You might have read this blog post about the many changes in our Bay Area youth soccer landscape and also one with two recorded calls from two US youth soccer clubs discussing their experiences affiliating with European pro teams.
This post is a guest post written by Andrew Hogg, a Bay Area soccer dad, with his perspectives on the value of affiliations of our youth soccer clubs with European pro clubs.
The insights and views in this post are Andrew’s only, and he takes a strong position on this issue that won’t agree with some of you, but I hope that his views help to at least inform the debate about the value of these affiliations.
Please also refer to the comments section below for additional/opposing perspectives.
Over the last few years an increasing number of youth soccer clubs have ‘affiliated’ themselves with European pro soccer clubs. Those clubs include West Ham, Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Bayern Munich.
The big question for parents and youngsters should be what the benefits will be on the field and how will the youngster improve as a player. Ask this question of many US youth clubs who have been affiliates for a few years and they typically only speak in generalities and typically point to overall ‘club growth’ as a benefit.
So let’s examine some of the promises made by our local youth clubs and their affiliated European clubs:
- Access to their European youth development curriculum
- An ID program or player development camps
- Monthly calls with pro club coaches
- One or two visits a year from pro club coaches
- ‘Select teams’ formed from multiple affiliated US youth clubs to travel to tournaments in Europe
- The possibility of select youngsters being able to train with the European clubs’ home youth academy
In return for these benefits, the US affiliate youth club pays an up-front fee, some annual fee, and requires their players to buy (typically once a year) and wear the Euro clubs’ uniforms.
But are these affiliations actually delivering an improved soccer experience to the youngsters at our youth clubs? Or are they just a way for those European clubs to get US parents to pay for the privilege of wearing Euro clubs’ jerseys and propagating their brand?
Is the main reason for our US youth clubs to affiliate with a Euro club simply a smart marketing strategy to grow their clubs, generating more revenue, but not necessarily better soccer?
Keep in mind that youth soccer is a business here in our country and youth clubs in our Bay Area are competing for players and resources, including money, fields, and coaches. Click here for a recent article on this topic. And here’s another one on pay-to-play.
Let’s take a look at each of the promised and implied benefits:
Let’s start with asking what a curriculum even is.
Is there a “system”? Does that system include number of days of training, training focus (technical, tactical, physical etc.) by age, a step-by-step progression model a-la Common Core, practice methodologies, workout drills, discipline models by age, a training ethos (# positions per player by age, playing time models by age, etc.).
Or, to be blunt about it, is the ‘curriculum’ just a bunch of drills that any coach or player or parent could just pull from the Internet?
When you’re promised a curriculum, ask your club to explain what that means, what aspects of training it will cover, in detail. And ask to see the curriculum. Many times the answer will be vague and no actual Euro club curriculum will be forthcoming.
ID Programs and Camps
Usually for even more money, your player can attend an ID Program. This is usually an additional practice, run by your club’s normal coaches, using the Euro club “curriculum”, and ostensibly used to “ID” players who might get “promoted” to the next ID Program (costing more money) and ultimately invited to play on a travel team in a tourney in Europe or on a “tour” to the affiliate club.
Often you are just paying for an extra practice with the club’s normal coaches using their standard curriculum. The camps are much of the same, offered to those in the ID Program, and probably more driven by the revenue they can bring the club than any real desire or ability to deliver superior training to your player.
Monthly Calls with Euro Club Coaches
What actionable items are produced from these monthly calls that have a direct effect on the field for your youngster? Or are these calls just to make the affiliate coaches and/or parent board members feel good?
Are European 2nd or 3rd tier youth coaches really that much more insightful (from 5,000 miles away, with no presence on the field) than a well-educated, motivated and experienced US youth coach? And are calls really enough to transfer the know-how that these Euro coaches have?
Annual Visits by Euro Club Coaches
Which coaches are coming? How long are they staying for? Who’s paying for their flight, hotel, rental car and per diem food expenses? What training of either coaches or players are they doing? For how many hours on how many days?
In reality most of these visits are for a week or two at most, by perhaps two second-tier coaches, sometimes in the summer when half the kids are “gone”, and are given to a specific age group or ‘level’ for a few hours during those two weeks.
‘Select Teams’ for Travel Tournaments
These are teams like a “West Coast Girls U15 Euro Club”, made up of players from multiple affiliated youth clubs. The kids are chosen as much for their parents’ willingness and ability to pay as for their soccer credentials.
They will travel to Europe, on the parents dime, to play in a tournament, or go on what’s commonly referred to as a “tour”, where they play a couple of friendly games, visit the stadium and tour some of the local sights.
These are tours that have been organized for years by third party companies for anyone with a team (and the money), but are now advertised directly by the affiliate club.
Are they worthwhile? For sure, as much as they have always been. It’s a holiday to Europe for parents and players, and it’s a way to get your player jazzed about soccer. That’s a genuine choice parents can make, of course.
But does it improve your soccer player? Does it increase your chances of playing for the Euro club? Of course not. What else could you have done with the thousands of dollars you spent (US tournaments, 1-on-1 training, summer camps, etc.) that would have improved your player’s chances of improving their game, getting to play at college, etc.?
The Big Promise
The big carrot often dangled in front of parents and players: players can be chosen to train in Europe with the pro club.
Many parents think their player is better than they really are. Many don’t understand the US Soccer system, think that NorCal Gold or Premier is the pinnacle, don’t know that USSDA exists, don’t know that their kid might be good in their local pond (even in a big pond like LA or Dallas) but is mediocre at best on a global scale.
Do one or two get chosen to go, all expenses covered? Maybe. But that’s after 1 or 2 have been chosen from your club to go to state tryouts, from which 1 or 2 were chosen to go to US tryouts, from which 1 or 2 were chosen to go to Europe. In other words the odds, after spending many thousands of dollars for travel and hotel stays, are miniscule.
For example, Liverpool have been doing this for years in the US, longer than probably any other club, and my understanding is that to date they have only taken 2 boys to Liverpool for a 1 week tryout, and neither progressed beyond that week. This isn’t a criticism of the Euro club (their only goal for their youth academies is elite talent identification after all), but parents needs to be aware of the reality of this.
In summary, these Euro club affiliations make many promises and often deliver on too few of them. There are probably exceptions, but in general the ‘return’ often isn’t good enough to justify the additional cost and inevitable changes at your club. Carefully evaluate your club’s implementation of any affiliation and how that implementation affects specifically your son or daughter.
Think carefully about which players might benefit more than others. For example, do the top 20% benefit because the club now attracts better players, but the bottom 80% get “pushed down” to make space for the new (and better) players but nevertheless have to pay more money every year for uniforms etc.? Consider carefully if and how the promised benefits of an affiliation trickle down to the large majority in your club.
How long will these affiliate programs last? In some cases, only until parents smell the bacon burning in the kitchen. Those affiliated youth clubs that make a much better effort to deliver the benefits to the majority of kids in the club can be successful with this if success is measured by a better soccer experience and education for the 80%.