kids around to benefit his sons’ team.

    He moved players like he was playing chess but only when it benefited his sons team. We saw many other concerning things. We are happy to be away from the club but its so sad that these things happen.

  2. My son just ended his club playing days. Terrible team terrible coach and then at tryouts they promote one of the worst kids because he’s a coaches favorite. My son was insulted. Now the owner of the team is threatening me with legal action because I complained on Twitter. All they care about is money. Well never go back and I would encourage others to stay away from travel soccer

    • Mike Slatton on

      2018 saw the lowest numbers of youth participation in the last 2 decades and 2019 will be even worse. Boys are quitting sport in drastic numbers – opting instead for video games (eSports). The clubs are slowly committing suicide. They don’t even realize it. No child signs up to “work” soccer. In the 1970’s and 80’s, all you had was sports, so you could be an asshat if you wanted, because the kids didn’t have other options. Those same kids are now coaching, in the same way that they were coached. However, kids now have a ton of DIGITAL alternatives to “traditional” sports, so they are opting out in higher and higher numbers each year. Hell, even our own men’s national team would rather be playing Fortnite.

    • We had the same thing happen with my son. Heck, even the kid who was promoted walked up to my son after and said, “I don’t understand why I’m moving up and you aren’t. You are 1000 times better than me.” I feel bad for the kid because even he knows he didn’t deserve that spot. And let’s face reality — a kid that doesn’t stand out on the C team is going to crash and burn out on the B team. It’s unfair to even put him in that position because all you are doing to setting up another kid to walk away from soccer.

      That being said, I had a feeling that was going to happen, so we spent the Spring scouring the Select team schedules for Select teams that weren’t part of the formal “club” system. We were able to find four six different teams, all playing high-level select soccer, but charging rec fees with no club dues. Frankly, most of them were playing in higher divisions than my son’s pricey select club team. He tried out for them all, got offers from 5 out of the 6, and picked one of them over the cruddy offer from the club he’s played with all year.

    • BTW, as a lawyer, you can’t be sued for defamation if what you are saying is either: 1) true; or 2) your opinion. So don’t let them intimidate you.

      • Hi Anna

        Thanks for your support. I’m not worried. My son was playing for a club affiliated with a Red Jersey wearing Premier League team who finished 2nd to Man City. They promised the exact training as the real team etc but I didn’t see any of that. The coach had favorites who he treated better and let the goalie play forward even though he was the slowest on the team. My son plays MF and was the leading goal scorer but that meant nothing. Once I started questioning the coach it went downhill. Team won 4 games since last August. Most of the kids disliked each other and trashed talked all the time. For myself and a couple other dads, who left, it was just constant commiserating and feeling betrayed. I finally met the owner who firstly questioned my coaching knowledge and experience. They never want to hear about issues just how great their club is. My son will take a year off and tryout for HS team. Really love this forum. Thank you

        Mike

  3. Very interesting take on competitive soccer programs. As someone who has volunteer coached for several years in rec U10 and below, I am finally happy to see that they are making drastic changes to the practice plans. We used to get a drill plan for the week that required set-up and instructions. Half the kids were checked-out during the drill. Now we are taught to do mostly small sided unstructured matches which holds their interest much better.

    I would be interested in your opinions on why the US women have been able to generate national champions when the men have failed so miserably.

    • Mike Slatton on

      Thank you for the comment.

      I played for a decade before I became a youth coach for the next 3+ decades. I’ve been fired from youth teams for doing exactly what your club is now implementing. Nobody signs up to “work” soccer; They sign up to “play”. With the record number of boys dropping from the game, and a visible decline in overall participation in ALL youth sports – not just soccer – clubs are finally recognizing that change has to be made, in order to stay alive.

      But it’s too little, and too late.

      Video games (aka, “eSports”) are the new frontier for competitive males. Here are the top 100 earners in eSports – https://www.esportsearnings.com/players. And this is just the start. JUST. THE. START. Why should a boy waste another minute in the hot sun or pouring rain – running and sweating, trying in vain to please some screaming old man, telling him everything he’s doing “WRONG” – when he can save his parents thousands of dollars a year, and himself years of psychological damage?

      And the women? The USWNT has peaked, as more countries become aware of the death of male participation, and train their focus on girls, to keep the game alive. Right now, there is a clear separation in experience between the boys and girls (as can be witnessed in this 22-0 thrashing the u-15 girls laid on the Trinidad/Tobago girls https://www.ussoccer.com/us-under15-girls-national-team/tournaments/2016-u15gnt-concacaf-championship/160809-u15gnt-vs-trinidad-and-tobago#tab-1), but Japan, Germany, China, France, Sweden and Brazil are all catching up fast. This next World Cup is the last that our women have a chance of winning.

      Now, don’t get me wrong – I love the game, and have played, coached, refereed, administered and managed the game from every position. I love it. I still play, at 52 years old. I don’t want to see it die, but the game – as we know it today – from top (MLS, USWNT, USMNT) to bottom (club soccer) is dying. And if you want to see what’s replacing it, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkm_37zsYno .

      The future of sports (in about 30 years) will be completely DIGITAL. Think that’s crazy? Consider this: In 2017/18 season, the top 220 PROFESSIONAL SOCCER CLUBS generated a record of just $9.4 billion of combined revenue. 220 teams generated just $9.4 billion of REVENUE – not profit. Meanwhile the top 10 “free-to-play” console video games produced $17.4 billion in revenue, that same year.

      Remember the Golden Rule: “He who has the gold, makes the rules.” Looking to make a career in professional soccer? You need to rethink your life choices.

      In the next 30 years, gone completely will be the days of real people being heroes of “the game“. They will be replaced with avatars. Those avatars will be on t-shirts and made into toy action figures, and the players who control them will be anonymous, like a jockey on a race horse.

      RIP, youth soccer.

      • I can’t comment on the drop-out rate after U10, however youth soccer (rec and travel) in my town is alive and well. No one plays tackle football anymore so sports like soccer and lacrosse are seeing more sign-ups.

        I do see many kids going to club programs while playing town which seems like a ton of soccer for a U10 player. My son is good. Well above average, but not elite for his age. I felt the pressure that his development will be stalled while all the other club team kids in his skill/age category would excel. This is where the business of club teams come in to exploit that pressure. Thankfully I read your posts and others and have decided to let him keep developing through the town leagues. This also also has time to explore and play other sports which is great.

        • No kid needs that sort of pressure at that age. They tell you that your kid should get xtra training etc but isn’t that what the club is supposed to provide, training. As a parent and a referee I see mostly Kidd’s chasing the ball at all levels. No one plays like the rest of the world and consequently the US game suffers. You can’t continually attack and expect your team won’t be open to serious counterattacks.
          My son was playing for Liverpool International Academy here in Michigan. I can’t begin to explain how bad it was. We had 2 goal keepers. In what professional soccer situation is the goalie put in to play forward when he doesn’t have the skills and is the slowest player out there. Why were the most skilled players often put in defensive positions. IDK Not to mention the coach was the goalkeeper coach and never taught our guy how to kick the ball off the turf. So it would go 20 yards straight to the other team.

          In the end it’s all about money and providing jobs to people who shouldn’t be coaches. I have no coaching license and could have done the same. 4 wins in 9 months

  4. Thank you for the informative blog. My son is 14 yrs old and has been playing for travel teams for 5 years. Now he is showing interest in going Pro. This is my first go round with anything athletic due to health issues myself in my younger years. I wish there was a manual on what steps to take to insure he remains happy with the game. His dedication is self driven. He is very well known in our area for his abilities on the field and wants to include soccer into his future. Everyone tells me to send him to camps and to have him play for multiple teams so he will be very diverse. But how does a single mom afford those camps? Travel soccer makes paying the bills difficult already. How else can I get him to where he wants to be in 5 years?

    • Mike Slatton on

      Every player has a “passion meter”. To keep him interested in the game, he really needs to step away from it. At least step away from Club Soccer.

      The overwhelming number of professional athletes actually burn out before having a long, healthy career, but the only ones we hear about are the ones who stick with it. If your child has been playing in the club environment, then they’ve been treated like a pro for that long. Pro sports is WORK, and most youth soccer clubs act like they are preparing kids for the pro game, so they make it WORK. Nobody wants to work. NOBODY WANTS TO WORK, and the people who are most successful, in any endeavor, don’t feel that what they are doing is WORK.

      Athletes who make it to the pro-level are PLAYING the game, and having fun. Most of them developed their skills playing in locations that have limited or no structure, like indoor soccer facilities, futsal courts, pick-up games and ‘rebel leagues’. In Tampa there are a couple of places, like Cinco Soccer (https://cincosoccer.com/) and Futbal 5 (https://futbol5us.com/) . In Orlando, there is XL Soccer World (https://www.xlsoccerworldorlando.com/).

      For real development to take place, players need to be able to learn from other players, in an environment that promotes freedom and creativity. This is going to require him stepping OUT of his comfort zone. He needs to immerse himself in a real soccer culture, which can only be found in the U.S. in immigrant communities. Pickup games are usually made up of islanders (Haiti, T&T, Jamaica, etc.), Hispanics (Central and South Americans), and Europeans (England, Ireland, Germany, Albania, Ukraine, etc.).

      Get on Facebook and find the local soccer communities. Step away from league play and get more involved with PLAY. The pro game is rife with politics, so he really needs to be the best on the field, whenever he enters the game, in order to get noticed. That looks like aggression, speed and ball control. #1, is AGGRESSION.

      It also helps to have political connections to the pro game, but that’s only if he is happy being a support player.

      You need to find a place where he can develop skills and increase his speed of play, while having fun.

  5. Love the article and makes complete sense… but where does this exist in America in terms of non-club, playing for fun, creative environment? In Recreational leagues? In our area, that level of soccer is very low competition and zero training. Would love your feedback.

    • Indoor soccer complexes, like “XL Soccer Orlando” and similar offer environments of self regulation, and are great for gaining confidence. Kids should also be given time to reflect on their games, without input from a 3rd party (coach, parents) skewing their thoughts. Too much coaching and input results in players trying to appease or please their parents or coaches, leading to burnout or quitting, because it’s just not satisfying to them anymore.

  6. I have a 6-year-old daughter who has been played recreation soccer since she was 3 years old. She was involved in other programs before that as well, like Soccer Shots. She’s played with 2 clubs per season and once she even played with 3 at the same time. Her father has trained her since she was very young. Like 1-2 hours everyday no excuses. There’s a lot of discipline and hard work and it teaches her values that she will need in life to be successful.

    She enjoys soccer most days but she has the skills to back that up. You want to talk about ball control, she has it. When she was 5 she played up with U7’s and I admit it was a complete disaster. Her team lost every single game but she was the only one to score any goals that season. The following season she played her natural age which was now U7 and she led her team to complete a season undefeated with about 7 goals per game. This season she is playing U8 as a young 6 yr old.

    If someone wants to be a pro at something they need to master the skills to do so … they can’t just go around having fun la ti da with no work and training. Life isn’t that easy for 99% of the world. All her friends and teammates want to be her. She’s practically famous in our area.

    The USA doesn’t really have that “on the streets” soccer culture so we make do. They don’t even have pick up games for this age though I know they do for teens and adults.

    Watch her Season Highlights video on the website.

    • I’m sure that everything you say is true. I don’t have to check out your highlight videos. I’ve seen your case many, many times over the decades. Your daughter will have put in a full decade of hard work by the time she is 13. If all you focus on is soccer, after a full decade in the game, her passion meter will have run dry, and she will be the most talented player on the field, with the least amount of energy. My daughter was the same way – at 9 years old, she could score a hat-trick without breaking a sweat. At 13, she hated soccer and chose cross-country running in high school. She would rather train in the Florida summer heat – running 10 miles a day in 90+ degree weather – than play another day of soccer. Her passion meter had been completely drained, and it was all my fault. Soccer was no longer a challenge for her. Today, my daughter (Leah) is 25 and has her own 7 month old daughter. She tells me, “Karlie will start playing soccer around 10, after she’s danced and experienced other things.” Leah is a HUGE fan of soccer, and is a season ticket holder for Orlando City and past season ticket holder of the Tampa Bay Rowdies. You need to start diversifying your daughter’s activities NOW, if you still want her to love the game of soccer when it actually MATTERS. But don’t do it for you or her. Do it for AMERICA, because our days of dominating the women’s game is officially over, and we’re going to need your daughter, in the near future.

    • Boy, did you miss the point of the article. BTW — your daughter is 6. Even if she’s the most talented 6 YO on the planet, it doesn’t mean she won’t be average by 13. Is she practicing 2 hours a day because SHE wants to? Or because DAD wants her to?

      “She enjoys soccer most days…” really says it all. I’ll bet you $100 your daughter is burnt out by 14.

    • I watched your clips out of curiosity. I’ll be honest with you – she’s OK. She’s among the better players in her age group (which is exactly what I would expect based on the amount of practice she’s had). But there are hundreds of clubs and hundreds of teams with similarly skilled players in that age group. Just in my metro area I could identify 10-20 players from different clubs with similar (or superior) skills at the same age or younger. Maybe you just don’t have a lot of competition in your area or maybe it’s just because she’s playing rec only, but she seems pretty average for her age among the better players that I’ve seen, both as a coach and a parent. Not the best, not the worst. Average. And slowly but surely, those other players will catch up to her. I hope, for your daughter’s sake, you provide her with the time and space to do things other than soccer. And that you stop promoting her as a future star on the internet. She’s a child and the internet is forever — she doesn’t need to see the mirror of your dashed expectations rubbed in her face in the future. Based on your blog, this seems to be your husband’s dream rather than her dream. So many eggs being placed in such a small basket. It’s heartbreaking.

  7. Another great post. I know what you mean about playing in the streets. I grew up in Italy. We played with anything we could kick. It didn’t even have to be a ball. As long as we could kick it to a teammate, we’d use it. I see US players in the pros, youth, commentators they don’t love the game. They simply don’t know it. Even people who have played in the pros (here in the US) don’t know it. Don’t truly understand it. Naturally, not everyone is a coach, but so many kids are being taught by people who not only they don’t know the game, they don’t understand it. They don’t see it. And don’t know how to teach it.

    I try to get my players to simply watch a game or two and that’s even asking a lot. I know of kid’s coaches who have told me they don’t watch soccer because their family is a [add your sport here] family…if the soccer coach’s kid doesn’t watch soccer…

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