Soccer

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Can Youth Soccer Reverse Downward Trend, Despite a U.S.-Free World Cup?

25 Jul, 2018

By: Michael Popke

With the 2018 in the World Cup (and what a ride it was), it's time to evaluate the effect it may have had on youth soccer. Team USA failed to qualify. Did it make a difference?

Not surprisingly, there's no easy answer. In states like Florida and West Virginia, soccer organizations are reporting increased participation numbers. In Southwest Florida, that growth has been a long time coming. Collier County, for example, now boasts 27 soccer fields; in 2005, only 14 fields existed. “I think we’ve seen growth because of the convenience to parents,” Charlie Todd, president of the Southwest Florida Soccer Association told the Naples Daily News. “It’s much easier for kids to play now.”

In Charleston and Huntington, W.Va., where the Marshall University men's soccer team held weeklong World Cup Day Camps at two facilities (including the new Shawnee Sports Complex) from July 16-20, local organizers cited “World Cup fever” as a factor in expected high turnouts.

But the story isn’t as promising on a national level. As The New York Times reported on the eve of the World Cup final:

Over the past three years, the percentage of 6- to 12-year-olds playing soccer regularly has dropped nearly 14 percent, to 2.3 million players, according to a study by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, which has analyzed youth athletic trends for 40 years. The number of children who touched a soccer ball even once during the year, in organized play or otherwise, also has fallen significantly.

In general, participation in youth sports nationwide has declined in the past decade, as children gravitate to electronic diversions and other distractions.

Yet in recent years, while soccer continued declining, baseball and basketball experienced upticks, buoyed by developmental programs begun by Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.

Many observers point to the “pay to play” model used by many youth soccer groups as a major reason for the decline.

“My family would not have been able to afford to put me in soccer if I was a young kid today,” Hope Solo, former goalkeeper of the 2015 Women’s World Cup championship team, said in June. “That obviously alienates so many communities, including Hispanic communities, the black communities, the rural communities and underrepresented communities. Soccer, right now, has become a rich, white-kid sport.”

Solo was one of several people vying to be elected earlier this year as the president of U.S. Soccer but lost to Carlos Cordeiro— a former Goldman Sachs executive who Forbes.com called the “most status of the status quo candidates.”

Since his election in February, though, Cordeiro “has promised to increase the numbers in youth soccer by making it more affordable and more inclusive,” theTimes reports. “Currently, American households with more than $100,000 in annual income provide 35 percent of soccer players, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, compared with 11 percent from households earning $25,000 or less.”

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