There was this interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times that, I think, will hit home for lots of parents in Belmont. The article is ostensibly about high school age soccer players in the upper echelon of club soccer having to choose between playing for their local high school teams and U.S. Soccer Federation academies, after the USSF moved this year to bar players at one of 80 affiliated soccer academies from participating in high school soccer.
The new rule is right minded – the USSF is concerned about young players injuring themselves trying to play for elite clubs and high school teams simultaneously. The decision has created a difficult situation for talented high school soccer players and their families. Of course, most of us (me included) would consider that a good problem to have for our child athlete.
You’ve got to read down for the bigger picture here, which is really about the privatization and professionalization of youth sports – soccer, in particular. The Times article notes that, in contrast to sports like basketball and baseball, which rely on public and private schools as “athletic spawning grounds,” US Soccer is sidestepping community based teams with its affiliated “academies” to discover talent and field teams that can stand up better to international competition.
The grueling and short high school soccer season shoulders some of the blame – intensive pre-season practices followed by a multi-game per week season puts too much stress on young bodies. But there’s also parents’ drive for their children to have a Nick Bollettieri style childhood with a focus on a single sport in pursuit of athletic greatness. For many youths and their families: that may be an expensive pipe dream, measured both in dollars and personal development. The Times notes that U.S. Soccer has four affiliated soccer academies in New Jersey alone – three of which charge parents tuition. The article quotes Montclair High School’s head soccer coach wondering about the financial incentives of the academy system.
If they’re paying for a kid to have a 10-month experience, of consistent coaching, how can I argue with that? But some of the clubs charge for it. That’s where I have a question: Are there that many kids at that caliber that the New Jersey area can support four teams at every grade level? I could make the argument probably not. What I worry about is the possibility of parents buying false hope.
And, as the article points out, club soccer in the U.S. is far more expensive than in the European countries that U.S. Soccer is emulating – meaning that the pool of available players who can pay the freight is going to be smaller.
Its an interesting read and it resonates with what I’m hearing a lot from fellow parents on the sidelines during Saturday travel soccer – the pressure for their kids to play more and more of their designated sport – both in town, travel, club and so on – some as many as six days a week. You’ve gotta wonder whether that’s the best use of your child’s time and – realistically – where its all leading.