SOCCER; The sport's youth appeal

Soccer is the immigrant on the North American sports scene, the new kid on the block. As such, it still finds itself trying to befriend the spectating and playing public.

Where it has made remarkable inroads is with the youth of of this country. For example, the California-based American Youth Soccer Organization, with leagues in 24 states, has gone from about 6,000 players to 250,000 during the past decade.Furthermore, recent reports indicate that soccer balls account for a rapidly rising percentage of the inflatable ball market. Many of these, no doubt, are purchased by or for youngsters, who gravitate to the game for a very simple reason: It's fun.

part of what makes soccer that way is the large, round ball, an easy target. Even a young child finds kicking a more natural skill than throwing. This may also explain why youngsters seem to prefer kicking a football to passing one. Learning to throw a spiral is no easy task for small-handed children.

Consequently, the ease with which both boys and girls can start playing soccer has to be a major factor in its burgeoning popularity. And its appeal to both sexes gives it a potentially larger base of participation than football, which may someday be evident in attendance figures.

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