A Treatise: The State of American Youth Soccer

The US Youth Program....at a crossroads...

About our next author:

In a painstakingly researched piece, USC master’s candidate Ryan McCormack authors this treatise on the current moment in time for US Youth Soccer. Ryan grew up playing soccer in California’s Coast Premier League and served as a youth coach for three seasons and is presently with the Arizona Hammers in a leadership capacity.

Ryan spent hours refining the piece with added contributions from TSG’s US Youth expert Nick Sindt. Thank you both.

A meteorologist and a principal....

For years Sunil Gulati has chased Jurgen Klinsmann to fill the USMNT position, but through endless negotiations Klinsmann resisted. His resistance always comes down to one thing: control and restructuring of the American youth soccer system. Now, Klinsmann has the reigns, so now the question must be asked: what is the state of youth soccer in America and what needs to be fixed?

It is no secret that the US youth system has struggled to produce genuine global superstars in the sport and a team that can truly compete for the World Cup. Sure, we’ve had the recent emergences of Donovan and Dempsey. While they are great American players, they aren’t the type that can go to a top European team and dictate the game regardless of who the opponent may be. In a country of 300 million people where soccer is the fastest growing youth sport, you would think that we could produce at least one player that can bend a game to his will and dazzle audiences with style and flare. What Klinsmann, and maybe finally Gulati, realize is that this won’t happen until the youth system is overhauled. The biggest aspiration USMNT fans should have is not for the immediate results on the pitch, but for the long-term results that Klinsmann can bring about if he is successful in changing the youth system much like he did in Germany.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top 6 issues Klinsmann needs to address with American youth soccer.

Roberto Beall

To help examine these issues, I interviewed Roberto Beall. Beall grew up playing soccer in Brazil before moving to the States. He was an All-American at the University of Vermont, a former member of the US National Select Team, and a player for professional teams in Uruguay, Sweden, and in the old USISL. Since his playing career, he has moved on to coaching where he has a Brazilian ABTF “A” License. With that, he has coached at the Division 1 level, served as a staff coach for the Olympic Development Program, and was also a staff coach for Real Salt Lake’s Youth Development Program. He is now the Director of Coaching for the Arizona Hammers and an assistant coach at Phoenix College.

1. The United States Lacks a Soccer Culture

This is the biggest obstacle facing the growth of American soccer. In other countries, soccer is as important as family and religion. It is the sport that every kid growing up plays first, and a major part of this is how relatively inexpensive the game is to play. In poorer countries, kids need nothing but a ball and some space. They’re not playing twice a week at practice. They’re playing seven days a week just for fun. And this is where many of the great soccer nations stand out from the United States. As Beall puts it, “Many diversions exist here in the US that are not available to people in other countries.” Here, because there is greater wealth than in other countries, some of our gifted athletes that could succeed in soccer play sports like football, basketball, or hockey in organized settings where the cost is greater because there is not that cultural tie. Those costs are often reduced by high schools and college funds to aid in allowing more kids to play the game as costs grow. On top of that, these are the sports that are most widely televised in the US. Kids are able to see the game played at the highest level, pick up new techniques or tactical observations, and then go out and practice these skills. They are driven to play more because the sport is easy to access. Soccer, on the other hand, is much more difficult to find on TV on a consistent basis. As a result, this education and push for technical mastery of skills is lost, and true development falls to youth clubs, where the kids may only be for 3-4 hours a week. Development is stunted because the sport is not engrained into American culture yet.

Klinsmann acknowledged this same issue being the biggest difference between American players and players from global soccer powers:

“One thing is certain: The American kids need hundreds and even thousands more hours to play. That is a really crucial thing. If it’s through their club team, if it’s through themselves, whatever it is. The difference between the top 10 in the world and where we are right now is the technical capabilities and the higher pace. In a high-pace, high-speed environment, to keep calm on the ball, to sharpen your minds so you know what to do with the ball before you get the ball. That’s the difference right now. You might have technically gifted players here, but once you set the pace two levels higher, they lose that technical ability because they’re getting out of breath or their mental thought process isn’t fast enough.” – Jurgen Klinsmann (courtesy of Grant Wahl and SI)

What will change?

2. No Uniform, Identifiable Style of Play

This issue becomes a problem with integrating youth into the national system. The US has yet to develop an identity as a soccer country. Sure, the USMNT is usually one of the fittest on the pitch and never stops fighting until the final whistle, but they are usually reacting to other teams in the flow of play instead of forging their own brand of soccer. This hurts US soccer on two levels.

First, imagine being a kid growing up in Brazil and watching the Samba boys. Their style of play is embedded in your mind, and as you strive to get better in the sport, you are emulating the same skills and techniques as those at the highest level in the country. The same could be said about kids growing up in Mexico, Italy, England, the Netherlands, Spain, etc. There is an identifiable style of play that children can see and try to imitate. If you are a kid watching Mexico play now, they rely on close ball touches, quick passes, a bit of flair, and an unrelenting attack. Spain: they build up the pitch with quick efficient passing where the ball for the most part stays on the deck.

That’s not to say that the style is something that doesn’t change from time to time, but they have long periods of time where they stick to a certain set of tactics and techniques long enough that the style can become identifiable. Can you see the same thing happening with young kids in America watching the USMNT right now? Probably not. It’s evident every time the US plays against countries like Guadeloupe and Panama. The Yanks should dominate these teams, but they don’t know how to control games because they are usually reacting to the other side, relying on their fitness and will to get them through the game. In the past few years, the style changes not from one World Cup cycle to the next but from game to game. It is easier for kids to pick up specific skills, techniques, and tactics if they are seeing consistency watching their national team. This brings us back to creating a soccer culture. US Soccer’s vision and youth soccer must become more intertwined in order to achieve success.

Second, now imagine tactically assimilating teenagers into national programs. Not only is there no identifiable style of play, but now you’re bringing in kids to the national level who have played under 20 different coaches emulating 20 different theories on how teams should operate. When you compare this to other countries, this puts the US far behind. “Reyna is starting to promote his vision…and we need a buy in from our coaches at the youth level to see that these ideas get implemented. We are starting to use the examples of other federations (Brazil and Spain) as we recognized that they have a formula for success that we can copy,” said Beall. If there were national principles of play, the youth coaches could incorporate it at young ages, making the transition to national programs for the more gifted players seamless. Does this mean that every youth team should be playing the same formations and focusing on the exact same skills? No, a system that inflexible would do more harm than good. Players would be clones of one another, and there would be no room for freedom of expression and growth. Exceptional talents that transcend their team’s style would be overlooked. But should certain national principles of play be taught at every level? Absolutely.

3. Pay for Play

Right now, the way the youth system is set up, you have to pay in order to play organized soccer with quality coaches. As you get better, the more expensive it gets. If you’re just starting off in soccer as an American youth, you’re probably going to join a rec. league. Here, you’re only paying a minimal fee to play, which covers uniforms and field maintenance. Let’s say you end up developing at an accelerated rate and you are invited to play for the local club team. You can expect to pay registration fees, training fees, tournament entry fees, and another sum for equipment. If you’re really good, you may end up playing for the state team or the regional team. Now, on top of all your club fees, you’re going to have to cover travel costs as well. In other countries, once you reach a certain technical level, the academies pick up the tab. There is incentive to get better and the process is more inclusive and accessible to more players.

This difference leads to a lot of players getting overlooked, and is what Beall sees as being a huge problem, “So many talented players never get seen because they do not get the chance for exposure at higher levels…they cannot afford it. There are a number of outstanding players here in Phoenix who have grown up playing ‘street soccer’ and are better than anyone we see competing for state cups!” There are several possible solutions to this. First, much like what was discussed earlier, some sort of subsidies from the college or professional level could be introduced to offset costs for these players. Another solution would be sponsorships from businesses. This should become easier as most people commit to sponsorships for two reasons: advertising and some sort of emotional tie to a sport or team. With more and more kids playing soccer and more young parents having played soccer now in their youth, these potential pairings could start to happen more often, that is if it is allowed by state soccer bodies. The easiest thing to do would be to offer to have the name of the sponsoring company put on the jersey. Some states like Illinois actually prohibit this to ensure financial parity, but states like California allow this and it has benefited the clubs, allowing them to bring in more players and provide better experiences for current players.

4. Misplaced Focus on Winning Instead of Player Development

The Pay for Play model also has other consequences, one of which is the misguided focus on winning rather than player development. Why is a focus on winning such a big deal? Well, for starters, it leads teams down the road of playing poor soccer. I’ve watched many youth games where one team will play great soccer, demonstrate the skills necessary to exceed at higher levels, and lose 4-1 because the other team just kicks the ball forward without any thought to passing and the more athletic kid wins the foot race. However, that tactic does nothing to teach the skills necessary to succeed in soccer at the next level, but it is encouraged because it produces a result. The result is overvalued and limits the potential young players could reach.

So how does this stem from Pay for Play? Beall said, “This stems from the Pay for Play Club Soccer environment where the parents have too much influence on the direction a club takes.” Because you are asking families to make large financial commitments, the parents would like a say in what happens at the club. If they are going to pay that money, they want their child to have winning experience, as that is what is most equated with a quality product in America. However, this has a negative impact when it forces coaches to move away from teaching the game for player growth and toward appeasing parents, most of whom don’t necessarily understand what the game is like at a higher level and what type of development is necessary. One solution to this would be keeping parents and kids separate on game days and training sessions, sitting on opposite sidelines. “Winning is important to be sure, but the players enjoying the process and the journey while they improve with the life lessons and soccer lessons is vastly more important,” Beall concluded. Another solution is offering parent education and becoming increasingly transparent in explaining the club philosophy. Until clubs are able to achieve some sort of financial stability outside of registration and training fees, winning will have to be a priority for clubs to remain solvent, unless there is buy-in from parents, players are enjoying the experience, and there are visible development results with players getting college scholarships.

5. The US Lacks Opportunities for Self-Actualization

First, let’s define what is meant by self-actualization: the ability for each player to reach his or her ultimate potential, whether that is making the high school varsity team or playing for the national program. The US lacks opportunities for players to take their game to the next level. First, we group kids solely on the basis of age and not ability. Beall says this critique is spot on, “Our professional teams are not investing as many resources as they could be (US Soccer should step in here) to build talent at Academy levels. Believe me, Leo Messi was not playing with his age group very long before he moved up because of his ability level.” Can you imagine if Messi was told at age 13, “Hey I know you’re better than everyone here, but you have to play with them because you’re the same age.” By doing this, we’re stunting the development of some of our most talented players. That’s not to say we should be creating Freddy Adu situations where 14 year olds are signing with the MLS, but in practice, if a 12 year old is significantly better than everyone around him, he should have the opportunity to play with the 14 year olds for a bit. In education, they call it enrichment to help gifted students push their development to reach their maximum potential. In soccer, well…we don’t call it anything because it does not happen consistently at the youth level.

Second, there is a lack of opportunities in smaller states for kids to move to higher-level clubs. Big states like California have larger player pools and as a result, more elite teams that kids can go to. If you’re developing at a higher level at a smaller local club, you can join an elite regional club to keep advancing your game. There are enough players in a state like that where these regional clubs can then fill an entire league and provide a higher level of competition for those gifted players. There are also several tiers below the premier level so kids can decide what experience is right for them now or set goals as to what level they want to work towards. Smaller states simply do not have enough players to provide that environment. They will have to find a way to give kids those experiences, whether it is traveling to tougher tournaments, partnering with a local college to have the team play with the kids, or creating the opportunity within the club to advance based on ability rather than age. Otherwise, development is stunted and players cannot reach their full potential.


More from TSG on US Youth Soccer:

Here Claudio, Use This Schematic, by Nick Sindt

What Is American Brand Soccer, by Patrick Kilgore


6. Too Much Red Tape in a Flawed System

Ultimately, US Soccer needs to come to the realization that at the youth level, administrative rules are making it harder for kids to play now. These regulations are now beyond establishing an effective system, which is covered in red tape. For example, in some states, kids are not allowed to remain involved with their club team while playing for their high school. College soccer players are limited in the amount of time they can practice and train in certain seasons. If players switch clubs during certain parts of the season, they have to sit out games. In some states, players that register for one team in a league are ineligible to play with another age group within the same club to offer those players enrichment opportunities. These are just some examples where instead of making the game easier for kids to enjoy, it becomes more difficult and affects the level of play.

The system in place also creates a problem by encouraging tournament after tournament. Beall went into more depth on how this is starting to change and the progress that still needs to be made,

“The US Club Soccer model that is starting to take hold in other states incorporates playing league games for promotion and relegation, just like Europe. We would play less games but they would be more meaningful. In addition, they have a ‘Cup’ competition, which is played during the season, which also provides a platform for excellent competition. Easier to play under their system in terms of travel documents from state to state. That’s just the tip of the iceberg…less games and more training, less cost to play soccer, putting money into the infrastructure so that there are more quality places to play, midweek games at night instead of packing games in on the weekends (4 games in 48 hours at these silly tournaments that you pay hundreds and thousands of dollars to be a part of).”

US Youth Soccer moves forward from here...


Until the six issues above are addressed, it is going to be very difficult for US Soccer to generate global superstars and compete for the elusive World Cup trophy. We’re destined for group stage flameouts, round of 16 disappointments, and maybe the occasional taste of the quarterfinals if we head down the same path. Changes have to be made, and this is where the Klinsmann hire has this writer giddy with excitement. Klinsmann was the leader in the transformation of the German youth system, and now they have developed young talent that is some of the best in the world. There’s no reason to think that can’t happen here, but it’s going to take some work.

To create a soccer culture here, practices need to be less about drills, winning, and X’s and O’s, especially at the younger ages. The game itself is the greatest teacher, and kids should be encouraged in practice to take risks and try new things. They’re more likely to get more touches on the ball away from practice if they are having fun at competitive practices. In order to keep the stronger athletes from switching to a sport more ingrained in the American mainstream is to keep the enjoyment level high until soccer gets a firm footing.

The USSF could easily provide a short training manual to rec league and club youth coaches to follow, or even mandate an entry level coaching class. US Soccer and the MLS need to start investing more and take a more active role in youth development. This is starting to happen with academy teams, but more can be done, especially in lowering the financial burden. Pay for Play could be turned around if the professional level invests more at the youth level, modeling the system after countries like England and Spain. There needs to be an investment in infrastructure as well so that kids have more places to play. Clubs could be more open to sharing their philosophies with parents so that those who didn’t grow up playing understand the end goal. Along with reducing costs, this would pull the focus away from winning and put it more on teaching the skills of soccer. It will also increase their enjoyment level of the game, thus moving towards soccer having a stronger position in the American mainstream.

Klinsmann has made some shifts like this before in his stint as the German coach, but the US is in a much different situation. Given the time and the resources though, Klinsmann could transform US Soccer into what we all dream it could be. We won’t see it immediately on the scoreboard, but in ten years from now we may just look back at this hiring as the moment the US became a player on the global pitch.

121 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by kaya on 2011/09/19 at 10:58 PM

    I was wondering when it became such irrefutable fact that Klinsmann turned down the USMNT job the first 2 times due to lack of control at the youth level. At the dawn of the Bob Bradley era, I recall having the distinct impression we’d never really know went on with negotiations at the beginning of the Bob Bradley era, and don’t recall there being much more than pure speculation after the post-2010 WC pursuit. In any case, as has been widely noted, Jurgen is still only the coach, not a director, so what do we really know about how much control he has now?
    I’ve voiced my skepticism about the youth systems before, and I still don’t see where the difference between the academic and club team systems can be resolved. Granted, I have absolutely no suggestions for a solution, but I don’t really see how some sponsorship deals are going to solve the problem. Kids playing in youth rec leagues which feed into high school teams is where the aged-based system was born. I still think kids should play for their neighborhood, not their school. I know I’ll just piss off a lot of people who love their college sports, but I think we’d be better off if people went to school to, um… study. Not play sports, regardless of which sport they play. Then we wouldn’t have to pretend we’re shocked about USC, Ohio State, Miami, bla bla.


    • Posted by kaya on 2011/09/19 at 11:00 PM

      I could actually read what I wrote before pressing “post comment”. In the meantime, I need an “edit” button.


      • If “the game is the best teacher” then all of the kids playing 4 games a weekend in silly tournaments and playing tons of useless games would all be superstars. And the bit about the U.S. needing a style is a stupid thought as well. The Germans won a bunch of world cups and have been a dominant international power for many many decades; in the last two world cup cycles Klinsmann and Low have completely overturned the old German “style” into something much more tactically advanced and in my opinion a superior “style”. The tactics of Italy and Brazil and Argentina etc are not dictated by a style but by the culture of the coaches who impose there tactics and philosophies upon their national teams, pro teams, and youth teams. A perfect illustration of a country that has huge success with many different styles is Argentina who have a mix of European and South American characteristics but have changed their style many times over the years, mostly due to the change in Head Coaches. Repeating silly phrases like need a US style and the game is the best teacher are irrelevant. The worst thing to happen to US soccer in my opinion is MLS going from the first few years with birlliant number 10s dominating the league with their “style of play” (Etcheverry, Valderamma etc) to a league with two holding midfielders who stand around in the center of the field and play square passes to nobody. In the end all of the so called player development gurus say that playing 1 and 2 touch like Barcelona is what we need but everyone really just wants to see Lionel Messi blaze through 4 defenders from half field and score on his own….


        • Posted by Jared on 2011/09/21 at 9:25 AM

          The game is the best teacher but not full 11 v 11 at youth level. Not enough touches of the ball for kids and the field is too large. 6 v 6 is best and kids should not be stuck so rigidly in positions from a young age.

          I would argue that Argentina have struggled lately because they haven’t settled on a style. It’s been sort of throw together the best players and see what happens.


          • Posted by Andrew on 2011/09/27 at 7:49 PM

            The game IS the best teacher; but youth in the US never get to play the game – there are always adults there telling them what to do! Perhaps clubs could provide small fields and just let the kids play, let them create their own games (as we did when I was young): provide coaches who can give demonstrations not drills, guidance not instruction. And don’t let parents watch.
            Too much to hope for?


            • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/09/27 at 11:49 PM

              I’m coming in late here, but I disagree. The game is more enjoyable when you’re taught the fundamentals over time.
              It enables you to play better and enjoy the game. The timing of teaching is important, but when talk patiently it makes the game that much more enjoyable. Little successes and big successes.

            • You are so wrong on this statement. The game is more enjoyable when you can just play with your friends without any adult involvement. Give kids a ball and something to ca;ll goals and see how a game develops and how they govern themselves. Them watch how they create and try new things seeing what works and what doesn’t. That is how its done in most of the world, pick up games. Nit the games that coaches use at the end of training where they want the kids to keep a shape and to use what they just learned. That’s structure and it doesn’t work. The fundamentals of the game are easy, your confusing them with tactics which should be taught at the older age groups (15 and up).

        • Posted by Azarcon on 2011/11/28 at 6:30 PM

          “The game is the best teacher,” I believe, is a much misconstrued and often inaccurately used idea.

          In absence of a qualified coach, throwing a ball out there is much more desirable than the coach teaching young players a) absolute nonsense and b) absolutely the wrong things about the game. In that case the game is the best teacher.

          In the hands of a qualified coach, the “games” he utilizes can be wonderful tools to teach the game. When he can manipulate the different elements inside the game such as; the size of the playing area, the orientation of the playing area, big goals or small goals, even or odd teams, directional or non-directional, amount of pressure, incentives, when to stop for coaching points, duration of activities, work to rest ratios, sequence of activities, etc. — it is a far, far cry from throwing a ball out there. The structure and rules of the game, to be more specific, become the teacher. The qualified coach can isolate lessons and make learning them more permanent, impactful, and digestable.

          To the author; I believe you can further simplify your points to two things. As Jurgen says, the “pyramid is upside down”:

          1. We need some of our best coaches at U6-U14 (not at U16+) teaching fundamental, technical skills.

          2. Increase the availability of coaching courses. We need more, better trained coaches, again, particularly at the youngest levels who know how to teach the various technical skills needed by a player. So many of our high end players know how to do fifteen different 1v1 moves in their sleep but so few receive the ball well. Few can kick a ball straight on command.

          We have a soccer culture, it’s very young and naive and not very sophisticated, but it’s there. We have a deep baseball culture but many would say it’s not thriving. In our advertising the cliche for middle class now is soccer, not baseball, not really basketball.

          We just need to make more out of the raw material we are given. Everything else will fall into place.


    • Posted by dth on 2011/09/20 at 11:45 AM

      I think the emphasis on professionalizing youth soccer is important and correct, but I also think people entirely overexaggerate how important it is and how much of a deficit it is.

      Look at Japan. Nagatomo of Inter–he did the Japanese equivalent of Generation Adidas. Kagawa of Dortmund played for an amateur club; Ryo Miyaichi of Arsenal skipped straight from his high school to professional ball with Feyenoord and was a very good player for them. The list goes on. Professionalism is important; coaching is more so.


      • Posted by kaya on 2011/09/20 at 12:27 PM

        I’m not advocating professionalization of youth sports, but I do think our obsession with academic based team sports hurts in a lot of ways. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there is another country with quasi-professional school-based sports teams and I think Japan is a good reason we should ask ourselves why we haven’t done better rather than use the author’s #1 listed reason as an excuse.


        • Posted by kaya on 2011/09/20 at 12:28 PM

          ” I don’t think there is another country with quasi-professional school-based sports..” <– besides the US, if that wasn't clear.


          • I believe England does, but it is also parallel with non school system (could be wrong on this), one of the easiest ways to look at this system is to look at youth basketball and how AAU and school ball co exist. They compliment each other. The same can be done with soccer.


  2. Posted by Stanley on 2011/09/20 at 12:28 AM

    Where is the evidence that “Klinsmann was the leader of the transformation on the German youth system”? I would give him credit for give those gifted young German players a chance during his tenure as NT coach, but those players simply didn’t appear because he wanted to change Germany’s style of play. The German federation and the Bundesliga deserve much of the credit for Germany transformation because they are the one who committed the resources and took action to produce better players years before Klinsmann took over the national team. They spent millions of Euros, hired better coaches, established training centers, and changed coaching philosophies at the youth level in reaction to their own national team’s failures and the expensive foreigners populating their league. Klinsmann simply built own their efforts by giving some of those talented young players greater roles.

    So aren’t you guys expecting too much of Klinsmann? He isn’t a magician. His job is to coach the national team.


    • Posted by dth on 2011/09/20 at 11:42 AM

      Yeah, not only is there zero evidence that Klinsmann was the leader of that transformation, there is in fact plenty of evidence that he had zip to do with it. He just caught a wave at the right time. Credit to him for recognizing it–a lot of coaches wouldn’t–but not exactly inventing the internet here.

      Also, if you listen to Klinsmann’s rhetoric about youth players–he’s talked on a few separate occasions about making players go through the steps, e.g. u-20, u-23 etc., before getting to the MNT. Not exactly the bold proponent of youth that Bob Bradley was.


      • Posted by Jared on 2011/09/20 at 12:20 PM

        Yet, Brek Shea has been the guy that has really shown under Klinsmann and looks like he’ll be a sure thing to at least be on the bench going forward. Bill Hamid is looking like he’s Howard’s backup at least for friendlies and he never played a game for the US youth squads. Agudelo has also been named to the squad under Klinsmann.

        My guess is that his rhetoric would be the way it would work in a perfect world if the US had Germany’s depth of talent. The argument going around Europe seems to be that Germany and Spain have it the right way by having their best youth players appear for their respective national team levels. England on the other hand ends up sending a bunch of nobodies to the tournaments because anyone attached to a Premier League team isn’t released. The argument is that the English players never to learn how to win and the cycle of failure continues while the continental giants have players that reach the full national team with an understanding of what it takes to do well in a tournament without complaining of homesickness or lack of Xbox.


        • Posted by Trei on 2011/09/23 at 11:05 AM

          Premier League teams HAVE to release players for all International events, even friendlies unless a player is injured or just returning from injury.


    • I’ll have to do some digging in the interwebs to find the source, but I’ve read or heard in an interview that he individually approached the Bundesliga teams/coaches and told them that the style of play was changing for their National team and he’d be bringing some “American” training techniques to the table. Her Klinsi, supposedly, requested that they make changes at each club to mirror and support his changes for the Mannschaft so that the right hand and left hand were aware of each other instead of operating in a vacuum.


      • Posted by dth on 2011/09/20 at 2:14 PM

        Yeah, this is what Klinsmann says and I should probably walk back the idea that he contributed zero to the German youth revolution. It probably had some effect, probably positive.

        But the main thing the Germans did was around the year 2000 when the DFB started funding a huge number of training centers (like 160, I want to say) at great expense (something like 15 million dollars a year?) to blanket the country and make sure u10 players had spaces to play and were learning the fundamentals. They also required Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga teams to field youth academies. They were coincidentally helped, at a similar time, with a money crunch in the Bundesliga which opened up opportunities for young, cheap Germans.


  3. Posted by CrazyMike366 on 2011/09/20 at 1:17 AM


    It became well known, straight from Klinsmann’s mouth, that the reason negotiations broke down after the 2010 WC was because US Soccer could not guarantee him control over several aspects of American soccer, especially the youth level and MLS. This came straight from a widely published interview by Grant Wahl for Sports Illustrated. If I’m not mistaken, it was the cover story the month after the 2010 World Cup ended.

    I’m sure you’ll be able to find it with a quick search and you can watch it or read the transcript yourself.

    Klinsmann has been working closely with Claudio Reyna (in his capacity as technical director of the USSF) since he was hired, going so far as to have him in the training camps preceding the Mexico and Costa Rica friendlies. They seem to be absolutely on the same page.

    If you’ve got roughly an hour to spare, I highly recommend watching Reyna’s lecture from last year on player and coaching development in the US from US Soccer’s page.



    • Posted by mthead14 on 2011/09/20 at 7:47 AM

      your statement isn’t fully accurate. Here’s the article. Klinsmann was not clear on what control he didn’t get, but Wahl assumed it was control of players, venues and opponents, and all Klinsmann said was control over the technical side.


    • Posted by Kevin on 2011/09/26 at 10:58 AM

      The USSF is in no position to offer anyone control over aspects of MLS. Nor do I think Klinsmann would be stupid enough to ask for it. MLS is a separate entity. The English National Team manage doesn’t have any say over the EPL.

      For all the talk of Klinsmann, he has a very limited role outside of managing the Nats. He can’t run youth soccer or our setup.

      He can only make suggestions just like Reyna.


  4. Posted by AJNY on 2011/09/20 at 3:15 AM

    Great post. As someone who came up through the youth system recently and then moved on to the college level, just wanted to add my two cents….

    While all of the things you mentioned are definitely problems, 5 and 6 are the most significant. The “self-actualization” problem for me extends beyond the two conditions you (rightfully) bring up. US Soccer, or at least US Soccer in my area, is generally pretty good at identifying who the best 10 and 11 year olds are. What they are pretty bad at is recognizing that early success is not necessarily a precursor of future results. They are bad at uncovering and nurturing developing talents, bad at identifying kids with unique skill sets, bad at working late-developing players (and by this I mean post age 12) into the established development system. Further, from a training standpoint, we have almost know technical know-how. Coaches fail to place any real importance on tactical thinking; all the focus is on the attributes that stand out (size, speed, and “skills”) and none on the traits that can make someone a truly special soccer player (the soccer mind, player movement, dictating pace, etc.). Obviously you need both, but for US Soccer the latter is much more of an issue than the former. When it comes to self-actualization, I would say that the US consistently fails to provide the framework by which any but the most obviously gifted players can reach their potential, and even then these players aren’t getting the comprehensive soccer education they need.

    Other issues that come to mind:
    The college system: imposes conditions on what kinds of players clubs need to produce (big, physical, direct) and with a few exceptions does nothing for players once they get there (watch a men’s college game, it looks like a fourth-tier english rugby match)

    Provincialism amongst coaches: Emphasis on youth soccer “teams” is nice but makes it difficult to bring in new talent, disincentive to risk-taking, mental focus on winning

    Risk-aversion: Creativity not stressed at youth levels, hierarchical development system and coaches lacking tactical knowledge and self-confidence (especially at high school/college level) generally reward the players who make the least mistakes, not the players who try new things.

    And so on…


    • Posted by Ilovefutbol on 2011/09/20 at 7:53 AM

      You are 100% right on this, I saw it first hand. My son played on a team that as soon as you made a mistake on the field you were pulled off. After a year of this we left because my son went from bicycle kicks and volleys to being timid to take a shot. We are now playing a couple levels of competition down but he is starting to show more confidence when on the ball. Totally worth it even at the U13-14 level. Unfortunately the leagues here do not allow you to change clubs when the club isn’t a good fit until it is too late.


    • Posted by Excellency on 2011/09/20 at 8:50 AM

      AJNY – I think you are getting at the same thing I experienced, as posted just below. Just want to say I agree with what you say. At the same time, though, I wonder if we would not be smart to keep the “school” system, as opposed to the “club” system, and simply become better at expanding the whole mind set when it comes to skills. I wonder if you don’t think we have a better “team” mentality than some other countries.


  5. Posted by Excellency on 2011/09/20 at 5:47 AM

    I grew up in South America. When I moved to US for high school, I found I could dribble by the American opposition and pass but I wasn’t much good at soccer because I could not tackle, had short range and my shot on goal was mush. Of course, the latter were not necessary in the sandlot games (beach, actually) where I played in SAmerica. Indeed, much of the weakness in foreign countries’ soccer is that their game resembles beach ball.

    My point: Maybe the structured system we use here now is what makes it possible for our WC cup teams to play on even level, as a team, against opposition which, on an individual basis, is far better than we. What we need to do is add other essential elements which are not picked up in our “school ball”. For example, just think how wide the spaces are when you put 8 year old kids out on the stereotypical pitch one sees in advertizements on TV for soccer moms driving vans. It is a different matter putting a small rubber ball between two sand mounds placed 5 feet apart, if you can reach them, knowing you may not see the ball again for 5 minutes if you give it up. When was the last time you saw the American team get through 4 backs spaced 5 feet apart at the top of the box with short passes and nimble footwork?

    Let’s keep our basic structure and figure out the elements in the game that are not being coached which are missing.


    • Posted by Jared on 2011/09/20 at 8:07 AM

      I think that’s what Reyna is working on specifically. Changing the system enough so that more of the players with the individual skills are able to make their way through the system without being left behind either for lack of money or for lack of size/speed.


      • I would love to know how Reyna is working on this or going to accomplish it. His 150 page opus is geared towards better development of players through age specific drills and games that develop the more technical or “skill” side of the game.

        The downfall of this doctrine is that there aren’t enough examples of things for coaches to implement in practice, so the coaches who don’t know the game and don’t chase knowledge only get a handful of drills to do inplace of what they really need: a map from point A to B to C for an entire season for each age group.

        Also Reyna’s stumping doesn’t put money into USSF coffers to keep kids from being left behind due to money, and there’s still no incentive (or perhaps a better term would be negative reinforcement) to go away from the “Just Win Baby!” ethos that permeates youth soccer in this country.


        • Posted by scweeb on 2011/09/20 at 4:50 PM

          I have always wanted to see someone put out a website that is geared towards coaches espically at the rec and local league level.
          I remember my coaching days right out of high school ball and doing the excat same drills for my teams that i was drilled in when growing up and realized that they were limited and didn’t really teach what i wanted them to learn.
          I would have loved if there was a site espically by the ussf that had different drill or videos on things they thought should be taught at that age. Or even a spot were i could look up say vision. ANd i could get some on paper drills or even a small video clip of some different drill to do.


  6. Posted by Freegle on 2011/09/20 at 6:02 AM

    One apect that I think i overlooked you touched on a little bit, but politics plays large role in why our youth system when we have “non-soccer” people making decisions, especially at the younger age groups.

    At those ages especially, teams (even the travelling teams) are coached by parents. In many cases, league presidents are parents who like to be in charge of things despite having no soccer knowledge or experience to draw from. What you end up with is players with more potential being overlooked because the league president’s kid is 12 years old and wants to be on the best team. Or, more talented players sitting on the bench because the coaches son is on the field (incidentally, that’s where a lot of the Bradley nepotism vitriol came from. I’m not saying I agree with it or not, only that a lot of people have lived it because of our youth system, and I think thats why is snowballed into such a hot button issue.)

    To use an american parallel, The Raiders have been somewhere between below average and terrible in the past decade because Al Davis refuses to let the knowledgeable people he hires make the ultimate decisions.

    Our youth system is in the same boat. If you take the politics out and let the “soccer people” make the soccer decisions and the quality of development should improve. The more teams are chosen by parent groups and player selection is made by the coach who grew up playing hockey, the more our growth is stunted, especially at the grassroots level


    • Posted by $$ on 2011/09/23 at 11:18 AM

      Freegle, I dont know where you are from but by in large the soccer people are in charge in this country. Unfortunately they are driven by money and their decisions are based on winning at all costs so that players want to play for their club instead of developing players.


  7. Posted by chad on 2011/09/20 at 7:17 AM

    Such an excellent article deserves a better reply, but here are some thoughts for consideration (sorry for ridiculous length). I just add that I have 4 kids ages 5-10, one of whom plays club soccer. So much of the TSG article is aimed a bit higher up the developmental food chain than what I see on a week by week basis.

    1. I’ve been thinking about the soccer culture question lately. It’s hard not to when you see the difference between what’s going on in MLS stadiums in the Pacific Northwest and compare it to the MLS waseteland that is the area around Boston (despite the many many soccer fans (like me) that are in the area). I think a question to ask is whether the goal is for soccer to slide into the major sports discussion in the US as much as possible OR is it better to be sort of a sporting subculture that attracts people that like to be a little different. Sorry, but from this Northeaserner’s view, everybody in the Pacific Northwest looks like they just want to be a little bit “different” and soccer seems to help with that identity. Also, all the kids I know are over-scheduled these days. Not many will ever want to play soccer 7 days a week. If you want your child to play more soccer, a combination of Town soccer and club soccer gets them a lot of time in a season.

    2. I think Klinsmann is certainly onto something in saying that the soccer style of the national team needs to reflect the culture of the nation and that our reactive style doesn’t fit our highly caffeinated, take charge, innovative, creative, let’s get to the moon before the Soviets mentality. How absurd is it that in a nation that invents EVERYTHING, we produce players that aren’t creative? On the other hand, having every state in the Union play a similar style doesn’t reflect our culture either. Like it or not, the nation has a strong individualistic culture and we thrive when we compete to see who can produce the best results. So, I think we need a national style of play, but I do not think that youth coaches need to teach that style. The article touches on this, but there is a tension in wanting a national style and allowing American ingenuity and individuality to reign.

    3. Pay for Play sucks and I liked the idea for corporate sponsorships. But to get big dollars in play, you are going to need to televise the equivalent of the Little League World Series (which is exactly the type of thing we don’t want to do).

    4. #4 is the key point in the article for me. If parents and coaches are educated to buy in to the belief that the main goal is player development and not winning, then maybe some of the other problems will go away. I believe in having multiple objectives for youth games. Kids wants to win (1 objective). But I made the U-9 girls I coach promise that at least 5 girls would try a scissors move in last week’s game (another objective). I suppose that mandating “creativity” is not truly creative, but it was fun and leads to self-expression and took the focus off the other team who we were crushing like grapes (sorry for that).

    Last, really agree with AJNY’s post above. It’s easy to pick the athletic alpha dogs in a youth game. But so long as soccer takes more than athleticism, we need a better way to scout talent and nurture later bloomers.


    • I just want to address something here….

      “Sorry, but from this Northeaserner’s view, everybody in the Pacific Northwest looks like they just want to be a little bit “different” and soccer seems to help with that identity. ”

      This is 100% a NE antiquated, elitist, and narrow minded view of the area. Soccer has been in the Pacific Northwest since the turn of the last century (IE 1900), when exhibitions were scheduled so that the denizens of Portland could see the new sport that was available. There are newspaper reports from the great turnout for these games. Portland in specific has always had a record of supporting their local sports teams, from the fanatical support for the Blazers with their sellout streak, to the Ducks, the Beavers, and the Timbers from the NASL 1975 days. This isn’t a “counter-culture” fad or fascination as the Timbers are not a “new” team. They are expansion in name ONLY to the MLS. There are fans in the ranks of the Timbers Army who have been around since the very beginning of the team and before who can tell you stories of watching Pele, Bergkamp and Best play in the NASL.


      • Posted by chad on 2011/09/20 at 8:35 AM

        John, I don’t mean to offend and tried to state my regional bias in the very opinion you cited. I understand why you disagree with the example, but we are talking about the land of the very individualized microbrews, No? There are significant differences between Portland and St Louis, right? I could have been clearer that I didn’t mean to use different as a pejorative. Peace.


        • Chad, you didn’t offend, I just tend to hear this quite a bit from the mainstream media and I don’t like the perpetuation of the rumour that the Timbers success in the community is merely the result of nascent Portland counter-culture.

          While one could say that people in Portland are slightly odder than the average mid-western person, one could also say that they pale in comparison to someone that moves to Alaska (having lived in both areas, I can assure you this to be true). Certainly the area can attract a different kind of person and certainly those people are less likely to be found in say… Twin Falls. However, that solely isn’t the reason for the success.

          I could write a very long article on the reason for the individualised beer dynamics and the profile of the area’s drinking patterns as well. Some of the reason for individualised microbrews is the availability of good and fresh ingredients locally. The PNW happens to be one of the few places in the continental United States where you can effectively grow hops. This is why so many small batch beer makers across the US use cascade hops, as the profile and availability of the hops make it extraordinarily usable in your average pale/ipa.

          To be certain there are differences in the country, but let us think that the level of support is something grown organically in the area through years of hard work by nameless people who supported the club through all its’ iterations till the successes of today. Rather than chalking things up to a successful PR counter-culture grabbing of the soccer “fad”.


      • Posted by Excellency on 2011/09/20 at 9:00 AM

        Sorry, John, I’ll have to agree with Chad here. As someone who lives in blue dogs-and-shotgun-land, I am enjoying my USA soccer the way it is lived in the Northwest (I was born in Seattle) and think you deserve a much better team.

        Has it ever occurred to you that there are forces out there eager to kill soccer in the crib?


  8. Posted by Crow on 2011/09/20 at 7:36 AM

    My biggest problem with Sunil Gulati is the fact that he views the current programs in place as the solution.

    Some context- at the Fan Forum I attended in March some of these EXACT points were brought up by multiple users and he quickly dismissed them all mentioning certain programs that are already in place.

    I’m not going to try to act like I’m an expert on what should be done in youth soccer- I’m not- but he seemed to be just stating a bunch of rhetoric. I’ve read many comments from people who are in the know and there seems to be many issues that need to be addressed. Hopefully, the first steps are being taken to make the proper changes because what else is more important than developing a strong youth pipeline?


    • Posted by dth on 2011/09/20 at 11:48 AM

      Well, I mean, if you’re Sunil Gulati, programs are all you have. He can’t go and personally instruct every single eight-year-old in the U.S. He has to hope to build the right programs and propagate the right influences through and eventually have it permeate down to the lower levels. I think he’s doing a good job of this, actually–USSDA is, for its goals, a good program.


  9. Posted by jwrandolph on 2011/09/20 at 8:39 AM

    Any suggestions as to a good read on coaching 4-6 year olds? Feels like a silly question, but I thought this’d be the place to ask!

    Wonderful read, and I’ve really enjoyed the thoughtful comments.


    • Check out Soccer.com and their Field/Training area has a listing of about 125 books centered around coaching and drills. There’s a few in there that are just drills and some that are entire practice sessions that form into a coherent season. Read a couple then take the drills/practice sessions that you think will work best for the players you’re working with.

      And anything Coerver, as they tend to focus on individual dribbling skills which is not the be-all, end-all they make it out to be but a damn good foundation and confidence builder.


    • Posted by soccer on 2011/09/22 at 10:20 AM

      I saw a dad coaching 5yr olds with a method that seemed to work.
      He numbered the moves.
      1) inside cut
      2) outside cut. etc.

      by the end of the rec soccer season they were up to # 15 or so and he’d just call a number during that part of practice. they remembered the moves pretty well for 5yr olds.


  10. Posted by mthead14 on 2011/09/20 at 8:59 AM

    isn’t the flip side of “pay for play” the realization that kids become a commodity? In other words, aren’t European academies compensated by selling players that they have “owned” since childhood?


    • Posted by Jared on 2011/09/20 at 9:36 AM

      I know that if given a choice of not being able to continue to play due to lack of funds or being a commodity but given continued training, I’d go with the commodity route. Obviously, there are downsides to the Euro academy method especially in terms of education (not that all clubs are guilty of providing little education) but there is more of a chance for all levels of society being represented. Clubs also are rather merciless with the way they dispose of players that don’t make the cut.

      If the player is smart then they are less of a commodity than others in terms of the contract that they’ve signed. Due to the bizarre differences in employment laws across Europe a player can benefit from the best academies (Barca, some of the ones in France) yet jump to a better situation in England and professionalism at a younger age.


  11. Posted by chazcar2 on 2011/09/20 at 9:19 AM

    To harness the full potential of our population and GDP into a really great soccer team will require a new idea. Modeling after European systems is just not going to work. The population density of our country just is too low to do things exactly like a european country. Also, other sports dragging away players is much more likely here.

    What that new idea is, I don’t know. Maybe a hybrid of European Academies and Baseball minor leagues?


    • Posted by Jared on 2011/09/20 at 9:41 AM

      One thing that would really help would be for there to be better integration of the different pro and semi-pro soccer leagues in the US. MLS and the various other leagues need to work more closely to move towards a minor league setup. Clearly, promotion and relegation would be great but that’s not going to happen any time soon. If there was more of an affiliation then some of the semi-pro clubs could become parts of an MLS team’s system of player development. Similar in structure to how Spain has Barcelona B and Castilla (Real Madrid B) in the 2nd division (I believe most of the Primera Liga clubs have a B side in some level of the Spanish leagues).


      • It’s not necessarily youth as defined by highschool or younger, but the MLS reserves side league was reinstated this year. So each MLS side has a reserve team that utilizes fringe players and players they have on the developmental squad to play games.

        Just an FYI.

        There is also the USL PDL (Premier Development League) which has 64 teams across the US.

        That really goes more towards the point of your first point which is better integration of all the leagues in the US.


        • Posted by Jared on 2011/09/20 at 9:57 AM

          I know that MLS has the reserve league but I feel that US soccer (intentional small s on soccer) would be better served if MLS wasn’t so gung ho about doing everything by itself.

          Isn’t there also the NASL in addition to the USL?


          • The MLS has only been playing games for 15 years! We are lucky that it doesn’t turn the music up on its’ headphones, say “whatever man” and try to steal our car to go to a late night party, which we be very irresponsible since we are trying to close the Klinsman deal in the morning and it knows how important that is to getting back with Brazil in 2014.

            Hopefully when it goes off to college, graduates and has kids of its’ own that it will understand the frustration of coming home to find that all the Pizza Pockets were eaten at 2:00 in the afternoon and the car is empty on gas.

            Teenagers… I’ll tell ya.


            • To continue this analogy further, if you look down the street at the Asian family…their 15 year old kid is much more responsible and organically academic.

          • The structure goes like this:

            Some MLS clubs use the PDL for their U-23 squads, but other than that connection each league is a separate business entity opperating in a vacuum.


            • Posted by Kevin on 2011/09/26 at 11:19 AM

              Also consider the NASL and USL hate each other since the NASL clubs broke away from the USL.

              They would never work together.

          • Posted by Kevin on 2011/09/26 at 11:17 AM

            MLS doesn’t want to do everything alone, but they have to given the sorry state of the U.S. minor leagues. Just follow the leagues under MLS and you will be quite happy that MLS has little to nothing to do with them. MLS use to have a minor league affiliation with the USL. But they pulled out of it almost a decade ago.

            In a perfect world, the NASL and USL teams would be affiliated with MLS clubs like minor league baseball


      • Posted by chazcar2 on 2011/09/20 at 10:10 AM

        I think that the european promotion/relegation set up is putting clubs in a very poor finacial situation. Which when the team goals are about making money is fine. But in the US, sports are always run with the purpose of making money. I would think europe could benefit from more of this thinking.

        The confusion around the whole league set up I think is part of the problem. With everyone fighting to get to the top flight of soccer. If instead, lower level teams were part of a franchise (think Owner of MLS team, sets up contract with lower teams NASL, USL, etc) then you could do away with reserve teams. Similar to baseball. AAA teams are where you stash players to develop, but the teams are also run to be competitive and draw fans to the game. Journeyman players who aren’t the best, but are good also have long careers on those teams.


        • Posted by chazcar2 on 2011/09/20 at 10:18 AM

          Another interesting point about how baseball is run in this country, is that colleges do get some good players. They act as a final catch for really late bloomers, whereas early bloomers are scouted onto single A or double A teams. I would really like to see someone explore the baseball model from a soccer standpoint.

          MLS has been trying to model itself after the NFL. Which makes sense because the NFL is so sucessful, but using colleges to develop talent is wasteful and inherently open to corruption. Too many great atheletes go to college where they can only train on a limited basis and have to be able to achieve good grades, which not every person can do. College isn’t for everyone.


          • Posted by Jared on 2011/09/20 at 10:32 AM

            Colleges don’t just get late bloomers. There are a lot of college players that are drafted highly but choose to go to college because of various reasons including that they don’t like the team that drafted them, didn’t like the contract offer or the general belief that they will be better of getting time at the college level and then quickly skipping the lower minors after they have left college baseball.

            There are also several key differences between the sports that make attending college in baseball less of a drawback than for soccer. There are very prestigious summer leagues that allow college baseball players to get very high level attention (Cape Cod League is the best example). A baseball player can also play until 40 at a very high level these days so starting your pro career at 21 or 22 doesn’t set you back as much as it does in soccer where the typical high level career is over by 34 (for an outfield player and even that is fairly rare). Just look at the way we talk about Donovan and Dempsey as guys that we might not be able to rely on in 2014 due to their ages.


            • Posted by LarryMontanez on 2011/09/20 at 10:45 AM

              we shouldn’t be trying to emulate baseball, we should be trying to create a “street” style of playing soccer, like in basketball, where individual skill is heralded. As those youth players get older, then they can look for better and better teams to get better “team” training.

      • Posted by Robin on 2011/12/28 at 9:38 AM

        Much of the problem lies with MLS. A previous poster noted that the era of the great trequartistas is over and has been replaced with double holding mids. The problem is that MLS tries to think like other American sports, where winning is everything, whereas soccer culture is based explicitly on the notion that winning alone is not enough – why Real Madrid fired their coach after winning the league a few years ago.

        Soccer is about art as much as winning – but youth soccer is not, and that’s partly the fault of MLS which has decided that the big market is what matters. Ironically, opting for the big market – just win, baby – dooms MLS to irrelevance in the global soccer scene, where the art of Messi and others is the measure of quality – and equally dooms US youth soccer to the extent that it follows the same model.

        My team plays mid level travel soccer. We play against long ball teams every week. we win about half our games, because at youth level long ball soccer wins. To play possession soccer you need lots of time playing together (like Barca and La Maisa), and you need to develop players who can work effectively in tight spaces. We dont have the time – few teams do – and it takes a strong team ethos and a tremendous amount of parent support to say, “we are here to play soccer as well as we can, win or lose” – AND THEN LOSE GAMES CONSISTENTLY. But that’s what it takes to develop…..

        Hands up all the coaches here who have been happy with a losing season? otherwise, it’s just lip service.


  12. Posted by LarryMontanez on 2011/09/20 at 10:03 AM

    It’s not just the coaches and travel systems’ fault, however, it’s also the parents and the players themselves.

    Please excuse me for this lengthy anecdote, but i feel like it’s a perfect example of how the mentality of winning and playing games over training hurts youth development.

    A very talented, very athletic player who could’ve played a number of sports at a very competitive catholic school for sports loves soccer. with his athleticism, it wouldn’t take him very long with the right training to be a prolific goal scorer at the highest level. he was a junior in high school last year and was invited to be full-time rostered on a U18 Development Academy team last year (he couldn’t play on the U16s because he was a ’93), but since he had the talent but not yet the skill and cunning to be an effective striker (he had previously only played on town travel teams because of the other sports he played), he was told that he most likely wouldn’t start, and probably wouldn’t get a lot of game time, at least earlier in the season. But he was sure to get a lot better practicing at such a high level, and from getting good coaching, and when he did get into games, he’d learn a lot playing with such great defenders. and if he improved enough, he could play a lot more later in the season (and maybe even start some games) but he’d most surely be able to start the next year. His dad insisted, and the player agreed, however, that it was more important to get more game time, so they went to a non-academy travel team. he started every game, played almost every minute, and scored plenty of goals for a pretty good club team, so he was expecting to have similar success during his senior season in high school. But rather than get better, he regressed, and still hasn’t scored a goal for high school, and is now hurting the offense. He had success with his club team standing in the middle of the field right in front of goal, even if there were 2-3 defenders next to him, and then turning 180 even with a defender on his back so he could run straight at goal. His coach probably saw no reason to tell him to do anything differently, since he was scoring and the team was winning.

    Basically, the mentality to play games rather than train, and to win, made a great athlete that chose soccer over the other big sports — exactly what US Soccer needs — a worse player. the Academy system is trying to change this, but the mentality starts with the parents and the players, which is reinforced at levels as young as U8.

    Hopefully articles such as this one and US Soccer, with Klinsmann and Reyna, can find a way to change this from bottom up.


    • This stems mostly from the “Pay for Play” system. It is very hard to convince a paying parent to pay a ton of money and travel and not see their child play. I completely agree with your assessment, but I believe it is fixable when you do as the author says and implement academies that sponsor the player, and therefore the focus is on development instead of playing time.

      While I am not a parent, when I was growing up in the club system I remember fighting terribly with my parents to allow me to play Super Y. I knew I was likely not going to get a whole lot of playing time off the bat, but that it would give me access to coaches that knew what they were talking about and would ultimately make me a better player. My parents, however, simply couldn’t afford to pay for me to join a team and travel all over the state, especially since I wasn’t going to start (I was a goalkeeper, so it wasn’t likely I was going to be subbed on unless there was an injury).

      Pay for Play is what is essentially the beginning of the issue. As the author states, it also places the emphasis on winning instead of performance and development.


      • Posted by dth on 2011/09/20 at 3:24 PM

        I don’t think pay for play is the main culprit here. I think pay for play exacerbates the problem, but it is not the inherent problem. The inherent problem is typically the coaches and the philosophical approach they take to the game.

        What pay for play does is restrict the pool to wealthier types. Despite the mythology, there’s little reason to believe poor people are better at soccer or athletics generally than richer people. A hypothetical rich kid team would include players like Mario Goetze, Kaka, Frank Lampard, several Japanese players, etc. In fact, if anything, I suspect rich kids are better per capita than poor kids–for the same reason it’s tougher for poor kids to become lawyers, doctors, or whatever, I suspect a similar thing holds true for athletics.


        • Posted by kaya on 2011/09/20 at 3:31 PM

          Yes, there are exceptions, but rich kids are expected to study and go on career paths they have good odds of monetarily enriching themselves. With the exception of rich kids whose parents are themselves athletes, I doubt any wealthy parent would allow their child to play the hours upon hours of street ball that are required to be that good.


          • Posted by dth on 2011/09/20 at 4:07 PM

            Well, except wealthy or affluent parents do that kind of stuff all the time. The tennis circuit is full of these kids. Same for the soccer circuit. That’s the point of these complaints about pay to play–that it restricts the pool of people afforded the kind of intensive coaching training required to become a high-level player.

            Meanwhile, while wealthy kids might have a deficit regarding the willingness of parents to indulge athletics, poor kids have to deal with malnutrition, crime, access issues, substandard medicine, and all the other problems of poverty. The reason there are many more poor kids as an absolute number in professional athletics is that there are many more poor kids than rich kids.

            Hours and hours of street ball are, by and large, a cliche even in the places you’d expect otherwise. Ronaldinho, a player whom sonnets were written about his creative ability (which they practically implied had to be learned in the favelas) was thrown into Gremio’s academy at the age of six. And so on.


        • Yet in most of those situations, wealth had nothing to do with their development. Lampard was in West Ham’s system (where he didn’t pay), Goetze at Dortmund, and Kaka at Sao Paulo. They never had to worry about pay for play, regardless of their financial standing. I understand the point you are attempting to make, but comparing it to world class players that never had a similar situation seems a bit of a stretch.


          • Posted by dth on 2011/09/20 at 4:02 PM

            I’m just writing this to counter the general assumption that poor kids are better at sports. You hear it all the time–Klinsmann just after the world cup said the U.S. needed to look at inner cities, which is definite code.


            • The reason he said that was because the US scouting system is absolute crap and those inner city kids really do never get looked at because their teams don’t have the resources to play in scouted events like Surf Cup etc.

            • Posted by dth on 2011/09/22 at 1:01 PM


              “We all [came] out of moderate families and fought our way through … so we need to keep this hunger throughout out life. I compare it to basketball here, because I look at these guys and they are coming from inner cities. So we need to find ways to connect, however that could be, to connect with Hispanics, to connect with everybody in the soccer environment in the U.S., and to get kids who are really hungry, to get kids on technical level to perform, and what I mean is first touch.”

              The definite implication here is he thinks inner city kids are better at soccer than more affluent kids. Which, I’d argue, as a per-capita thing is wrong. These kids deserve an opportunity in so much in life, but this isn’t the reason why.

            • You are taking a single statement and stretching it quite a bit, but that’s just my opinion. The fact of the matter is the scouting system blows, badly.

            • Posted by fellaini's_fro on 2011/09/23 at 7:03 AM

              Chamo I agree wholeheartedly.

              I teach and coach in an area where 2/3 of the families are in the low income category. I come across absolutely fantastic, amazing soccer players who only play in a local Hispanic league. Pretty sure that scouts are not coming down to this local league and picking talent when they could go to San Diego and enjoy the sun, beach and Surf Cup where teams get to pay thousands of dollars to be a part of a tournament where 2/3 of the teams that apply are declined.

  13. Posted by Ian Moran on 2011/09/20 at 6:27 PM

    Congratulations on the article. I think that the US has excellent potential to develop a distinct style of play, but the obstacle is to meld the various cultures that make up the majority of soccer players. We have young players who are taught according to the experiences of family and coaches who may lean towards styles from every corner of the world. I agree that the US tends to produce high intensity committed play, and the challenge is to develop players that understand when to draw on the other facets of the their instinctive game.

    With regards to Jurgen Klinsmann I cannot share the enthusiasm over his appointment. He has clear organizational strengths, but I don’t think he can be credited with the tactical direction the German national team has taken or the development of the youth system. I will wait to see if an effective blueprint materializes, but I remain skeptical.

    Finally the game has to look at drawing in more of those players who are not able to play organized soccer due to a lack of funds. Soccer associations should be searching for kids who can benefit from free places and pushing the USSF for additional funding.


  14. #3 is the biggest thing I see. The best players do not play for ODP here in Florida, just the ones who can pay the $1000. Many high schoolers cannot afford to play for the club, so their talents stagnate. This is an excellent article and hit everything on the head. These have been my complaints for years


  15. Posted by dth on 2011/09/20 at 7:53 PM

    One last note: I also think the issue of “having a soccer culture” or not is poorly framed. There’s one nation that lives and dies by soccer, that obsesses over it, that’s been playing for a long time. They play by one, instantly recognizable style that people around the world recognize instantly.

    I refer, of course, to England.


  16. Posted by Pablo Ortiz on 2011/09/21 at 6:05 AM

    Great piece
    Soccer is the US is a business- not a passion..


  17. Posted by DV on 2011/09/21 at 9:38 AM

    Hmmmm, the Arizona Hammers are going to do things differently? I doubt it, check the Trophy Room.These are the same so-called reasons for the current state of American soccer that have existed for decades. The solutions being offered are the same ones that have been already been tried. That brings to mind Einsteins, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” These so-called ‘state of the game studies’ are just a collection of unsupported, biased opinions. The argument that “experts” are always right is simply not true. Just consider the MBA’s that are running the global financial markets. One last note, “Everyone loves reform, so long as no one rocks the boat,” Chuck Spinney. Unless you create actual systemic change, and this doesn’t even suggets how, you can come back in ten years and you can reprint this article.


    • Posted by Gil Garcia on 2011/10/12 at 12:53 PM

      DV as the father of a son who plays for the Arizona Hammers I can tell you that Roberto Beall coaches to the exact words he preaches in this article. His philosophy (and that of the club’s president, David Cameron) is to correctly teach the game, not on winning trophies as you emphasize in your response. While Roberto has only been the Director of Coaching for the Hammers for two years his philosophy and enthusiasm to develop soccer players is infectious and the kids in the organization have embraced his attitude toward the game. In short he has developed a culture within the club that is just now starting to pay off in results.

      I can personally tell you that the development of my son, who was not a bad player when he started with the club two years ago, has been evident. He has always had decent athletic skills but where he has improved, under Coach Beall, is in understanding the game through his speed of thought which any good soccer coach will tell you is always more important than speed of play. I can also attest that my son is not the only player who has improved in this area as many of the other boys and girls in the club have made similar progress. Their progress is only enhanced through the fact that Coach Beall emphasizes their enrichment (it was referred to as “actualization” in the article) by allowing many of them to play with and against older players. My son (U15) has steadily played against 16, 17, 18, and 19 year old players the past two years and while I was initially reluctant to let him do so I’m glad that he did because the confidence he has attained in playing against more mature players in a faster paced environment has only benefitted his understanding of his skills and deficiencies and his overall understanding of the game of soccer.

      As a former college and minor league baseball player who came through the traditional ranks of Little League, club, and high school teams I understand the emphasis on winning we hold in our American sports psyche. While my son’s teams have not won many games over the past two years I am not disappointed in the return for the investment I’ve made in my son’s development and can tell you that there are other parents in the organization who feel the same. Would we (players and parents) like to win more often? Of course we would but Coach Beall has been clear as to what his philosophy is in developing better soccer players and as long as we parents understand this we will continue to support his efforts regardless of how many trophies we haven’t won.

      In closing, let me say that the Coach Beall’s philosophy is refreshing in the world of youth sports and while my son may never be good enough to earn a college scholarship or sign a professional contract I know that his love for the game has been fueled by Coach Beall’s and I only wish more kids (and parents) could some day experience this philosophy. I cannot say that this philosophy would ultimately lead the US to becoming the dominant country in world soccer but I do know that it would lead to players who better understand the game.


  18. Posted by DC Pete on 2011/09/21 at 10:35 AM

    What an in depth piece and a good contribution to the soccer dialogue.


  19. Posted by Messigerrard on 2011/09/21 at 11:03 AM

    Enjoyed the article immensley as well as the comments. All very insightful. Better than dopey political blogs. Anyway, my two (more like one) unsolicited cents. Is there a way to develop a league/organization in every town that follows this basic curriculum? Perhaps folks on this blog don’t agree with where i’m starting.

    Kindergarten to U8: play small-sided pick up games. NO COACHING . Kids play with different players each time. The role of parent/coaches to hold the medical kit and make sure every kid gets a ride home by his parent.

    Objective: to emulate street soccer, and to simply instill passion for the game. Perhaps, have ice cream days where kids can go to local high school and watch games. Ice cream is the great motivator. But i mean this seriously; get kids watching soccer (high school games are not Premiere League, but the game is slower and easier to understand for a little kid)

    U10 : kids play on rec teams. Practices and games are focused solely on skills receiving th ball; dribbling; defense: passing; heading: shooting. Tactics are ignored. NO TRAVEL or so-called club teams. Keep intensity down. Fun is still a priority.

    why?: kids have different maturity rates. Many don’t understand tactics, which is meaningless if they can’t handle the basic skills anyway.

    U13: here is where travel can begin in addition to rec programs. travel should be available for elite players, Rec should be afforded the same training facilities, and kids who don’t make travel should have a similar experience. But coaches can begin introdcuing tactics. Winning can become a priority, but more important reaching benchmarks — linked to skill, team play and what i would call soccer virtues (creativity, courage, discipline, concentration, etc. )

    Hope this adds to discussion


    • Posted by Andrew on 2011/09/27 at 8:13 PM

      And make these closed-door sessions, no parents allowed in! The fun comes from playing with your friends, not from being supervised, not from being watched. And if kids have fun playing a sport, any sport they will stay with it.


  20. Posted by WomensSoccer on 2011/09/21 at 1:13 PM

    Good article and I do not disagree with it entirely, but to what extent did you take the US Women’s National Team’s long-term success into your research? I’m not sure you can claim this is the state of youth soccer in America when our women’s national team continues to put together one of the best teams in the world. Perhaps your article should be titled “State of American Boys Soccer”? Perhaps there is something about the girls youth model that the boys should implement? Did you research this difference?


    • Posted by Jared on 2011/09/21 at 2:05 PM

      Here’s the difference, women have a much better opportunity to play sports in the US compared to the rest of the world. That’s why they were dominant in the early stages of the women’s international game. Their dominance is slipping as more countries are taking the women’s game seriously. The talent gap is not what it once was between the US and the rest of the teams at the top of the game.


      • Posted by kaya on 2011/09/22 at 12:52 PM

        Actually, the evolution of the women’s game supports the argument about the state of the US men’s game.
        One could see if the French and Brazilian women’s team had the kind of support and organization ours enjoys, those games almost certainly would’ve had different outcomes. The emergence of the Japanese women’s team, besides the wonderful byline of triumph over tragedy, underscores the fact that good coaching and tactics make all the difference (though I take exception to the decidedly un-grassroots nature of the women’s game in Japan.)


    • Posted by $$ on 2011/09/23 at 12:50 PM

      Our women’s team is not one of the best it is one of the most athletic and therefore successful but success does not equal best. Also, women’s athletics in the US has been far advanced compared to the rest of the world until only recently. So the women’s game has been hit harder as the rest of the world has caught up to us in recent years, and in some cases passed us by.


  21. Posted by Ryan on 2011/09/22 at 6:25 AM

    I disagree with the beginning of this article. Dempsey is in arguably the toughest league in the world and is the best player on Fulham’s team. He dictates almost every game for Fulham, and as he goes so does Fulham. Without him this is a team that could have been relegated last year. He is a world class player and i do not think that he is utilized at the national team level the way that he is at Fulham.


    • Posted by $$ on 2011/09/23 at 12:55 PM

      Dempsey is by no means the best player on Fulham. If he were then the big boys would have come knocking and this is not the case is it? He is just like most all Americans playing abroad – hard working, decent technically and can run all day. In short just a piece of the puzzle. The closest player we have to being the best or most important player to his team would be Stuart Holden at Bolton.


    • Posted by $$ on 2011/09/23 at 12:57 PM

      Ryan, you actually astated my argument for me when you mentioned Dempsey and the national team. He is not as good for the national team as he is for Fulham because he is expectyed to be the best player on the team where as at Fulham he is just another player.


  22. Posted by Messigerrard on 2011/09/22 at 1:12 PM

    All Klinsman means is that he wants to broaden the pool. Soccer is still the domain of suburban upper-middle class kids in America.


  23. Posted by Gregorio on 2011/09/22 at 6:14 PM

    Let me add my irrelevant 2 cents aqui. All this talk about street soccer, coaching, etc are very thought provoking and insightful and has spurred me out watching reruns of the Millionaire Matchmaker,( why does Patti have assistants who look like bikers?)
    Anyway back to the issues at hand. I believe a big issue in soccer development here in the US is the lacking of coaching assessment. There are many players, kids who are good, instinctual, talent, and thinking soccer players but the ability of the coach to assess the talent is the problem.
    As stated here in the numerous posts, coaches notice the big, faster, dominant kid and groom them for development whereas there are really good players who don’t stand out or shine heads above anyone else but possess the nuances that only a good trained or experienced coach will notice, like positioning, shielding, trying but not necessarily executing good technique. These are the kids who are overlooked who drift from the game or who aren’t afforded the time & training that the other “standout” kids recieve. We need coaches who can trained to what qualities a potentially good player possesses.
    We also need a blend of street ball with proper coaching, using the basketball analogy that is frequently cited, there are tons of talented basketball players at all levels who never made it anywhere because they lacked the proper organizational coaching and role modeling of behaviors to make it professionally, ( the socio-economic status is also a contributing influence) The most talented kids don’t always make it to the pros, its usually the ones with the most perserverance, & proper organizational coaching & connections. How many of us have played “street” ball in soccer with people who could do fantastic things with the ball but couldn’t play for a team since they lack the knowledge of the organized game, Unless the kid is super talented, he wont make up for that lack of awareness. Our kids most have a combo of these things in order for us to really make strides on the world stage ( I belive its happening, just not at the pace I or others would like)
    Now Back to house hunters international, cheap place in Abruzzo region in Italy think I drive over to see MB Novanta?


  24. Posted by dth on 2011/09/22 at 7:56 PM

    An interesting video here: http://vimeo.com/29402708

    Oddly, van der Most was fired over the offseason. I’d heard his Chivas USA teams were pretty good and that there was some good talent there. Unfortunately for them they kept on getting players poached by Mexican teams–Adrian Ruelas, now of Jaguares, is one; Barouch, of the Chicago Fire by way of Tigres, is another.


  25. I completely agree! From my experience I think The Cost, The Red Tape, and The Lack of Opportunity for Self Actualization are the big three. Leave it to the US to complicate a game that involves a Ball and a Fieldand then make it expensive. We live in a rural area where there is no boys soccer in the town at all only girls in the middle and high school. The level of play in the schools is embarrassing and sad. We started a travel club and people fight us at every turn. Just getting town field space for 5 hours a week is a challange. Kids in our area dont even get out and play sports together unless it is organised let alone soccer.

    We are also up against computer games and incessant homework. If the teachers could get the work done in the 6 hours that they have our kids then there would be more time to play.

    My family travels on average 12 hours a week in order to play premier soccer in New England. We can barely afford it. 3 kids playing Premier and the travel is about 7,000$ not including food and hotels and tournaments. I feel lucky that we can swing it but we are choosing soccer over everything else. My son is 13 and wants to be a pro GK he works 2 days a week mowing lawns in the summer to help pay for his soccer. This is great for him in many ways but he is at a point now where he wants to train every day all day. He wants to be immersed in the game. I train w him 4 times a week pluss he has his team and his siblings but ge wants more and it is not available in the US.

    I was a lover of the game but now I am a vigalante. I will promote, support, teach and give it all to help my kids and soccer succeed. The tipping point is near. Unite and keep up the good fight. Soccer can save us all!!:)


  26. Posted by Messigerrard on 2011/09/23 at 7:23 AM


    you raise a very profound question: Why do Patti’s assistants look like bikers? And who would take dating advice from someone like that?

    As to the trivial subject of soccer development in USA, so called street soccer at the youngest ages is great for skill development –as well as creativity. No coaches means nobody is imposing tactical nonsense on kids who are too immature to tackle the concepts anyway. By the way: this is a pipe dream on my part. there is no such thing as street sports at all in this country anymore, let alone soccer. And every parent — most of whom know nothing — wants to micromanage their kid.

    As for coaches assessing talent: you are right. american coaches have no concept. Hopefully, under Klinsman, we will see improvement.


  27. Posted by PAUL on 2011/09/23 at 8:02 AM

    There are many good points here – where to start?

    Lets assume we are talking about players reaching and competing at the top level. I don’t mean to dismiss the less gifted as we also need passionate fans in the US and I believe its a great game for all. since it teaches that dominance is no guarantee of success. How many games have we all watched where one side has 80% possession and 30 shots and lost 1-0?
    Dealing with defeat is just as important as celebrating success and can spur the player to want to improve.

    Back to the issue:

    Some of the most important abilities required in no particular order:are:
    Great technical ability
    Great tactical awareness

    The only way to develop technical skills is to practice practice practice, these are not developed in a game, they are challenged in a game. I sometimes see kids on travel teams at age 10 spend 3 hrs+ in a car to and from practice! That time would be better spent practicing individual skills in the back yard.
    All young players of any age should be encouraged to watch their heroes (the top level players like Ronaldo, Messi ) and trying to emulate their tricks. A coach is almost irrelevant in developing technical skills and we have to be realistic some kids are better coordinated than others. There is no doubt that the 20+ hours a week I spent playing pickup games in the local park as a young kid made me much better technically and developed my tactical awareness

    Tactical skills come with playing, watching, discussing and yes coaching – what is the best decision to make when you have the ball and JUST AS IMPORTANT when you don’t have the ball – discourage ball watching

    Confidence – this is a huge issue and the key is coaching! I have seen too many youth games where the coach, even high level USSF Academy coaches, in the pursuit of victory and /or personal resume building etc. destroys the confidence of the players, discourages flair and creativity, and tries to make all the players decision from the sidelines. This is a killer and stunts development. Add to this all the screaming and abuse from the coach and the parents, and the attempt to assign individual blame for defeats and I wonder why any kid even wnats to keep playing. If you want to be great at something you have to LOVE doing it.

    Passion – I believe this is tied with confidence and success – it also needs an inner drive to be the best, coaching must bring this out in a positive encouraging way.

    Experience – the best players must be nurtured and play at the highest level against the best competition from an early age (12+)

    How do we recognise talent?
    This is also a problem in the youth game – I agree with many previous posters, because of the focus on winning , the strong fast big kids are recognised early , but are coached to win games not to become the best they can be – BOOM ball is effective if you have the strongest fastest biggest kid up front who will run in STRAIGHT lines and outsprint all he plays against.
    He is deemed to be GREAT because he scores a lot of goals. How often is the MVP of a game – at all levels, the goalscorer. How often does a holding midfielder, a defender etc get that accolade. Unfortunately , and so often, that big fast strong (early maturing) kid stuggles when everyone catches up to him and smarter, more technically gifted players know how to neutralise his strengths. So often this early phenom knows only how to sprint in straight lines and use his dominant foot. Since 50% of chances statistically will fall to the right foot and 50% to the left foot and the smart defender will force him onto his weak foot his goals dry up!

    But given the incentive to win – promotion, better tournaments, leagues, college exposure etc
    (not to mention the professional club coach salary!) the BIG kid is identified and the smaller technically gifted smart soccer brain is overlooked.

    The SOLUTION is not easy – but de-emphasising winning (Note: even most USSF Academy coaches I know still care most about the WIN), and creating an environment
    where the players can develop technical and tactical skills with confidence and being encouraged to be creative and take risks at an early age are the keys. Most of us learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. If you make a bad decision in the game , the feedback is usually immediate.



  28. Posted by VWall on 2011/09/23 at 8:58 AM

    Personally, I think one of the big problems is the British soccer influence on the youngers style of play. The dump and run works at a younger age because the coaches put the fastest kid at forward. This forward beats everyone to the ball and can basically walk the ball into the goal. I see british coaches getting hired everywhere because they sound like they know the game. Of course this isn’t always the case.

    What is missing and what’s the most important is the basics. Trapping, passing, dribbling, shooting techniques. I see too many teams just kicking the ball (with their toe) instead of possessing it and then making a intelligent decision.

    I see this in the competitive teams with high priced coaching. The problem needs to be fixed beginning at the youngest ages with a decreased emphasis on winning and more on proper techniques.


  29. […] blog post making the rounds this week is the ambitiously headlined “A Treatise: The State of American Youth Soccer.” To underscore how serious an effort this post really is, The Shin Guardian presents it with […]


  30. We need to start exporting youth to other countries to get their football education. We will never be a superpower with so many sports offered to our youth. The end product, which is the MLS is the result of a flawed system.


    • Posted by dth on 2011/09/24 at 12:17 PM

      We have something like 400 youth players abroad. Not the problem.


    • Posted by Kevin on 2011/09/26 at 11:28 AM

      We have done that for years and it hasn’t worked. You can’t expect other countries to develop your players. It is both impractical and embarrassing. The problem we are talking about is at the youth level. This is America’s problem and no one esle’s,

      And I don’t see how MLS is a result of a flawed system. MLS is a separate entity. And doing very well for a 16 year old league that is expanding. Ten years from now this discussion might be over since the MLS academies will have solved the problem.


  31. Posted by Gregorio on 2011/09/24 at 2:37 PM

    I don’t think its the number of sports but the realm of possibilities. I mean kids need to be exposed to creative fun play. As the post all stated above about technical vs tatical. The kids can learn the tatical via coaching, games etc but the stress should be more focused on technical aspects of the game. and the best way for that is a just a bunch of kids playing,fooling around with the ball all the time. As they do here in the US with basketball, for example, you play HORSE, Taps, try different moves like Jordan, Lebron, watch this ,,,etc. We need the same with our kids here in the US, and its happening as we speak but I do believe that we our kids to more exposure to the creative elements or players to emulate. Who do you want your kids to emulate Michael Bradley? Or Ronaldinho? This isn’t a cheap shot at MB, I like him and I;m glad he’s getting minutes we need him. The point I’m making is that we need our kids as the writers above have stressed, exposure to more technically gifted players to understand what we are capable of, it sort of expands the horizon for some who aren’t exposed to that level of creativity & technique.
    Right now there is a parent somewhere out there in Europe, Asia etc who wants to bring their basketball loving playing son/daughter to the US to see how its done in the streets, like playing a pick up in brooklyn, the Bronx, Rutger league.
    I’m trying to talk my wife into going abroad every summer so my young son can be exposed to a soccer culture but then again when he’s on the field he’s looking to sky to see if he sees the falling satelite, and I sit shut my mouth and let him have fun.
    Although the wife is starting to give in to the idea of a nice warmer locale, stay tuned…


  32. Posted by Zev Taublieb on 2011/09/25 at 1:37 PM

    This is great to hear. I would love these changes to happen. Great article


  33. […] about restructuring the US Soccer youth system.  The conversation has mostly centered around concepts like: fostering more “free play,” developing a soccer culture, “pay for play,” […]


  34. Posted by Kevin on 2011/09/26 at 11:34 AM

    Pros develop pros. Not countries or federations. Once the MLS youth academies are firing up at full speed, things will change. They already are. No more will we have to hear about college soccer of the pay for play clubs. Give it ten years.

    It just takes some patience which America soccer fans aren’t known for.


  35. Posted by Tim on 2011/10/10 at 9:30 AM

    This is a very thoughtful, well researched piece and it should be widely distributed so the whole US soccer community can read it. I am the father of a high level player, a sixteen year old boy that has grown up loving the sport while coming up through the Southern California system. Through this process his steadfast love of the game has had to sustain him as he endured and overcame obstacle after obstacle presented by a highly dysfunctional mess of a system (or lack thereof) that is heavily focused on too many of the wrong things. I coached him at he AYSO level. Then, at age 9 we moved into the club system. He is now in full time residency at the Real Salt Lake Academy in Casa Grande, AZ. We are thrilled with this environment and feel it is the first professionally run developmentally oriented program in which he has ever had an opportunity to participate. I am happy to say I believe the RSL system represents the biggest (and first real) step toward a positive solution that I have seen.

    I have the following to add from my observations as a very concerned and committed Southern California soccer parent. I see several problems/issues in addition to those raised in the article. First, the article seems to suggest that club level coaches could do a better job of developing players if parents didn’t interfere. This is certainly true in many cases. However, in just as many cases coaches are just as obsessed (or even more so) with short term results (winning) over long term development. As evidence I suggest a close look at Cal South’s ODP teams which routinely dominate. The coaches that put these teams together, without any input from those meddlesome parents, have a strong bias in favor of kids that are the most athletic and physically mature at the given age. Parents and players in So Cal are accustomed to seeing this…the boys at age 11 sporting full beards and arm pit hair (The Man-Children) are chosen over less physically mature kids with perhaps better skills and a keener understanding of the game. Why? Because these “elite” coaches are just as guilty of emphasizing winning over long term development. We need better, more enlightened coaches if we are going to turn the corner. The same is equally true on the girls side as well. As a result, we see teams that can compete successfully at the younger ages by playing kick and rush soccer. Later on, the majority of the “can’t miss” stars that carried these teams fall away from the sport as they lose their physical superiority.

    Secondly, again drawing on our experience in Southern California…youth soccer, especially at the club level is way too political. We presently have far too many overlapping and conflicting organizations engaging in bitter, nasty and vindictive turf wars for control. Why? I am not entirely sure but greed, ego, an hunger for power clearly are all on display. One thing I can say for sure, young players all too often are the big losers as they are pushed and pulled between conflicting organizations pressing their own territorial claims over player development. In Southern California we have Cal South, Coast Soccer League, US Club Soccer,the newly formed Southern California Developmental Soccer League, the US Development Academy and a number of larger clubs all jostling for position…some more contentiously than others. Its too much and it is counterproductive.


  36. nice article.

    i’d like to clarify some aspects, though.

    a very important distinction must be made when defining goals and objectives. one thing would be having a usmnt that is an international powerhouse and contends for every tournament, another different thing is having a grassroots system that produces a lot of talent, and yet another totally different thing would be elevating the overall level of soccer in the states.

    there are national teams that absolutely punch above the weight class of their national setups. think of uruguay, netherlands, greece, france, croatia, portugal’s golden generation and so many others. 14-20 top class players make up a great team, perform and deliver, sometimes regardless and sometimes in direct opposition to the level of soccer in their countries at club and grassroots level. so, a contending national team can be had in isolation if enough players and structure can be had.

    soccer talent development can follow many routes, and it’s hard to know which is the best. barca’s farm system is all the rage right now, and could be replicated if copied to detail (quatar and others are going after this). talent development in south america is truly chaotic, players actually pull themselves up by their bootstraps, it’s more of a matter of life and death for prospects, and money is becoming ever more nocive. the netherland’s route is very nice, while england’s methods should be avoided and rejected. méxico is now a powerhouse in youth divisions, but once more it has been distinct coaches and a number of players that have developed in isolation, not the whole structure.

    growth on all levels is in my opinion harder and takes much longer to achieve, maybe the best proponents right now of buoyancy of the national teams at senior and youth levels, talent development and a strong club scene would be spain, germany and perhaps italy and england. that requires a lot of incentives being properly aligned, and the usa is very far away from getting there, though it has already come quite far along relative to the 80’s.

    the answer i think is following the netherlands’ model, cruyff took it to barca, germany’s current model also resembles it, and it has kept the netherlands as a european and world contender for 40 years despite the few players it has to work with and their limited athleticism. get the 100-150 or 200 most promising players from every age category, fund national academies like clairefontaine in france, the current dfb’s or the netherlands’, get kick ass specialist coaches (people that run ajax, psv, boca juniors, sao paulo youth divisions and similar talent mines), and get out of the way. there are going to be prospects that don’t make it, and there are going to be late bloomers, but the netherlands’ model can make for a competitive national team and sufficient talent development. that won’t make football played with feet overthrow the nfl anytime soon, but that’s way better than what the ussf has right now.


  37. Posted by Ben on 2011/12/02 at 3:13 PM

    My son has played on the national level in the USA, so we know well the system that we’re in. I agree with much of the article. The problems in the USA are systemic and deep.

    There’s one more element that I’d like to add that’s fundamental, and it falls into the soccer culture. We don’t have enough talented coaches in the USA who know the game. On any level. The ones that come here from other countries are not necessarily good at coaching just because they happen to have played in Brazil or Europe. A good player rarely makes a great coach. On top of that the clubs are not thoughtfully managed.

    When you look at the understanding coaches have in the USA of baseball, football and basketball and you see how little the coaches know about teaching soccer it’s shocking. USA baseball coaches at all levels know all the nuances of the game, and the tricks and techniques to develop a player in the broad and finer points of the game. In soccer, there are very few coaches in the USA who could even describe, yet demonstrate how to use the body to protect the ball while dribbling.

    The only area where we excel here is in coaching the keeper. We have amazing coaches and amazing keepers, as the whole world knows. It’s actually a completely different and parallel system to what’s going on with field players.


  38. Fantastic, well rounded piece on the state of youth soccer and development in America. USC student who wrote it did a tremendous job covering all the bases. I read it when it first came out, and I keep sharing it because it never gets old.


  39. […] Shin Guardian: A Treatise: The State of American Youth Soccer […]


  40. Posted by Charles on 2012/04/09 at 11:51 AM

    Articles like this always have two points in them. The US doesn’t have a soccer or soccer only culture. Guys in Brazil are playing 7 days a week, on their own.
    Then they follow it up with, too much emphisis on winning and not player devel. So am I to believe the pick up games in other countries, they are working on player development ? Not buying it.

    I agree 100% on the red tape. US Soccer decided you were wrong, making players choose between High School and club. Unbelievable. Unbelievably stupid.


    • Posted by dth on 2012/04/09 at 3:16 PM

      In most other countries, pick up games are for young ages–i.e. below 13 or so. In those games, you obviously want to win, but you’re also experimenting and goofing off, so there’s an element of working on player development, albeit in a non-guided, non-purposeful way. Afterwards you get subsumed into the pro team entirely.

      Making players choose between high school and development academy games makes perfect sense–it means more time for practice and a more rationalized system.


  41. […] happens exactly is anyone’s guess. – From TSG Contributor, Ryan McCormack, who penned “A Treatise: The State of American Youth Soccer.” John makes a strong argument for youth contracts in the United States in an effort to […]


  42. Posted by Joe Soucy on 2012/07/11 at 2:53 PM

    Too much to read all the comments. I am a parent of a H.S. Soph, and eight grader who have been playing since they were four years old, as well as two 26 year olds, and a 21 year old. I have been coaching my own children since 1992, and my youngest is five, so I have at least another nine years to go. So, while not an expert…. I’ve been around youth soccer.

    The problem with U.S. Youth Soccer is that it is not our game. American Football (Walter Camp), Basketball (Nesmith), and Baseball (Doubleday) are all “American Made” (or at least North American). Anything European, we tend to shun. Take French Poodles (need I say more?). We even embrace Ice Hockey (Native Canadians of Nova Scotia), and Lacrosse (Native Americans). Ice hockey remains ahead of soccer professionally, and lacrosse will soon eclipse it. Where lacrosse is introduced, it becomes maniacal in its following.

    It is not that the games above are superior to the beautiful game. It is that most of these sports are those played by our fathers, our fathers’ fathers, our fathers’ fathers’ fathers, et infinitum. My son as a freshman was on the roster for the division 3 state final match in our state, and I truly love the game of soccer….. but if I could change his mind, I’d have him playing the sport I played in the 70’s, and my grandfather played in the 20’s and 30’s. AMERICAN FOOTBALL. http://www.bshof.org/GPAlexander.htm


  43. Posted by Bryan on 2012/08/02 at 10:37 AM


    We need to think much deeper about these problems. Is there really no soccer culture in the US? There is a population of 50 million plus living here who do have soccer in their cultural DNA. Many of these players are indeed developing in the image of world class players but our coaches do not know how to leverage them on the field or nurture their development. Lack of real elite coaching is our biggest problem. Lack of competent coaches with a deep understanding of the nuance of the game leads to no style of play, no self actualization for players, and the belief that you cannot develop and win. It is the lack of knowledgeable coaches and their surface perceptions of the game that all our problems stem from.


  44. Posted by D class on 2012/10/27 at 2:13 PM

    I found this treatise late in its life, but agree with almost every single word. I am so over Pay-to-Play. I wish and hope parents would see through the quasi paid Coach’s with English accents and padded resumes. My thirty years playing experience, ten years of coaching and D license will stay with my U6 rec program.


  45. Posted by Alex Campbell on 2013/02/11 at 12:25 PM

    Reblogged this on Black Oaks Soccer Club.


  46. Posted by cony on 2013/02/11 at 11:43 PM

    US soccer needs radical change. US soccer needs a soccer revolution.
    We don’t need a Dutch system, Brazilian system, or a German system. We need to create a USONIAN system where kids are playing 24/7 365 for free.
    The US needs a master plan. For now forget the suburbs. The suburbs will continue to be what it is. A positive environment for kids to learn team work, fight against youth obsiety, and learn other life skills. First phase of this plan. 30,000 futsal courts in the inner cities of the US. You want players we must go to the HOOD. Starting at age 5 players must play for free, 7 days week, and 3 to 5 hours a day. Forget about coaching. These kids need to just play on these courts for 7 years then you can pick what ever player you want. We need magical players. Magical players are not going to come from coaching. They are going to come from kids who hungry and are playing 24/7 365.


    • Posted by Nick on 2013/02/12 at 6:16 AM

      While I don’t entirely disagree with your assertion, how do you propose the following:
      1) To fund the building of these futsal courts?
      2) To translate futsal talent into full 11v11 talent? It’s not too big of a reach, but the games are different, and to counter-point you don’t see a high percentage of the And1 Mix-Tape guys making the jump from street-style games to the NBA.
      3) To overhaul the “Education” objective that this country has? True the suburbanites are more likely to throw that objection at you, but if you get inner-city kids interested in this game and college scholarships start rolling in, how many are going to sign developmental deals with MLS or other leagues instead of a shot at higher education that they likely never had before?

      If you have a solution to #3 then I think we can be well on our way to affecting large-scale change in this country.


  47. Posted by alex on 2013/06/25 at 2:10 PM

    I see #2, #4, and #5 basically being part od the same problem, and the key to improving US soccer. The US has a soccer culture, we simply need to change that soccer culture into one that is more likely to win in international competition. Until recently, US soccer culture has been dominated by traditional English-style dump-and-run soccer which encourages one of two offensive strategies; the long ball to the speedy forward, or the long-ball down the line and then service back into the box. Finally, US soccer is developing a control game. Last year the Portland Timbers fired John Spencer and Kris Boyd, who epitomized the long-ball style, in favor of Caleb Porter and Diego Valeri etc. who have completely changed the Timbers into a team that wins by controlling the ball and creating better scoring opportunities. That is the soccer culture that needs to trickle down into youth soccer. As the MLS culture adopts to a better style of soccer you will see youth coaches focusing more on control and skills, and players self-actualizing in better players.

    The problems with pay-for-play are not going to go away. The US is corrupted by income inequality, and that corrupting influence cannot be removed from youth soccer. Hopefully, diligent scouting by premier clubs will identify the talent that cannot afford to pay the price of admission. Nevertheless, there are 3M+ plus kids already participating in youth soccer. The pool of youth soccer in the US is already substantially larger than the youth pool in over half the FIFA countries yet the US still cannot reliably compete against (let alone crush) opposition from these much smaller countries in international competition. The total population of Uruguay is less than that of US youth soccer, but who honestly would bet against tiny Uruguay against the US, or against Denmark, Croatia, Holland etc. It is embarrassing how few US players can make it onto a Champions League caliber team as compared to any number of much smaller FIFA nations. I enjoy the MLS, but it is nowhere near the quality of any major league in UEFA. The US may sneak its way into the Round of 16, but it will not be a force in WC until we have a starting-11 that all play to highest levels of international club soccer like the CL. What the US needs to do is a much better job of developing the youth players that we already have, and then we will be as good as anybody else.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2013/06/25 at 7:55 PM

      The youth in those small UEFA countries tend to play football all year round, from an early age. When do American kids start playing football (almost) exclusively for longer than 3-4 months of the year? Though it important, it is a little one dimensional to only look at the size of the pool.


      • Posted by alex on 2013/06/28 at 1:04 PM

        American kids are playing high-quality youth soccer year-round starting at age 8 or 9, about the same as in Europe and South America which have the best youth development programs. The “classic” level clubs in the US syphon away kids out of seasonal recreational soccer at a very young age. High-school age kids play Fall ball for their high schools, and club ball the rest of the year. The problem with the pay-to-play system is that US classic soccer is extremely expensive, and I believe is terrible at scouting and sponsoring promising players into better coached and more rigorous youth clubs. The way the system works in the US is grossly weighted in favor of families with money, so surprise-surprise-surprise, the youth that get the development attention in the US have historically been overwhelmingly white kids from the burbs. Youth academy programs in the US are getting better at scouting and developing promising players irrespective of that player’s ability to pay, but there is still a huge gap between US youth development and most of the rest of the soccer world.

        Not exactly responsive to your post, but the nonsense of “street soccer” is just that, a whole lot of nonsense. Sure kids in Brazilian favelas play street soccer, but they do not develop into stars by playing street soccer. Neymar is a great example; he joined Portuguesa Santista (a youth club) at age 8, and went on to be inducted into Santos’ youth academy program at age 11. Messi was playing rec soccer from age 5 to 9 before he was invited to join Newell’s Old Boys in Rosario, Argentina, and was then invited to join La Masia at age 11. Barca was not only willing to pay for Messi to join the best youth academy in the world, but also paid for very expensive medical care to treat Messi’s growth hormone deficiency. I simply cannot imagine any US youth academy shelling out that kind of money on an 11-year old that showed the potential to maybe be a great player in 7 years. Neither Neymar or Messi came from affluent families, and I doubt either had the family resources to be able to afford to join a rigorous youth academy.

        South American and European youth academy soccer is competitive and demanding, and produces the best players in the world. Yes, street soccer instills a love for the game and teaches basic skills, but campeones are developed in academies starting between age 9 and 11. South American and European youth clubs are simply outstanding at scouting and recognizing talent at very early ages, and then supporting that child as he (yes, sadly it is still all about the boys) develops into a world-class player.

        Lastly, the US love affair with college sports hurts US soccer. I think talented players are finally recognizing that playing college ball from age 18 to 22 is not the best use of these key years. If you are lucky and talented enough to play at the higher levels of the sport then you should be playing soccer if that is your passion.


  48. Posted by Carina Ibarra on 2014/06/04 at 10:27 PM

    I go back and forth on club soccer. I’m an educator who uses growth mindset/ grit research in my teaching. I know that to master a skill requires thousands of hours of practice but I also worry that those thousands hours of repetitive practice at a young age will prematurely damage my sons body. There’s been lots of research on the repercussions of playing any sport at a high level at an early age and I want to avoid that.

    I think what our youth system really needs is having kids watch more soccer. And really watch games and have them pay attention/ look for specific things. I’ve seen my son do things at games that I know he picked up from watching games. Some bad (the falling to the ground and clutching his ankle) some good (a sliding goal line clearance, in which after he ran over and told me that he was just like Jason Hernandez!).

    At the end of the day I think my son learns more skills from watching games (and us having goals set up in the back of the living room) then he does in his organized soccer practices/ games. What he learns from playing organized sports is the social skills (discipline, leadership, being a good winner) of playing sports.


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