by Beau Dure
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?