At the same time I was immersing myself in coaching (see The Grace Years and The Erin Years), I was learning about youth soccer in Colorado from another angle: that of board member for a non-profit club. I served on our club’s board for five of the six years from Nov’07 to Oct’13, first as the Technology Director and later as the Competitive Program Director.
At the beginning, the club actually operated as though it was two separate entities: a recreational arm and a competitive arm. The recreational arm was run by volunteers with a couple paid part-time staffers (one person taking care of fields, equipment and referee coordination and the other was an accountant). The competitive arm had two full-time employees plus a part-time administrator. The original reasons for the split are unclear, but eventually the two pieces were brought together to create a true end-to-end program.
But back in 2007, the rec board was huge as everyone on the board had a specific job to do. It was a very tactical approach, but it was pretty effective and the club had been run that way for more than 30 years. As the Technology Director, I was responsible for selecting and administering all the systems used to run the club’s programs. This eventually amounted to a website powered by the Drupal CMS platform; a SaaS electronic registration system operated by a company called Bonzi; Google Apps; and a few other odds and ends. As volunteer board members came and went, I got involved in other activities such as web content production, financial / budget analysis, orchestrating rec coaches meetings, building out the season match schedule, match day operations and so forth. Whatever it took to put on a season of soccer.
Two-thirds of the way through my first term, the club “reunified” the two disparate pieces and the board was reinvented (as well as dramatically reduced in size) with the intention of becoming a more strategic body, leaving the day-to-day work to staff. I left the board as part of its downsizing, then ran again a year later to join the new board.
The first time I was on the board, it was simply because the club needed help with technology and I was sort of tricked into joining (but in the nicest way). The second time, I was mobilized by what I was seeing as a parent new to competitive soccer. My older daughter Grace had been selected for one of the club’s competitive teams and all during her U11 fall I watched in horror as her coach made one foolish, selfish decision after another. I thought to myself: “Isn’t competitive soccer supposed to be about a higher degree of professionalism? Are the kids no longer supposed be enjoying themselves? Are parents really expected to just write a check and shut the hell up?”
The arrogance and egotism of the coach was counter to everything I’d learned in my courses and everything I believed in as a parent coach. Then I talked to parents on other, mostly older, teams (both in our club and in other clubs) and it sounded as though my observations and negative experiences were the norm, not the exception. “Utter insanity!”, I thought.
I re-joined the board to try to understand why Colorado’s competitive system was the way it was; to find ways and means to change behaviors and break ingrained habits; and, above all, to try to improve the experience for both players and parents. Soccer is supposed to be a positive experience. An oft cited and well-known study by authors from the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports (ISYS) at Michigan State University (Seefeldt, V., Ewing, M.E., & Walk, S. (1993). Overview of youth sports in the United States. Paper commissioned by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development.) found the number one reason boys and girls play sports is “to have fun”. The top reasons why these kids from age 10 through age 16 drop out of sports? “not having fun” and “no longer interested”. While I appreciate the fine work of the folks at ISYS, you don’t have to be an academic researcher or youth psychologist to know that this is true.
In addition to the “quality of life” aspects I hoped to address, I also thought there had to be a way to create great, elite players without the various shortcuts and bad behaviors I saw so often around the game.
Many of the ideas I will share on this blog originally emerged during my second term on the board, the three-year period from Nov’10 to Oct’13 when I was our club’s Competitive Program Director (U11 to U18) overseeing the strategic development and operations of that program. During that time, I invested hundreds of hours into:
- independent study,
- conversation with a range of soccer experts,
- board meeting debates and
- coaching coursework
all of which have informed my understanding of youth soccer and helped to form my beliefs around what constitutes the ideal player development system.
More to come…