Is It True that Soccer Has Turned Into a Rich Kids’ Sport?
Jan 10, 2022
Back in 2018, Hope Solo called soccer a “rich white kid sport”. It’s a somewhat controversial statement that sparked polarizing discussions. But it highlights the fact that soccer is now too expensive for many families.
Households with elite players can find the costs of training, gear, and travel overwhelming. Does Solo have a point? This post will take a look at the costs of playing high-level youth soccer, and whether the sport is financially burdensome.
Is it a Rich Kid Sport?
In a sense, Hope Solo was right. Soccer, a sport that you can play at the drop of a dime, now comes with a high price tag. The average cost to play soccer in America nowadays can range anywhere from $2000-$5000 per year for just one player.
Those fees go towards the costs of uniforms, insurance, referees, coaches salaries, and player development. They don’t cover the costs of registration which can range anywhere between $100-$500. They certainly don’t cover the costs of traveling or soccer protective gear.
A University of Utah study found that families spend an average of $2292 a year on soccer for kids as young as 8 years old.
Oh, and remember to double (or triple) these costs if you have two or three kids playing soccer at the same time. It’s not uncommon for many families to spend $10,000-$20,000 a year.
Famous Players Who Were Poor
Of course, we can argue against Hope Solo and all those who say that soccer is a “rich, white kid sport”. Some of the greatest soccer players in the world grew up in poverty. That fact makes their accomplishments even more admirable.
Think about the following names:
- Lionel Messi
- Neymar Jr.
- Luis Suarez
- Cristiano Ronaldo
- Romelu Lukaku
- Zlatan Ibramamvich
- Kylian Mbappe
- Angel di Maria
These players grew up sharing rooms with siblings, not having enough to eat, and lacking funds to cover the costs of training. Of course, there’s a kicker here: these players were stars or had the makings of star power from a very early age. And these elite skills got recognized by scouts and some of the biggest clubs in the world very early.
Take Lionel Messi, for example. He lived during a severe economic crisis in Argentina in his childhood.
The world, namely, FC Barcelona, was in awe of his talent when little Messi first emerged on video in 1995. At age 11, doctors diagnosed him with a growth hormone disorder that his parents couldn’t afford to treat. But thanks to his exceptional ability, FC Barcelona paid for his treatments, recognizing that they couldn’t let his talent go to waste.
The rest is history.
And that brings us back to the argument at heart. The costs of this medical treatment and Messi’s childhood soccer training were unaffordable for his parents. A major soccer club took a gamble on him based on his raw talent. How many kids will have similar opportunities?
Experiences of Families Who Struggle to Afford Costs
The average youth soccer player in America doesn’t have the utopian prospects of Messi. Uncertainty and tough decisions abound. More families can identify with the challenges of Precious Ogu, a youth player in Washington, D.C. who is of Nigerian descent.
She plays for the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) for the Northern Virginia club McLean Youth Soccer. She graduated from high school in 2021 and was a straight-A student. She also showed herself to have a promising future in soccer, but her circumstances are less than ideal. Her experience, described in an article published in October 2020, reads as follows:
“The parents who could pay lived in the suburbs. The industry, therefore, grew in suburbia. And for talented teens like Precious Ogu, that’s problematic. The nearest elite club is 45 minutes away. Practices begin at 8:30 p.m. on weekdays. Her single mother works nights and doesn’t drive. No teammates live nearby.”
The article provides context on how elite players’ families can run into problems financing their young players simply because of the commitments needed to play elite soccer. However, the article does point out some silver linings for players like Ogu.
“Precious sometimes returns home from practice after 11 p.m., with homework still to do. She wakes up the next morning before 7 a.m. She still maintains straight-As. And she’s excelling on the soccer pitch. Division I colleges have been in touch. She initially worried she couldn’t compete with the suburban girls, then quickly realized she absolutely could.”
Not every player gets funded at a single-digit age like Lionel Messi. However, those opportunities may not even be necessary if players and their families make smart choices.
Bigger Dreams, Bigger Costs
The reality is that soccer doesn’t have to end with all-or-nothing prospects. It’s not like you have to reach the big leagues or go home. It’s not like you have only one path, semi-pro or professional opportunities either. There are different paths to take.
With that said, soccer is a “rich kid sport” for players in America who want to play in soccer clubs and academies. But the costs are more affordable if players take advantage of other opportunities. They include high school teams and collegiate scouting and Olympic Development Programs (ODP).
Outside of North America, plenty of talented players grow up in ghettos, favelas, and slums but still get seen by scouts. Something similar can happen in the U.S. But that means players and their families have to be savvy to make it possible.
Reducing the Cost of Elite Youth Soccer
- Build a relationship with college coaches - College coaches aren’t going to high school games - that’s the cold hard truth. But if a coach knows about a player, they will have more interest to see that player in action at school. They could even pay a visit. If high school and college are your only options, make sure to build a relationship with coaches who can take you under their wing. They can help create more opportunities to help players get seen by major league scouts.
- Seek out academy scholarships - Many soccer academies now recognize the strain the pay-to-play model puts on families. Academies now offer development players and provide scholarships and financial aid to players who need it most. As long as a player meets the standards for skill level and physicality, an academy will likely provide that aid.
By cutting down the costs of membership and registration fees, families can find other aspects of the game easier to afford. Things like traveling and soccer protective gear will be less of a burden for families, especially if more than one child plays the game.
Your Mileage May Vary
There’s no denying that playing elite soccer in America puts a lot of strain on many family’s wallets. With that said, there are more options and paths for families to take if finances become a problem.
We provided a few examples of how families can sidestep those costs, but we’ll take a deeper look at how to make use of those options in another post. We’ll also take a look at the various “end goals” that soccer players can look forward to. As long as talented players have the will, there will always be a way to make dreams come true.
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