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Youth game is booming in the US

Jim Cosgrove is the executive director at US Youth Soccer. And it is no small role - he oversees the needs of three million players at youth level in the US.

Total Football editor Mark Roach asked him what US Youth Soccer is doing to increase the popularity of the game across the pond.

What does your role as Executive Director at US Youth Soccer entail?

Essentially, I am responsible for the overall administration and management of the US Youth Soccer national office which includes the administration of policies, programs and the budget of US Youth Soccer as determined by and in coordination with the Board of Directors.

I work with the President and Board of Directors on fulfilling their respective responsibilities including the identification and resolution of policy issues, organizational planning, and operations.

I manage staff operations to support US Youth Soccer’s program and activities and all of the legal requirements associated to ensure that the necessary service and support of our membership is being fulfilled.

What are your main aims?

To operate efficiently and provide resources and support to our membership, to provide opportunities, to develop players at all levels and ages, and to provide expertise and education.

What are your biggest challenges?

Human and financial resources, 3 million players, reaching 1.9 million households, and building consensus on strategic direction.

How does the popularity of the MLS help what you are trying to achieve with youth soccer in the USA?

Youth Soccer in the US was big before MLS came along. The market penetration of the league is essentially in the larger player participation areas and has not incrementally increased participation in those areas. MLS does provide significant awareness for the sport in terms of its visibility and this is positive for us.

How significant has the addition of players like David Beckham and Thierry Henry (pictured) to the MLS been in raising the profile of the game in the US?

It certainly has helped in terms of awareness and the expansion of television coverage of MLS, but has not directly translated to higher participation. The last few years have been difficult from an economic standpoint which, among other factors, has affected participation.

The continued television support of MLS is a positive trend, whether it be ESPN, NBC, FOX and the game is getting more exposure. This has also been significant in terms of the international game and access.

When I was growing up there was no EPL, Serie A, Bundesliga etc on television. I was bound to “Soccer Made in Germany” for an hour on Saturday afternoons. This creates a great amount of exposure to the game for kids in our organization.

How has the popularity of soccer changed in the US?

We have always had great participation numbers. US Youth Soccer started with 100,000 in 1974, was 2.1 million in 1994 when I started with the organization, grew to 3.0 million in 2000 and has consistently been over that number since. The game continues to have momentum.

Do you look to the Premier League and other European leagues for inspiration?

Not specifically from a youth standpoint in terms of structure or business, mostly from the perspective of player development and coaching methodology.

What major development would you like to achieve in 2012?

Continued innovation and evolution of our programs and the opportunities they provide especially from a technology standpoint. This is really critical in terms of player retention and coaching education and pertinent in providing resources to enhance experiences in the youngest age groups.

How significant has the success of the US Women’s team been in the development of youth soccer in the US.

In 1994 the registration breakdown was 65% male, 35% female. In 2010 the registration breakdown was 51% male, 49% female.

The trend really started to turn with collegiate soccer being viable for women as US Federal Law Title IX was fully implemented and the huge exposure of generated by the Women’s National Team through the Olympics and Women’s World Cup.

Success of the women’s team brings additional notoriety to the game of soccer for female athletes. Not so much for the girls that are playing soccer because they love playing the game, but for their parents and others who might not see the impact the game has on the development of kids and what it can bring to their lives.

What challenges do you face when it comes to promoting soccer against sports like basketball, American football and baseball?

Not too many! The availability and cost effectiveness of participation allow us to be effective in exposing new players to the game.

Generally, US Youth Soccer officially registers under one umbrella more players than any of the others mentioned here.

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