The lifeblood of soccer

ENTERTAINMENT.

The more entertaining the games are (at all levels, including youth games) the more time and money players, parents, coaches, and spectators are willing to invest in this beautiful game. And the higher this willingness to spend (in time and money), the more resources can be invested in improving facilities, fields, training, coaches, and ultimately the players. This, in turn, further increases the entertainment value. It’s a virtuous cycle.

So what does this imply for youth soccer and player development?

The ‘actors’ performing on the field have to be entertaining and the context within which these actors perform has to be positive. There has to be a reason for why parents should return again and again to watch their son/daughter and his/her team. And it might not be entertaining from a performance perspective, but simply a joy to watch their son/daughter try hard and be with a group of friends. For the most competitive minded players and parents ‘entertainment’ might have more to do with a satisfying performance and application of recently learned skills or movements – in this case satisfaction comes from seeing and feeling player development progress. This also is a form of ‘entertainment’, but probably specific to strong players at the youth level.

The more everyone has a good time and is satisfied with the game, the better it is for the growth of soccer in this country.

So we need:

  • boys and girls that enjoy the game, that want to be out there playing (and in front of their parents and coaches!) – spectators can ‘feel’ this positive energy
  • boys and girls that are creative and use technical skills, balanced with smart teamwork
  • a safe environment to prevent (serious) injuries – good fields and sanitary facilities, goals that are weighted down, players wearing the correct equipment, etc.
  • consistent and balanced application of the laws of the game that reflect the realities of the specific game and the level and age of the players
  • referees that work as hard as the players and coaches to make sure that the flow and outcome of the game isn’t impacted by questionable decisions – nobody is there to watch the referees
  • positive coaches – nobody likes to listen to negative coaches during games; it takes away from the enjoyment for both players and parents

And what we don’t need:

  • relatively boring, predictable patterns of play
  • players that don’t really want to be there
  • frustrating referees
  • negative coaches (it’s terrible to have to listen to them)
  • egoistic players
  • negative parental behavior (that’s a whole separate topic…coming soon to this blog!)
  • boys and girls that don’t get to play much
  • bad fields and facilities

At the youth level there are clearly many other reasons to participate in youth sports as a player and parent, at least over the short to medium term. Developing a work ethic, developing healthy habits, and learning to be part of a team are some obvious examples. But those only go so far. Players and parents will eventually lose interest in the game if they aren’t enjoying playing and watching it.

And at the professional level, we have a long way to go. Frankly, college and MLS games are, by and large, boring to watch if you’re used to the entertainment value of games in Europe and other parts of the world. Take a look at this ranking of 25 top leagues around the world. The MLS ranks dead last in terms of quality of soccer given the cost of tickets. The good news is that there appears to be a surprisingly high willingness to pay, but if the entertainment value doesn’t rapidly increase we will sooner or later see a considerable reduction in attendance and revenues, and hence downward slide in investment in soccer in our country.

This HAS to change and the only way it can is for new generations of exciting players to emerge from our youth programs. And it starts with your child, your coach, your club, and your own behavior as a parent.

Maybe take a moment to reflect on how things are done in your soccer microcosm and consider to what extent those ways of doing things align well with making soccer more entertaining. Which ways increase entertainment and which ways decrease it?

Lifelong player and student of the beautiful game in Germany, England, and USA. Volunteer futsal coach and USSF referee.

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