The Wall Is Already Built. You Paid For It
"US Club Soccer sanctioned Clubs and teams are unfortunately not allowed in the league." September 15, 2017, Washington
There is a Wall in Washington state. It divides youth soccer players and youth soccer clubs into two camps and prevents them from playing and competing with each other. Did you know? And its highly likely you paid for it.
On one side of the Wall is Washington Youth Soccer (WYS) and its various leagues and member clubs. On the other side of the wall is the Puget Sound Premier League (PSPL) and its member clubs.
The Wall is actually unauthorized. It should never have been built, yet here it stands.
U.S. Soccer Federation Bylaw 603: Interplay
Section 2. An Organization Member (other than a Professional League) shall not discriminate against the participation of players, teams, coaches or clubs on the basis of that player, coach, team or club's membership in, or affiliation with, another organization....
It's been going on for years in our state. WYS leagues are sanctioned by US Youth Soccer. Participation in WYS leagues is limited to clubs who are members of WYS and, by extension, US Youth Soccer. The alternative league is the PSPL sanctioned by US Club Soccer and limited to clubs who are members of US Club Soccer. Here's where it gets weird.
Youth clubs affiliated with WYS are freely allowed to play in PSPL leagues sanctioned by US Club Soccer, so long as they become members of US Club Soccer. Youth clubs affiliated with US Club Soccer and the PSPL are not allowed to play in WYS leagues sanctioned by US Youth Soccer. To justify barring US Club Soccer members, the WYS league simply states they do not permit clubs to play in their league as well as the PSPL. Why should it be so hard to enter a team into a league? It shouldn't be. But the Wall is there.
How did you pay for the Wall? Your player's league fees and "player card" fees support the associations and bureaucracies that create divisions in youth soccer in Washington state and ban youth clubs affiliated with US Club Soccer from participating in leagues affiliated with US Youth Soccer. If your kid started in a neighborhood club through Seattle Youth Soccer Association (SYSA) or Eastside Youth Soccer Association (EYSA), you paid for the Wall.
By far the largest source of revenue for the Wall comes from the player cards that every single youth soccer player in Washington purchases each year. The primary benefit of the players cards is excess or supplemental insurance. So in other words, and to put it bluntly, the player card is an insurance card and the player card fee is an insurance premium.
Someday, someone will do an an analysis of the premium revenue collected by US Youth Soccer and US Club Soccer as compared to their claims history. I hope they do it soon. Some aggressive, young journalist will have a pretty compelling exposé on their hands, perhaps Pulitizer Prize worthy. Anyway, I'm pretty sure the conclusion won't be surprising. In 2014, more than 3,055,148 youth players were registered through US Youth Soccer and US Club . That's a lot of kids. Coaches are required to have supplemental insurance cards as well. If we just take into account the player and an average player card fee of $21, that's about $64 million of insurance premiums paid to US Club Soccer and US Youth Soccer combined. Obviously, money is a big part of why the Wall is getting higher.
Many justifications are given for the schism between US Youth Soccer and US Club Soccer. None of them make any sense. Why do we need these two entities at the top of the youth soccer structure? Ever wonder about that? The org chart is all screwed up. Just look at it. US Youth Soccer and US Club Soccer should be vendors, not gatekeepers.
In Washington, the divisions are real. They are used to reinforce marketing efforts designed to convince families and players that one side of the Wall is more "elite", more "premier" than the other side of the Wall. If you're a soccer parent, you know what I'm talking about. You've heard the other parents say it.
"You've got to be in the RCL. That's where the elite competition is."
"Your kid won't get seen unless they play for [insert any hand picked WYS Regional Club]"
"It's all about the DA. Your kid has no chance of making the US Men's team unless they're in the DA."
"You can't get into the Reign Academy unless you belong to [insert partner youth club]
"No chance of getting into Sounders Academy unless you belong to [insert partner youth club]
"It's all about speed of play. You've got to be in [insert any hand picked WYS Regional Club] if you want speed of play."
And the parents of youth soccer players buy it, hook, line and sinker. Off they go, chasing the magic club, platform or league they think will put their kid in the best place to be seen. We've seen it all. Parents hauling kids off to a club because it has a "DA". Parents lamenting their player's lack of skill and game intelligence, but choosing to stay in an "RCL Club" for "speed of play" or because they were told its the only path to the Seattle Reign's Academy or the Seattle Sounders' Academy. Lost in all of this pointless marketing, Balkanization and money-driven noise is the importance of providing a proper soccer education and the fact that the magic club, platform or league they are chasing does not provide it.
Let's review the real state of affairs. US Soccer (originally known as the United States Soccer Association) has existed for 104 years. In all of that time, US Soccer has not produced one legitimate world class player. Not one. Maybe Christian Pulisic will be the first, maybe not. But as of today, the existing U.S. youth soccer system has not produced one bona fide world class player.
And yet, the institutions and bureaucracies on one side of the Wall still trumpet their claims of "elite" or "premier" status, as if those words have any real meaning in the face of real world results. The fact is that neither side of the Wall has produced a world class player. Let that sink in for a second.
The US Men's National Team will not be playing in the next World Cup. It is a disappointment and national embarrassment that is still reverberating around the country. For my part, it is difficult to take any pleasure in the USMNT's failure, but there is a silver lining here. We are finally exposed and that may finally wake us up to the reality that what we have been doing for the last 104 years with respect to youth player development in this country is not only not good enough, its drastically on the wrong track. Maybe, just maybe, this will be the moment for honesty about how the "system" is failing generations of players.
"Our approach and our behavior to the sport here — to coaching, to everything, is just wrong. We’re far too arrogant. We’re far too obnoxious. We are egotistical having never won anything or done anything, and that’s not the case around the world." - Claudio Reyna
But thank God for Claudio Reyna! Since the USMNT's collapse, there has been a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Very few commentators have taken it upon themselves to be stone cold truth-tellers, but Claudio Reyna did and hit the nail on the head, though maybe not hard enough. Now we need to pick up hammers and do the hard work. We need to drive nails into the current youth soccer system so hard that the entire system shatters. We need to bring down the Wall!
"We have coaches who think they're better than they are. Across the board, we just think we do things better than we really do. I mean in every way. Whether it's broadcasting, or media, coaching, we're just not as far along as we tell ourselves we are. We need a little honesty and hopefully this brought it. I think it's far too late. I think we've been asleep at the wheel for a little bit too long."
Now, let's get really honest about the state of youth soccer in Washington state. You paid for the Wall so you own it. You sustain it, you feed it and you allow it to divide our youth soccer players and clubs.
To the extent you embrace the "system" or bureaucracy on one side of the Wall as allegedly superior in terms of its capacity to develop players, you perpetuate the delusion that this two-headed monster of a "system" is serving our kids well. It isn't.
To the extent you participate in and support the closed off, walled off system that is Washington Youth Soccer and its leagues, you've locked your player in a cage.
To the extent you actively persuade parents and players that the "system" on one side of the Wall or the other is better for player development, you are perpetuating a myth and doing a grave disservice to youth soccer in Washington state.
Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage. - Pink Floyd
There is a war going on. Its a quiet, subtle, passive-aggressive war, but its a war nonetheless. Regrettably, for one side the whole point of the war is money and control. On the other side, the fight is about inclusiveness and eliminating the bureaucratic structures that stand in the way of true player development in this country and in this state. One side built a Wall, hoping it would improve youth player development by creating monopolies, awarding geographic territories to only a few hand-picked clubs and excluding clubs that might have a better and different approach to player development. Take your child to that side of the Wall and you become a pawn; you've stopped being part of the good fight to improve the quality of youth player development. Your child will join legions of other kids who were handed an RCL league patch, told it meant they were special and then walked themselves into a cage to languish until they are older and are told the cold truth - they received a poor soccer education and as players they aren't really that good. The tin-star turns out to be worthless.
Spare me all the crap about "premier", "elite", "DA" or "platforms" for getting kids seen. "Speed of play"? Yeah, right. We're really good at developing players who run like lightning all over the field, but fail spectacularly against players from other countries who may be less athletic, but exhibit exquisite technical skills, amazing speed of thought and insightful tactical decision-making. All we've done in 104 years is create an intentionally fractured structure that deceives kids and parents into believing that the "system" on one side of the Wall will develop their kid into the next superstar, but the system on the other side of the Wall won't. It's all a lie. The "system", on either side of the Wall, hasn't produced a single world-class player. At the end of the day, this "system" is only producing players that are woefully unprepared for the world stage and lack the technical and tactical skills necessary to be world-class players.
Youth soccer in Washington state, and particularly Western Washington, is too arrogant. Too obnoxious. Too egotistical. It needs to change. If you want to begin the change, then look for the change. Find it. Support it. Resist the temptation to return to the "system" on the other side of the Wall. I guarantee you will not find what you are looking for. You need to wake up and unplug from the Matrix!
I expect resistance. After all, many of those who are plugged into the "system", the Matrix, have invested a lot of time and money into it. They bought into the lie. "My kid is part of [insert any WYS/RCL Club] so they are elite. WYS/RCL is the only path to [insert destination, e.g. college/pro/national team]. We can't leave our club because we'll no longer be on the path." They do not want to be told it isn't true. They will cling to myth. I've spoken to these parents. Perhaps you have too.
I expect a passionate defense from the supporters of the "system" and the Wall. Deep inside, they know the "system" has let their player down. But they are dependent on it now, having fully bought into the lie. "We are part of [insert any WYS/RCL Club] because we get "speed of play". You can't get to [insert destination, e.g. college/pro/national team] without "speed of play". Other leagues do not have "speed of play". Your player won't develop unless you move to a club that plays in RCL so you can get "speed of play". "All the best players are in RCL. You should move to an RCL club". You will hear the defensive arguments. And the arguments will be flipped on you, taking the form of persuasion and seemingly earnest concern that your player needs to be a part of the "system" in order to be seen or progress. They'll tell you your player's talent is being wasted in a club that really cares about developing them (and probably is responsible for developing them), but is not playing in the RCL. Those who are plugged into the matrix will try to plug you in as well. RESIST! You need to educate yourself, if you want to make a better choice for your player. Do not allow yourself to be assimilated.
Instead, follow your player's joy and passion for the game. If they want to become better players, then look for youth soccer clubs that are innovating, focused on really providing a soccer education, unburdened from the bureaucracy of the "system" and are not intimidated or restricted by the Wall. Find a program where technical skill development is core and the focus of training from age 5-13. Stay away from the really large clubs where your player will be merely a number. That is likely a low-education environment. If your kid's coach has responsibilities for 2 or 3 other teams, its a pretty good sign that your player won't learn much this year. And don't worry about the rat race that is encouraged by the "system" on one side of the Wall or the other. Really! Don't worry about it. Your kid does not need to be in the DA, an A-Team or part of some so- called "Premier" club. The "system" has not produced a world-class player in 104 years. It isn't going to turn your kid into one just because you join the "system" and a so-called "Premier" club.
Now, more than ever, It's important to be brutally honest. The "system" isn't going to go away overnight. If anything, its getting stronger, richer and more powerful. The lie is seductive. The Wall is getting higher. In the meantime, all of our players need leagues in which to play. Eagleclaw Football Club is a member of US Club Soccer and the PSPL. In Washington state, US Club Soccer and the PSPL offer the most freedom and flexibility for a youth soccer club that wants to innovate and offer an alternative model for youth player development. Is it perfect? Nope. We've probably put a few bricks in the Wall ourselves. We admit it, but we aren't happy about it. Still, we refuse to concede that the Wall should exist. And we refuse to let the Wall stop our efforts to provide the best youth player development program to any player, regardless of which side of the Wall they may be on.
I began this post with a quote. It's real. It's an actual statement made by a soccer official in Washington state to a US Club Soccer youth club - Eagleclaw - just last month! The Wall is real and many citizens of Washington state paid for it. But it does not have to be an obstacle to your child's soccer journey. If you accept the truth that the "system" on the other side of the Wall is a failure and NOT a proper or successful way to develop youth players, if you decide not to fall for the lie, if you unplug from the "system" and choose a better path, then the Wall disappears.