"Brand names do not make them great players. Good coaching, staff, good mentors, good advisors do that. It's not the category that makes the club, it's the people" - Ose Aibangee Brentford Academy director
A recent article in 4-4-2 described the dissatisfaction with youth soccer in the US from an ever growing number of parents in recent years. The article described a new generation of parents of young American players who are more educated about the game, player development, and youth soccer than ever who are struggling with the dated youth system in place in this country. The article noted their frustrations with the large amount of travel, poorly put on programing, and the constant usage of Elite, Premier, or Academy marketing tools that look to suck money out of parents.
The sad reality is in most instances the sport has become an industry in this country that is driven by clubs, tournaments, and leagues put on by companies who only in have interest in profiting off of parents who want their son or daughter to have the best experience possible with the sport. In my opinion the days of sucking money out of parents who are uneducated about the sport and who have fantasy expectations for their son or daughter are coming to a close. If youth soccer is going to continue to thrive in this country clubs must adjust their strategies and the mindsets of their staff and coaches to appease the growing number of former players and fans of the game who are hoping to supply their children with an experience that was better than their own at the youth level at the sport.
I am currently 26 years old with 3 nieces and a number of friends who have children who are now entering into the sport. Having family members enter into the sometimes insane world of youth sports allowed me for the first time for a view into the sport from a different perspective. Seeing programing for young players that is poorly put on or is not managed properly is extremely frustrating for parents to watch their children attend. Watching their kids just play 4 v 4 with very little attention given to actually developing any techniques or learning new aspects of the game in an hour session makes the registration fees and time spent on the sidelines as a waste. If players manage to make it through the overly competitive 5-10 years, if available they then enter into the race for the u12 DA spots at their local academy club, or they are shot into the tournament and league industry of USYS. Players on this route will likely be spending more time in the car then on the field and by the time they are 18 they will have every major highway and road within the surrounding states mapped out by memory. All while trying to one up the competition around somehow to gain an advantage and display how good of a dribbler they are for on looking tryout evaluators who enjoy nothing more than telling players they are not good enough for the team they are coaching.
These problems has plagued US Soccer for decades, there has been some attempt at righting the systems by some DA’s but those programs are few and far between in this massive country. For the most part, local premier clubs are ran by former college level players who may have obtained a high level of licensing before the restructuring of USSF, and got into coaching solely due to the fact that parents would pay him or her large sums of money to run drills at practice. This mindset of “I can’t believe they are paying me to do this” motivates former players to become full time coaches still to this day. This mindset is also what leads to players having poor experiences with youth soccer as well, as most of the time clubs with coaches who have this attitude usually have result and ego driven environments where the worst players get ignored in favor of the few who may go on to play collegiately that they can claim they developed.
Clubs in the US need to understand what exactly they are selling the majority of the members of these massive premier clubs. Parents are more realistic than ever with their expectations from the sport and have for the most part shifted from wanting their son or daughter to win the world cup, to just wanting them to have a good experience, fall in the love with the game, make friends, and play at the highest level possible. You will still run into parents who think their child belongs in an European academy somewhere, and you may run into players who belong at an elite level DA every now and then, but for the average player expectations are much lower than they once were as the game has grown in popularity in this country. With all of this being said, in my opinion elite soccer clubs should look to steer themselves away from attempting to achieve this external look of the “premier elite academy select” model that attempts to ride the coattails of former club members who go on to play collegiately or professionally, and look to build curriculum based programs for young players, with coaches who are also coaching for the right reasons. Clubs should be concerned with coaches who only look to boost their own egos or attempt to impress young players with their playing resume, or possess the “I can’t believe they are paying me for this” attitude you find in a lot of young coaches. Clubs should look for coaches who value their own development as a coach, value the relationships with the kids and parents, and are interested in big picture development of players rather than quick rewards as coaches to build their club around.
Weston McKennie, a current US u20 and Schalke academy player who myself and Bobby both have and had the pleasure of working with recently was quoted in an article on ESPNFC.com by Stephan Uersfeld and described what Germany is like for young players.
"Training is routine in America," he says. "Every Monday was the same as every Monday, and so on. Over here, you never know what you're going to get. In America, they picked out certain players they really wanted to work with and sometimes formed their training around them. Over here, it's more about the team progress and how we can improve the team and get players to the next level. It's not so much about winning championships." - ESPNFC.com Stephan Uersfeld here
I believe this quote sums up exactly what a lot of youth clubs are missing in the US. Focusing on the entire team reaching the next level and developing should be the goal of every club coach in the US. The development of every single player at the club should the focus of the coaching staff, not just the ones who will make the college players section of the website. There should also be a focus on relationships, not only between the players, but between the coaches and advisors at the club and the players as well. One of the most valuable aspects of youth soccer is the friendships and bonds players create over years of playing with the same players. If players are constantly being moved in and out of the club, or up and down from A to B team, are they really able to make friends with the players they are playing with? I guarantee a parent will not complain if their child is given attention from the coach, has friends on the team, and is enjoying the sessions the coach puts on. No matter what the level of player, those aspects of youth soccer matter to almost every parent and player.
The days of coaches at premier clubs putting on vague sessions and collecting coaching fees all in the hopes of one of the players making it to the next level are coming to an end. Clubs must rid themselves of these toxic environments that parents do not want to waste money or time on anymore if they want to survive as a club. There are clubs that are starting to do things the right way more and more that will be the death of clubs stuck in outdated 90s youth soccer mentalities. Clubs are starting to build curriculum based training programs for their coaches and players. They are building facilities that allow for proper training sessions to occur. The clubs have zone directors who evaluate coaches and provide resources for coaches to use. Coaches at these clubs are constantly evaluating the players and games on a regular basis to help continue their growth as a person and as a player. Parents are also holding clubs to a higher standard than ever, and are demanding that they get a higher quality product for the money they are spending, and rightfully so. Coaches and clubs can make a huge impact on a young player’s experience with the game, and if clubs do not start to get certain aspects of youth soccer correct, we will continue to see more and more backlash from parents and less interest in the game from young players.