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    WHY PLAYERS FIRST?

    AN INTERVIEW WITH KEVIN PAYNE

    US Club Soccer launched its ambitious Players First platform in August 2015 with a mission to change the youth soccer experience.

    The logical first question is: What is Players First?
    Fundamentally, Players First is a philosophy backed by resources to help players, coaches and clubs get the most out of the sport. US Club Soccer provides opportunities for players to enjoy the game at every level, for coaches to advance their professional careers and for clubs to optimize their day-to-day and long-term management.
    Let’s replace the obsession with wins and losses, which has hindered the development of our country’s youth players, with a holistic approach to help every player reach his or her full potential.

    After figuring out what Players First is, the next logical question is why Players First? US Club Soccer CEO Kevin Payne, who now adds Players First to his portfolio of creations – including founding roles with D.C. United and Major League Soccer – is the best source for questions about Players First’s origins, intentions and implementations.

    First, how did the idea of Players First come about?
    Kevin Payne:
    I have been speaking for many years with various people about how to change the win-at-all-costs culture we have created in youth soccer. I believe that a big part of the problem is that parents really don’t have any other way to determine what is, or is not, a good team or club for their child. The one metric they can easily understand is wins and losses, which is the absolute worst way to measure the virtue of a youth soccer experience. Players First is intended to provide them with a brand name that they can associate with the sort of positive experience parents want for their children.

    Why does youth soccer need Players First?
    KP: Several simple, but sobering facts come to mind. Pre-teens – kids ages 10, 11 and 12 – may have a physical development age that is +/- four years relative to their actual chronological age. It’s generally considered impossible to determine with any accuracy at those ages, which players will become elite players – there are just too many variables. But because we put so much pressure on our kids to perform at those ages – long before they are ready for that pressure emotionally, psychologically or physiologically – far too many kids are leaving the game before they ever really get started in it

    Studies vary, but it’s clear seven out of 10 kids who start out playing soccer are leaving the game before they turn 13. So, there can be no question that some players who might have had the ability to become truly elite players quit the game before they, or their coaches, ever recognized that.

    Another telling point – the U.S. has had more registered youth soccer players than any country in the world over the past 25 years, yet we have not produced a truly world-class field player on the boys side. But, countries like Uruguay, Iceland and Denmark have. Either American athletes aren’t good – and we know from other sports that’s not true – or we’re doing something wrong.

    Fundamentally, how will Players First accomplish its goals?
    KP: The idea behind Players First is to convince clubs to adopt a philosophy based on the development of each and every player to his or her full potential, provide a wide array of best-in-class resources to help them do that, and then communicate to parents the values of Players First. We want to make doing the right thing in youth soccer a competitive advantage for clubs, not a disadvantage as it too often is in the current environment.

    Now that Players First has launched, what are the next steps of implementation?
    KP: Players First is built on five pillars of support: Club Development, Coaching Development, Player Development, Parent Engagement and Education, and Player Health and Safety. We are rolling out an array of resources to support each of those areas of focus, including information about how to best connect to our various service providers available on our website.

    We will also be launching a series of Players First workshops – initially in cooperation with our key NPLs, larger clubs or other major leagues – in order to try to scale our effort efficiently. We are working with LaLiga now to develop a schedule of events through 2016 for their experts to help lead a series of coaching workshops. We’ll continue to announce more details about the roll-out and the regional events on a regular basis.

    (2016 UPDATE: Click here for a list of Players First courses and events. More LaLiga Formation Methodology courses and general Players First events will be announced soon.)

    We are not in a rush. We’re trying to change a culture, which has developed over many years, and we know that will not happen overnight. But we believe it can happen, and we are committed to trying our best to ensure it does happen.

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