Arian Hoxha is one of the four Rush Soccer’s National Technical Directors and the Technical Director of Hawaii Rush.
I realize the situation of US Soccer is quite complicated, but in the end I believe that it comes down to dissecting some of the main components of it in order to come up with conclusions, and then decide on an action plan from there. I am only addressing the youth part of it in a few key areas that, in my opinion, need careful attention and examination before we can pretend to be among the world’s top soccer powers.
- No true centralized leadership on the direction of development from the Federation.
The lack of a leader that has a clear vision on how to get a hold of this massive country’s youth system (full of raw talent) is a key issue. However, it is not as big as the ignorance shown by the Federation’s leadership on recognizing the importance of such individuals or a group of individuals, and their lack of action for the last 4 decades where soccer lost its momentum on becoming a true national sport.
Some thoughts on an approach that could improve the current situation:
- Split the country into 8 regions to facilitate travel and create meaningful events that can facilitate the overall vision on how to develop and spot top talent.
- Convert existing tournaments or create new ones to suit the need within the region.
- Have the national staff create events or use existing quality events where players can be scouted, trained and nurtured for the youth national programs.
- Take the MLS-affiliated Academies and place them in a league of their own, providing a “stepping stone” to the next level.
What is the next level? College for most, then the few that are truly talented get placed in USL teams and work their way up to MLS or abroad if possible. The rest of the country remains in the same level where we all work on developing players to be pushed up to the next levels. Let the market take care of itself and show who the clubs are that can develop players and reward them (transfer fees, grants and why not even funds from state and local government entities that recognize the impact of these clubs on the community). Eventually the clubs will start to fall into categories and people can choose where they want to be to get the best at what they are looking to achieve. I believe that this approach will improve the infrastructure and the coaching assets much faster than it is currently. Don’t get distracted by silly push back arguments about high school soccer, AYSO, etc. Let the market take care of all that and support the approach that promotes the development of top quality players…that is the ultimate responsibility of the Federation.
Last point on this is: Get a hold of the state associations who are the most ridiculous entities getting “fat” on fees and money given to them to provide nothing more than pure bureaucracy and incompetence. I will leave it there.
- No real/true system that is designed to cater to the development of players.
Here, one would not know where to start. Should we start with addressing how we have inexperienced, self-proclaimed coaches/parents coaching the most vital ages where the basics of the game are instilled? Should we first address how we have lopsided balance between winning and developing? Or maybe that we have countless entities that claim to be the “road to glory” distracting kids and their families from the true “home” where they train and develop everyday (ODP, id2, etc?) What about the numerous start-up leagues that claim to provide the ultimate opportunities only to turn into money hungry mediocre entities taking advantage of a couple of key weaknesses of our culture such as, “Keeping up with the Joneses,” or exclusivity. I can go on and on but let’s keep things in bullet points to save some time:
- Massive confusion for parents on how to choose a club that has the right environment, coaching staff, admin and a clear mission statement on developing kids.
- No local infrastructure to promote free play among neighborhood kids outside of structured competition (countless basketball, tennis and volleyball courts everywhere around the country, not one of them is thought to be a dual purpose and provide a small sided local playing court for kids).
- Major expense for clubs and ultimately the families (consumer) that have to pay for fields to train and play on (don’t we pay taxes to upkeep our parks already?). This one needs to go to the legislator and someone from the Federation needs to make a case that can affect everyone tremendously in a positive way. Every other country in the world has the luxury of funds dedicated specifically to promote the game and grow it…BUT NOT US. This is the world’s game and we want to be up there with the best, but we let county, city and state bureaucrats dictate if we can grow or not. The game needs to be affordable at best and free if possible after the players proves worthiness.
- No consistency and accountability on developing top talent.
- We allow unqualified “leaders” that claim to know how to develop players to lead, only to have them learning on the job at the expense of hundreds of kids whose development comes too late. They excuse their wasted efforts by claiming “they only wanted to play the game recreationally as they were not that good” to avoid the embarrassment of having bought into a development system that inexcusably didn’t deliver.
- We need a system of promoting young players on becoming professional coaches by instilling the passion to teach the game during their upper end of their youth career (by requiring them participate and earn the most basic coaching license/certificate).
- We need a clear path for players: grass roots, developmental organized, competitive organized, academies, college/semipro, professional.
- We need a regional system to scout and recognize players for the national programs.
- We need a curriculum with a simple-to-follow expectation skeleton for each age group, illustrated with key fundamental individual skills and methods of understanding the game as a whole and in its phases.
- No accountability on leagues and state associations.
Most leagues and state associations are led by only administrative background people that lack the vision and the stomach to promote the game. They are motivated by creating sophisticated and robust rules that are designed to punish rather than promote. They often sit in piles of cash with no idea how to use it to promote the game. They hide behind an old “apolitical” individual that claims to be the guru of soccer locally, deflecting any legitimate issue, and strong-arming anyone that dares to challenge. The amount of money that goes into a simple system of scheduling games and assigning referees is unbelievable and we all are just standing by and watching them get fat while providing a mediocre product. There is hardly any dialog on how to improve and the worst of all, total control on how players are assigned within the club. Who is doing the developing? Us or the league/state association? Why do they have a say where the players play? I have to admit that US Club soccer has attempted to break this type of “Monopoly”, but it is still a big issue.
- No accountability on referees and officials.
The game has moved on significantly. The players have improved drastically. The coaches are way more qualified and experienced. The facilities have gotten better. Who has stood still? The OFFICIALS. They are slower, lazier, arrogant, tactless, incompetent, liars, careless and selfish. They are getting paid more and performing worse. They lack knowledge on the game generally and do not know specific rules. They can’t articulate an argument and are quick to show a card if they are challenged. They hide behind the excuse that the parents and coaches are driving them away from the game and since there are fewer of them they need to be taken care of, paid more, and not be abused. RIDICULOUS!!! They are anything but professional and accountable. They are unfit and unqualified. They are holding the game back and creating major inconsistencies that end up costing teams games and frustrating spectators. It is impossible to go through a game without the ref acting controversially or making decisions to keep people on edge. They tend to favor underdogs and punish quality as the means of protecting the “weak”. That is not their job and they are responsible for only following the rules of the game as genuinely as they can to be followed. The emotional involvement they create is definitely unnecessary and wrong.
****My thoughts are spontaneous and carry a lot of passion so I hope people reading this can understand that this is only an opinionated response and does not reflect the views and beliefs of my employer, Hawaii Rush or Rush Soccer.