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The Problem with “Soccer People”

I’m a “soccer guy”, but not a “soccer person”.  There’s a difference, at least under my definitions. As a soccer guy, I am a fan of all aspects of the game and I have an appreciation for all levels of play.  I enjoy watching the game whether it’s a bunch of 10 year olds or adult professionals.  It makes little difference to me as you experience many of the same features of the game:

  • Physical demands that come with sporting competition
  • Mental challenges including maintaining composure under pressure
  • Support for teammates and group problem solving
  • The thrill of anticipation, the close call and the release of that rare goal
  • Enjoying the outdoors with friends and family

I’ve found many youth recreational games every bit as exciting as a pro game partly because you are so close to the action that you can really sense the emotions of the players.  The frustration, anger, relief and excitement playing soccer brings to its participants and fans.

“Soccer people”, on the other hand, are different from me.  Most of them grew up playing (unlike myself) and continued playing competitively into their 20s either through college teams, high-end amateur leagues or, in rare cases, professionally.  As their playing days wind down, many of these people choose to get into coaching and some even try to make a career out of coaching and / or club administration.

As I’ve immersed myself in Colorado’s youth soccer environment (see The Grace Years, The Erin Years and The Board Years), I’ve met many great coaches and club staff members who are equally great people with a balanced approach to soccer and a belief in taking the “youth” part of youth soccer seriously.  Most have the same background as soccer people, but manage to keep things in perspective.

Diametrically opposing them (and myself) are soccer people who represent the negative side of soccer culture.  The drive to win at all cost, ethics be damned.  The know-it-alls who think that since they’ve been around soccer their whole lives that they can’t be wrong.  The giant egos, the arrogance.  It’s at this point in the rant where I usually imagine saying: “If you are such an omniscient being, why again are you working with children instead of coaching at the highest levels of world football?”  But I digress.

The problem with soccer people is they were begotten by soccer people and they go on to beget more soccer people.  It’s a vicious circle.  They are taken under the wing of another soccer person at a young age and taught “this is how you do things if you want to be successful”.  These are also typically the players who zeroed in on soccer as their top career choice as they exited high school or college, foregoing the opportunity to gain experience in other business environments before soccer.  As a result:

  • Professional, rational, organized, high performance people are a rarity (soccer people role models and mentors rarely possess these traits)
  • Many key decision makers in clubs have little to no real world business experience
  • People in leadership positions often don’t know how to lead or manage
  • There is little appreciation for relationship building, customer service or business process

It gets really diabolical when you have one of these soccer people enforcing (or ignoring) bad behavior by team coaches.  It’s one thing to be a nuisance in club operations, it’s another to basically encourage coaches to be immature and amateurish.  This turns off kids and, perhaps more importantly, it turns off parents.  Parents are the lifeblood of any youth sports program.  Parents pay the bills, then haul the kids to practice and far-flung matches.  If coaches and clubs are not mindful of how they treat both the kids and their parents, ultimately they are cutting their own throats as they drive families either out of the club or, worse, out of the game.

As a soccer guy, my perspective is often very different from that of the soccer people.  Over time, this idea of soccer guy vs soccer people will come out as I share thoughts on coaching and club management.  Are you a soccer person?  I hope not.

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