Soccer and money


I was struck by Christine’s comment that soccer is cheap to play, requiring only sneakers, a ball and a field.  Certainly, it’s a lot cheaper than hockey.   But that field can be hard to come by in urban areas, which is part of the conventional wisdom for why city kids play basketball instead of baseball these days.  There’s a reason why "soccer mom" entered the lexicon as synonymous with suburban.

And yet, as Foer points out, in most of the world, soccer is not an upper-class pursuit.  Working class children play this game, without benefit of organized leagues, and generally without lovely green fields.  In Spain, we saw kids and young adults playing informal games on stone plazas, on the beach, pretty much anywhere there was an open space.  You just don’t see that in the US.  Is there such a thing as a pick-up game of soccer in America?

One of my friends also pointed out to me that the local kids soccer league is far more expensive than the local basketball league.  I thought that the $80 registration fee (for Fall and Spring seasons combined) was pretty reasonable, a lot better than the gymboree type stuff in the area.  But she told me that the basketball league only charges $5 a season.  Is basketball really that much cheaper to run, or is it that they expect poor kids to play basketball, middle-class kids soccer, and charge what the market can bear?


PS.  The rest of my trip photos are now up at Flickr.

17 Responses to “Soccer and money”

  1. k Says:

    in endland you hear the phrase: “sweaters for goal posts”… together with plenty of “5 a side”s it gives an indication of how most of the football [soccer] is played… in the streets, goal practice on any wall and dribble practice absolutely anywhere… hardly anyone belongs to leagues where i am, instead you play teh kids from the next street… :)

  2. k Says:

    ups, i mean england, and the…

  3. landismom Says:

    Huh, interesting, I don’t think that I’ve seen any pickup soccer games. We haven’t really gotten into organized sports of any kind with our kids yet, so I don’t know the economics of the leagues around here. There is a Mexican soccer league, with both men’s and women’s teams.

  4. bj Says:

    Are there any pickup games for anything these days in the life of an “privileged*” American kid? The way K describes soccer in England describes how baseball was played in the days of my pseudo-suburban American childhood. But that was groups of 4-6 kids. How many kids play in the street/park pickup games of Soccer in England? If it’s the same number in England, we’re seeing it in our neighborhood. In the last week I’ve seen at least 2 games of spontaneous pickup games of soccer (but with just a few kids, though, something like two -three families worth, with very mixed age groups).
    I wouldn’t be shocked if I heard that the price differential in soccer is at least subconsciously designed to enforce the socioeconomic difference between the players of soccer & basketball. Basketball in our contry is played by economicaly disadvantaged urban youth. Those who organize it see it as an opportunity to keep those kids off the streets, and thus subsidize. Soccer is played by affluent suburban kids. Thus, no need to subsidize (and is it going through any of the affluent parents minds (or at least in their subconscious) that subsidies might attract the “wrong” crowd?). Also, out in our neck of the woods, private sports arenas seem to play a bigger role in soccer than basketball (but I might be wrong about that; haven’t looked into basketball).
    *I’m using privileged as a stand in for professional class/economically advantaged/etc.

  5. robin Says:

    Yes, yes, yes. And some other thoughts:
    Watching my kids play a few weeks ago, I ended up standing next to a bloke from England. (He was coaching the next team up). I asked him about differences between soccer here and there.
    He said where he came from it was exceptionally unusual to be on an official league or team until about age 12. Until then every kid played all the time (“whenever you could round up a mate and a ball”) but the difference was that it was never under the watchful eyes of parents and coaches.
    So you might “practice” a lot and you might interact with a lot of kids, but until you were 12 you never had coaches or parents evaluating your every move, yelling, praising, etc, like we do here.
    Sounded a lot more “organic” to me.
    BTW, my leafy suburb — which has lots of parks but small houses, small lots, lots of hills — has few pick-up games of soccer because of GEOGRAPHY (as well, probably) as culture.
    Soccer takes space, and preferably flat space so you’re not forever chasing the ball downhill. So while we don’t have soccer, we do have lots of pick-up games of basketball (you just need one flat driveway) and baseball/stickball (using a tennis ball cut in half). I think the same is true in urban spaces with even smaller lots and less green space.
    Tips for new parents who want their kids to have the opportunity to play pick-up games of anything: a flat yard with space for a good-sized yard is a big help. That, and a neighborhood full of similiarly-aged kids. ;-)
    Pick-up games can still be a big part of American childhood, but certain kinds of geography can make it a lot harder, and I think geography matters more than it used to because so many of us are reluctant to send our kids alone down to the neighborhood park, even if we should be so lucky as to have one.

  6. Mrs. Coulter Says:

    BJ: I was wondering the same thing: do kids in middle/upper-class America play pick-up anything anymore? Pick-up games require free, unscheduled time, as well as “permission” to roam in search of something to do.

  7. Elizabeth Says:

    Annette Lareau, in Unequal Childhoods, certainly argues that one of the marks of middle- and upper-class childhoods in the US is a lack of opportunity to participate in child-organized, mixed age activities.
    And I should add that you do see informal games among working-class adult male Latinos in this area with some frequency.

  8. Angry Pregnant Lawyer Says:

    I hadn’t thought about it before (probably because my son’s not old enough for pick-up anything), but it makes me sad, this notion that kids don’t play pick-up soccer anymore. I grew up in the DC ‘burbs, and we often played soccer. We, too, used sweatshirts or anything else we could find as “goal posts.” We’d play in the field behind the townhouses, or even in the cul-de-sac, on the asphalt. Didn’t matter to us. In fact, I think the asphalt games were a great change of pace–you needed quicker reflexes and better ball-handling, or the ball would wind up under a parked car or roll into the street.

  9. jackie Says:

    The large public park is the area of our city that is becoming increasingly Hispanic has become a popular site for games of pick-up soccer among adults– but in my neighborhood, a mixed-race working-class one, you’re much more likely to see games of catch, football or basketball in the large public parking lot across the street.
    Soccer certainly has different connotations here than abroad– I can’t imagine seeing Euro-style “hooligans” at soccer matches in suburbs here.

  10. k Says:

    first off i agree with the english guy robin met, no one is really taught untill 12 or so, and yes the teams are uneven [often one older kid on one team will be balanced out by two younger ones on the other team]. quite often these are not proper games but rather goal practice, passing the ball etc. just like the basketball game in the driveway. :)

  11. Ailurophile Says:

    I’m curious if young girls play soccer in Britain and other countries as they do here? I grew up before the phenomenon of girls playing sports hit bigtime, but my younger girl cousins all played.
    And adult pickup games, in my observation, are almost entirely male. Perhaps this is because men have more leisure time, or perhaps this is because cultures in which adult men play pickup games tend to be more sex-typed with regard to interests and leisure.

  12. reuben Says:

    No, girls do not play football in the UK – at least not in significant numbers. As far as I can tell, in countries where football is very important, it is also very gender segregated (though China may be an exception?).
    Not sure if the relationship between national importance and gender participation means anything, or if it’s just coincidence.

  13. alex Says:

    The countries that generally have good men’s football teams usually tend to have bad women’s teams, and the men’s teams that suck usually have very good women’s teams. Ex: USA! china, and norway

  14. alex Says:

    The countries that generally have good men’s football teams usually tend to have bad women’s teams, and the men’s teams that suck usually have very good women’s teams. Ex: USA! china, and norway

  15. alex Says:

    The countries that generally have good men’s football teams usually tend to have bad women’s teams, and the men’s teams that suck usually have very good women’s teams. Ex: USA! china, and norway

  16. alex Says:

    The countries that generally have good men’s football teams usually tend to have bad women’s teams, and the men’s teams that suck usually have very good women’s teams. Ex: USA! china, and norway

  17. Edward Isles Says:

    Soccer in the USA started many years ago. Although it is very much under developed at the moment, its redevelopment surge was approached with a business model using soccer development as its major theme and profit as it main focus. This approach is central to the inability of US soccer youths and adults to compete worldwide. The model attracts input factors into the development process that are not necessary. As a result, the cost is driven out of reach of low income and working class families that have historically formed the cream of sports in America.
    It is not necessary for kids to play soccer in cleats, uniforms, with paid or unpaid coaches on well manicured pitches a few times a week. It is also unnecessary for our kids to be bombarded with soccer “stuff”- books, t-shirts, and all the silly pretentious items that drive up the cost of playing soccer in America.
    There are only two necessary items in the sport of soccer: a ball and space.
    For soccer to become comparatively successful in the United States, the developmental focus must be on providing playing space and balls to working class families and inner city kids to enable them to participate in the sport.
    Successful soccer players around the world are products of soccer opportunities that afforded them space and balls to play soccer when ever they chose. The more the soccer player touches the ball the better they became. In Brazil, the country that has won the world cup more time that any other, the youth soccer player plays soccer in alleys, concrete slabs, back yards, any open field irrespective of its surface, in their houses, in bedrooms, and any space available when the urge to play arises! That is the essence of of the development of soccer! Play a lot.
    How is it then that in the United States, the worlds richest country, the space and balls are not available to enable youth soccer players the opportunity to play when ever the urge arises? Why is their soccer environment so controlled?
    The lack of available space and balls hinders the development of their proficiency in the game of soccer and the controlled environment dampens their creativity. Pele, Beckenbauer, Maradona, Johan Cryuff, Renaldo, Renaldinho, Zidane and those unmentioned, born and unborn are, have been and will be among those who have had the opportunity to play at will with a soccer ball.
    The foundation of the development of youth soccer in the United States must be a model that allows the youth soccer to play everyday in a uncontrolled environment. Money, that is the cost to play soccer, must be removed from the sport at the youth community level.

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