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Mon Mar 29, 2021, 07:45 PM

On Youth Soccer, Participation Trophies, and the USMNT

In another thread (this is not a call out!), a poster attributed a laxity among parents and Kids These Days to the phenomenon of supposed participation trophies in youth soccer, adding that nobody keeps score, and it's an "everybody wins" atmosphere. I suppose I'm here to dispute that, but also to point to the political-economic issues that can be seen as a partial factor to the USMNT not making the Olympics (again) this year.

So, first, youth soccer. I have been involved in youth soccer in the US for more than 40 years, as a player, a parent (girls and boys leagues), a coach, and a referee (also girls and boys leagues). I have participated in a variety of kinds of leagues and clubs across five states and in different kinds of locales. When some kids are very small, they may get, like, a little medal or something for playing. But I have never seen a league that didn't keep score, didn't track who was winning, and didn't reserve trophies for the league winners that year/season. I'm not sure where this idea comes from, but it doesn't match my decades of experience in US youth soccer across the country.

Youth soccer in the US is, in fact, extremely competitive, maybe even too much so. Kids get washed out at ages eight, ten, and thirteen, just like in other sports, when they can't move up in skill and so "lose interest." Club soccer in the US is exorbitantly expensive (which leads to problems, about which more later). Every league I've ever seen keeps score and records wins and losses. You know who the strongest players are in each league, and the clubs start scouting kids at age eight. There are, of course, leagues/organizations like AYSO that seek to ensure that every kid can play. They too are competitive. AYSO keeps score, believe me. In fact, the only place I've seen actually trophies given out to every kid in a league was a t-ball league for 4 -5 year olds that my son played in. I'm sure people will now come in and say "when my kid played..." etc. I guess, but I don't think the "participation trophy" is actually a thing that happens much in US youth soccer, above age 4 or 5 anyway. It wasn't in 1980, and it's not today.

So, the USMNT. They missed the Olympics again this year. One of the major supposed culprits is the club system. What's the problem? A season of soccer for a US kid can cost over $2000; between the club seasons and the high end training, you might be in the $4000 range for a season. It's completely nuts. So, our system actually limits development of talent on the front end - many kids who could be developed into top talent never enter the competitive club system because it is simply too expensive. Participation trophies aren't the problem in US youth soccer. Money is.

The counterpoint is, of course, that the club system is also at play for girls soccer, and the USWNT is the best ion the world, hands down. So, how?

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Reply On Youth Soccer, Participation Trophies, and the USMNT (Original post)
greenjar_01 Mar 2021 OP
RealityChik Mar 2021 #1
greenjar_01 Mar 2021 #2

Response to greenjar_01 (Original post)

Tue Mar 30, 2021, 05:14 AM

1. I respectfully disagree...for what it's worth as only a fan

I believe youth soccer has little to do with the big picture of challenges to the USMNT. As a still active fan of the sport, even after injury ended my son's youth player career, I have opined that the US has an encouraging number of young hopefuls ramping up for the national team, many of whom are playing in Europe after college play ends.

European teams in serious contention for season ending championship tournaments are reluctant to release players to injury risk, for the Olympics, an event considered to be insignificant in comparison to the prestigious league play which generates the needed earnings to perpetuate the livelihood of their teams and leagues. Consequently, the Olympic squads are often 2nd and 3rd string players.

Moreover, national squads need their elite players to be healthy and strong to compete in World Cup qualifiers, the ultimate tournament.

As for youth soccer, in Europe, all the top leagues, which include the likes of Liverpool, Barcelona, AC Milan and lots more have sophisticated, well-financed, historic youth development programs, enabling talented young players from all over the world to train at the very top of the sport.

What do we have in the US? The best that we have is the MLS, which has some youth development, but it's not enough to generate the number of hopefuls to lift the the success of the USMNT any higher than it already is. As it is, almost every player on our national team has played or is playing in Europe to gain the experience of a faster, higher level of play.

And you are right, Club Football/Soccer is outrageously expensive. In addition, soccer in the US is an organized sport played on a planned schedule at designated times and venues, limiting player exposure. In the rest of the world, kids are moving the ball as soon as they can walk. For them, soccer is life.

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Response to RealityChik (Reply #1)

Tue Mar 30, 2021, 11:51 AM

2. I agree with most of this

I think the club system is a factor, but the other factors you cite are important as well.

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