OT: Improving American Soccer

Submitted by MGoVoldemort on June 23rd, 2014 at 6:27 PM
At the office today we had a big discussion on the steps that would have to be taken for America to become a World Power in the sport. The usual talking points such as having Americans invest interest in the sport came up, but my point was that it went deeper than that. I think that until a higher percentage of the best athletes start playing soccer, we will remain a non contender. These 5-9 to 6'2 guys whom often have no shot professionally in Basketball are a great example. When body types and skill sets like those of Desean Jackson, Dexter McCluster and the like continue to play Football, it's difficult to get better consistently. I also think that soccer has to make inroads in the South where American Football reigns supreme. Admittedly I am soccer-knowledge challenged, save for the occasional purchase of FIFA, as it's generally the only game my daughter's and I play together. But I don't think it takes Pele to understand that we need more of our best athletes playing soccer.

Thoughts?

Comments

alum96

June 23rd, 2014 at 6:44 PM ^

Disagree on athletes and think it's the biggest meme in U.S. soccer ... plenty of the top echelon soccer players are normal size dudes. 

We discussed this yesterday in another thread:

  • Until U.S. kids play pickup soccer in groups on the streets outside their house for 3-6 hrs a day, all week, all year (like they do basketball)
  • ...and the U.S. has a structure to find the best players early, and nurture them... (see what the Dutch Germans Brazilians do)

We'll be what we are more or less, with some upside from here.   There is more than enough population that if we had a soccer culture similar to a basketball culture we'd have a great chance to play with the best.  But our kids play soccer a limited amount of hours a week, a limited amount of years in their live. We are losing out on American baseball players the same way (increasingly dominated by Latino countries) because it's not being played as much at the youth level like it used to... apparently in a country like Dominican Rep or Venezuela - baseball on the streets is what their kids do.  It's THEIR basketball.

The U.S. is one of the few countries that soccer is a middle class sport - mostly played in organized settings with parents present.  That limits how much kids play soccer.  In most countries it is the sport of the poor....played endless hours by kids. If you want to get all socio-economic basketball is to U.S. what soccer is to 98% of countries - played in the streets, pickup style, hours on end, by kids of little means generating superstars.  But we need not have Lebron James type guys out there to succeed.  Look at the size of Neymar and Messi - and there are plenty of guys at world class level who are 5'9, 5'10 and don't run 4.4 40s.I

It's a numbers game - we have tens of millions of kids playing soccer for 2-4 hours a week.   We don't have many who play 20-30 hrs a week (or more) from age 4-12 which is where stars are made.

LSAClassOf2000

June 23rd, 2014 at 6:53 PM ^

Something you said here reminded me of a study I remember reading years ago, and I actually found here - (LINK)

Hopefully, that link works.

Anyway, what they did at the University Of Nottingham was attempt to combine several different social, cultural and even climatological variables and compare them to the FIFA standings at the time this was done (early 2000s, so take it for what it is worth - it would be intriguing to run now though). 

In one dynamic, it turned out that the relationship between median income and and soccer standing was quadratic, or rather, there was an optimal range where the highest performing nations sat. When it came to climate, the finding was that nations that had Mediterranean or similar climates tend to do better because of the optimal outdoor playing conditions. There are several factors they looked at, but it was a fascinating read then. 

Vengeful Barbarian

June 23rd, 2014 at 7:13 PM ^

I disagree on the lack of street soccer being a problem for the United States, although you are on the right track about practicing often. I think the real problem is the lack of soccer accademies, such as Barcelona's famous "La Masia". La Masia is a football academy where hundreds of kids as young as 7 live and train together year round, while also attending classes. This is the model that is used by most of the big clubs all over Europe.

The closest thing to this is  int he US is IMG Academy, the same program that produced Landon Donovan and DeMarcus Beasley, however IMG academy is limited to the U16 and U17 us national teams. We need every MLS club to have a similar training program from kids starting at a very young age, but the money is not quite there yet in American soccer.

alum96

June 23rd, 2014 at 7:35 PM ^

I agree - and that was the 2nd point I made - identifying those kids and getting them into a structure they are not being coached by someone's dads.  IMG is the only thing we have similar but it's 1 location in Florida isn't it?  And it starts relatively late - I mean other countries are as you said finding kids who are 7, not 14 years old.

As for how it is in LA and Texas and Florida maybe you guys are right and there is a lot of street soccer being played there - up here in the north I don't see it ;)

Yeoman

June 23rd, 2014 at 8:42 PM ^

One per MLS club isn't anywhere near enough.

The Germans have 390 training base camps, giving weekly high-quality training to 22,000 kids. Or those were the numbers twelve years ago when they first fully launched the program. The net's so fine I don't think it's possible to live more than 25 or 30 miles from the nearest clinic.

What they saw, when they looked around to figure out what was going wrong (they'd been bounced out of the last two WCs by Croatia and Bulgaria), was kids playing in youth leagues coached by coaches/parents that didn't really know what they were doing, who had played a little soccer themselves once upon a time but were hardly expert coaches. They wanted to make sure every reasonably talented player had a chance to be seen, and taught, by a real professional coach. Technical training, primarily; they figured the kids could run around on their own, but technique is something you get from watching and learning from people that have it. The best players at the base camps then get recruited to the club academies.

The oldest players in those academies when they first started are now 29. The oldest player on the German national team, other than Klose, is 29. I don't think that's a coincidence.

If youth coaching was bad there, imagine what it's often like here, coached by parents who never played a game of soccer in their lives but just throw the ball out there and yell at the kids while they chase it. I went to one of my nephew's games once and was amazed when the opening kickoff wasn't the controlled tap to a teammate familiar from every game you've ever seen on TV, but a place-kick to the other end of the field. A "kickoff", like in football. The rules say you start the game with a kickoff and they guy running things didn't know any better..

I'm sure it's gotten better; I'm sure in a lot of places it's still terrible.

alum96

June 23rd, 2014 at 10:16 PM ^

Interesting data about the base camps.  Any European country has the advantage of geography - easy to put resources whereas the U.S. land mass is large.  That said, Brazil has the same issue we have in geography and does it.  

If you wanted bang for you buck you set up 20-25ish U.S. camps spread in 3 states - CA, Texas, and Florida.  CA is vast but basically you put a few ones upin the San Fran area and a boatload between San Diego and LA.  In Texas you focus on Houston and Dallas and 1-2 other areas I am not well versed enough to know.  Florida you can do the whole east coast, Tampa area and Orlando.  I thing IMG is in Orlando so you could actually skip that.  You'd at least be exposed to the right ethnic populations and areas of the country where soccer is played all year.   Do you need them in Albama, Mississippi, Tennessee etc - I am sure there are some random kids there but if you are doing resources to population you do 80/20 solutions - cover 80% of the population in a rather economical way.

You could offset that with some population centers in the north/center/west - hit Chicago, Detroit, Boston, NYC/NJ, Phoenix, northern Virginia and then areas where there are MLS i.e. Kansas, Denver Seattle.   We could do it with some imagination and a lot of publiclity.  Get these kids in evaluation periods in the fall and then bring them back for intense camps for 3-4 weeks (free ones) during July/August.  We'd at least know what we had out there and build up a database early.  Start at 7-8 years old. Run it though 16-17 years old.  With 50 camps you could really get the vast majority of the population covered.

Last, set up camps in Berlin and Frankfurt too ;)   Seem to be some players for us out there.  Also we need to open up military bases in Rio and Sao Paulo no?  Would create some benefits in 20 years hah.

swan flu

June 23rd, 2014 at 7:18 PM ^

I agree with a lot of what you say except for your conclusion.

There was a huge study done years ago by a British institute aiming at the same questions brought up here. Their conclusion was that America lacks competent coaching at all levels. Previously, most coaches knew very little about soccer at all, let alone world class soccer. This is absolutely changing. Kids have more access to high quality coaching than ever before. You will see the US continue to gain relevance in the soccer world as we bring in foreign coaches and learn from foreign coaches and create our own national brand of soccer.

That is where Klinsman is proving to be the ideal hire. He has not only managed the men's senior team, he has dictated a US style and made broad changes to the youth system by bringing in amazing coaches, establishing infrastructure for kids to get more access to coaching, and by creating a semblance of a talent investment structure similar to that of Germany.

The arrow is definitely pointing up for Us soccer.

WolvinLA2

June 23rd, 2014 at 7:19 PM ^

This might be a regional thing, but in LA there are way more kids playing pick up soccer in parks than basketball.  Every evening, every open field in LA is full of kids playing soccer.  Every Saturday morning, every open field is full of little kids playing soccer.  At least that's what I always see.  

Now, one thing that I think may be a significant factor in the increased interest in youth soccer is the whole concussion issue in football.  As a parent of young kids, I have a lot of friends who are parents of young kids and many of them have decided that they won't let their boys play football.  I've met pediatricians who are more strongly against football with the recent head injury reports and I've even met guys who are former college and pro football players who are dissuading their sons from playing football.  Many of those people will choose soccer instead.  

I also disagree that it's not about the athletes.  If guys like Chris Johnson or Denard Robinson were out there for the US, it would be an entirely different animal.  What if LeBron was in goal? What if Funchess played center back?  He would head every corner kick ever (if LeBron couldn't snatch it out of the air).

alum96

June 23rd, 2014 at 7:49 PM ^

Again I will just take yesterday's game as an example.  I didn't see Portual out-athlete us.  I didn't for a moment think "we just need a Lebron James" type to do this or that.  We were competent out there and made technical errors.   If we had 2 better technical defenders, and 1 world class midfielder that could have been a laugher of a game for the U.S.   We lack skill.

And yes of course in a perfect world you'd like to have a bunch of world class athletes out there with world class skills.  Those same athletes exist in France, in Brazil, in Africa.  So they have the same type of dry powder we have - and only so many of those ridiculous athletes ever develop the technical skill... IMO I think it is because if you are a great athlete early you do not need to develop the other assets - it's like a guy in HS football who is so physically dominant he doesn't need to get the mechanics down.   Or in basketball we have a bunch of great athletes who play AAU ball and basically drive and dunk all day rather than developing the other parts of their game - because its cool (thats what ESPN shows) and they can dominate doing that.

Now compare that type of guy to a Messi who is 5'6 on a good day as an adult - how does he compensate playing a buch of guys when he is 8 years old who are 5 inches taller...faster... etc.   

 

WolvinLA2

June 23rd, 2014 at 7:49 PM ^

But you can't just use Messi as a counterexample to everything.  There will always be a Messi who is undersized and super skilled.  You can't say that basketball players don't need to be tall or athletic because look at Steve Nash.  Messi is a once in a generation talent skill-wise.  He's also a striker where having a ton of elite ball skills will do it.  

I don't think Portugal out-athleted us either, but we didn't out-athlete them either.  If the US had our best athletes out there, it would make up for our lack of elite skill at certain positions.  

alum96

June 23rd, 2014 at 8:03 PM ^

Neymar? Iniesta? Xavi - these are all guys who are 5'7 to 5'9.  I can go and name another 10 who are 1 step lower and in the same size range.

Again I am not saying you don't want better athletes... or arguing against it.  I am arguing that this seems to be the #1 argument I always hear about what would make U.S. soccer great.  It's not - technical skill would be the 1 thing.

All things being equal of course you want a team full of great athletes who can play well.  And the argument for the U.S. might be to get into the top 10 annually they have to build a future team like Ghana since our chance of building a system of players like the Dutch or Germans or French or Brazilians is low.  Which agrees with your last sentence - since we will most likely never have the technical skill of the footballing nations our best bet is to build a team that pressures you constantly and creates errors you can take advantage of.

France is actually a nice case study here - their young guys are very athletic, many came out of the slums in big cities in France which is where a lot of northern Africans live.  But they are coming out of a system that nurtures youth players - so far they've been a joy to watch, they are pretty big, fast, and are marrying it with technical skill.  I watched their under 20s last year and they were a marvel.

Yeoman

June 23rd, 2014 at 11:04 PM ^

What's really interesting to me about this post, and others, is the natural (to us) connection it implicitly makes between "athletic" and "big and fast".

I think it's a result of our particular set of national sports. In a place like Belgium (cycling) or Kenya/Ethiopia (distance running) I'll bet "athletic" summons up a very different image than it does here.

Yeoman

June 23rd, 2014 at 11:28 PM ^

Something we don't emphasize in any of our national sports. We even de-emphasize it in soccer by watering down the substitution rules, letting players come off and go back on.

There are all kinds of ways to be athletic. How about a place like Indonesia or China, where the national sports are badminton and table tennis? You can't tell me those guys at the highest levels aren't athletic, in their own way.

snarling wolverine

June 23rd, 2014 at 7:52 PM ^

A 6'5" guy like Funchess might have some trouble keeping his dribble against a smaller guy with a lower center of gravity.   There comes a point (around 6'2", it seems) where extra height  doesn't seem to help you in soccer.

I'm not sure about LeBron in goal, either.  Goalies don't have to be supertall.  They need to have good reflexes and be pretty quick on their feet (and be good at positioning themselves/anticipating).  I don't know where LeBron ranks in all these areas.  He's very quick for a guy his size but isn't quick enough to defend a point guard.  With his high center of gravity, he might have a lot of trouble diving to stop shots on the ground (which are the majority of shots).

Point guard-sized players are the ones who could potentially be playing soccer.  Not the freaks of nature.  Guys in Europe who are supertall play basketball, just like they do here.  

 

Michigan4Life

June 23rd, 2014 at 10:52 PM ^

if there is one position that I can say with certainity that USA produce world class soccer player, it is Goalkeeper.  USA are never in shortage of quality GK.  They had Kasey Keller for years and now Tim Howard for years as well.  They also have a quality backup GK who would start for most of the countries in this year World Cup in Guzan.

MaizeAndBlueWahoo

June 24th, 2014 at 9:07 AM ^

Can't take credit for this observation, but I forget who deserves it; someone made the excellent point in another discussion that it's not about "what if Kobe played soccer."  It's more about, how many guys out there would've been perfectly suited for soccer and had all the physical tools for it, but wound up with high school football or D-III basketball or something as their ceiling because they chose those sports instead?

I think we pretty much maximize our talent pool in basketball and football because everyone plays pickup games at some point.  That used to be baseball.  In Canada it's hockey.  But everyone in the US pretty much knows how good they are at hoops and football.  We don't do the same in soccer at all, and as a result the average person in damn near every other country in the world is better than the average American in soccer.  That point was driven home pretty clearly during my time in the Navy when we played friendly matches overseas with other navies.  Unless the teams were mixed, we got totally creamed, every single time.  Indoor, field, or beach.  (Beach soccer is really, really hard, by the way.)  And this was in places like Malaysia and Thailand where the actual national soccer teams are total minnows.

tbeindit

June 24th, 2014 at 9:24 AM ^

I don't claim to be the biggest soccer fan and don't have dthe deepest knowledge, so take everything I say with a grain of salt, but I really do think there is some validity to this.  In raw numbers, I think the US should be a powerhouse in soccer.  I mean, just in population, we are one of the biggest countries out there.  Add in that we are generally a pretty dominant athletic country (see Olympics), putting together a top end team probably shouldn't be that big of an issue.

I certainly agree that adding ways for kids to get involved in soccer would help, but I really do feel like preference is a big factor in this situation.  There are a lot of good athletes that simply would rather play another sport.  It's unfair to assume every one of them would transfer over if soccer were more popular (offensive linemen, basketball centers, etc.), but you have to think that if soccer rated higher in terms of national sports, the talent would grow significantly.  Like I said, I don't have the deepest knowledge here, but on its face, I just find it hard to believe that the US even comes close to accessing its athletic talent proportionally as other nations around the world.

MaizeAndBlueWahoo

June 24th, 2014 at 8:42 AM ^

Calling someone "not American born" is a strong implication that they're "less American," and I have a huge problem with slapping some kind of foreigner label on guys like Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones.  I don't get when the "son of a serviceman" thing became a problem and made those guys foreigners.

Aron Johannsson is "American born."  Does that make him OK while Fabian Johnson is not?

MGoBender

June 23rd, 2014 at 6:46 PM ^

It's a hugely complex issue, but an interesting one.  Let's differentiate between youth (6-12) soccer and young-adult (13-18) soccer.  Random thoughts:

  • High school sports are becoming more individualized.  As a high school coach, I hate this - a kid that would have played soccer, basketball and baseball (like me) often gets encouraged to pick a sport and excel at it if his/her parents can afford all the travel costs associated with top-level youth sports.  I think this actually helps soccer, though.  Soccer, like baseball, is a sport defined more by developing excellent sport-specific skill than being an unwordly athlete.  
  • Baseball, basketball and football have been around at the highest levels for decades or even a century in baseball's case.  Soccer only a few decades at a high level.  The MLS is slowly growing.  As it continues to grow, so will young-adult participation.  That's good.
  • Football in 40 years may not exist as we know it.  It is the only sport at the high school level that has significantly decreasing numbers in the past 10 years (baseball as well, but that's coincided with a significant increase in lacrosse).  I'm not saying football will be surpassed by soccer any time soon.  Just that the soccer talent pool (same seasons) is slowly increasing.
  • Basketball is still #1 in innercities.  Kids on the low-end of the socioeconomic scale don't play so you are limiting your talent pool.
  • We have enough people (340M) to have an elite national team without have our supposed "best" athletes playing soccer.  I don't know why we have this perception that LeBron or Calvin Johnson would be amazing soccer players.  Soccer is a different game that of course requires great athleticism, but like I said, it more mirrors baseball as a game of skill.
  • Academy club teams now play year-round.  This results in young adults that no longer play other sports or play on their high school soccer team and instead only play club soccer.  Is this good for them?  I don't know.  I don't think LeBron was held back by playing football, but as I said, soccer is a much more technical sport.

Again, just a random spattering of thoughts.

alum96

June 23rd, 2014 at 6:57 PM ^

Sticking to the athleticism theme because its a personal beef with me as an "easy excuse" for U.S. soccer.... look at the Portugal game yesterday.  Did you at any point say we got out-athleted?  No.  We made basic simple errors.  We controlled large portions of that game with our current crop of guys - very few of which I look at and say "wow he is like the Lebron James of soccer".  If we had a technically proficient center back who was world class we'd probably have won that 2-0.   Teams like Ghana are an exception - there are very few Ghanas in the world.  Name me the 3 best athletes on Spain which just dominated world play for 6 years, or how many times have you looked at Brazil and said "wow those guys are so tall and fast".  It's about skill skill skill....will will will... and endurance.

Now where I CAN buy the athlete meme is this.  If you believe the U.S. will never be as technically skilled as the top 8 countries in the world how do you combat that long term?  You could then argue - you have to play like Ghana .  Find a group of world class athletes who are very good but not elite soccer players (say similar to what we have now) and that would help equalize things to a degree.  What we would lack in technical skill we could make our name in by playing a demoralizing Alabama mid 1990s level of college basketball on turf...press press press you into the ground.  But even with that said Ghana is not given credit for their technical skill - they have better technicians than us right now and can combine that with some super athletes.

Lionsfan

June 23rd, 2014 at 7:19 PM ^

Agreed. In a lot of youth sports now a days, it feels like there's too much emphasis on the physical side of things. "Just be bigger and faster and you'll win!"

It's 2 years old, but this article (http://m.espn.go.com/general/story?storyId=7790903&src=desktop) talks about how we're starting to change the culture of the soccer academies, focus less on win now, and more about the technical side of things

alum96

June 23rd, 2014 at 7:32 PM ^

I can't speak to other youth sports but athleticism is so emphasized in travel soccer.  You look at the top travel clubs and their 14 year olds are almost all 5'11 to 6'1, looked like WRs and DBs and dominated opposition by running around, and through them.   It's like a track meet.  You'd every so often see 1 kid who looked out of place - short, squat, and he'd usually have amazing technical skill but that was an exception since that is not emphasized. 

Since these kids are so dominant physically against their competition they don't have to develop truly elite technical skills...

Then we try to throw these super athletes out against their like minded aged kids from other countries and we spend 80% of the game having our great athletes chase the other countries not so great athletes because they have the ball the entire game due to their crazy skill.   It's the problem of the development system and it's something I hope JK can actually change as he seems to have some influence on the entire U.S. development system. I guess we'll know in a decade but it is difficult to change a mindset that is so pervasive.

M-Dog

June 23rd, 2014 at 9:49 PM ^

Yes, and it's hard to develop technical skills when you are playing with other players without technical skills who just want to run around and over people.  

Watch elite soccer.  Easy to do this month.  Technically elite soccer players spend very little time on the ball.  It's touch, pass, and move. It's more about passing than dribbling.  You need to have other elite players to practice with you.

ken725

June 23rd, 2014 at 7:35 PM ^

The only way to combat the technique problem is to teach that at a young age.

The question of, "what would happen if our top athletes played soccer" is the kind of question that "once every 4 year fans" tend to ask. The real question that should be asked it, "how good would US Soccer be if our top athletes started playing soccer at a young age?"

JK said it the best. The goal for kids in US in the past was to work towards a scholarship. If we want our best players to develop, they have to move to Europe at a young age so they can get the higher level coaching.

This is going to sound dumb because I value education, but an elite soccer player waste 2-4 years of development in their prime by going to college.

WolvinLA2

June 23rd, 2014 at 7:40 PM ^

Some of these kids go to college for a year or two, and when it's clear they're really good, they bail and go pro (like Yedlin on our team who left Akron recently, or Soony Saad from Michigan).   I don't think it's a waste for an elite soccer player to play for a top soccer program as an 18/19 year old, and if they are clearly elite in that group, they can go play overseas (or in the MLS).  

ken725

June 23rd, 2014 at 7:48 PM ^

In most cases you would want a player to sign with a Euro academy before they turn 18-19.

Soony Saad is not a player I would consider elite and he will never be close to making it on the USMNT.

Yedlin on the other hand is someone I hope will continue to develop. He has the potential to develop into a really nice full back.

Lionsfan

June 23rd, 2014 at 7:11 PM ^

Regarding the technical aspects of it, I feel like a relatively easy thing to do would be to try and promote futsal as a winter alternative.

For those unaware, futsal is played on a field about the size of a basketball court, and it's 4v4 plus goalies. They did studies and kids touch the ball 5 times add much as during a regular soccer match, and added in with the smaller playing field, it helps develop more precise ball handling skills and quick decision making.

And then when kids hit puberty, you can worry about training them for the long running and such

Needs

June 23rd, 2014 at 8:27 PM ^

It would be great for technical development if futsal replaced indoor soccer as the winter training option. The indoor played on converted hockey rinks really rewards banging the ball against the boards and other things that aren't valuable in developing technical control.

And what you say about futsal holds for playing outdoors at an early age too. The small sided games 3v3, 4v4, on small fields is the way that all kids under 8 or 9 should play. Anything with more players on a team just robs them of opportunities to get touches on the ball and to learn to make quick decisions, which is what they should start with. 

nowayman

June 23rd, 2014 at 9:02 PM ^

I learned more about soccer and how to play soccer in three months playing pick up half basketball court soccer with a bunch of south american exchange students than I did in 23 three years of club, high school and college club soccer.  

Playing in that small of a space really gets you accustomed to keeping the ball on your foot like glue.  

gwkrlghl

June 23rd, 2014 at 6:46 PM ^

because let's be serious, for the generation playing at the international level right now (20-somethings), soccer was the 5th most popular sport in the country and we still hang with anyone on a good day.

I think the ever-increasing popularity of the World Cup coupled with Premier League games being on basic cable will lead more kids than ever to focus on soccer. Additionally, I wonder if football might be on the decline a bit as people become more and more concerned about football related injuries. These two issues occuring in the same timeframe might mean the generation of kids right now might eventually make up the US' first truly world-class team in 10-20 years

MGoBender

June 23rd, 2014 at 6:49 PM ^

http://www.nfhs.org/participation/

Football in Michigan:

Year State Sport Boys Schools Boys Participation
2013/2014 MI Football -- 11-Player 596 39963
2012/2013 MI Football -- 11-Player 637 41138
2011/2012 MI Football -- 11-Player 648 42743
2010/2011 MI Football -- 11-Player 646 43446
2009/2010 MI Football -- 11-Player 639 43678
2008/2009 MI Football -- 11-Player 636 45257
2007/2008 MI Football -- 11-Player 630 46395
2006/2007 MI Football -- 11-Player 623 46308
2005/2006 MI Football -- 11-Player 635 46489
2004/2005 MI Football -- 11-Player 622 44285
2003/2004 MI Football -- 11-Player 608 42717
2002/2003 MI Football -- 11-Player 624 44480
    Total 7544 526899

 

MGoBender

June 23rd, 2014 at 6:52 PM ^

Year State Sport Boys Schools Boys Participation
2013/2014 MI Soccer 475 14242
2012/2013 MI Soccer 485 14273
2011/2012 MI Soccer 482 14324
2010/2011 MI Soccer 484 14725
2009/2010 MI Soccer 482 14621
2008/2009 MI Soccer 458 14603
2007/2008 MI Soccer 475 14943
2006/2007 MI Soccer 464 15071
2005/2006 MI Soccer 472 14937
2004/2005 MI Soccer 453 14562
2003/2004 MI Soccer 445 14234
2002/2003 MI Soccer 439 14416
    Total 5614 174951

Soccer's participation has remained relatively level, a slight decrease from 2002 as compared to football's significant decrease.

CoachZ

June 23rd, 2014 at 7:08 PM ^

I'll be honest with you.  In the last eight years I have never had a kid quit playing football and play soccer.  I've had them quit to play basketball, hockey, baseball, lacrosse and even one for show choir, but never soccer.

 

Would be curious to hear what other coaches have had happen.

MGoBender

June 23rd, 2014 at 7:27 PM ^

I don't think most kids quit one sport to play another.  I think over time, more kids stick with soccer.  Or less kids stick with football.  Or, they make a decision at a natural spot (start of middle school or high school).  I could have played football - in fact, I would have probably been a better football player than soccer player since I was new to the technical side of soccer.  However, in 9th grade I picked soccer.

Like I said, it's not an issue of taking football players and putting them on a soccer field.  It's a matter of taking those youth soccer players and having them continue playing soccer at the middle- and high-school level.

If fewer kids play football to begin with at the youth level, the talent pool for all other sports increases.  I'm not saying I really want this to happen - I like football a lot.  But that's the trend I see happening.

EDIT: And I think this is minor.  The bigger issue is the socio-economic one that alum96 so adeptly describes.  

WolvinLA2

June 23rd, 2014 at 7:26 PM ^

Part of that is because soccer isn't a sport you can just start playing in high school.  Unless you are a crazy athlete or you played both football and soccer growing up, that's not a transition many could swing.  So those numbers aren't necessarily showing kids quitting soccer for football, but more younger kids choosing soccer (or something else) instead of football.

MGoBender

June 23rd, 2014 at 7:30 PM ^

I'll also note one more thing:

What may be accounting for the drastic drop in number of schools with football teams is the increase in charter schools in Michigan.  Charter schools, by their nature, are small and often have very small athletic departments.  If they have sports, it's unlikely they have football.  Basketball and soccer are cheap to run, football, not so much.  Plus, you need a ton of kids to even field a football team.

Yet another thing that could be hurting football's future, at least in Michigan.

MGoBender

June 23rd, 2014 at 8:16 PM ^

Agreed.  I was a little surprised to see that soccer hasn't grown but you consider all Michigan-specific factors and see that soccer has remained relatively level over the past 10 years, then it actually has grown per capita, where as football and baseball are declining.

At least at the high school level.

MGoBender

June 23rd, 2014 at 9:34 PM ^

Your basic clubs play in the opposite season of high school.  The elite "Academy" clubs play year round.  My first school lost 2 players to these academy teams (one a D1 player, the other a D2 player).

My current school has 1 player playing academy and not high school.  He's currently a sophomore.

I think the number of academy players is not significant, other than the fact that they are literally the best players not playing HS soccer.