Youth soccer in the U.S. is a Rube Goldberg machine

Near the end of this episode of John Pranjic’s 3Four3 podcast, he and guest Joey Cascio discuss how soccer in the U.S. is designed to be noncompetitive.

For example, when there’s a U6 team beating all other teams by 6 or 7 goals, the first thought is to split that team up to balance them out, rather than looking for ways to move that team up to challenge them more.

This reminds me of when I moved from coaching rec to club soccer, I was surprised with the complexity and bureaucracy involved with getting kids playing a game.

My naive self thought it should be as simple as it is to get kids playing rec or indoor soccer: Sign waiver, Pay for your spot, Play.

It’s not that easy.

Try-outs happen one week a year, dictated by the state association. Kids and parents are expected to make a 1-year commitment to a club during that one week period, which puts a lot of pressure on players and coaches during that condensed period of musical chairs — and sometimes the best decisions aren’t made.

There’s lots of paperwork — waivers, birth certificates, photo ID player cards, club rules, guest player forms, rosters, travel permits, secondary roster permission forms and facility insurance forms.

There’s player check-ins and roster checks before games and tournaments.

Distinctions between skill and ability levels are confusing. What level do you play? A/B/C; 1/2/3? Is 1 good, or 3? Premier? Elite? Gold/Silver/Bronze? Red/White/Blue?

Some of this bureaucratic overhead is meant to help keep competition balanced (e.g. keeping teams from using ringers to get wins), as mentioned on the 3Four3 podcast, thinking that will keep kids and parents interested longer.

But, to me, youth soccer looks like a Rube Goldberg machine: an overly complex device made to do a simple task — getting kids — many who don’t even have the basics — playing a game.

It seems like there’s massive opportunity for improvement.

3 thoughts on “Youth soccer in the U.S. is a Rube Goldberg machine

  1. Pingback: Gimme me a break | Our Dinner Table

  2. Great article! I think you are right in saying our youth soccer structure in the U.S is way too complex and fails to get the job done of allowing as many kids as possible to play soccer if they want to. There is definitely massive room for improvement, and I think a big start to that improvement lies in helping to invest in rec leagues and spread the opportunity to play soccer to all kids. As for the more exclusive club teams, something needs to change with the amount of money that families have to pay for their kid once they make the team, because I’m sure that the cost alone keeps kids from even attempting to participate.

    • Thanks for the comment! I absolutely agree. I’m working on a post with some more thoughts on how to simplify soccer, which will be coming soon.


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