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Kid Want to Play Pro Soccer? Read this…

5

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. Luckily for them, that’s not what the MLS or NWSL are 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 NASL($50k), USL($15k) and MASL($2k). Salary caps in the leagues are there 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.

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."

5 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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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