About a month ago, I published a reported feature at The Guardian about youth development in the US. A few weeks later, “Billy” Parchman published another excellent article on the topic for Howler Magazine. Basically, big picture, there are major issues with 1) Focus – technical development, and 2) Access – pay to play kinda shuts the door for many people.
In the US, parents want their kids to compete but also to win. This means that young kids start to learn tactics and play six-a-side much much too young. In the long-term, nobody but coaches (and parents!) with a hard-on gives a flying fuck about your U10 youth tournament in Beaumont. It’s nice and fun to win, but, if your goal is to produce a high caliber player, you need to first work on technical ability, technical ability, and technical ability.
The first-touch is the first step to success at a higher level.
But then we get to another issue: access. Everybody can agree with the flaws of the pay-to-play model, but until that solidarity and training fee cash starts to flow, it will persist. More importantly and awkwardly, MLS academies have opened up across the land and don’t charge anything. Well, at least not for regular players who can get a ride to their practice facilities four-days-a-week.
And that’s the awkward part: the MLS “residential academies” are not beacons of access (aside from the Galaxy), but rather super expensive private schools that smell more like the elite tennis centers in Miami than the pay-nothing La Masia or academies in Spain and elsewhere. Kids who can’t get a regular ride to practice could greatly benefit from a pay-nothing and live-in place, but MLS’s current model is milk-that-cash.
Of course, everybody recalls with terror the failed Brad Friedel residential academy in the Great Lakes region. Then again, if solidarity and training fees ever come into play, and clubs get smart and start signing 16 year olds to contracts with parental consent as per state law, maybe a stream of revenue could make such an academy work. I’m 100% sure the Great Recession did not help Friedel’s dream either.
Thus, youth soccer in the US has grown by leaps and bounds, but still has a ways to go.