Everyone's trying to figure out why youth soccer has grown in the United States yet we still don't have an abundance of players with the skills that other smaller countries have. I think the answer to that question is quite obvious.
While all sports require athletic ability and different skill sets, many of them require each player to have an awful lot of individual skills. The two sports which come to mind are basketball and soccer. If you really stop and think about where all our stud basketball players come from, they are typically kids who grew up basically being babysat by the basketball court. Yes, some of them may have eventually matriculated through the different AAU programs, but that really isn't typical. Those that do come through those types of leagues usually were noticed by a surrogate parent to help them go through those channels.
In my opinion building up soccer skills is just like building up basketball skills. In other words it happens by playing the game frequently. And by playing the game I do not mean in an organized fashion with fancy uniforms, referees and fans. In inner cities there's always going to be pick up basketball games going on which didn't require a 2 hour car trip and a stay at a hotel. Additionally, you're always going to see the kid that is there before or after the game who is practicing on his one-on-one skills. That is how true soccer players are going to develop in this country not because parents sign their kid up to play soccer when they are five years old.
While I'm definitely not a fan of the everyone makes the team and everyone gets the trophy idea, I do believe that in a lot of our youth programs we are starting the kids off with games way too early. I remember when I started playing basketball in the town league in elementary school. This league was about showing up on a Saturday and working on sills like dribbling, passing and layups. The finale at the end of the season was when our games occurred.
I was a pretty decent athlete and by no means do I think any of my athletic abilities were really strengthened in any practice that I ever attended. I think all of it came from playing by myself out in the yard or playing with a family member or calling up some friends to work on something. To this day if I picked up a field hockey stick i would get complements on my passes and slapshots. These skills were developed by hitting a ball against a rock wall in my front yard. For the most part the athletes i played with developed their skills on their own and organized practices were just a means to get all of the athletes on the same page.