Anonymous Mailbag: The Pay-to-Play Debate

We had a lot of comments come in from readers in regards to my most recent article Pay-to-Play is Good for Soccer and the Harshest Critics are Hypocrites. There were some highly charged replies that were both positive and negative. We present them unfiltered along with my replies.

As always, you can send any questions or comments with your anonymity guaranteed to: info@urbanpitch.com.

Here is this week’s Anonymous Mailbag:

You can’t call yourselves “The Street Voice for the Beautiful Game” and publish horse [redacted] like “The Case for Pay-to-Play Soccer.” Street soccer requires literally no cost. That’s what you should be fighting for. That headline only makes me misconstrue you guys as frauds, idiots, or self-serving.

And calling people hypocrites who try to make the game cheaper, more inclusive, and even free (especially for kids) is counter productive to growing soccer in the U.S. It’s a country where youth sport exclusion is … almost entirely conditioned by the parent’s income. It would also be a downright stupid headline in any country.

I have no problem with people flitting away their life, working for a street soccer publication (as if that actually means something). I do have a problem with dumbass articles that contradict the whole ethos of the publication. Btw, if you liked the way I write and are interested in hiring me and reading more of my work, then go [redacted] yourself. — Angry Guy from Univ. of Michigan

I can see from your response that you didn’t even read the article. Although full of emotion, it had zero points from the article itself. Not only did it not contain a single counter-argument to any of the numerous points that were actually made in the article, you were arguing on stances that I supported as well.

If you had actually read it, you would know I didn’t call those who “who try to make the game cheaper, more inclusive, and even free” — hypocrites. I said anyone who receives compensation in any way related to soccer but denigrates others for making a living within the pay-to-play system are shameless hypocrites.

I think accurate criticism is fair and I am also somewhat critical of our pay-to-play system. However, overall, having pay-to-play along with free-to-play as a part of our mixed system is far better than not having it at all. Next time, I hope you spend your time reading the article before sending me such a spirited response. By the way, it’s “the street voice OF the beautiful game.”

I do agree with everything you say … but imagine we had a system where everything was funded rather than paid for. Just like some countries can help fund education, if the sports world was funded I believe it would be the best of both worlds and it would generate Olympic soccer players.

The salary would create a market for quality coaches, facilities, etc., and the ability to play for free WITH the potential of creating a big career out of your hobby would only expand the pool for talented soccer players.

I get paid to train youth players and your point of hypocrisy really struck me and challenged my thought process. I love training kids but it also puts food on my table. Seeing things on the player side, I feel as if some of the most talented players I met never got noticed here because they couldn’t pay. It’s like a double-edged sword. — Club Soccer Coach/Trainer

Fully funding sounds good in theory but how would that work — especially in a country with over 330 million people? There aren’t any countries that really have fully funded sports programs except maybe socialist or communist countries … and look at the rest of their quality of life.

The hypocrisy piece was really meant for the harshest critics like the mentioned examples who are being blatantly hypocritical while denigrating others. It was not aimed at people who question the system or look at it with criticism which I think is OK (and I do as well).

That’s interesting.  I like the argument a lot.

It definitely can be expensive, but the hope is that the kids get an experience over the years that returns the value in different ways. For example, soccer education (of course), friendship, and the psychosocial aspect of a good soccer program, traveling and being exposed to a variety of cultures, etc.

It’s a healthy lifestyle regardless IF you choose a program that provides this type of experience. I’ll [pay] a couple grand a year for that experience for my kids.

And [you’re] right, there are several programs that provide competitive environments for free (TFA, LAUFA, FCGS, MLS, etc.). These don’t necessarily offer the full experience as their only focus tends to be on soccer, but at least they offer a fully funded program that can take a player through a pathway if they’re serious and talented enough.

As for access to fields or courts to play on … I think that is a geographical discussion. Some counties, cities, states, or regions are more accessible in terms of fields/courts than others. This has been my issue lately. We don’t have enough free space for kids to play in Southern California — Orange County especially. We need permits everywhere, and we find ourselves commandeering basketball courts to play pick up games at times.

Although, let’s say we replaced all 7-Elevens with a futsal court …would the quality players even use them? Again, probably a geographical discussion. I would think that it would depend on what cities these courts were in, and if there was a wide range of footballers surrounding that area. I can talk about that topic for hours… — MLS/Club Soccer Coach

I agree there are definitely some geographical points to be made and even here in SoCal there are some stark differences. Although it would be a good thing, I don’t think if we installed a bunch of futsal courts that they would all of a sudden be filled up. There are various public futsal courts in the greater LA area that are usually empty and the ones that aren’t have the opposite issue of being badly in need of repairs.

It’s well written and touches all the major points. I am a firm believer that you should pay for someone’s service, especially if they prepared themselves to provide that service. Now that being said, the price of pay-to-play does not align with the quality and effort in most cases.

I’m sure it’s very different in most states, but in California you can’t measure by the same standards as other states.

In short, YES  I believe pay-to-play “helps” U.S. Soccer but NO I don’t think our best players have the access to the TOP level pathway due to it.

In the end, just like everything else in the States it’s a business, and we have that “Drive Through” mentality that the more you pay, the faster your kid will develop and growAnd in my honest opinion that is not true. Great article! — Grassroots Club Coach

I agree that the price of club soccer is high (along with the other club/travel sports). I also think that if we were to grow the bottom free-to-play (grassroots) as well as the top free-to-play (pro academy), the quality of the pay-to-play tiers would go up and maybe even the price would come down.

I love that article. It’s definitely a different perspective.

I agree on the fact that it is free, people can go to a park and hit up some friends.

If it were free, us coaches wouldn’t spend the time and money to gain more knowledge to help the kids grow. We wouldn’t even do it because we need to make a living. If you look at the quality of AYSO coaches, it’s poor because it’s free. [Without] cost [they] don’t commit their lives to it. I 100% agree with the article. — Futsal Club Coach

Although I think there’s room for improvement in our current pay-to-play system, I do believe in the age old adage that “you get what you pay for.”

Really like the article. Let’s just improve the grassroots and get MLS clubs to invest more and we’re set. Problems lie with the national association, league, promotion/relegation, compensation, etc. Having middle level players in England paying to train wouldn’t negatively affect England. What drives England: culture, pro clubs, TV. — MLS Academy Coach

Yes. Conventional thought is that pay-to-play is hurting soccer’s growth in America and pushing grassroots soccer down. But I think that instead of thinking we should get rid of the middle pay-to-play tiers, we really need to put our focus on growing and improving the bottom and top free-to-play tiers. I believe this will help and drive culture to really grow grassroots soccer which is essential.

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