Youth Soccer

Creating youth ambassadors for the future of soccer

Photo: Paul Rudderow

I commute an hour each way to work and during my commute I enjoy listening to sports talk radio. I often wonder why soccer never seems to be a topic of discussion on any local sports radio shows. In fact, I actually heard one host say that he’d quit his job immediately and drive a cab for a living if he was ever forced to discuss soccer on his show.

Which got me thinking, why all the animosity over soccer and what message does it sound to our youth players?

Once upon a time (and not that long ago) soccer was a sport that only a small percentage of kids chose as their fall season sport. I had a few friends, boys and girls, that played soccer but a majority of the kids I knew played baseball/softball and football. I look back and think perhaps the lack of participation in the sport in years past could be attributed to a lack of knowledge. American kids have had the opportunity to view TV coverage of football, baseball, basketball, and hockey for decades now. The same cannot be said for soccer.

Twenty years ago. you would be hard pressed to find a kid who could name a famous soccer player other than Pelé. My husband tells stories about watching VHS tapes of World Cup highlights as a kid and how he hungered to see more. He would watch the tapes again and again, inspired by the skills of the world’s best players. There was no “Monday Night Soccer” where kids could watch their favorite teams and players go toe-to-toe each week.

My, how times have changed.

The US has come a long way in it’s acceptance of soccer. For example, Fox has channels entirely devoted to both US and international soccer where viewers can catch games, highlights, and commentary 24 hours a day. ESPN and ABC have combined in an effort to provide fairly comprehensive coverage of MLS and the US national teams as well as the NCAA men’s and women’s soccer championships. The new NBC Sports Network prominently features soccer. The options online—both legal and otherwise—are endless.

But is it enough to keep future generations of America’s youth interested in playing soccer?

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that 24 hour national broadcasts of soccer are now available when not so long ago that would have been unimaginable. But what about local coverage?

Three short years ago just before the opening of PPL Park, the Philadelphia Union debuted at Lincoln Financial Field and I was there with all of the fans soaking up the atmosphere of a stadium filled with a magical energy spilling out of every pore of every attendee in anticipation of our beloved, long awaited, and very own professional soccer team. Local news crews were also there televising this monumental event. And they seemed excited.

So where did they go?

The Philadelphia Union is an afterthought in every local sports broadcast, sometimes being mentioned at the end of the segment if another (more “important”) sports story hasn’t bumped them out completely. I’m told that certain pockets in the United States provide more extensive coverage of their local soccer teams, but I’m not encouraged by the coverage I’ve seen so far in my local area.

I come back to the thought that all of this might be attributed to a lack of knowledge on the part of those reporting on sports. It’s makes sense that if someone doesn’t understand something they will choose not to speak about it, especially if speaking is what they do for a living. Some will argue that soccer isn’t as popular as some other mainstream sports but that argument is increasingly becoming empty. Last year the MLS set an all time attendance record, drawing more fans than both the NBA and NHL and a recent poll commissioned by ESPN indicates that professional soccer is the most popular sport for those between the age of 12 and 24. I think it is safe to say that, from a fan’s perspective, soccer is pretty darn popular.

So, how do we get the local media to recognize that? One can only hope that the national coverage will continue to grow in both popularity and ratings and that the smaller, local broadcasters will be forced to join the bandwagon.

For those of us who can remember where the sport was, and how far it’s come, we have an opportunity to be ambassadors for the future and to pass that torch to our children. After all, if the Sons of Ben were able to create a grass roots movement that produced a professional team and top of the line stadium, why can’t we convince local media to air equal representation of our sport?

We now have an entire world at our fingertips with the evolution and continual growth of social media. It’s up to us to not only share our knowledge and love of the game but to have our thirst for soccer quenched by our local media. Create a Union fan page with your kids so they can blog about the season, favorite players, player trades, and game highlights. Once you’ve done that, let their friends and teammates know so they can follow the blog and share their own opinions. Email your local papers to share news about your kid’s soccer club and by all means share news with this site as well. Not only can we increase interest, popularity, and participation in youth soccer by bringing more attention to the local youth clubs, by demanding increased coverage of our local pro team we will inspire more kids to want to play the game in the first place. At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.

Also, be sure to support local shows like State of the Union and the 90th Minute as well as TV and radio broadcasts of Union games.

And those sports radio shows you listen to during your commute, call them and talk about local and international soccer. If the call-screeners dump you, call the station manager.

We’ve come a long way since the days of watching VHS tapes of soccer highlights, but in many ways, we still have a long way to go.


  1. My recollections of trying to see soccer broadcasts goes farther back than exchanging (potentially bootleg) videotape. In the early ’70s, when I started playing, and our coach had challenged us to look for broadcasts to see what it was that he was trying to get across to us, there was nothing. As a German immigrant, he was boggled that ther was NOTHING on the air except for an occasional mention (not always even with a clip) on Wide World of Sports. Later, as we realized that there was a lot that we were missing in his attempts to translate the game for us, we were ecstatic, and I am not exaggerating to use that term, when WHYY began broadcasting Soccer Made in Germany late on Sundays. It created a bit of a cult, with those on the inside being able to talk about the German clubs as if we had any idea of their because true players would try to catch every episode, and discuss the games as if the edited pieces were a complete broadcast. The kids have more opportunities to watch, but my experience of over twenty years of coaching is that they have less interest in watching the game. It is difficult to understand, and actually hurts the game a bit when they don’t or won’t watch. The demographics of the viewer are something that I would like to see analyzed- it strikes me that most of the viewers are no longer playing, and that those that never played are unlikely to view broadcast soccer or news on it. I don’t know what we can do to force the issue on media companies, but I am heartened to watch the long and detailled exchanges that arise here and on and related sites after games and events. Maybe the kids will learn to follow their parents, and explore more deeply the game that we love.

    • Tim – GREAT comment, and I think your insight about “kids not watching the game” brings up an interesting point and food for thought for a future article, perhaps. I completely agree that not watching the game puts them at a disadvantage with their own play – watching and learning is such an important part of the game (in my opinion). As a side note, who is the German coach that you speak of? Just curious, as my husband was coached by Hans Peters in his early days of playing and wondering if that’s who you are referring to. Thanks again for the comment!

      • I have been wracking my brain for his name, and think that it was Belz, but cannot even be sure of that. I was playing in Lansdowne, and if recollection serves, this coach moved away shortly after I moved up from his team. Where did your husband play?

      • Alison Mickel says:

        sorry for the delay, Tim – my husband played in the inter-county league, buckingham…council rock…north hampton

      • No worries, Alison. Depending on when he played, I might have been on a field with him in high school, but not generally other than that. I was in the Catholic League, and we played against Council Rock preseason. My club was in the Eastern Delaware County League. Good luck with the article about kids and their viewing habits.

  2. DarthSarkozy says:

    Good piece, but is say that the media environment is such that soccer aficionados in my generation and younger just went ahead and bypassed traditional media altogether for soccer news. With foreign media, podcasts, and independent media being so accessible (not to mention the availability of foreign channels by satellite and diner cable packages), most soccer fans I know don’t even bother with the traditional media when it comes to soccer. As nice as it that the inquirer tries to offer some coverage, their content and analysis is far inferior to what I can get from, say, PSP or the Brotherly Game. I’ll read the occasional article from them, but almost always only if it’s been recommended by PSP or Du Nord first — I wouldn’t think of refreshing for news stories or new comments like I do here.

    I suppose that kind of attitude might be part of the reason why talk radio and mainstream local media can afford to ignore soccer– it’s audience isn’t demanding it. But I suspect that an inflection point is coming, not too long from now, when they’ll be forced to compete for our ears and page hits or fade into irrelevance.

    • I think is fading into irrelevance and it does not matter what they do now or in the future. PSP kicks their ass, every day. Hell, the two guys at the Guardian kick their ass with just a paragraph per week and the occasional Union feature. City Paper does better investigative journalism. ESPN does a better job covering the Eagles. It’s the new, fractured media.

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