The Current State Of Youth Soccer

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The Current State Of Youth Soccer

Soccer, the world's most popular sport. All you need is a ball and some goal posts (pylons work in a pinch) and you’re good to go. Everyone has played in some respect whether that’s in a high school shirts & skins game, competitive collegiate, or adult house league. The rules are simple enough for anyone to follow and the benefits of high-intensity cardio are felt at all skill levels.

As with all sports, the youth soccer is a stomping ground for competitive players. With over 2 million players as of the 2018 SFIA survey, there is stiff competition within the sport. In our current landscape, to make a name for themselves our youth need to not only excel in the sport but gain the interest of high-level teams. But how has youth soccer grown over the years to get to this point? We’re going to take a deep dive into ways we’ve grown and the improvements made along the way, as well as the hurdles the industry has faced and the future direction of youth soccer in North America.

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HOW WE’VE GROWN

Without a doubt, soccer has ballooned in size since it’s early days. The advent of televised sports has brought the excitement of the stadium into the living room for fans across the world. In the past, spectators would need to travel directly to the field in order to watch any level of professional soccer. Now followers can simply watch games on their smartphones while riding the train home from work.

This has allowed a huge audience of young TV watchers to not only become interested in the sport but also grow into players and participants.

IMPROVEMENTS ON THE PITCH

Girls have embraced the sport

Since the inception of the FIFA Women's World Cup, the United States Women’s Soccer team has won the championship four times. Most recently this year (2019). Their incredible performance on the field is nothing short of inspiring. Amongst {the controversy of politics} surrounding their win was a highly engaged following of young girls cheering on their heroes.

With women having such a massive presence in modern soccer, it’s no wonder millions of girls have entered the sport at a youth level. 20 years ago girls teams made up roughly 25% of soccer leagues. Now we see an almost 50-50 split of girls to boys.

girls soccer travel teams playing on a field

The teams/leagues have grown in size

With more interest and participants joining the sport every year, there has been a surge of growth in teams and the leagues/organizations that house them. We’re seeing younger age groups being included in tournaments like U3 and U4 brackets. Because of that, organizations are seeing larger intakes of participant registrations across the board.

Subsequently, tournaments are growing in size to accommodate these teams and their competitive nature. Our partner Vail Valley Soccer Club saw a tournament registration increase of over 150% in just two years, expanding their Vail Valley Cup tournament from 140 teams in 2016 to 355 teams in 2018. This kind of exponential growth is very exciting for our youth and shows promise for future players.

Improvement in players

More players in more tournaments require more competition and a higher level of performance demanded from teams. As more and more youth enter the sport, so do trainers, coaches, sports camps, and personal player training. As there are more opportunities for kids to play soccer outside of leagues, the rate at which players excel is increasing year by year.

As youth are now watching their role models play in the FIFA cup and take notes on playing tactics, they’re copying professional styles and making them their own. Younger generations of players are getting better earlier in their careers which is creating a pocket of hyper-competitive teams battling for the top spot.

Fields and sports parks are everywhere and nicer

It goes without saying that the soccer boom brought with it an enormous amount of infrastructure. Schools used to only have football fields which players would attempt to play regulated games on. Having to share these big, long, and narrow fields with several football teams was not ideal for a drastically different emerging sport to flourish in. Fast forward to now where almost every level of educational institutions have soccer fields dedicated to their teams. City parks have made space to include fields for free use. Not only that but we now have gigantic sports complexes with dozens of well-maintained soccer pitches available for players.  

The fields themselves have also seen advancements with the advent of AstroTurf and more accurate scoring technology. No longer are players kicking a ball across a dusty worn out field into goal posts with no nets. Now we see them on pristine, lush, flat grass enjoying a cold drink from the snack stand.

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HURDLES FACED IN YOUTH SOCCER

Transparency in leagues

With such a quick growth there has been an issue with collecting accurate statistics in the youth soccer sector. It’s difficult to gather information regarding registration uptake, player engagement, tournament housing details, or exactly how many participants are involved overall. This is a large problem for the industry.

Contributing to this is an older “tried & true” mentality that outdated registration, scheduling, scoring, and group tournament housing methods will suffice for organizations. Unfortunately, this is not the case. As this industry grows larger, so do the demands of participants. In order to stay on top of all the moving parts of a tournament, event organizers need to adopt a technological solution that will allow them to easily manage all aspects of their events.

*Nielsen "Millennials On Millennials" Report 08-21-2017
*Nielsen "Millennials On Millennials" Report 08-21-2017

Digital platforms like EventConnect meet and exceed the expectations of participants with seamless connectivity between teams, detailed player reports, effortless registration, and an easy merchandising platform to make their tournament experience truly amazing. All of these factors combined result in an incredible tournament experience that can be felt from event owners down to participants.

Pointing system

One problem which is currently crushing youth soccer is the pointing system created by third party registration providers. These “points” are awarded to teams for their involvement. The teams are then ranked from highest to lowest points by an organization outside of their soccer association. These rankings have been embraced by a large majority of teams across the United States which is causing a frenzy inside the world of soccer.

Why does this hurt the game and our youth playing it? These points don’t take into account the heart, passion, effort, creativity, and determination that makes a player great. For participants, the game of soccer isn’t all about who wins and who loses, it’s about learning, progressing, challenging, maintaining, and embracing the qualities of teamwork amongst their peers. Players need to be rewarded for taking risks and pushing their game as hard as they can, not for how many goals they get in a season.

Expenses

As with most team sports we are seeing a rise in registration and organizational costs at the participant level. This trend is being seen in multiple other sport types but being felt recently in the world of soccer. Yearly membership fees can range from $2500 to over $5000 per player and that’s before all other registration or tournament fees. With some organizations pushing a “pay-for-play” model we are seeing a large amount of rural, minority, and underrepresented communities not being able to participate in soccer compared to years prior.

FUTURE DIRECTION

Technology in the sport

Sports technology has developed at a rapid pace for the last decade for the player, spectator, club, league and tournament. Television broadcasts are now highly detailed with pinpoint accuracy showing fans the exact trajectory of free kicks and instant replays from multiple different angles.

Goal-line technology was first introduced in 2018 at the FIFA World Cup in Russia. This system called VARS, accurately tracks the soccer ball’s location on the field and allows for precise certainty during challenged calls.

Apps like “Snapshot” are being used in youth level soccer providing an additional tool for coaches and trainers to more accurately measure the performance of a player. By simply taking a video of a player kicking a ball you can instantly assess the trajectory, speed, and angle of the soccer ball. This is allowing for more detailed training at a very low effort for coaches.

tip Fun Fact

During the 2018 World Cup in Qatar, nearly 3.5 BILLION viewers tuned in to watch. That's nearly half of the world's population!

Fields and arenas

The fields where players now practice and compete are now becoming highly advanced in their construction. Pitches now include green power initiatives like low energy lighting and reduced water usage turf. The city of Lagos in Nigeria went a step further and {created a pitch that generates electricity by players running on the field} which by our accounts is nothing short of incredible.

Our own product

We can’t talk about the future of tournament technology without mentioning ourselves 😉 EventConnect provides the connectivity and ease of use that teams and organizations require to become leaders in their field. Our digital platform is designed for easy adoption no matter any organization size.

eventconnect event management software for traveling sports teams youth soccer, hockey, baseball, basketball

With EventConnect you gain the power of technology and efficiency, bringing your teams the clarity and ease of use they need to perform their best on the field.

It’s been fantastic to watch youth soccer expand at such an amazing pace in recent years and we can’t wait to help support its growth by providing a technological solution.