Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
How many times, as a high school soccer coach, have you felt, unappreciated, underappreciated, or inferior? Well it is time for change, it is time to make the high school game relevant again. As the saying goes, "worry about what you can control," let’s explore how to make that happen.
As I prepare for my upcoming high school soccer season in Florida, I always pick a slogan for my team. The slogan represents an attitude I want the team to embrace for the year. This season I chose ‘Rise Up,’ we need to challenge ourselves to be better in every aspect on the field and in the classroom. I am calling on the high school coaches in this country to Rise Up as well. Our place in the soccer hierarchy, high school, is often passed over, we are sometimes led to believe we are inferior, our place in the big picture is not significant. We face challenges we have never had to face before with the U.S. Soccer Development Academy prohibiting its players from high school ball and some coaches in other organizations discouraging players from participating in scholastic soccer. High School players are told that their school programs are inferior, just recreational programs, and a waste of time by many of the coaches trying to grab the high school-age player.
It is time for us, as high school coaches, to Rise Up! We are not inferior because we offer so much more than just providing our student-athletes a chance to play the game. We do not need to speak badly of academy or club programs, for a select few those programs fill a need, if players want to leave our programs, we should wish them luck and let them go. If we do things correctly, those players may never leave our programs in the first place or we could quite possibly lure them back.
That means that you, as a coach, need to Rise Up! You need to take a look at your program and make sure you are doing everything in your power to provide the best high school experience you can. You have so many tools at your disposal, yet many of us fail to capitalize on them, we fail to sell our programs to our athletes, our parents, and our communities. Let me help you explore the avenues that will help put your high school program on the forefront.
Players ultimately want to play for their high school teams, they get to play with their friends and in front of their peers. They do not have to travel hours just to practice or play games, many of their games are at the school and in front of their teachers, their classmates, and their families. They wear the high school soccer shirt in school with pride while students talk to them about the team and the latest game. Their names are on the school announcements, they are recognized at school pep rallies, and they wear their letter jacket with pride. They are part of a school athletic department and their team is a source of community pride. Nobody cares what the club team did last weekend or where they are traveling this weekend. High school athletics, high school soccer is part of the American teenage experience.
The local media will cover the games, report the scores and often post who scored, had assists, or who made the saves. Many community papers do feature stories about athletes and the better your record, the more frequent your media coverage. Sports writers often recognize all-county and all-state players, seniors have the opportunity to participate in all-star contests when their seasons are over.
Coaches can also organize team-building activities with their high school group. Many coaches organize team camping trips, kayak or canoe adventures, paintball battles, team obstacle courses or scavenger hunts. These team-building experiences create a buzz around the school and help enhance a player’s experience while building stronger connections to the team and to the school.
Coaches can also easily organize community service projects for their teams. Having the team involved in a community project helps promote the sport and school in a positive light and brings more attention to the team. These experiences are easy to organize when all the players live in the same area and play for the same high school.
High school coaches can also boost their credibility by enhancing the experience for the parents as well; promoting the benefits that participation in high school sports provide their student-athletes along the way. High school players are also often held to higher academic and behavioral expectations. High School athletics can help a improve a player’s studies by motivating them to achieve higher grades in order to participate. Many states have athletic code of conduct policies that expect the athlete to attend classes and make positive choices outside of school. There are also many leadership opportunities for student athletes as well: Captaining teams, mentoring younger high school athletes, and even influencing middle- and elementary-age students in the school district. A student’s association with the high school team can give them instant credibility to younger athletes in their communities.
High school sports also build a strong emotional connection with the school and the community. Parents are often involved in fundraising efforts across many different sports and a bond is built within the parental network. Parents seldom only have one child attending the local high school. Their children are involved in many activities bringing the parent along for the ride. Strong emotional bonds are developed within the parents as they have a part in educational development of their child. Those bonds are not the same and often non-existent in a club setting.
Even with an adequate number of games, the ratio of practice time to game time has a good balance. High school coaches can offer a lot of training throughout the course of the season, enhancing a player’s soccer development. Many on the outside of high school soccer may argue about coaching credibility and experience. That falls back on the coach. What coaching credentials can you showcase? Taking courses, attending conferences, reading the latest books and journals, should be something that is shared with your administrators and parents.
High school athletics continue to be cornerstones of the communities in which they are located. They are a great source of school pride and if your soccer program isn’t standing out and getting attention, then you need to Rise Up! Take every opportunity to promote and celebrate your program. It could be the number of players on the honor roll, a high team GPA, the number of players graduating and attending college, or the number of championships you have won. High school soccer coaches accomplish great things with their student athletes, make sure you are doing things to create a buzz in your school and community. Do not ever let yourself feel like a second-class citizen again.
(Greg Winkler is the NSCAA’s Boys High School Advocacy Chair. Currently boys head coach at Ida Baker High School in Cape Coral, Florida, he was 2012 NSCAA National Youth Coach of the Year, 2006 Wisconsin Youth Soccer Coach of the Year and 2005 NFHS Midwest Boys Coach of the Year. Winkler is the author of Coaching a Season of Significance.)