Path To Pros Easier For Some Athletes

Justin RutledgeContributor IMay 13, 2009

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 28:  Todd Clever scores a try during the Super 14 round 7 match between Lions and Hurricanes held at Coca Cola Park on March 28, 2009 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Duif du Toit/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

To sports fans in the United States, there have been some "new kids on the block" that are starting to come into the forefront of the nation's sporting consciousness. The top names of this group are soccer - the sport the rest of the world calls football - lacrosse and rugby. For the athletes in soccer and lacrosse it is easier to obtain positions that pay players to compete, though the route there is about the same.

How do players who love these sports reach the professional ranks? The answer is simple and the same for each of the three spots: exposure and experience. This exposure puts elite athletes onto the radar of each sport's respective scouts; and once these scouts see a player they are impressed with it becomes easier for those stand-outs to move up to the next level. Every sport has its elite teams players can tryout for.

Soccer provides the most opportunities for its athletes to play, improve and move up in the ranks. Soccer in the United States provides national teams for its elite athletes that are younger than 15 tears of age. For its older players, soccer provides tournaments and development academies for its elite high school players. When athletes are at the college level and above they can try out for professional teams.

Lacrosse lets its players compete on a national level with its U-19 teams. MLL, like other big name professional sports organizations, holds a yearly draft, but if players miss out on it they can try out for the team of their choice.

Rugby has elite regional teams players can try out for, as well as national representative teams for players younger than 17. From there the options narrow, though. Since rugby is not as well established as its counterparts, the opportunities to play are limited. Their is competition at the high school level, with championships in numerous divisions and locations. While rugby has elite representative teams at the higher levels, there isn't much in that vein at the lower levels, making it more difficult for those who excel early to get a variety of competition.

With the arrival of organizations like Major League Soccer (MLS) and Major League Lacrosse (MLL), the developing players in the states are sharpening their skills in hopes of playing professionally. Though there is no professional, paying, rugby organization in the United States, there are still ways for players to see some cash. People like Todd Clever have to take an extra step and impress scouts and coaches overseas in order to be paid to play.

Fortunately for those trying to get into each individual sport at a young age, there are teams and programs in each sport emerging all over the United States, so no matter how many steps they have to take, there are plenty of opportunities for them to compete and excel.

There are 750 youth and high school teams, according to the Play Rugby USA Web site. The Youth Lacrosse USA Web site lists  over 140 youth teams from New Mexico to Ohio. The US Youth Soccer Web site lists over 40 teams in their national league spread between four regions.

What these sports and programs all have in common is they cater to children under the age of 15 all the way through high school. They give their players experience and exposure to the rules and techniques involved with the sport.

Excelling in lacrosse and soccer programs can lead its players directly to a position that allows a person to being paid to play. The elite players at the higher levels of rugby, though, have to go overseas to find organizations that pay players.

No matter if the money can be made locally or overseas, the keys are competition at high levels and impressing the right people.