SMQ PROFILE/INTERVIEW: Mike Sweeney

By Robinson, Matthew | Sport Marketing Quarterly, December 2009 | Go to article overview

SMQ PROFILE/INTERVIEW: Mike Sweeney


Robinson, Matthew, Sport Marketing Quarterly


Name: Mike Sweeney

Title: Director, Cleveland WhiteCaps Premier Soccer

Career: Director, All Star Soccer Camps

Managing Partner, Alliance Soccer Dome, LLC

Professional soccer player

Member, Canadian national soccer team

Why has the club environment thrived more in soccer than other sports in the US?

The first answer that jumps out at me is the speed with which soccer participation increased over the last 20 years. Soccer is the first sport that really "works" for young competitors and as such, captures the athlete's imagination and enthusiasm. That connection remains close to their heart as they compete in other sports and often are drawn back to soccer because of those early memories. Basketball, baseball, and football all require a more mature level of strength, teamwork, and understanding to "work."

Soccer is also what I call a player's sport in that the athletes on the field almost entirely determine the outcome. Most popular American sports are coach's sports where the coach determines the play, can stop the game almost at any point, can substitute at will, make players specialists, etc. Young athletes want to touch the ball, make things happen, figure things out on the go by scoring goals and making mistakes. Coach-controlled sports are very boring to a 5-year old.

Also competitive, athletic girls are equally as adept as boys at soccer and, this being America, the parents of a talented young lady ensure she has every opportunity given to any young man. The combination of a sport that attracts and retains a high percentage of its players and parents of both boys and girls looking for higher competition led to a meteoric increase in participation.

As more and more children chose soccer as their primary sport, the excess demand for instructors created a void as the vast majority of parents of soccer participants in the last 20 years had never played or watched soccer. The competitive nature of the American parent demanded professional instruction for their aspiring athlete (especially if the club in the suburb just next door had a professional coach). They would organize the administration of the club but needed the soccer knowledge of the coach (very often a foreigner) which created system of clubs which spread throughout the country to this day.

The traditional motivation of a college scholarship has been surpassed by simply being able to play at one's high school and being involved in a meaningful activity. We have now evolved to the point where a significant percentage of parents are just looking for a safe, healthy environment with a good peer group for the child to be a part of.

You serve on the board of U.S. Club Soccer. What was the impetus of its creation in 2001?

U.S. national teams' coaches were inquiring from club coaches in the trenches what could be done better to help develop players capable of being successful in international competition. The feedback from club coaches was they spent as much time on administration as coaching so we needed a better system that focused on club development so they could focus on player development.

After considerable discussion and political infighting, U.S. Club Soccer became an affiliate of the United States Soccer Federation with the simple goal of supporting the development and growth of serious clubs because that is where the vast majority of player development occurs.

What is the role of the organization and what is the value it brings to its members?

The role of U.S. Club Soccer is 1) to be a voice within the Federation for clubs throughout the country, 2) to be a support organization for clubs including coaching education, business development, and player identification, and 3) to offer support for clubs looking to develop leagues, tournaments, events, academies, National championships, etc.

The value U.S. Club Soccer has brought to members is simple, efficient affiliation with the Federation (a requirement to play) and then support in the Club's desire to pursue its goals of player, league, and event development. …

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