After putting out a couple of posts this week regarding the links between youth and professional leagues and the ensuing feedback challenging us to put our money where our mouths were, we decided we would go one step further, seek the opinions of clubs around the country and provide data that backs up our subtle hunch on what the issues, needs and desires are for our grassroots clubs around the U.S. – while this is a huge undertaking, it’s a step forward and a way of discussing the state of soccer in this country but this time using quantifiable data to help provide educated outcomes.
For those up in arms at the moment. This is not us starting a league by any means. Starting a league is a huge undertaking and regardless of any outcomes generated from this conversation through Futbol Focus, its a step forward, accruing more data from the grassroots and a way of discussing the state of soccer in this country.
Anyways, feel free to contribute and we look forward to engaging with you in the very near future!
PATHWAYS TO PROFESSIONALISM – A MINOR LEAGUE REVOLUTION
It is quietly acknowledged in most circles that the current U.S. soccer market is fractured across many tiers of the national pyramid (a graphical representation of the pathways from youth soccer through to MLS and the US Soccer Administration). This has been the direct result of not only the uniqueness of the sport in this country compared to the rest of the world but also due to a number of competing interests that has now resulted in an inadequate focus on youth development.
An opportunity exists in the professional soccer market to help bridge those missing links between junior soccer and the senior ranks and drive a new cultural shift the sport has long been waiting for.
This opportunity is focused predominantly on youth pathways and creating a stronger and more sustainable foundation for the sport through new found levels of professionalism in our minor leagues, accountability, transparency and continuous grassroots development. The overarching goal is that clubs are then rewarded for this investment in development to ensure they continue to strive for excellence.
It is proposed that a new national competition be created, populated by teams that meet a set level of criteria rather than entering the competition via the purchase of a league franchise.
The criteria would be based on 5 main criteria;
• Club Development
• Financial Sustainability
• Coaching Excellence
• Future Planning
The main point of differentiation from other leagues nationwide however is the amount of teams each club would need to be (and remain) eligible to enter.
Seniors: First Team | First Team Reserves
Youth: U21 | U18 | U16 | U14 | U12
Currently many clubs do not feel part of a developmental pathway and many minor league teams (and sometimes the highest level of competitive soccer in the region) have just one team. This new structure would enable teams to enter into new sustainable partnerships and provide a steady stream of talent into the senior ranks for years to come.
We mention regions specifically as clubs are resourced (or have access to resources) to varying degrees across the country. Having this new league will enable clubs to deliver youth and club development programs to a consistently high quality level, build a genuine support base over time and create a sense of culture and belonging to the local communities they effectively represent each week on the field.
It will also address one of the most prevalent issues in the game today by beginning to provide a much clearer picture for players in terms of their own career rather than being confused as to what the best way for their career path to take is. It also gives an alternative to players than are priced out of going to college or come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Focus would be given to teams in cities that are not currently serviced by either an MLS or NASL franchise to aid with the ongoing development of the sport.
League Administrators will support its clubs in their local communities through both national and targeted marketing, media and pr support and through the accruement of sponsors. It will also provide all the tools necessary for a club to create strong outreach efforts including access to its own websites and social network.
GOVERNANCE & STRUCTURE
To create professional and sustainable clubs for the future the highest importance will be placed on governance. This will include new levels of transparency in club finance (including fees and annual reporting), the requirements of policy, safety & risk management and club development plans to name but a few.
This level of professionalism will be reciprocated by League administrators who would ultimately support these requirements through training and continued education.
Clubs will be responsible for their own finances but transparency, auditing and ongoing viability will be keys in maintaining their eligibility. It is important that clubs remain financially sound to ensure that youth development is not jeopardized for the future.
Board members for each club will also need to take executive training to ensure that the club is never brought into disrepute.
Clubs will have an ongoing commitment to developing a stronger grassroots in their communities and this will be highlighted through club ratings which will focus on hitting thresholds for coaching accreditation and development, field improvements, member recruitment and retention to name but a few.
A new league has the luxury of a clean slate and no ongoing sporting politics. For this reason it has the opportunity to embrace new technologies, seek to use its potential to get more exposure for its clubs through national sponsorship deals and create and exploit marketing opportunities to help attract new fans, players and revenue streams.
A considerable amount of market research, data analysis and collaboration with interested stakeholders would have to occur over the coming year to ensure the successful introduction of such a concept in 2014/15.
In mid-February it is proposed that the terms of reference be drafted for a review into the viability for a new nation-wide minor league and a timeframe for research, review and reporting prior to more formal structures being established.