Presidential Candidate Kyle Martino Wants to Grow the Game of Soccer in America — and bring the FUN back to the Youth Soccer Game.
Want the USA to become a Soccer Nation? Kyle Martino is in the presidential race to replace incumbent Sunil Gulati and speaks out on what needs to change in youth soccer in the USA — he wants to change the game to benefit youth players and make playing soccer more accessible.
Kyle Martino, like his running mates Eric Wynalda and two-time World Cup player Paul Caligiuri, is a successful former professional soccer player who represented the USA on the National team. As a player, he knows the game from the inside and has a clear vision of what needs to change — and a keen interest in learning what people from different soccer communities across America think.
When Martino played for the national team, he never dreamt of becoming the president of U.S. Soccer — today, Martino knows the country needs to change and he has a plan on how to turn the USA into a soccer nation. Martino has the backing of several well-known men and women in American soccer who believe in him and his face — which has appeared on so many NBC Sports’ Premier League broadcasts — may usher in the future of American greatness in the beautiful game.
Related Info: USMNT Player Kyle Martino
Georgia-born Martino represents the younger generation of candidates — although only 36 years old, he has years of experience negotiating and creating consortiums.
We caught up with Martino — who left his “dream job” to fly back and forth across our country meeting soccer people — in an airport, literally speaking to him on the tarmac before his flight left to bring him home to Connecticut.
It is clear, in a very divided nation — the person who becomes the next president must bring us all together to make us a great soccer nation.
Will Martino win the U.S. Soccer Federation’s election on February 10 in Florida? It is a tight race with only a few weeks left and there is no clear front-runner.
Here is our interview.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why are you doing this?
Kyle Martino: Why did I leave my dream job and start running for president?
It isn’t about missing out on the World Cup — it is that our soccer federation is missing out on the big picture.
I was waiting for accountability, transparency, and a vision — and I was not seeing any of that.
We are hurting because we deserve to be a great soccer nation and we know it is possible. We can see the passion at a local level how great this game can be. On January 15, I am publishing my plan for progress. I just had a two-day summit in NYC with World Cup winners, national team players, top coaches, referees, association leaders, fans — it was a great series of discussions on the issues.
We know we need to grow soccer at the bottom of the pyramid.
It is the encouragement of the people who I have played this game with — they are the ones who really have supported me.
Diane Scavuzzo: How do you believe the youth game should be changed?
Kyle Martino: The biggest problem is market confusion. We have created a gaming system that confuses parents and players. We need to create a defined pathway in youth soccer.
I suggest these Five Tiers:
5. Recreational Soccer
4. Select Soccer – Travel Soccer
3. Competitive soccer — this tier includes US Youth Soccer and US Club Championships
2. National elite leagues like ECNL / NPL
1. U.S. Soccer Development Academy
I want to make a defined pathway that everyone agrees with — and clarify how the market should look. US Youth Soccer, US Club, AYSO, SAY — all the youth soccer organizations have been meeting together regularly and there is an appetite to work together.
Then we need to incentivize coaches to develop players in the right way and reward clubs for passing players up this pathway.
We just need the leadership to make it happen. We need to set the parameters in which the system can thrive. I will be the president that has the courage to tackle these problems.
We have created such a quagmire — but I believe change is possible and I have flown across the country ten times to make sure the solution is possible.
Diane Scavuzzo: We all know the high costs of youth soccer is a big issue. What are your thoughts?
Kyle Martino: We need to use U.S. Soccer’s surplus to subsidize the youth game.
It is not a holistic solution for making the game affordable — but it is the beginning.
There are 88 million kids in our country and I wonder why we are patting ourselves on the back for having 4 million play the game.
Instead of bragging about $150 million surpluses, I look at this as an opportunity to invest in growing the game.
We need to invest in the youth game. Germany spent $2 billion on youth soccer and they are the size of Oklahoma.
We need to focus on getting more kids playing the game of soccer. And then we need to deal with the next problem which is retention. We are losing youth players because we start to professionalize the game at too young an age. We need to make youth soccer about inclusion and then let it become about the competitive game when players are older.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is your goal for increasing participation in youth soccer?
Kyle Martino: I want to build a soccer nation. If we have 4 million today – we would be failing if we did not double that figure.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is one of the biggest challenges in youth soccer today?
Kyle Martino: The kids need to have fun playing soccer. We need to bring the fun back in the game. I have a campaign called SMILE — it is an acronym for Soccer Must Include Love and Educate
I want to invite kids who do not have access to this game to play it and make sure they are enjoying it — and we can create lifelong fans for the sport.
Diane Scavuzzo: What can the U.S. Soccer Federation do more effectively to increase participation in the game of soccer?
Kyle Martino: The way the federation can help is by investing in growing membership and improving retention.
For example, the density and diversity of Southern California creates optimal conditions for strategic investment towards these goals.
Interest draws members, so we must campaign locally as well as nationally for the hearts and minds of children and their parents.
People come to the sport looking for opportunity, community, and enjoyment.
One idea is to retain marketing companies who specialize in consumer outreach for underserved demographics to increase the exposure and appeal of our membership.
Diane Scavuzzo: Can you elaborate a bit more — what are the steps?
Kyle Martino: The biggest line item for youth soccer organizations are fields — so U.S. Soccer must, together with their strategic partners, invest in building fields in local communities.
There are also low-cost, high-impact strategies to accomplish this like my KM – Over_Under – Final and offering Futsal within the membership. I grew up with South American Futsal idols like Juan Román Riquelme and I know how Futsal can benefit the game.
Now that interest has grown, and facilities are available, it must be affordable. We need to increase financial aid and subsidies for coaching education.
Once interests are piqued, the game must be accessible to all.
We must start helping local areas and state associations by making membership more compelling and the experience more enjoyable. This is only possible if we stop focusing our efforts from the top down.
We are not reaching enough kids.
23.6m in 2-6 market and the Federation has less than 1% of this share, private enterprise ranging from Soccer Shots to YMCA has as much as 5-7%.
This player migration to non-U.S. Soccer membership may have long-lasting pathway effects for State and Federation membership. Affiliate membership for the likes of the YMCA etc. could be an alternative operational plan but those agencies would have to register with their local area associations/organizations to keep USYS/AYSO content.
Or, conversely, the Federation could strike out on their own in the 2-6-year-old market.
We can attract members earlier and keep them for life — if being a Member improves your soccer experience.
The U.S. Youth State Soccer Associations may not immediately feel the benefits of investment in grassroots movements and coaching programs like Soccer Parenting, but sports like basketball prove that creating an inclusive, enjoyable environment can shift paradigms and elevate the sport.
Kyle Martino Twitter – @kylemartino