Has the Love for the Game Been Taken Away?

I have begun to ask the questions, “Are the players playing football for enjoyment, or just doing what they have always done every weekend? Do players find it easier to keep playing than to disappoint their parents?”  And Heaven forbid if there is a blank space on the calendar! On the flip side, time away from the field may just mean more time spent playing on iPads or video games, etc.

With great weather year round in Southern California, seasonal activities that are experienced in other parts of the country do not exist here — it is essentially Summer all the time. I speak regularly to coaches in the Northwest, Idaho, Colorado and Toronto, where there are defined seasonal activities such as hunting, fishing, skiing and other outdoor activities. These break up the activity menu.

But with all that said and done, is lack of variety really the reason I hear so many players in their late teens say “I am over it”? No, I do not think we can blame the weather.

When I talk to those players typically they have lost the enjoyment of the game, the camaraderie, and the pride of representation.  Instead, playing has now got the feeling of a job. When I hear them say, “I am not going to play in College or turn pro — I want to enjoy my life!”  — that is a big concern for me. Often they are just burned out from having to win “important” games at eleven years old, or from jumping from team to team in search of success. Sometimes it is from having to listen to coaches with nothing to say who cannot speak logically about a loss.

I have been fortunate to have “survived “ coaching for many seasons and I can say without a doubt that players enjoyed the game in their senior years much more in the past than they do now. I coach at a high school with many college-bound American footballers, but the number of kids not going to College far outstrips the ones that do.  I am convinced that club soccer with endless promises and now with so many new Leagues where every parent can boast of having their player playing Academy, ECNL, CRL, NPL is a factor in this. Does anybody really know what any of those things even mean? With all the millions of dollars going into soccer, it seems the trend is a lot more money being made off the field than on it (the players).

The Southern California soccer community — clubs, parents and even governing bodies, — have created something that has made the result of winning or losing more important than it should be. I listen to coaches remonstrating with players about their recent loss damaging their chances to play in some show case in Las Vegas that really is more of an outing for the coach than the players. It is a challenge to get back to basics, to realize that our “product” is teaching kids how to play this great game and more importantly,  for them to love it, to see it as something that is enjoyable and memorable.

Players go onto to become teachers, doctors, fire captains, entrepreneurs, and more. They were not failures because they did not play in College or turn pro. Those kids who still play in pick-up games loved the sport and never thought about giving up. There was never any emphasis on losing or winning a youth football game as a life-defining moment. It is a shame with the World Cup coming up we cannot enjoy watching the USA playing and somewhere along the line that is due to the failure at the grass roots level. When I went to the World Cup game in the Rose Bowl seven players were from Southern California. Something must change to regain the passion for the sport here in Southern California.

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