Three years ago, US Club Soccer began its ambitious journey to fundamentally change the club soccer experience for players and parents. The Players First philosophy of holistic development – supported by the pillars of Club Development, Coaching Development, Player Development, Parent Engagement & Education and Player Health & Safety – immediately became a guide in youth soccer.
Along the way, US Club Soccer also welcomed numerous best-in-class resources and partners that share its commitment. These resources continue to be used by forward-thinking clubs, coaches, parents and players around the country.
And now, with less than a week until the highly anticipated launch of Players First licensing, US Club Soccer prepares to take the next step in rewarding clubs that have successfully established a Players First culture. On Oct. 15, clubs will be invited to complete an application, providing details about their club that demonstrate commitment to the five pillars. Approved clubs receive the benefits of Players First licensing, including immediate recognition – both nationally and locally – as a club that is creating the best possible environment for players and their families.
Tuesday, US Club Soccer released a Q&A of its CEO and Executive Director, Kevin Payne, about what Players First licensing means in youth soccer. Now, C2SA Executive Vice President and US Club Soccer advisor Christian Lavers explains how Players First licensed clubs can lead the youth soccer landscape.
Question: How can club standards, like Players First licensing, have the biggest impact throughout the country?
Lavers: There are definitely certain activities, programs, processes and methodologies that every youth club should have within their organization and embedded in their staff. There is so much subjective analysis about the game and about clubs, especially in development and from people that may not have a lot of personal experience in the sport, so having some guidelines about basic best practices is helpful. There is a great need for better teaching, coaching and development in youth soccer, and part of helping that improvement occur is providing different metrics and standards for clubs to meet.
Question: What is unique about Players First licensing?
Lavers: Certainly the concept of standards or best practices is not unique in itself. I think the broad scope of the Players First licensing, however, is unique. The process considers not just coaching education and development, but also health and safety, parent education and engagement, and more. This is not a program that looks at short-term wins and losses, and it is not a program that focuses solely on the coaching on the field – it is a broader look at the organization and its commitment to development and education.
Question: As a Director of Coaching, what do you see as the most valuable aspect of club standards and being Players First licensed?
Lavers: Benchmarking is a common practice in most industries, but unfortunately, it is not common in youth sports. In some ways, club standards provide a benchmarking process where information, resources and best practices can be shared across youth soccer, and where clubs can self-assess and reflect on areas where they can and need to do more or better. I would hope this type of process is not viewed as a have or have-not issue, but instead as a way to raise the bar across the industry, and a push for more clubs to raise their own expectations and quality.
Question: Soccer in the U.S. has a large dropout rate around the age of 13, and it’s one of the biggest challenges the game faces in developing world-class players. How could club standards processes like Players First help lead the way in reducing that dropout rate?
Lavers: So much of the discussion regarding the drop-out rate in soccer, and more broadly in youth sports in general, is full of sound-bites and thin analysis. Cutting to the core of the issue, one of the most important factors impacting drop-out in any activity, sport or other, is enjoyment – and enjoyment is tied to competence. A better development process – including better coaching, better training of coaches and more resources for the player through collateral programming and support – will help the daily environment be more educational and stimulating, the player to learn faster and to experience the joy of progress, and ultimately to want to keep playing longer.
A National Association member of the U.S. Soccer Federation, US Club Soccer fosters the growth and development of soccer clubs in order to create the best possible environment for players of all ages.
Anchored by Players First and its five pillars of Club Development, Coaching Development, Player Development, Parent Engagement & Education and Player Health & Safety, US Club Soccer offers registration, league- and cup-based competition platforms, player identification and a variety of other programming, resources and services.
US Club Soccer is sponsored by Nike and supported by LaLiga through a technical partnership.