Pay to Play is a phrase that is often used to describe our system of soccer in the United States. It refers to the direct relationship between the level of competitive play and the cost of playing at that level.
There is a hierarchy of soccer offered in the US. Not all of the levels offer the same quality of coaching. Many recreation and even challenge teams are made up of coaches who volunteer their time. These coaches may be enthusiastic; however, many times they have no playing experience or formal training.
Interested parents who are able to pay for the more competitive level soccer programs enroll their children. Parents who are not able to afford the higher costs of playing travel soccer may move their child to a "lower" level team or drop out altogether.
For many clubs, one of the biggest expenses is paying their coaches. A soccer club is a business. Like any business, it must meet its costs. If a club has to pay its coaching staff higher salaries in order to attract the "better" coaches (or coaches with higher level training), that cost will have to be made up somewhere else. Very often, it comes from the club fees.
It stands to reason that he teams who play at the more competitive levels will be trained by coaches who have had more advanced training. Many times these coaches have also played at the professional or college level. Essentially, you are paying for the "better" coach.
Once you move up to the travel leagues, the costs can be extremely prohibitive. It is not unheard of to pay upwards of $3,500.00 a year per player. This is not taking into account the additional costs associated with travel soccer such as the actual travel, food and lodging.
The problem is that this becomes a limiting factor. The players at the more competitive travel levels are largely made up of those athletes whose families can afford to pay for them to play at that level.
Many clubs do offer financial aid to players. There is a selection process involved. Families apply and the club makes a decision on whom to pick. Most clubs offer these scholarships to the local kids whoa re standouts in the area. The problem with this is that a snapshot of a moment in time cannot always accurately identify the child that has equal or better talent that just requires cultivation.
Sunil Gulati, the President of the US Soccer Federation has said that although he believes that we have made progress in moving away from the pay to play system, we still have a long way to go. Hopefully the recent focus to our current system will be gaining increased scrutiny as a result of the US's failure to qualify for the World Cup. Only time will tell.
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