Commentary

The youth coach's priority: Give families a reason to stay

Suppose you’re coaching a club’s B or C team in a given age group.

Then suppose a parent tells you her daughter won’t be returning in the fall. She plays multiple sports, and she has decided to focus on the others.

Would you tell that parent her daughter shouldn’t expect significant playing time over a Memorial Day tournament that will be her last experience with this club and in this sport? Would you bring a player down from the B team to take over most of the available playing time instead?

An anonymous parent on a soccer message board posted this scenario this spring, lamenting that the kid’s last chance to play with her friends is turning so bitter. But we don’t know the details -- maybe he or she isn’t telling the whole story -- so let’s keep it hypothetical.

What was the goal of this club’s chosen Memorial Day tournament? A trophy for one of its lower teams? Building that lower team for next season? Sending a message to anyone who dares to do something else with her life?

Could it be about development? Perhaps, but only if the coaches think the player moving down needs to do so. And if we’re talking about a player who is struggling with the A team, we’re probably not talking about a player who has pro or college aspirations that might justify such heavy-handedness.

Could it be about team-building? Seems unlikely, given that this isn’t the top team in the age group. Besides, is this a team that will have no other changes over the summer? No one moving? No one else choosing another activity? No one moving up to the A team? How will three or four games over an exhausting weekend help the team implement some sort of tactical innovation in the fall?

So unless this kid is some sort of malcontent, we’re left with a couple of possibilities, and they’re not good. Either the coach is being petty or really wants to use some A-team ringer to win the Premier Elite Bronze West A Bracket of a local tournament.

This is, of course, a hypothetical loosely based on an anonymous post. The problem is that it’s believable.

We all know this coach. His ego precedes him into a room. Interactions with him are not enjoyable. If you’re single, please steer clear of this guy. If he can’t handle the “rejection” of a child picking another sport over soccer, imagine how he’d handle a breakup. To cite a quote erroneously attributed to UCLA legend John Wooden: “Sports don’t build character. They reveal it.”

Coaches might argue that they’re sick of investing time into players, only to see them take their talents somewhere else. Club loyalty doesn’t really exist. Many youth soccer players are opportunists, seeking what they think -- based on skimpy information -- is the best development option. Others are mercenaries, sought by coaches who need that one last “piece” to win a State Cup or reach some sort of regional or national tournament.

But many players change clubs for valid reasons. Perhaps they’re capable of playing at a higher level. Perhaps they don’t have much of a chance for playing time at their positions, and unlike a high school quarterback (or goalkeeper), they have other options, and we can’t be too upset when they change. Perhaps they have a chance to play with some friends, a popular reason why players may eventually opt to play high school soccer after being told by clubs that they had to choose between high school and club.

In this case, an athlete chose other activities. Given the temperament of this coach, should we be surprised? One thing you can say about youth soccer is that we’re pretty good at developing lacrosse players.

All you can do as a coach is to give families a reason to stay. They might not take it.

But if you get a reputation for being vindictive, why would they sign up to play for you at all?

And if the sport has a reputation for having coaches like this, why would players sign up for the sport in the first place?

6 comments about "The youth coach's priority: Give families a reason to stay".
  1. R2 Dad, June 9, 2021 at 3:58 p.m.

    "She plays multiple sports, and she has decided to focus on the others."

    Maybe, but this is what parents and players tell the coach who has poisoned the well, too. Hard to know which is true, especially if that player continues to play on the school soccer team.

    The reality is that club owners know the reputation of adult coaches and this attitude is often shared by some/all of that club's owners. 

  2. Mark Landefeld, June 9, 2021 at 4:59 p.m.

    As a DoC, I would want my coach to ignore the pending departure and manage the personnel as usual.  First AND Last impressions are important and the club should honor its commitment to develop players as long as they show up.

  3. Robert Robertson, June 9, 2021 at 5:19 p.m.

    The question is concrete and that's what is missing.
       Others sports which ones?  One that are more or less exclusively played by wealthy kids rather than soccer?  Lacrosse, Squash, Swimming???  Or is the young lady a killer softball pitcher.
        My daughter's club places in the membership information which everyone reads and signs that soccer is a players primary sports activity. For some levels this makes sense.  This was challenged by 3 players on her team.  One felt basketball was the way forward and stepped away from the team for a year. She came back the next year and played in college and later in Europe. She was the starting Goallkeeper so another Goalkeeper was needed pronto
    The two others wanted to try being track stars and were benched for half a game for missing an important game.  They later went to an prestigious soccer camp and were head hunted by a multimillionaire manager and played for free.  They both played in college and were outstanding players. 
       Moving a player up to join a team to help fill a future vacancy does not seem terrible to me.  Lessening the playing time of the player leaving makes some sense for the teams future.  One can still have a party celebrating the year etc.  
        Again the situation is concrete

  4. Beau Dure replied, June 9, 2021 at 8:10 p.m.

    In this case, according to the report, a player was moved down, not up.

  5. James Madison, June 10, 2021 at 12:31 a.m.

    Some coaches forget that it's for the players, not the coach.  Coach X needs either a reminder, more training or a new opportunity other than in youth coaching.

  6. Robert Robertson, June 10, 2021 at 7:18 p.m.

    Sorry if I misunderstood but I assumed the person was on the A team so a player from the B was brought to replace her. 
       One other thing which was unknown from the
    article is when the new season begins.  Soccer was played almost year round  when my daughter played.       Lastly, I do not think Coaches should be jerks to their players and their families.  However, every Coach has to pick the team and decide who starts, who sits, who plays striker, etc. 
       I can say I did not always agree with their decisions but that's sports.  At the same time she had some truly excellent Coaches as well.  

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