Until soccer in this country is more like the X Games, Karl Dewazien said, the sport, and its athletes, won't grow the way they should.
He doesn't mean a modified version of soccer should be played on a halfpipe by children on roller skates. But he said children need to play because they want to, not because they're pushed into it.
"Those are all sports adults can't do and so they can't teach,' Dewazien said of extreme hobbies. 'It's the same thing with video games. Would you keep playing if your parents were standing behind you telling you 'Move left, go right.' Probably not.'
Dewazien, the California Youth Soccer Association's coaching director, and CYSA District 8 commissioner Bob Asklof were in town last week to speak at a Modesto Youth Soccer Association meeting.
Dewazien is a worldwide authority on youth soccer. His book 'Fundamental Soccer Practice' is widely used by parents and coaches in the United States and Canada, and has been translated into Spanish and Chinese. So it's with high regard that his ideas are received, especially in California, where he's been the coaching director for 25 years.
Dewazien says children shouldn't be labeled and pushed into competitive programs until they reach puberty. He knows the idea goes against what soccer organizations in other countries do.
He knows many soccer officials think the United States needs to follow foreign patterns by identifying elite athletes as early as possible and getting them 'proper' instruction right away.
Big mistake, Dewazien said.
Dewazien said. 'I've seen abusive conditions. It's all about money. The players go through at least four years of physical and mental torture. Children are tagged before they reach maturity and they're gone.
'It isn't all about winning and losing. What a child thinks is fun and what an adults thinks is fun are two different things.
'Adults think kids are only having fun if they're laughing. I know lots of kids who don't laugh when they're playing. They're concentrating. But they could play for hours on end and say they had fun.'
Dewazien isn't anti-adult. He acknowledged there are thousands of positive role models in sports who don't get the headlines the bad ones do. But the parents and officials are the ones that set up the tournaments and games, and sometimes what children need gets lost.
That's where the Fresno-based instructor feels a strong pull. Dewazien's concern is not making the United States a world soccer power. His concern is for the youth players and making sure they enjoy life and the sport.
'It's up to the individual to make themselves get better and be noticed,' Dewazien said. 'If they're good, they're going to get there, to the highest level, no matter what they do.'
One of Dewazien's projects is instituting something called 'small-sided' games into club systems. Games are played on smaller fields, which the players prepare by setting out cones themselves. This way, they have more control.
Dewazien said kids can be left to play on their own while the coaches give more attention to one or two players struggling with a particular technique.
'They don't have to be in fantastic shape, but they get a lot of touches on the ball, and they have more fun,' Dewazien said.
'One thing we need to get across to coaches is to teach kids to play soccer by themselves. We have to focus on teaching adults that winning isn't everything. That's been my biggest goal the last 10 years.'
Though Asklof doesn't always agree with Dewazien -- he says he understands why parents would be reluctant to let their children play a pick-up soccer game in an unsupervised park when a basketball hoop in the front yard is safer -- he supports most of his ideas.
'Our whole thing is getting kids to enjoy play,' Asklof said. 'Our system is not perfect, and we have people who get carried away, but I've seen pro clubs pick kids up and abuse them. We have a fabulous institution in the CYSA. It's a child-safe environment.'
Dewazien hopes to see his dream come true -- children initiating play more like pick-up basketball games. But change might be slow. He's working on this generation so that maybe in the next 20 years, today's children will be passing healthy forms of play on to their kids.
'We're going to see the game in a different way,' Dewazien said. 'They can go out and play without adults. If we didn't have the money or time, kids would still be out there playing on their own.'