From the Blacktop to the Ivies?

The past two or three weeks have seen a mushrooming of discussion of women’s soccer in the United States, starting with the decision by Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) to forego playing in 2012 and attempt to “come back bigger and stronger” in 2013.  As those conversations have begun to move around the social media world, a number of topics heretofore not seen as relevant have come to the table, from sustainable financial models for women’s sports to the perceived lack of interest in women’s soccer vis-à-vis the men’s game to the paucity of opportunities for players to make a living from the sport.  Yesterday, while following the discussion emanating from #WPSchat on Twitter, one of my co-authors here at Two Touch Pass hit upon some key elements in my uber-maxed-out plan for women’s soccer in my hometown of Milwaukee, those being community/philanthropic involvement by the organization and the need for more opportunities to be available for players from less-well-off backgrounds to play at the highest levels of the game.   Currently, I am working with another person to survey current and former college soccer players, college coaches, and high school coaches/administrators on what hurdles and obstacles exist in this pursuit and how they can be eliminated or ameliorated so that our local school district’s girls’ soccer players CAN move onto collegiate play and the means to a better standard of living which comes from higher education.

On top of this, the club vs. high school discussion has ramped up once again.  Personally, I believe that players who snub the prep game in pursuit of year-round club soccer should not be able to benefit from it (in short, there should be a minimum requirement regarding high school athletics for NCAA eligibility similar to the academic coursework one that currently exists).  Never mind that either/or issue, the bigger problem is the lack of opportunities for urban high school students to play club soccer.  Access to the tony world of elite-level club soccer (where the yearly fees can run into the thousands of dollars per year) is outside the reach of most if not all players from my community due to cost, logistics as they relate to getting to/from suburban or exurban fields, and more pressing needs for limited resources on the home front (both human and financial).  Is there a way to break down those walls?  What might that look like?  Can access to higher education through soccer provide a way for young women here and in urban centers across the country to lift themselves up from their current circumstances?  How do we make this possible?  I have ideas on all of this, but I want to hear yours as well.  Let’s have an ongoing conversation on how to Grow the Game and democratize the top tier of women’s soccer in this country.