Why rec soccer? Because, unless you belong to a tiny percentage of professional, college, high school or apprentice professional players at the U.S. Soccer Academy, you probably play, coach or watch soccer for fun. On the Monterey Peninsula, just like other regions of the country, recreational soccer players far outnumber players in so-called elite travel programs.
Why then do travel soccer programs devour the overwhelming majority of money, time coaching resources and administrative support? The number of players alone dictates that recreational soccer should play a major role, if not, “the major role” in player development, especially in the youngest age groups.
At Monterey Rec Soccer, we believe that a recreational environment can be superior to travel soccer, once organizers commit to making quality soccer programs available to every player—not just a privileged few. In fact, recreational soccer is superior to travel soccer in so many ways they can’t all be listed on this post. Instead, we’ll highlight the most obvious benefits and advantages for organizers, coaches, players and families.
The Price Is Right
For a fraction of the cost of travel programs, recreational organizations can put more players on the field and schedule more games, practices and other activities. With many families’ salaries stagnant and no end in sight to escalating club expenses, travel soccer is increasingly out of reach for many families in the Monterey area.
Rec Soccer Saves Time
We live in an increasingly competitive world that often forces parents to endure brutal commutes or hold multiple jobs. Yet travel programs expect parents to hit the road on weekends, often in different directions for multiple siblings. Local soccer programs can save families several hours each week and allow kids to spend time on important activities they often cut back on when they commit to a travel team: quiet time for study; after-school clubs; social time with friends, home-cooked meals and much-needed sleep. And let’s not forget, time and energy for tons of unsupervised pick-up soccer.
An excessive focus on travel programs squanders the biggest advantage the United States enjoys on the international soccer scene: sheer numbers. The United States has more registered players than any country in the world, but barriers to participation and attrition from travel and expenses, drastically reduces our player pool in the older age groups.
Only recreational programs are in a position to reach out to millions of boys and girls across the country during their most formative years for learning. With a focus on fun, participation and teaching over winning, quality rec programs can focus exclusively on trying to develop ALL players and potential players.
A recreational approach gives organizers much more flexibility to group players, balance teams and create multiple levels of play. With a focus on player development over trophies, innovative rec programs can tweak their activities to meet the needs of the players—even in the middle of the season. Working together instead of against each other rec coaches can adjust teams or move players up and down ability groups to re-balance competition and help each participant learn at his or her own comfort level.
Why do so many coaches in the older age groups complain about a thin talent pool? Why do close to 70 percent of all boys and girls drop out of organized sports by age 14? Because travel teams often cut players without offering any alternatives to keep them playing and learning.
Since speed and strength almost always trump skills at the youngest levels, travel teams tend to select the most physically mature players. Instead, soccer organizers should create quality recreational programs that encourage everyone to keep playing into adulthood. A focus on retention gives boys and girls the time they need to mature physically and acquire the skills they need for long-term success. If we can keep them playing, many late-bloomers will acquire the skill set and physical maturity they need to catch up with their peers and build the local talent pool.
If anyone tried to invent youth activities that are so incredibly out of touch with American demographics, they would call them travel sports. How has soccer, one of the world’s most inexpensive sports, evolved into a cash cow that strains even a middle-class family’s finances and time?
With 100,000 people on the Monterey Peninsula do we really need to travel to San Jose or Sacramento to find a good game? Once local soccer organizations sign up large numbers of players and group them by ability, even our most talented players should not have to travel more than 25 or 30 minutes to find a good game.
The Monterey Rec Soccer Dream
At Monterey Rec Soccer, we dream about a huge and vibrant recreational soccer community that inspires thousands young players to acquire a love of the game that keeps them playing into adulthood. In our dream we see schoolyards, parks and playgrounds filled with enthusiastic young players who playfully juggle soccer balls, dribble explosively downfield, trap high balls with ease and crack half volleys into the upper-90s.
We believe this dream will come true when local soccer organizations make high-quality programs accessible and affordable for every player and potential player. If you share our dream, if you want to help build recreational soccer on the Monterey Peninsula and make a positive difference, contact us at email@example.com.