Americas Youth are Getting a Kick Out of Soccer

By: James William Smith

From my seat in the stands, I could see that these qualifying soccer drills were a test of a player's dexterity, power, speed, agility, practice and coordination. It was warm inside the Soccer Etc. facility on this late May afternoon. However, the heat did nothing to discourage my nephew or the other twenty youth soccer candidates who were on the field. The tryouts were for the final two roster spots for the Aztec's premiere youth soccer team in the fall and the competition was intense.

In fact, over eighteen million people in the United States now play soccer and nearly eighty percent of the participants are under the age of eighteen. As I glanced around, I could see that the stands were occupied by parents who clearly supported their child's enjoyment of the game of soccer.

I continued to watch the drills and in particular a twelve year old boy as he bounced a ball off of his foot into the air repeatedly without the ball ever touching the ground. As I looked on, he accomplished this feat over two hundred times in a row . I can only imagine how many hours of practice it took to attain this proficiency.

As I watched his display of dexterity, I wondered what had happened to the pundits that had dismissed the growth of soccer in America in the mid nineteen eighties. I can clearly remember the reasons given at that time to dismiss the sport in this country. They said it would never be popular here because it was a " foreign game". Americans did not "dominate" the game was another reason often cited. It was a game that was not "discovered" in America still others opined.. There was not enough scoring was a common reason. Sports that were already popular in America would prevent soccer's growth and domination was still another reason given at the time to dismiss the sport.

So what happened over the last two decades to make soccer the apparent sport of choice for America's youth? There are several things to consider when discussing soccer's popularity increase during the last twenty years : Soccer is a game both boys and girls play. It is more economical for a cash strapped youth organization than football. Most high schools have added a soccer program in addition to their football programs. The American Youth Soccer Association was highly successful in popularizing and marketing soccer with America's youth. More and more American's having now played the game in their youth are becoming avid fans. Latin American immigrants were increasing soccer's popularity while the World Cup's arrival in America in 1994 also raised the game's visibility.

Suddenly, a loud cheer erupted from the stands as my nephew kicked a powerful shot toward the goal. I smiled to myself as I quietly considered how similar my nephew's shot on goal is to soccer's growth in America. Both are powerful, driven by youth on strong legs that get a real kick out of the game.



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