Reframing the “Pay to play” argument
Focus on time, not money to maximize development
A former co-worker would always say, “Scott, some of us are here to make the world a better place by setting a good example. The rest of us just serve as a warning to others.” Let my mistakes be your guide, don’t have 4 children in 5 years if you want to see more than one of them play soccer at the highest level in the current youth soccer ecosystem.
This post is about my experiences as a soccer parent in my first (and probably last) year of select “travel” soccer. I call it “travel” soccer because the majority of our games were not in town (Omaha, since you asked). My son played games in 12 different cities last year. My oldest daughter’s team played in 10 cities. My middle daughter played in 3 cities. My youngest daughter could have played, but she doesn’t like to sweat… ever, so she played in a church league. In total, my family made 20 trips for out of town soccer games: only 4 of the trips were on the same weekend in the same city. Madness. In my opinion and my wife’s opinion, it wasn’t worth the return our family or my children received because most of that money was spent on travel, not development.
As a parent I worry about my kids development, most parents do. Most parents haven’t studied child development, taught it at a university, or worked with children with behavioral disorders. My experiences provide perspective on development because, simply stated, it’s what I do. I can say without a doubt from my perspective, travel soccer was untenable for my family this past year, but not because we couldn’t pay for it. We did. We spent $11,704 dollars for 3 kids to play soccer in 2017. I am cognizant that many families cannot afford to pay this amount and this inheretly restricts access to those that can afford it. But what if they could? What if the price tag was zero dollars and the model was fully funded (free travel, kits, shoes, transportation, health care, etc.)? Would their kids be able to play? Maybe. But if the model isn’t working for families (specifically large families like mine) with a means to pay doesn’t that indicate a systemic bias towards an additional underlying factor? To use a metaphor, the bridge over the river is out and rather than build a new bridge we are choosing to drive 5 miles out of the way to go 500 feet.
Reframing the “pay for play” argument
Universally everyone agrees that time is the key component to development. So let’s look at the time kids are spending actually playing soccer. The chart below is the amount of total waking hours in a year.
My family collectively spent about 9% of those hours playing soccer. We spent 30 percent of those hours driving to practice, games, tournaments, meetings, and parties. So for every hour on the field, there is an additional 3 hours of travel time baked into this model (or a 3X multiple). Imagine driving your kids to the best school an hour and a half away. You wouldn’t. You would find a comparable alternative, but for arguments sake imagine you only have one child. The graph below shows what it might look like.
Here is some data that demonstrates the differences between single child families and families with multiple children. Using data from Teamsnap, I calculated the total number of hours my children spent actually playing soccer versus traveling to practice, games, and tournaments. The total was roughly 540 hours, or about 180 hours per child. It is evident that one child is manageable (700–800 hours). The total amount of time we spent traveling was 1740 hours or 580 hours per child. All together as a family we spent 2280 hours traveling and playing soccer. That is the equivalent of another full time job. The system favors single child families with more time, not more money.
Imagine for a moment what you could do with an additional 1740 hours on the soccer ball. More practices, more games, more coaching, and more fitness are all possibilities, but let’s slow our roll on this train of thought. There is a ceiling on training hours around 730 hours per year (2 hours x 365) because people get tired and do other things like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and dinner. This isn’t possible within the current ecosystem because (1) kids don’t train every day and (2) the additional time “cost” built into every hour of soccer in the current model. If we estimate max training at 730 hours this requires 2190 additional hours for one child, or 2920 hours. This is an incredible waste of time, not money, and is inherently restrictive on the number of people that can afford to spend this much time on soccer.
Money isn’t the largest barrier for families: time is the number one barrier. We need a new model that focuses on time efficiency which should help reduce financial costs as a barrier to entry. We (Chapman & Company)are working on a model that is efficient and family friendly because we have big families and no time. We hope to solve this problem for the benefit of all soccer families in Omaha soccer ecosystem and hopefully many more soccer families across the country. We can get there and we would love to hear your ideas on how to reduce the number of hours spent off the field to improve the amount of development on the field.