I saw an interview on ESPN yesterday where someone was talking about the need for an overhaul in youth Soccer and then I just read an article (part of a looooong series) about it from the 4-letter network. I’m not sure where this push for an overhaul is coming from, but being that I actually played Soccer as a kid let me chime in and see if I can’t figure out what is truly needed.
The crux of most arguments seems to be that the training programs in America don’t mirror European Soccer training enough and kids are playing too much and not practicing enough. I can understand that since European Soccer is HUGE in Europe and the training programs do seem to work as there are gazillions of great European players. However, what if the roots of the “problem” are much more simple than that? What if we have plenty of talent, we train that talent well, but something else is detracting from Youth Soccer?
Look at the American Media landscape. Look at how much Basketball, Football and Baseball are on television. Look at how rich you can get being a Basketball player, a Baseball player, or a Football player. Kids see this non-stop. We say all the time that the NFL is a year-round league…what is the MLS?
Now, I’m not here to get down on the MLS. I think they do a great job and the sport has grown a ton since the league was founded, but they aren’t anywhere near even Baseball(the siking ship) in terms of popularity, money, or media exposure. A-Rod farts and it makes the lead on Sportscenter, but L.A. (with David Beckham) could score 8 goals in 3 minutes to win the MLS Cup and it would be a 20 second foot note on ESPNews.
Exposure is the problem. As fun as the sport is kids are making choices. “Hmmm, I’m really good at Football, Soccer and Baseball. What do I choose?” “Well, MLB contracts are guaranteed and there’s not nearly as much money in Soccer and I might get killed playing Football…I’ll take Baseball.” Heck, even kids who are Soccer players now go out for the Football team and become kickers. I’m old enough to remember when they still called it “Soccer-style kicking” because it was only a decade before that that the kickers kicked with their toe.
You can’t blame people for thinking in those terms. What’s the biggest sport on a college campus? Football. Right after that? Basketball. Soccer doesn’t even compute. I went to Furman and the Soccer team made the NCAA Final Four once. WOW! It barely registered on the school website.
So, until more exposure is had we can’t expect the talent to come calling. I bet the training program is great, but the talent just isn’t there yet. If we build it, through media exposure and money, they will come.