Interesting podcast on youth soccer in Spain vs. U.S.

In this episode of Coaching Soccer Weekly, host Tom Mura speaks with coach Mario Zuniga about a range of topics, including the difference between youth soccer in the U.S. and Spain.

I recommend listening to it. Here are some of differences that I can remember…


According to Mario, youth soccer in Spain is much simpler. Mario said it took him two years to learn about all the different organizations and associations in the U.S. and how to navigate them.

In Spain, everything is under one FIFA umbrella and all teams, at all age levels, are connected through the pyramid. You could be a small club in Barcelona and if your U16 team is good enough, it will play Barcelona’s U16 team. There isn’t a separate league or association for them.

Mura characterized this as “more centralized” than the U.S. I think a better term is more competitively connected.

I don’t get a sense that the umbrella Mario refers to makes heavy handed, politically-based decisions like a centralized authority (though maybe they do) so much as it acts like a central bank ensuring the currency used by its citizens has credibility. But, in this case its citizens are clubs and players and the currency is on-the-field results.

Maybe those in-charge of such a system are open to the idea that they don’t have all the answers to what is a good team and what is a good player and the absolute best test, by a long shot, for getting those answers is opening up the competition, rather than carving it off. You just never know what coach, club or player is going to break through, so they maintain a system that lets them.


It’s a lot cheaper for kids to join a club. But, it’s not a big money maker for coaches, which is one reason Mario came to the U.S., where he could make more money coaching.

A follow-up question I wish Tom had asked, what motivates so many coaches to do it, then? Is it purely love for the game? Are there other incentives, like hoping to move up the ladder to more responsibility?


Mario says that there isn’t a person playing soccer in Spain who hasn’t played futsal. For him, futsal was interchangeable with pickup soccer.

I may have over interpreted, but it sounds like futsal is a key developer of skill through pickup games at young ages, but clubs also start kids in futsal before they make it onto a soccer team to develop their skills.

Mario mentioned a couple times, “I just played futsal with my friends,” but we don’t really call it futsal. It’s football. It’s about the same. We just can’t always get 22. There are some differences, but those differences help you get better. Learning the control the ball on a different surface is good.

Part of that reminds me of something I told a parent once. Her son was practicing on their driveway. She was worried he’d get used to that and wouldn’t be any good in grass. I pointed out that any practice is good and multiple surfaces is good. We play basketball on several different types of surfaces, too. The ball bounces a little different, our shoes grip a little different, but we learn to adjust and that’s good.

The season and pace

Mario said the season runs from September through May and kids have one game each weekend. The weather helps, as they play outside the whole year in most parts of Spain.

I have a hunch that that more consistent and steady pace leads better learning and less burnout and maybe even more desire for kids to play pickup on their own.


A good start for Houston Dynamo and Tom Byer, but it could be better

I finally got around to taking a look at the Houston Dynamo’s and Tom Byer’s Soccer Starts at Home info on the Dynamo’s website.

For those unfamiliar with Tom Byer, I’ve written a fair amount about him and his effort on this blog. You can see my other posts about him here.

I’m a fan, because I went through a similar discovery process that he did and came to the same conclusions and I think he has done a great job explaining what he learned in his book, Soccer Starts at Home.

His basic premise is that the largest contributor to a child’s success in soccer is what they do at home and how early they start.

I like the start that the Dynamo has made. But, I think it could use some more “why”. If I were a parent new to soccer and stumbled across the page, it probably wouldn’t persuade me to start working with my child at home.

I think one thing that could be persuasive would be to provide links of Byer’s own kids. He has videos of them working with the ball in the house from a young age and you can see the progression and how their ball mastery helps them in games as they got older.


Great ad/magazine article innovation

Magazines have always been more upfront with their connection between content and ads that other forms of journalism.

I mean, it never surprised when a bicycle with good review from a bicycle magazine’s writers was also advertised in the same issue. I figured that was part of the deal. Buy ad space, supply a bike to be tested and you get a review along with your ad.

A trend over the past decade or so has been to be even more upfront about this connection, with magazines giving advertisers more reign and input over content, with blah results, in my opinion.

I’ve read articles that seemed like legit articles and then realized a few paragraphs in it was an informercial and felt deceived.

I’ve seen sidebars to articles contributed by sponsors that were wholly whatever plain vanilla would be if you took out the vanilla.

But, the latest Bicycling magazine had the coolest attempt at this that I’ve seen.

Suburu wanted to advertise its Outback, and Bicycling editors sent a couple employees on a trip to a cool place to ride — they ended up at a mountain climb near Tuscon, AZ that I never heard of — to ride it and write about the ride and their experience in the Outback. Plus the whole thing was foldout ‘centerfold’.

It’s also a good example of good innovation. In hindsight this seems like an obviously good way to combine interesting content and ads. But, I hadn’t seen this variation before. It’s taken quite a few years and trial-and-errors to get to this, what seems like an obvious and natural, mutation.

Common business manager mistake

They think it’s their job to ‘sell ice to Eskimos,’ as the old saying goes, rather than figure out what kind of ice Eskimos might value.

It is assumed that Eskimos don’t need ice since they are surrounded by it.

Many folks in the lower 48 are surrounded by trees, yet they still buy wood in many different forms like lumber that frames their home, furniture, cabinets and decks.

And, they didn’t need a slick-talking salesperson to persuade them not to cut down the trees in their backyard and fashion their own wood products from them.

Incentives matter, even in education

A Facebook friend shared a link to this “letter” to the President from Patrick J. Kearney regarding Patrick’s disapproval for school choice.

In this post from 2011, I explained why I think those against school choice usually don’t realize that they are against giving poor families the same educational freedom that middle and upper income families already have.

I agree with Patrick that there are good quality public schools in our country. I believe they are good because they tend to serve middle and upper income families that are better able to afford education choices. So, they have to stay good so enough families choose them over their other options.

When I was young, my parents made this choice by moving my family from a school district they felt was not putting education first to one that was. They could have tried to change things by voting for different school board members and speaking up at school board meetings, but they inherently knew their power of exit was much stronger for their (and my) immediate needs than their power of voice.

Looking back, I agree and am thankful for the choice they made and I’m thankful they had the power to make that choice.

So while there are good public schools, there are bad public schools, too. And, they aren’t bad because of under funding (most poor performing districts spend the same or more per student than the best schools) or for lack of people who want to do the right thing (there are plenty, but they’re power of voice is muted by vested interests).

They’re bad because of the incentive structure. As Terry Moe explained in a recent EconTalk podcast on the rebuilding of the New Orleans School District after Hurricane Katrina: “Vested interests are universal.” And these vested interests “will invest in political power to resist reform when the institutions they benefit from are performing very badly.”

School choice gives more families the freedom to exercise their power of exit to circumvent these vested interests.

Gimme me a break, US Soccer

Seeing Twitter updates from the USSF AGM (United States Soccer Federation Annual General Meeting) over the past couple days make me laugh and smh.

The bureaucracy to productivity ratio in soccer in the U.S. is very high. It astounds me.

It’s not only at that national level, it’s at the local level, too, with state federations and local soccer leagues.

It’s like I wrote in this post, US youth soccer is like a Rube Goldberg machine — an overly complex machine for a simple task: getting kids playing soccer. There’s way too much red tape and paperwork required to get kids playing soccer.

Those in power have barricaded themselves in by defining voting blocks that do not represent the soccer community, but rather represents those already in power. And, we all sit here like dolts and accept it.

What can we do to change it?


Personal preference bias in soccer

Most of this article rails on the growing inequality between soccer super clubs and the rest. Here’s a couple of quotes from it:

‘Has soccer embraced capitalism more than any other industry?’

‘I really do think these people running the clubs are locked into a way of thinking that is sort of self-destructive…’

Yet, the author never mentions the obvious: Football/soccer has grown more and more popular with these super clubs. Also, there’s a reason the super clubs are bringing in so much money — fans love them.

Now, he can argue that this might be a bad thing that might eventually lead to a decline in soccer popularity. He could also point to evidence to support this point. But, he does neither. He just assumes that’s the case.

I’d argue that the bigger risk to popularity of the sport is folks like him who would like to project their personal preferences onto the sport without any evidence that their personal preference would help. It just ‘sounds good’ to them.

The following quote is a good example:

Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin made the issue front and centre of his introduction to the body’s 2020 annual benchmarking report, citing the “threats” and “risks” of “globalisation-fuelled revenue polarisation”.

When I see that, it raises my suspicions that actions like the recent UEFA banning of Manchester City from the Champions League for two years are nothing more than bureaucrats on power trips — and nothing makes me lose interest in a sport more than busybody bureaucrats cordoning off a child’s game as their own personal fiefdom (wink wink USSF).

You want to f up sport? Go start your own sport and you can do it with what you want.

What the author and UEFA president doesn’t understand is that folks like to follow their super clubs and they also like some non-super clubs and local clubs. That’s part of what makes the sport interesting to us.

Soccer players worldwide should be concerned about the recent CAS decision

In a not-so-shocking recent decision on a case, the Court of Arbitration for Sports ruled that FIFA’s statutes mean nothing.

The ruling found that US Soccer, as a recognized member organization of FIFA, doesn’t have to follow FIFA’s statutes to remain a member because FIFA doesn’t care whether the US follows its statutes.

That brings up a couple questions.

Why have statutes?

Why not change the language of the statutes to clearly reflect that there are exceptions?

But, at least this answers a key question for those who would like to bring pro/rel to the U.S.: FIFA is not your ally. You will need to find another way to achieve your objective.

I would even guess that FIFA officials aren’t even sold on pro/rel or fathom how it has help make their crown jewel competition, the World Cup, one of the world’s most lucrative sports competition.

My guess is that pro/rel wound up in its statutes as a mere artifact of the early days of English football league consolidation.

Just like in youth and indoor leagues in the U.S., pro/rel emerged as a solution for seeding teams into divisions in those early days as leagues were merging and consolidating to let clubs from those leagues settle into appropriate levels of competition.

That, it turns out, is a better solution than most other methods of seeding teams, which can result in disastrous mismatches on the field. 15-0 soccer matches aren’t much fun for either side.

I imagine that artifact persisted as the sport spread to other countries. When FIFA was founded to organize competitions between those countries, they probably put pro/rel in its statutes without much thought because it was already a common feature in the leagues as various countries copied England’s model.

Now…I could be wrong about that. If so, let me know. That’s based on some Google research and knowing what I know about how thing come to be.

But, if I’m right, I might also be right that FIFA officials might also view the U.S. as an experiment.

The experiment: Can Garber build a valuable soccer league that teams don’t have to win their way into, and keep winning to stay, but rather buy their way in?

And, instead of leveling the field through competition, they try to level it with salary caps and other roster controls.

Who might benefit?

Soccer club owners who now transfer most of the sport’s earnings to players to buy the best players possible to keep doing as good as possible.

Some of those owners might be interested in a system where they were protected from that arms race and have their investment generate some cash flow for them.

Who wouldn’t that be good for? Players. Like in the U.S., they would still be able to do pretty well, but probably not as well as they can do now.

It’s like pork rinds and potato chips

Newbie managers and sales people often want to lower prices to increase sales. “It’s simple,” they say, “if we lower prices, we will sell more units and make more money.”

The first part of that is typically true. More units will be sold at a lower price.

The second part is the problem. Not enough extra units will be sold to increase revenue.

The math behind this is difficult for many people to grasp. How can we sell more units and bring in less money?

They don’t consider that we will bring in less money on the units we would have sold at the higher price if we had not lowered the price.

One day, I was having trouble explaining how this worked to a group of sales managers. One of them helped out with a simple story that went something like this.

It’s like pork rinds and potato chips. Some people love pork rinds. Some love potato chips.

What you’re saying is lowering the price of potato chips won’t get enough pork rind lovers to switch to potato chips to cover the money you lose by selling chips at a discount to chip lovers, people who would have bought the chips at the higher price.


Further, rather than trying to sell pork rind lovers something they don’t want at a discount, try selling them something they do want (pork rinds) and see what happens.