An article by guest author Daniel Menken
My three sons (ages 10, 10, and 9) love soccer and have played on Woodbury traveling teams for several years. The boys attend a Spanish immersion elementary school and when the opportunity arose for a full-year exchange to Madrid they jumped at it and couldn’t wait to join a Spanish futbol team – after all, Spain is on top of the soccer world: World Cup champs, European champs, and Champions League champs. My wife and three boys left Minnesota last August and will return next summer.
Spanish soccer has been great for my family. The nine month youth season began a week before school in September and my boys immediately found a group of friends among kids and my wife among other soccer moms and dads. I visited my family in Madrid for ten days over Thanksgiving – seeing two Saturday matches, four practices, and a piano recital – and came away impressed with Spanish soccer.
EVERYTHING ABOUT FUTBOL IS MORE INTENSE
- There are well over 200 youth soccer clubs in greater Madrid. (The Comunidad de Madrid has 6.5 million people in 8,000 square kilometers – compared to 3.2 million people in the 12 county Minneapolis-St Paul area in 16,000 square kilometers – roughly twice as many people in half as much space.)
- Madrid’s futbol association is “Federación de Fútbol de Madrid.”
- Many clubs are huge, fielding teams from 8 year olds up through professionals. Real Madrid (Cristiano Ronaldo’s team) is one of these clubs, as are other La Liga teams like Getafe and Atletico Madrid. My boys’ local club – Club Futbol de Pozuelo de Alarcon – has 28 teams culminating in the men’s second division.
- The youth season for my boys is nine months long, from the beginning of September to the end of May, followed by tournaments in June. There are 26 Saturday match days and 3 pre-season Saturday matches. Games are only on Saturdays. The Minnesota Youth Soccer Association has only 10 summer games and 6 fall games, often times with multiple games per week because of the shorter season.
- Besides Saturday game-days there are three 90 minute team practices on school nights for ten year olds.
- My boys’ team has two adult paid coaches.
- Teams have boys with a two-year age span (10 and 11 year olds on my boys’ team) rather than a single year as in Minnesota.
- Teams play eleven-a-side beginning with 10 year olds and games are 60 minutes long.
- Games have one adult referee compared to a typically youthful referee and two side judges in MYSA.
- One of the most striking differences was that all clubs I visited have beautiful artificial turf fields. Each club I saw has three full fields with seating for up to 800 spectators. Fields are always in perfect condition. They are essentially carpets with one-eighth inch knap for perfect ball control. Although it never rained during my visit, my boys tell me there is no puddling even in downpours. Fields are equipped with water sprinklers used in summer to keep the fields cool. My boys enjoyed practicing with the sprinklers on in September.
- All fields I visited have superb night lighting. Evening practices are under the lights.
- The number of boys participating in Madrid traveling soccer is high – by my calculation there are 5,000 Madrid boys born in each year in competitive soccer – that’s 770 boys per calendar year of birth per million inhabitants. My calculations for MYSA boys in the Twin Cities metropolitan area is just under 1,500 boys per calendar year of birth – or 460 boys per calendar year per million inhabitants. That’s 770 Madrid boys compared to 460 Minnesota boys. The obvious explanation for the difference is the variety of other sports Minnesota boys play, especially American football and baseball. Athletic-minded boys in Minnesota are divided among several sports, while in Madrid most athletic boys play soccer.
- Madrid boys play a lot of informal soccer outside their clubs. For example, my boy’s public school runs from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with a two-hour lunch. Most boys at this school play an hour of pickup soccer over lunch every day. Additionally, the most common game in city parks and neighborhood play areas is soccer. Kids in Madrid play a lot of soccer even without adults around.
EXCEPT IF YOU’RE A GIRL
Unfortunately, Madrid is not a good place for girl soccer players. The Federación de Fútbol de Madrid has 30 different classifications of teams by age and ability – only two of which are for girls: one league for under-16 year-old girls and another for under-13 girls. That’s all. By my calculations there are only 600 girls in all of greater Madrid playing competitive soccer – which translates into 11 girls per calendar year of birth per million inhabitants (remember the number for Madrid boys is 770). No girls from my boys’ school play competitive soccer.
On the other hand, in Minnesota more girls play soccer than boys. Last summer MYSA had 162 U11 girls teams with around 2000 players. That translates to just over 600 girls per calendar year per million inhabitants (compare: 460 Minnesota boys; 770 Madrid boys; 11 Madrid girls). Clearly, Minnesota is a better place to be a girl soccer player. Thank you Title IX !!
- Madrid boys have enormous advantages in soccer over Minnesota boys.
- On the other hand, Minnesota is far ahead of Madrid for girls’ soccer.
Dan Menken works for a Minneapolis holding company. He did not grow up with soccer and is today learning the beautiful game through his children.
10 & 11 year old match in Collado Villalba on December 3, 2011.