As soccer in America is faced with regrouping and possibly rebuilding after failing to qualify for the World Cup in 2018, there are countless aspects of the sport in the US being called into question, specifically on the actual playing side. Some of these are rather big and daunting topics that are going to be very difficult to try and figure out.
Pay to play
More licensed coaches
There are plenty of big ticket challenges that will require a lot of time, effort and potentially a lot of money.
There is a one key part of this soccer conversation that I'm most passionate about and that is starting to get more traction now with a number of people. Getting kids to play more unstructured soccer more often. Whether this is pickup soccer with friends, futsal games without coaches, or solo training sessions where kids spend hours just working with the ball. We need young players playing the game in situations outside of their training sessions and organized games. We need them getting their proverbial 10,000 hours, and the more of these hours they get playing pickup style soccer the better. We need them playing whenever and wherever they can.
I don't think I need to go into the importance of young players becoming better with the ball, developing a better first touch, better spacial awareness, playing with creativity and not being over coached. These are all obvious things that will help develop better players in the long term. And these specific skill sets are better developed when kids just get outside and play. No coaches telling them what to do. No tactics or directives of how to play. No rules in place other than the rules that the kids mandate.
This is seemingly an easy thing to do on the surface. Get kids outside playing more in unstructured environments. But as with many things in life, it is more difficult than that. There is a cultural element in place here that seems to restrict kids going outside and playing soccer wherever they can. I don't know the exact root cause, but I do believe that the game in general, especially at the youth level, has become overly sterile and organized. And that needs to change.
We need to make it a part of soccer culture in the US to play pickup games. We need to show young soccer players that all they need is a ball and some friends to get out and play (or play solo). We need to find small spaces that can be co-opted as small sided fields. Pickup soccer games needs to be come a culturally relevant and cool thing to do. Get celebs playing. Share the stories of professional soccer players and their own stories with pickup. Create as much content and share as many stories as possible consistently showing young players that playing pickup make you a better player. And do it in a way that speaks to who young American soccer players are.
There are a lot of things in American soccer that need our attention and that need fixing. But starting at the absolute base level seems like one of the most important things we can aim to make better.
We'll be looking at the culture of street soccer and how we can make it more applicable here in the US.
Now is the time to get back to basics + fundamentals. Playing pickup games + street soccer. Playing for fun + being creative. There seems to be a lack of this in the US and it manifests itself on the field at the highest levels. So get out there and play. You don't need a field or goal posts or a coach. Just a ball, some friends and a love for the game. #playanywhere #playeverywhere ⚽️