Why development and community should be the focus of competitive soccer instead of winning and playing games.

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Most of my life has revolved around competitive soccer.  Starting in 1987 as a 10 year old player to the present as I continue to be involved as a coach.  So much has changed over this period of time, most notably the financial burden on families now.  When I started playing, we did not pay any dues to our coach or team.  The only costs were for uniforms, leagues and tournaments.  Now families can expect to pay at least $2,000 per year and in extreme cases upwards to $8,000 per year to play competitive soccer.  The financial costs are usually to biggest complaint of families, but I want to tell you that the monetary costs are the least harmful that these families will end up paying.

Soccer used to be a sport made up of local players from the community that formed teams and went and played teams from other communities.  Players wanted to win to have the bragging rights at school and around town, but the game was also about having fun.  Good coaches focused on developing a player’s skill and also a love for the game.  This is the soccer that I love and this is why I coach.

I have been the varsity boys’ soccer coach at Sachse High School since 2007.  In the time I have been the coach, our team has seen great success, but we have also been at the bottom.  I love coaching high school soccer.  The game is played for all of the right reasons and it is basically free to play (except for socks…always need new socks).  The team is formed from boys from the community who play because they love the game.  They work hard to win because they take pride in wanting their school to be the best.  There are bragging rights when they win that they can take back to their club teams which are made up of boys from multiple schools.  There is not a better example of what this game is supposed to represent, a love for the community and a love for the game, than school soccer.

I chose to stay away from club soccer when Lindsay and I moved to Texas in 2004 because I didn’t like all of the politics that went with competitive soccer.  It wasn’t until 2007, when my daughter started to show a desire to play club soccer, that I thought about coaching club again.  Mutiny FC was a local club whose mission statement focused on community, families, and development.  They chose the Mutiny name because the leadership wanted to be different than the other pay to play clubs and not just focus on winning.  This all sounded great to me and my daughter started playing for one of their teams.  The team she joined was very good.  The players were athletic and very skilled and Kimberlyn was just trying to find her role on the team.  She was loving the team and playing with these talented girls, but then the top players left just one season after we had joined reminding me of the dark side of club soccer.

The hardest thing for independent clubs like Mutiny FC which focused on community and development is keeping players once the teams start getting noticed by the bigger clubs.  Kimberlyn’s team was beating the teams from the bigger clubs.  The beginning of the end for her team started when the coach was offered a job at one of the big clubs where winning was a focus and he chose to leave.  These same clubs then started offering the top players spots on their teams.  Parents were sold on these other clubs because they were convinced that their daughter would be a better player if they played for a bigger club.  I had a hard time understanding why these parents were buying this nonsense!  The only reason why our players were being recruited was because those teams were not as talented as our team, and they chose to leave when these big clubs waived their fees in order to entice the parents to move their kids!  It made no sense to me.  We chose to stay even though we knew the team was starting over.  I helped the new coach find new players and we struggled for two years.  I helped find another new coach when the other coach started to get discouraged with the players who were still leaving instead of focusing on developing the ones who were choosing to stay.  It took a lot of work, but we finally put a group of girls together who played for each other and went through enough hard times that they finally were finally on the edge of taking the next step.  The team entered classic league qualifications as the lowest seed and with only 12 healthy players, but shocked everyone but themselves by qualifying for classic league!  They finished in the middle of the standings, one spot out of a guaranteed placement the next year.  I had no concerns about qualifying again, but once again success brought problems.  Just like before, other clubs came calling on our top players and offered scholarships and the promise of success.  Instead of sticking with the team that had stuck together through the tough times and the become like a family, those players chose to leave the day before tryouts were to start for the next season.  This left several girls without a team and no time for us to try and find new girls to replace the ones leaving.  Once again, we chose to stay because we loved the community more than the opportunity to play for teams just wanting to add players to win.

That same year my daughter’s team was enjoying their success, I was asked by seven families if I would help put together a team for their daughters.  I did not know any of these families.  All I knew was that these girls were not chosen to play on one of the other teams in our club.  I was impressed by their desire to try and put a team together after just having been turned away at tryouts, so I agreed to coach them.  The first practices were nothing like I have ever been a part of before.  The girls didn’t know me, I didn’t know them, and we were all trying to figure out what our roles were going to be with this new team.  Only having seven players made it impossible to practice game tactics, but it was perfect because the low numbers allowed me to focus on teaching these girls the skills they were lacking.  It truly was about development.  We had to borrow girls from other teams in our club in order to play games and we lost most of our games by a wide margin, but the girls were having fun and getting better.  The girls started to invite their friends to practices.  We were growing.  The next season, we went grew from 7 players to 12 players.  The girls continued to get better and I was getting excited about tryouts for the next year.  We had 5 girls choose to not tryout again the next year for various reasons, but still ended up with a roster of 13 girls.  This included my daughter and one of her teammates from her classic league team that also chose to stay.  We had decent success playing a new league as we continued to focus on development instead of wins.  Now entering our third year as a team, we have 15 players on our roster.  We still have 2 players from the original 7 that started this team.  We have also had several players asked to join other teams that have been more successful than us in terms of wins and losses and the level of league play, but they have all chosen to stay.  Currently, this team is on the top of the standings in the same league that we finished 9th out of 10 teams last year.

I also coach a second team made up of younger girls about 10 years of age.  I started this team the same time as my other team, about 3 years ago, but this team has gone through the same growing pains as my daughter’s first two teams.  We started with 5 girls.  This was perfect because the game were 4 versus 4 and all of the girls would get to play a lot.  We had decent success which attracted more players.  We added 2 more players the next season and continued to focus on development instead of wins.  We had a lot of change to start our second season when 4 girls decided to not play with our team, but we added 7 players for a total of 9 girls.  We still focused on development over wins, but this team grew quickly and the success came just as quickly. I was hoping this team would be like my other girls, but instead it turned out more like my daughter’s teams.  The bigger clubs came calling and convinced some of the parents that the girls would improve faster by playing more games at a higher level of competition and more tournaments and the result was 3 of our girls choosing to leave.  This left our team a little disheartened because we only had 6 players and our new league required us to have a roster of at least 10 players.  Once again, our girls talked to some friends and other families from the community heard about our players improving and our team grew from 6 players to 14 players.  We continue to develop and the girls are getting better every game and practice and new players are visiting all the time.

I would like to say that I don’t take things personally as a coach when families choose to leave and play for other teams, but that is just not the case.  So much time and energy is invested in developing these players and watching them improve so quickly and use their skills to find success in games is awesome.  To see these families leave because they were convinced that playing more games at a higher level and more tournaments would develop the players faster is hard.  Is there a benefit to playing at the highest level?  Yes, but only if the players are getting an equal opportunity to play and make mistakes.  Players improve and develop in training that focuses on development.  The idea that players improve by playing more games make no sense.  That is like a teacher saying students improve by taking more tests instead of doing practice work and homework?  I love the families I get to work with and the girls I get to coach, even the families that chose to leave.  My dream when all is said and done is this, I hope families will start to understand that other teams would not be trying to take our players unless we were doing things the right way by focusing on developing individual players that love the game.

See also Lindsay’s post on Youth Sports  It is OK to slow down- YOUTH SPORTS! and Our Mutiny FC Story

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One thought on “Why development and community should be the focus of competitive soccer instead of winning and playing games.

  1. Love this story. We definitely know the highs and lows sports can bring. I was a gymnast through college and my daughter was an elite gymnast. I envy your ability to tell your story. I’m not sure I will ever be able to truly talk about our experiences in a sport we love. Some things just hurt too much.

    Like

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