I wrote my first article about the club soccer-high school soccer conflict when I was … in high school. That was in the 80s.
So this debate and discussion is nothing new. Periodically we get the next significant media piece about it; a good one landed in Saturday’s New York Times. Using pointed and poignant examples, it once again examines the issue of elite club soccer creating rules that prohibit young people from playing high school soccer.
Specifically, this story is about the United States Soccer federation’s decision to officially prohibit players in its 80 affiliated academies from participating in high school soccer.
I’ve been consistent all along, and this one really gets me going:
This is soccer in our country at its very worst. This is adults making decisions based on what’s best for the establishment, for the clubs and for the adults, not what’s best for kids. And it stinks.
Since I’ve trampled this ground before, I’ll be brief. High school soccer is cool. Kids like it. It is about community and about sharing athletic experiences with people close in life, and it is part of the American cultural experience. To deny it in the name of developing “world class talent” is getting a lot of wrong fish caught up in the net.
When clubs, with the official sanction of the United States Soccer federation in this case, prohibit high school soccer, things have gone very wrong and they have lost all broader perspective.
Essentially, in the stretch to develop a select few world class players, the deciders are prohibiting thousands of young players from doing something most would enjoy.
What’s possibly worse, by providing official backing for this wrongheaded notion, the federation has empowered clubs beyond the 80 affiliated academy clubs to discourage or prohibit high school soccer. That super stinks, because that represents a more egregious level of club self-interest at work.
If the idea is to produce world class players, as we are told, then this represents ridiculous overreach at very best, and the outright shilling of false hope at worst. Because only the very tip top of this group, even a fairly elite group like this, will ever play professional soccer. And only the very tip top of that group is destined to become a globally recognized star.
This weekend’s story, like some of the others, makes the case that the elite clubs aim is to emulate player development models abroad. Which is fine…if you’re abroad. But we are not. Societies are different, and ours certainly is.
Scholastic sports aren’t valued in other countries the way they are here. My guess: If high school athletics were part of the social fabric in some of these other cultures, they would find ways to incorporate this growth experience within the soccer developmental mechanisms.
Bottom line: They say they want to develop players, and fair enough. But what about developing young people?
This isn’t difficult. Generally speaking, the next world star looks like the next world star by the time he or she is 14. Maybe earlier. That person probably doesn’t need to play high school soccer.
But for about 98 or 99 percent of this group, this is a disservice. It serves the interest of clubs, helping to make the upper end of youth soccer look and feel more important than it really is in the bigger life picture.