For those that haven’t heard, there was a historic announcement made this week when 18 year old Colorado native, Lindsey Horan announced that she would be forgoing her college commitment to sign a 6 figure, 2 year deal with Paris St Germain. For more information on the story: Click Here

It interested me, because the topic/her choice actually mirrors almost exactly, what I wrote my masters thesis on, that I was required to write in order to graduate from the University of Oslo this past December. 

In a nutshell, I compared the path of elite female soccer players from Canada and Norway, and the differences between their soccer and life paths. I interviewed 20 women, 10 Canadians and 10 Norwegians. Of the 10, half didn’t play past the college level for the Canadians, and high school for the Norwegians. For the other 5 I interviewed from each country, they went on to the highest level of the sport, either for the National Team of either country, or to the professional level.

You could argue that in choosing to forgo college, Horan is choosing to take the European path, in which soccer takes precedent over school, as opposed to North America/Canada, where schooling/career takes priority. The gist of my thesis findings were basically that from a soccer perspective, Europe gives players better playing opportunities, but from a long term/life perspective that the North American system whereby a degree is almost always gained is a massive positive.  Financially those that choose a career over soccer do better in both countries. But the big difference in Canada (and the US) is that, once you are done college, you are forced to either give up the sport at the highest level (the majority), or struggle to continue to play (made easier if you are on a national team). In Europe, you are able to combine a career with playing, long into your 20’s and 30’s if you choose.

However, in Horan signing a contract that both guarantees her education being paid for (as I understand it correctly) plus six figure compensation, from a club that is obviously set through its signings of becoming one of the top in Europe, it seems to get the best of both worlds and be a shrewd move.

My thesis showed that being a female professional player is not a lucrative endeavor (I could have saved myself a lot of research by comparing 3 figure bank accounts with most of my other professional soccer playing friends with my own). In all seriousness, I think I am correct in asserting that even the superstars in women’s soccer are not going to be able to put their feet up once their careers are over. The capital accrued from “being an elite female player” is not going to get people very far once they’ve finished on the field.

In fact one of my Canadian research subjects in my thesis who went to a very good university, but who has spent the last few years playing soccer said that she felt that she would have little choice but to go into some kind of soccer-related field, whether coaching or administration, because people in the working world would be so far ahead. The Canadians were ahead of the Norwegians however from a career/school perspective, as all had their degrees, and the cliche of “something to fall back on”, while some of the Norwegians, some of who had skipped or not finished university, and spent years at the pro level and who put school on the back burner, acknowledged that they would struggle once they were done.

Having finances, and an education now a non-issue because of her contract details, one has to look at Horan’s choice and ask whether she will be better off as a soccer player for developing in Europe at age 18, and I’d have to answer a resounding yes, even more so that she is at a good club. I think as the women’s game develops further in Europe, the problems with our development system in the US (and Canada) will become more apparent and the gulf between playing NCAA soccer and professional soccer, as its shown on the men’s side, will grow towards the same path on the women’s side.

Illustrating this, I read an alarming quote this week, from a pro coach who was talking about a player who plays for her team, and who coincidentally enough had just graduated from the school that Horan had signed for. She said that, months into the WPSL Elite season “can’t play her yet for a full 90 minutes because she’s used to coming on and off.  She’s fit.  She can run through a wall for twenty minutes.  And after that her body hasn’t figured out how to manage a full 90 minutes.  We’ve got her to about 60 now.”

From a soccer purist standpoint this puts into a disturbing context college soccer, and how the college game differs dramatically from the professional and international one. As an example with the previously mentioned NCAA school, a longtime known strategy is to play upwards of 20 players a game, trying to “wear down” the opponent. FIFA subbing rules, that don’t apply to the NCAA, make soccer a chess game with technical and tactical ability at a premium, as opposed to the NCAA which at times can resemble a horse race (who can run fastest, hardest, longest).

In my experience, in playing with European teenagers, versus North American ones, it becomes incredibly apparent how lacking tactical knowledge is on every level in North America. This is not rocket science, as we are not a culture that watches the game obsessively as both boys and girls in Europe do. The North American game relies on athleticism. Once that skill is matched as, unfortunately for the majority of players honed in the NCAA, there are few weapons that have been developed, that players are able to use.

I’m not sure how you change those issues, but with NCAA coaches’ jobs determined solely by results, the mentality of win and win now trumps development. It’s no one’s fault, its just the way the system is set up.

Horan will develop in a far more sophisticated manner by being overseas, and will no doubt get an advantage over her peers, I am certain of it. For players that are going to school on less than a full ride, and serious about their soccer, I’d almost say that fiscally it could be a smart idea to go overseas, if they are able to combine education, and find a good club to develop at, with university in the US (outside of state schools) being so expensive, and full rides becoming less and less common.

Based on my thesis, and with the North American importance that is put on education first (as it should be), I don’t think we are going to see a mass exodus of players any time soon. But from a soccer standpoint, if ever there is a way that it is figured out to combine education and professional soccer overseas, I think we could see more players doing their college in Europe. For the ability to still be able to compete with other international teams ten years from now, with little evolution in the North American women’s soccer realm, this may not be a bad thing.

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