“After the dramatic loss to make it to World Cup in 2018, soccer in the United States took a radical turn for the good, making it possible for the national team to shine once again with a selection younger, stronger and faster than ever before.” Could this be the news headline in four years time?
There’s no doubt that soccer is the fastest growing team sport in the U.S. for the last two decades. For example, women’s soccer has swiftly grown in popularity in the U.S. with the USWNT is one of the top soccer teams in the world.
Still, it is men’s soccer that is the most popular sport in the world. But, unlike basketball or football, men’s soccer is still less mature as a sport in the States than in Europe. Despite the crazy amounts of cash and media attention that is flowing into the sport, it is not entirely grounded yet in every day life. Kids still aren’t kicking the ball in the streets.
It’s hard to imagine the United States without its craze for sports. Competition within the nation drives athlete’s ambitions to global success. Being at the technological frontier and supporting aspiring youth through scholarships also helps a lot. This is clearly seen by the collection of Olympic medals and the range of sports that is dominated by American athletes, both in the individual and team domains.
Team sports, in fact, holds a special place in the heart of every American. For some, a particular sport may have roots deep enough to carry a religious meaning, whether it’s football, basketball, baseball or hockey. Why? Passed on from generation to generation as a family value, team sports naturally bear a significant character building attribute. Think about the movie industry, which is a clear reflection of how sports are perceived in the United States. A number of very similar picturesque scenes of fathers and sons wearing baseball gloves in their backyards from classic family movies come to mind.
Despite the crazy amounts of cash and media attention that is flowing into the sport, kids still aren’t kicking the ball in the streets.
Now, the youth - often called Generation Z - has an even fiercer passion for sports; one that has been reinforced by technology. Phones and social media have torn down what was left of the barriers to information access. Following game results and keeping track of player stats has become easier than ever, and details of the fancy lifestyles top athletes enjoy are known by nearly every fan. This knowledge has spurred the minds of this generation to desire success in sports. Personal performance is associated with advertising contracts and big paychecks in the U.S., and carries significant weight in the whole sports industry here, much more so than in Europe.
Soccer is big business in the U.S. With almost 24 million soccer players, the U.S. has the largest population of children playing soccer in the world. The interest is definitely there and the pool of talent should be deep enough. Still, even with these numbers, the U.S. fails to produce a world class team. Even more disappointing is the fact that the team has failed to qualify for the World Cup after a number of reforms and changes at the national level of the sport. Something is clearly going wrong here.
Soccer academies are often blamed for focusing too much on building good youth teams rather than nurturing individual performance of the very best. This pay-to-play system in America is often criticized for being incapable of cherry-picking and developing top talent from a young age, despite the numerous improvements that have been implemented.
Nourishing individual performance of young players, and noticing those who have a distinctive passion, dedication and knack for the game, should become number one priority in the country where individual performance really matter. After all, according to ESPN estimates, 30% (!) of young Americans play soccer at some level. It’s a huge market of prospective players and the U.S. needs to adjust its system. You’ll have to source the best talent from all corners of the country in order to build a team that may compete with top soccer nations in the world.
The U.S. has been a leader in sports technology adoption at the pro-level, which has helped them overcome the competition across a range of sports. Today, to spot talent early in this massive pool of players, U.S. coaches need technology and data. Even though a competitive spirit is passed on to them, with so many distractions of this century, conventional things won’t work for the new generation.
After many hours interviewing soccer players, I know that kids need more incentives to dedicate their hearts to sports and these incentives have to be personalized and delivered without creating friction with their every day lives. A coach can only do so much to provide a strong foundation and build a team, but they cannot oversee and motivate every single player, or be there for them all the time. But each kid cares about his personal performance, maybe even more than about his or her team, and that is the primary motivation to succeed.
With DashTag, we’re building a tool for this generation of soccer players, and partnering with soccer academies to find the most dedicated young athletes. DashTag uses gamification to engage the youth at the individual level. The Dash, a small soccer wearable, delivers personalized FIFA game-like stats straight to a player’s phone. With personal stats youngsters can compete and compare with teammates, and even world class stars. DashTag provides not just stats, but motivation, insights and challenges to the players. The Dash is designed for soccer players of all levels and abilities and is geared towards pulling them out of the shades and into the spotlights.
Could a personal tool help grow world class soccer players and build a top national team in the U.S.? It won’t be easy, but we certainly know it’s the right time to give individual team sporters a fresh and personal experience.