A recent conversation about how to improve the quality of our Alabama club teams to the point where we could compete with the better states in Region III turned to how Oklahoma clubs were able to be competitive with the better and more populous Region 3 states.
One answer is sheer number of registered players. In Region 3 the state of Oklahoma gets about twice as many registered USYS players from a state population of a million less people than Alabama.
Number of registered players in 2006-07: (rough estimate)
Total Population: (Estimated 2006)
So what is Oklahoma doing that results in so many registered players and what else do they and similar state organizations do that allows their quality of play to be at so much higher a level than Alabama?
Oklahoma is a good case study for Alabama because they have proven to be competitive in the Southern Regionals while Alabama seldom has a team make the quarterfinals. The size of the state, number of urban areas, clubs, etc. seem to be similar to Alabama's.
Can those of you that are familiar with Oklahoma provide any insight?
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I wrote this as my speculation on the subject (comparison of why Oklahoma has succeeded where Alabama hasn’t) in a discussion with some local DOCs - before I posted the question to this list. It seems to match with what most posters have written here.
Oklahoma has a much longer and storied soccer history than Alabama. They had a number of good professional soccer teams in the 1970s and 1980s (Roughnecks, Slickers, Warriors, etc.). We didn't even have high school of any measurable size until the mid to late 1990s.
I asked both their boys and girls reps that same question and they had a variety of reasons why Oklahoma teams had gotten so much better in the past 5 years.
They cited the burgeoning Hispanic influence on the boys side.
On the girls side the main reason was that although there were a lot of clubs and players, the most talented players had starting moving to just one or two specific clubs. That seems to be happening in Alabama to a degree (Huntsville girls playing for BUSA teams). But because we only have half as many players the effect is not as big as it is in Oklahoma in terms of the overall talent of a specific team.
They also have the "North Texas" effect. Dallas is nearby. Dallas is only 170 miles from Oklahoma City (only 120 between suburbs) and 220 miles from Tulsa. A lot of people seem to move to Oklahoma from Dallas so you have an influx of players. The two city's club teams play each other quite often. Birmingham is 130 miles from Atlanta but we don't have the same number of teams in either Atlanta or Birmingham to have the same sort of competition. There is another effect with Kansas City to a lesser degree.
The west Region 3 premier league is also much better than the central R3 league and good competition makes good teams into great teams. The best central region 3 teams are not the same as the best western R3 teams.
I did not consider the effect of college soccer but obviously that has an effect – especially if the players remain in the area to coach after college.
I also had not checked the demographics closely. Alabama has a population that is 26.4% black and 2.3% Hispanic while Oklahoma has a population that is 7.7% black and 6.6% Hispanic. At this time the black population in the states is largely uninterested in soccer while the Hispanic population looks to soccer as its first choice among sports. That difference really affects the market demographics for soccer in each state.
The ODP Players generally look to the state schools but few get chosen for the D1 schools. Many get scholarships to the smaller schools – both in-state and out of state. Alabama had five players that played on the national youth teams last year. Those players get their choice of schools but choose ACC schools when offered a choice. Two will attend UNC (Bill Dworsky & Merritt Mathias).
Speaking in a broad sense, the regional ODP players on the boys’ side have been few and those end up at smaller schools. There are more Regional ODP players on the girls side and those have generally still gone out of state. Auburn and UAB have each started recruiting more of the in-state players.
Many of the more successful in-state programs still fill their scholarship quotas with out-of-state (and often out-of-country) talent although gains for local players are being made there.
I had hoped to hear that Oklahoma’s state association had some sort of marvelous strategic plan that had helped them. But it appears that there is no magic solution to emulate Oklahoma.
Some goals for Alabama should be: continuous gains of about 5% per year in total registered players, gains in rural areas, gains in new Hispanic talent, raising the level of both high school play and top clubs and a gradual gain in numbers of local players making the rosters of state colleges.
If anyone has other ideas I’d like to hear them. It does appear that Oklahoma is a good model for Alabama to use for long-term gains.
Their club system is still way behind, just like STX is behind NTX, I have to say besides clubs like ESC or Tulsa Nationals, Celtic, ect they aren't really looked on as a threat, especially in Region III Premier league. I would be trying to compare yourself to NTX. Your main problem though is that your whole side of the Region is so much weaker and you don't get to play enough quality competition on a regular basis. Until there are enough clubs in Alabama to keep eachother in check I don't see there being much progress.
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