What Is Wrong in American Youth Soccer and What is Right — Youth Soccer Clubs Need to Change
While the youth soccer landscape in America may be complex and confusing — the one singular goal is always improving the players’ experience. Often the issues that hold us back are the paths to proper governance in the youth club world.
Here is the next installment of our series of editorials on soccer and what is right and what is wrong – a follow up on Rith Nicholson’s earlier article. With good intentions present, sometimes all that is needed is a clear plan. Check out Nicholson’s top 5 mistakes to avoid and worthy goals for creating a successful club environment.
Ruth Nicholson is an advocate for the game of soccer — her area of specialization, after working with youth soccer organizations for over 25 years, is operations, administration, funding support, and governance. A clinician who has presented at more than 11 sessions at NSCAA Conventions/US Youth Soccer Workshops, Nicholson founded GO – Governance & Operations, a go-to expert resource for youth sports governance and operations. She is who gets the call when an organization or club is at an impasse with their board.
As a follow up to RUTH NICHOLSON ON AMERICAN YOUTH SOCCER – WHAT’S RIGHT AND WHAT’S WRONG, here are the top 5 mistakes youth soccer clubs make and the best goals for 2018.
Top 5 Mistakes Often Made by Youth Clubs
1.Not holding an annual orientation and training for their boards of directors.
Board members are not just people who are interested in an organization. They serve as officers of a non-profit or for-profit corporation. In youth clubs, that is a significantly different role than that of an interested parent who wishes to advocate for their child athlete.
The primary responsibility of a board is to set the strategic direction for the organization and to help achieve that through financial and program support. This includes developing policies and personnel management procedures. Although board members are key leaders of an organization, they should not be enmeshed in the day-to-day organizational operations and coaching activities. Rather, they should take their leadership roles seriously on behalf of the entire organization, understanding the critical importance of incorporating the expertise and recommendations of their Directors of Coaching, Technical Directors, and other professionals into their strategic planning and business decisions.
Because many board members in youth clubs are also parents of players, it is imperative that they understand how to recognize conflicts of interest and how to address those situations properly.
2. Not understanding, respecting, and supporting the three pillars of a successful club:
- Governance and Leadership
- Quality Coaching and Coaching Support
- Operations and Administration.
The Governance and Operations roles exist to support players and coaches. The three pillars may not be equally visible, but they are equal in importance in contributing to the success of a club. Without good Governance and Operations, coaches will not have the support needed to give their players a quality experience in the sport. Conflict in clubs most often occurs when the people working in one of the three roles “play out of position” and disrespect people working in another of the three pillars.
3. Lack of timely and clear communication at all levels.
There are three key circles of communication that are crucial to a youth club’s success.
- Internal communication and feedback between coaches, club staff, and boards of directors is critical to setting realistic direction, developing operating policies and guidelines, and implementing a quality program. This communication circle should continuously emphasize the importance of keeping players top-of-mind within the organizational constraints of coaching staff quality and availability, field availability, and budget.
- Communications within the club membership between club leaders, coaches, parents, and players is integral to promoting club culture, implementing club programs, and encouraging parent family support of players and teams.
- External communications with the community and prospective club members, including players, families, board members, and sponsors.
4. Lack of clear expectations and a communication/escalation protocol for addressing issues and resolving conflict.
Unclear expectations, difficult conversations, and conflict make people uncomfortable. One of the Seven Deadly Challenges of Youth Sports Clubs is that conflicts between coaches, parents, board members, and administrators drive good people away from our club.
Without a clear understanding of how to raise a concern and escalate that concern to a place where it can be constructively resolved, clubs face the ever-present risk of a small issue becoming an enormous political problem that detracts coaches, parents, club staff, and board members from focusing on more important activities. It is usually best to start at the lowest level possible, such as a conversation with a coach or team manager. Calling the club president or a harsh email to a large number of people at the first sign of a potential problem is rarely effective.
5. No organized volunteer program.
Volunteers are not free.
Many clubs ask for volunteer help with important club administrative work. Some also rely heavily on volunteer coaches. Too often, clubs just ask for volunteers but do not spend time describing the jobs, planning how to use volunteers most effectively, or training volunteers to understand what is needed. Too often, we place too many tasks on too few people. For decades, professionals working in the volunteer program field have known that the risk of volunteer burnout and turnover increases dramatically when we ask individual volunteers to give more than an average of 10 hours a week.c
How many volunteers – board members, coaches, team managers, and others – are working more than 10 hours a week in your club?
5 Best Goals for Youth Clubs for 2018
1.Clarify Roles and Direction.
Hold a board orientation and training session at the first board meeting after the club election and annual general meeting. Include senior coaching and administrative staff. If you are a for-profit club, hold an annual meeting or retreat with your club owners and senior club leaders. Regardless of your organizational structure, affirm the strategic direction and program priorities of your club, as well as the roles and expectations of your leadership for the coming year.
2. Strengthen Your Off-Field Team.
Start your club program year off with a collaborative meeting with board members, coaches, and administrative staff to communicate the club’s major goals and program priorities for the year. Clarify expectations and identify what the people in each of the three pillars of the club (governance, coaching, and operations) need to do to make the club a success.
3. Invest in Education.
Support or provide at least one continuing education opportunity for each of your coaches and administrative staff this year. It can be a club or league-sponsored event, an online course, or a workshop in another town. Ask them what help they need or what part of their job is the most challenging and look for opportunities to address those issues.
4. Improve Communication.
Assign someone to check your website weekly to ensure the information it contains is current and helpful to your members.
5. Invite Member Feedback.
Conduct at least one survey or other member feedback activity to assess the state of your club. Include players, parents, coaches, volunteers, club staff, sponsors, and board members. Ask what they like, dislike, and wish for the future.
Related Article: THE SCIENCE OF FUELING FOR OPTIMAL SOCCER PERFORMANCE