Profiting on Club Failure – Pt. 2: Are we asking the right questions?

Ok. The question has been asked. Are we asking enough from our Soccer Clubs?

Again, these are my observations and opinions learned whilst being involved in youth soccer as a physical and technical coach as well as a business owner that has a large demographic of young soccer players paying to attend and learn our training curriculum. Take it for what you would like.

Recap from last post

Before we begin to talk about the notion of why the soccer business industry may be a part of the problem that is stifling the development of youth soccer players, let’s recap (one last time, I promise) the quick issues that seem to be present in the culture and define the subject of today’s post…the supplemental soccer industry.

Simply put, the days of young kids playing ball with their friends is over. Recreation programs (where the mere existence of playing for fun may still exist) have shrunk to a minuscule size and been pushed to the far corners of the nether-regions of any soccer complex. Now we are riddled with the vast majority of youth soccer players, beginning at age 5 or 6, having to go through selection processes for “Academies” and eventually being mundanely termed “Elite”, “Select”, or “Premiere” regardless of the intention that the player has for being involved with the sport.

The club exploits of these kids begins with the constant sale of a far-reaching dream of so many of the young players that involves playing for their high school, favorite university, or even the national team. The process to paying for this dream most undoubtedly includes endless far-away tournament championship travel expenses and fees that sometimes take kids away from school for several days, includes seasonal inappropriate player assessments of “too small/slow/etc…”, and the overemphasis of beloved national rankings that are dutifully and breathlessly reported on the sidelines.

If you listened to the labels of clubs and you didn’t know any better, you’d think the 9- and 10-year-olds in Charlotte are the most remarkable 9- and 10-year-olds anywhere. But then you could probably say that, if you were living in any mid to major size city where the club soccer monster has already revealed its ugly head. If they are “elite” in EVERY club in Charlotte and EVERY other city, how elite are they, really?

All in the name of what? Trophies…Exposure…A leg up on college scholarships…The egos of the parents and coaches? I am not positive but the player/family lure is probably a combination of all of these. Within all of this –  barely a whisper about personal development and health as being a part of the process…but reality should tell you that nobody spends thousands of dollars in try-outs, travel, gear, and training to ensure that kids are having fun, building character, and staying active, right?

Now let’s not get ridiculous and pretend that I am, for one second, insinuating that club soccer should not exist for those who are looking for something with more committment, with higher quality coaching, playing standards, and more developmental resources. But ARE YOU GETTING WHAT YOU PAID FOR?


  1. At what age,

  2. For what reasons

  3. Within what process

    …should we encourage the separation and cultivation of elitism within the game and

  4. Whether the current state of club soccer and the direction that some clubs are taking is really creating a result that we would consider a success.

I am certainly not the only one to raise questions like this, but I want to try to do something different and help guide the questions to those that are already having the largest influence with our kids.

Now let’s clarify what we mean by conversing over the For-Profit side that surrounds soccer that we are calling the Supplemental Soccer Industry. Initially, when beginning this series, I was referring to the private training coaches that are plentiful within any sport and the sports performance companies that have created facilities to execute more organized and formal training within these sports. However, I have come across and thought more globally about For-Profit centers that are creating an industry that is, well, taking advantage of the business opportunities that comes along with the Elite Sports mentality in every youth sport including soccer.

The SUPPLEMENTAL SOCCER INDUSTRY as I am defining it includes, but may not be limited to, the following:

  1. Private Training Coaches

  2. Sports Performance Companies/Facilities (yours truly)

  3. Supplemental Leagues (futsal, indoor soccer, 3vs3, summer tournament teams)

  4. Soccer Tourism

  5. Soccer Specific Retail Stores

All of these sectors can be found in the newly termed Sport Coaching Industry and has grown to what is now a multi-billion dollar market.

Is the genesis of this industry a sign of the progress or shortcomings of club soccer organizations to fulfill a full service? Are clubs pushing so hard for the “elite” model with players who are clearly not of this definition, that it is creating a demand of dollars being spent on the supplemental side of soccer? If clubs are marketing themselves as “full service”, should there be room for growing business in private coaching and training facilities? Why are players looking outside the club for more (leagues, training, resources, and opportunities)? How much travel do teams really need to undergo, at young ages, so that hotel chains are partnering with clubs and organizations to jump in on their massive expenses?

…the explosive youth sports movement has become a $7 billion industry in travel alone. “Youth sports tourism wasn’t even a category four years ago, and now it’s the fastest-growing segment in travel,” said Dave Hollander, professor at New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports.

What is the Press Saying?

Operators in the Sports Coaching industry have performed well in the past five years, as increasing sports participation and rising per capita disposable income levels have supported demand for coaching services. In addition, the rising cost of college has encouraged some parents to invest in sports coaching for their children through camps and academies to increase their likelihood of receiving a scholarship. In the next five years, the industry will benefit from a continued rise in sports participation as well as growing public interest in sports. Furthermore, government support for physical education in schools and the use of media to encourage more active lifestyles are expected to drive revenue growth…

Parents are driven by a desire to help their children stand out and the fear that, if they don’t, their kids will be left behind. To keep pace, they’re often traveling hundreds if not thousands of miles a year for games and tournaments. Some parents send their children to personal trainers, or to the growing number of so-called elite training facilities that have opened in recent years.

Often, the goal is to simply land a spot on the local high school team, an accomplishment once taken for granted. Or, a young person may try to get on the roster in the growing private club team system — an even more exclusive route that some top teenage athletes are choosing, especially when high schools cut coaches and opportunities.

  • “It’s an athletic arms race,” says Scott VanderStoep, a psychology professor at Hope College in Holland, Mich., who studies youth sports. With revenue being reported as toping $6 Billion dollars in 2014, the low barriers to entry in this segment and the high demand are making it very lucrative business opportunity.
  • IBISWorld expects there will be 92,200 sports coaching facilities in the United States during 2012. I could not find an updated number for 2015.
  • …Now, with trainers in the Charlotte area charging as much as $100 per hour with nothing more than a coaching license (maybe), the private trainers are responsible for a rough estimate of 86% of the industry. Not to mention a vast majority of these are not paying taxes, are uninsured, have no background checks, and probably not even registered with the state government.
  • With the monetary value of a scholarships on the rise with soaring cost of higher education, some parents have invested in personal coaches to provide that guidance. The private coaching industry boom has opened the door for those parents, which has in turn provided full-time careers for thousands. For some, the business has become quite lucrative. As I have stated previously, the fact that Performance Unlimited exists and has continued to grow since 2010 is direct evidence of this phenomenon.
  • Some feel it is worth the price if it can help them land a college scholarship, which are worth up to $75,000 a year when factoring tuition and room and board at some institutions. Less than eight percent of high school athletes will play in college, according to reports, and just two percent will play at the Division I level. Of that group, two percent will eventually play professionally. So, what are you paying for, really? Are your kids getting any other personal value that will last them the rest of their lives?
  • The situation is ripe for abuse, says Rick Wolff, a former psychology coach for the Cleveland Indians who hosts a weekly radio show, The Sports Edge, focused on issues facing the parents of youth athletes. A high school or middle school coach is going to be a trained educator who has probably undergone CPR training and a background check. That’s not a given for private coaches, Wolff says. Meanwhile, parents are often encouraged to pay for private instruction by their traveling (club) teams, making private lessons feel like a prerequisite for playing time. “I’ve heard lots of horror stories from people who paid a lot of money for lessons and wound up really unhappy,” he says.
  • How many players and parents feel pressure from the club coach, themselves, to pay for private training from them, outside of team training?
“I don’t see this trending downward,” Hollander said. “Check out the local youth sports TV channels in your neighborhood. They are continuing to grow.”

Ask these questions of your experience within your respective club: 

  1. Do you feel that the money you pay is fair for what you are receiving?
  2. Do you have to pay fees or for extra training beyond what is given by your club? If so, is that decided by pressure from your club, from you, or from your child?
  3. Do you research the extra training that you are paying for? Are they insured, do they have background checks, are they CPR certified? How do you know that they can provide the service you are intending? Why are you not getting this training from your club?
  4. Do you travel more for your child’s club team that you do for family vacations?