The Need to Align and Partner to Grow the Youth Game – Sohail Qureshi
The popularity of soccer in the United States has generated an inequality of youth soccer opportunities and stalwart volunteers in associations often discover a lack of cooperation as they try to solve the issues.
Although our elite development level has seen tremendous growth in recent years, some players may be falling behind due to the restraints of competitiveness between our youth organizations.
Sohail Qureshi, Member at Large for US Youth Soccer, shares his perception of youth development and the steps we as a country need to take to achieve a new state of soccer in the United States.
Soccer News: The role of youth soccer organizations is responsible for igniting the soccer fans of tomorrow and should provide our top youth talent with the environment and training needed to achieve the highest level of the game.
One of the problem today is the competitiveness of various youth soccer organizations. The in-fighting between and in associations is notorious. Volunteers who once chose to champion the beautiful game because their kids played but still remain active long after the youth cleats were outgrown can be slow to accept change.
Often experienced soccer professionals choosing to join the ranks of these associations shake their heads in disbelief and confusion.
U.S. Soccer has risen to take a stronger leadership position, providing guidance for elite player player develoment but the American youth soccer landscape still remains confusing and overly complex.
The need to work together for the overall good of the game is obvious.
Sohail Qureshi, Member at Large of the US Youth Soccer Board of Directors, oversees every member of the nationwide youth soccer organization as he aspires for the game to reach all communities. Qureshi is a successful software engineer and his position in youth involves taking into account each of the organization’s players/coaching/parents perspectives rather than invested interest.
GoalNation’s Diane Scavuzzo spoke with Qureshi on the need for youth soccer organizations to work together in order to grow the game at all levels.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the biggest problem in youth soccer today?
Sohail Qureshi: We need one clear path for the athletes to go up to the highest level of the game.
What has happened in soccer is that we have the pyramid turned upside down.
We need to find a pathway for all athletes — from recreational to elite players — to show them how to enjoy the game and work on reaching their dreams. We need to help harness their passions for the game of soccer.
It used to be the youth organizations leading, but now the leagues have taken over. For US Youth Soccer, its greatest strength is its volunteers, but its greatest weakness, in terms of structure, is also its volunteers.
One of the major goals should be to support USSF to have more fans and provide avenues for the growth of the game.
Years ago, US Youth Soccer had the biggest fan base — all the local, non-profit, community based clubs were a part of this same organization.
I took my children to London when my son was six years old. My cousin used to work in the front office of Manchester City and give us a tour and we watched a game. When my family returned home, my son said he wanted to play soccer. I took him down to the local community club 20 years ago — and he played recreational soccer for $70 a year. I remember thinking – that’s nothing, it’s cheap. I paid $70 for him to play and I started coaching.
When he got to U14/15, I couldn’t coach him anymore — so I sent him off to another club, which charged him $800 – not a whole lot by today’s standards. He ended up playing soccer during college, and loved it.
Now, today when a parent goes to their local youth soccer clubs, they are asked to pay $300 or $400 to start playing recreational soccer.When you look at inner cities, you realize this can be a lot of money for many families, especially where the kids have single moms who are struggling.
Diane Scavuzzo: What about AYSO as an option, they have the teams you can join for approximately $200…
Sohail Qureshi: Yes, but AYSO is not in a lot of inner cities. AYSO as well as other youth organizations including US youth traditionally have been and are still to a large extent W.A.S.P. (white anglo-saxon protestant) organizations.
Youth soccer in the United States is W.A.S.P. It has no real diversity.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you think US Youth Soccer needs to do?
Sohail Qureshi: I believe the most important way to make a difference is to approach after-school youth soccer programs.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you think U.S. Soccer needs to pay more attention to the recreational youth soccer players and not focus so much on the top 1% of the elite?
Sohail Qureshi: No I don’t think so, US soccer’s mission is to earn a world cup and grow the fan base , It’s US Youth Soccer’s job — as well as other youth soccer organizations — to create opportunities for youth soccer players to play soccer.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you suggest youth soccer organizations do to improve?
Sohail Qureshi: That’s a tough question. I think they need to align together – maybe partner. This is my personal view.
I think the landscape is too fragmented with too much competition amongst themselves.
The biggest thing that needs to happen, in my view, is to eliminate boundaries. A child should be able to play wherever they want to play. You shouldn’t stop a youth player from playing soccer at any point. Players should be able to switch from one club or coach to another without worrying about these artificial boundaries.
Associations should align for the good of the game and the players. And, reduce cost.
It’s crucial for this game, otherwise you are going to make youth soccer like tennis or golf in the United States. You are going to make the world’s most popular sport an elite game.
None of the world’s best soccer players come from elite areas of the world.
This game is not native to the United States. It will become more un-native if we don’t achieve more diversity or decrease the cost of playing.
For example, you look at a single parent and they have to decide if they should pay $400 to have their child join a youth soccer team and then make the time to drive them to practices and games — compared to if that same parent has to go out and work to earn money for food and rent.
We — the organizations — have made it too difficult for many kids to play soccer.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you believe the issues are within the states themselves? Their rules for example?
It’s the rules and regulations that prevent youth organizations from growing.
Specifically, every state has to behave like a service organization.
No state or youth organization offers a tangible product. Nothing people can hold and say that got something in return for their money. We cannot act like we sell a product, we have members and must always remember we are here to help them and spread the passion of soccer.