Breaking Through the Ceiling

A discussion over the past couple of days on Twitter between two of those I follow caught my eye. One of them (a women’s soccer fan in all parts) was asking the other (the mom of a high school soccer player) about fundraising at the club soccer level and whether financial aid was available to players. I followed their conversation to see what the truth might be and where it would head. Eventually, I jumped in only to have two of their ideas cause me to shake my head at what the reality seems to be in the suburban club soccer world. The first one was the creation of a group to sponsor players from the grassroots level into the competitive club game as a means of getting over the obstacles that exist due to finances; whereas the second was having guest trainers from the “bigger” clubs do free clinics on the grassroots level as a means of identifying players and talent. Both of these ideas stuck in my craw because they seem to invoke the notion that more outreach and beneficence are all that is needed to open the gates for players to advance in the development ladder. Is that true, or is something else necessary?

In my opinion, the above-mentioned ideas, while noble, would not create a significant increase in high-level playing opportunities which would lead to more urban soccer players progressing into the collegiate or professional ranks as a result of them. This is because both of these ideas reinforce the notion that opportunity is limited and therefore must be doled out selectively. In the case of sponsoring players, urban youth must prove their playing worth to a club in order to then be sponsored. The idea of guest trainers coming into the city and holding clinics as a mechanism to identify talent piggybacks on the first in that the “big” club acts as an arbiter of access and will deem who should be given that access. Both of these would open the doors for a handful of players, perhaps. What they won’t do is move us away from a mentality whereby those who can afford access get it (and the opportunities which result from it) and those who cannot must be happy if “one of theirs” gets a chance to enter that world.

With that said, what’s my solution? It is the formation of an outside agency that would collaborate with existing community-based programs (e.g., America Scores, the Boys and Girls Club, the local rec/parks department, the public school system) to create the equivalent of a co-op team or teams (in Wisconsin, three or four high schools might join together to sponsor a varsity program in girls’ gymnastics or ice hockey or soccer). None of the organizations might have the participants or the infrastructure to operate a team at the older youth levels on their own (say, beyond U14), but when brought together might have sufficient numbers. Why collaboration with existing programs rather than forming an all-ages soccer club? These programs and organizations already do a fantastic job of exposing urban youth to the game of soccer and making it fun and affordable. Allowing those programs to do what they do best while providing technical support and a clear path to continuing in the game beyond the realistic reach of these organizations would result in much more opportunity being offered. Five or six players a year might be helped by raising sponsorship dollars, whereas ten times that number might be able to advance in the game via this collaboration and development of a low-cost urban soccer organization for older youth players.

That’s my idea (and I will share parts of the blueprint in time). Like it? Hate it?