By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
As I have noted a few times in recent articles, I spend an increasing amount of time colluding with US Soccer. I am lucky to be involved in a few projects that could really help the growth of the game. As part of this collaboration, I get to work with many great soccer coaches from all corners of the globe. We all agree (perhaps due to our innate love for the game) that soccer could indeed be America’s number one sport. In each meeting we are reminded of the mission statement of US Soccer:
“OUR MISSION IS TO MAKE SOCCER THE PREEMINIENT SPORT IN THE UNITED STATES”
I have no doubt in my mind that the beautiful game is growing and that the quality of play in the youth soccer games across this vast land are improving. I see endless positives that help me believe that the US Soccer mission to make soccer the preeminent sport in the country will indeed become a reality.
That being said, I am a realist and know only too well the pitfalls and problems that the game needs to overcome. I was recently asked to crystalize these thoughts for a group of coaches I was teaching. At the end of the conversation, one of the young coaches in the audience asked I share my thoughts through the written word. So in no particular order below are the issues we need to face and fix for the beautiful game to become America’s number one sport.
1. It must become the game for all and not just middle class America. We need to find a way to invite the hundreds of thousands of players from the streets of our cities and suburbs into the game.
2. We must find a way to break the win at all costs, overly competitive nature of youth sports so that learning the game can again be fun.
3. We must change the culture through continuous parent engagement and education so that coaches and clubs are allowed to fully develop their players knowing that key parent support is there in abundance.
4. We need to find a way that our best players can be educated by our best youth coaches in a cost-effective way. Clubs and leagues must find a way to ensure that any kid who wants to play is given the opportunity to do so. No kid should be priced out of playing the world's game.
5. We must continue and strive to improve coaching education until we have a coaching pathway that is the envy of all.
6. We must find a way to change the school soccer system in two vital ways so that it ceases to hurt player development.
a) The schedule of games and practices must start to follow best rules of periodization.
b) No high school or middle school coach should be allowed to teach the game without some minimum license requirement.
7. College seasons should also have to follow sensible periodization rules and the college game needs to be expanded to be year-round. College coaches need to be held to a higher standard of coaching education.
8. All coaches involved in youth soccer across the country need to help the game become a spectator sport. We need to help our players fall in love with watching the game as well as playing it. This type of support should help improve and entrench the MLS and NWSL so that both leagues can continue to develop.
9. The structure within the youth game must be fixed and then controlled. The aftermath of so many competitive youth organizations fighting for registration dollars is there for all to see. Our players play in too many games, are on too many teams and our best players are now scattered through too many competing leagues. We must find a way to enable our best players to train and compete against each other.
10. At the highest level of the game, we must avoid it becoming a political beast. We need those people leading the game to always be prepared to hire outside of their comfort zone. Hire those who will respectfully challenge and fight when needed and listen and go along when it is only right to do so. The danger signs are already there with a seeming insistence that only female coaches be hired in leadership positions at the highest level in the girl’s game. A good coach is a good coach irrespective of creed, color or sex.