We All Start Somewhere
In the spring of 1982, I found myself on an expanse of grass and gopher holes, wearing what everyone was calling “cleats.” Kids ran in every direction, and I, largely averse to running, tried to stay out of their way. So, I was often open. From amidst a tumbling mass of feet and 1st graders, a ball would squirt occasionally in my direction. And, terrified, I would do what every audible voice was loudly insisting: “BOOT IT!”
Practices and games were similarly chaotic, with various coaches or dads yelling words I didn’t really understand from one or the other sideline. “STAY ONSIDE!” they’d yell, or, “USE YOUR INSTEP!” or, most commonly, “BOOT IT!” I wouldn’t learn that soccer cleats were called boots for years, or what was involved in keeping oneself onside, but I did learn that some kids were much better than I was at using their instep to kick the ball. Where had they learned? Who would teach me? Isn’t this what practice was for?
Though she got her start quite a bit more recently, FC Kansas City’s Yael Averbuch (say: “Yah-El”) faced some of the same challenges.
As the world was about to get its first glimpse of some of the new call-ups to the United States Women’s National Team, I caught up with the multi-talented midfielder and entrepreneur to talk about her latest venture, Techne Futbol (say: “TEK-nee”).
Now, the serious instructional model centered on yelling “BOOT IT!” can be relegated to the past, as Averbuch has launched an app designed for serious soccer skills development. She's in my phone (or in my computer), ready to make me better, whenever I have time. Because, as it turns out, my sad soccer origin story is pretty common.
"Everyone starts out like that,” Yael lets me down easy.
Some of those 5 million videos feature Averbuch herself, as she has had a YouTube channel for a few years, dating back to when she was playing overseas.
Her nearly 14,000 yfutbol channel subscribers have had a steady diet of skills and personality over the years, but it’s very informal, and ranges from basics to more challenging skills. But with Techne Futbol, the videos are more polished and the instruction is more focused on helping players of any age build the skills they’ll need to perform at a higher level.
There's an App for That
The Techne Futbol app training sessions feature Averbuch and a diverse cast of other athletes demonstrating skills without any special equipment. Indeed, often, a ball and a wall or some cones are all that is required. Want to learn juggling? Here's a sample of what you'll need to do:
Juggling is nice, but maybe you want to improve your first touch. How many times do you watch soccer and hear the announcer talk about how a player's first touch let him/her down, or that a first touch got away from a player. If you've got a wall, you can improve your first touch every day.
Why Techne? Why Futbol?
Why, I wondered, did Averbuch choose an app name that might be more challenging for the average bear to pronounce than her own name? Surely she's tired of constantly correcting everyone when they call her "Yale."
Most American fans are aware that Futbol or Football is the name of the game everywhere outside of the Soccer-loving States. So did she choose Futbol for the app to appeal to a more worldwide audience?
The app can be used by anyone anywhere in the world with the desire and motivation to push themselves to be better. And, as early adopters have discovered, they'll have some really top class company on the app's leaderboard.
Learning in a Community
Techne Futbol's leaderboard gives users a chance to put in the hard work, and see how their efforts compare with the others using the app. There is a community emerging within the app users, as kids, adults and professional athletes all do the same workout and compete with themselves for various levels of achievement called "Training Socks."
At the start, everyone has white socks, but as the training hours build, the colors begin to change similarly to how belts might change in a martial arts discipline. If you want to earn the Black Socks, you're in for 1,000 hours of training. Don't think you're done, however. As the site says, "A black sock student may now begin to teach others, but still continues to grow through a never-ending process of added knowledge, enlightenment, and ability."
Averbuch's FCKC teammate and recent USWNT retiree Heather O'Reilly is an early adopter. This seems poorly considered to me, and I ask Yael, "Honestly, is anyone going to train harder than Heather O'Reilly?"
I'm glad we're on the same page there. Joking aside, it's not hard to imagine the power of doing the same training activities as your soccer heroes, especially with a chance to "beat" them to various benchmarks of hours of training invested.
Access Based on Desire
At $23/month per individual membership (billed annually at $276), Techne Futbol seems affordable. Teams, clubs and schools can get better pricing when various numbers of players all sign up as a group. But $23/month is too much for some players, and Averbuch knew that she wanted a way to get motivated, dedicated players the training they needed without crashing their family finances. So, from the day the app launched, she included a pair of links on the website: A Scholarship Application and a Player Sponsorship form.
Averbuch isn't wrong about the generosity of those who've donated scholarships. But she's also not wrong about the socio-economic realities of youth sports, and girls soccer in particular. Here in the United States, unlike in some soccer powerhouse countries, the game is almost always pay-to-play. The Guardian explored the topic in some depth in June, but the subject is a bit of a buzz-kill to many. That doesn't mean it's not a real problem.
Some communities are trying innovative new things to get kids of every circumstance involved regardless of their financial situation. Just this week, a great article in the Washington Post looked at how Gaithersburg, MD saw an increase of 1200% in youth sports fee waiver requests when the process of requesting a waiver was made less embarrassing for the family involved. Instead of needing to submit details on the family finances, those requesting a waiver simply needed to check a box indicating their need.
Inequality and access to quality youth sports programming is a growing problem, but one that can be improved when cities like Gaithersburg and entrepreneurs like Yael Averbuch insist that making a difference is a core value. With some creativity, the most talented kids can get the opportunities they deserve regardless of their socioeconomic status.
Grow the Game
It's three long years until the next Women's World Cup, and the USWNT is going to change significantly before the new squad heads to France with their eyes on the prize. The NWSL will spread the #furt for an unprecedented 5th year in 2017, when more than 200 women from around the world will earn roster spots in the top tier of American WoSo. Plus, while we wait for our favorite 10 teams to return in the spring, ESPN will broadcast the W-League Australian Women's Soccer on ESPN3 starting right away. Women's Soccer has never been more popular, or more visible. The competition is only going to get stronger.
For youth or college players who want a shot at making their dreams come true, Yael Averbuch and Techne Futbol can help. There are around 22,000 hours between now and the 2019 Women's World Cup. That's plenty of time to show Heather O'Reilly who's boss on the leaderboard.