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CRITICAL ISSUES THAT MUST BE ADDRESSED

On the way for my afternoon coffee a few weeks ago, I started noticing boys playing basketball at the playground next to their elementary school. Usually, it was a group of six or eight, and they seemed to spend more time dribbling the ball around than shooting. If I had come earlier, some kids would play basketball, and others would play kickball on the baseball lines.

What quickly dawned on me: no one was playing soccer. I bet half of these kids had passed through local soccer leagues, but I didn’t find any playing in PE, at recess, or after school.

On Saturdays in the spring, I’ll pass the baseball field next to another elementary school in town. The field is divided into six or eight sections for small-sided soccer games. Or what is supposed to be soccer?

It’s usually a small group of kids chasing a ball with three or four adults hovering over them. It reminds me of playing musical chairs at a birthday party as a kid, with parents standing over us to maneuver us into the available chairs.

Many kids play organized soccer, but far too few play anything resembling it, and very few ever play it — ON THEIR OWN!

We must recognize that backdrop as the starting base for discussing what’s wrong with soccer.

In the aftermath of the USA’s exit from the World Cup, everyone is recriminating (again), seeking answers about what is wrong with the sport.

The reality is that the soccer many kids grow up playing in this country has nothing to do with the soccer played in most other countries. Kids don’t play alone or with friends, let alone in the streets, and few parents know enough about the game to work with them.

To be sure, the latter is starting to change. Through the years, immigrant fathers who had a passion for the game influenced many national team players growing up. Now you have players who have two parents who grew up with the game. In the case of Christian Pulisic and Josh Sargent, both their parents played college soccer, and you see their natural understanding of the game.

There are many reasons for the high cost of soccer — fields, referees, uniforms, travel, paid coaches, administrative fees — and so-called “pay to play,” but so many of the problems of youth soccer stem from the fact that too few parents understand the game enough to step in and coach. They depend on paid coaches and don’t question whether teams really need to travel or spend their money on uniforms.

My son grew up playing baseball and is still playing in college — and he never had a paid coach. I knew nothing about baseball other than to play catch with my son and throw batting practice to him, but I trusted his coaches and all parents who had played the game. He started playing travel ball when he was 11, but until he was 17 never traveled farther than an hour away.

Many critical issues must be addressed at the elite youth level, MLS, and The National Team Program to create more accessibility and require greater accountability.

But the pool of players that American soccer starts with will remain far fewer than the registration numbers suggest if you don’t take back control of the game from the soccer industrial complex and Begin At the Bottom:

— You can’t force your kids to play soccer at recess or after school or turn every basketball court into a futsal court, but make sure they have access to soccer balls and work with the school to have small soccer goals. (Nowadays, there’s no reason for PE teachers not to make soccer an essential part of their program.)

— Step in and take charge of the organized soccer your kids play, beginning with their first league or club experiences.

— Take your kids and friends out and play soccer. You don’t need to rent a field or pay a coach.

— Join the local league or club board and learn where the money goes. If the expenditures don’t make sense, don’t approve them. Learn the field issues in your community and lobby for soccer to get better access.

— Stay involved and use your best judgment as your kids move up the soccer ladder. There will come times paid coaches, and travel makes sense, but don’t accept them blindly.

READERS RESPONSES

Amen!  Especially traveling distances to play games. Costs, money, and time are not spent kicking the ball with friends!  Mike Lynch

Koach Karl, Thank you for sharing, coach.  I agree with Paul’s insights and commentary on the sport.  In fact, as you and I have discussed, it goes beyond the sport and is much more profound.  I have always believed that how you practice is how you play, and it applies to various disciplines, including business, sports, and social life.  Angel Morales

Very true!  Being heavily involved in our recreation and competitive programs here in Corning, I’ve noticed most of the Anglo community uses soccer as an introductory/springboard sport into football which is both good and bad because I see some phenomenal little athletes. Still, once they hit 12 years old, I don’t see them anymore because they transitioned to American football.  Luis Saavedra

Hi Karl.  World Cup and exiting, look at England, for instance, and their exit.  The USA, on the other hand, gave all that they could. If you do not have a goal scorer, then you will not win.  

1) you have to score more goals than the other side in today’s game

2) There are 11 defenders and 10 strikers, with 11 strikers on certain last attempts to win or draw.  

So what is the remedy? The USA is a vast resource of young fresh talent that is coached the same way across the country, and the competition for each player is not always the same.  Is there a solution to this? I believe there is. 

I believe to change the method of coaching young players is a task that needs to identify the player’s natural ability at a young age.  

This is the start of the control with direction, allowing them to gain confidence in what they do on the field.  Classes with more than 6 players attending do not get absorbed, and the player loses touch with the session.  

Even at a young age, you play and have fun but always strive to better yourself win or lose.

What do we want to achieve?  Alcwyn Elliott

Paul Kennedy

Editor in Chief & General Manager at Soccer America

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