Re-born In the USA

5 min read
Check out this blog†on Talkingbaws.com by Craig Hughes, from FirstPoint USA Clearing team. Craig enjoyed success as Team Captain (soccer) of the Vikings at Grand View University, a scholarship he secured through FirstPoint USA. In this article, Craig discusses the differences between studying and playing football (soccer) in the UK to the USA. †In this article, he talks of his experiences about youth development in the States from high school, as opposed to what he experienced in Scotland, before he lived in the USA. Check out the blog, amongst others†here "For years we have ridiculed America for their butchering of the beautiful game they like to call ďsoccer.Ē Since the introduction of the MLS in 1993, the Americans have been playing catch up with the rest of the football world, however after years of investment, promotion and emphasis on youth development now it could be us that are looking across the pond for inspiration. Letís first of all look at the differences in development at high school level. In the UK athletically gifted kids are given a choice; either focus on your sport, or focus on school, there is no balance. Some leave school at the age of 16 with dreams of going pro, only to be let go by the age of 18 with no qualifications to fall back on. Others are advised to stop living in a dream world, let football take a back seat and focus on your studies. Why canít they do both? In the US the set up is completely different, high school sports are taken very seriously. They have at least one full-time coach, training and weight lifting regimes and top class facilities. The incentive for the kids to get involved is the opportunity to play at college and then possibly go on to play professional. There is also the aspect of being well-respected and popular around the school. An incentive for parents is if they do well in high school sports, there is a good chance they will get college scholarship offers, making their education a lot more affordable and giving them the opportunity to progress as both a student and an athlete. Last year I attended a high school game between Johnston and Urbandale in Des Moines, Iowa. The difference between this and Kilsyth Academy versus St Maurices (schools in Scotland) was frightening! The game was played on a Friday night under the floodlights, in a 1000 plus all seated stadium system in front of a huge crowd of families and students. At Kilsyth academy we had a crowd of around 5 neds, a blaze pitch complete with bits of broken glass and stones and the occasional dog turd. There is a common feeling that high school players in the US have it too easy. They have the great facilities, their name read out and a picture of them on the scoreboard when they come onto the pitch. They are pampered like full-time professionals from an early age, they donít know what itís like to play on a freezing Saturday morning away to Castlemilk. The shouts they receive from the fans and coaches are all of encouragement and praise. They have never had a character building rollicking, known as ďconstructive criticismĒ from an irate coach or parent after a poor performance. This idea in my opinion is totally inaccurate. Although they donít receive the same sort of abuse and criticism from the sidelines, they are taught from an early age that without working hard you wonít get anywhere in life. You play for four years at high school, as a freshman (1st year student) you must work your way into the team, you will face competition from the older more experienced, bigger, stronger kids and you must prove yourself to be worthy of a place. You may not even make the squad until your third or fourth year. The importance of education and discipline is also drilled into these kids, if they are failing classes they will be removed from the team. Many great Scottish prospects seem to burn out at an early age; they lose enthusiasm for the game and become disillusioned or lead astray and American high school kids have the same distractions, however they have an environment which encourages them to stay focussed. Generally, American players are so committed to working hard in the gym and eating the right things, this is emphasised to them from an early age. It is easy to see the benefits later on in their career, look at the top American players like Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, not just footballers but athletes. Itís no coincidence these guys play for longer, and generally donít suffer as many niggling injuries. Letís compare that to the West of Scotland lifestyle of Buckfast and fish suppers with an attitude that no matter how unfit you are natural ability will see you through. I am not for one minute saying the Americanís have this sport completely figured out, and with sports like basketball, baseball and American football taking centre stage, they probably never will embrace football quite like us. I am not naive enough to think that in this current economic climate anyone is in a position to throw huge amounts of money at the problem, nor can attitudes be changed overnight, so to completely emulate the US system would be totally unrealistic. However with the current dire situation of Scottish football, we must turn our attention to youth and building for the future. Maybe we can learn a thing or two from the land of opportunity."

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