This is a continuation of my previous post on how high school soccer hurts soccer culture in U.S.
First, I want to say that I have nothing against high school soccer.In the U.S., school sports is all we know.
It’s just that it’s worth pointing out that one result of the club/high school structure is that it keeps youth players from forming connections to teenage players, and those connections are vital in soccer-playing countries to help pass on soccer culture.
Clubs in soccer-playing countries foster these connections.
High school age players play for the club’s senior teams, they practice on the same grounds as younger youth and often coach the younger players (which also keeps costs down).
Kids in these clubs get to know these players, want to watch them play on the weekend and emulate them. Their senior team heroes provide a vision of players the kids want to become someday.
Younger players in the U.S. don’t have this long-term vision to guide them because they don’t have close connections to the equivalent of these club senior teams in the U.S.: high school varsity teams.
Kids in the U.S. just have their team’s current results. Since competition is grouped by age and skill, those results give youth players a false sense of competency. Why bother trying to get better? Our games are close enough.
This hit home with me when one of my players ran into the local pro indoor team practicing at a field that we often practiced on, by accident. We moved practice that day, but that player’s Dad didn’t get the email.
We had attended a few of that team’s games to help spark an interest in kids, so my player knew of the team and was surprised and excited to see them practicing there.
The player’s Dad introduced him to the pro GK. That GK ended up giving him goalie gloves and became that kid’s hero. His Dad bought season tickets and took every chance to see the GK again at fan events and training camps the team offered.
At the time, that player was one of the 4 who played GK. They were all about the same level of ability at that time and were content with that. They had not concept of what better looked like.
Over the next year, that player excelled. His vision shifted from being good for our team to wanting to play like his hero. That made a world of difference.
I remember the first time he made a diving save, thinking how much he looked like his favorite goalkeeper. He was learning.
When I took the team to high school, college and pro matches hoping to spark an interest in soccer beyond what we did in practice, the kids complained about how boring it was.
They had no connection to the players.
The kid described above showed me how important that connection was.
Imagine if all the kids could make that kind of connection.
Consider how far it sets us back that our system doesn’t foster such connections, while countries with strong soccer cultures do.