IMPROVING YOUTH SOCCER: Mike Hoyer on the Increase in Popularity of Soccer and the Challenges In Youth Soccer
AYSO has 50,000 teams and 500,000 players across the USA and offers a different approach than other competitive youth soccer organizations. Here is an interview with the National Executive Director of AYSO, Mike Hoyer, on the challenges in youth soccer today.
Mike Hoyer is the National Executive Director of American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), the oldest national youth soccer program in the USA. Launched in 1964 with 9 teams and a vision that Everyone Plays®, today AYSO has nearly 500,000 players across the country in more than 800 programs across the United States and the Caribbean. Defined by their Six Philosophies, including a 50% play time for all players, AYSO has set itself apart with fairness and balance not often found in youth soccer; setting a strong foundation for the 6 million kids who have played AYSO over their 50+ year history.
Related Soccer News: AYSO’S MIKE HOYER ON THE CHALLENGES IN YOUTH SOCCER
How does the man responsible for the AYSO see the challenges in youth soccer today?
Diane Scavuzzo interview Part I with AYSO’s National Executive Director Mike Hoyer on how our failure to qualify has spurred social media hype which may have grown the game and what we need to do to improve youth soccer for all kids.
Diane Scavuzzo: How did our failure to qualify for the World Cup impact the game in the USA? Is soccer growing in the USA?
Mike Hoyer: Yes — I appreciate there is a lot of social media hysteria on the failure of the U.S. Soccer Men’s National team to qualify for the FIFA World Cup, but that this downfall has become water cooler conversation is beyond amazing. There are many of us from my generation who felt like pioneers in this game and can remember when few non-soccer people ever talked about the game.
Today, people are talking about soccer and it parallels with what the polls show, that soccer is now the 3rd most popular sport in attendance in our country — and TV ratings rose significantly for soccer while other sports telecasts dropped.
After a history of successes in qualification since 1990, there is an expectation of the United States being a team that should be at the World Cup, not eliminated from the competition.
Diane Scavuzzo: What needs to change so we can compete on the world stage?
Mike Hoyer: People claim we would be the best if top athletes like Stephen Curry for example, were in soccer — but the numbers do not align with this. There are 12 million kids playing soccer in the USA — there may be far fewer registered in the alphabet soup world of AYSO, USYSA, SAY, USSA and other associations but then there are tons of kids playing in church leagues and other organizations. Belgium and Iceland both qualified to play in Russia this summer. Their total populations are 11 million and 330,000, respectively.
Diane Scavuzzo: How can we improve youth soccer? What is wrong with American youth soccer?
Mike Hoyer: We haven’t given the kids room to succeed — soccer is a structured and an “on-the-calendar” activity in our country.
Youth soccer is a suburban sport in the USA.
There isn’t a lot of room for the free-play element and the creativity that flourishes in an unstructured environment. US Soccer has returned youth coach licensing with a model of Play – Practice – Play.
The game is the real teacher. In the holy trinity of sports; basketball, football, and baseball, players are told what to do by tactical coaches and when the whistle blows, kids follow their instructions.
SOCCER IS NOT AN ORCHESTRA with a conductor, IT IS free flowing and improvisational LIKE JAZZ.
The great joy in the game of soccer is the freedom of the players to control the game. The player owns the solutions to the challenges they face on the field.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do we need to do better?
Mike Hoyer: In the USA, the structure of the youth soccer market has been built on a difference being good for your business — There was a market opportunity to build on that differentiation.
Now, with US Soccer’s Player Development Initiative mandates, the playing field has been leveled, which will reduce some of the confusion in the marketplace. Competitive edges between youth soccer businesses have changed to the quality level.
The Player Development initiatives have set the standards and no longer is there a competitive edge to a debate on whether a youth soccer goalkeeper should start training at the age of 8 years or 10 years old.
Now it is a programmatic conversation.
Now we must all work together to keep players in the game and improve opportunities.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is one of the biggest challenges?
Mike Hoyer: There is a tacit understanding that we — the organizations in youth soccer — have a challenge that lies outside of our sport.
According to recent reports, 75% of youth players leave organized sports by the time they are 12 or 13 years old. As participation in organized sports is dropping at all age levels and a substantial number of schools have dropped physical education courses, the opportunity for sport sampling is diminished, let alone the time for free play.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why do you believe players leave?
Mike Hoyer: Sometimes it is as simple as other commitments — like marching band — and there isn’t time to have another activity in conjunction with school and family commitments.
But all too often it is because there is too much pressure on kids to perform at a young age. Sports, including soccer, must be fun first for kids to develop a passion for the game.
We need to bring the fun back.
Diane Scavuzzo: What can youth soccer organizations do to help player retention?
Mike Hoyer: We need to keep the door open — when we can keep kids in the game longer because it is fun, late bloomers may discover this is the sport they really want to explore and dedicate themselves to.
“Sugar” Ray Leonard didn’t find boxing until he was 14 years old. Alison Felix started in Track and Field as a freshman in high school.
Secondarily, we keep U.S. Soccer’s commitment to making soccer the preeminent sport, by making fans who are passionate about the game.
Diane Scavuzzo: How do you see youth soccer in the future?
Mike Hoyer: It is very likely that we will end up with a clear stratification based on the level of the player:
Groups who want to play soccer because it is fun, then groups of kids who want to do a little more and have parents who are willing to travel and groups that extend all that way on the arc to the highest level including Development Academy.
Diane Scavuzzo: You grew up playing soccer in AYSO?
Mike Hoyer: Yes, it was a great experience for me. I was a player and my mom “voluntold” me to attend referee training since she didn’t want to go alone, but wanted to find a way to commit more of her volunteer time for us.
AYSO is here to give kids a good start in the world of soccer. We provide a grassroots entry point where a lot of kids get their first experience in soccer. Our development-over-winning philosophy is part of the commitment of our founders and applies to all levels of the player development pathway in every one of our programs from fundamental motor skills, grassroots, travel/club: EXTRA and AYSO United, our Very Important Player Program, and Adult.
AYSO’s Six Philosophies are:
- Everyone Plays,
- Open Registration,
- Positive Coaching,
- Good Sportsmanship
- Player Development.
These are the essence of AYSO and it all starts with Everyone Plays.