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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on every Monday. A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom." 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.


Youth Sports by the Numbers

Susan Boyd

The Internet can be a wonderful thing. If you enter keywords into a search engine, up pops thousands of possible connections to those words. Occasionally you become unpleasantly surprised by a discovery that you want to delete from your browser history immediately, but in general taking a journey through the offerings can lead to some interesting outcomes. That’s what happened to me last week when I was researching an entirely unrelated topic and an enticing article appeared from ESPN magazine. The authors, Bruce Kelley and Carl Carchia, were attempting to uncover what they soon realized up to that point had been a complete mystery: what are the full demographics of youth sports? Certainly, various data has been explored and published but the authors never found it in a cohesive study, and in general that data was not collected in a scientific manner but haphazardly often anecdotally. Therefore, Kelley and Carchia decided to try to collate all the actual scientifically generated information they could find and publish it. I was mesmerized by the results. Here is the link to the article: I think it is worth perusing, but I want to focus on interpreting some of the data they compiled, especially as it relates to youth soccer.

There were three major revelations that I either hadn’t even consider as significant factors in youth sports or didn’t know had so much impact. The first would be the important role that income plays in so many arenas of youth sports. The second is how the range of opportunities affect participation. The third is how much sports defines a child’s life. These revelations span several of the demographic results that the authors collected, so I wanted to examine them as groups rather than as separate statistics.

We all know how expensive soccer can get. It starts out relatively affordable but once players get more involved and advance they begin to travel, require better equipment, and join teams with higher level coaching. As sports go, soccer probably has some of the lower overhead. It requires minimal equipment and can be played on any open surface with or without nets. Nevertheless, membership costs to be on a team can top $2,000 which don’t include travel expenses. What Kelley and Carchia found was how many ways cost can impact the participation of youth players. This wasn’t just the intuitive aspect of those with lower incomes not being able to continue playing a sport. Those from families making $100,000 or more a year enter sports at the mean age of 6.3 and the age increases as income decreases to the point that those families earning less than $35,000 a year don’t have children starting sports until age 8.1. Children who begin a sport earlier in life have a leg up on learning skills, developing team friendships, being part of a community of players, and experiencing several different sports when the pressures are less. I saw this play out with my grandson who attended a basketball camp for the first time when he was nine and was so far behind the other campers. He felt awkward and like a failure. Even if he might have developed into a good player, he never tried because of his frustration and discouragement. The experience also affected his overall interest in participating in other sports, being wary of further embarrassment. I believe that income has a stronger impact on youth sports than just not being able to continue in a sport. It actually affects the matter of entering a sport in the first place. Furthermore, income shapes a child’s exposure to sports. The data collected by ESPN shows that 34% of girls from household incomes greater than $65,000 a year are more likely to be involved on three or more teams, which implies being involved in multiple sports.  While, 27% of boys from families earning less than $35,000 a year are least likely to be on three or more teams. Finally, the total percentage of children from urban areas participating on at least one team is generally less than those percentages from suburban and rural areas. Suburban children had the greatest participation and they come from communities with higher incomes.  Rural areas have the second highest rates and, even though one could argue that rural kids may have farm responsibilities that conflict with organized sports or fewer teams available, they still have a greater participation percentage than children in urban areas. This indicates a troubling statistic since urban areas hold 81% of the total US population. This means that a huge percentage of our children are missing out on organized sports due in part to economics.

Another issue that affects participation in youth sports are the number of opportunities available to young athletes. This ESPN article points out that the problem isn’t just teams available within the community, but also the exposure to sports in school. In a Robert Woods Johnson Foundation study, they concluded that for the poorest schools in the country 8th through 12th graders had only a 25% participation in sports. For the 2009-10 school year, 15% of high schools had absolutely no sports due to budget constraints with the majority of these in the poorest school districts.  More importantly, struggling states have cut way back on publicly supported sports programs.  In these cases girls are more adversely affected than boys. The data shows that 31 states have enough slots on high school teams for 50% of all boys to be able to play compared to only 18 states where there are 50% roster spots for girls. Some interesting graphics in the article show that North Dakota has roster positions for 104% of boys and 79% girls, while Florida can only accommodate 30% of boys and 23% of girls in high school sports.  My sons, Robbie and Bryce, attended a high school where every students was expected to participate in either competitive or intramural sports, which was certainly not the norm at many other high schools.  Amazingly the top five states offering the greatest percentage of high school sport positions to their students were states that were primarily rural: North Dakota, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. This may be reflective of the difficulty to run organized sports leagues with vast distances between communities so the emphasis is on high school teams. States with large urban populations had the lowest rates: California, D.C., and Florida.  The other factor to note is the gender gap; in all cases girls had fewer high school roster slots than boys.  If girls come from a single-parent household, 59% of them have never participated in an organized sport. Overall 3.5 million kids will lose high school sports in the next four years, which is 500,000 more than the total number of registered youth members in US Youth Soccer.  These statistics clearly point out how unfairly sports opportunities are distributed across geographic, economic, and gender groups.

A lack of opportunity further impacts the significance that sports have on a child’s developing self-image. Kelley and Carchia uncovered surveys indicating that 34% of girls and 61% of boys reported sports were a huge part of how they identified themselves.  This means that kids who are disenfranchised from playing sports may see themselves as less significant than their sports-playing peers. When self-esteem is so closely tied to sports participation, it makes the lack of organized sports for children who come from poorer families and neighborhoods even more significant. They may feel isolated from the America they see in commercials and movies, but especially from the culture of sports. Every kid sees how America reveres its sports icons, and when these same kids misses out on the opportunity to play sports they may feel they are missing out on being successful. It shouldn’t be surprising that when asked what they want to be when they grow up, many kids will cite an athletic ambition.

How does this directly impact youth soccer players? It points out the need for more outreach by local clubs to bring in as many players across socio-economic and geographic groups. Likewise, youth players could be seeking out summer and indoor leagues, giving them a chance to engage with players within the spectrum. Encouraging your soccer club to open up more recreational teams coached by parents might offer opportunities to underserved youth and provide some pools of talents from which to draw for the select teams. On occasion, clubs can be awarded grants to cover programs where they open up their membership to youth who couldn’t afford the club without scholarships. There are hours when club fields are not being used, so a club could offer those times to teams that don’t have a place to practice or play. Every state’s youth soccer association can offer help in identifying communities in need of assistance and providing access to association membership which would include insurance coverage.

Growing soccer participation can only help our players moving forward. It will mean increased opportunities for competition, more monetary support in school athletic budgets, and greater access to schedule public field time. Likewise we parents can encourage our schools to increase opportunities within the community. We all need to address the gender gap that still exists in sports. Parents should ask for data on their high school to discover how many roster spots are available in sports to both boys and girls. It’s possible that we may need to fight to add slots or even add sports to increase participation. We can also encourage schools to increase their support of intramural sports that don’t require the strict guidelines, scheduling, and coaching that the competitive sports require. Opening up gyms at all age levels during lunches and after schools to allow kids to play pick-up games of basketball, field hockey, dodgeball, and indoor soccer might have some minimal increased costs to cover insurance, utilities, and oversight staffing but the benefits could outweigh the costs. Expenses might be covered by a small fee to participate, finding money in athletic budgets, and through parental volunteers.

Boys primarily play football, basketball, baseball, and soccer. Girls play basketball, volleyball, softball, and soccer. It shouldn’t be surprising that these four sports rank in the top – with the exception of football they all are played across gender lines. However, basketball is the only sport that sustains and even increases its youth participation numbers as kids get older. We should look for ways to make that true for soccer as well. The statistics for soccer are that participation is around 55% for boys and 45% for girls. It would be great if soccer could boost the girls’ involvement since there is great power in having strong female participation. Numbers equate to monetary power and access to facilities. Soccer is also a sport that enjoys world-wide attention. With a concerted effort we should be able to sustain the participation in soccer through 12th grade. Finding players in nearly any community should be easy and recommended, but that requires making the sport more available to underserved populations. We can work to boost membership through affiliation between urban and suburban clubs and by reaching out to female players. Soccer doesn’t need to be expensive, and other than college showcase tournaments, teams can get competitive and play close to home with little travel expense. Since 81% of the population lives in urban areas, it makes sense that spirited competition can be found within driving distance of most club teams. Therefore, it might be a good idea for clubs to field not just travel teams but also teams that play within defined geographic perimeters. The addition of these types of teams can only strengthen a club’s reputation and abilities. Locating grants to provide scholarships or to underwrite travel costs should be pursued. Finding local businesses willing to provide small sponsorships in return for the club promoting their services to the community can help expand the membership. We don’t have to accept the data that the ESPN article uncovered as a final pronouncement of youth sports in America and in particular of youth soccer. We can use these figures to challenge the status quo and move the sport forward not only for our own children but for their peers and for children yet to play.

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A Different Option

Susan Boyd

Much of the talk throughout youth soccer focuses on the journey beyond – high school, college, semi-pro, professional. That’s a wonderful route for a select few players, but what about the youth player who yearns to continue in the sport? Early in August I had the pleasure of attending the National Amateur Cup Championship which was held in Milwaukee. Just as in youth soccer, there are adult leagues overseen by the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA) and divided into the same four regions: I – Western U.S., II – Upper Midwest, III – Southern U.S., and IV – Eastern U.S.  Teams compete in their state, in their region, and then in the national competition. Many youth clubs also sponsor adult teams called Majors and Reserves. There are also other leagues which play primarily in the summer as a place for strong adult and former and present college players to compete. These include the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), Premier Development League (PDL), W-League (for women), and Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL). In some cases players have moved on from these latter leagues into semi-pro and professional teams, but the true purpose is to provide adult players with strong competitive soccer beyond the youth level.

The USASA operates under the same umbrella of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) which oversees US Youth Soccer and are further governed by the world organization of FIFA. This provides a nearly seamless transfer from youth to adult soccer. Likewise the NPSL, PDL, W-League, and the WPSL are sanctioned by the USASA. Players of all ability levels should be able to find a team that fits their talents, passions, and time commitments once they “graduate” to adult soccer. Recently I saw the mother of a former teammate of Bryce who said her son was “finally done with professional soccer.” I knew what that meant. He had just graduated from college, had his first job in his career, and was moving into a more career-centered life. But he was not giving up soccer. He had already found a strong adult amateur team in Minnesota near his new employment, and he’d be starting practices with them before he even went to his job orientation. The love of play doesn’t just shut off.

The Amateur Cup involves the adult club teams of Majors and Reserves around the United States. At the tournament I got to watch a local club team who had won the Region II championship. That meant I got to once again cheer on several players I’d had the pleasure of watching grow up in soccer. On the team were several of my sons’ former club teammates, several ODP players who I had first seen when they were twelve, and a smattering of old college standouts from the area. The team lost in the finals to an amazing team from Maryland representing Region IV who surprisingly had a former player from University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. These amateur teams generally train two or three evenings a week since many of the players have full-time jobs. The season is approximately fourteen games throughout the late spring and summer demanding on their success to reach the tournament. It requires tremendous dedication and expense since there is rarely some benevolent sponsor covering all the training and travel costs. These players love the game and crave the competition. In many cases they have wives and children, who all attend, and lend a party spirit to the occasion. At halftime of each of the semi-final, consolation, and final games the pitch was filled with youngsters dribbling, shooting, and doing a few gymnastic moves. The scene was a special reminder of how soccer binds generations, genders, cities, and nations through a shared love of the game.

Most adult teams welcome players as young as high school age and as old as a player feels comfortable still playing. Just as youth players have to register with a team and are bound to that team for a year, so too must adult players sign with a particular team through their state association of the USASA. An interested player can locate teams in his or her area by contacting their state association or going on their web site and getting the phone numbers of the coach or club president. In general the youth clubs in the area will have an adult division, so a player should feel free to contact youth clubs. I’ve known many parents of youth players who play for the same club on the adult teams. It certainly adds to the complexities of scheduling practices and games for a family, but also adds to the mutual enjoyment. Generally the fees to be on an adult team are far less than those of a youth team and uniforms are minimal – players may just need to buy a set of t-shirts and then supply their own shorts and socks. Often attendance at practices and games can be a bit ragged due to the tougher scheduling conflicts for adults, so teams will maintain large rosters to cover all the competitions. The great thing is that if anyone wants to continue playing past youth soccer there will be a team nearby where he or she can indulge that passion.

In general youth players transitioning to college and looking to continue playing competitive soccer but who either can’t or don’t want to play college soccer can turn to the adult Major and Reserve teams of local clubs as a reasonable option. Additionally players may find on-campus soccer teams that use the same fields as the university team. It gives them a convenient opportunity to continue playing and to do so within the same training facilities as the institution’s teams. Likewise they may get the chance to participate in practices and friendlies with the team giving the non-college players a chance to be seen once again by the coaches. If players choose to participate in a club team, they will still reap many of the same benefits as college team players in terms of social contacts and developing time management. Even during high school, many clubs may sponsor recreational U-15 through U-19 teams that players who looking to play soccer for fun and fitness can join. These teams will play in organized and sanction leagues through the state youth soccer associations, but the intensity of play isn’t the same as for travel teams allowing for a more relaxed atmosphere.

NPSL, PDL, W-League, and WPSL teams have more stringent requirements for team membership and participation. These leagues often have several active college players on the teams looking for a place to maintain their edge in the off-season. The teams are sanctioned by the NCAA as long as the college players adhere to certain standards relating to monetary and playing time rules. Likewise, to prevent a college “ghost” team from getting to practice together outside of the regulated NCAA times, these summer league teams are limited – the last I understood it was five players from the same college on any of these intensive teams. Likewise college players can’t play with paid players, but can play against them, so often you’ll find a mix of semi-pro and amateur teams in these leagues. Generally unless a player has college experience he or she won’t be considered by these squads, but they all hold open try-outs in the spring, so everyone is welcomed to try. These teams often will have sponsors who cover costs of competition. College players can be on teams that are sponsored so long as the players don’t receive any direct compensation beyond uniforms, training, and travel costs to compete.

Even for much older adult players there are over-35, over-45, and even senior leagues offering options for anyone who wishes to continue playing. All of these leagues can be located in your state by contacting the state adult soccer association. Indoor soccer facilities run leagues as well where players form their own teams to participate. These don’t fall under the same sanctions and rules of the USASA, but are independent and generally short-term teams formed solely for the purpose of playing in an indoor tournament or six-week league. Players should contact the facilities directly who can guide them to teams looking for members for indoor sessions. Older players can also contact organizations such as the YMCA, churches, health clubs, and city and town adult recreation departments who may sponsor teams for friendly pick-up games.

Soccer doesn’t need to stop if a player foregoes his or her high school squad. Statistically 70% of kids in organized sports quit before high school. The biggest reason for quitting a sport (39% for boys and 38% for girls) is that it just wasn’t fun anymore.  Perhaps if youth soccer players knew that there were other options out there not dictated by the intensity of high school to college to professional parameters, they might be persuaded to keep playing. As parents, we should find out why our kids want to abandon the sport and if the reason has to do with lost enjoyment in the sport, it might be a good idea to back off of expecting our kids to make the next step to higher levels of play and accept that they want to play because they enjoy the activity. Options are available which help preserve the opportunity to play while providing the atmosphere our players seek. Letting our children maintain their carefree approach to the sport won’t diminish our enjoyment at all. We’ll get to watch them compete, see them improve, and continue to participate in both the highs and the lows of organized sports while insuring that our children don’t feel under pressure to perform or succeed. One of the parent coaches at our local soccer club when my sons, Robbie and Bryce, were in high school formed a U-15 team for players who weren’t interested in high school soccer, but wanted to continue playing. Several of the parents of my sons’ teammates questioned why the club was agreeing to sponsor such a team, which they saw as a waste of resources and possibly snatching good players away from the competitive and high school teams. At the end of the season, the players on that recreational team overwhelmingly agreed to play another year with the same parent coach, while our competitive team only got four players to show up at tryouts. It was a strong message that kids will stick with a sport if they are having fun and feeling good about playing. That team only broke up when the boys all left for college. I’m hoping their example will remind us all that ultimately playing soccer should come from and be sustained by a real joy for the game.

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A Letter from a Future Division I Player


Several years ago, we featured the following letter written from a young female soccer player to her father.

stasi letter

Mallin_0148The author of that letter was Stasia Mallin, and it's clear she grasped some concepts at a young age that many parents have a difficult time understanding as adults. The freedom she played with as a young player has proven to be beneficial, as Stasia's father, Kevin, recently followed up to let us know that she is now a Division I athlete.

Mallin recently began her college soccer career as a freshman defender for the Memphis Tigers. In her first two games, she played 81 and 90 minutes to help Memphis begin its season with a pair of victories.

Her success shows the importance of giving young players freedom while watching from the sidelines. Resist the urge to shout instructions for each little challenge a player encounters on the field. Show support and realize that mistakes can lead to benefits down the road as players learn to solve problems for themselves.

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Player Development - Coaching Technique

Sam Snow

Continuing with a series of postings that highlight free coaching documents form US Youth Soccer here is an excerpt from the Skills School Manual. There is also a full DVD that goes with this manual. Some of the video clips from that DVD are posted on the US Youth Soccer YouTube channel.

Coaching Technique

The game will show you what the player needs to practice.

In this manual the coach will find the basics of all ball skills. From this core set of techniques the growing player will be able to add on many variations and subtleties to the techniques. This fact most likely applies to players fifteen years of age and older as they fully mature athletically and come to understand how to use a variety of skills in varying game situations. Do not let the developing player’s game become obsessed with frills or skills that, while useful, are used rarely. Be competent in the basic orthodox techniques first. But once that standard has been reached then embroider the player’s skills with the less orthodox techniques as they are serious, positive skills which will help the team and not just please spectators.

During the first fourteen years of a young player’s career the coaching emphasis must be on technique. The actual execution of a movement is always in the realm of technique. The challenge of “when and why” to use a movement is one of tactics. In this manual the focus is the “how to”; that is on technique. Technique is the body’s mechanical execution to affect the ball; for example receiving, catching, shooting, dribbling, deflecting, etc. It is one of the four components of the game and leads to ball skill. Skill is being able to execute a technique under the pressure of opponents in tight space and most likely on the move. Without ball skill a player cannot execute tactics. Some players will:

  • be able to do a technique in an activity but fail to apply it as skill when under pressure from opponents
  • be competent with the ball but not outstanding
  • be technical but not skillful, while others will be skillful but not technical
  • be capable of executing some skills against one level of opponent but not another


Players gain more trust and respect for a coach who can help them improve their technique. The result is confident use of new skills in matches. Motivated players spend time working on their skills. Players will appreciate the importance and thrill of learning new techniques and refining existing ones if the coach creates the proper training environment. Then the players begin to equate fun with improvement.

Novice coaches often find themselves in a Catch 22 at training sessions. They can influence young players by helping them develop techniques, but some coaches don’t know enough about the techniques they are teaching to offer relevant advice.

The execution of a technique is broken down into three phases:

PREPARATION – the movements leading up to contact with the ball.

  • focus on the feet first as they will impact what happens with the rest of the body and they must get the body to the ball
  • look at the distribution of body weight (body posture), the angle of the approach to the ball, the position of the body and limbs in relation to the ball, the position and steadiness of the head, the position and shape of controlling surfaces and the rotation of the body into contact with the ball
  • eyes on the ball


CONTACT – the placement of the feet and the posture of the body upon contact with the ball.

  • look for the distribution of body weight and how it impacts balance
  • observe the hip and shoulder positions, the position of the supporting leg(s), the contact point with the ball and the movement of the limbs
  • eyes on the ball


FOLLOW THROUGH – the movement occurring after contact with the ball.

  • again focus on the distribution of body weight and posture
  • is the follow through complete or halted too soon
  • eyes on the ball


Technique should be taught in a progressive manner throughout a player’s career. Every technique coached at one age must be reinforced at the next age. Techniques taught at 6 and Under (6-U) must be reinforced at 8 and Under (8-U), 10 and Under (10-U), 12 and Under (12-U) and 14 and Under (14-U). What was learned at a previous age group or groups must be refined at the next age group. During the childhood years of soccer the general progression of the child’s experience with the ball is for the 6-U age group ~ manipulating the ball, for the 8-U age group ~ propelling the ball and for the 10-U age group ~ mastering the ball.

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