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Summit recap: National soccer leaders call for more local play
May 5, 2022 • Jon Solomon
Top soccer leaders endorsed the creation of more local programs as a solution to the often expensive travel team model that has come to dominate the youth soccer ecosystem, limiting access to a sustained experience for low-income youth, including many minorities.
The call to action was made during a livestreamed, keynote session at the Project Play Summit that featured U.S. Soccer Federation President Cindy Parlow Cone, U.S. men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter, and new National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner Jessica Berman.
Berhalter said European countries such as Germany create a better youth model by focusing on local competition, which reduces costs, transportation challenges, and pressures on families.
“Do we need 10-year-olds traveling eight hours for a game on the weekend?” Berhalter said. “That doesn’t pass the common-sense test. Let’s keep them playing local, let’s keep them competing here, maybe have some restructuring, and as they get older, then they can start traveling more.”
U.S. Soccer Foundation CEO Ed Foster-Simeon, who moderated the session, noted there’s an incentive in the youth soccer financial model to travel far for games because tournaments make money for entrepreneurs. Cone said the various leading organizations that touch the disjointed youth soccer ecosystem – the federation, professional leagues, entities focused on youth play, and schools – need to collaborate to improve the model, including identifying best practices for the future of kids and the game.
“The money in youth soccer is mostly at the elite level of the game,” said Cone, who proposed bringing more recreational soccer programming to schools. “That’s taking away the focus from where I really think it should be – which is the entry level of the game at U10 and under. … Why is this U10 team traveling four hours on the weekend to play games when they just drove past 100 teams that they could have played and would have been competitive against?”