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Child's Play : Kids Love Soccer, Until They Outgrow It

August 01, 1993|BOB OATES

For several good reasons, kids' soccer is a gem of a game:

--It is inexpensive, requiring only shirts, shorts, shoes and a ball.

--It is intensely aerobic, although injuries are rarer than in many other outdoor activities.

--Youngsters find it easier to kick a big ball than to hit a little one.

--On a crowded field, it's less intimidating to run for a soccer ball than to carry a football, or throw a block or tackle a bigger kid.

--More significantly, it can be fun earlier in life than most games, particularly when, for younger kids, the sides are sometimes limited to fewer than the usual 11 players.

Thus in many U.S. neighborhoods, on many playgrounds, at many schools, soccer is bigger than any other sport. It is a magnet for an estimated 3 million young American players annually, and it has been nearly that big for years.

So it has given the lie to the old proposition that the games of one's youth become the games of one's chief adult interest.

For as spectators, most soccer players, when they reach high school or college, turn into fans of the traditional U.S. sports--football, basketball and baseball.

A principal explanation for this phenomenon, according to Los Angeles lawyer Alan Rothenberg, is that America lacks a pro soccer league of NFL or NBA stature.

"Sports fans follow glamour," Rothenberg, chief executive of the 1994 World Cup presentation, said recently. "When they get to high school, soccer players are attracted to the games in which players like Michael Jordan and Jerry Rice are the stars.

"They identify with role models, and so far, soccer has been unable to give them any.

"When there's a major pro soccer league in America with famous players, you'll see that young soccer players become soccer fans."

From Tex Schramm, the retired founder of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, comes a different view.

"Soccer can be fun to play," Schramm said. "But compared to college football or pro football or a basketball game, it isn't much fun to watch."

In the meantime, the kids are out having fun with it. On that level, even in America, soccer is a major league sport.

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