The STATE of Soccer in WASHINGTON
Over recent years there has been one talking point in Washington youth soccer that keeps coming back time after time. It’s the migrating of clubs away from Washington Youth Soccer (US Soccer) and to US Club Soccer. The goalWA.net doors are always open to hear from all “sides” of this division at the youth level, but many prefer to post anonymously on forums. Now we have someone willing to go on record and share first-hand knowledge of the journey away from Washington Youth Soccer.
Catching up: Washington Youth Soccer is the giant of our state youth soccer scene, running the leagues of most of our clubs and holding tournaments, setting rules, supplying officials, monitoring the associations. US Club Soccer is not connected directly with US Youth Soccer like Washington Youth Soccer is. In Washington, US Club Soccer clubs can participate in the Puget Sound Premier League (PSPL). Clubs registered with Washington Youth Soccer may field teams in the Regional Clubs League (RCL). Which ever organization your club lines up with, that is where a portion of your yearly player fees go. Clubs are allowed to register players under both in order to cross-compete.
Kajumulo FC is a small youth club that was caught up in the Seattle United transition and eventually aligned with US Club Soccer. Steve Murray is a team manager and parent at the club and shares below what it has been like since his club made the move.
From the club: Based in the north end of Seattle Washington, Kajumulo FC provides world class training and development to players that are enthusiastic about developing their full potential on and off the soccer field. We are a small, non-profit organization committed to promoting the game of soccer and providing opportunities to youth from all backgrounds and financial circumstances. Kajumulo FC is an independent club registered with US Club Soccer and affiliated with Seattle Soccer Club.
From Washington Youth Soccer to US Club Soccer
by Steve Murray (Team Manager and parent at Kajumulo FC)
We joined the club we’re in, Kajumulo FC, a little over a year ago when my oldest daughter joined Farasi 95, a U15 girls team and one of two teams at the time (the other being a boys team called Tembo 95) in the club. We’ve since expanded to include a boys and girls team at U13, called Tembo 98 and Farasi 98 respectively, and may add another younger Farasi team. I manage Farasi 98. So, while I’ve received a pretty quick education, I’m still a noob when it comes to the world of select soccer. As a result, since I was still a happy parent of two rec. players when our club made the switch to US Club, I can only really give perspective on what it is like playing in US Club today.
The other issue is that our Seattle based club didn’t have a choice to leave WSYSA leagues; we were collateral damage when SYSA formed Seattle United. Or, in other words, we were the baby when they threw out the Emerald City FC (ECFC) bathwater. SYSA’s message of, “We are them, they are us, you will be assimilated…” meant that we and all the other independent teams and clubs had to go play in the PSPL. Our SU option was we could disband and our coach apply for a job with SU and our players try out for SU teams.
So, what is it like being in US Club? A lot of fun, as a matter of fact. There are several unique characteristics to playing in US Club which we’ve found to be very enjoyable and rewarding.
First, we’re able to control our own destiny and create the kind of development environment we want. This is very vague, I realize, but very important. What it means in practice is that we pick families to join our community because they’re a good fit for the long term. We can choose to take a season and lose every game because we’re teaching players to play all positions. We can stay small and choose to add teams or coaches only when it works for everyone. Coaches can treat each individual player as a long term development project. Children don’t have to worry about competing against their friends for tryout spots. If a child has the desire, we can give them the chance to learn and play competitive soccer.
We’re trying to create lifelong soccer players who play to their highest potential, not win silverware, and the parents are on board with that. A teammate’s individual development is more important than winning a game, and the players and parents are on board with that. We share the ideal that, “Win, lose, or tie; we always put a smile on the kids’ face.” I don’t know if you could get this kind of small club in WSYSA, but I know you can in US Club.
Second, we can control our own costs. I don’t know exactly what Seattle United charges, but I believe we’re significantly less. Our team fees are $1,450 a year. This covers pretty much everything including:
Additional costs are $55 for uniforms, which are socks, two jerseys, two practice t-shirts, and shorts. Players only have to buy them once, or if they outgrow or wear them out. We strongly believe families shouldn’t have to buy hundreds of dollars of expensive gear to play soccer.
We also offer some camps during breaks, or occasional one on one training. These are usually $20 an hour. We also don’t charge for “player evaluations.” We may also do some supplementary tournaments. We just charge whatever the costs are for this, prorated per player.
Also, the flexible structure of US Club allows us to be more inclusive of different kinds of players from all over Seattle area, especially players of different ethnicities. Again, I’m not saying that you can’t find that in WSYSA programs, only that I know that not having geographic monopolies has given us that needed flexibility to draw families from where ever it makes the best fit for them.
Finally, while we only have the realistic option of the PSPL for league play, we do have the flexibility to enter whatever tournaments we wish, or, in theory, other leagues if they were practical. I’m trying to convince our families we need to do a tournament in Hawaii!
I remember having Seattle United and the Seamless Soccer rationale explained to me by an SYSA official. The best players should play on the best teams and have the best coaches. There needed to be one training curriculum, and teams and coaches would be recast every year at tryouts, so that the same teams under the same coaches didn’t get “stuck in a rut” and the better players could be moved up and the weaker players moved down. Finally, I was offered as evidence that there was a problem with ECFC and as justification for the change, was that ECFC simply wasn’t winning enough. Given Seattle’s huge player pool, we should be dominating tournaments and winning championships. At the time I thought this made a lot of sense.
After we actually joined a select team, however, I began to see that there are other alternative development models which also offer great opportunities for kids to play and learn soccer. I think there’s a lot of potential in the Seamless Soccer model and in giant programs like Seattle United. They probably do offer an efficient development route for identifying and grouping elite players. However, I don’t believe the trade off of trying to suppress alternatives is justified. First, having alternative coaching styles and methods is healthy, it seems to me, and a wider spectrum also makes it more likely to catch late bloomers, avoids creating an archetype of player, and appeals to a more culturally diverse population.
Most importantly though, having options appeals to families and children. The kids just want to play soccer and get better, but the overwhelming majority want to do so with their friends who share the same passion. It may not be true for the highest level elite player, but almost every kid on every team I know is amazingly loyal to their team. Creating rules and structure to beat that out of them is only going to result in reduced overall participation.
I remember in my coaching class being told our job was to get the kids playing soccer and to do what we could to make it easy for kids to play. The goal should be to expand overall participation in soccer and encourage that through the higher select levels. Trying to create soccer monopolies and exclude any alternatives doesn’t do that.
I’d not really care, since we’re content in US Club, but as the largest entity in the state it seems like WSYSA and, locally, SYSA, are missing an opportunity to further promote soccer. It also runs the risk of casting those of us who choose some alternative as becoming “threats,” or the “enemy,” thus creating more extreme attempts at exclusion and marginalization, and ill will. Ultimately that weakens everybody.
Part of what I love about soccer, in addition to the basic drama and sport of the play itself, is how it can create a sense of community around it. At its best it can be a bond of friends and neighbors that represents a local community, but also ties together diverse communities in a shared love of the World’s Game. At Kajumulo FC we’ve been able to create a community that serves our families in the way we like because of the flexibility of US Club. In other words, we’re all having a lot of fun!