U.S. Soccer: Exhibit 101 on why monopolies are not good

U.S. Soccer is dysfunctional.

But, that’s not what holds soccer in the U.S, back. Most organizations, even seemingly successful ones, are dysfunctional to some extent. Federations of top soccer countries are also dysfunctional.

The issue with soccer in the U.S. is that US Soccer wants to be the sole solver of the problems of developing talent and finding the best talent for the national team…

AND…

…they actively stifle and restrict others from coming up with their own solutions to these problems.

The second part of that statement (after the AND…) is the most debilitating.

As the quote from Rory Sutherland in the previous post points out, a good thing about markets is that they solve the same problem in different ways.

Developing and finding talent are problems best suited to be solved in different ways and letting those solutions compete.

In the markets of products and services, this is good because a number of solutions might work well.

It’s good that we have so many organizations, for example, willing to solve the problem of dining out. That gives us a great variety to choose from, and we don’t have to settle for one organization’s solution to this problem.

We have so many organizations working on dining out because there is financial incentive to do so, even if the risk of failure is also high.

We also don’t have a ‘national restaurant federation’ that actively seeks to shut down restaurants that don’t match what it believes to be the formula for success, like where it thinks the restaurant should be located or how many seats they think it should have.

Rather the attitude is, ‘there really is no formula for success, you have to try and see and maybe you will happen onto something.’

In the market of developing and finding talent for the national soccer team, it’s a little trickier because at some point the selection does need to be narrowed to small set of players.

But, much better to narrow this selection to the top players from the froth of a competitive landscape than an anemic one.

Let’s say you were competing with other nations to see who has the best restaurants and you could select a team of 20 restaurants in the competition.

Would you rather be able to select your field from:

  1. A landscape where a single, dominant restaurant has stifled competition and only advanced it’s idea of a good restaurant.
  2. A landscape like we have now, where anybody can give it a try and the ones that do the best survive and compete against each other to get even better?

I’ll take door #2, please.

It might make my selection tough. How do I narrow the list of 1,000s of top restaurants down to 20. What if I choose poorly?

But, that’s the point. I’d have a much deeper pool to choose from and I could probably pick random lists of 20 restaurants out of the top 1,000 or so and still fare well in the competition.

So, no matter how dysfunctional I am or how poor my taste in restaurants is, even if I end up picking the third best team because of my bad biases, it would still be pretty darned good.

If I were limited to door #1, I’d probably have what we have now: a narrow field at the top that’s 1 or 2 deep at each position. My bad biases might pick poorly at a few positions that ruin us.

Door #2 gives me a field that’s 6 or 7 deep at each position and nearly idiot-proof.

This is why U.S. Soccer should adopt the incentive structures that have worked well in other countries to encourage, much like we have in restaurants, lots more folks to get in the game of helping to solve the problem of finding and developing talent.

These incentives are:

  • Promotion/relegation
  • Solidarity payments and training compensation
  • Sponsoring competitions on the field to discover the best players and best ways of playing the game

These incentives encourage folks to find the best talent, whether they can pay a club fee or not, and field them in competitions to put all ideas about what a good player is and what a good team is to the test.

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