June 27, 2007
USA leads world in registered youth players

The USA leads the world in registered youth soccer players, according to a survey by FIFA, soccer's world governing body. The USA has 3.9 million registered youth players (2.34 million boys and 1.56 million girls). Brazil (2.1 million) and Germany (1.3 million) rank second and third, followed by South Africa (1.3 million), France (1 million) and England (820,000).

Click HERE for FIFA's Big Count stats package

MLS launches free summer kids soccer program

Major League Soccer has launched a summer youth program, "Verano MLS," that will provide 8- to 12-year-olds venues for twice-a-week pick-up-style soccer and "an opportunity to meet MLS players and coaches."

The six-week program, overseen by Colombian World Cup veteran Wilmer Cabrera, who is MLS's Manager of Fan Development, debuts in Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. The program, part of the league's outreach to the USA's Hispanic community, offers children a Verano MLS adidas soccer ball, a Verano MLS adidas T-shirt and a complimentary MLS game ticket for themselves and members of their family. "Verano MLS supports MLS' overarching goal of providing soccer playing opportunities for the masses," said David Wright, MLS's Senior Director of Partnership Marketing. "We are excited to roll out this new grassroots initiative which, when combined with MLS Futbolito and Sueño MLS, provides yet another opportunity for the millions of youth playing the game in the U.S. to connect with Major League Soccer on a personal level."

Each market will have two full-time MLS affiliated coaches who will be present for the entire six-week program. A minimum of five support coaches will be used to provide additional instruction and guidance. Support coaches will consist of players from MLS Developmental rosters, as well as MLS under-23 and MLS under-19 rosters.

June 26, 2007
From Passionate to Frenzied

Soccer America's "Youth Insider" features an excerpt from Regan McMahon's excellent book, "Revolution in the Bleachers: How Parents Can Take Back Family in a World Gone Crazy Over Youth Sports."

Click HERE to read "From Passionate to Frenzied."

June 20, 2007
First 11 commit to U.S. Soccer Development Academy

The first 11 clubs that will field U-16 and U-18 in the inaugural season of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy , which kicks off this fall, have been chosen. They: Atlanta Fire United Soccer Association (Georgia), B/W Gottschee (New York), Capitol Area Soccer League (North Carolina), De Anza Force Soccer Club (Northern California), FC DELCO (Pennsylvania), FC Greater Boston Bolts (Massachusetts), Michigan Wolves (Michigan), Nomads Soccer Club (Southern California), Players Development Academy (New Jersey), Seacoast United (New Hampshire) and FC Westchester (New York).

The nationwide Development Academy, which was unveiled on June 4, is in the midst of accepting applications from clubs that will field teams to be divided into regions based on geographic proximity. Each region will be comprised of 15 to 20 teams, with each team playing between 30 to 38 home and away matches during an eight-month season. The winner of each region play in the Academy Finals at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

June 15, 2007
Young U.S. Talent Heads South

Mexican pro clubs and Mexico’s national team program have started plucking talent from the USA.

By Mike Woitalla, (Soccer America Magazine, May 2007)

Edgar Castillo is 20 years old and he just bought a house. A year ago, he made his Mexican First Division debut with Santos Laguna. This season, he starts at left back. One day he wants to play in MLS, but for now he’s quite happy playing in front of big crowds in the Mexican league and getting asked for autographs when he walks around Torreon with his girlfriend or his younger brother, Noel, who plays for Santos’ second division team.

One of their Santos teammates is Sonny Guadarrama, who has something in common with Edgar and Noel. All three of them were born and raised in the USA.

Edgar and Noel grew up in Las Cruces, N.M. Guadarrama is from Austin, Texas.

The Castillos were drawn to Santos because their parents emigrated from Torreon. Tigres of Monterrey were interested in Edgar, because they saw him play at the Dallas Cup, but Edgar’s father thought he’d be better off in a place where he had relatives.

In 2005, Edgar and Noel attended a tryout for young players at Santos. Out of the 300 players, they were among the eight who were chosen and offered long-term contracts. “At first we were on the team that practiced on the dirt field,” says Noel.

But they moved up quickly, especially Edgar, who earns the kind of bonuses that enabled him to buy a house, which he’ll move into when it’s fixed up. For now, he and Noel live with their grandmother.

On a few occasions when the boys were young, the Castillo family took a 12-hour bus ride to Torreon. One time they happened to be there when Santos beat Necaxa to win the Mexican league title.

“I told my dad, ‘I’m going to play for Santos,” Edgar says.

The fact that he now does has much to do with Linda Lara. In 1984, she signed her oldest child up for a YMCA soccer league.

“I didn’t know anything about soccer,” says Lara. “But my son said, ‘All the guys say it’s fun. You kick the ball.’”
“All the guys” were children of Mexican immigrants in their Las Cruces neighborhood. But when Lara tried to sign her son up, she was told she would have to coach.

“I read some books and asked the older boys to help,” says Lara. She eventually started Strikers FC and when she realized she had some talented kids learned that if they wanted national team or college opportunities they would have to travel to major tournaments and send kids to ODP tryouts.

Lara was born and raised in Deming, N.M., and had never been out of the state when she began organizing trips for her teams. Qualifying for regional cups meant venturing as far as Hawaii. The center of New Mexico’s organized soccer is 224 miles north in Albuquerque, so even in-state trips proved costly for players whose parents are often unemployed or hold low-income jobs in the service industry. Three hotel rooms would often accommodate their whole team. Lara frequently spends her own money on the boys.

“I have no life savings left and go to my credit cards often,” says Lara, who is an elementary school counselor and a family therapist for parents of disabled children.

Her main goal is to see Strikers players attend college -- and many have -- but she’s pleased with the Castillos’ success at Santos. Guadarrama did attend college for one season, at Campbell University, where his older brother Willy was the NCAA Division I leading scorer in 2005. Both played for the Austin Capitals.

Willy Guadarrama is now with MLS’s Kansas City Wizards. Sonny Guadarrama attended a Santos tryout in December 2005 and was immediately offered a contract. His father, Sergio, agreed on the condition that they would fund his university education in Torreon. Sonny attends classes in addition to appearing for both Santos’ second and first division teams.

Sergio had emigrated from Mexico to Texas when he was 25. He set up a 30-by-30-yard soccer field in their backyard and constructed an indoor “arena” for them - a 20-by-20 foot concrete structure.

“I thought it would be good for the boys to be able to play indoor and outdoors,” said Sergio, an architect.
Says Willy, “We played all the time and brought friends to join us. The soccer room didn’t have windows or air conditioning, so it would get pretty hot, but it was a lot of fun and gave us a place to play when it rained.”

Sonny Guadarrama, who has dual citizenship, was called into the Mexican U-20 national team pool shortly after arriving in Mexico and is currently in camp with the World Youth Championship-bound team, but Sergio says he’ll play for the U.S. U-20s, who had given him brief looks, if they send an invite.

“The kid’s a playmaker,” says Campbell coach Doug Hess, “a true attacking midfielder who scores from long range, which is a rare, rare commodity in America. To be honest, I don’t think they’d know what to do with him in MLS. It was the same with the national teams. They brought him in to the U-15s, the U-18s, the U-20s, but never did anything with him. He always did well, scored goals, but I’d hear comments like ‘he can’t defend.’”

In fact, more Latino players from the USA are looking to Mexico, whose clubs may have a better appreciation for their style of play.

Loyola Marymount coach Paul Krumpe believes that MLS tends to pass on smaller, technical players like 5-foot-7 Junior Ybarra, who is headed to Necaxa after finishing up at LMU. Lara says the frequent response she got from ODP coaches about Edgar Castillo, who now stands 5-foot-9, was, “He’s so small. He’s so small.”

Michael Orozco, a 20-year-old native of Orange, Calif., who played for the Irvine Strikers, has started seven games for Mexican First Division team San Luis, which he was hooked up with by Hugo Salcedo, a player representative for Proactive Sports Management.

“MLS right now does not really have a system to take care of youngsters like Michael Orozco,” Salcedo says. “Within one year, he made it to the top team at San Luis.”

Sammy Ochoa, 20, who was born in Mexico and raised in Riverside. Calif., debuted for UAG Tecos last year. Jesus Padilla, born in Mexico and raised in San Jose, Calif., debuted for Chivas Guadalajara’s first team in 2006 and sees action for its second division team.

Also headed to Chivas Guadalajara this summer is Bryan Leyva, 15, who was born in Mexico but grew up in Dallas, where he played for Everton FC America.

It does appear a trend has begun. Mexican clubs are actively scouting U.S. talent with Mexican heritage and even
the Mexican national team has been holding tryouts in major U.S. cities.

June 12, 2007
The Perils of Profit-Driven Coaching

Convincing parents to pay for professional coaching is like picking low-hanging fruit. So what does that mean for the children and how this country is developing players?

By Mike Woitalla (From the June 2007 issue of Soccer America Magazine)

The next time you attend a youth soccer practice or game, pay close attention to how much time passes without hearing at least one adult telling the children what to do and how to do it. Also, time how much actual soccer the children play during a practice session.

Usually the instructions from the adults are non-stop. Usually, the actual soccer-playing takes up a small portion at the end of the practice session, like giving children dessert because they ate their broccoli and green beans.

Of course, soccer-playing should be the main course. And where did youth coaches (and parents) come up with the notion that non-stop instruction is a good way to develop players?

Besides the fact that the adults are invading the children's playtime, an adult-dominated environment isn't what has created the world's great players.

Even Mia Hamm, who grew up in organized American soccer, credits pickup games she played with her older brother and other children, and recess soccer games on her grade school's blacktop, as a key to her success: "I was able to dribble all I wanted."

It should be darn obvious that telling kids when to pass and where to run is not going to help them develop good soccer instincts the way the trial and error of making their own decisions will. More likely it will stifle their ability to improvise and be creative.

The U.S. Soccer Federation's "Best Practices" coaching manual includes advice like this for coaches of young players: Practices should be a lot of playing soccer and little or no talking.

So why does over-coaching reign in American youth soccer?

Let's look at who's doing the coaching. There are the parent volunteer coaches, many of whom have little or no soccer experience.

Coaches who are newcomers to the game often head to the bookstore. And what do they find there?

Here's a few titles: "101 Youth Soccer Drills," "180 of the Best Drills," "248 Drills for Attacking Soccer," "Over 275 Drills and Variations," "300 Innovative Soccer Drills for Total Player Development."

Sound like a recipe for playtime?

Perhaps volunteer coaches are used to traditional American sports, which are by nature more coach-dominated. You can't send a bunch of 6-year-olds onto a baseball diamond with bats and balls and just let them go at it. But soccer is a sport that's safe and simple enough to let the children explore on their own.

Or perhaps the newcomer coaches just can't fight off the parental instinct of trying to help their kids along -- ignorant to the fact that they're impeding rather than improving the children's chances of becoming exceptional players.

Then we have the paid coaches.

When they first appeared on the American youth soccer scene, the paid coaches were charged with creating competitive clubs and coaching teams for the ambitious, talented young players. A kid hits puberty, starts looking like a player with real potential, and needs an environment that truly challenges him or her.

Experienced coaches commit loads of time and energy to their teams, so why shouldn't they be compensated?

"It's a hard thing to talk about pros and cons of the paid coach because the issue for me isn't that they shouldn't be paid," says Bob Jenkins, U.S. Soccer's Director of Coaching Education and Youth Development. "It's who's paying them. Once parents are paying them, that's when things get a little out of whack.

"If they were able to get paid by an independent source, then I think there's not so much a salesman aspect to it and a lot of the problems go away from the standpoint of number of games, number of events and what you're doing developmentally in your training sessions and how you are approaching the games."

There are probably few easier ways to make money than by convincing parents they're investing in their kids' future. And the professional coaches, including the coaching companies that clubs hire to run their practices and tryouts, have been taking full advantage. They're making a killing by convincing parents that professional trainers are necessary even for tykes. Any child old enough to walk is a potential customer.

"America took free play and transformed it into a business, an industry," says Manny Schellscheidt, head of U.S. Soccer's U-14 national development program. "Self-proclaimed experts sell false hopes and dreams and expectations to kids and their parents and the end result is burnout."

Indeed, when paid coaches encourage children as young as 7 to try out for their "elite" soccer teams, isn't it time to sound the alarm bells? It's certainly time to ask questions, like:

* Are they courting children at such young ages because it's good for the children or because it increases their incomes?

* Is the movement to send kids into competitive clubs at such a young age destroying the recreational leagues?

* ls it really a good idea to break up teams so early in a child's soccer experience?

* What message do tryouts send to the players who don't make the cut? Do they get discouraged and lose interest in the game? Are we chasing the late-bloomers away?

* And who do the coaches pick? The physically advanced kids? The "coachable" kids?

A volunteer coach gets a group of players and is charged with providing them all a good soccer experience. A paid coach hand-picks his team. Especially if these paid coaches come from one of the firms that are hired on a season-by-season basis, won't they be inclined to pick players who will make the team look good in the short term? Will they neglect the smaller kids or the free-spirited individualists who don't enjoy the regimented training sessions but could end up the best of them all?

And are these training sessions designed for the good of the players or to impress the parents?

The most common reason I hear from parents who send their children to paid coaches goes something like this, "Our coach is real nice but she's not really teaching them any skills."

That always reminds me of another thing Schellscheidt has said: "I don't believe skill was, or ever will be, the result of coaches. It is a result of a love affair between the child and the ball."

So what would happen if parents are paying a coach $100 per practice and the coach implements the free-play kind of training that U.S. Soccer's coaching education and national team staff recommends?

I think they'll wonder why they're paying so much money for a coach who simply lets the kids play soccer and hardly gives instructions.

So the paid coaches bark at the players to prove to the parents that they're "teaching" and concoct training sessions that look more like Riverdance rehearsals than soccer games.

And the children are denied the free play that Schellscheidt says, "breeds imagination, enjoyment, passion and fun, and leads to the discovery of talent."

(This article originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Soccer America Magazine.)

June 08, 2007
Youth club president charged with $180,000 ripoff

The Tennessean reports that the former president of the Tennessee Futbol Club has been charged with stealing $180,000 from the club. Read more HERE.

June 07, 2007
What the Future Holds for Youth Soccer

By Mike Woitalla (From the June issue of Soccer America Magazine)

Let's look into the future of American soccer, shall we?

Major League Soccer had been going strong until the coaching shortage, the top guys having moved to youth soccer, because that's where the real money is.

The Dallas Diaper Demons won the first Under-2 U.S. National Championship in a hard-fought victory over the Chicago Crawlers, whose star playmaker was ejected at halftime for tossing his sippy cup at the referee.

"He didn't deserve more than a two-minute timeout!" complained the Chicago coach. "The cup was empty!"

The Dallas coach was unavailable for comment because the Diaper Demons had to catch a flight to the West Coast, where they're competing in the College Coaches Super Showcase Invitational. But the club's director was on hand to praise the new national championship.

"Without the incentive of a national crown," he said, "a lot of these kids would just keep playing rec ball. Then they arrive at our club with all sorts of bad habits that are hard to un-teach when a child is already 3 years old."

In fact, there are few recreational leagues left around the country, having been replaced by Soccer Academies, Soccer Schools and Soccer Factories.

The number of volunteer coaches has dwindled to 18. Some cite the new requirement of completing an 82-hour H license course to coach above the U-5 level. Others credited the demise of the volunteer coach to the good sense of parents who really care and love their children.

"Parents have finally comprehended the fact that it's foolish to trust their children's soccer development to someone they're not paying lots of money," said the director of the Super Star Soccer Factory for Infants & Toddlers, one of the 191,870 professional trainer programs for kids around the nation.

The impact of the booming U.S. youth soccer business has been felt globally. The migration of British coaches to the USA leaves so many UK kids un-coached that Prime Minister Richard Branson has asked the U.S. government to cap H1-B work visas. U.S. Congress responded with a curt "no way," citing a new surge in demand for coaches to fill positions in the rapidly expanding Prenatal Soccer Camp industry.

(This article originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Soccer America Magazine.)

June 06, 2007
Reactions to U.S. Soccer Development Academy launch

Houston Chronicle soccer columnist Glenn Davis writes, "I have long wondered why the youth soccer policy in this country isn't dictated from the top. Layers of politics and organizations litter the landscape of U.S. soccer and makes a simple game confusing to all involved, especially at the youth soccer level."

Click HERE for Davis' article, "Youth soccer takes a step in right direction."

The USL (Super Y-League) announced its "full support" of the program HERE.

June 05, 2007
How Much Soccer is Too Much Soccer?

Writing for Soccer America's "Youth Insider," Dr. Dev Mishra looks at the rise of overuse injuries and the perils of year-round single-sport training.

Click HERE for the article, "How Much Soccer is Too Much Soccer?"

U.S. Soccer Development Academy: The Impetus

Shortly after being elected U.S. Soccer President in March of 2006, Sunil Gulati launched a complete review of all the Federation's technical areas. The Technical Committee, headed by Kevin Payne, concluded that on the youth player development front, at ages 13 to 17, elite players needed an increase in the quality and quantity of training; an increase in the number of quality games, but a reduction in the overall amount of games. Between the myriad state, regional and national competitions, showcase tournaments and ODP events, a typical young American elite player was "stretched too thin." Said U.S. U-15 boys national team coach Jim Barlow, "It was never more clear to me that things in our youth soccer structure needed to change than at our first U-15 camp last summer when about half of the players, on the very first day of national team camp, told their coaches that they were tired of soccer. Too many games, too many leagues, too many tournaments and camps, too much structured soccer had already taken its toll on this group of talented young players." And thus came the launch of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.

Click HERE to continue this Soccer America article by Mike Woitalla

U.S. Soccer Development Academy

The U.S. Soccer Federation has released several documents pertaining to the new program that will provide opportunities for more than 2,000 players:


Academy Overview,

On the Field Details

Academy Presentation

Membership Application for clubs