Monday, July 13, 2009
I don't believe much in statistics. As an undergraduate math minor I assisted a professor in proofing her textbook on probability and statistics. I'm well aware of the various statistical measures a researcher can use to create a favorable or unfavorable statistical result. Surveys can be carefully constructed to elicit skewed responses. Would you rather have a warehouse store in your neighborhood or a prisoner half-way house? Surprise! Survey shows overwhelming support for the construction of Costco. Or a political ad might go something like this: Joe Smith would be a powerful law and order district attorney because as a prosecutor he has had less than two per cent of his convictions overturned on appeal. What they fail to tell you is that his conviction rate is only one per cent. So when someone tells me what the numbers say, I'm naturally skeptical.
Those experts reading trends, interpreting spikes in surveys, watching registrations, recording attendance, and generally keeping their noses in the data don't "see" the big picture. The proof that youth soccer is flourishing in this country can be seen by anyone even if they don't have the benefit of the numbers. I trust the empirical evidence more than number crunching because it's my vision that I trust rather than some statistician's conclusion. True my observations aren't scientifically supported, yet pragmatic factors can carry more weight because everyone can judge for him or herself how reasonable the conclusions are. Following are three purely empirical indicators that youth soccer continues to expand.
This morning I was searching through the on screen TV guide for something interesting to watch while I cleaned my bedroom. When I spotted it, I couldn't believe it, but there it was – an entire half day of soccer - not on Fox Soccer Channel, not on ESPN's platoon of channels, not on any of the Spanish language channels, all of which are my usual haunts for finding soccer to watch. Instead it was on the Time-Warner Wisconsin Sports Channel famous for showing marathons of fishing programs and the occasional high school sports state final. Now they were showing the U.S Youth Soccer Wisconsin State Championships for U13 boys and girls, and not the finals mind you, but third round games. These were well-produced programs with two commentators, two cameras, and relatively sophisticated editing and graphics. It wasn't high definition but the commentators actually knew the players' names and talked intelligently about the teams, the coaching choices, and the on field strategies. Now I seriously doubt that a public service of the cable company would have abandoned their treasure trove of cheaply and easily produced fishing programs for this far more complicated and costly production unless they felt there was an audience for the series. After all they need to answer to their advertising sponsors of which there were at least ten. I might understand showing the final games of the older teams, but the fact that they expanded their coverage to all the age levels at the State Championships and to include third round and semi-final games as well tells me that youth soccer, at least in Wisconsin, is making an impact.
Speaking of advertisers, over the course of the last ten years there has been a huge increase of soccer related advertising, even for products that have little or nothing to do with soccer. Just this month an ad for a pain reliever begins with a grimacing woman being "side-lined" by headache pain. She then takes the product and is now on the "side-lines" of her child's soccer game. A decade ago the same campaign would have ended on the side-lines of a football game. At first blush soccer has little to do with a kitchen floor cleaner. But I'll admit anything that gets up the worst soccer cleat marks has an important connection to the sport, at least for me. I developed soccer parent knees from crawling around scrubbing the tiles in my kitchen. But the advertiser could have shown baseball cleats or football cleats or even track cleats. Instead it chose a soccer team to run across that poor kitchen floor.
While watching the crowds at a July 4th celebration I was struck by how many people were wearing soccer apparel. Now I suppose this approaches a statistical analysis, but I did finally decide to count the number of soccer shirts and shorts compared to the number of "other." Better than half the people were wearing some soccer gear. Just to prove my observations weren't skewed, I was not at a soccer team function or even near a soccer field. This was just a gathering of people from the town who came to eat corn on the cob, watch some fireworks, and flaunt their interest in soccer.
With approximately 3.8 million registered youth soccer players in the United States of which 3 million are registered with US Youth Soccer, a lot of kids with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are linked to soccer. That's a giant size target group. According to US Youth Soccer its membership has grown in thirty five years from 100,000 players to the 3 million today. That's just what the numbers say, but anyone with eyes and ears can bear witness to the increased influence of soccer on everyday life. Even President Obama takes time out from his schedule to go see his daughters play and has endorsed the U.S. bid to FIFA to host the 2018 World Cup. We last hosted in 1994 with a huge impact on interest in the sport in America. Just imagine what the 2018 World Cup in America could do to boost youth soccer interest even further. I'm sure people will create statistics to attempt to answer that question long before it actually happens. I say let's just wait and watch. If present observations are any indication I predict we may be seeing network feeds of U5 games by 2019!