Youth Soccer Needs a Reality Check

Youth soccer is not working and it’s time to start to find solutions and fix the problems!

Players deserve a better environment in which they can reap all the life-changing benefits of a youth soccer experience, Parents deserve guidance, support and leadership when it comes to making sure their child thrives, Coaches deserve to have and provide the most life-enriching interactions possible, and our Clubs need an environment where they are celebrated as the connection point for communities and families everywhere.

Simply put, we have lost our way.

All of us.

Parents, coaches and clubs.

Not all the time or in all ways, but the deep rooted disconnection that too often exists between parents, coaches, clubs and players has resulted in an environment that is not adequate for the players, regardless of their various levels of participation.

There is a solution. It is possible for us to change course, to change culture.

Last week I stood on a raised platform at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Convention in Los Angeles, California and delivered a message of change and reform to a room full of willing to listen, eager to learn and ready to change coaches who acknowledged that our current youth soccer system is broken. I called on coaches to rebuild their relationships with parents by extending trust.

Cultural change will happen with behavioral change.

With that in mind, to aspire towards cultural change, we must first wholeheartedly acknowledge our current behaviors and the environment we have established with a sincere and introspective look into the realities that currently exist within youth soccer.

The Realities of Youth Soccer Today

  1. The coaching culture is too ego driven

When I was getting my USSF “B” coaching license in 1998 I had a question about the topic I was to teach about and wanted to run a few ideas by one of the instructors. My request for help and discussion was met with an attitude of impatience and an unwillingness to connect. Simply put, I was turned away and told to find the answers from my fellow candidates. I walked away feeling embarrassed for asking a question, stressed about my testing, and anxious.

This is a deeply rooted cultural problem we have in soccer that could be described in various ways – I choose here to refer to it as ego-driven. There are also many examples of this ego-driven culture from much higher up the organizational soccer chain. For example, FIFA and the irresponsible leadership that has been previously elected, their corruption and lack of transparency or from U.S. Soccer and their refusal to hear and respond to the 40,000 parents who signed a petition asking for questions to be answered about the recent Birth Year Mandate.

There is a deep-rooted systemic belief in soccer that the superiors do not talk to their inferiors. This cultural norm has made its way all the way from the FIFA Boardrooms to our community fields. When a parent approaches a coach to ask a question about the game or their child and is met with resistance, they feel the same way I felt when I was turned away from my “B” License instructor.

We need to work together, collaborate, and connect.

Coaches must open the door to parents, and because this is new territory in the coach-parent relationship, they must also clearly define welcome and accepted behavior and be willing to close the door when necessary because there also must be healthy boundaries in our relationships.

  1. There are issues of POWER in the coach-parent relationship

From a parent’s perspective, the coach holds all the power. If a parent is stressed about something that is going on with their child, they too often do not feel as though the door is opened to them to seek council and advice from the coach for fear of it having repercussions on their child when it comes to playing time or making the team.

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From a coach’s perspective, the parent holds all the power. They are the ones who are paying for the experience, they are the ones who can complain and get the coach fired, and they are the ones who can make life miserable for the coach by excessive communication.

The solution to these perceived power positions is establishing trust.

  1. Parents are stressed

The vast majority of parents are NOT Crazy Soccer Parents. Instead, they are Stressed Soccer Parents. They worry about their child when they are struggling, they have a lack of understanding about the actual potential of their child, they want their child to be successful and happy, and THEY NEED GUIDANCE FROM SOMEONE THEY TRUST.

Many of these STRESSED PARENTS APPEAR CRAZY. However, all these stressed parents really need is some information, for the door to be opened to them, for someone to listen and try to understand and to help. Once the the door is opened, they gain perspective, usually calm down and, most importantly, their child benefits.

  1. Crazy Soccer Parents have ruined it for the coaches and other parents


It’s time for us to stop letting the Crazy Soccer Parent control the youth soccer environment. Both parents and coaches allow this to happen.

Parents don’t want to be perceived as a Crazy Soccer Parent so they elect not to ask questions and allow the stress to mount. Coaches have been treated poorly, accused of mistreating kids, had their valuable time wasted and been pulled off mission by the Crazy Soccer Parent who is irrational, living vicariously through their child and is unable to be satisfied. Unfortunately, because of the Crazy Soccer Parents, coaches have gone as far as to adopt policies of not talking to parents, of shutting parents out and not engaging.

Crazy Soccer Parents need to be pushed to the side and treated as outcasts. We must make them powerless. 

If our cultural norms are more substantial and rooted in strong relationships between coaches, parents and clubs – it will become abundantly clear that Crazy Soccer Parents simply do not belong.

Sadly, yes, this will potentially affect the children of Crazy Soccer Parents.

  1. The Core Mission and Purpose of youth soccer has been too often forgotten by coaches and parents

The Soccer Parenting Value Statements of Active Health, Coach Integrity, Love of the Game, Balanced Outlook, Healthy Living and Soccer Knowledge must once again be the values that drive all of our decisions as parents, and coaches must seek to adopt similar values relevant to their perspective.

Too often, youth soccer has become about the process of playing and the process of winning, instead of the process of developing children into young adults of character.

Our required coaching education does not teach our coaches how to be a coach of significance in a young child’s life and societal pressures of fame and scholarships and performance too often sidetracks parents and leads them to lose their perspective.

Together, coaches and parents can come back to where we need to be, where we must be for the sake of the children.

Youth soccer is not working, and the glaring disconnection from the behavior of coaches, parents and clubs to the mission and values of youth soccer is largely why.

If coaches and parents approach their interactions full of integrity – and therefore align their values and their actions – then we will realign our cultural norms so all soccer playing children can thrive.

  1. Young players are quitting too early

All players, regardless of their level, just want to have fun. The vast majority of our soccer player children play soccer simply to participate, not because they have lofty goals to which they aspire.  For them, fun is different than for a player seeking a high level of performance.

Most soccer playing children will only ever play at a recreational level.

This needs to be okay.

This needs to be celebrated.

There must be a safe and inviting place for all children to play, regardless of their athletic potential or mentality.

We know the benefits of participating in sports when it comes to our children. They are more likely to grow into healthy adults, stay in school, not do drugs, go on to college, not get pregnant and more.

Is anything more important than our children’s health?

And yet, time and time again, we are allowing – even encouraging – our children to stop playing soccer because it seems like they don’t have a “future” with it and they are not good enough.

Good enough for what?

If as coaches we know the vast majority of players are going to be playing at the recreational level, why are we over-organizing practices for them as they develop so they get bored or even frustrated? All they want to do is play and have fun, that environment should be simple to provide.

  1. Young players are afraid to make mistakes

We recognize we are lacking when it comes to developing the most technical and creative players at the higher levels, and yet we have not created a system that encourages children to experiment and explore their capabilities and creativity at a very young age.

In fact, we have failed to learn from the glaring anecdotal and scientific evidence right in front of us, and instead of finding a different and better way to develop players, we continue down the same tried and not-working paths, even paving the same paths again.

So many of the exceptional players we have produced in the United States who are playing at the highest of levels – on the men’s and women’s side – all have one thing in common: they played all the time.  They could not get enough of the game, and other games, growing up. Playing consumed them. They played with the kids in the neighborhood, in the streets, at indoor facilities – often times outside the presence of a coach who was evaluating them – any chance they could get.

Instead of acknowledging this and building a grass roots developmental model around it, we have taken our best players and decided the best thing to do is to completely control their development – every moment of it from the age of 11 or 12 – by putting them into competitive soccer situations where they feel they are constantly being evaluated. Then we wonder why these developing players are not taking more chances and being creative and thoughtful?

And when coaches do think about doing something outside the norm that encourages this free play, they use parents as an excuse – saying the parents expect more than just “playing” with the Pay-to-Play model. If parents were more engaged and coaches and parents and clubs trusted each other, this would likely not be the case.

What if the model was Pay-to-Develop Essential Life Skills? Would parents be more willing to pay for that?

We can all get better.

Too often we have framed the problem by blaming either party.

The problems have been identified. Identifying the problems is the first step towards changing behavior and therefore eventually changing cultural norms.

Now, let’s move on to the solutions.

Let’s create an environment and culture in which all soccer playing children will thrive. Where they develop a love the game that will take them into adulthood, experience soccer at the highest level possible for them given their athletic potential and learn the important and valuable life skills and lessons soccer is uniquely positioned to teach.

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  • There are several levels of soccer going on in the us at every age group. Its hard to believe that some one philosophy fits all. Competitive soccer is competitive with all the disappointments and stressors built in. Like large high schools varsity football teams or basketball teams or even first chairs in the bands. There are smaller high schools and smaller high schools and smaller private schools where the pressure maybe not so great, like levels of club soccer. I’m thinking that to somehow dilute the anxieties of competition is maybe tilting windmills. Just saying.

    • Nope. do ya think that’s what other countries do – “dilute the anxiety of competition”? Haaaaahaaaaahaaaaaaa!!! Poor Americans we create such good athletes but such poor futbal players. Probably the hardest and most mental sport there is. Poor Americans either too lazy or too much over excursion-always yelling we are number 1, but not at soccer. Not even the females now that the rest of the world is allowing girls to play. We only know how to be number 1 at selfish desires, incarcerating our own citizens and medicating. Ha! We will never produce world class soccer players, no at this rate of bad coaching and lack of child centered training. Maybe some more goalies, but only because its more individualistic and its the one position that is built more for a great athlete rather than a great thinker.

      • I don’t think either of you read the article. I have four children who are college-level soccer players. I saw many of the things mentioned in this article as distractions for driven, competitive athletes. I have coached basketball for more than 30 years and find that wen I removed my ego from coaching and addressed the parent-player relationships my team’s were more productive, my players developed skills and worked harder, and they produced under pressure with grace, chemistry and poise. When my ego took over and parents became overly critical of their children, my teams always struggled.
        Humans don’t produce at a high level when fear is the motivator.

      • Anne,
        Follow the money. The reason why all the top American youth athletes play Football, Basketball, and Baseball is because the dream of making millions in the NFL, NBA, or MLB — not the MLS (lol). Who cares about soccer?

        I bet over 80% of youth in US could not even name 5 players in the MLS, but everybody knows who Lebron James, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Antonio Brown, Big Papi, Derek Jeter, and the list goes on and on.

        I agree with you when you say so many people in America are selfish (which leads to incarceration and medication). But I’m not sure what relevance that has in this thread other than a typical strawman argument with a few ad hominem attacks that you see from either unintelligent or simply myopic individuals. Not sure which camp you fall into.

        Given the recent rapid decline in youth participation rates in soccer (in most youth sports actually) MOSTLY due to excruciatingly high costs, soccer will never rise; in fact the opposite is proving to be true. Soccer is most rapidly becoming a rich suburban sport. When America only opens the door to that demographic the outlook is grim.

  • I remember when I was a kid, we played, soccer, football, cross country running and field hockey in the Fall. Basketball, wrestling, ice hockey, volleyball, skiing in the Winter. Baseball, lacrosse, tennis, track & field, golf in the Spring. Those that did a three sport year turned out to be very responsible life learners. Maybe one sport families are too spoiled and set in their ways? Maybe the answer is to go back to a 3 sport culture.

    • Huh? What r u saying? The majority of families do still have their kids play more than one sport… Do you have kids or do you coach? I mean what are you even trying to say? Specialization doesn’t come until they are 12 to 13 in this country and that’s probably why we create great athletes and shite soccer players

      • Where do you live. I live in the US where club soccer is year round. Tryouts in June, 2/wk practices start in July, team camp is added on top of that in August. Preseason Scrimmages in August and Labor Day tournament believe it or not. Fall season plus tournaments Sept-Nov. Indoor tournament in on Thanksgiving weekend of all things. Indoor tournament in January. Indoor training Dec-Mar. travel tournament 2 states away in March. Spring season April-June. And this is not even the premier travel team. This is the local club team. And most parents think it’s great! They’re crazy if you ask me.

    • Joel Fish, the top sports psychologist in the country, said specialization happens. The kids choose to do it when the time is right. The decision should not be made by parents or coaches.

  • I think the issue with soccer isn’t really much of the above. Everything about “travel” soccer seems focused around making the US Soccer program stronger. Not about kids just playing soccer, and seeing which ones want to keep going to develop into strong ODP players or just college level players.

    For instance, my 5th grader (to be U12, which is ridiculous as well) to be for our next soccer season basically will have to give up “competitive” travel soccer because of the spring season requirement. If soccer could just be a fall sport, he’d most likely continue to play. But when it goes head to head with spring sports he has a higher level of interest in playing, it’s hard to keep the soccer commitment and not letting his coaches and teammates down.

    He enjoys it, he loves playing with his buddies, and he has some talent, but the commitment level is ridiculous.

    • Travel soccer is tiered. Just step down to a less competitive and more flexible team. My son (12 yrs) plays basketball, soccer and baseball. He has stepped down in all three. He is still on select teams, but he has moved to less competitive and less demanding teams. Each time he has stepped down, it has been a good move for us. Better parents, better coaches and better growth for him.

      We did get onto one “daddy ball” team, which nearly ended his soccer “career”. Definitely watch out for that on lower-level teams… No kid wants to work his butt off to get into a situation where the best kids don’t play. It didn’t matter when they were 9, practicing two times a week, but now that they are putting in 4 practices a week, plus games, it matters.

      • Daddy ball – what a joke u r. You really read the article, you’re a real critical thinker aren’t you? Ha! it’s called pay to play. If you pay your kid should be developed in the sport and play equally. It’s not supposed to be about winning every game. The parents that don’t understand that kids need to develop, and lose, are the parents of kids who never make it past being a super star in high school. Or they produce kids so arrogant that if they do make it to play in college, they realize pretty quick that they aren’t the fastest or best and that every teammate was a superstar and everyone has a big fish in the little pond story. Great job dragging down everything the author wrote

      • That’s called house, not travel. Not when you’re paying $1,000 per weekend to travel to a sporting event. Not even close. Kids need to earn their time on the pitch, not automatically get equal time. Equal time is house level. Travel is earned time.

      • Not where I live. U12 has 3 levels, “A” premier/travel, “B” select local (travel only within one hour), “C” select local. No kid is cut. Every kid makes a team so the C team has some kids who should be recreational but that another story. Our B local team coach actually benches 10 year olds to get a win. It’s messed up.

      • Our club has three U12 tiers. My kid is on the middle tier team. The top premier team coach refused to make any changes to his team during tryouts so we have premier players on our mid tier team, and mid-tier players on the premier team. The coaches each think they’re the second coming and only care about winning so our coach benches 10 year olds so he can get a win.

  • Don’t forget about the referees. We’re at all-time lows in recruitment numbers in a great part due to the stress placed on parents which cause them to lash out at the most combiner target – the fourteen year old kid trying to officiate their match. The result is that fourteen year old goes and works at McDonalds so that an adult who screams in his or her face gets arrested, rather than getting (usually) a slap on the rest.

    As an example of the chaos that stress on parents causes, this past weekend for only the second time in my 21-year professional career I had to throw an entire team’s spectators out of a game due to misconduct. I, a pro ref, had to throw an entire sideline out of an Under 12 match. That’s not a good sign for the sport. If I can’t get young referees on the field at even the youngest ages, it’s going to very hard to develop the referee talent we need to match up with our developing players.

    Food for thought while we’re talking about reform.

    • Good message.
      1st Coaches need to Coach the kids and not to criticize the referee decisions, good or bet that is there job. 2nd Referee’s need to be up-dated with rules and care about the game and kids not just about a pay check and been a dictatorship. 3rd Parents there can get License and coach there on kids but not referee there own kids, but they can referee other kids. Button line the game is for the kids and for coaches, referee’s and parents it is just another way that they can teach life lessons to the kids with a healthy life style. Confucius said “A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions” If the parents and coaches could understand that they enjoy & make life easy for all involve in the game.

    • My kid is on a U12 team with parents who yell nonstop at their kids, the refs, even get into verbal shouting matches with the opposing teams parents. Twice this fall season at tournaments the adult refs have had to reprimand parents! And these are otherwise normal, professional parents with good kids. They are so invested in their 11 year old daughter’s soccer game it’s ridiculous.

  • Dear Sir or Madam,
    Many of you have written to me concerning my dialogue with our country’s soccer leadership. I am writing to make you aware of the recent situation involving the US Soccer Federation (AKA: USSF, “US Soccer”). This year the USSF elected to change the date of birth “cutoff” for the age category(s) for youth soccer in the USA. The change was made from August to January 1st. In other words, a change from the long accepted “School” schedule based age segregation to the “Calendar” based age segregation for purposes of creating age groups amongst youth players. The August date had been used for many, many years because it is much easier to categorize children by their grade, and because families and children want to play with their school peers and friends.
    The Federation (USSF) mandated that all teams across the entire nation institute their change. This 2016 mandate forced some 3.2 million youth soccer players across the country to leave their current team and be restructured. In other words, they demanded the dismantling of the entire country’s youth teams. This dissolved many relationships between children, coaches, parents and families, which in some cases were together for years. It also slowed the current soccer cohort development, and down struck the personal chemistry between former teammates. This change also created much confusion, frustration, and extra work; especially for coaches, even causing some to simply quit.
    As some of you know, youth soccer is rather chaotic, and has been plagued with problems for many years; however, this particular issue and its consequent changes were actually very unusual and unique. Why? Because of the vast numbers of children to teens that were negatively affected, and because the changes were forced by adults in power at the top of the Federation. Why would the USSF do this you ask? Many other adults and children have asked this question as well.
    The USA Soccer Federation is a small group of about 250 employees with about 30 coaches and executive leaders. These bureaucrats are self-serving, idiotic narcissists and I hold President Sunil Gulati personally responsible, but there are others as well.
    The USSFs National team players that the Federation controls (less than .03% of the US soccer population) play internationally at the pinnacle level. Having a calendar birth year might make it easer for USSF coaches, leadership and administration to identify rare elite players and compete overseas. It also aligns with the rest of the international community. The USA Soccer Federations National teams have never done very well (except for the women’s team), and suffer from a long history of international mediocrity. The Federation believes that having a Calendar year will possibly allow them to more easily monitor and then choose elite level player and thus ultimately win on the international stage which is what they so deeply and pathologically crave. This is disturbing to many us that follow youth sports because it is also unprecedented in the demonstration of skewed priorities, and because it places stark emphasis on the already too much over-emphasized mentality of “winning is everything”. It also places the selfish Federation leadership’s desires ahead of the public and ahead of our children. Sadly, children did not have a voice in the matter whatsoever.
    That’s not the end of the story. There is more. The Federation has tried dearly to fool all of us into believing that there were other reasons and that their mandate is for the better. Examples of this are the claim that the change somehow does away with the “relative age” affect; but it does not. There will still be children that are the youngest in the group no matter what society does.
    The USSF has crafted a script from which they robotically answer calls and questions regarding their mandated change, published confusing and erroneous logic, as well as falsely claimed that they have consulted with other soccer organizations, and their own membership. The truth is the coaching directors of each organization (US Youth, NSCAA, AYSO, US Club, etc.) were NOT on the committee that made these changes. These organizations were simply forced to implement USSFs foolish decision. President Sunil Gulati and his minions have conducted no research on the matter. In fact, they also ignored petitions signed online by nearly 40,000 citizens to rescind their mandate. Little league baseball is an exemplary organization. Little League did their research before deciding to use September first as their date of birth “cutoff”. They also listened to the membership and noted that families wanted kids to play with there school peers and that they did not care about winning nearly as much as would be expected; nor did they care about the international norms or the results from international team games.
    The essential issues are not just an issue of the desire to play club soccer with your school classmates. In the United States, unlike anywhere else in the world, our schools and the NCAA have a solid organized system of soccer that overshadows club participation in that club soccer schedules revolve around school soccer schedules, and schools have vast numbers of children playing soccer. Almost all youth soccer players that continue soccer are going to end up playing in college (versus the national team, or pro teams). There is no other country in the world that has our excellent college soccer system where student athletes benefit from not just a huge fairly regulated athletic system, but from an education! The NCAA system is an important developmental piece for everyone except the very minuscule numbers at the very top.
    With the detrimental shift to the Birth Year Registration what happens to the thousands of college coaches sitting on the sidelines recruiting players? If they are recruiting from the sophomore class – they now need to watch 60% of one game and 40% of another game versus 95% of one game and 5% of another game. USSF has damaged HS and college and the recruiting process – by making it more difficult for college coaches to actively recruit players. With USSFs desire to replace college soccer with Academy type play, they are taking a path that will eventually eliminate scholarships for these players, and thus impacting the ability for many of these players to even attend college. This path can be traced all the way down to those in High School.
    In the end, the academy system is a fraud. Gather the best players in one place, let them play each other and profess them to be the best. It was a middle finger to every grassroots coach, to everyone who did not want to play in academies (cost, travel…) and devalued everything outside of USsf academies – the money making “prism” of an elitist mindset. I have investigated USSF for over a year now. By the way, Cristiano, Pele, Messi, etc., … none of these greats reared from an elitist system. None of them would have fit a US Soccer academy.
    Under the Calendar Year Registration, some 40% of the players on a team will be in a lower grade. When those lower grade kids are in their Junior Year in high school, 60% of their team will be in their Senior Year. What are they going to do for club soccer in their Senior Year? USSF has no answers so I will venture that many will not seek to play. So, what happens in the year there is a transition to middle school and high school when 60% of the team plays soccer for their school and the remaining 40% are still in a lower grade? Kids lose out. Here is just one of many examples: a child born in 2002 who is still an eighth grader will not have anywhere to play next fall, because the 2002’s will be deemed U15, they will cater to high school and there will be no fall club teams in the area to play for because none of them host a fall team since quite literally all of the kids play high school soccer and the majority of 2002s will be in high school. That eighth grader is now in an administratively adult created limbo.
    With the current detrimental shift to “Birth Year Registration”, club teams will be split almost in half during the transition years between middle school and high school; however, US Soccer doesn’t care about high school soccer. They wrote articles themed along the idea that high school is a distraction from their mission, and just a “social activity” which they have campaigned against for years. USSF further declared war on High School soccer a few years ago when they set up their Academy programs. USSF has even gone so far as to pass regulations that kids that play in their Academy system may not play in soccer in High School. There is evidence of more of this type of thinking and activity.
    Instead of launching initiatives to find players who can afford high school soccer but not club soccer, USSF is finding and funneling players into competing “national leagues” thru these “live in” Academies where only “the best” go to train.
    Instead of enabling coaches to get better education, USSF is ending waiver programs and making its licenses logistically difficult to obtain.
    Instead of de-emphasing the “win, win, win at all costs” mentality they have endorsed over-training, more traveling, and steeper competition. The notion that extreme and hard core youth competition will breed better players is shrouded on intuition, however; there exists no proof for this trend and in some cases the opposite has been the case. Nor is there any proof that then USSF academy system is better than the other systems.

    Instead of developing competition and expanding the NASL, the latest example comes as U.S. Soccer attempts to bone the NASL by redefining the parameters of a Division I soccer league.

    Instead of trying to keep the female and male player salaries near equal and promote a sense of harmony and national gender equality, USSF has treated the women as second class, and even faced legal suit(s) for wage discrimination etc.
    Instead of working with ECNL to improve an already good league, USSF figured it would be smarter to create their own new league to compete against ECNL.
    Instead of listening to parents who are wavering in their desire to sign their kids up for youth soccer, USSF is insisting on birth-year age groups that will reduce the likelihood of kids entering soccer and seeing familiar faces as they tentatively step onto a soccer field.
    Instead of being proactive with head trauma and “heading” the ball they face another legal issue. Rather than taking steps that might (or would) reduce the number of concussion injuries, USSF is instead relying its so-called “concussion protocols” which do not work.
    Instead of assisting youth players that are playing overseas, the USSF has done little to influence FILA. As it stands now, some minors were not permitted to train overseas according FILA rules, and were forced to return to the USA to play.
    Last year several youth soccer groups issued a rare joint statement saying the Federation isn’t communicating at a time of great change, and U.S. Club Soccer’s Elite Clubs National League had a fruitless summit meeting with USSF officials.
    It has become very obvious from the many emails and conversations I have had with many other soccer folks that no amount of “dialogue” with USSF or Sunil will be constructive, however; you may still elect to speak out against USSF and all of its injustices at: – and –
    You may also call/contact: Phone: (312) 808-1300.
    U.S. Soccer Federation
    1801 S. Prairie Ave.
    Chicago, IL 60616
    I have spent a year researching, and found that USSF is a self serving organization. They are about money and about what is best for themselves and not for the people, and our children. I have a collected many sad stories from all over the country expressing serious issues with USSF.
    Indeed, USSF is tone deaf and could care less about the other 99.9% of players, children and families which is why we need change, and we need a new banner (organization) to play under. I hope this communication will spur a movement to get our kids away from USSF. Please, please do pass this email on to your own club parents and membership! As individuals we can do nothing to force USSF to adopt reasonable rules and regulations. However, together we have power.
    Thank you everyone.
    Barry Politi, MD, MPH

    • Wow! Nicely stated. The point that the kids just want to play with their friends/classmates is so true. To prevent our 2006 and 2007 travel girls from being split up our team chose to Stay together and play up. It has been a struggle, the girls lose often, however they stay positive and have fun together and do are great friends. I’ll Take that any day!! Thank you for the posting.

    • I don’t see the age grouping change as that big of a deal, mostly because my son started playing soccer after this change was implemented. He has an October birthday and because of the change he was able to start playing U8 soccer when he was in Kindergarten and was able to play against 1st and 2nd graders that first year. Now he’ll be playing U9 soccer and he already has two years experience of playing travel soccer. Eventually when he enters high school as a freshman he’ll have years of experience playing with kids a grade above him. I understand it wasn’t ideal for those who had kids in the programs at the time which had to switch teammates but going forward I think it’s beneficial for the next generation of soccer players.

      • Sure that’s kindergarten where size variations are small. From 10-14 years old kids bodies develop at wildly different rates and playing up one year can be huge. My 10 year old kid is a late December birthday playing on a U12 team with mostly 6th graders who are not in her grade. All her friends are U11 and she runs circles around them. U12 players are as much as a full FOOT taller than her. And her team is undefeated so the coach rinks it’s a good idea for the whole team to play up in the spring season to U13. Next week he has us playing U14 in a tournament. My kid is 10! It’s a disaster. And unsafe.

  • I agree with this for the most part, but I disagree with the part about excluding the kids with the crazy parents. It’s pretty harsh to penalize a kid because of his or her parents’behavior. If the author believes so much in communication she should agree with counseling the parents on how to behave in order to better their child’s performance as opposed to just writing those parents off. Some of those parents may be well meaning people who just go way overboard. I know some people like that and they’re not necessarily bad people, they just too involved in their children’s lives due to culture, their own childhoods or whatever. The exception is if the parents are violent or do not change after repeated conversations.

  • So -I agree with almost all you wrote. Maybe all. Having read a zillion articles and years of experience, makes me perk up a little when anyone doesn’t blame the parents. But as usual, it always leaves me scratching my head and looking at my empty wallet. Staring at that wonderful kid who was dismissed so early on, by those arrogant coaches, that we have no idea what she could have done in the sport she loves so much. Most of those arrogant club coaches only held a US Soccer F license and weren’t ever encouraged to continue. I bowed out when I found out a college aged, one time highschool wrestler was helping to score and choose perspectative players for an overpriced an ODP program. Why was the club allowing him to judge? Eh, who the fuck knows. Why would they hire college students to coach “elite” soccer teams without so much as a concussion class. As far as my kids poor treatment went, there was at least karma at work because even the biggest and strongest kid wasn’t going to be playing college ball. And they were so banged up and permanently injured, from years of poor & random coaching, that they weren’t even going to become part of an adult league hack soccer team.

    As a parent and a long time American soccer coach, I believe the reason the U.S. can’t produce more knowledgable, creative, division 3,2, or 1 players is due to the lack of knowledgeable & decent coaches. There are many clubs that are only interested in the money, only money, and therefore they higher the cheapest, youngest and least educated humans to coach, train and become Directors inside the club. These clubs often have no curriculum, no continuing education requirements, no license restrictions, and no decent communication about anything. They have boards that are full of parents with active players, who want what they want for their kids only and they are hardly looking out for the best interest of anyone. Ugh, most of the clubs usually have no other local competition, so the expectations are dismal. These clubs literally only win by stacking teams, dropping divisions mid-season, choosing tourney division placement based on the other team and Praising the bull in the China shops. They only choose the biggest and strongest and fastest and never worry about the what the player understand about this massively complicated and beautiful game. Wnen judging they choose players based on how aggressive and how many tackles they go all in for. Never do they teach or seek players who want to score goals over doing moves, never do they praise a player for choosing the 1v0 scenario over a 1v1 choice. These ridiculous clubs and coaches claim to evaluate players all year, yet they charge a ton of money to tryout and then they never even cut players… Nope they just add on another elite, classic or select team and then give them the least experienced coach, charge them the same amount as the A team and talk shit all the way around from top to the bottom. Like the article states – the fear of being black-balled is nuts it’s so messed-up. Yet it’s no joke that the $2 to 3,000 dollar seasons allow you to watch these coaches act like kings and queens of all the pay to play shit. .i mean how nuts is it when you watch a coach eat while coaching, ignore the team, scream at the young players, watch players cry and not want to ever play again, praise and lift-up only the favorite players and then still lose entire seasons. Haahaahaa… it’s always the parent or kids fault too. Like poorly trained cops, it’s the favorites that always come to their coaches rescue! Yet that favorite song make it much further than any other player. Oh, and boy do these coaches make sure to tell everyone that the reason their season is bad is because certain kids sucked and shouldn’t have been playing? Holy crap it’s happens all the time..

    Moving on… It’s really kinda scary but somehow reassuring when you witness a never-played, volunteer, parent-coach who knows way fucking more about soccer than a paid, ex-player – elite soccer coach. Damn it’s nuts. The reason some volunteer parent coaches know more and are better than an ex-player is simple, they care about the kids. All of the kids. They have found away to get answers, learn the sport and educated themselves on the sport. Most never played and so they don’t know all the joy.& pain Involved but they have watched and read enough to see all the different ways that coaching works and they are willing to try them all. So they come from a perspectative where they watched videos of other coaches, who aren’t screaming or yelling, instead they are all well mannered and the drills are clean and organized. Like the coaches on the videos, they coach calm and collected and prepared. These coaches are considered lesser but They are usually brilliant and consistent & have a vested interest in not looking like idiots, not to their kids and not to the rest of the fancy coaches wearing full jogging suits and ignoring the “lesser” coaches.

    Anyway – you have to place the blame for the Americans lack of producing world class players on the lack of coaching and ipr coach training. I mean isn’t the current U.S. Youth development coach an x lacrosse player, who never played soccer? He was asked to help at his local soccer club and wanted to learn the sport so he went and learned from the best by spending a month or so learning from Ajax coaches? He began producing amazing players by repeating all he learned, and when his players became known, the Americans saught him out? He’s actually the first anerican coach to begin producing real up and coming players consistently…. Right? I mean if I’m wrong, it still sounds about right, and it doesn’t sound nearly as impossible as the way most American clubs are doing everything right fucking now.

    • Anne I love you only someone who has lived the soccer nightmare truly knows it , 3 of my daughters play or played college soccer.

    • Anne, you are my hero for saying what needs to be said! It also is very sad how these private club coaches form partnerships with our high schools and try to solicit the high school kids to join the club. In our little town the private club coach is so ducking close to the varsity one he even comes to all the games and tryouts! Guess who gets to start the games? Kids who play the club..

    • Anne, living the nightmare right now. Our local club has a really talented 2006 team. For four years I’ve been told by all kinds of club coaches, board members, etc… that our team is going to be really special. After four years our team while bigger, stronger, and faster still doesn’t understand by position where they are supposed to be. In the mean time I’ve learned all about soccer, watched soccer, etc..

      Every coach we’ve had has been some young soccer coach without the ability to communicate. They do technical skills and drills every practice. Then line up and don’t even know WHERE they are supposed to be on the field.

      I’ve come to realize that YES because I care and I’m invested I’ve managed to learn the game and I could do a better job coaching these kids than the coach we have. After four years our winger do not know to stay wide. Supposedly they’ve been teaching out kids how to play out of the back. But the halfbacks have no idea how to support the back four when doing so. And I promise you nobody knows what the #8 is supposed to be doing. Just runs everywhere like a chicken with his head cut off.

      I’ve seen some good teams that are lucky to have found a good coach. It is just so rare. I wish we had an opportunity to get my kid on a team with a good coach cause he really is special. He goes to camps and college players are telling him he should be on a DA team. He’s been seen by a few European coaches and they’ve all said he was a good one. But his team has peaked because of a lack of coaching.

      And we have no where else to go. I swear I could coach the team better. Just no discipline at all.

  • I’m a bit late to this article. But hopefully can add some perspective.
    My 12 year old son was born in France. Learned from an early age to play soccer, water and snow ski, play some basketball, golf and tennis.
    When we moved to the US when he he was in third grade, he was a super star on his rec soccer team. We were clueless that there were so many levels of soccer in the US. In France we had the village soccer club which had a tots program and the. Also multiple age group teams etc. if you were a good player then the bigger town and city clubs came calling.
    He wanted to play baseball but was told not to return after one season to a rec baseball team b/c his eye/hand coordination was not developed for baseball only for tennis and golf. So he had great at bats but needed luck developing as a field player. Today he throws the ball farther than me and more accurately and faster. But hasn’t played team baseball since that 3rd grade season. We play as a family on the back yard and he could easily walk on to a competitive team today but can’t shake the first experience.
    What we see here in the US is that coaches are certified without a child pedagogical development angle. I have multiple soccer coaching certificates in the US because I coached the rest of his soccer teams from the second half of third grade through 5th grade.
    I have yet to meet a soccer coach in the US, or any other youth sports coach who understands that muscle memory is important in developing ability in any sport. Muscle memory begins at age 5 or so for most children. That means everything you teach them before then they will forget if they don’t continue. Like skiing. Every winter is like they never skied before. But by 8 yo they are more confident and takes the muscles a couple of days to figure things out again.
    Soccer is different from every ball sport we play in the US because it is the only sport that all players need foot/eye coordination development. That’s why we product better goalies. I used to put the boys who played baseball or basketball in as goalies and they were all really good at it but didn’t like the pressure of being back there all alone.
    This foot/eye coordination is a human problem not just an American problem. We as humans do everything will our hands. It is much easier for us to develop hand/eye coordination skills. To develop foot/eye coordination we need to put in a lot more effort—how about 10,000 hours! If you child is playing soccer from age five on average 5 hours a week, they will need approximately 40 years to master the sport. Because in Europe, Latin America, and other places, this is all some kids do, they are spending 10-15 hours playing soccer from an early age. At 10 hours a week they will master the sport in 20 years. Once they are on a travel team or in an Academy team they maybe getting 20 hours a week. Now we are down to mastering the sport in 10 years. Stars like Messie, Ronaldo, Neymar and Pulisic had this kind of path.
    But this is not the path for all. I would not even wish this for my son.
    Our children’s abilities are commiserate with what they put into it. We are only there to support their desire. The best thing we can do for them, at any level is just make sure they get to training and games on time and that they are playing the level they want to play. I’m my son’s biggest fan—win, draw or lose.
    We must understand that development and self-motivated desire go hand in hand.

  • This article is simply fantastic!!! It touches on several problematic issues in youth soccer. I would love to read the authors thoughts on the following topics:

    1. The need for lower grade youth coaching lisences including testing on psychological factors in motivating and developing youth soccer players.

    2. With so many different levels of youth soccer and so many different organizations, associations, leagues… It seems these entities are working against each other instead and are counterproductive to common goals in their mission statements… It supposed to be about developing kids!!!

  • The point about the crazy soccer parents ruining for all is spot on! Every parent wants feedback about their child. If they claim they don’t well they’re lying. The culture surrounding the parent coach relationship is one in which parents are afraid to solicit feedback, and ask questions about their child for fear of being that crazy parent. And quit frankly coaches perpetuate this by not making themselves available, not returning emails and having a holier than thou persona. Most parents just want to know 1) how their child is doing compared to the others and 2) what the child can do to improve. That’s how you get better.

    • The question should be, is the coach attentive to your child’s needs, not yours. If a parent wants information, schedule a time to talk in person, not by email or text. If a parent is afraid to ask questions, that’s on the parent not the coach. Problem is, too many parents think they know what’s better for the team than the coach. Focus on your player and what is in his/her control. That’s an essential life-skill. My kids have had great coaches and bad coaches. I’ve had good bosses and bad bosses. Put in the work.

  • Prospective youth athletes do not join a team to sit on the bench during games. The youth athlete and their parents/guardians expect playing time based player development. Since sports are supposed to be fun players and their guardians expect playing time based enjoyment too.

    Because numerous parents and many youth coaches prioritize institutional wins over player development, the value proposition for some team members is grossly inequitable. A policy change would be to invoice parents for the game playing time their player received.

    If your youth athlete was comfortable sitting on the bench, then the other team member’s households would financially subsidize her/his participation.

    Hey coach, need players to support your starters during their practices? Offer them a wholly subsidized role, including a stipend funded by the parents fixated on winning.

    Asking youth parents/guardians to budget pre-season for game playing time would perfectly manage expectations for coaches and their organizations as well as players and their households.

    Eleven player roles for a 90-minute game at a playing time fee of $1/minute calculates to $900/game/player. Across all positions the fee generates $990/game. For a ten game season the total cost to play across all positions is $9,900/season.

    At $2.50/minute the revenue generated becomes $24,750/season, which is plenty of money gathered from the households of ‘the team better win or else’ to purchase the services of the supporting (youth) personnel.

    Want to fly out of state with your friends and sit on the bench in a cool uniform? You can get paid for that because for self-serving reasons there are an infinite supply of youth parents/guardians willing to purchase resume jewelry for their child athlete.

  • Great article and fully agree with Mojo above. Also, one of the more intriguing things for me as a coach is that you just don’t know at early age who will become soccer star. History knows so many late bloomers and it’s also been a well studied subject. That’s why it’s even more important to get and keep kids interested in the sport and allow them all to have as many touches on the ball as possible. Too many times I see that the positions are already preselected and the biggest, strongest players play in the middle, hogging the ball. As coaches, we can encourage the right style of play by rotating players and focus on the foot-eye coordination with passing warm-ups (such as and game-like keep-aways (such as

  • Just pulled my talented 10 year old son off of his club team because they don’t have HIS best interest at heart. Winning a game or tournament is more important than his long term development. Playing the coaches son in a position is more important than my son’s development. Anything and everything takes precedent over my son’s development. Pulling him out and going back to AYSO Elite, where they won’t always put him at fullback for over a year and a half when he needs to learn to fight his way up the field and shoot and do all the other things the non fullbacks are learning. He is the only non Mexican on the field, and just as good, but they favor the Mexican boys, he has a Mexican coach and they play him fullback so that the Mexican players can learn to be better at the other positions. This discrimination is a huge part of soccer in Southern California. Pulling him out for his benefit and finding a team that will allow him to spread his wings.

    • hello just red this article, and as a parent going through the same thing like you, registered my 3 kids in a club, like you said the owner’s son and the coach’s son are in the team, so guess what they are two captains in the team and are those kids nobody else, they are the only one who are allow to make choices, Winning a game or tournament is more important than my son or any other player in the team long term development. Playing the coaches son in a position is more important than my son’s development. my son has drop a lot big time, as well his self-esteem, kept telling me from the beginning doesn’t want to play in that team anymore, as a parent told him to give another change , until enough is enough . we decided to pull them out and for my surprised the owner said NO , that what kind of parent teaching their kids to walk away from a team, I kept my calm the entire time , but I make sure explained to him that my kids are no happy and since I AM the one PAYING we decided to leave, the owner decided to intimidate us and specifically said he will teach us a lesson and no matter I paid he will not release his card so he won’t be able to play anywhere else. my kids are very depressed and Looking to filed civil sued against the club. if a child is not happy in a place shouldn’t be any law that the child has to stay .

  • Hear, hear! I’m a 62 year old tech geek, sort of on the junk heap at the moment (I unwisely
    ignored the ongoing threat my old HS bullies turned out to be) and in the process of revamping
    my crash/burned tech venture from HS days am including a larger artsy-craftsy counterpart to
    the ‘tech’ portion, along the way sort of giving back to various people who helped original
    venture along (about 147, a fair representation) by having individual micro-ventures with custom
    product line series variants–after the NYT gave a looksee at AS Bondy in Paris, I thought I’d make use of my one semester as a JV Soccer player (dropped due to low grades–turned pro-geek after that) and do one or two aka football (‘akaf’) collectables slated for ASB as a sort of additional gimmick gesture , mostly as a salute to the vast majority of players who played for fun, even though in ASB and similar clubs in RF it’s the only way out of the ‘trapped immigrant’ rut they’re in (RF is kidding themselves but there aren’t too many ways they can get around
    the problem–I’ll make a gesture from across the pond and otherwise Keep Out Of Their Way.
    Everybody likes to win, but it can only be in various was and degrees–myself, after being
    flatlined , realize that I’ll have to make winners out of this fair mass of people and later maybe
    make a more direct mark of my own–just a matter of realizing this is the only way (no doubt
    people of less-conflicted ethnicity/culture would not need to follow the exact path).

  • High end youth soccer especially the DA has become nothing but a’s all about money ..It’s all about feeding the ego of the parents with bull crap ..alot of coaches out there with A and B lisenses who shouldn’t be coaching eathier..

  • Awesome article. I know that we as a family have been struggling with our children’s club team for the past 2 years regarding many of the problems/issues listed in the article. We took our concerns through the chain of command as we were told to do, with almost a scripted answer with every individual we spoke with, including the director. I still don’t know how a coach can be supported by the club when he is benching 11 and 12 year old girls for up to 3/4 of every game consistently. However, when my daughter wanted to play soccer in the off season of lacrosse, she made the club team, but rarely saw playing time, a long with 2-3 other girls on the team. Despite being in the club regulations to allow all U12 players and under at least 50% playing time per game, the only answer we received was “we support all decision our coaches make”. The whole process has been frustrating to say the least. Thanks for giving us a alternative perspective.

  • This is a great article and I agree, but I feel like my children’s coach is an ego maniac and doesn’t have to listen to my concerns. He totally dismissed me and told me he didn’t have to listen to me because I’m a new parent to the team and he’s coached for two years. And he also said I could pull my kid off the team if I didn’t like his coaching. He’s supposed to be a professional trainer and it’s sad because he works with travel kids and doesn’t care about the kids development. My issue with him was playing time. I have both my sons on the team and one son played the entire game and my other only got five minutes. He kept the same kids playing for far too long and exhausted them and for that reason they tired and let the ball pass them many times, all the while there were seven kids benched that were willing and able to play. We lost the game. Very disappointing with the coaches decision.

  • Wow, when did winning become a bad thing? I know Im not some A or B license coach or former international player but teaching kids that winning isn’t important is just wrong. Why bother to compete then? Parents pay thousands of dollars for their kids to get training to make them the best they could be. So why can’t they showcase this during games? If mixing players into different positions every game and winning doesn’t matter then why bother playing in a high level league or pay/travel for tournaments? Why not cut club/academy costs in half and just schedule scrimmages to teach strategies and position fundamentals instead of wasting parents earned income? The European model will never work in the US. Look at the USWNT, they didn’t use the European method. US Soccer has systematically destroyed the women’s side of the game. They went from competing with boys and playing as much as 7yrs up to not even being allowed to play more than 1-2yrs up and only in their gender group in large parts of the country.

    Anyway, point is players and parents want to see a return on what they are paying for. Development is very important but so is the players confidence and enjoyment. Losing sucks, regardless of how you spin it towards development. Telling a goalie to continually roll it to a def. back only to have the other teams fwd chase it down and drill down their throat is not fun. Being yelled at by the coach for punting to keep the fwds honest isn’t fun either. If your trainer(s) are worth anything then the kids will learn what they need during training. Let them play, shuffle a few around every game but not the entire team. If your going to change the formation, teach the new one to them first. Allow them to compete or just don’t have competitive play. Winning or losing shouldn’t be the most important thing but it should still count. Sure a 12 yr old isn’t going to receive a scholarship to college for a state cup win but the excitement from it and confidence built from it could propel them for years to come.

    • It’s not black or white as you put it. Winning is important. Benching 10 year olds and putting in only the best players so the coach can win for his own ego is sheer BS and frankly emotional abuse at that age.

  • Excellent article and analysis but I do have a few observations. I am fortunate to have started coaching in the early days of the Washington Area Soccer league (WAGS). I coached girls and boys at recreation and travel (used to be called select) levels and continued coaching up to about about four years ago various teams indoor teams and outdoor (mostly as an assistant) in later years. I have observed many changes in youth sports, not all good.

    1. Competition has always been a strong factor too often becomes the be all/end all (team vs. team, competing between players on the team and now intense competition between soccer clubs.)

    2. Unfortunately, player development too often plays second fiddle to “winning” which has become so extreme that some parents start thinking about college scholarships before their kids have time to have fun and just enjoy the game.

    3. In the early days of WAGs coaching and other administrative positions were pretty much carried out by unpaid volunteers, in many cases parents learning the game along with the kids but so much fun and lots of hard work.

    4. Currently, many coaches, especially at the travel level, played the game at highly competitive levels and are paid to coach. Many of them continue to see development of players and teams as their main job but too many seem mainly focused on the “winning” which t drains fun away from the game for the kids, the parents and, yes, the coaches. Also parents spend a good amount of money for their kids to play so some add pressure to “win”

    5. I am not opposed to coaches and others bring paid. However the money/business part of youth soccer should be balanced with goal of developing players and teams and having fun in doing so. Athletes want to win but when that becomes primary, stress and anxiety takes over to the detriment of all, players, coaches and parents.

    6. Youth soccer needs balance between competition and cooperation. Competition is a natural instinct of those who play any sport but winning must not be the only goal. It will come but also means more than more than just scoring more goals than the other team or having the best win/loss record.

    7. Development/improvement of players and teams even during s season of more losses than wins is success. Learning to work as a team and life’s lesson of cooperation versus competition and how to be a good winner and a good loser is success.

    8. Youth soccer must be about development of life skills in sports and all other aspects of life. Winning is all of the above but should not be the be all/end all goal. Pride of the players, coaches and parents exhibited by smiles on their faces is evidence of success whether a game is won or lost.

    9. Lastly, the business aspect of youth soccer must be primary.

  • Spot on! The game needs to remain fun! Once the ego is taken out of it and adults are reminded that the little people learn through play and fun, everybody would be much better off.

    Likewise, the focus needs to remain on the children, keeping active, enjoying themselves, being proud of their growth and achievements. That does not mean we need to hand out 8th place trophies – just that we need to allow them the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. Our job is to guide them.

    I always ask coaches to focus on their soccer coaching philosophy and to discuss that with their teams, it is a great morale booster.


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    Skye Eddy

    Skye is a former All-American goalkeeper, professional player and collegiate coach. She holds her USSF "B" License and USSF National Goalkeeper License and is an active youth coach, soccer parent and coach educator.