At it’s current state, not a chance.
While discussing advancements and flaws in the US soccer system, Tab Ramos made the following comments about high school soccer.
“I love the fact that high school games have that special rivalry between one town and another. Although there are some excellent coaches, there are really very few good high school coaches in the country. There are very few programs that are running proper training sessions for their kids in high school. The high school game needs a lot of improvement in order to be part of the pyramid to grow into a professional soccer player.”
“Needs a lot of improvement” is an understatement, and it’s not something that’s in the control of soccer coaches, players, or parents. The truth is that it needs a major overhaul and it would take an act of congress or miniature revolution to get it done. Before we get into why it won’t be a part of the US system, we need to look at the numbers behind high school soccer.
According to the participation statistics from the National Federation of High School sports (NFHS), for the 2016-2017 year, there were 12,188 high school programs and a total of 838,573 boys and girls players. In comparison to the two largest youth sports organizations, the American Youth Soccer Association (AYSO) states it has over 500,000 players and the United States Youth Soccer (USYS) association reports nearly 3,100,000 total players. If we can impact 800,000+ players with true development, then shouldn’t we build this into the pyramid? Unfortunately, this is currently impossible. Here are the reasons why it will never happen.
National Federation of High School Sports and State Organizations
High school soccer is dominated by two organizations, the NFHS and the respective state sports governing bodies. These two organizations are the most prominent factors into it’s acceptance into the US soccer system. Everything from the rules in place to the members of each organization, there is no fighting force for change or proper development for high school soccer.
Don’t listen to armchair generals who think the current system is adequate, because it’s not. The rules are different, the board members are not soccer oriented and the current high school landscape will not bring world class players. For example: Teams still play 40 minute halves instead of 45 and it wasn’t until 2009 when they eliminated “dribble up” penalties. In December, the NFHS organization sent out a survey asking coaches if they would support going to 45 minute halves for the 2018-2019 season. If this organization was governed by soccer officials and members, this wouldn’t even be an issue.
State organizations tend to have soccer participate at times different than football, like Texas for example where the season is in the winter. Texas, a state known for its warm temperatures for a majority of the year force their kids to play from December-March and play in near freezing temperatures. Nearly every subsequent point below is related to how poorly these organizations govern soccer. If you want high school soccer to be a part of the US system, you need more representation in these organizations and need to demand serious changes. The current landscape does not support high school soccer and never will until high school teams can remove themselves from these organizations or push for members that support them.
Many Schools, Districts, and States Do Not Support Soccer
We don’t need to beat around the bush. Soccer is not invested in by a majority of school districts. Some high schools might have four soccer coaches and others may have one or none at all. We need to be honest when we say that there is no conversation amongst school districts about seriously hiring soccer coaches.
On average a football staff may have ten to twenty coaches on staff and a head coach making nearly one hundred thousand a year or more, but for soccer you might be lucky if you have one. This is a legitimate development problem that US soccer won’t accept because a lot of kids are coached by football coaches, a fellow teacher who played soccer once, or some equally terrible scenario.
Club teams and the development academy don’t have this issue, and US soccer doesn’t have time to wait for school districts. There is no consistency for soccer in high school in regards to pay, schedules, number of coaches, soccer classes or athletic periods, equipment, training sessions etc. Some coaches see their soccer players every day for the entire year and can build a proper training schedule and spend quality time with their athletes. Others are forced to see their players every other day, for less than an hour a day, or are forced entirely to see them during their scheduled season only.
Trying to get this fixed is impossible given the varying school districts around the country. We have to create a soccer standard across the board and US soccer can’t have talent with varying levels of development because the school districts didn’t want to hire true soccer coaches.
Soccer Seasons are Too Short
Depending on the state you are located in, your high school soccer season may end with your players participating in 15-30 games. The problem, is that these matches are crammed into a 2-3 month period, with another few weeks left to begin after school training.
Students are in school for 9 months of the year but are not allowed to play another match as a team when their season ends and coaches can’t coach their players after school in some states. US soccer won’t allow acceptance into the pyramid system unless high school soccer could mimic the development academy schedule, where players are given adequate time for training through the week with a game on the weekend for 10 months out of the year.
In high school, once your season is completed you won’t play a match again for many months. There are varying reasons why this happens from the growth of club or politics of local private leagues, but it’s mainly because high school soccer was neglected for so long it simply picks this time to stay relevant.
Schedules, Alignments, and Locations Hurt True Development
State sports organizations place schools into alignments, districts, or city groups. Anyone involved in high school soccer knows that many teams are placed into districts based off of location, budgets, and more. The problem is that you may be a school with a large number of talent, but end up facing teams that haven’t won a game in 10 years or face a school that hasn’t had a real soccer coach since 1999. Most state sports organizations pair each school based off of football and make minor changes for soccer.
Take a look at scores around a state and you’ll see teams winning 9-0, 12-0 or have some obnoxious score. This isn’t development, this isn’t a tried and true method for talent facing equal talent and more. High school programs simply understand who is good and who isn’t and base their pre-season schedules around it with elite tournaments or matches. A true soccer organization in charge of high school would need to pair schools together from previous performances, relegation systems or build a system of matches and schedules that enable true development for teams.
Teams should participate in a league that can transcend just where your school is located or your student population. Beating a team 10-0 is just as bad for the players that won as it is for the players that lost. This type of change is impossible to get at this point when you are subjected to organizations that aren’t specific to soccer. The current model is a simple copy and paste of sports districts around the state that leads to poor development.
Barriers for High School Coaches
In order to coach at a high school, you need a bachelor’s degree or equivalent with a teaching certification. Before we even continue this point, most would understand that half of the club coaches in each state would never teach a class if their life depended on it. Considering the average new teacher quits after four years, makes you realize unless you are dead set on becoming a high school soccer coach nobody will go through the process of becoming certified to teach.
Coaches can go to a US soccer license course and get a job with a local club instead. Since most school districts don’t hire soccer assistants, you end up searching for a head coaching job or you end up teaching and coaching club on the side. We also need to understand that a lot of foreign coaches have stepped into the clubs and academies, but are not going to go through the necessary steps to teach and coach at a local school.
US soccer and the federation do not have the time to get every coach a bachelor’s degree and necessary certifications to allow their coaches to spend 3-4 months a year with their athletes to compete against world class players.
Officiating Has to Change to FIFA Standards
High school soccer officials are required to participate under state association and NFHS rules. Generally, this requires getting a separate certification and dealing with the local school district chapters or organizations for getting paid or assigned. When you add every single issue raised above, you end up with a fragmented system.
The referee shortage has become a growing issue amongst all high school sports, but it’s particularly bad in soccer. Coaches are used to having “duals” (two referees) and have become accustomed to rarely having a three man officiating crew. Why would a local referee subject himself or herself to getting a separate certification, get paid less, ref in freezing in the cold, get yelled at by unqualified coaches or fans and never have a proper officiating crew? If you go to any private league, youth league or even men’s leagues where referees are assaulted on a daily basis, you will still see a three man officiating crew.
Since schools are not FIFA regulated and aren’t a part of US soccer you end up with a fragmented system that hurts soccer players and teams. The only way high school soccer would ever be accepted into the US pyramid would be moving under the FIFA system of officiating and having all of our athletes develop under similar rules.
There are Good Coaches…and Bad Coaches
In high school soccer, there are many qualified, certified, and experienced soccer coaches. Many coaches give up their lives, time, and families to work tireless nights, weekends, and more towards their high school programs and coaching club as well. A majority of these coaches are great with kids, will impact their lives forever, and hopefully lead them on a path to success. With that said, there are also many unqualified, uncertified, and unexperienced coaches that impact our high school soccer players on a daily basis. This can range from schools that give a second stipend to a football or basketball coach for being a soccer assistant or any example similar to that. Those assistants could work hard, learn from the head coach and care about the kids, but the simple fact of the matter is they are not soccer coaches.
In the eyes of US soccer this is a major problem and it will not lead to proper development and will not produce world class players to get us in to the world cup. You can’t have thousands of developed youth in front of coaches who aren’t knowledgeable in the game. Every athlete that is placed in front of an inexperienced or uncaring coach is time lost in development and future talent lost to quitting the game.
NO PASS NO PLAY
All state organizations have some variance of “No Pass, No Play” requirements that all athletes in high school have to follow in order to participate in extra-curricular activities. For US soccer and club soccer, this isn’t a problem because passing a class is not a requirement to play in their system.
We all know deep down that the United States and foreign countries would completely forgo an athletes academic intelligence if their talent level is exceptional. US soccer knows this, and if you visit the US Development Academy requirements you won’t see any information about an athlete’s academics, test scores or GPA. I would be shocked to hear a club coach asking their parents for grade reports to see if their athlete is working on their academics prior to their senior year.
For high school coaches, this can be a blessing and a curse. High school coaches know that on average about 5% of their athletes will move on to play college sports, and roughly 1-5% of that original percentage will actually move on to play for four years and make it to a top level after college. On the other hand, these same coaches know that every player lost to grades is also lost development that can cause removal from the soccer team and a potential future in the game.
High school coaches have a major socio-economic, social, and cultural duty to ensure their athletes achieve an education first before pursuing a soccer career. For this reason alone, US soccer would have a tough case on it’s hand if it endorsed high school soccer for its academics, but not for its own development academy.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of the reasons why high school soccer will never become a part of the US soccer pyramid. This issue is very similar to ongoing debate with the NCAA, college soccer, and the US development system. Has US soccer made any legitimate attempts at partnering with these organizations? Do these organizations have soccer members on the board, in the meetings or pushing for changes? Why is it 2018 and we still don’t have 45 minute halves for high school soccer? If you are not asking these questions then you are probably wondering why nothing has changed, but US soccer is and there is a reason Tab Ramos is saying it needs a lot of work. Unless we see serious changes in leadership on the national organizations and state organizations high school soccer will never become a part of the US pyramid and everyone will continue asking why US soccer is “stealing” the athletes from high schools.