When it comes to soccer in America, the pay-to-play model has been one of the most discussed topics for a while. Many Americans criticize this model because it is vastly detrimental to unprivileged families who would have to pay through their teeth to make sure their kids become part of a soccer club.
Most Americans believe that this model is only beneficial to families who are financially secure. Ironically, skilled and talented kids often come from poor backgrounds.
Considering the popularity and relevance of soccer across the world, we believe that money shouldn’t hinder any skilled player from pursuing this career path.
Over 3,572,000,000 people tuned in to watch the 2018 FIFA World Cup which seals the fact that soccer is a lucrative sport.
The data should be enough to convince authorities in charge that talent and skill level should be prioritized above the pay-to-play model. This will give underground players a shot at entertaining the world.
The pay-to-play model doesn’t only discourage low-income families in America from enrolling their kids in a soccer club, it also causes mental trauma to kids who are passionate about playing the sport but can’t afford it.
The pay-to-play model in soccer is a vast topic to discuss. For those hearing about it for the first time, we will help you understand what it fully represents and how it can be fixed.
What is pay to play in soccer?
Pay-to-play has been around in youth soccer for over a decade. It is a situation where you are expected to pay a certain amount of money to access soccer facilities, play soccer, or join a team.
When joining a team, such money will cover registration, travel, equipment, lessons, and camping.
It is a practice generating millions of dollars for clubs every year as high schools continue to suffer budget cuts that previously took care of the sports needs of students in the past.
The pay-to-play model leads to limited access to only those who can afford to pay the stipulated charges. Perhaps, this is a way of trimming down the huge potential soccer interests into a manageable number.
However, this model doesn’t appreciate or regard talent. It creates a dysfunctional commitment, is also overpriced, and causes enthusiastic soccer players to lose interest in the sport.
Under this model, each player is expected to spend at least $1,472 to $5,500 each year. This doesn’t speak well of what soccer represents around the world.
Paying such exorbitant amounts for young people to play soccer in America is ridiculous. Ideally, soccer only requires open space and soccer balls, unlike some sports where expensive gadgets are needed.
They might blame the high cost of participation on securing quality coaches but does that guarantee a return on investment? We have doubts about that because only a handful of players actually make it to big clubs and get global recognition.
Parents who struggle to pay enrollment fees for their kids to join soccer clubs usually end up putting unnecessary pressure on such kids.
When participation was free, kids joined soccer clubs just to have fun and enhance their soccer skills. Now, it seems like a pending debt that must be paid back.
With the increasing interest in soccer in the United States, participation costs keep increasing thereby making organized youth soccer less accessible to young people. Let’s take a closer look at the significance of the pay-to-play model in high schools and club teams.
Pay to play in high schools
In the past, high school soccer was open to every student interested in playing the game. However, due to budget cuts by the government, high school soccer clubs started charging participation fees for players on teams.
Statistics show that the level of engagement by students in high school soccer has dropped since they started paying participation fees. Most American families with a meager annual income can’t afford such an expense so they don’t enroll their kids.
This is a serious issue that can impede the future of soccer in the United States. Therefore, schools need to figure out effective ways of managing the problem of soccer budget shortfalls.
Pay to play in soccer clubs
The issue of pay to play is more serious with soccer clubs, but it has proliferated the boom of travel teams over the past decade. Soccer players seeking athletic scholarships or hoping to go pro are more obsessed with joining soccer clubs than anybody else.
Although most clubs charge exorbitant amounts to enroll players in their teams, they make sure that players are trained by dedicated coaches and also get the desired level of exposure and experience.
These clubs make it difficult for players from humble backgrounds to chase their soccer careers even when they are highly gifted and skilled. Aside from paying participation fees, players sometimes pay for weekend match travels, hotels, and food which further stretch low-income households.
The cost charged for joining soccer clubs is expected to keep increasing as players clamor to get the attention of college soccer coaches. There might be no end in sight as the race for attention and relevance continue to become more competitive.
How to fix pay-to-play in soccer?
A good percentage of Americans who are into soccer believe that the pay-to-play system practiced in youth soccer is too expensive. They believe that soccer is supposed to be available to anybody interested in the sport at minimal or no charge at all.
Many see it as an organized method used in alienating poor communities in America from engaging in soccer. We all know that soccer has the capability to lift such communities out of poverty.
Opinions such as this are the reason why the concept of pay-to-play must be trashed entirely or fixed to accommodate disadvantaged communities in America.
Instead of dwelling only on the problems caused by the pay-to-play system, we shall look at ways to fix these problems. Fixing them will benefit deserving players incapable of affording the cost of joining competitive travel soccer clubs.
Train coaches for free
In the United States of America, soccer coaches are mandated to go through an extensive coaching program before getting licensed at various levels. This is usually an expensive journey in both time and resources.
What if these programs are made free in America? This will go a long way in crashing the price charged by clubs for new players to join their teams. Before you start imagining how possible this is to achieve, let’s take a look at Iceland as a case study.
In Iceland, the government paid for the training of hundreds of coaches through the UEFA licensing program. This flooded the market with motivated and qualified coaches hoping to put their coaching licenses to good use at less than a quarter of the initial charge.
Some of these coaches naturally love training younger generations and wouldn’t hesitate to cut their rates when working with kids from impoverished neighborhoods.
Introduce solidarity payments
Solidarity payments are small percentages mandated by FIFA to be paid to clubs actively involved in the training of players between the ages of 12 to 23 after every successful transfer of such players until they retire from playing soccer.
Solidarity payments don’t exist in the United States soccer scenario due to antitrust laws, labor laws, and the unwillingness of U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer. However, there is hope for an improvement due to certain class-action lawsuits in court already.
If these lawsuits go through and solidarity payments get implemented into the American soccer system, it will change the focus of youth clubs to concentrate on developing skilled individuals instead of enriching their teams.
When Neymar was sold to PSG (Paris Saint-Germain) from Barcelona at a record $252 million, the Brazilian club Santos which trained him from age 11 got a whooping sum of $10.2 million as their solidarity payment.
There is huge money to be made if any of your players eventually go pro. American soccer clubs on realizing this massive opportunity will prioritize skill level above the pay-to-play model.
Increased funding for school sports
With the constant cutting down of school budgets by the government, extracurricular activities are always the first to be axed. Thus, the pay-to-play system has become a way to make up for budget cuts in high school soccer.
To cushion the effect of the pay-to-play system on millions of teens across the U.S. hoping to play soccer in school, the government can go into partnership with private organizations and other charitable groups to provide funding for students.
Parents can also organize themselves into movements and conduct fundraising to cover athletic costs in clubs and high schools.
More youth soccer scholarship funds must also be encouraged to aid gifted young athletes in pursuing their dreams of playing professionally. This move will further decrease the pressure on parents and increase students’ interest in the sport thereby making the pay-to-play model less useful.
Cut down running cost of soccer in schools
Clubs and high school soccer managers must also try to cut down on the high cost of running youth soccer in America to make the sport more accessible to every deserving kid.
Cutting down running costs, and subsidizing registration doesn’t necessarily mean that the overall experience must also be affected.
It simply involves finding viable ways of creating opportunities for kids who intend to play soccer without digging into their shallow pockets. For example, unnecessary trips can be avoided.
Instead of frequent inter-state travels to play with other teams, schools can organize tournaments within the state. This should cut down logistics and travel expenses while still allowing the players to have a taste of competitive soccer.
Parents are forced to spend more money on training their kids in soccer due to high school budget cuts. Recreational public low-cost soccer is gradually replaced by private soccer clubs that charge players crazy amounts of money.
The pay-to-play model limits access to professional soccer experience, especially to low-income households thereby shrinking the size of the talent pool in the country. This is probably one of the reasons why the U.S. national soccer team struggles during international events.
Considering the enormous number of youths in the country hoping to get a shot at the sport, the United States of America is capable of breeding soccer stars just like it is doing with basketball and American football.
We believe that if the pay-to-play model is properly managed, an important demographic which was previously neglected will be added to the American soccer talent pool. This will gradually improve the standard of soccer in the United States and probably produce more international stars.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
The Pitch is Ours is a new beginning for me and a stepping stone to prepare before retiring from the professional soccer team. Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!