Posts Tagged ‘soccer’

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I received a call from a parent a couple weeks ago wondering what to do. His daughter, who is seven, had participated in a “Placement Camp” for her local soccer club. Up to this point she has played rec soccer and the expectation was that she would take part in the club’s team formation for next year. My friend’s daughter likes soccer, but she isn’t any more serious about it than she is about other things she is learning how to do.

There were two teams created for the seven-year-old group and my friend’s daughter was placed on the lower level team. The placement was not in dispute. My friend called because he wondered if the information he received about cost was reasonable. He and his family were being asked to pay $1000 for ten months of soccer and over $300 in team uniform fees. She is seven. She is unsure she even likes soccer all that much. The time commitment was a lot and the bill for her exploration was going to be $1300.

I gasped first, muttered an expletive, and then encouraged him to find some other form of soccer programming for his daughter to play.

“Won’t she get behind?” he worried.

“Maybe,” I said, “but this youth sports thing is a marathon, not a sprint. You don’t have to pay that right now as she’s learning what 7-year-olds learn. If she learns to love it enough to keep working at it, she’ll catch up.”

For the hundreds of thousands of families who pay a lot of money for youth soccer (or hockey, or baseball, or basketball, or gymnastics, or swimming, or… you name it), they will likely jump all over me for thinking the cost to participate in youth sports is getting outrageous.

“We have to pay for good coaching,” they’ll argue.

“Uniform fees run that steep.”

“We’re paying for a higher level of competition.”

“We have to travel to get good competition and exposure.”

“People around here can pay that much.”

Well, obviously, if your association or youth sports group asks people to pay that, they can afford it. (that’s actually not always true, but I’ll save that for another post) The environment and the market will only bear what it can. All I know is that where I live during the schoolyear, a 10-month travel soccer fee of $270, with a uniform fee of $90 is more than some families can pay. Where I live, we may never have the programs to compete with the affluent areas, and in reality, the kids from towns like ours are running a marathon too, but they are on a completely different course. The youth sports marathon course for kids who are not from affluence is a harder course. The hills are steeper, the obstacles more difficult, and to be honest, they start a few miles back when they start. Yet, most of the time we are asked to compete against communities that are not like ours at all.

When it comes to youth sports
Where there is competition, there is divide.
Where there is money, there is disparity.
Where there is both competition and money, there is disaster.

As of August 30th, 2017 Time magazine claimed the youth sports industry was worth $15 billion. “Elite” teams exist in every single sport and with those higher levels of programming, comes a higher bill to pay. I am more and more convinced that “elite” refers less to the level of athleticism and more to the actual elite members of our society. For some families, they rarely consider the impact of their choices. Competition is stiff enough, they don’t need to worry about the poorer families who cannot afford the same opportunities.

Youth sports is just another arena where the “haves” are finding ways to participate and when the “have nots” are left behind, no one really cares. If we want to have a real conversation about the participation numbers of kids on athletic teams, we can no longer ignore the existence of capitalism and the willingness of parents to do everything they can for their own kids. Too often they make personal choices with little to no regard for other kids who are not able to afford the same programming. It’s a dog eat dog world, though, right? So why does it matter? It matters because when kids drop out of sports, or are unable to be a part of teams that encourage physical exercise, belonging, and endless life lessons, we all lose.

I live a dual life. For part of the year our family lives near where I grew up in a suburb of Denver, Colorado. It is an area of affluence with gated communities and the highest level of sports offerings around. During the schoolyear we live in a small, rural town in one of the poorer counties in all of Wisconsin where travel teams are challenging. I see the differences.

My Colorado friends jet-set around the country to take part in high level tournaments, showcases and sports experiences. Intense travel and commitment starts in practically every sport when the kids are ten and eleven, sometimes younger. They pay exorbitant fees for expert coaching and high-end equipment and some of the travel includes 10-day trips to Europe or weeklong tournaments in Hawai’i. This doesn’t even touch the specialized training or camp opportunities they finance. I don’t begrudge my friends for providing these opportunities for their children. They have every right to spend their money how they want. I’m not sure they even have a responsibility to the poorer kids who will never have those experiences, but I do, and I struggle because of it.

I coach the boys’ high school soccer team in our rural Wisconsin town. We compete against schools with robust travel programs that take place the nine months outside of our high school schedule. Travel soccer is not an option for many of the families who live here, even at the $270/year amount. Our travel is minimal and includes mostly away games in the Twin Cities (an hour away).The kids who take part in our travel teams can generally afford it, but there are a number of families who never take part because it is more than they can commit or pay. Soccer for my guys is a low-budget, low-commitment endeavor for sure.

The other side of the coin deals with the families from our town who do have a bit more in resources. Those with more capital are willing and able to take their kids out of our community entirely to pay more for the programming in a larger more affluent place. We lose kids on both ends. Even in our house, we have a couple of kids for whom we’ve made the “exit” decision and I have admittedly agonized about our choices.

There has always been a variety of experiences available to families with money. The experiences are not the same for those without money. Add youth sports in front of the word experiences and all of a sudden it becomes a choice we’re making about how we are educating our youth. All of them. It is not unlike the private education/public school debate, but it is essentially an extension of that.

Does every child deserve an education? Do they all deserve the same sort of education? Do all kids deserve a chance to participate in sports? Do they all deserve a chance to get just as good as the next kid, or to play as long, or to have a similar enhancing experience?

Some of the decisions that keep the machine in motion come down to fear. My friend was afraid if he didn’t pay the $1000 his child would fall behind. Those who can afford it have more to lose if they choose not to pay-to-play. In the affluent communities, there is always another player to take the spot. Thankfully my friend was able to find a program with a much shorter time commitment and a reasonable fee for his daughter’s current level of interest. There isn’t always that choice.

Our family’s decision to engage in the pay-to-play model is more about geography and numbers of participation, but I  agonize because it is still an impactful decision to leave a small community to travel outside of our town. Every exit takes potential resources that would be useful if families were to stay.

For my part, I choose to continue to engage in two worlds. We can afford for our kids to have sports experiences and we have tried hard to keep the experiences at a level that reflects their interest and/or commitment. The older they get and the more they personally invest, the more their dad and I are willing to invest financially. For the soccer kids I coach in our community who don’t have the same resources, I do what I can to provide the highest level of coaching and experience at little to no cost to their families. Coaching the high school team is the best way I can give back to the sport that gave me so much and offer anything I can to the kids who will likely never have more experiences than what I can provide when they play for our school team.

A recent article in Atlantic Magazine further illuminates the growing gap between the affluent sporting families and everyone else. It is an important piece and I am not sure the truth of it can be ignored much longer.

If the youth sports playing field is going to be leveled, who will do it? It won’t be the for-profit companies making hand over fist off of eager families. It won’t be the poorer families who don’t hold the purse strings. It could be the affluent sporting communities if they were to think generously about the value of a system of inclusion and enhancement, but I am not confident that will ever happen. My best guess is that legislation is the way to achieve equity in youth sports, but that sounds like a hard, arduous fight.

What do you think? Should society at large care about the trajectory of the privatization of youth sports? If so, what are some potential fixes that could make it happen?  

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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captain

One of the captains for a team of mine peed on every soccer field before every game. Yes, peed. She would gather the team around her so she could inspire us (and hide what she was doing) by performing the feat of pulling her shorts to the side while she squatted low enough her stream would not spray her socks.

I was never impressed… nor inspired.

She wasn’t a good leader and I was not a good follower. I wasn’t the only one who struggled to follow her lead, but if our coach had asked, we could have told her.

The one peeing was the coach’s pick for our captain. The team had chosen another player who had been injured in the offseason and, when a coaching change happened that summer, the new coach assigned a replacement captain without bringing a choice to the team.

It didn’t go well.

There is solid argument for trusting the captain choice to the most experienced and wise person on the field. (I sincerely hope that is the coach) Young players on teams have a tendency to vote along popularity lines and that is a struggle for coaches who truly believe that leadership matters for the chemistry and efficacy of a team. (and it does!) Coaches generally have a good idea of who would be good leaders for the group, but making a unilateral decision about a team’s captain can backfire.

Choosing a captain should be a group effort, and the team will more likely follow the lead of the players they choose.

I tried a different approach this year and I really liked it.

As a coach, I guided the selection of the captains, but the team ultimately decided.

I introduced a rather lengthy selection process for assigning our in-season captains. I contend that this approach is likely most appropriate for high school-aged teams and older. (I have ideas for how to grow captains in younger teams, and I’ll cover that briefly later)

Captain Selection Process

Step One: Captain Application

Players interested in being chosen as a captain must submit an application that consists of the following questions:

  1. What is the role of a captain?
  2. Why do you want to be a captain?
  3. What are your leadership qualifications for this position?
  4. What leadership activities have you participated both in school and outside of school?
  5. Explain how you would be proactive in confronting peers who violate team rules, school policies or league regulations?
  6. What impact would you make on our team as a captain?

My coaching staff reviewed the applications and because of the number that submitted we let them all take part in the next step. My plan, if there are many more applications in the future would be to select five candidates to present to the team.

The application process is an important one. The thought that goes into crafting their responses raises their level of awareness that we as a coaching staff value leadership. It also gives us a chance to see what their leadership values are.

Step Two: Speech

Once the captain candidates were selected they were each given one minute to explain to their teammates why they wanted to be the team’s captain and what value they could offer.

Step Three:  Team Vote

After the speeches, the team selected their top three choices. I like having three captains because there is better balance with three voices.

Step Four: Captain’s Pledge

To really emphasize my expectations of those selected as captains for our team, the players chosen and their parents have to sign a Captain’s Pledge.  It looks like this:

Captain’s Pledge

I, ___________________________, realize the honor that goes with the many responsibilities involved in serving as a Captain for MHS Boys Soccer. I need to be a leader both in and out of the competitive setting (on and off the field), before the season starts, during the season and even after the season has been completed. Unless I am dismissed from this role, I will always be known as a Captain for the MHS Soccer team.

I am very proud that I have been selected to serve in this capacity. I realize that I must be mature, take initiative, and at times I may need to make unpopular decisions. I will keep the interests of the team first and I will always demonstrate good sportsmanship.

I must remain drug and alcohol free and I will do my best to ensure that all of my teammates are doing the same.

I realize that I need to work closely with the coaching staff to make our season successful. I will treat my teammates with respect and give them extra help when they need it. My integrity will never be questioned, since I realize that people will remember me more as the type of person I was, as well as the reputation of my team, much longer than any of my personal accolades.

I, _____________________________, agree to all of the above and pledge to uphold the philosophy and live by these guidelines. I know that I must resign as Captain if I fail to live up to these expectations.

Captain’s Signature___________________________________  Date____________

Parent(s) Signature__________________________________  Date__________

Soccer teams are among the few sports teams where captains are more than just an honorary title. They have work to do on behalf of the team. They represent their teams in the coin toss, they are the identified player rep for conversations with the referees and I utilize them in decision-making as player representatives. (voices from the trenches) They have an important role in the chemistry of a team and in the identity of a program. It’s a big deal and worth the extra effort to put the right players in place.

****Captains for Teams Younger than 14

For younger kids, I think captain of the week works well. Assign a pair of players the job of leading warm-ups or end-of-practice cheers the week they will be assigned captains for the game. Leadership takes practice too. Talk to the players about leading well and following well, pointing out the behaviors you most value in your leaders. (and your followers)

 

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017                                     www.meaganfrank.com                                                                             @choosingtogrow

 

Spring soccer started a couple weeks ago.

In our house it looks like chaos…pretty much from start to finish. Both the girls are playing and, in what seems like a purposeful punishment for our family, their practices are scheduled on the same days…at the same time…and of course at two different places.

I’ve made it work (even without my second driver). I get our oldest son set up with carpools for wherever he needs to go, and then the girls and I start running.

I drop off Middle Sprout and peel out of the parking lot as soon as I see her coach step out of his car.  Little Sprout and I arrive late to her practice (doing what we can not to disrupt things) and then I assist with the drills before we leave a few minutes early to go back and pick up her big sister. (who is usually waiting for me to arrive… with her coach)

I think after the craze of yesterday, Little Sprout finally understands why I was not able to take on the responsibility of head coach for her team this year. Six-year-olds need a coach who is there before they are and who can stay after they’ve gone.

The thing is, it took a while for another parent to step up and take on the role of coach for this little U-6 team. I felt badly that I couldn’t volunteer…but it’s clear why.

The man who eventually volunteered did so reluctantly. He admits he doesn’t know much about soccer and that he has not worked much with kids this age.  The thing is…he’s perfect for them without trying. He is kind, patient…and learning.

The girls LOVE him…and they are starting to love “soccer”!

I put parentheses around “soccer” because what is happening for this young developing team of athletes is not soccer the way that I know it…and it shouldn’t be.

It’s good that their coach doesn’t see what I see when I watch the girls try to kick… or dribble… or shoot. I see areas that I would love to correct and it takes every bone in my body not to point out when they do it “wrong”. He is working to learn names, understand the drill description in the association practice plan, and then it looks like herding cats to run them through the important games of tag, or red light/ green light. He lets them choose games and in doing so…they are a part of the process.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a blogpost about The Need for Creative Athletes. In the post, I challenged youth coaches to allow for creativity in their practice plans. My daughter’s coach may not be planning it…but it is great that it is naturally happening anyway.

I recently read an awesome article entitled, The Courage to be Patient. It is a directive to youth soccer coaches, and it highlights the discipline it takes to truly adopt the best way to develop young athletes.

I’ve decided: allowing creativity is harder… the more experienced you are.

A friend of mine, who is the head coach for her daughter’s soccer team sent me a message about what she did to create a space of expressive and creative freedom for her players. I take to heart this decision because I know my friend well.  She is arguably one of the most intense competitors I have ever been around.  She and I were college teammates, and I know firsthand her intelligence of the game, her competitive edge, and her impressive work ethic.  Here is what she did:

Each player received a name tag that said “Meagan’s choice” for the practice. I warmed them up for a couple of minutes (only because it was cold and I didn’t want them to get hurt). From that point, the girls had control of the practice. Each player could turn in their sticker and then choose whatever game they wanted to play. They could repeat a game if they wanted…so we played sharks and minnows a couple of times. Or they could choose a game. Obviously, they call choose to play “soccer” games such as Clean Up Your Own Backyard (which I call poop in the yard…they laugh), Number Soccer, etc.  

What I’ve started to learn about the developing athlete, is that my daughter’s reluctant coach is providing an environment that is perfect for the needs of the kids at this age. Young kids need space to run in chaos.  They learn about collisions…and how to avoid them next time. They learn the ways that make it easier for them to keep the ball on their feet…because they don’t want to lose the game. They learn that laughter is part of sport. My friend had to make a conscious decision to have some courageous patience…but the players on her team will be better off for it.

It is counter-intuitive to allow creative chaos. Every one of us would rather have control…the thing is, kids need a chance to have some control too…and that feels a bit chaotic for us adults.

To learn about Meagan’s current book project make sure to visit her website:  www.meaganfrank.com.

                               

Copyright 2012        Meagan Frank                                      Choosing to Grow