State of US Soccer

The current state of soccer in America has been a major topic within my professional circle and my friends. I love talking about it. It’s amazing that there’s so much talk about soccer in the States now, compared to where it was 20 years ago when MLS was getting started.

I guess, the biggest problem now, soccer is at a crossroads and much of the talk is negative. So far this year we’ve seen:

  1. USMNT fail to qualify for the 2017 Confederations Cup
  2. USYNT U17 team flounder out of the U17 World Cup
  3. US U23s failing to automatically qualify for the 2016 Olympics in 2016
  4. USWNT having a black kit for the 2015 World Cup
  5. USSF recommending a ban to heading the ball from U13 and below

While I believe some of these are somewhat “valid” issues…it’s much deeper than this. It goes back to soccer people and soccer players doing their jobs better. There is absolutely no reason that the first 3 are happening if soccer people do their jobs better — including players.

Am I bummed that we didn’t qualify for the Confederations Cup? A little, mainly I like watching the USMNT play competitively. The Confederations Cup doesn’t really mean anything, nor does it give automatic success for the World Cup (actually, little success is more likely). It does suck the U17s floundered, but Mali makes it to the championship game (Mali population is 14 million, US population is 300+ million). The U23s still have a chance to make it to the 2016 Olympics, so that’s not a complete disappointment yet.

The biggest “hubbub” right now (especially since the announcement came on Monday November 9) is that USSF is banning heading in U13 and below. Important things to note about this “announcement:”

  1. It stems from a class action lawsuit, not initially the decision of USSF
  2. The lawsuit also involves FIFA and AYSO (and a separate one to NCAA), so…there could be more stemming from this
  3. The implementation is starting with the US Youth systems and their Development Academies — NOT necessarily involving a complete ban in all USSF soccer clubs (just high recommendations that heading is limited)
  4. This is about the HEALTH and WELL-BEING of kids

But…but…but…how can USSF remove “such an integral part of the game and still be about soccer development.” I’ve heard it spewed around that it’s like removing hockey sticks from youth hockey, or making youth football two-hand touch or flag. Whatever. To me, it actually encourages and mandates coaches do their job better. Teach the game. Develop players.

My first head coaching job was with a middle school girl’s team. They were darn good. One of the first meetings I had with them I told them to basically eliminate heading from what we are doing moving forward this season. Why? Well, my job is to develop those girls for high school, college, professional, and international soccer (if they are ever able to get that high). The odds? Not likely. But, these girls ranged from 5′-nothing to 6′ and went against girls of equal size. Why would I want any 5′-nothing girl to try to physically compete against a 6′ girl for a ball? We won’t. Instead, we’ll pass the ball and get better individually and collectively.

My second head coaching club job was with a U14 boys team. What did I do? I did the same thing with the girls team. We passed the ball. We played soccer. If there was a heading opportunity, I didn’t remove them or change anything. But, my job was to develop them as players. In both situations, we were able to play successful soccer.

They were fun seasons. In fact, I did this 4 years apart from each other. To me, this USSF decision is good. It sucks that USSF is doing it. It should be coming from parents, players, coaches, clubs, and administrators. Soccer people should encourage MORE and BETTER soccer. That comes with the health and well-being of U16-U13 year olds to be at the forefront. We want them to stay playing soccer. We want them to be better players. We want them healthy so they can continue developing.

Look top-down OR bottom-up. The State of US Soccer isn’t “great” by any means. It’s not united. It’s so split. USSF is so behind in getting the development to the forefront. But, so isn’t parents, players, and coaches. There’s so many kids losing out of soccer development because of the costs. There’s so much junk spewed about high school and college soccer. There’s so many complaints about the structure of our professional leagues (i.e., promotion/relegation, salary caps, designated players, etc.). But…who’s actually changing it?

To me, that’s where it comes back to the “soccer people.” What can you do about it?

  1. Don’t like the costs of club, don’t pay it and coach the kids yourself. Train the kids yourself. Have the fields, goals, balls, bibs, cones, or whatever else yourself. Make the system better.
  2. Don’t like the structure of high school soccer and their coaching? Get involved in the system and remove the hindrances.
  3. Don’t like the structure of college soccer? You can be the one to change it. Who would’ve thought 10 years ago that NCAA DI football players would be getting paid? Well, the same can be done for college soccer. Get together and change the system.
  4. Professional soccer…sheesh. That’s all over the place. In the end, this starts and ends with what you want out of USSF. What I know, 60 professional teams isn’t enough in the States to serve over 3 million youth soccer players’ aspirations. Our first division (MLS) is also comprised of over 40% international players…a lot of possible USMNT players or professional American soccer players are being left out of the picture.

What am I getting at here? I guess it boils down to this: you want soccer to get better in this country, what can YOU do to make it better?

  • If you are a player, what are YOU going to do now and in the future to make it better? I’m biased, but I’d start here.
  • If you are a coach, what are YOU going to do now to ensure that the development of soccer is there for your current players, future players, and the players that come from anyone that you’ve ever coached or talked to?
  • If you are a club administrator, what are YOU going to do to ensure that soccer is affordable, quality, and development-focused?
  • If you are a parent, what are YOU going to do to ensure that your children can become the best they can be in whatever they choose (in this particular discussion, soccer)?
  • If you are a fan, what are YOU going to do to help change the system? Can you become involved in USSF, MLS, college, NFHS, US Club Soccer, AYSO, or any other soccer association to ensure that the game is being developed?
  • If you are involved in USSF, MLS, college, NFHS, US Club Soccer, AYSO, or any other soccer association, what are YOU going to do to ensure of soccer development across this country? Again, biased opinion, but here’s a good start.

Any way one were to look at it, we all share the responsibility in making soccer [or insert your preferred emphasis] better in this country. Unless, of course, you don’t care…then don’t worry about it and focus on something else to make better. If you only care about winning, well, change that mentality by stepping back and think about the bigger picture. Your interests need to be “culture.” They need to be something that is emphasized, thought out, practiced, practiced some more, watched, thought out, written down, humbled, dreamed, and striving to be made perfect.

Soccer will never get to be like it is overseas (as everyone likes to talk about) until it is part of the “soccer peoples'” culture. You need to make it better. You need to step back and see what you need to do individually to make yourself better to make it better for others. It’s alright to have other interests (I guess). But, don’t expect soccer to get better if you don’t make it a priority to make it better yourself.

Complaining about Jurgen isn’t doing it. Complaining about USSF concussion protocol isn’t doing it. Stepping back and realizing what YOU can do to make it better is doing it. Search like-minded soccer people to band together to make the difference.

Get into the power positions to make changes. Strive to be great. Get others around you to do the same. Make the world a better place…through soccer.

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5 comments

  1. Aaron

    But Ponch, those black kits were the end of the world! In all seriousness, I am curious about your thoughts on teaching proper heading technique. That said, Altidore didn’t need it to get where he’s gotten. 😉

    Gracia y paz,

    Aaron

    • I agree…all of the above! 🙂

      Heading technique is extremely important. It can be taught at certain ages — honestly, I’m not sure when the earliest would be. I do know anyone U6-U10 is not capable of really gathering the proper technique “early.” Many are still trying to wipe their butts and tie their shoes, can they really grasp the technique? Even if they could, are their heads, necks, and backs developed enough where the technique still benefits them?

      Easiest thing if a kid can grasp heading technique, use a softer ball to get them comfortable and use to heading.

      • Aaron

        I don’t think I really learned until I was about 14, but I agree with you; there are many other things to learn that are more important parts of the game than heading. I am in favor of keeping the ball in the carpet and actually playing the game. That’s something I have brought up while playing at Middlebury’s Spanish School the last four summers.

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