There has been important discussion about the World “catching up” to the USWNT (U.S. Women's National Team) program in the weeks since their exit of the World Cup following a Round of 16 loss to Sweden. Vlatko Andonovoski, the head coach of the USWNT resigned, the contract of Kate Markgraf, the GM of the USWNT, was not renewed and there is a sense of anticipation lingering that replacements will solve the problem.
In order to “solve” the problem with the USWNT, we must first properly identify it.
To be clear, the world “catching up” to our USWNT is not the problem. Rather, it is a testament to strong leadership in the global women’s game and a resolute demonstration of the power of people to claim what is due to them. Nations with Federations that historically barely supported women’s football progressing to the knockout stages of a World Cup doesn’t happen because suddenly their Federation decides to teach women how to play football! The teaching, learning, and passion began at the grassroots level where some girls found a way to participate. Regardless of the differences between “grassroots” in Zambia, Columbia and Jamaica and the structured “grassroots” we have in America, a player’s introduction to soccer matters.
The USWNT’s failure to progress in the World Cup is a shockingly loud call to action that the way we teach soccer in America must continue to evolve.
I founded Soccer Parenting on the heels of my 8-year-old daughter quitting soccer. Cali was bored and uninspired in her club training, felt too much pressure to perform, and was not having fun. I had coached her in a recreational program up until her tryout and acceptance into ADP (Advanced Development Program) at the local club. While she started the year genuinely excited and looking forward to the experience, her enthusiasm waned about a month into training. To hear her deflated, bored voice say from the backseat after practice “we always do the same thing” made my heart hurt. When a couple of weeks later it started to become hard to get her motivated to get out the door to soccer, I knew I had to evaluate the environment for myself.
I watched a couple of practices and quickly understood her apathy. The players stood in lines, lots of them, and did repetitive exercises more conducive to teaching them patience than soccer. Simply put, the learning environment was not conducive to keeping the attention and enthusiasm of the young players, let alone inspiring them to learn and play with joy, creativity, and passion.
While it was clear to me the environment was failing my daughter when it came to teaching and inspiring her, when I asked other parents with players in the ADP program at the club how they felt about the learning environment, I was shocked to realize the other parents were satisfied. In this moment it struck me that until parents get curious and understand what a quality learning environment looks like, kids will keep quitting too soon and we will not be developing players who have the game intelligence to compete with the rest of the world. This was the moment Soccer Parenting was borne.
Our mission at Soccer Parenting is to Make Youth Soccer Better, and I am positive this is happening. It’s been phenomenal to see coaches across the country eager to learn, improve, and evolve the way they teach players, clubs and Boards improving processes and systems, and to see sincere efforts being made to better educate coaches. I am so grateful for all I have personally learned about youth development after hundreds of interviews with experts now available on our parent education platform: SoccerParentResourceCenter.com. Right here at home, I am tremendously proud of the changes made at the Richmond Strikers, were Cali played (and quit and ultimately returned to soccer) ADP, now providing a much-improved environment for young players.
That being said, as a nation, as leagues, as clubs, as coaches - we have a long way to go when it comes to adequately teaching and inspiring players.
I found it impossible not to be amazed at Spain's individual and collective game intelligence in the Final. How we can design learning and playing environments to better develop game intelligence in players in America?
The issues we face with grassroots development in America are complex.
What do you think needs to happen to grassroots soccer in America in order for our men’s and women’s national teams to consistently compete on the World’s stage? Please comment below.