Wednesday, February 21, 2007

JT's Blog - What’s driving a wedge into soccer? - Feb. 21

JT's Blog will be a weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. John Thomas "JT" is the Assistant Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer.

I read an article about the Boston's Pop Warner "urban suburban" American football league collapsed because the parents of the suburban 7- to 14-year-olds said that the urban kids played too rough. And urban playing fields were "unsafe". And that the urban kids played "intimidating" rap music. The League director Al Perillo told the Boston Globe that white middle-class parents have been scared off by TV news reports of drive-by shootings. But they're also sick "getting beat 30-to-nothing every time they go to Boston".

That said, the segregation of U.S. cities still shocks. And nowhere is this divide more obvious than in soccer in the U.S. No one is keeping statistics on just how effectively working-class, African-Americans have been excluded from America's grassroots soccer explosion. But everyone is agreed that soccer is predominately a white sport.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, African-American kids reacted with disbelief when a teacher told them about her brother-in-law, black U.S. defender Eddie Pope. They were reportedly "stunned" when Pope sent them an autographed poster.

When I moved in a small town outside of inner-city Washington, D.C., I enthusiastically set about starting a soccer program. "Even after weeks of posters, PA announcements in some of the schools in the area and word-of-mouth advertising, I still had didn’t have enough players to fill the roster. It was the first soccer team in the area in many years and the lack of interest shattered my world paradigm. I was warned: “kids don't play soccer in the ghetto. Just football, basketball, track.”

But others have succeeded. Steve Bandura runs the Anderson Monarchs youth soccer team in inner-city Philadelphia. He shows the kids footage of Pelé and other black players “making the point that most of the world's footballers look like them”. And every winter he gives his young players the option to switch to basketball until the new soccer season starts. And every year - without fail - the kids choose indoor soccer instead. Every other team in the Monarchs' league is predominantly white. And most years the Monarchs win everything in sight. There is only one other non-school African-American team in Philadelphia, a city that is 40% black.

"The reason is," says Steve, "that there just aren't soccer programs being run in African-American neighborhoods. If there were then what we do here would be repeated many times." Sound like a great idea to me.


Brandi said...

I think we are missing a large population of potential athletes. They are excluded from participation because of circumstances of which they have no control. We do need to do a much better job of providing opportunities for these children. This should be done not because we want to find the next Pele, but because we want to give these kids inspiration and confidence.

Anonymous said...

I don't think soccer in the US will really take off until we are consistantly getting players from the inner city. We must get these kids to become soccer players to truly see the sport take off.

John Gillis said...

I attempted to integrate my sons team with African American friends he has in the housing authority. Which basically consist of families living below the poverty level. The problem I ran into after securing four scholarships from our club was transportation. How to get the kids to and from practice.
Has anyone else attempted this? If so how did you handle the transportation issue?
Last thought. Does anyone have any ideas about an initiative to recruit and integrate inner city children into our club system?

Richard said...

The costs of participating in soccer outside of rec programs has been a main factor in minimizing the number of African-American players who play the game. As a result these players often do not continue on playing, leaving a vacum of African American players and coaches who can influence and serve as role models for younger players to follow. They often follow the influence of basketball and football who have a significantly larger percentage of African Americans who play. When we can fix the socio-economic gap that eliminates many of these players and keep them in the game, they in turn will not only be able to serve as role models but hopefully will also engage in coaching in their future. The African-American athlete has so much to offer the sport of soccer in the US, if we can keep them playing beyond the recreation level.

Anonymous said...

Most programs and fields are developed in the outer suburbs. Costing is based on this. We need to do a better job of lowreing the cost/finding scholarships and finding viable transportation to fileds or developing the fields in more centralized locations.

Anonymous said...

It african-americans start out in soccer and are competitive, it is difficult to keep them there. If kids can be competitive, they must join club or select times-- which have tremendous money and time costs. Also, when the continue to see their friend in football and basketball -- being successful and competitive with less anguish, they begin to really look at those sports. When playing select, it is already competitive and very much controlled by parents and coaches. Sometimes, kids talents and interest get lost.

Anonymous said...

The social economic structure is driving the wedge in soccer. If one does not have the finances need he/she wont make it in soccer.
There needs to be a way to make it fair to all regrdless of finances.