“We all start as recreational players.”
I’ve been saying that for a while, and I’m not alone. Whether it’s a suburban U5 program with parents and size 3 balls or a kid joining a neighborhood kickabout, everyone’s first experience with soccer is low-stakes recreational soccer. Unless you think Messi was birthed as a fully formed U16 Barcelona academy player, you realize the basic truth here.
American youth clubs are usually all-inclusive. Even if they have a Development Academy program or other elite teams, they tend to have rec programs running from U5 to U19, including TOPSoccer. (Yes, I found it amusing and kind of tone-deaf that a new soccer semipro league boasted about having “the TOP soccer players in the region.” I’m surely not the only person who thinks of TOPSoccer upon seeing that, and it makes me wonder if the people running this league are aware of the complete range of the U.S. soccer community.)
Apparently, we’re not alone. If you get the United Soccer Coaches magazine Soccer Journal, please check out the interview with Espanyol’s Eloy Perez. Among other interesting things (re-typed here, so typos are mine):
Q: You have a large recreation program at the club. Can you tell me how that works?
A: Yes, we have 56 teams in the recreation program. The players can decide if they want to train one or two times per week, and to play a game on Saturday mornings.
Q: And it takes place at the training ground?
A. Yes, yes, it takes place here at the training ground. The same place that the academy and first team practices.
Q: Have you had much success bringing players from the recreation program and then into the academy, and eventually the first team?
A: Yes, we had out first player from the recreation program play for our first team last year, Oscar Melendo. He started in the recreation program when he was six years old. Hopefully he is the first of many.
Q: What other goals do you have for the recreation program?
A: For us, it’s an opportunity to work with the community, to make sure children from 5-14 get good training and get to know we are a family club that looks after its people. They get to learn the game well, to be introduced to sport, to work with others. Things that will help them.
I’m curious to know how many other pro clubs in Europe do this.
And why can’t we?