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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on USYouthSoccer.org 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.

 

Much Ado About Something

Susan Boyd

Various sports periodically use their public platform to highlight social injustices. Leagues, teams, coaches, and players may speak out collectively or individually when they perceive an issue that requires attention. In 2005 after a particularly ugly year for racial incidents on pitches across Europe, French soccer player Thierry Henry began the Stand Up Speak Up campaign in conjunction with Nike, who produced wristbands to both advertise and support the movement. Since that time, racial incidents on the pitch seem to have dropped from that peak, but are still prevalent throughout Europe including clubs who refuse to recruit and sign black players, taunting of players, attacks on players both on and off the pitch, and general hooliganism sparked by racial prejudice. While the protest was well-meaning and broadly supported, the overall impact wasn’t as productive as one would hope based on the exposure the situation received. Nevertheless, many sports analysts, political pundits, and world leaders joined in, praising how the movement had sparked a serious discussion of race in sports. Sound familiar? Though not as controversial as Colin Kaepernick’s refusing to stand during the national anthem, both Henry and Kaepernick were attempting to highlight how minorities experience racism daily and to energize a discussion.

Kaepernick’s protest has been greeted with mixed reactions. While many people acknowledge that there are racial issues that require our attention, fans are split on whether or not his methods were the best way to go about it.  Unfortunately while Colin was hoping to cast light on unjust treatment of minorities and police brutality against African Americans, the discussion seemed to focus solely on his patriotism. While some athletes have joined the movement, most notably Megan Rapinoe in soccer, Stephen Curry in basketball, and even President Obama, who defended his right to protest, the question remains if this is support for his cause or for his right to protest. An important indicator of the support for Kaepernick has come in the record sales of his jersey. To his credit he announced that he would donate all of his profits from those sales back to the community and thanked fans for their support. As we look at these two crusades separated by a decade, we should take note of two facts: (1) sports and race are significantly intertwined and (2) the topic remains in need of exposure.

How do we begin a conversation about race? So often our attitudes spring from our own experiences making it difficult to empathize with the life events of others.  We depend on anecdotal evidence from our lives to make arguments for or against the truth of racial injustice, which makes conversation difficult. But there is also data to support Henry’s and Kaepernick’s concerns.  When Henry’s home country of France won the World Cup, there was a surge of French politicians who called the national team “unworthy” of the victory because most of the players weren’t white. A 2016 European Network Against Racism report highlighted among their facts that people of African descent had unemployment rates from two times higher (UK) to five times higher (Finland) than the rest of their countrymen. Records on U.S. public high school graduation rates shows a tremendous gap: Whites have an 89% rate, Hispanics a 73% rates, and blacks only a 69% rate. Theories abound as to why these discrepancies occur to include unemployment, single-parent families, poor nutrition, and lack of role models. However, the facts are still the facts. We need discussion on how to solve these problems, which is Kaepernick’s point. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center Study, black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men. The study also noted that “fewer than half of all Americans (45%) said the country has made substantial progress toward racial equality, and 49% said “a lot more” remains to be done”. That indicates that many people recognize that racial issues are far from resolved, and they are amenable to conversations on race.

How does this relate to youth soccer? Things trickle down. Kids learn opinions from older kids and adults that they then ascribe to and repeat without testing the validity or rationale for such opinions. Racially charged comments can be expressed at just about any age depending on how much kids are exposed to such language either from home, school, or the media. We also live in an anonymous age online where people express some really ugly personal attacks hiding behind a faceless and shadowy screen name. Our children have been both victims and perpetrators of these attacks, and their experience can spill over to outbursts and attitudes on the field. While a national conversation on race would be exciting and possibly productive, what really matters are the smaller, more intimate conversations we have with our kids, neighbors, and friends. We should encourage our children to express how racial situations have impacted them and how they handled them. No matter what race our children are, they all need to think about their place in the world. How will they react if they are attacked for their race or if they overhear someone attacking a teammate? What do they feel is appropriate language concerning race? What are our attitudes about race? If we don’t have much experience with other ethnicities and cultures, how might we achieve a better understanding? What stereotypes do we hold about all races?  Are we tipping the scales too far in political correctness? Kids want to talk about these things, but they may not have the opportunity in school due to instructional constraints. Teachers may worry that if they initiate or encourage a discussion on race, they will be singled out for saying the wrong things. They may not feel equipped to talk about race. Therefore, kids are left with a variety of news stories, movies, music, and sports, which may influence their experiences with racial issues, yet they have no responsible sounding board to sort out these stimuli and feelings.

When Thierry Henry came out with his Stand Up Speak Up campaign, I remember that the wristbands were a prized fashion statement on the soccer pitch. Even today the wristbands are available on eBay. However, the reason for the statement printed on the band was often ignored then and awareness hasn’t increased in the intervening years. Even as kids sported the strap, they had little idea of what it actually represented. In Europe the reasons were clearer since the continent had witnessed several incidents including beer bottles hitting players and bananas being thrown on the pitch with racial taunts. But in the United States those episodes weren’t on the radar for young soccer players. Rather, it was Thierry Henry who was a soccer icon that prompted kids to want to own and wear the wristband. Instead of a social issue, the campaign ended up being an exercise in coolness. I’m concerned that Kaepernick’s stance will likewise be drowned in the rush of young players wanting to sport his jersey for the sake of being coolly attached to the player, not to his cause. As parents, we can have an important role in directing our children’s attention to the issues even as we acquiesce to their wish to have the jersey.  

Talking about race doesn’t mean we all have to have the same outlook or agenda. As the mother of two African American/Hispanic sons I know firsthand some of the difficulties that exist for minority children. I also understand that like me other people come to these situations with their own moral, religious, and political histories that will shape their points of view. We need to hear all of those voices, but more importantly, our kids to need to hear our voice. This weekend the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of African American History opened in Washington, D.C. Visiting institutions like that or a Mexican street festival or a Caribbean music concert with our children can be a way to jump start not only some insight to other cultural histories and populations, but also open the door to talking with our children about the variety of ethnicities and religions that exist in America. Considering the recent concerns over refugees and national safety, I’m certain our children have questions that we can answer. No matter where we stand on the issues, we owe it to our kids to be transparent about our views so they can begin to discover their own way of dealing with the racial matters they encounter at school, among friends, and on the field.

This is why we need to narrow down the conversation to encounters our kids understand and have personally experienced. Even as they hear about Colin Kaepernick’s protest, they probably don’t have the context in which to understand it. However, relating his action to episodes from their own lives will give our kids the basis on which to begin an important discussion, not only with us but also with their friends and teammates. There are certain topics that we should take the lead on – money management, birds and bees, religion, and race. We can’t expect our schools to be handling them because each of these has a very personal quality centered on our own morals, beliefs, and lifestyle. Therefore, we need to initiate the conversation and then be good listeners and guides. Using Kaepernick as a portal to begin the talk seems like a great way to start on a serious and significant examination.

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Street Soccer In War Zone

Sam Snow

This entry is from Andrew Breithaupt. He is a district coach for US Youth Soccer ODP Europe in Stuttgart, Germany.  He holds the “D” License and the National Youth License.  Andrew had a recent trip to Kosovo and had this to say upon his return.

“Kosovo is small country in the Balkans about the size of Wisconsin that most people know nothing about. The country and its people continue to recover from one of the worst civil wars in Europe since World War II.

Recently, I traveled to Kosovo providing humanitarian aid. In a remote area where we were working was a bunch of kids hanging around all day. They watched the entire day while their families herded around the livestock they owned.

The kids had a single torn up old soccer ball that barely held air while they kicked it around. I turned around at the gate as the ball accidentally hit my feet while passing by. I played it back and they motioned for me to join them playing. I dropped my gear and jumped into the play, work boots and all. For the next 30 min we played and played. They didn't speak a bit of English but that just didn't matter, all we needed was the ball and the game. 

Parents in the US often worry about turf fields not being open enough, the newest $200 cleats being sold out, or their child not getting to start the match every game. These kids had one torn up ball among them, some only had an old pair of Crocs on their feet, and one had no shoes at all.  We played on a gravel road with giant tank track ruts on both side and a ditch. The goals were a couple rocks drug over. There was no out of play, they played thru the ditches, gravel, and even boulders like they were just another defender. A couple of them would make an ODP team no question and probably never had a day of training in their life. They just played the game and laughed.

They really put the essence of the game into perspective for me in a way I'd never thought.  It was an experience I'll never forget.”

Stree Soccer Blog

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Changes are Difficult

Susan Boyd

The dates of a school year are generally fluid depending on your community, but the birthdate requirements are firm. Since children develop both physically and mentally at very different rates, there will be a wide variety of ability and maturity within the confines of those dates. My husband, born in October, missed the school-age cutoff but started early anyway, and was only 4’ 11” when he entered high school, growing two inches in college. I have a September birthday, missed the deadline by a week, but still began school with my older friends. However I was lucky to be tall, measuring 5’ and the inches of my grade (5’ 3” in third grade up to 5’ 9” in ninth grade). Our oldest daughter has a December birthday, yet after first grade she was moved up to third because she fit in better with the children who populated the next school year. In contrast, our second daughter has a July birthday which met the cut-off though at the late end. She took after her father as a late bloomer and would have benefitted by waiting a year to enter school. Dates on a calendar don’t predict anything about readiness for school, sports, or socialization, yet they dictate much of our children’s participation in their lives’ activities. There is no hard and fast rule in nature like there is in officialdom.

For many years youth soccer has used the school age template when determining where to place a child. It make sense because it kept kids together with those from their grade letting them play with friends and facilitating car pools. US Youth Soccer goes by calendar year which is how every FIFA nation (with the exception of the US and Canada) conducts their registrations for youth, development, and national teams. Last year US Soccer (USSF) decided to switch to calendar year registrations beginning in August 2017. Most organizations, including US Youth Soccer, implemented this standard in August 2016. So you may have noticed the change when your child signed up for his or her team. It does complicate some issues while simplifying others.  Players can still play up, so I imagine several teams will remain intact despite the date changes, and that clubs will slowly transition into teams based solely on calendar year registrations as younger players enter. It will finally place the United States on the same competitive composition scales as the rest of the world, solidifying our membership in this global community. It changes the dynamics for players because now those born in the early months of any year will switch from being the youngest on a team to being the oldest. It also provides for a wider range of competitive interactions since kids will be playing with and against those in different grades. It may cause some carpool hiccups, but neighborhoods don’t change even if age limits do, so the likelihood of creating a travel network remains good.

Calendar year registration simplifies deadlines since it isn’t based on a child’s expected grade level which can be fluid based on several factors.  Even with the school year standard, kids were never guaranteed to play with classmates and friends. Skill levels, limits on team size, and convenience of practice schedules always have played a role in team assignments. The calendar year insures that kids will play with some grade level peers even if they skip a grade or are held back. That helps remove some stigma from the process. Likewise it puts us on equal footing with our developmental programs which have always been calendar year based since they had to mesh with all the other teams in the world when it came to cross-nation competitions. However, parents may now be confused by the designations of U-6 through U-23 which were previously based on school year calendars. This link to the new matrix which should help . With the calendar year implementation the U designation will truly mean “under” the age. Until the dust settles, many clubs may opt to keep older teams together by having those born in the earlier months “play up” with their classmates with birthdates in the later months of the previous birth year, effectively maintaining the school year designations. Clubs can then delay fully enforcing the calendar year birthdates only beginning with the youngest teams this year and restructuring teams as opportunities to do so become available.

The blow back on this change has been strong. Parents argue that the new guidelines unfairly target players born in the later months of a calendar year who aren’t as physically developed as players born earlier in the year. However the truth is that a player born, for example, July 28, 2001 in a 2000-2001 school year calendar scenario was subject to the same argument of being developmentally behind a player born August 2, 2000. When ages are spread over a year there will be discrepancies. Other parents argue that teams have been split apart, though that doesn’t need to happen at all should a club want to keep teams together by having the players born in a later year play up in the birth calendar year of the older players. The argument could be made that these kids playing up will lose a year of competitive soccer, but they could also elect to move back down to their calendar year should their team disband or change dramatically in make-up. U-13 to U-15 turns out to be a very volatile period of team registrations as kids drop sports to focus on studies, to focus on just one sport, or to move to a different competitive level team, so staying with a team of schoolmates does become harder as kids grow older.

Having the option to play in a calendar year or up a year provides players with lots of team options. One parent complained that his league dropped U-8 because no one wanted to travel for 4-v-4. I’m guessing those parents didn’t find this to be “real” soccer and therefore not worth the time investment. Most of the youngest teams play against teams in close geographic proximity, even playing teams from their own club, so travel to a game shouldn’t be a factor and certainly that decision has little to do with a change in age parameters. Another parent voiced concerned that her daughter “would be left behind” while her peers got to advance. This isn’t school where being “held back” relates to not being able to handle the material. There’s no failure in adjusting to the new age template, and I would argue that her child will benefit from more developmental training and from fostering new friendships. In truth no one likes change because each person sees it in terms of how it affects them personally. Changing the age registration standards certainly can present some individual concerns, but overall it doesn’t need to be a seismic shift.  

The other big change will be a greater emphasis on small-sided games especially 7-v-7 and 9-v-9 rather than 11-v-11 on a regulation pitch. For many years these smaller teams have been fielded for the youngest ages, and US Youth Soccer has been encouraging this philosophy of training for over 20 years. However, there has been parental pressure to move as quickly as possible from small-sided games to full field games because they see it as an advancement for their kids. However, the studies on development of soccer players have overwhelmingly established that small-sided games promote far better improvement by allowing players more touches on the ball, giving them the opportunity to learn different positions, and requiring them to make more tactical decisions. With fewer players on the pitch and a smaller field, players need to interact often and quickly, opening the door to developing the collaborative and social skills that make stronger teammates. From the instructional perspective, coaches can more easily keep track of players, work with them on how to play off the ball, and control the speed and level of play needed to insure all players have equal opportunities to practice skills. Therefore, in conjunction with the new age guidelines, 11-v-11 games are limited to those U-13 and older, giving players two years to adjust to full field play before high school. These guidelines will be required by August 2017 as overseen by USSF, but US Youth Soccer is implementing them as best practices as of August 2016. They have asked their 55 state association members to adopt this training philosophy which will be extended to league and tournament play. Most of the member associations had already moved to small-sided training formats along with their league and tournament play, but will now be doing it under the new age guidelines. These standards can be found at .

Coaches recognize the immediate benefits of this training philosophy. Players are constantly engaged in the play since the fields are small and the ball moves from space to space quickly. If kids are involved consistently it not only boosts their skill development but makes the game more enjoyable. Likewise parents will have the opportunity to see their kids in action rather than sitting on the sidelines or daisy picking on the pitch when nothing is happening around them. The focus is on how to play rather than scoring goals, so even when players have the strength to make long shots, these are discouraged in lieu of fostering strong team play with passing and positioning. Small-sided games give coaches the freedom to advance the more subtle aspects of soccer play which ultimately create sharp, capable, and wily players. Coaches can spend time working with players on their off-the-ball movement and strategy.

Again, there has been some strong displeasure with these standards. Many parents complain that the fields and goals are just too small leading to kids scoring goals from the opponent’s touch line because they can kick so powerfully and kids playing in “mobs” on the pitch. These shouldn’t be issues if kids are coached in small-side tactics and techniques. Unfortunately, some coaches don’t understand how to instruct players within a small-sided atmosphere. The emphasis should be on learning to find and keep one’s space, first touches, various team formations, and keeping the ball contained through strong passing and appropriate dribbling. Kids shouldn’t swarm to the ball, although that’s where they start off because everyone understands the primary principle of soccer is to possess the ball.

It’s up to coaches to teach kids that through planned and spaced formations and using one another to move the ball down the pitch, a team can actually be more productive. That’s difficult to do on a big field where coaches can’t watch all the players and react to their play quickly enough to show in real time how to improve a particular move or decision. How players learn these lessons will be uneven for the first few years, but good coaching recognizes that kids need to make mistakes to understand what does and doesn’t work. They also need immediate instruction. Doing a post-practice evaluation won’t help a child whose retention of what went on in a game is limited to probably the last few minutes. The best coaching can be done when coaches can step in immediately and use various actions and outcomes on the pitch as teachable moments. Volunteer coaches are encouraged to use resources and take courses offered by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) beyond the minimum license required. The NSCAA provides lots of educational materials for both paid and volunteer coaches through their website: www.nscaa.com. For our part as parents, we have to refrain from expecting that developmental soccer will be played the same way as competitive soccer. Even though developmental level teams (U-6 through U-12) do compete they are evolving in how that competition is practiced on the pitch. It’s important that the emphasis be on skills at first and slowly grow into tactics and formations. Once a player has confident skills and has had the opportunity to practice these in all the positions including the right, left, and center spots then he or she will be fully capable of settling on a position and a level of competition with which they feel most comfortable.

Things will take some time to settle out because changes are always disruptive. To many parents, these changes may seem unnecessary and ridiculous, especially if the message boards are any indication of the opinions out there. The age registration changes do create some upheaval, but overall the actual impact will be negligible despite the “sky is falling” feelings being expressed. Most of the concerns have been addressed and resolved. The benefits include a less complicated and more transparent set of dates and bring the United States into alignment with the rest of the world. Parents may ask if being in step globally really benefits anyone except those few players who move on to the highest levels of play, but I know from personal experience that even younger players compete across national boundaries against teams who follow the FIFA age guidelines.

When my sons were U-10 and U-11, they played in tournaments which included international teams from schools in England, Germany, France, and Croatia. Standardizing the age ranges helps standardize the competition. Small-sided games may seem far from what we all consider soccer to be, but in truth they end up creating players who have a greater knowledge and skill base than players tossed onto a huge pitch. In fact, despite what some parents have complained about, small-sided games don’t discourage kids from playing because they actually get far more activity and contact than they would get on a larger pitch with more teammates. The discouragement may actually be an outgrowth of hearing the grown-ups moan about how boring these games are to watch and how impractical they appear to be. Kids who have the opportunity to feel successful, which small-sided games almost universally ensure, are more likely to stick with an activity. Kids learn to respect all the positions on the field, how to interact socially and collaboratively, why certain decisions are made in terms of formation and tactics, and how to enjoy being a fully significant member of a team. I’m hoping people can give this all a chance, look at how some of their concerns are addressed and resolved, and how overall our children will benefit from these changes.

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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: www.espn.com/espn/story/_/id/9469252/hidden-demographics-youth-sports-espn-magazine. 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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