How the US soccer audience is inhibiting change in the youth development system

By Ivan Camillo

How the US soccer audience is inhibiting change in the youth development system

The “soccer mom” culture in the US makes up a significantly large audience that is prone to buy developmental tools and games for their kids in the 4 to 10 year-old age group. This young soccer mom audience is the one that drives most soccer training sales. Market researchers call the transitional period of a young woman becoming a mother the “maternal pride phenomenon”. It is this early mom period where young women are most susceptible to making purchases based on pride for their babies, including any training equipment and developmental tools to make their kid the very best they can be at their sport.

The particular gap period in which soccer moms are most likely to purchase excess training equipment and player development tools usually lasts between four and six years, gradually decreasing each year. The economy-driven United States has pounced on this information to turn such motherly instincts into booming business. Business wise, there is a great opportunity in potential sales of private training, training equipment, player development tools, and any other products or services that can help the players improve performance during this period. 

Market Researchers have also found a decrease on the size of the soccer audience as a whole after age 10. By age 14 the audience of soccer players willing to buy extra training equipment, private training sessions, and pay for spots on travel teams reduces to the point it can be considered a niche in the US soccer market. Why does this transition happen? Primarily due to two factors; the players age (since they no longer rely on their parents to make the decision for them on whether they want to keep playing or not), and the families monetary situation. This niche market exists in the US because soccer has transformed in this country in a way that it does not work globally – youth soccer revolves around generating good money, not good players. 

Hope Solo put it best when she described the current state of soccer in the US as “a rich, white kid sport”. With a pay-to-play system in place, the older a player who wants to continue playing the sport gets, the more money their parents have to drop each year to ensure that their kid doesn’t fall behind from his or her peers. This money goes to joining “prestigious” club teams, traveling for games, getting extra private training sessions, and so on. But what happens to the families that can’t afford these luxuries? In other countries, it doesn’t matter. Good players are recruited to the best clubs and given opportunities to play regardless of their monetary situation. In the US it is the opposite as the players have to seek out the best clubs and shell out a few thousand dollars a year just for a spot on the team. In other countries, families that have this same type of money can put it towards much more beneficial training equipment like private sessions, development tools, extra gear, etc., all while still affording to keep their kid on a good club team.

The irony of it all is that although soccer is the biggest and most famous brand to ever exist in sports on a global scale, the most powerful and commercially equipped nation in the global sports industry is the slowest in the race of proper youth soccer development. The current nature of the US soccer audience, young moms and wealthy families, will continue to be the primary reason that change towards a better nationwide youth development system will be a slow and painful process. In the United States soccer is a business, not a sport.

Edited by: Cole Thornton


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