Youth Development Is Not Important

If there's one thing that infuriates me, it's when someone tries to get cheap hits for their crummy little blog.  I mean, just today I saw someone try to pass of a transparent bit of click-baiting called "Youth Development Is Not Important."  Come on, show some pride.  If you're a halfway decent writer, you should be able to attract readers through the quality of your work, not by hackneyed manipulation.

Or take this Youtube video, from something called "Major League Soccer."  The title is "When will MLS produce its own Messi?"  As always, the comments are well-thought out and absolutely worth every second of your time - in fact, I predict they will one day be taught in schools.  If you would like to read more on the subject - because Christ, why WOULDN'T you? - please do bask in Jon Townsend's response to MLS, and Beau Dure's response to Townsend, and then dive into Twitter and call down lightning upon your enemies.

Me, I tend to skim stuff like this.  Asking a youth academy to produce a player on that kind of level is one of the truly ridiculous rhetorical blitherings of the age.  How many academies are there in the world?  How many academies in the history of the world have produced a player on Messi's level?  The modern World Cup is about depth - Brazil produced a Neymar this time around, after all, and then everything went black. 

Besides, not only is talent on that level as rare as it is sublime, but the very idea of saying something that majestic can be "produced" is an affront.  It's also more than a little disrespectful to the talent in question.  A player with that amount of talent and desire couldn't be prevented from superstardom.  I suppose people with mechanical minds want to build mechanical men, and one day Kurt Vonnegut's prediction will come true, and all sports will be played by robots.  Or perhaps we will grow these players in labs, like in "Brave New World." 

But I also skim stuff like this because youth development is tangential to the fan experience.  Youth development comes after a healthy club/team/franchise/whatever is established, not before.

People forget this - a lot - but if fans don't buy tickets for it, and sponsors don't sponsor it, then a youth development academy is just another after-school activity.  Which are wonderful and important for getting kids out of the streets and pool halls and baseball fields, but we are not here to make society better.  We are soccer fans.

Let's pretend you are a Galaxy fan - because if you're not, well, that's your problem, isn't it? I didn't tell you to make a big fat mess of your life, did I?  Anyway, let's pretend like any sensible person that you're a Galaxy fan.  And you're cheering on the good sportsmanship and fair play and, most of all, the players who represent you, the Southern Californian and/or shameless frontrunner.  There's Landon of Redlands, of course, local boy made great.  Then there's Robbie Keane, signed from our youth academy in Ireland.  And all of our homegrown products, such as Juninho and Omar Gonzalez and Jaime Penedo.

Hey, wait.  It just occurred to me...some of those guys don't even LIVE in Carson. 

Yeah, I'm thrilled LA Galaxy II did so well in USL Pro.  But I want LA Galaxy I to win first and foremost.  I can point to a number of players on LA and say "Built Not Bought!" to our arch-rivals in Seattle, but it's not any more sincere or sensible than when San Antonio Spurs fans do it to David Beckham's future fans.  I don't care where the players come from, as long as they perform well for "us."  Having great young players is, well, great.  But my owner is a billionaire several times over.  If the academy stalls and the drafts start to go bad, he knows what to do.

The fan experience comes first.  It has to.  Build the nifty stadium first.  Sell the jerseys first.  Get the supporters section going first.  Hell, I think a supporters group is much more important week in and week out than a youth academy.  The supporters pay for every game and bring friends, they buy crap to the point where it's their whole wardrobe, they're your unpaid evangelists.  The youth prospect?  He'll bring his family.

You still have that look on your face.  If only there were a way I can point to an American league outside the clutches of single entity that nevertheless fails to make youth development a priority over oh here we go.

Atlanta, Minnesota and Indy have youth camps.  Tampa Bay has partnered with a pre-existing local youth club.  Carolina offers a weekly "Elite Technique" supplement to club soccer.  This summer Jacksonville offered clinics co-sponsored with Real Madrid, for some reason.  San Antonio has an academy that, like Tampa Bay's partner, belongs to the US Soccer Development Academy.  I didn't see anything for Ft. Lauderdale or Virginia.  And this is the link for the New York Cosmos academy.

[EDIT - I have since found out, to my absolute horror, that the Cosmos let Peppe Pinton keep using their name for his series of sleepover camps.  Look, everyone, a state-of-the-art cafeteria!] 

Ottawa and Edmonton, on the other hand, do seem to have highly ambitious plans for their academies.  Well, when Canada becomes the region and the world's next great power, we can thank NASL for helping to destroy American soccer, I guess.

"But Dan, these clubs are only 45 minutes old and" whoa there, Nelly.  I thought youth development was the foundation of the game!  Now all of a sudden it isn't?  What is one to think?  That people are just using youth development as a club to beat MLS with?  Heaven forfend!

Besides, there is historically one system of athletic development that was unparalleled in human history.  If we want to win the World Cup - truly, seriously, deep in our hearts want to win the World Cup - then let's adopt the East German model.

Hey, it worked.  They didn't apply their tactics to soccer, because the Olympics only awarded one gold medal for one sport, training Übermenschen (and, I guess, Überwomenschen) (well, more or less women) was more cost-effective for individual pursuits like swimming and gymnastics.  But there's no question their tactics would work for us.  Do we have the will?

What?  Oh, like we're not talking about youth development?  Have we not been reading for years how if we want elite players, we have to subject kids from 11-15 to "Intense Technical Work and Competition"?  (Page 45, if the link is iffy.)  Can't have Hunger Games without shooting a few arrows, right?

This country has been obsessed with "What if our best athletes played Candy Crush" for decades now.  It's time to understand and accept that converting the sport into a never-ending series of toddler pageants does nothing for fans, demeans the players, and puts hilariously unreasonable expectations on coaches.  

And even if we got what we think we're wishing for - where are Argentinos Juniors today?  I'll watch adults, thanks.