Requiring little more than a pair of orange cones and a ball, soccer is a game almost anyone can play. Shoes aren’t even a complete necessity, and many fields in the summer are dotted by 10-year-old, barefooted girls and boys enjoying a casual game of soccer. In the United States currently, more than three million children between the ages of 5 and 19 play organized soccer at some level.
Even though youth soccer was popular before Major League Soccer’s first game in 1996, it has grown dramatically in the intervening 18 years. US Youth Soccer works with the league in promoting the development of young players and building outreach programs to find tomorrow’s stars in out-of-the-way places. The economic crises of 2008 temporarily derailed US Youth Soccer’s development strategies as more and more families began struggling. Although soccer doesn’t require much just to play, participation in an organized league still requires a financial commitment.
Since 2010, however, the organization has come on strong, and there are now more than 6,000 separate clubs throughout the country that are part of US Youth Soccer. US Youth Soccer stresses participation above all else and cites the cardiovascular benefits to young people, fostering of teamwork and self-respect, and a sense of achievement as the driving factors behind its recruiting efforts. In some of its leagues, the organization stresses fun over winning at all costs; ensures that every child has playing time; and keeps the environment relaxed and stress-free. Of course, US Youth Soccer also runs ultra-competitive leagues and every other kind of league in between. Also, if a child shows exceptional promise and skills, US Youth Soccer works with the player in developing his or her potential. That child might one day wind up as a player with the U.S. National Team, an MLS franchise or another franchise overseas.
US Youth Soccer is a nonprofit organization, and almost all of its collected funds go toward the sport. In its 55 state-level associations, 600,000 volunteers and more than 300,000 coaches, many of whom are also volunteers, work ceaselessly to instill a lifelong appreciation and love of the sport in America’s youth. The organization is an equal opportunity entity, and children of all ethnic groups are encouraged to participate. After all, soccer is the world’s game.