"They give the sport up as teenagers"

Discussion in 'Soccer in the USA' started by Stan Collins, Apr 21, 2007.

  1. Stan Collins

    Stan Collins Member+

    Feb 26, 1999
    Silver Spring, MD
    You've probably heard the theory from soccer skeptics many times before that soccer is a popular sport for kids, but they give up the sport as teenagers. It's usually argued that this demonstrates a lack of real cultural affinity for the sport in the US.

    I decided to check this theory out by examining high school participation statistics. There's a handy database located at the National Federation of State High School Associations.


    What I found is that soccer participation in High School relative to other sports ranks behind that of younger age groups, but the gap is closing. Boys high school soccer is "catching on."

    Derived from that database, here is a list in the changes of participation rates in selected major boys sports between '79/'80 and '04/'05, the most recent year for which the data is available.

    Sport      79/'80  04/'05 % Change
    Baseball  415860  459717  10.55%
    Bsktbll   569228  545497  -4.17%
    Crss Ctry 163094  201719  23.68%
    Football  937677  1045494 11.50%
    Golf      117273  161025  37.31%
    Swm/Divg  84204  103754  23.22%
    Tennis    131290  148530  13.13%
    Track     524890  516703  -1.56%
    Wrestling 273326  243009 -11.09%
    Soccer    133649 354587 165.31%
    One interesting thing in particular that I found was that soccer is gaining on baseball. The following images represent the long term growth trend (back to '69/'70), and an extrapolation into the future based on them.

    View attachment 2925

    View attachment 2926

    Fascinating conclusion here: soccer will catch and pass baseball in about a dozen years. For some reason my image file cropped the years off, but the anticipated date based on a linear trend line including all the data happened to be roughly 2018.

    (I should not I did this on OpenOffice, which seems to lack a few features of Excel. On Excel, I was kinder to baseball, ignoring some of the early years of the data series to get a higher r-squared value put the date back a couple years from there).

    Also interesting to note that if the current trends held long enough, soccer would eventually even pass basketball, though that would take a lot longer. We'll all be dead by the time it catches football.
    Sawedoff repped this.
  2. Bjorn Taroque

    Bjorn Taroque New Member

    Jan 18, 2006
    Louisville, KY
    This really doesn't surprise me. In a lot of ways, I feel like baseball is sort of hanging on by a few threads (at least to its relative position over other American sports). It's a sport that's liked mainly by older men. It was THE American sport throughout the 60s and 70s, and anyone growing up at that time is still a big fan. But I don't think it's catching the younger generation of players and spectators.

    It'll be interesting to see what happens as more and more young athletes see financial opportunity in professional soccer in the USA.
  3. Stan Collins

    Stan Collins Member+

    Feb 26, 1999
    Silver Spring, MD
    Actually, though, if you look at the last 25 years, baseball is not the sport that soccer has gained the most on, it's just the one it was closest to back then. I also found it culturally significant that soccer is close to passing baseball. It's gained more ground on basketball during that time, it's just that in 1980, basketball was way, way ahead.

    Interestingly, if you factored for population growth, soccer is probably the only sport that's significantly more popular now than then. Maybe golf.
  4. Raider Power

    Raider Power Member

    Feb 23, 2006
    Houston Dynamo
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Good bit of research there. The thing that will hamstring the sport to an extent in this country is the lack of high level secondary leagues and academies as is the case in Europe. All MLS teams are developing their reserves and academy systems, but the number of players in those systems is tiny at this point. Plus, there is a paradigm in place when it comes to scholarship sports in this country. Players like Hodges Mitchell, who was a very promising player as a high schooler, look at the vast opportunities to get a full ride to play other sports, in his case, D1 football at Texas. Most would say that our college system cannot be the means to develop world class talent, so if a kid has an opportunity to play football, he may forego playing soccer because he does not have nearly as many opportunities to continue playing past high school.

    Another thing that has to shift fairly significantly is the idea on the part of parents that their kids need to go to college to continue their athletic career. It may be that these you players like Lionel Messi are continuing some kind of academic progress when they get taken in by the big clubs, but I would guess they are not working on degrees. Now truth be told, the elite athletes that take part in basketball, football, baseball, etc at the college level are often only working to get that pro paycheck, but only a miniscule number actually get there. In the end, many actually end up with a degree. Changing that mindset to allow gifted youngsters a chance to develop their skills, potentially at the expense of their long term education, will be difficult.
  5. Stan Collins

    Stan Collins Member+

    Feb 26, 1999
    Silver Spring, MD
    Yeah, I don't think this phenomenon bodes very much for the pro game. (If I did, I'd probably have put it in an MLS-related forum). Where I think it has relevance is as a cultural phenomenon.

    A lack of participation by older teens has been offered by soccer's critics both as evidence for, and a cause of, the lack of popularity of the pro game in this country. Something like "the parents make them play, but once they can choose they go to other sports, meaning they don't really care about soccer."

    So the natural question follows: when we get to the point where there really were lots of high school players--and we are gettting to that point, will there be more fans? I personally don't think it's quite that simple, but I think it might help, and it certainly helps dispel some of the myths.
  6. Bjorn Taroque

    Bjorn Taroque New Member

    Jan 18, 2006
    Louisville, KY
    You're right, it's not that simple, but like you say, it'll do nothing but help. Soccer needs more "older" players (not just kiddies), but it also needs to develop pure spectator value. Countless numbers of people follow the NFL and college football, and even basketball and baseball, who have never played those sports in their lives. Soccer wouldn't be on the center stage even if everyone who played it also watched it.

    But it certainly can't hurt. More kids playing in high school means more parents watching them play, and more friends watching them play. Those people can develop a love for watching the game and following a team.
  7. ClarkC

    ClarkC Member

    Dec 28, 2005
    All sports lose participation as kids age. It has been pointed out many times that many more kids play tee-ball than high school age baseball, etc. When young, parents sign kids up for 3-4 sports to expose them to various sports, find out what their talents and interests are, and get them off the couch. As they age, they cannot keep playing 3-4 sports, because the teams don't keep limiting their practices to one per week, seasons overlap more, high level leagues go almost year round in many sports, etc.

    So, all the angst over how many rec league soccer players we have at U8 vs. how few we still have in the club at U18 is based on tunnel visions. It says nothing about what we are doing wrong, why we are "driving away" players, or why it must be the case that as soon as kids can choose, they stop playing soccer in particular.

    The really interesting data would be the ratios of U8 to U18 for a large number of sports.
  8. Mike22

    Mike22 New Member

    Nov 8, 2005
    Tampa-->KC, Mo
    I think predictions of baseball's demise are premature. I wouldn't be surprised to see some contraction, but many teams in MLB are as entrenched in the local culture as soccer teams in Europe. And while many new immigrants are soccer fans, an equal amount (or close to it) are baseball fans. I have Cuban and Venezualan friends that don't care that much about soccer but love watching baseball.

    Seems like American football is only getting stronger, with the Arena League even getting great attendances and decent ratings.

    Soccer still has a while before its one of the big boys, but I do believe that bringing in more big name foreign players (in smart ways) will help the league grow stronger, faster
  9. Intru

    Intru Member

    Mar 16, 2006
    Rochester, NY
    Puerto Rico Islanders
    Cuba and Venezuela are baseball countries, I would be surprised if you said something like Argentinian and T&T.
  10. Sean 094

    Sean 094 Member

    Nov 15, 2004
    What sport other than soccer has the parents take the kids out to their youth games, or travel games, all day Saturday and/or Sunday, including spending a wad of cash on travel, food and fees.
    This might partly explain why many of them don't become fans of the pro game. How many of them, after youth games all day long, sit down and watch and MLS game? Or pay to see one, for that matter?
    Baseball still owns the tradition of dad taking his kids to the game, whether it be majors or minor leagues.
    I wouldn't say it's necessarily a matter of teenagers losing interest as they get older. How many of their parents actually took them to a pro game? There's no tradition established, therefore none to carry on.
    That's got to be part of it.

    HSEUPASSION New Member

    Apr 16, 2005
    Duck, NC
    Basketball, to an extent, has that youth culture. It's the most played sport at youth level. It sees a drop off later too, but makes up for it by having an established pro league. So you're right there.
  12. rwinbladus

    rwinbladus New Member

    Oct 30, 2006
    Great research and valid point. The effort to bring men's varsity soccer to the Big XII (http://big12menssoccer.blogspot.com) might also help the trend. For example Texas is one of the biggest soccer playing states yet only SMU has a men's team. By high school most kids narrow their participation to one sport. Many dream of playing a sport at the college level so a choice is made between soccer and a college sport.
  13. Dr. Wankler

    Dr. Wankler Member+

    May 2, 2001
    The Electric City
    Chicago Fire

    As of right now, we have too many college programs given the lack of talent. Maybe in the future there'll be enough good players that we can have as many Division I soccer programs as there are DI basketball programs, but the talent is so diluted right now that the NCAA Soccer championship is rarely compelling, and certainly not a big spectator attraction. That being the case, the last thing we need are MORE programs. Not until we have more excellent players. And excellent players aren't the majority of those leaving the game.

    Anyway, back to the best thread we've had in this forum in quite some time.
  14. Joe Stoker

    Joe Stoker Member

    Mar 10, 2003
    Today's not much different in some sense than 20, 30+ years ago: Good young US soccer players buckle to peer pressure and financial realities. HS coaches, recruiters, and non-soccer parents lean on the kids to play their talents in "traditional" sports that lead to big scholarships.

    Can speak with some degree of authority based on personal experience that soccer will indeed not touch American football in our lifetime: 75,000 at OSU grid spring scrimmage(!) at the horseshoe in Columbus Saturday. What're the Crew drawing these days?

    Excellent thread Stan and all. Much appreciated.
  15. Raider Power

    Raider Power Member

    Feb 23, 2006
    Houston Dynamo
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Yeah, that was amazing especially when you consider people were charged $5 a piece to get in. 92,000 at Alabama's spring game over the weekend (no charge) and turning away thousands more.
  16. JohnR

    JohnR Member+

    Jun 23, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    I don't think it would be possible to get 92,000 people to watch two U.S. soccer teams compete, at any price.
  17. Justin O

    Justin O Member+

    Seattle Sounders
    United States
    Nov 30, 1998
    Quebec City
    Not even if it was "Jimmy Conrad autographed $100 bill night"?
  18. JohnR

    JohnR Member+

    Jun 23, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    Nope. But I think the SI swimsuit model nude soccer face-off would get the job done.
  19. zeusbrowne

    zeusbrowne New Member

    Dec 12, 2006
    West Orange, NJ
    Would that be the one with the "painted on uniforms" v skins

    or are they just going shaved v full:D

    Either way I want the pictures on Chicks and Soccer Balls pronto
  20. BigKeeper

    BigKeeper Member

    Mar 1, 2006
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Some of my theories of why some American kids may leave Soccer:

    -It's not supported in their home. I see so many young players whose dad's only talk about Pro Football/Gridiron games, Basketball, Hockey etc.to the other dads. To these kids Soccer doesn't seem like the real deal like the other sports.

    - In the early years, the quickest kids are the smaller kids or the early puberty kids. Bigger kids and late bloomers don't feel the success enough early on. These kids go on to play Football, Baseball or any other sport where they may find it easier to be successful. We then write about them in threads saying why don't the best American athletes play Soccer.

    - On the reverse side of the last reason, early maturers parents think their kid is a super athlete because of his physical dominance at U13-U14 Soccer that they sign him up for Football with dreams of him making the NFL. Only to find that he stopped growing in the 7th grade while many others keep going through High School.

    - The spread of the Soccer bashing from the un-educated adult Soccer haters(your Jim Romes, Baseball and Football dads who don't know the game etc) to the younger kids who then pass the un-educated bashing on in the middle schools and beyond. My elementary school kid has already had arguments defending Soccer against kids that have been told lies by their dads about how wimpy the game is, you can't touch anybody, it's a girls game, all the typical crap. They start to not believe in Soccer and it's re-affirmed by rarely seeing it on TV (for those who don't have FSC, GolTV etc.)

    - They're just not good enough at it. This will happen in all sports. Some kids
    may just not have the coordination with their feet but have it with their hands. Many people may just not be genetically cut out for Soccer and they may be better suited for other sports.

    - All common sense I guess but since I typed all of this I'm gonna go ahead and post it anyway.
  21. JohnR

    JohnR Member+

    Jun 23, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    Bingo. Close the thread.
  22. kjksccr

    kjksccr Member

    Feb 25, 1999
    San Carlos, CA
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    What is funny about that sentiment is that most sports get a HUGE drop off from middle school to high shool. Everyone plays little league but not everyone goes to Pony or on to play high school baseball.

    I rarely waste my breath anymore. There is more soccer on t.v. than ever, more dollars being spent on soccer than ever and more Americans kids playing soccer than ever. They can yelp all they want but it isn't going anywhere.
  23. Stan Collins

    Stan Collins Member+

    Feb 26, 1999
    Silver Spring, MD
    Yeah, and it's an annoying Catch-22 that college ADs will use this as a reason why they won't offer these selfsame scholarships.

    Another way of looking at it is if high school soccer's very high growth rate continued another 25 years and football's growth just stopped (which we have no reason to believe it will), they'd still be 100,000 ahead.

    Indeed, I sent this not only to the people running that campaign, but also to a reporter at the Houston Chronicle who had written about the subject. He said it interested him, and he was going to pitch it as a story (more of a "research piece" though, so you're not going to see it appear tomorrow).

    Perhaps, but noted above is the extent to which the demand can create its own supply, because so many parents are focused on getting heir kids scholarships.

    Also, note . .. if this is a problem now, it's certainly not as much of one as it was in 1980 when there were just about the same number of college programs but less than half the high school students (now, the real feeder system for colleges is the select travelling clubs, but I suspect that phenomenon has grown even more over the period).

    In fact, with enough programs, college soccer could split into I-A and I-AA like football, forcing the better programs to play each other and effectively concentrating the talent.

    But as I say, I'm more interested in what happens when people start noticing that kids aren't giving up soccer in the teenage years nearly as often as they used to, nor much more often than any other sports. That is increasingly the case with each passing year. (I'm also interested in whether the teens who keep playing to age 18 are more likely to become fans of the pro game than the ones who'd given it up at 12. I suspect that all other things being equal, they probably are.)
  24. salvikicks

    salvikicks Member+

    Mar 6, 2006
    Los Angeles
    Los Angeles Galaxy
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    i dont want to get into stereotypes but in my brothers middle school hes says he plays pick games (and it sucks because his middle school doesnt even have a soccer team only basketball ) during lunch and lately they have like 15 black kids playing with them his friends are hispanic i hope all those kids that are joining him in the pick up games stick to the sport. if we have alot more minority kids keep playing the level if soccer in this country can really improve. most kids that are playing right now are either kids of parents who came from another country came came from somewhere else themselves most black kids where i live see it as oh thats a game for mexicans or white people and most white kidsmight see it as a sport for panys since theyre dads grew when almost didnt exist here i think there ARE lot of kids playing soccer but i think maybe most of those kids are put on teams as just a recreation as an activity cuz theyre parents just see it as a light sport as they get older there isnt a reason for them to keep playing during the world cup my brother asked the teacher to turn on the ghana-usa match some black kids were surprised to see onyewu beasly and johnson i dont think theres any motivation for those 12 year old growing up who barely know anything of the sport maybe youth soccer federations should team up with after school programs like a city wide thing the are players out there undiscovered beacuse their schools dont even have teams i dont know is just something i wanted to get out of my system
  25. Dr. Wankler

    Dr. Wankler Member+

    May 2, 2001
    The Electric City
    Chicago Fire

    I'm with you on this thread. The gist of my post is directed at a poster who borderline trolls, looking for opportunities to push his petition for Big 12 soccer. Ultimately, though, I still don't think we need more programs, not just because the players aren't there, but because the fans aren't there. When the NCAA soccer championships can put on something like Omaha for the CWS, or the lacrosse championships, or the Frozen Four, then this won't be an issue: schools will fight to put programs in Division One.

    Now, an obvious response is that lacrosse and hockey have regional appeal that helps them generate good crowds for their NCAA championships. True. But college soccer doesn't even have that. There is no place in the country where you can get consistently impressive crowds for the college soccer championship. When (or if) college soccer can consistently get the kinds of crowds at their championship matches that make ADs stand up and say, "I want some of that," then NCAA soccer will get the kind of support it needs.

    In short, given how little fan interest there is in college soccer, we're lucky to have the number of programs we have.

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