Ep 22: Chris Kessell – Making Soccer Accessible, Lack of Diversity in U.S. Soccer, and Improving the game
Chris Kessel, President of West Side SC and Kanawha Valley Soccer League as well as West Virginia Soccer Association Board Member, joined SoccerWire Resident Analyst Charles Boehm for Episode 22. Charles and Chris, who is a long-time soccer player and coach, chat about how to make soccer accessible for everyone, increase the diversity in U.S. Soccer, and improve the game not just in America but globally.
[2:00] – Chris Kessell introduces himself and how he having easy access to the game got him involved and how he has become more involved over the last four decades. He shares his involvment started increasing when he wanted his volunteer club to host West Virginia Soccer coaching education classes so he helped set it up.
[4:50] Chris talks about making the cost barrier to entry lower for everyone and how discusses the free weekly skills clinic he started for anyone in his community. This leads him to learn about soccer cages and the start of Futsal Friday over four years ago that gets a lot of kids playing that may not otherwise have access to play.
[10:35] “The game sells itself” Chris discusses his philisohpy that if kids are exposed to game and given the opportunity to play, they’ll want to keep playing once they start. He states that while the want is for youth players to become great and learn, kids should want to be involved with the sport for decades and simply love the game
[12:21] Chris explains why high cost is a barrier to entry and to combat this his club teams wear the same t-shirts but can wear whatever cleats, shorts, socks, etc that they already have. The goal is to make barrier to entry as low as possible and shares that about 40% of the kids at his club pay $35/year or less to play.
[13:35] The story of how Chris became a board member of the West Virginia Youth Soccer Association
[15:11] Chris discusses what he believes is an on-going issue that leadership in U.S. Soccer are stuck in a ‘silo’ and can lose sight of the big picture. He shares that it is easy to fall into that trap but it is important to get people involved to think about how the affect soccer can have on everyone in the country, how the game can get better, and move forward globally.
[19:02] The strugges and frustrations that can occur when proposing a policy ammendment with U.S. Soccer and dealing with gatekeepers versus progressives.
[26:38]A look at the unfolding of the player registration fees reduction proposal. Plus, a view on the potentially giant undercurrent that are ready to see structural change -massive changes – and the current slow pace of changes but Chris believes more are on the way soon.
[30:57] Chris shares how we was taken aback when saw how little diversity there is at U.S. Soccer and the want for more diversity, but him and Charlie agree there is extremem respect for those that spend their time voting and putting in the work. Chris details the two things that have to be in place for better diversity: the minimum standard is stating that anybody can come but then if everyone isn’t coming, efforts need to be made to see why they aren’t coming – by being purposefully inclusive.
[34:20] A further explanation that just because an organization is not excluding people on purpose doesn’t mean that exclusion isn’t happening.
[37:05] Chris discusses the idea that soccer is “a rich kids sport” and shares why he works so hard to try and bring people in that may not be part of the game otherwise and discusses how his background helped shape him as a person. “We owe it to the kids to give them the game of soccer.”