UPSL Creates Pathway for Youth Soccer Players
Completing the pathway from youth to adult, the UPSL launches their new Youth Academy Division, offering new choices in the youth soccer landscape. Unlike other youth soccer leagues with large mandatory team commitments, the UPSL’s youth league is paving the road for national competition and enabling clubs of all sizes to take advantage of the options.
The United Premier Soccer League, often referred to as the UPSL, is a powerhouse of an organization in the soccer landscape. The largest and fastest growing men’s league in America, the UPSL added a women’s league last year and has now expanded to the youth side of the game, providing a pathway from youth to their competitive adult leagues.
Here is Diane Scavuzzo’s interview with Derek Barraza, the new Executive Director of the United Premier Soccer League. Barraza is the former president of US Youth Soccer’s Cal South and a longtime advocate of the beautiful game. Barraza is responsible for developing the Youth Academy Division at UPSL.
Diane Scavuzzo: I understand this is a pathway and provides an opportunity for your UPSL leagues to offer their youth clubs the opportunity to play in UPSL.
How will this work? Do clubs need a minimum of six teams competing in the league to join?
Derek Barraza: Our goal is to provide a frictionless customer experience. We are quick to eliminate barriers to participation.
UPSL focuses on vertical integration from the first kick through professional soccer.
We are focused on the development of the player, coach, referee, and the club.
We will provide the tools and training necessary to assist our club leaders to reach the next level in the development of their clubs in order to achieve player and coach development.
Diane Scavuzzo: What markets are hot for the new national UPSL youth league?
Derek Barraza: Currently, the UPSL operates in thirty-six states. Each market is rich with opportunities.
For far too long, the soccer community has felt that the established soccer administrations have not listened to their needs.
UPSL is very aware of this and has an alternative model that will listen and serve the soccer community.
Diane Scavuzzo: How will the new UPSL league meet the needs of youth clubs and teams today?
Derek Barraza: UPSL is the fastest growing league in the country for a reason, we are focused on member service.
Our goal is to facilitate the journey by offering a development model for players, coaches, referees, and clubs overall.
It is all in the details.
It is critical for UPSL to serve our customers/members with quality and service in everything we deliver.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you think the youth soccer leagues in America are too restrictive?
Derek Barraza: If we are to grow the game in the US, we must endeavor to remove barriers to participation. I believe the national trend sometimes confuses “elite” with “restrictive” when we create too many policies and rules.
The game is simple, seventeen laws, one referee, and two assistant referees control the match. UPSL believes a less restrictive approach will improve results on the field.
I believe we sometimes confuse “elite” with “restrictive” when we create overly restrictive policies and rules.
As a county, we are not getting the results on the field that the soccer community deserves and are capable of achieving.
We must do better.
Diane Scavuzzo: How do you believe the current marketplace will respond?
Derek Barraza: We are finding the marketplace is strongly in favor of what UPSL has to offer. Members of the soccer community both in the system and outside the system (unaffiliated with U.S. Soccer) are not having their needs served by the current system.
Our vertically integrated model is a departure from yesterday’s age-pure youth soccer system. Further, our members are finding greater value in their investment as our model is not heavily burdened with costs.
The single most important thing U.S. Soccer can do to grow the game is to build playing facilities.
This is a challenge that was viewed as a “local issue” by the Federation and its members at the national and state level. Lack of practice and playing facilities is a barrier to growing the game.
We simply must do more to solve this problem. At a minimum, we should create the necessary partnerships and provide replicable models to build fields in the numerous communities where facilities are lacking. The UPSL likes the idea of the centralized field concept and we have been able to utilize the idea to achieve synergistic value for our members.
Diane Scavuzzo: What about player development … those big buzzwords. What is UPSL’s commitment to player development and creating proper environments for players to excel?
Derek Barraza: Our values are aligned with player development.
UPSL is among the very few leagues in the country specifically focused on professional development.
We are continually working to improve the soccer environment for those that play, coach, and referee the game. By supporting club development and developing specific programs for players, coaches, and referees, we have a multi-prong approach that is beginning to yield results.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you believe teams will leave established leagues and opt for what you are offering?
Derek Barraza: The UPSL has grown from just a few clubs to over 300 clubs in just a few years.
Many of the current UPSL members have youth programs and the purpose of the UPSL Youth Academy is to serve their needs.
Concurrently, we have seen great interest from unaffiliated clubs across the country. We expect to see growth in the UPSL membership from these two groups.
The vertical integration between youth and adult, amateur to professional soccer, with promotion/relegation as a cornerstone, will provide an attractive option to progressive clubs looking to offer their members a superior player development opportunity.
Diane Scavuzzo: How many teams do you anticipate for your inaugural season?
Derek Barraza: The UPSL Youth Academy will launch spring 2019. We expect between sixty and one hundred clubs will participate.
However, we are more focused on providing a quality national league program and expect organic growth as a result.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are the costs of the UPSL Youth Academy Division?
Derek Barraza: UPSL Youth Academy membership and participation fees are very competitive at $1,500 per team, per season.
In addition, there is a small club membership fee of $250.
The UPSL is focused on our members. Without members, there is no league. We have listened to the members and this youth division is what they have asked for.
Costs are kept reasonable, travel demands are kept to a minimum, and development of the player, coach, referee, and club are top priorities.
UPSL leadership is keenly aware of the importance of building a sustainable model by staying focused on our members and these most important values.