Utah President Brian Smith on What is Working and What Needs to Change to Fix Youth Soccer Today
The latest article in the series on AMERICAN SOCCER – WHAT’S RIGHT & WHAT’S WRONG.
Youth Soccer News: Brian Smith is the President of Utah Youth Soccer and is a highly respected leader in the landscape of youth soccer. Smith is an outspoken, honest and analytical thinker who has successfully pioneered change. Smith and the state’s Chief Executive Officer Andrew R Hiatt have worked together for years — developing the game and increasing participation in the beautiful game.
SoccerToday’s Diane Scavuzzo interviewed Brian Smith on the future of youth soccer in America, specifically on what we need to do differently if we want to accomplish our goals of playing of really developing our youth talent.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is right and what is wrong in American youth soccer?
Brian Smith: There is a lot that is going in the right direction.
What’s RIGHT: The United States has a thriving men’s and women’s professional league including lower division NASL & USL/PDL. This serves to inspire youth and give them a local perspective to look toward in their soccer career path.
Utah models this soccer career path by having a first-of-its-kind UYSA-owned USL/PDL amateur Premier Developmental League team Ogden City S.C.
Utah has a USL pro team in ReAL Monarchs and in the MLS, we have ReAL Salt Lake and now an exciting opportunity for our women in Utah with the NWSL team, the Utah Royals.
And, we have increased the quality of our licensed coaching, instruction, and referee mentoring. Plus, we have machinery in place to provide fields for the growth of soccer in Utah.
What’s WRONG: Not that it’s wrong, but we have an issue that is not going to go away; the U.S. is a sporting country.
We have more organized opportunities at increasingly younger ages that draw kids in all directions.
That is fantastic and we encourage kids to not specialize too early and to enjoy multiple sports growing up. But, when it does come time to specializing in one sport, soccer has an uphill climb to win — especially with the 14 years and older player. Soccer competes with other High School sports such as American Football, Basketball, Baseball, that are played in front of large crowds.
On another note, we have our best, most capable, experienced coaches working with older kids – the high performing soccer players who are already in love with the game while we leave our youngest kids with the less experienced coaches.
Diane Scavuzzo: What needs to change in youth soccer today?
Brian Smith: For one, our coaching allocation should be reversed.
Our best coaches must instill an absolute love of the game in kids at early years.
Our youth soccer coaches must encourage freedom of play, decision-making, skill development, and love of the game.
Unfortunately, coaches in America have discovered that soccer is a money sport and they can be paid thousands of dollars per year per team to coach higher division competition teams. So, by the time the 14-year-olds are ready to be coached by the best coaches, our U14 pool is far diminished from where it could be.
We also aren’t seeing the best players the U.S. has to offer due to the expense of youth soccer.
Coaches from all over the world come to the U.S. and make a living coaching soccer.
While non-profit state Associations such as UYSA are charging minimal double-digit fees to keep the lights on, independent teams, clubs, and academies are charging a 12-year-old child anywhere from $1,300-$5,000+ to play soccer for the year.
Kids are over programmed, overstretched, overtrained, and adult expectations to score, win, tournament after tournament is burning our kids out and turning what might be a love of the game into a slog, a bad job, an unrealistic expectation.
Increase participation. Increase the love, the freedom, the style and I believe kids will choose to stay with soccer beyond the age of 14 years old.
Diane Scavuzzo: Where have we fallen short and how can that be improved?
Brian Smith: We’ve fallen short in finding the diamonds in the rough.
To improve we need to verticalize — shore up where our best kids in the country, rich or poor, are playing and make sure they will be seen by U.S. Soccer scouts.
U.S. Soccer funding to youth levels is lacking in every facet.
I believe we need to have U.S. Soccer start caring more about the youth game. Spend more dollars in the states to increase participation, coaching, refereeing.
Replace national team players who are entitled and comfortable, with fighters who love the country and live and love what it means to win for the United States of America!
I’ll take a kid with work ethic, vision, and a desire to scrap for his country over a gifted or talented athlete who isn’t sure where they come from or what they’re playing for.
And, of course, stop taking CONCACAF challengers for granted.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you recommend?
Brian Smith: Speaking of the top-level organization of soccer, U.S. Soccer should absolutely be more concerned about taking a very horizontal, anyone-come-at-any-cost mentality and streamlining to a more vertical structure.
This will show that US Soccer, at the top level, is concerned with and involved in youth soccer.
Are you a youth soccer player in the U.S.?
Then you register with 1 of 55 or fewer state associations who are governed by 1 national youth organization who passes registration information up the chain.
The kids can play in whatever league they want to …
But U.S. Soccer’s oversite comes down through a more structured organization that is nimble and can ensure U.S. Soccer mandates.
And can oversee effectively communication, structure, play style, and that education is all run professionally and with care.
Related Article: SAM SNOW ON AMERICAN YOUTH SOCCER – WHAT’S RIGHT & WHAT’S WRONG
Overall, a knee-jerk reaction to the U.S. Men’s National team not making the world cup is not healthy.
We need measured, systematic, tweaks to how U.S. Soccer acts, not sweeping overaction that throws the baby out with the bathwater so to speak.
The implementation of a General Manager for soccer under the CEO/Secretary General is a good step.
I also believe we need to get the board out of the weeds and focused on mission, vision, strategy and let US Soccers staff, including the GM, worry about implementation and the little things.
The next U.S. Soccer President needs to be a board President.
The next president needs to be someone who has the vision and is able to gather consensus and then turn it over to staff to implement and report back progress.
The new President should not be making unilateral decisions on any level.
The best President won’t be solely a legendary player, nor solely a business person. They will have experience in both areas.
And most importantly, the best president will be one who understands that the success of the National team begins with careful cultivation of the youth levels.
Related Article: EDDIE LOEWEN ON AMERICAN YOUTH SOCCER – WHAT’S RIGHT & WHAT’S WRONG