Single-Digit Soccer: Capitalism and Klinsmann

“YES! WE ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS!”

We’re a multicultural nation. English, Irish, German, Scottish, Mexican, Chinese, Korean … we can hardly list all of our influences.

We’re also a rabidly capitalist nation. Sure, most of Europe is capitalist as well. But we take it to another level. Everything competes in the marketplace — sometimes fairly, sometimes not.

And we don’t kindly to taking orders from one entity. If we did, the Boston Tea Party would just be a polite weekly gathering, perhaps to watch Foxboro United take on Arsenal in an English Premier League game.

So in youth soccer, we have myriad entities calling the shots. Want something that U.S. Youth Soccer isn’t providing? Try U.S. Club Soccer. Or just form your own league. These organizations and others can also offer their own approaches to coaching education, curricula, club standards, etc. They all co-exist under the big tent of the terrific convention held by the NSCAA, which has its own thoughts on some of these matters.

In one popular NSCAA Convention session, “Building Champions: German Player Development,” German coaching guru Bernd Stoeber compared this chaos to the German way. Number of entities in charge of such things in Germany: One.

And the German system has a lot of advantages, as the classic Guardian examination shows. It’s certainly an improvement over the English system, which seems to boil down to “‘ello, your lad ‘asn’t played well for a fortnight, so he seems daft to me, and we’re releasing ‘im. Don’t worry — he’s only 17, and he ‘as a fourth-grade education, he does.” (Seriously — one of the factoids from the great Guardian examination of Germany’s system shows that their kids are going to school as much as any American child would, while English teens are going a mere nine hours a week.)

Could U.S. Soccer borrow a page from Germany’s book and take charge of everything here? Should they? Probably not, on both counts.

Not that the USSF has to be passive. Surely some of the extremes can be reined in. Maybe youth clubs should be required to have a director of coaching who has been through some basic licensing work, so I’ll be less likely to see a U8 team doing heading drills. Maybe they can ban State Cups and other hypercompetitive tournaments for U10 and below, when we really need to focus on development. A handful of mandates wouldn’t be a bad idea.

But the chaos of American youth soccer is simply a fact of life. We’re diverse — ethnically, economically, geographically, etc. The realities and opportunities of Southern California will always differ from those of Vermont.

In my Single-Digit Soccer session, I had coaches from Nebraska, Michigan, Alaska, Georgia and surely several other states. Some were in urban areas. Some had to travel substantial distances to get decent games. I feel a little more sympathy for the Omaha club needing to drive a few hours than I do the suburban Maryland club that bypasses the entire D.C. metropolitan area to play a league game elsewhere. Every club’s field situation is different — some are on school fields, some on county fields, some privately held.

So when it comes to reforming youth soccer in this country, you have to adapt the old prayer’s line about having the serenity to accept what you cannot change.

I’m not sure Jurgen Klinsmann has ever gained that serenity. He says the right things about accepting players for how they are, not forcing them to be something they’re not, and he has accepted the notion that players are going to take different paths at age 18 — college, MLS, Europe, NASL, etc.

But he’s also one of the people pushing kids to play a 10-month Development Academy season with one club. One environment. The Academy is running down toward U12 now, a notion that perplexed several speakers I saw. Non-Academy clubs are running similar schedules. Why is that the best path forward in such a diverse country?

Klinsmann’s native land, Germany, actually mixes things up, at least for younger kids. Back to the Guardian piece: A lot of kids stay with local junior clubs and get supplemental training from the federation’s traveling coaches.

That seems like a program even more appropriate to a vast country like this one. So does the idea of being exposed to different styles of play, different coaches, etc. Some serious games, some recreational, some just flat-out fun.

U.S. youth soccer today might be too chaotic. A light touch of regulation — perhaps mandating basic education for coaches — would help. But does anyone think an overbearing set of commandments from Chicago will work in this country?

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