Commentary

Lee Jarrell on high school soccer's massive impact and her mission to support its coaches

Several years ago, a referee told one of Lee Jarrell’s players to remove the beads from her new hairstyle. Jarrell appealed, but the official stood firm. Sorrowfully, the girl’s mother stripped all the beads out.

Jarrell never forgot that “awful” incident. In February – in her new role as United Soccer Coaches’ first-ever high school programs manager – she was as an observer at the National Federation of State High School Associations (NHFS) rules committee meeting. After an hour of listening to a discussion by “almost all white men” about hair adornments – specifically beads – she told her story.

“They talked all about refs, but not a single mention of what was best for the player,” she recalls. “I asked them to think about little girls and boys with beads, who might see a high school player that looks like them.”

Her inclusivity plea worked. The rule change allowing beads passed with only one dissenting vote.

That’s one small example of the impact Jarrell hopes to make on all high school coaches. The high school programs manager position was created earlier this year, in recognition of the importance of high school coaches to the 30,000-member United Soccer Coaches organization – and the tendency to overlook their contributions to the game.

“I think there’s something sexy about college coaching, and club coaching too,” says Jarrell. “But high school is not always looked at as the highest level of the game.”

She knows a thing or two about those levels. Growing up in the Midwest, she played on her school’s first-ever girls team. She coached at the recreational, club and high school levels. She is married to a high school coach (though not soccer); their three children played high school soccer, and other sports.

Jarrell spent four years as United Soccer Coaches’ advocacy manager. She enjoyed the challenge of serving the various groups: Black, Latino, Hispanic, Asian-American, Native American, women’s, LGBTQ, faith-based, disabilities, college, high school and youth. When the chance came this year to build programs for the “unseen and unrecognized” subset of high school coaches, she seized the opportunity.

High school coaches have different roles than club coaches, she notes. The latter group sees their players for a couple of training sessions a week, plus games. The former spend five or six days a week with them; they see them at their highest highs and lowest lows, as they interact with other teachers, and represent their school and community under a sometimes strong public gaze.

Jarrell’s job description is “ever-changing.” She’ll do plenty of listening, asking members how she can enhance their experience through education, awards and the convention. She’ll work with state high school coaching associations, which run the gamut from highly organized to nearly non-existent. She’s organizing an advisory group that will reflect the geographic, ethnic, age and gender range of high school coaches across the country.

She hopes to build bridges between United Soccer Coaches and the NFHS, high school sports’ national governing body. She acknowledges the rift between high school and club coaches – particularly at the elite and academy levels – and would like to “mend fences” there.

She will also add “one-stop shopping” to United Soccer Coaches’ high school page, offering resources in areas like program-building, engagement with parents and the community, education, health and wellness, and nutrition and recovery.

Jarrell believes that high school sports in general have “never been more important. COVID has shown us that the mental health of teenagers is at an all-time level of concern. And it’s brought out economic issues. Not every player can afford club soccer, but high school is accessible to almost everyone. The more we can support coaches in those areas, the more we can impact the game.”

High school coaches appreciate learning that they have their own advocate in their professional organization. United Soccer Coaches’ January convention included several special high school events. “The sky is the limit” for future meetings, Jarrell says.

“Clubs come and go. High school sports are a constant,” she notes. “But as much as we’ve done, we’ve only reached a small percentage of high school soccer coaches. There are so many more to engage and interact with, to make their jobs easier."

Including not worrying about removing beads from a player’s hair.

17 comments about "Lee Jarrell on high school soccer's massive impact and her mission to support its coaches".
  1. Kevin Sims, April 5, 2022 at 3:39 p.m.

    Go get 'em, Lee! After promoting this position for 15 years, I hope its promise blossoms fully.

  2. Wooden Ships, April 5, 2022 at 4:31 p.m.

    Get rid of the countdown and clock. 

  3. Kent James, April 5, 2022 at 4:55 p.m.

    HS soccer is important to building a soccer culture in the US, which is crucial to our ability to compete on the world stage.  HS soccer helps build soccer's reputation as a mainstream sport, rather than something foreign.  When HS soccer games attract as many fans as basketball, football and baseball, we'll have built a solid foundation.  HS soccer reaches a lot of players who will never play club soccer at a high level, but can still be lifelong fans of the sport.  HS soccer has been undervalued for a long time, so it's good to see it's getting some attention.

  4. Santiago 1314 replied, April 7, 2022 at 9:40 p.m.

    I agree Kent; I Re-Post**

    **Santiago 1314 replied, September 4, 2021 at 6:35 p.m.
    "In our Previous 50year Development System(pre DA)
    The best Players in USA where "Stars" on their Club (and Heaven forbid, High School and College teams)
    Not Necessarily great for Developing World Class Players, But good enough for Developing "American Spirit of '76" Style CONcacaCrApF Dominating World Cup and Olympic QUALIFYING Teams.
    Part of our DEMISE/Decline, As I see it, was When the DA took that away and Our "Best" Players went Overseas "To Sit the Bench" and the Result was the Bottom fell Out in COUVA.
    Michael Bradley et al..... Were in their 30s(Too Old)
    Christian Pulisic et al ......Were under20s (Too Young)
    What Happened to a 10 year "Generation" of Players.???We Shouldn't be HAVING to Build our USMNT Around 22 year Olds.!!!!....(That though they are on "Better" Teams;
    They are still mostly fringe Players or Loaned Off or Sold Off)
    This Lack of "Character Development" that you allude to, was Evident the other night in the Cuscatlán.
    NO Leadership on the Field or Internal RECALL mechanism (H.S./College Leadership Experience) to "WILL" the Team to Victory.!!!! (Like in "The OLD Days)
    You can see The Disgust on the Faces of Former National team Players Turned TV Analyst....(They sense the Lack)
    We are Living Dangerously in a VERY HIGH RISK/REWARD Situation with this Very Skillful, "Under-Baked", "UnMatured" Group of Gypsies...
    COUNTRYLess Wanderers due to Lack of Normal US H.S./College Experiences.
    We might be able to Overcome it, Thru Superior skills and Tactics.. But if we Lose the Next 2 games, The Wheels are going to Fall Off this Generation also.!!!

  5. Santiago 1314 replied, April 7, 2022 at 9:42 p.m.

    AND;

    Santiago 1314 replied, September 6, 2021 at 6:32 p.m.

    Ankle Breaker... Your Avatar doesn't fit your Knowledge of the Beautiful Game you espouse....
    But, these Current Players all came Thru DA programs, NOT Pay-for-Play... "The Grit" we are Currently Lacking was Never an issue until we By-PassED(Outlawed by DA) High School and College Soccer... That is where Previuos Generations of US National Team Players Learned GRIT and  to be Leaders on Weak, Crappy, Get Targeted Teams... And that Carried Over into their Pro Careers... 


  6. humble 1 replied, April 10, 2022 at 3:37 p.m.

    Thank you Kent and Santi.  I don't have near the depth of either of your soccer experience, Santi and Kent, but I could see these issues with DA.  The gap you refer to was highly coordinated with the opening of the DA in 2007, and the pivot away from HS and College.  I read these tea leaves and many others and saw an alternative path, the old-way, playing up and playing HS soccer to supplement club.  We skipped the ODP part of the old-way because post-DA that had been whittled down to next to nothing.  If it was good enough for Dempsey and Donovan, why not our player?  This is what we guided our player to.  He has won two championships with his HS and just finished his first playoff run with varsity.  Nothing, I mean not one thing his clubs can or have offered, ever, even in MLS Next/DA and ECNL which we avoided, but I know very well, have zero equivalent in terms of the intense feelings this competition evokes and it's reverberation socically.  We do all this with very little travel, an abomination for me.  I believe like Juan Carlos Osorio, that for the US to really take off in soccer, we need to build up and build out our HS platform.  For me, the decentralized nature of HS soccer, and it's organzation, is exactly the solution necessary for the size of the nation.  Of course, it is supplemental, due to short seasons, this not a problem, each state and have a solution, again, decentralization to find excellence and give more players a chance.  They key thing to note is that players are made in by a combinations of experiences, not by one club.  Clubs sell that they develop players, but learned early on, like in the old Wendy's ads, show me the beef, show me the players you developed.  Crickets at most clubs, especially on the boys side.  In addition to the points you make, Santi and Kent, which are correct, HS's are our largest collection of facilities and coaches, and they are one of our only FREE to FAMILY platforms.  Thank you! 

  7. uffe gustafsson, April 5, 2022 at 6:38 p.m.

    One more item to get rid of, nose piercing.
    it's something we coaches have to deal with every season.
    since most of those piercings are not easily removed and honestly is not a danger to the players.
    high school soccer is a very important part of the HS experience, I get girls that played soccer in early ages but couldn't afford or time commitment and now they get a second chance playing on the JV team. Varsity in many of our HS are as competitive as any club team and a great opportunity for college coaches to come and watch some very competitive games. I love HS soccer best time for me as a coach.

  8. James Madison, April 5, 2022 at 6:45 p.m.

    That's all good as far as it goes, but, in this area, the majority of high school coaches are also club coaches, and the high school teams are often just an extension of club teams.  The added market the United Coaches needs to address is that of players who want to play and, therefore, the coaches needed to coach them, but who are not at the level of being able to play for their high school teams.  Only when this vast field of soccer-connected "recreatonal players" are converted to soccer-lovers will the United States join the community of nationas where soccer is a way of life.

  9. humble 1, April 6, 2022 at 12:42 a.m.

    A very important role.  High schools have more facilities and coaches than clubs.  High schools are free.  High schools feed our base, basket and foot ball college programs and semi-pro leagues, but, not for soccer.  Interesting, no?  Most attendees at HS foot, base, basket ball never played the games.  At basket or foot ball, many on hand are in cheer or marching band or friend and family of those, not the sport.  Europeans here that pooh pooh HS soccer know nothing about it or the structure of other HS sports.  Of course many of them are making a living off of clubs and they do not like losing players to clubs.  Not long ago I listened to Juan Carlos Osario, who is Columbian, played college soccer here and coached MLS, say that America has a unique HS sport framework and that when soccer becomes part of that framework - that will be the turning point.  The key for that to happen is not getting rid of the count down clock, it's coaching and referee education. For me, United Soccer Cosches is an organization that can play a big part making that happen.  Make it happen!!!

  10. R2 Dad, April 6, 2022 at 1:19 a.m.

    Hmmm. Is it that old evil white referees are repressing/oppressing players? Or, that rules forbidding hard objects in hair are there because the tort bar could destroy an entire school district with one   Injury lawsuit officially qualified by said high school? Lawyers signed off on whatever was agreed upon--referees just implement the LOTG ( or whatever nonsense rules they play by in HS). The article makes for righteous, but incomplete, reading.

  11. shane pulliam, April 6, 2022 at 1:11 p.m.

    I have coached at the College, High School and Club level throughout all of my coaching career. This is my 28th year as a High School coach in Georgia. I am excited to see someone, anyone, standing up for High School coaches and its importance in soccer as a whole. THANK YOU!

  12. Mark Mittelstadt, April 6, 2022 at 1:20 p.m.

    It still behooves referees to disallow the wearing of items or equipment they believe are "dangerous." 

  13. Bob Chinn, April 6, 2022 at 5:56 p.m.

    I think we have to be open to change and the world is changing.  Did any notice the USWNT and the earings worn in games?  Players and times are different.  We can get locked into how things "use to be" forgetting things can be better as we move forward together.  The game aka youth sports should be about the players and their growth on and off the field of play.  As coaches think of the things we focus on and what is it we really want to accomplish.  For HS and Club we should have the same goal in mind and the is the imporvement of the player as a whole.  We should not be fighting or trying to control players by holding them hostage to club or HS.  Now I know it is easier said then done.  A step at a time will make a big difference in so many young folks lives! LIG

  14. R2 Dad replied, April 6, 2022 at 11:26 p.m.

    BC, the most important change I would like to see is a dogged pursuit of the basics, to develop players. How many 2 footed players do we see out there? How many  players properly chesting down the ball and trapping both inside out outside of both feet? Yeah, I don't see it either. Club and HS coaches are lazy.

  15. uffe gustafsson, April 6, 2022 at 6:49 p.m.

    I don't think any HS in our area,Bay Area, that have a math teacher coaching the varsity team, they are all club coaches.
    and many of those players are from different clubs playing togheter on the HS team. Everyone of those teams are as competitive as any club team. Some even better.
    HS soccer is very valuable and we get college coaches at many of our games. Especially at play off times.

  16. Greedy Striker, April 7, 2022 at 10 a.m.

    As a former high school head coach now coaching in college I can attest to the value of good high school coaching. Notice I said good coaching. To be honest,  many clubs do not even have enough quality coaches, let alone most high schools because of the day job (unless they go the lay coach route, which means they are technically just an assistant and not allowed to be officially a head coach due to most educational certification requirements). I saw my player every day plus matches so I had a dramatic impact of their development even though I was often overlooked because I didn't coach them in club. Alas, we win out final game and region and the parents trot out their club coach from year's past and praise him for seeing them 3 hours total in their off season for three month. Laughing, I just got in my car and drove home annoyed because I knew how much more quality coaching time I had with them that more greatly impacted their development during a 4-year time frame instead of just 12 "sessions" of 1.5 hours for a full club season compared to 8 hours of training on average PER WEEK plus matches! 

  17. Mike Lynch, April 7, 2022 at 2:01 p.m.

    Congrats Lee Jarrell for your new position at United Soccer Coaches. Thank you Dan Woog for highlighting this new position. Lots of great comments made on the value and variability of HS soccer. I want to add access and quantity. There are 10K+ High Schools. Most are not pay to play. Most align with a corresponding community that will show up for games, provide a great environment to play in, have a youth rec feeder program, etc. Player development in the US is only enhanced by a thriving High School soccer scene.   

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