USA Soccer: Drastic Changes Must Be Made to Youth Development

John RichardsonCorrespondent IJuly 16, 2012

QUEENS, NY - SEPTEMBER 7:  Children practice soccer as their adult relatives participate in the Fedeiguayas Soccer League on September 7, 2007 at Flushing Meadows Park in the Queens Borough of  New York. A large Hispanic population from Mexico, Central and South America now living in New York congregate to this park every weekend to play soccer, and relax with family and friends. They play on ten soccer fields throughout the park and play goes from early morning till dusk.  The participants are highly skilled semi pro level players and each team dresses in the colors of their country and play as if it was their own  World Cup.  Matches are very competitive as the pride of each team's country is on the line.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

In recent years, I've had friends come up to me and tell me that soccer is a sport for the faint-hearted and weak-minded.

They proceed to describe sports like baseball and football as the epitome of what it means to be American, and anyone who thinks otherwise is unpatriotic.

My response to baseball: You shouldn't be able to eat (sunflower seeds) while you play a sport.

My response to football: While it may seem fun to repeatedly smash heads with opposing players now, I promise you it won't be when you're brain-dead by the age of 30.

All of this banter is in good fun and is certainly not intended to offend anyone (sorry baseball and football fans). But in all seriousness, we as Americans are stubborn and don't take kindly unfamiliar things.

Over-masculine fathers want to protect their kids from the ballerina they consider to be soccer, and who could blame them?

It is hard for people to legitimize their children playing the sport when all they ever see on TV are dainty men rolling around on the ground in agony.

A good portion of our youth is brought up to identify it as a "wimpy" sport, not the beautiful game it truly is.

Many thought the arrival of David Beckham to the United States would spur a movement and bring soccer a sense of importance.

It's been five years now and, while he may have turned the heads of common housewives with ads like these, he hasn't done much of that movement-spurring.

The children that remain untainted by soccer's stigma are left with poor infrastructure, insufficient funding, and an uncompetitive environment.

Where can U.S. soccer go now?

How are we going to produce the next Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo with all this negativity?

Brilliant players aren't just going to appear out of nowhere.

It all starts with youth development and the way it is currently isn't cutting it.

Here are a few reasons why the U.S. has yet to see success.

We start playing too late

The way a child develops in the United States is far different than how they would in nearly any other part of the world.

At the moment we simply don't have programs in place to take naturally gifted kids from a young age and mold them throughout their childhood.

In Europe professional clubs send scouts to look at talent as young as seven years old for their youth academies.

Instead of pampering the children with Capri Sun and orange peels at half-time, they are put through their paces by former professionals who are meticulously trained to hone in on technical skills.

I remember being a seven-year-old. My team played on a 115-yard by 74-yard (standard pitch size) field and the passing aspect of the game was completely nonexistent.

With so much space to push the ball into, there was honestly no need for it.

Small-sided games (like futsal) must be implemented by coaches early in a child's development in order to emphasize quick touches and spacial awareness.


Another weird (very American) thing we've done is create this thing called a "size four."

Instead of acclimating our children to what they'll be dealing with for the rest of their lives, we downsize the ball in a pathetic attempt to make the game simpler.

When children reach an age of predetermined maturity they make the step up to a size five.

By that point it is often already too late. After becoming so accustomed to one circumference for the best part of their early development, they are forced to recalculate and start over.

In other countries, a football is a football.

It shouldn't be about money

If your child wants to play club soccer in the United States, there is often a hefty fee that comes along with it.

As American's we've turned youth sports into a business.

Some teams employ scholarships to help underprivileged kids compete at the highest level, but for the most part if you don't have the money, you don't receive the training.

However, when you look at some of the world's best players you'll notice that many of them come from poverty stricken backgrounds.

Look at the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Carlos Tevez.

Both had nothing as children, but both turned out to be superstars.

I realize it's not as easy as just saying "let's let the kids play for free."

But the cost of development is certainly something that needs to be looked at.


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