04/13/2020 4:46 PM
Article By: J Hector Diaz
I have been debating for a while on where and how to write about the game we all love. I argued with myself whether I should start a blog or launch a website with a separate brand. But, I realized I would be hiding behind another brand, something I dislike and will be criticizing. To be transparent on who I am and what our club's opinion is on many subjects related to the game, I will be commentating via our club's website every week.
The problem is twofold. First, I will get into problem #1.
One of the significant problems is a few established clubs collaborating to create a "special" league that is closed for others to join. They feel threatened, so to protect their financial interest, and instead of improving training, they focus on keeping others out. The "special" league is marketed as the best league in the region, and one that is exclusive that only a few clubs can join. The leagues do have good competition, but not the best. And to have the best, you need to open it up to everyone. It is obvious they won't, so people running any soccer league should not have any relationship with any soccer club. U.S. Soccer needs to eliminate all conflicts of interest and allow the game to determine who plays in the elite brackets.
Another problem with these so-called "special" leagues is that the travel cost limits the player pool. The established clubs have decent coaching, but that comes at a loss because it decreases the size of the player pool. Now combine coaching costs and a lot of travel, and you have a recipe for a smaller player pool. Without the best players on your team, coaches cannot create the most competitive environment. Instead, they are settling for less. If your child makes a European professional team's youth academy, do you think the first obstacle is if you can pay or be able to volunteer hundreds of hours? Or do you think they are merely picking the best player? We do not want to eliminate good coaching. Still, we can reduce the cost, and that is decreasing travel. Even if I had enough money to pay costly club fees for my kid to participate, I'd prefer a club to reduce travel and lower the registration cost. A club with lower registration costs, and good coaching, will allow my kid to compete against a better player pool at tryouts. Each practice would have high internal competition. That is if we can convince everyone that less travel and lower cost are better, or else the talent gets divided.
The other option is for families on the "special" league teams to pay scholarship fees for other top players, who can't afford to pay. Still, many times these players would get picked over ours. If our kid was good enough to make it, he/she might find little playing time despite paying a lot of money, and the better scholarship player would play more. That is not fair! But it is somewhat reasonable, as that player is at every training session making your son/daughter better. So they prefer to pay more, and participate in "special" leagues and feel "special" that their kid is playing in a league; not many can play in. We want to believe our kid is participating among the best, but he/she is genuinely only among the few that can pay.
The second major problem is truly amateur clubs. What do I mean? Are we not all amateurs? Yes, we are, and no, we are not. Yes, we all have amateur players, but not all have an amateur coaching staff. I have to be careful here because I have friends that I may offend. It is hard for me to speak with friends about soccer, not because I know so much but because I understand I have a lot to accomplish before I become a good coach. I currently have the new USSF A-License, and if the license has taught me anything, it is to humble myself and continue learning. It is by far the best license I have taken, and my course instructor (Didier Chambaron) provided the spark to continue and pursue more education. I am daily, spending many hours getting better by talking to other professionals, reading, taking courses, managing a youth club, and coaching. Yet, many clubs are run by individuals that do not know how to coach or, more importantly, are not willing to learn. Many directors of these amateur clubs do it as a hobby or volunteer to elevate their sons or daughters' place on the team. The problem is their marketing is okay, and some get lured into attending, but unfortunately, they dilute the player pool.
What drives me crazy is that I do not talk about being an expert in another profession! I do not try and sell myself to people as a professional landscaper, doctor, or architect. Why do people feel they are experts in soccer without any education? What bugs me is that they are misleading people. Many are my friends because they are good people, but that doesn't mean they are fit to coach or, worst of all, be club directors. Anyone can start a club and join most leagues without having an expert in the subject. The DA was able to establish standards, which left a lot of clubs outside of it. The size of the club was not a factor, other than providing high standards.
The Development Academy provides a solution to both problems mentioned above. It requires all clubs who are members to meet specific standards before they applied and were accepted. All soccer clubs are legit and provide their members with their money's worth. The DA also limited travel in the younger age groups, allowing more people to be able to afford it. The league was not going to be run by the member clubs, but by the United States Soccer Federation. A conflict of interest was avoided by having a central office whose importance was only to accept quality competitors, other than to limit them. And it allowed everyone to compete in the same field as long as they met the minimum set requirements. Unfortunately, this is coming at a considerable cost to U.S. Soccer, and an expense not incurred by most federations around the world. So what would be the next step to evolve?
The federation should sanction youth soccer leagues, just as they approve the professional divisions, as levels one, two, or three. The higher the division, the higher the requirements. All divisions should require clubs to have at least a director with an A License. A school needs teachers with degrees, restaurants need managers with food safety certificates, and soccer clubs need experts in the subject. Many clubs have an amateur coaching staff that belongs in recreational soccer. In recreational soccer, coaches still provide players with life lessons, valuable experiences, and instill values. You can also create life-long family friends. I respect the professions of others, so please respect ours as soccer coaches. The Director of a competitive soccer club has a difficult task to elevate our nation among the elite in the world in the sport we all love. I might not become the National team head coach, but I certainly can make my club better. Our club could provide better competition for others, and little by little, everyone can raise the sport for those elite athletes, who will help us win the World Cup someday. I am determined to be a part of it.
U.S. Soccer, we need you to be able to delegate the roles to operate regional leagues to others, but YOU set the standards. There are many capable individuals with the ability to run competitive soccer leagues. Set standards will allow families with talented players to play for capable clubs with a professional coaching staff and eliminate the recreational clubs. Membership should be opened to all, as long as they meet the standards. Regional boundaries are to limit travel and create competition within regions. A conflict of interest-free staff should run any league that you sanction. Creating this new system that succeeds the DA will make everyone put their money on developing the best soccer player. A portion of the money you save can go towards reducing the cost of coaching courses and increasing the number of capable coaches, as we need many of those.