What Does it Take to Reach the Top?
Talent is not enough to reach the top — it takes hard work.
Hard work and perseverance are required to achieve success in most sports, and especially in the highly competitive world of American youth soccer.
To reach the top of the field, youth players must not only have talent, but they also need the proverbial Right Stuff.
What is the Right Stuff? It is the Right Attitude.
While there are many slogans that reflect on the idea that your attitude dictates your altitude, or in other words how high you go, this is crystal clear in youth soccer.
- Are you happy to go to practice 3 or 4 times a week to improve your skill?
- In high school, are you willing to not go out to parties on the weekend?
- Are you willing to train by yourself and or attend an additional small group or private training?
- Will you pay attention to what you eat since good nutrition fuels your body and enables you to perform at peak levels?
These are only a few of the many questions and challenges on the road to success. A youth player’s answers, along with how supportive his or her parents are, dictate how far he or she can go in achieving his or her goals.
Success can be defined in many ways and it takes more than talent to achieve it.
You can read countless interviews with U.S. Soccer National Team head coaches and scouts, and carefully listen to the advice from top MLS and NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) coaches — the bottom line is the same.
Player development is not a single season race. It is a marathon of dedication.
Developing great skill takes work and intelligent decision making takes experience. Both equal practice. And, the right attitude to be coachable, willing to put in the hard work and above all, to love being with the soccer ball and playing the beautiful game.
And where does balance fit in?
While it is not necessarily hard to develop the technical abilities required for success as a talented youth soccer player — it takes the effort to build the muscle memory and the right trainer, it is the self-sacrifice asked of our young teenagers that is the hardest hurdle to overcome.
Before our teenagers mature into people old enough to leave alone, we ask the most talented and trained to place soccer as their singular pursuit. It sounds nearly noble but how sustainable is it? What happens to those loyal followers when the scouts don’t pick them and clubs do not offer professional contracts? Did these players miss their childhood? Can these players get into a college program they will like, and which will help them blossom?
Will they feel that they gave up too much for the sport they loved?
As America tries to earn its place on the world stage and secure a berth in the World Cup, are we sacrificing our young?
As America looks to Europe for leadership in player development, have we turned a blind eye to the demographics of most soccer players abroad? Youth soccer is not a sport for the wealthy, it is often a way out for the less fortunate.
The Big Money Earned by Soccer Players:
According to Forbes, the World’s Highest-Paid Soccer Player in 2018 was Lionel Messi with a combined earning of $111 million. Messi is a five-time winner of FIFA’s “Ballon d’Or” which is the world’s player of the year award and he earns millions from endorsement deals with Adidas, Mastercard, and Pepsi on top of his salary from Barcelona.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who plays for Real Madrid was reported to earn slightly less, bringing in $108 million in salary, bonuses, and endorsements.
With all the glamour of the beautiful sport and the money earned by Ronaldo and Messi, it is easy for kids to dream big.
Then there is the younger crop of international players — Neymar, Jr., Gareth Bale, Paul Pogba, Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney and others who command tens of millions more than our MLS players.
Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco receives total compensation of just over $7 million with Michael Bradley behind him with $6.5 followed by David Villa with $5.6 million.
The highest paid salary in the MLS is $6.1 million earned by Chicago Fire’s Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Then there is the drop.
The reported 2018-2019 MLS Player Salaries as of Sept. 15, 2018, for Sporting Kansas City players are Johnny Russell $1.3 million, team captain Matt Besler $750,000, Ilie Sanchez, $325,000 and newcomers Gianluca Busio $80,000 and Daniel Salloi $67,000.
According to a review of the MLS Players Association 20182019 salary guide, our estimates are:
200 MLS players earning under $70,000 with most recieving the MLS starting salary of $54,500.
And, as we know, female soccer professionals are paid less. Some NWSL players do not earn enough to live on their own and have host families who help support them.
That is well under the first year average salaries for Ivy League graduates.
Life Off the Pitch
The salary range for professional players is so wide, no wonder our youths see stars and dream big but players may earn the rank of pro without commanding a high salary.
But what happens when the dream turns to dust? How will all their effort at becoming their best as a soccer player help them?
That answer is impacted by how well we have prepared our youth players for life.
99.9% of the kids who play youth soccer will not become pros making millions. And, who really knows the path to the holy grail of success in soccer? No matter what a players’ dreams are, balance is important.
Yale undergraduate Nathan Chen is heading to the World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan this week and is an interesting role model of a student-athlete who is excelling as he tests a theory.
The former Olympic bronze medalist believes that being well rounded and pursuing a life off of his favorite sport might be an advantage. The question is, will it make Chen even better? And, if being well rounded can make an Olympic medalist better, how could it benefit our young?
Just a few words for thought. Perhaps more than a few words.