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Soccer Kicks Into High Gear

Soccer is quickly growing in popularity. That means increased opportunities for players to get their kicks at both the amateur and professional levels.

U.S. Youth Soccer has more than 3.2 million members aged five to 19. That makes it the largest youth sporting organization in the country.

"The statistics show the sport is continuing to grow," says Peter Montopoli. He works with a soccer association.

Montopoli says that the increased popularity of women's soccer is one factor. He also points out that soccer is a popular sport around the world, and newcomers to North America often bring a love of the game with them.

"And it's relatively affordable," he adds. "You just need a ball and cleats and away you go."

The increased TV coverage is another factor behind the sport's growth, says Montopoli.

Guy Bradbury is the chief executive officer of a soccer organization. He says his organization is still seeing growth. And he expects professional opportunities to increase along with the growth in amateur participation.

"You're starting to see private investors starting to come back to the game," he adds.

Is it realistic to dream of playing soccer professionally one day?

"It is realistic, it is possible, [and], as there are more teams, it becomes more realistic," says Montopoli.

Bradbury agrees. "It certainly does take a while to get there, but at the professional level there are quite a lot of openings," he says.

Even though there are opportunities to play professionally, only a relative few will make the cut.

"It would be the same as any other sport -- [you need] to be able to make the commitment," says Bradbury. "At the most recent Olympics, you could listen to the sacrifices that [the athletes] had to make, and that their families had to make."

Although you make the commitment to succeed, you can't do it all on your own. You need the support of family, coaches and others.

"It really is having that infrastructure around you [and] having a coach that sees the talent and is able to support the athlete in his or her development," says Bradbury.

The growth in soccer is also creating job opportunities in sport administration, coaching and officiating.

Europe is an additional source of soccer playing opportunities. "We have a number of athletes going to Europe," says Bradbury.

"The EU and passport restrictions are an issue, but we have a number [of players] who've been invited to a number of clubs throughout Europe to participate in their training camps."

How can a player increase his or her odds of going pro?

"What they would have to do is start at a very young age and play as much as possible, first and foremost," says Montopoli. "And then, through their clubs, become better players. Then there are opportunities to play nationally and internationally, and then there's the opportunity to be scouted."

Soccer camps are a great way to hone your skills. Christine Huber is a soccer player, coach and regional director for a national soccer camp organization. Each year, about 1,300 or 1,400 players across the U.S. attend the camps. The players are 8 to 18 years of age.

"We don't play more than four-on-four, and this allows the player to get the maximum number of touches on the ball," she says. "And we play on small fields."

Huber started playing soccer around the age of five. Her long list of soccer accomplishments include earning a high school All-American title and being inducted into the University of New Haven Athletic Hall of Fame.

"It's the fastest growing team sport in the United States," she says. "I think it's going to keep growing." She says part of the reason for soccer's growth is that you can play without a lot of players or equipment.

Scouts generally evaluate players in their teen years. "The tendency is that if you're 17 years old, you probably need to be scouted by then and playing in a club environment, or that opportunity could pass you by," says Montopoli.

There are exceptions, notes Huber. "There are some people who play professionally who started when they were five or younger, and some started as late as college," she says.


What Soccer Scouts Look For
Some good tips to impress the scouts

Soccer Training Info
Lots of tips to improve your skills

U.S. Soccer Federation
Your source for all things soccer

U.S. Youth Soccer
Resources for coaches, parents, players and referees

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