Social Entrepreneurship in Youth Soccer: Home Field Advantage
Imagine being a nine year old football player selected as a Developmental Player for a Pre-Academy Team while playing for an affiliated MLS club in Los Angeles. To say it would be a dream come true would be an understatement. It would be a privilege, especially so at such a young age. The problem however is that this particular privilege comes with a hefty ticket price of $3000 per year. This is a lot of money for a sport that, to put it bluntly, requires only an open space, a ball and an opponent. It sounds both terrible and almost laughable when you spell it out like this but this is no joke.
A short while ago I returned from a business trip to Barcelona. During my travels I had the chance to visit my family in the Hague, Holland where we visit my old club ‘Quick’ to watch my cousin’s play in the morning. It was a delight to step back in time in the place where I played myself for 16 years, both at Youth and Adult level and what opened the doors to my years of professional coaching. The club had recently renovated it’s clubhouse with funding raised solely by its own members. To be clear: Fee’s or additional costs were not raised or added.
“This was community crowd-funding at its finest”
The club and it’s state of the art facility plays a big social role in the life of the surrounding community and has become, to put it mildly, the beating heart of the local community. The venue features a professional kitchen that opens its doors in the evening for the people to eat a healthily meal or collect a dinner to go. In the afternoon a tutoring company provides their services to those who need it. The rehabilitation facility oversees a wide range of patients from athletes and young players to the elderly and professional players working their way back to fitness. This is only a tiny slice of the side services this ‘Club House of the Future’ has to offer to both the club members AND the wider community. This all came about as a conscious decision when the club owners made a conscious decision to make better use of the club house and all its facilities, sporting or otherwise.
At ‘Quick’ members gather to socialize with their team mates, opponents and fans both before and after the game is done. Locker rooms are present, providing clean showers to all the athletes so they can freshen up before ordering food and drink. This is a place for everyone, boys and girls, young and old, focused on the provision of a multitude of services to the entire local community. Football is of course the primary focus while the summer is reserved for Cricket. This planned developmental structure provides a pathway for continuing improvement. If you are too good for the level of the club then there’s a high chance that a bigger professional club in the area will pick you up. The club itself has 4 fields, 2 turf and 2 grass, and boasts around 1500 members.
Here we come to the point I want to stress: Youth members at Quick pay around €250 while adult members pay a mere €100 more.
Compare this experience to the nine year old US player I opened with: For a 10 month season in the Netherlands you pay 12x less in contribution per year, while the services, social connections and overall experience cannot be compared.
“US Players are being robbed, both in cash and opportunities, of the chance of truly living up to their potential”
The current US model, compared to what I have seen in the European model so exemplified by Quick’s, is a broken one.
With fields, coaching and travel being the main costs for Youth Club Soccer in California we might have to reconsider the way we approach the game. What if, Cities and School Districts partner up to provide sports facilities for community driven sports, instead of $ driven youth sports? Could we start providing coaching education to teenagers, in order to create role models and leaders for our sports from within our communities. Find ways to connect the segregated soccer structure within the regions under one governing body, and prevent youngsters to drive for hours or get on a plain to get to a practice, game or showcase event?
Considering that the primary expenses for Youth Club Soccer in California are fields, coaching and travel we should reconsider not only the way we approach the funding the sport but the very game itself. What if Cities and School Districts partnered up to provide Sports facilities for community driven sports instead of the cash driven youth sports sector we now find ourselves burdened with. Mimicking the European approach could mean the provision of coaching education to teenagers in order to create role models and leaders for our sports from within the very communities themselves. We need to create a more holistic and integrated Soccer structure as well with a focus of unifying regions under a single Governing body. Instead of young players expending precious money and time having to drive for hours or get on a plane to play games or showcase event these Events could be held within Clubs geographically better suited (rather than politically)
Home Field Advantage, which is both my passion and my work, aims to solve these problems by applying a European style club model to the current American School system. This means providing High School student with coaching education instead of the reliance on overpaid external coaches that add little value to not only our kid’s soccer development but the development of the local soccer community as well. HFA is a multi faceted project with multiple objectives. From activating underused facilities and transforming them into Community Hubs for local communities instead of looking at facilities as mere optional revenue streams.
“Our goal is to drive the discussion that soccer (and sports in general) should and will be organized in a more efficient and socially engaged way: Playing at your Home Field should always be an Advantage!”