The Cost of Pay-to-Play Soccer is Too High
There is a giant elephant on the pitch of youth soccer that most parents are all too aware of but may not want to complain about – the amount of money it costs to develop a young player.
The pay-to-play club soccer system in the United States is not cheap; it costs thousands of dollars a year in fees, tuition, uniforms, travel and other expenses. Then, because of the way soccer is skewed in this country, the top players are expected to go to college where the demand for talent is not necessarily matched by the zeros in the scholarships.
It’s an expensive business and it’s costing more and more each year just for our kids to get the kind of coaching and exposure they need.
Football’s blue collar roots have been left way behind by the way the game has developed. AYSO, a marvelous organization which does, indeed, reach into the poorer communities, although by no means all, is not considered sufficiently progressive for the more talented kids to stick with much beyond seven or eight as a path to the pros or even to college.
One can argue that football has become such big business around the world that it is no longer the working man’s game it once was. But then take a look at some of the game’s all time greats and you’ll quickly see that if wealth were a requirement for success they would never have made it out of the public parks.
Heroes from a bygone era like Pele, who played soccer in Brazil with a grapefruit or newspapers tied up with string, Diego Maradona, Bobby Charlton, Georgie Best, and many, many more learned their craft on the streets.
But while the U.S. game is rooted firmly in the middle classes, football still retains its humble origins elsewhere in the world.
How Stars Were Born
The son of a Croatian mother and a hard-drinking Bosnian father, Zlatan Ibrahimovic grew up in a ghetto slum in Malmo, Sweden.
His home was a battleground and if there was no food for dinner he would go out and steal it. His escape was a small, dusty pitch on his estate that was so tight for space there was no choice but to be fleet of foot. Needless to say, there was no money to play football and even when he joined the city’s professional team, Malmo FF, the parents of one of the other players petitioned to have the young urchin thrown out.
Cristiano Ronaldo was raised in a poor family in the small Portuguese archipelago of Madeira, starved of luxuries and expelled from school at 14 for throwing a chair at a teacher. He made his debut at his local club Nacional da Madeira and rose quickly through the ranks, but his parents never had to pay for him to play. They couldn’t afford to.
Arsenal’s latest superstar Alexis Sanchez grew up in the poor mining town of Tocopilla, Chile. His single-mother worked as a cleaning lady to support Alexis and his brothers and Sanchez would do acrobatics in the street to make money for the family.
These are just three examples of families that could afford thousands of dollars a year to spend on their kids soccer aspirations when they could barely afford to feed themselves. They were able to find other ways that didn't involve paying for the privilege of playing.
It is one of the biggest reasons why it’s the biggest game in the world. All you really need is a ball and you're off.
The Future of American Soccer
By sheer mathematical common sense, the future greats of American soccer – the stars who will help the United States take it’s proper place on the world stage – are out there. The question is; have we been looking in the right places?
To its credit, Cal South saw the drawbacks of the system long before most people and launched a program to try and find the talent that was falling through the money gap.
The region already had a terrific record for identifying top youth players and helping them develop into college and national team stars. But it wanted to encourage more players from across different communities in Southern California, from South Central and Compton as well as Irvine and Mission Viejo.
Implementing its Pro+ program, Cal South made two swift moves to level the playing field. They restricted the amount participation will cost to a maximum of $100, making it far more affordable for lower income families, and eliminated travel costs by holding camps and pools in Southern California rather than flying teams all over the country as was the case in the past.
With sponsor Nike’s support, the Pro+ players aged from U12 to U17, get all the equipment they need for free and the kind of training that would cost their families much, much more with the leading youth soccer clubs.
Steve Hoffman, Cal South's Director of Coaching and Player Development, is passionate about getting into the underserved communities and finding talent that never previously had access to the best coaching the state can offer.
“The idea is to save parents money to get kids identified for the national team without travelling outside Southern California. Basically, we are bringing the resources of US Soccer to Cal South to look at our kids as well as giving them expanded training opportunities,” he explained.
Hoffman has an experienced scouting network looking at players in their natural environment with the help of recommendations from club technical directors, directors of coaching, team coaches and even opposing club coaches who can highlight players through Cal South’s online Player Recommendation Form.
Pro+ is a major step in the right direction and many clubs now also have scholarship possibilities for players who may not otherwise afford to play at the level they deserve.
Football should be doing its best to bring every player together on the field as complete equals. It’s the beauty of the game.
The only true currency should be talent…not how much money you have.