Youth Beat: The Internet Impact

The game will always be played on the field, but everything that leads up to it has become easier thanks to high technology.

When a child asks you what kind of cell phone you had when you were a kid, or what you mean by "sounding like a broken record" - it's a nice reminder of the technological changes that have occurred within the last generation.

Then, of course, there's the almighty Internet. We managed without it, but do you recall how?

For sure, the world of youth soccer teams functioned quite differently without e-mail and those handy team-management Web sites. Any communication that wasn't taken care of on the field required a long series of phone calls - opposed to that one convenient e-mail we can now send out to the entire team. "I remember I always had two file folders," says longtime San Francisco coach Toby Rappolt of Viking SC. "One was 'called.' One was 'left messages.'"

Tim Schulz, the president of giant youth club Rush Soccer, recalls when fellow coach Dave Chesler tried to explain e-mail, sometime around the mid-1990s.

"Oh my gosh, I'll never forget the conversation," Schulz says. "He showed me the computer, which was somewhat foreign to me anyway. He showed me how you could send mail and receive it through the computer. I just laughed and said I'll never do that. It's not going to happen."

Chesler, now the U.S. U-18 girls national team coach, told Schulz back then: "This is going to be the future of the coach. If you can't do e-mails, you're probably not going to make it."

So major is the role that the Internet plays in youth soccer that Rush SC, which has clubs in more than 20 states, is investing around $200,000 to upgrade its Web site.

Charlie Slagle, chief executive of North Carolina's CASL, points out that the club Web site is valuable on the marketing front. CASL has the logos of 20 club sponsors on its landing page.

"We had 1,100 teams in our tournament last year, so our number of hits is crazy," Slagle says, "because all those people are checking what their schedule is, what the results are. Let alone our own teams, who check their schedule, their scores, and how to get to the field."

The Rush requires its coaches to frequently e-mail reports to their players' parents and copy their team's supervisor on them.

"We want them to, on a regular basis, let the team and parents know which direction they're going," Schulz says. "You better tell the parents what's going on. What are the fees. What are the fees going to. How are they playing. Why they lost. Why you're disciplining a child. Why you're conducting another training session because we missed two games in a row, and on and on.

"You need to keep the parent in the loop. It's vital. If you don't, you're going to lose your customer. Your competitor will get them."

The weekly e-mail to parents has become a common part of coaching youth ball.

"That's my opportunity to inform parents what we're doing and why we're doing it," says Rappolt.

Says Jeff Baicher, the Director of Coaching for Northern California's De Anza Force, "If you have a problem communicating with parents, you're not going to be coaching at my club for long."

The e-mailed team report gives coaches a chance to explain their coaching methods and how the players are progressing, helping the parents comprehend that the final score isn't the only way to judge a game.

Team management Web sites enable parents to report the availability of their children for games and team events. Club Web sites provide myriad information. Besides game schedules, there are field maps, club news, player bios aimed at college coaches, and boasts about which colleges club alumni are attending. Rush clubs are required to update their Web sites at least every three days.

Before the Internet, says Schulz, "The communication was slow. You didn't change training. You just relied on those times and dates. Lots of miscommunication went on."

Of course, the Internet makes team registration much smoother. "We have 9,000 players who register online," Slagle says. "We used to do that by hand."

Mary Kaliff, the general manager of the San Diego area's Nomads SC, joined the club in 2001, bringing with her loads of experience from working at an Internet development company.

After handling league registration that required typing and retyping, she orchestrated a move to online registration. She was also involved in the creation of U.S. Club Soccer, which flourished as an alternative to U.S. Youth Soccer thanks to its streamlined online registration process and inter-state player database.

"The Internet enables one person to do the job of 10," she says. "It saves a lot of money that we can instead put into the players."

Of course, the reliance on the Internet can present a barrier for those without easy access to the Web.

RJ Castro is the commissioner of East Valley PAL, most of whose players come from San Jose's lower-income Latino community.

"We probably only have 20 percent registration online and 80 percent are done the old-fashioned way - paper forms brought into the office," he says.

Many of the Nomads' players also come from lower-income Latino families.

"They can get Internet access at libraries and schools," says Kaliff. "And we created a buddy system, where those with Internet access print out the information and relay it to those who don't have it."

There's also Twitter, which enables Nomads director of coaching Derek Armstrong to text information into his cell phone while on road trips that appears on the club's Web site. Slagle uses a widget to text messages that arrive in the cell phones of 1,500 families with announcements such as field closures.

The Internet provides a plethora of educational material for soccer coaches and players. Google "soccer coaching" and you'll get 235,000 results. It recalls personal computer pioneer Mitch Kapor's statement that, "Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant."

The novice youth coach just might believe that a Web site boasting 350 drills can help him bring joy to children on the soccer field. There is, no kidding, a Web site that offers 29 drills for players ages 3 through 5.

The major organizations such as the USSF, U.S. Youth Soccer, AYSO and the NSCAA include coaching education sections on their sites.

"I haven't found one [coaching Web site] as complete as I think should be available out there," says Schulz. "We take bits and pieces from different Web sites. Our new Web site will have a large coaching education tool. It will be very interactive. ... By using video, you can really cut back the ambiguity of what is trying to be said. And you need to make it clear for what age and skill level the drills should be used."

Slagle says with the Internet's rise do come negatives, such as the forum Web sites in which people can anonymously post misinformation and vitriolic criticism. The positives, however, outweigh the negatives, he says, citing that the Internet creates a soccer culture among kids by putting role models at their fingertips, thanks to sites such as

"I think it helps kids a lot," he says. "Messi or Ronaldo scores a magnificent goal, they watch it on the Internet. It sparks conversation and they try to emulate great players."

(This article originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Soccer America magazine.) 



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