Big Box Soccer Clubs - Where US Soccer should not invest
In a recent article on the Changing The Game website John O’Sullivan from positivecoach.org writes hypothetically about how to spend $100 million dollars to improve soccer in the USA. - LINK Enough for arguments sake anyways, O’Sullivan makes 3 strong points to develop more grassroots facilities to strengthen the backbone of soccer with safe places to play, improve coach education through accessibility and better training for experienced coaches, and retain more officials to encourage greater growth.
His fourth point to reward clubs that are "doing things better" also holds true. However, no one will "do things better" until the infrastructure of US soccer that is built as an economy of “Big Box Chain Soccer Clubs” with the same market philosophy as their urban-sprawling name-sake suggests combined with the insular arrogance within US Soccer's insecure place in US sports consciousness changes it approach to focus more on the grassroots level and a greater global understanding. O'Sullivan's points of increasing accessibility through infrastructure, finding better coaching education, and supporting referee retention are footholds to the pillars he suggests. Yet, because of a system a based upon the narrowing of the market through franchising, and the US system's uneven playing field laid out for the rich, combined with the lack of the perspective that the rest of the world has of the game's roots among the impoverished, we would inevitably waste another $100 million.
The pillars of US Soccer should be built upon community service, academics, athletics, and international exchange.
Like our urban sprawl, US Soccer is a "Big Box" model where local Premier Clubs" that are financially successful with recreation up to elite levels purchase smaller clubs. Or, they are Walmart and Target type franchises such as Rush Soccer or Surf Soccer and then there are Major League Soccer Clubs doing the same thing. The exception is that these "Big Box Store Clubs" are not low-priced, and most-definitely do not have the idealized “model program” that O'Sullivan could or should recognize as being "better than others."
These "Super Clubs" with their fancy track-suited A-to-F licensed coaches that get an all-expense paid vacation to the NSCAA each year, do not care about anything but their own bottom line. Furthemore, success for them is the hail of the one or two pros or college scholarships that come from the club. Meanwhile, the thousands of players that pay their dues to play never get a perspective of the game other than through their narrow company philosophy a la the "WalMart Cheer."
Granted, all clubs, even these that are the foundation of the US soccer treasury are full of some very good people that simply want to be paid to do the job that they love; basically coaching kids, growing the game's popularity, becoming a full-time coach, etc. Their club they may say that they "seek to develop," but in fact, they are not ever to be advocates of talent development outside of their “premier training facilities," and create an ethos of egoism that is distinctly American. What is tragic is that these giant clubs that have successfully sprawled throughout the USA are not doing the job of education to successfully reach talent and who's success stories fail at the professional level time and time again. They have created a playing field, standing tall as clumps of grass on an otherwise dirt playing field where the ball inevitably bounces over the real talent that this country has to offer.
Talent is discovered through dialogue; I see a player, or know a coach that saw a player, and we chat, someone takes a look, they play as guest…” But, the Big Boxes and their desire to control the talent flow by creating their own niche market of elite high-rollers dimishes accessibility, leaving many great players and coaches in niche markets whose teams may play in a one-off championship and get a player or two exposed. And, for those that do have the desire to play with the Brand X team in the area more often than not get a "sorry we don’t have a scholarship for you.” -- A ploy to keep paying families on board. Emphasis has to be more on private soccer schools, academies, and small clubs through perhaps even through an affirmative action model with the US Soccer Foundation.
This is the "World's Game" the one that is played because “the ball is round” whether of plastic, cloth, or sythetics. Yet, the US community is too entrenched in the “we call it soccer” philosophy and other than the rich getting richer taking the European team adventure millions of kids will never have the chance to play where the true grassroots of the game are, which is key to opening up their consciousness and development of lifelong participants.
The club that does it better, is the club that had a commitment to provide the opportunity to every player from recreational to elite to travel to another country and play the game. Unfortunately though, these days we participants in the US game are far too insular, and ironically in the utmost sense, so victimized by the “Big Four,” and the “Soccer Sucks” media that we can only focus on the growth within our own club. If we are marginalized within our own country we should make a commitment on the US Soccer national level to enrich players through international travel and have opportunity to play a “pichanga” or take part in a tournament on a dirt field where there really are clumps of grass or none.
So, maybe some funds would have to be taken away from coaches education, but at least that’s less smug soccer parents from the boards of Big Box Clubs in tracksuits at the NSCAA Convention. The true education for our coaches would be to train with and learn from those humble coaches from the countries in Africa and Latin America that are producing the world's greatest players. A player that spends $200 per year on a club designated for travel, by the time turns 16 will have saved $2200, enough to travel with a team abroad. We’ve always been the “unwelcome game” in the USA, and it’s time to look beyond our grandiose reflection of our "shining facilities" and go out and seek the game that continues to escape us. The coach that commits to saving funds, the team that does this, and the grassroots club that does this, from the first registration onwards towards their first trip to see the world's game will be far greater educators of the game than any Big Box franchise club will ever be.
Image credit to http://www.soccer-tournament-guide.com/image-files/wal-mart-all-american-cup-logo.gif