Why “competitive” soccer isn’t so competitive.
In youth soccer’s beginnings, only the most elite soccer athletes played competitive soccer. There was just one “Classic” or “Premier” team per age group, per club, and if you were on one of those teams, you were good. Of course, nobody really knew much about soccer, so the fact that you were actually good at it usually went unnoticed by everyone… except those in the soccer community.
Today, ANYONE can play competitive youth soccer. Soccer clubs have created 3, 4 and sometimes as many as 9 tiers of “competitive” soccer for every single-digit age group, in a half dozen local, state and national leagues (National Premier League, ECNL, US Youth Soccer National League, Super-Y League).
Yes, NATIONAL youth soccer leagues.
So, while local soccer clubs compete in 3 to 9 competitive teams per single-digit age group, the recreational leagues average one team per single-digit age group, per club.
“Competitive” soccer is now “normal” soccer, with up to 6 competitive teams for every 1 recreational team. ONE RECREATIONAL TEAM per age group, and 6 competitive teams?
In the grand scheme of soccer development, shouldn’t the recreational teams feed the competitive teams? Aren’t the competitive teams supposed to be the best-of-the-best?
So if everyone’s a “competitive” soccer player, then, really, NO ONE is. And what does that make “recreational” soccer?
(Click here to skip the rant and go straight to the list.)
MONEY MOTIVATED CLUBS
All it takes to play “competitive” soccer is MONEY, and apparently we Americans have a lot of it.
“Competitive” soccer costs 5 to 10 times more than recreational soccer, but the number of regular season games are about the same.
But even if you’re willing to pay the money to play “competitive” soccer, how many of those “competitive” soccer players will play in the pros?
ZERO… or darn close to it.
AMERICA’S (lack of) WORLD CLASS SOCCER TALENT
(or: “What does $5 Billion dollars get you?”)
More than half of the English Premier League is comprised of foreign players, yet only 3 Americans actually play in the league. The German Bundesliga is 60% foreign, yet again features only 9 Americans in their league – and most are the offspring of American servicemen, born in Germany.
The U.S. has 3 million kids (aged 4 to 18) enrolled in soccer every year, and about half of those kids are playing “competitive” soccer. In theory, we’re training 1.5 million kids with pro potential RIGHT NOW. So, why is it that we can only produce ONE WORLD CLASS player every 4-5 years?
WE’RE TRAINING THE WRONG KIDS!
It’s common knowledge that pro soccer players in Europe and most industrialized parts of the world are of a lower socioeconomic demographic who see soccer as a way out of poverty.
In theory, American youth soccer competitive programs should be seeking out and training the most qualified and deserving athletes who can most benefit from organized soccer. The side-effect of that would be that we create high level athletes who can compete on the world stage.
We’re training the wrong kids, though. Instead, American youth soccer is FAILING U.S. Soccer by training ONLY kids of high-income earners in our competitive programs, and economically BLOCKING the athletes who could most benefit from a career in sports.
So, let’s ignore the socioeconomic failures of our current system of development for a moment, and theorize that American soccer is actually doing a great job of developing players for our pro leagues. If “competitive” youth soccer were indeed creating very talented, high performing soccer players, then we need to stop production NOW, because there aren’t enough professional soccer teams for all of the great players we’re producing.
There are over 9,000 soccer clubs in the United States, training about 1.5 million “competitive” soccer players – 1.5 million potential professional soccer players… for only 2,000 pro league spots… that earn an average of $11,000 annually.
And where do all of those players go when a pro soccer career doesn’t materialize for them? You’re witnessing it NOW!
Youth soccer clubs today have MILLION dollar budgets for youth coaches, administrators, directors and consultants, perpetuating a youth soccer PONZI SCHEME that is forced to create more competitive soccer programs to make way for all of the pro soccer wannabe’s it’s creating.
But it’s even worse than that.
THE COACH IS MIND-F***ING YOUR KID
Every week – at training and at games – you hear youth soccer coaches yelling at their players to “be more aggressive“, “get your head in the game” or “stop being a pansy“. Not only are there way too many competitive youth soccer players being coached by way too many unqualified coaches, trying to produce way too many pros, but this system is MIND-F***ING our kids in the meantime.
And the soccer clubs don’t care.
ALL youth soccer should be DEVELOPMENTAL in nature, yet 90% of “competitive” youth soccer coaches are unequivocally UNQUALIFIED to teach potential pros the game of soccer.
Still, we continue to throw money at them.
Competitive youth soccer coaches CONSTANTLY shirk responsibility, blaming the kids for the failings of the system. According to the coach, the reason your kid sucks is because he’s not dribbling through cones in the back yard or running around the block til he pukes. Perhaps that’s what the high-paid directors and consultants tell them to say.
Apparently, that $2,000 in fees you just paid were little more than season tickets to the sidelines.
“But my kid wants to play in college.”
Well, here’s good news: There is a college team out there for your child. College soccer is not much different than youth “competitive” soccer. You just need to be willing to travel… and hope that you and your child’s coach haven’t completely burned them out on the game before they get to college.
Honestly, though – Why would you waste a perfectly good college experience playing soccer, when there are girls, fraternities, football games, sororities, beer and girls?
Competitive soccer is a MONEY GRAB for soccer clubs. Period.
The majority of youth soccer clubs are registered non-profit organizations, yet coaching, administrator, director and consultant salaries in the largest American youth soccer clubs (NOT affiliated with any pro teams) are hitting & exceeding $1 million annually, yet we’re only producing ONE high level pro every few years?
$20,000,000,000, for 1 good player.
American youth soccer development looks a lot like cancer research… or political pandering: An obvious problem that NEVER gets fixed, because nobody wants to, as long as the money is flowing.
Now, you may look at the U.S. Men’s National Team and think that we have a lot of high level pros, but most of those players play in the MLS (equivalent in salary and talent to the English 3rd tier of pro soccer). We currently have 2 players actively participating in the EPL and a couple in the German Bundesliga, but most of them weren’t developed in the American Youth System. Even Brad Guzan, who plays GK for Middlesborough (the 2nd team he’s played for that’s about to be relegated) was a college bench warmer at the U. of South Carolina before becoming an MLS starter. He then went to Aston Villa in the EPL (England, and led them to RELEGATION) to sit the bench for 4 years while he learned to play high level soccer.
WHAT’S THE END GAME?
Soccer clubs make money by charging “coaching and development” fees, but after $5k or $10k of youth soccer related expenses, shouldn’t you see some REAL development? So, WHY IS YOUR KID STILL ON THE “B” (or even “C”) TEAM?!
Really, though: How can a coach develop a high level soccer player in 3 hours a week , even if they were qualified?
The truth is, the American youth soccer system of player development has NO END GAME – and they don’t want one. Nearly all of our youth soccer clubs don’t feed a pro team (though some clubs are now affiliated with MLS teams and a few NASL teams), so these clubs and players have no real purpose but to provide a pay check for those that run and work in the club.
That means the $2k or more you’re paying in soccer fees are NOT for developing your athlete, but instead they’re just to keep a past competitive player out of the unemployment line, by giving him a job as a coach, administrator, director or consultant.
… and the American youth “competitive” soccer PONZI SCHEME continues.
10 Reasons Why NOT to Play “Competitive” Soccer
- BAD COACHING – Oh, so your child’s coach has an “A” license? Ha ha ha ha! Well, U.S. Soccer has just stopped tossing those out like Mardi Gras beads. 99% of “highly qualified” youth soccer coaches have little to NO EXPERIENCE with children, beyond coaching soccer and raising their own kids.
“Just because you can speak English doesn’t mean that you’re qualified to teach it. The same goes for soccer. Just because you played or watch soccer on TV, doesn’t mean you’re qualified to teach the game.”Our youth soccer coaches have almost no experience in child psychology, childhood education, or game theory.
- ECONOMICS – Your child will NEVER make a living playing soccer, learning the game in our youth system. Even if they do somehow manage to overcome all of the roadblocks to become a pro soccer player, they still have a very limited window of opportunity, and the wage just doesn’t justify the opportunity. USL and NASL players make about $1,000/weekly… for 20 weeks. They need to get an education… in something useful.
- OVERPRICED – College tuition is cheaper than a childhood of competitive soccer fees. You will spend $40k to $50k over the next 13 years of youth soccer, but a GOOD college soccer scholarship is only worth about $10k (max.). Girls Scouts, Boy Scouts and Chess Club all look like more lucrative options. Participating in a tournament at Disney‘s Wide World of Sports is more expensive than just going to Disney’s Magic Kingdom, but at the end of the day, both will leave you exhausted and vowing never to go back.
- SELF ESTEEM – Your child will feel like crap MORE than they will feel good about themselves. Competitive soccer is a verbal, physical and psychological beat down, and your yelling and screaming from the sideline doesn’t help. Nothing is ever good enough, yet you send them to practice week-in and week-out. It’s a grind, and the reason every athlete – including pros – quits. Few adults work that hard, yet we force it on our kids without blinking.
- TIME CONSUMING – You’ll spend more time driving than your child will spend playing. Games are played in a 3, 4 or 5 county region, and you’ll be blowing money on fast food, tournament fees and hotels, while your child really just wants to hang out on their mobile device.
- REGRET – You will regret it. No matter how much you spend in soccer fees, you will NEVER feel that it was worth it. In the end, you’ll have a college fraternity intramural SUPERSTAR, wishing they had an academic scholarship to the engineering program.
- STRESS – You’re child’s teammates are actually his COMPETITION. It’s that way in the pros, too. Players are ALWAYS competing against each other for spots on the team, positions on the field and playing time. ALWAYS. Imagine going to your own job knowing that EVERYONE you work with is working harder than you to get more work hours, and subsequently, a bigger paycheck. (Ok, so maybe that does go on at your job. It still SUCKS, though.)
- JUDGEMENT – You and your child will be judged by the other parents. At every practice and every game, the other parents and other players will compare their family to yours. That’s not paranoia – that’s a FACT. Your player’s skills, attitude and appearance will be a continuous topic of conversation, during other’s car rides home. Sometimes it will be good, but the conversations in the other cars will determine how your child is treated by his peers. YOUR conversations will also determine how your athlete treats their peers, but you ALREADY know this.
- STIFLING – “Competitive” youth soccer is NOT the best-of-the-best soccer athletes. Instead, it’s the best of those who can afford the fees. Most of these kids are well-mannered people-pleasers who will follow the direction of the person who yells the loudest. The American system of “player development” aims to teach kids a method of play that actually undermines creativity and sucks the enjoyment right out of the game.
- THEY’LL QUIT – The more competitive the league, the higher the burnout. When your child is old enough to make their own decisions, they will quit soccer. If you push back really hard, then it may not happen until they’re in college, but if they’re not having FUN, it WILL happen. If you DO actually want them to play in college (or even the pros one day), they need to take regular, seasonal breaks from “competitive” soccer. Let them play other sports, and even recreational soccer. Let them have some fun.