Monday, July 11, 2011
Here's some numbers for you: 17 million people play soccer at least once a year in the U.S. 8.5 million people play soccer 25 or more days per year. Five million children (under 18) play organized soccer. 3.2 million youth players are registered with U.S. Youth Soccer Association. 8,200 youth soccer clubs operate in the U.S. (Those clubs sponsor over 2,000 soccer tournaments a year). All major soccer sanctioning committees recommend that players participate in no more than 40 matches a year, no more than two matches a weekend, and no more than one match a day. Most players break the last guidelines when participating in one of those 2,000 tournaments.
Soccer can be broken down into a game of 11 v. 11 with a field formation of a keeper and 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 or some variety of placements depending on the tactics. The field as, stipulated by FIFA, measures 100 to 130 yards long and 50 to 100 yards wide, so long as the field is not square. The goal is eight feet tall and 24 feet wide. Surrounding the goal is a box extending 18 yards out from the goal line and 44 yards wide, the territory in which a keeper may use his or her hands, and in which a foul may result in a penalty kick. There is a smaller box extending six yards out from the goal line and 20 yards wide, which serves no purpose under the rules of soccer, but is the area sacred to a keeper. You'll often hear remarks about keeping the offense out of the ""18"" or ""6"" which refer to these two areas. There's a 10 yard radius circle in the center of the field (Keepers hope to get their goal kicks past this circle). For teams younger than 13 these field dimensions will hold their relative relationships in size, but will be smaller depending on the age. For the game to be played, the number of nets required under FIFA rules is 0, but if nets are used, they must not interfere with the keeper, be secured, and not allow the ball to pass through. Goal posts and cross bars must be painted white. The traditional ball consists of 32 panels (12 pentagons and 20 hexagons), but recent designs have created balls with as few as 14 panels.
Kids who dribble a soccer ball can run between two and four miles per game, with older youth players running on average six miles per game. Throw in a tournament weekend, and players can average eight to 12 miles per day. At 100 calories burned per mile, that's 800 to 1200 calories per day. Unlike adults who count on activity to burn up calories, kids are burning calories just growing. So it's important that parents replenish those calories with nutritious snacks and meals. Gatorade isn't enough, nor is one banana which is only 100 calories on its own. Many professional soccer players use high-protein sandwiches to restock the power plant such as PBJ, chicken salad (easy on the mayo), grilled chicken breast, and, if kids will eat them, avocado and/or hummus sandwiches. Kids who play soccer need around 3,000 calories a day!
Soccer teams play by the numbers too. U.S. Youth Soccer Association is one of many organizations encouraging small-sided games to foster more touches on the ball and more individual coaching with fewer competing team members. At U6, teams are 3 v. 3 and U8 are 4 v. 4, both with no goal keepers. U10 teams play 6 v. 6 and are the first age level to have keepers. U12 teams are 8 v. 8 and U13 moves to a full side of 11 players. Field sizes match the smaller team sizes, letting players learn how to use the sidelines and develop the idea of team tactics and formations. Of course smaller team size means more teams, which means more coaches. Currently there are over 66,000 youth soccer coaches in the United States, and more than 60% of them are volunteers.
American soccer fans have increased exponentially in the last decade. Just considering the MLS you can see tremendous growth in season ticket sales. Kansas City had 467 season ticket holders in 2007 and this year has 9,000. FC Dallas sold three times as many pre-season tickets this year as last. The two expansion teams, Portland and Vancouver, have sold 11,000 and 16,000 season tickets respectively. Fox Soccer Channel began as Fox Sports Channel in 1997 but switched its name in 2005 and went exclusively to soccer only programming in 2006. It added a new station, Fox Soccer Plus in 2010 when it also went HD. In addition ESPN has increased its dedication to soccer including showing all of the Women's World Cup games this year. At the Men's World Cup last year in South Africa, the U.S. bought more tickets (130,000) than any other country besides the host nation. All American games are sold out for the Women's World Cup.
Financial publications peg average family spending on youth sports per child at around $2,000. The number can climb quickly if a child plays on an elite travel team, participates in additional leagues, and/or opts for private coaching. That number also doesn't include what the family spends to attend tournaments together which can be up to $400 for a weekend for a family of four with hotel, gas, and meals. Of course if you have to fly to a tournament then you need to double or triple that amount. Soccer should be a pretty cheap sport; after all you just need a ball and some shin guards (gloves if you're a keeper) and a wide open space to play. But somehow we have found ways to take a game that can be played nearly for free and turn it into an activity costing thousands of dollars a year. Required club gear can really drain the bank account with warm-ups running around $100 and full uniform kits running upwards of $180, and add in bags at $70. If you change clubs then that wardrobe cost comes anew, and even if you stick with a club, uniforms become obsolete every three years, so clubs have to select new gear. Throw in cleats, favorite player jerseys, and paraphernalia such as blankets, scarves, head bands, kit bags, posters, and balls that leaves you with several hundred dollars due at the register.
Numbers can tell an interesting story of how a sport operates, how it grows, and how it impacts our lives, but what really matters is that you and your children enjoy the sport. Here's a number that does translate into fun: three. That's the number of games my sons will be playing this weekend that I get to watch.