Wednesday, February 15th 2017 – Amanda Visk’s 2014 research project done at George Washington University, asked a group of children to list the reasons why they played sports. Not surprisingly, “having fun” was most important to them. Tournament play, long distance travel, and winning trophies were among the least motivational factors. If this proves true, why is youth soccer continuing to be organized in a structure that includes rising fees and constant travel?
I spent many years in my native country of the Netherlands coaching at a community-based club. As I began to find a deeper love with coaching I decided to make a switch and move to the United States in hopes of sharing my love and passion for the game. My first stop began in Northern California where I coached soccer camps with the Ziemer brothers. Later, I moved to Southern California where I took a position as the head coach of a High School soccer program. The following year my progression in the coaching world continued and I began coaching a couple of Club Soccer teams.
Not knowing what to expect, I was very surprised with the way the Club Soccer was structured. Our club played “home” games at a variety of different fields in the area and the league season lasted a mere 3.5 months. Most of the weekend games were being played back-to-back both on Saturday and Sunday. In Europe every youth club has their own home field, league season is spread out in a 9-10 month season, and games are played only once a week.
During State Cup is when I began to question whether my involvement in coaching was actually fun. Early morning games were scheduled at giant soccer complexes about a 2-hour drive North, parking fees were charged to add to an already expensive weekend, games would be scheduled 3 to 4 hours apart, and the boys were required to play 3-4 games in two days!
The misery continued…after games I would have to run off the field and hop into my car and speed back to the South Bay area in hopes of making it to my other team’s game in time. This dreadful schedule began to become a pattern throughout the next few weeks. Coming home that first Sunday night is when I realized that coaching in this manner was not fun at all and I could not imagine that the boys on the two teams liked it any more than I did.
Fast-forward 14 years… I greet my colleague in the office and ask him how his weekend went. My colleague is a 26 year old soccer fanatic, who played top level club soccer in the development academy, followed by a college career. The last few years he has picked up coaching to pass on his experience to the next generation and spread his love for the game. His response was, “terrible!” It was State Cup time of the year and he spent both days of his weekend coaching 4 games, separated by a 3.5 hour drive. He very much questioned himself if he can continue coaching in this manner for another year.
What surprises me wasn’t necessarily his clear loss of enjoyment, as it felt like I was looking in a mirror 14 years prior. What is hard for me to believe is that youth soccer in our area continues to be organized in such a dysfunctional manner. It is now time for the Directors in our area to take initiative and begin organizing the game we love in a way that truly serves our communities. We must lay a heavy focus on local and regional development, instead of allowing a “developmental” academy system absorb all local clubs by a few monsters clubs. We must form clubs where players can transition from a recreational level to a more competitive player and continue to play into their adulthood. If these few steps can be accomplished it will allow for our communities to grow and help both kids and adults to continue to love such a beautiful game.
Playing at your Home Field should always be an Advantage!