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Travel soccer is an alternate reality of soccer culture in the USA


This past month has been a whirlwind for me. My 11-year-old daughter is on a travel soccer team, and now has also been selected to play for her middle school team. The additional responsibility means that her already congested soccer schedule has more than doubled, which makes life even crazier for me, taking her to practices, games and tournaments. Not that I’m complaining, because I love it and she thoroughly enjoys playing.

To give you an idea of a typical week, she has 2 games per week for her school team in addition to 3 training sessions. Then for her travel team, she has practices 3 nights a week, sometimes 4. On weekends, she plays — on average — 2 games for her travel team. But sometimes that has risen to 3 or 4 games if she has a tournament.

In all, she’s participating in 6 training sessions and playing 4 competitive games per week.

For me, life as a soccer dad means that I’m almost literally eating, living and breathing soccer. At this time of the season, it’s very rare that there’s one day when she’s not playing or practicing soccer, which makes the task of watching the best soccer on television a difficult challenge at times.

Being a soccer dad, it opens up my perspective to a completely different world when it comes to soccer. During this season, I’ve spent more time with the other soccer moms and dads on the team than I have with my wife’s family or my parents. The soccer moms and dads are all good, hard-working people who sacrifice a lot in their lives to put their children first. But the fascinating thing to me is that even though they eat, live and breathe soccer, none of them are connected to the soccer that’s being shown on TV screens every day of the week.

Take for example this past weekend where the travel team competed in Gainesville, Florida for a 3-day tournament over President’s Day weekend. The soccer players and families all stayed in the same holiday together. In the lobby on Sunday as we were all preparing to get ready for the morning game, I was torn because I wanted to watch the Arsenal-Leicester and Manchester City-Tottenham games live.

As we settled in the lobby to eat breakfast, I switched on the TV to watch the first 10 minutes of the Arsenal-Leicester game. As I was glued to the TV set, none of the parents watched or paid any attention to it. There were however a couple of parents from another team who walked over and started to watch the frenetic opening. But for the the 11 kids on our team, their siblings and their parents, there was zero interest.

We had bigger concerns that morning, as we were focusing on a championship game to be played. But I’m confident that even if we were playing a friendly game, it wouldn’t have mattered. The level of interest in the game that was being shown on TV would not have changed. Soccer on TV, for the most of them, is another world.

The reality is that even if soccer moms and dads are consumed by the sport, the vast majority of them have little to no interest in the professional game except when it’s a major tournament or there’s a local professional team near them. There’s a better chance that the kids would be more cognizant of who’s playing on TV and they might be the ones watching the games later.

But just because there are hundreds of thousands of teams playing soccer across the United States every weekend, it doesn’t mean that soccer as we know it is growing by leaps and bounds. There is an opportunity for the parents to become more interested in watching soccer on TV, but there’s no guarantee.

The reality is that the vast majority of soccer moms and dads are living in a ‘travel soccer bubble.’ We should not confuse a passion for seeing their child play soccer with a great interest in the professional sport. From my experiences with this travel club, and two other ones before this one, there is very little to no crossover between the two. Suffice to say, we should not confuse massive numbers of kids playing soccer with a growing interest in the professional game. What’s good for the growing number of soccer players in this country doesn’t produce immediate gains in TV viewing numbers.

It may have an impact in later life when the kids are in college or “retire” from playing, but right now, that’s far off in the distant future.

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  1. NaBUru38

    February 20, 2016 at 5:31 am

    Its not bad that parents take youth sport as an entertainment, physical education and socializing environment.

    Here in Uruguay, many parents take their sons football too seriously, expecting them to end up playing in Europe.

    Any normal boy here would watch football on television several hours a week, then try to replay the moves with a ball.

  2. VicBklyn

    February 17, 2016 at 8:34 pm

    Everyone is spot on. I constantly bring up my favorite team or games to just strike interest even if its just a little.

  3. MTF

    February 17, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    Well, I’m not sure the point of this article other than that the U.S. is not a big soccer watching nation. It’s nothing new. The U.S. is not Europe or South America. Professional soccer here has a 120 year history of fits and starts. I too have a 12 year-old daughter who plays travel soccer and is a member of her middle school team as well. Parents my age did not grow up with professional soccer. I’m from New York and was too young for the original Cosmos and too old when MLS kicked off in 1996. In the 1970s and 1980s there was no soccer on TV aside from ‘Soccer Made In Germany’ on UHF (you needed a good working pair of rabbit ears). You are not going to turn most of these parents into anything but youth soccer watchers and, on TV, World Cup watchers every four years. I’m a big Red Bulls supporter and watch all of their matches on TV live when I’m not attending in person. As big a professional soccer fan as I am, who has time to watch BPL matches or La Liga matches on TV? Like most parents, when I’m not schlepping to youth soccer games and tourneys I have a job and other family interests. I’ve also found that girls are not at all like boys. I have three very athletic soccer, softball, volleyball playing girls, but ask them to sit down and watch a match on TV with me…they have zero interest.

    • Dave Griffiths

      February 18, 2016 at 11:51 am

      MTF agree with your post…you make great comments about how back in the 80’s it was very hard to find any kind of football on TV, but there are no excuses today. There is more football readily and easily available on USTV/Internet than even in the UK to be honest. I am Irish and football mad….If my son wanted to play competitive basketball or American Football and if I was going to be at his games cheering him on and wanting him to succeed then surely I would be duty bound as a parent to actually watch those professional or college games on TV in order to educate myself about the game he loves to play (hmmm Sidebar: perhaps that is the problem right there…Do most american kids really LOVE to play the game as it is structured???) anyway…It seems so strange to me that parents can be so passionate about a sport with their kid for 90 mins at the local park yet not even think about watching it at the highest level in order to continue that passion/learning during the week…or even the weekend when they are all away for a tournament in which they will probably play 4 games in 2 days!!!.My belief is that if you are a fan of the sport (because of your kid) you should make it a priority to watch the games that are available, in other words educate yourself!, not everyone has to be as mad about football as me, but if your son/daughter thinks it is a priority of a saturday/sunday to be competitive in the sport (notice i didnt say win there LOL) then as a fan of that player/teams development you need to make it a priority to watch SOME/ANY of the many games that are widely available on TV.

  4. Joel

    February 17, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    The young boys are definitely interested in my area (Tampa). Unfortuanately this includes bad habits like taking dives (at the U10 level) and wagging their finger at an AR on an offside call. The parents however could learn a lot about the game, and its laws, and simply don’t. I played for 20 years and have been a referee and an assistant referee for several years. It is shocking how little the fans know about the game. Just last month had a soccer mom screaming at me to call an offside because the striker was in an offside position near her attacking goal. However the ball was streaming down the flanks and heading into the opposing teams penalty box. I turned around to explain to her the offside law and how offside position does not have to be an infraction, she would have none of it. I watch 5-10 matches a week and spend the ones I am neutral in watching the referees and his assistants. This has helped me improve immensely.

  5. Marc

    February 17, 2016 at 11:40 am

    Totally agree….What gets me is when these parents then talk about the game like they know everything.
    They’ve never watched a professional match in their lives! They are only involved b/c of their child.
    I would say 5-10% of parents on my son and daughters travel teams could name a team besides Man U or Barca….

    • Lawrence Dockery

      February 17, 2016 at 12:18 pm

      And they’re all refereeing “experts.” They know everything. That’s why when I’m an assistant referee, I always choose to be on the parents side and not the bench side. Some of the stuff I hear is so stupid it’s funny.

  6. Dave Griffiths

    February 17, 2016 at 11:05 am

    Been There Done That Got The T-Shirt…I have been involved in the game at the club level for 25 years Gaffer, and its not just the parents…unfortunately I have also found that the the vast majority of (well meaning) coaches in this country just don’t watch enough of the game outside of their coaching sessions/requirements. This certainly applies at the lower levels (entry points for most players) and younger age groups where you are more likely to find coaches that are not as vested in the development of players as much as they are in winning. I find this in itself is a direct byproduct of the unreal expectations of most parents of said young players, parents who also never bother to watch how professional footballers work at their craft although they expect their son or daughter to play (or rather, win) just like one, whatever that is of course! I bet you that those same parents WILL watch a college basketball or american football game on a Saturday afternoon in the hotel lobby #SadButTrue

    • Lawrence Dockery

      February 17, 2016 at 11:12 am

      It’s 100% true. I live in good ole boy country. Lots of parents have whatever SEC team is playing pulled up on their phones or are listening to it in the car (not so much in the spring, mainly the fall when it’s football season) My referee assignor even left the tournament when Memphis played Ole Miss in October.

  7. Kei

    February 17, 2016 at 10:55 am

    Another key point: Watching highlights is entertainment, but watching games is education. There’s plenty to be learned — not just for the players, but the parents as well — from watching these games, whether it’s the EPL, Bundesliga, whatever leagues are playing on beIN, or even MLS.

    That the parents are showing no interesting in the sport beyond simply watching their kids play strikes me as a lost opportunity in and of itself.

  8. Lawrence Dockery

    February 17, 2016 at 10:49 am

    If you ever get the opportunity come to a tournament in Memphis (at Mike Rose Soccer Complex). Big complex, fun city and the chances are that you might see me refereeing a game out there.

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