It’s been far too long since I last posted an entry; and for that, I apologize. I’ve spent the last month or so trying to solve what seem like complicated mysteries of player development and have come away with some findings that I wanted to share with you. It’s important to note that what I culled from my discussions, studies, and analysis over the past six weeks isn’t anything profound, but it shouldn’t be ignored.

  1. Twitter has become a cesspool of idiocy. Yep, our favorite stomping ground and congregating place has become “noise” — perhaps it was always thus. Nevertheless, I have contributed to the idiocy far more than I ever should have; more out of frustration and boredom than any intended malice.

    So, where does this leave Twitter in relation to soccer-centric discussions? It’s simple: nobody is going to change their behavior, interactions, or decisions because you want them to because everyone finds value in those elements in different ways. However, I challenge people to get back to using Twitter to share ideas, foster healthy debate, inquire about other methods, to help others, to learn a thing or two along the way, and to celebrate just how small the world of soccer has become with such a platform. Yes, there are idiots. I have been one and you have, too. That’s OK. We care about opinions — both our own and those of others.

    More often than not, people gravitate towards shouting into the wind at those who have long ago blocked them. I encourage people to continue to shout, but not at the expense of actual work. The supposed “leaders” of the game, the mouths spewing ignorance into a microphone, the “journalists” writing bland puff pieces and charging by the word — they hear you; they just aren’t listening. Hold summits with those you interact with, write articles, contribute to discussions with NEW ideas, address issues in your community to help spark change at the top, and ignore the wind-up merchants.

  2. You know less than you think. We all know a lot less than we think we do. Don’t feel insulted, feel inspired and eager to learn more. I am guilty of this as well. I can harken back to my playing days and apply a ton of institutional knowledge to my discussions, coaching, and writings on the game — and I still haven’t scratched the surface of what it means to be truly knowledgable. That comes with experience and collaboration measured not in days, weeks, months, or even years — but decades of application. Listen to others, don’t just hear them.

    For example, the amount of dad-coaches and soccer-mommies I see rail against the collegiate system is getting borderline boring and hyperbolic. Most of their kids will never be good enough to play at the level — a level that drastically stifles development, needs a Mt. Everest size of reform, and has become low-hanging fruit. Look, I’m not defending college soccer — those who know me know that I am as critical as anyone; but here’s the thing: it’s an extension of youth soccer. That means it’s a business focused on student-athlete recruitment, retention, and you guessed it, results. Colleges know many of its recruits come from middle class backgrounds. They aren’t recruiting in the inner cities, why would they? There isn’t a demand for that (yet) and they want recruits that grew up in the system.

    There is no time for development. There is need for it for a college coach as long as the line of salivating parents who’ve bought into the idea of throwing thousands of dollars at an “elite” youth “academy” will lead to a college soccer scholarship.

    Those shouting the loudest are saying the least. Why? Well, should a college coach call them up with a sales pitch, they’d be all ears — and nobody could and should blame them. College is expensive. They know it, you know it, we know it. The style of play, type of player, personality required, etc. that will NOT change until the NCAA/NAIA changes and the USSF figures out that the 18-22 age group is stagnating and regressing in college. Good luck with that.

    Additionally, more than half of the people railing against the state of the [North American] game have NO idea what they would do if the change they covet were to actually happen. If you think the closed-system is political now, imagine what an open system would do your son or daughter’s sensibilities…egos would be put through the wood chipper. And, that’s what needs to happen.

    If you coach or have a kid who plays, understand this: in an open system things get exponentially more competitive in terms of development as the talent pool is unleashed and the dam breaks and the market is saturated. Clubs pop out of the woodwork as investment paths are forged and monies directed toward development become streamlined provided solidarity payments are paid.

    This also means if you’re a bad or mediocre coach in the current system, you’ll be an unemployed (or unemployable) one in an open system. If you’re an All-Conference, All-State player, you’ll have a teddy bear and that cheaply made plaque to hold on to as the level raises with the tide, drowning any and all recreational mindsets and multi-sport hangers-on. That’s what we need.

  3. The system is set-up for you to fail. Let’s cut the fluff: The American Dream is NON-existent in American soccer. What does this mean for you? If you’re a player, it means your days are severely limited as are your opportunities. Every day you don’t train or decide not to apply yourself is one less day you have to make an impact as a player. It also means in relation to what the world has on-tap, you aren’t even in the same galaxy as players your age abroad; players who are doing more with less amid greater challenges and more desperate circumstances.

    As a parent, it means you need to stop whispering sweet nothings into your son or daughter’s ear about how they can play in Europe or South America. They can’t. Why? Well, for every one or two Superstar Samantha’s or All-Conference Aaron’s here, there’s 1,000 unknown kids that are willing and capable of doing more than most American players can even imagine. Tasks like catching a crowded bus alone before running miles upon miles to get to and from training without the positive reinforcement of a helicopter parent day after day, for weeks, for months, for years with the understanding that it may not work out for reasons unknown.

    Players: before you think about Europe or South America or where ever you think you’d somehow “breakout” and “be seen” understand that no club “over there” is going to take the risk, investment, or go through the hoops for an American “maybe” when they have 1,000 real deals in their own county. Dominate the local talent pool first; followed by the regional one; then, you can dare to think about going abroad.

  4. Build it and they will come. This one is simple: if you don’t support local soccer in some capacity, you are part of the problem. This is the problem with American fandom. If there’s a local amateur team trying to compete, a town NPSL or PDL team playing in front of an audience of none, and you claim to want professional soccer in your town — go away. Change starts with fostering a culture that loves the game in both glamorous and unglamorous ways.

    Sure, it’s OK to want the big show in town, but start by supporting your local club(s). The reason people are against an open professional league system is they don’t understand it. It’s not American and they are — so they fear it. Those people will likely never be open to such change. However, if it is to happen, the country as a whole had better start growing and supporting local clubs on a massive scale.

    Additionally, this has NOTHING to do with Major League Soccer. Open systems are NOT for things structured like MLS. Open systems can be regional, even city level. Regionalize amateur, semi-professional, professional (this term is used loosely here) leagues in a tiered system to keep travel, costs, and risk at a minimum until investment occurs.

    If necessary, do this outside of USSF — it doesn’t care and aims NOT to serve the masses, but instead to serve the elitists. That’s OK, they cannot hear you shouting from their lofty towers atop the castle. However, they can’t ignore the masses when they move the foundation (and the needle) and have a robust enough movement and system to foster the country’s potential.

  5. So, you’re telling me the future is bleak? No. Quite the opposite. The future has never been brighter. The connections and access players and coaches (and parents) have to the game today is amazing; and it’s growing.

    Here’s what we need: create what they have in Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, where ever — here. That means getting off Twitter for a few hours a day and getting down to the local town hall and convincing them to build, fund, or entertain building a soccer cage. Start a street soccer league. Support start-up coaching companies, share ideas, publish those ideas, be willing to start from scratch.

    It means taking a break from convincing someone who’s clearly addicted to Major League Soccer (or other sports) and willing to defend that system and structure well into the night, and instead hosting a free kick-around in your community a few nights a week. It means using the methods used elsewhere, which you have studied and not just heard about on Twitter, to great effect. It means writing letters to organizations, clubs, and garnering support to better the grassroots game.

    Start a club. Then, start a league. Create a five-team league comprised of local players and operate outside the current system. Make development the priority. Look, the system will tell you to play by its rules — that’s merely a suggestion. I routinely play in or watch the local Hispanic and Bosnian leagues hidden away at the parks that nobody goes to or at rundown indoor facilities on that side of the train tracks — and I see the same culture you’d find in Europe and South America. It can be done. It’s here.

    We just need to connect them with us to become we. You have more power than you think. Stop conforming to what they tell you and let them conform to what we do.

  6. Find your “Why”. Why do you play, coach, love the game? Find your “why” and you will begin to find the “how” for most of the questions plaguing you about the game. If you’re “in it” for the paycheck understand what that means. If you’re “in it” for the hopes of a college scholarship, study-up…a lot. If you’re “in it” just to go through the motions, that’s fine — you just aren’t allowed to be upset when things don’t pan out the way you’d hoped.

    I used to subscribe the notion of conformity. That doesn’t mean I drank the Kool-aid or nodded like some plastic bobblehead. It does, however, mean that I had to make a decision about why I cared so much about the game. Perhaps my words mean nothing to anyone else.

    It meant being an advocate for positive change, being a life-long learner, writing about things honestly, understanding that the seeds I plant will be reaped by someone else years later, writing hundreds of articles for no money, understanding that my ideas will seem crazy (years later, I’ll be saying, “I told you so”), and building upon ideas that hopefully become realities.

    I’m here to help the player, coach, parent out that still needs a compass and map to navigate the landscape of American soccer. I’m here for them because very few were there for me (and countless others) beforehand. Let’s bridge the gap and mend the fractures keeping the American and Canadian game back — even if it means being a bit radicle and brave, which are required elements for change.

    In closing, at the very core of finding your “why”, you’ll need to find something else…your backbone.

Published by Jon Townsend

Jon is a long-serving writer for These Football Times and the Original Coach and is the author of the upcoming book "It's Just a Ball: Exploring the Complexities of a Simple Game". Jon is a supporter of Liverpool Football Club and AFC Ajax. Based in the U.S., Jon is involved in promoting grassroots football and specializes in player development writing and coaching. He is the co-founder of Year Zero Soccer, a non-profit grassroots football organization that is partnered with TFT. His work has been featured on the Guardian Sport Network, Inside Soccer, NSCAA Soccer Journal, White Lines Magazine, and Spartan Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @jon_townsend3

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1 Comment

  1. Well written, Jon. Thanks for the encouragement & road map to effect change. Hope to see you on the other side when we’re both old & grey! 😉

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