I have had a lot of conversations this past week with youth soccer club leaders from across the country, doing my best to provide emotional support and clear guidance as they navigate the COVID-19 crisis with their soccer communities. One of the primary discussion points has been how to best support players during this stressful time, and while there has been a tremendous push for skills videos, individual challenges, and player meetings – an important new discussion point is emerging – and that is about Sense of Community.
Since December I have been presenting to clubs, coaching organizations, State Associations and parents about Sense of Community Theory and the direct relevance this research has on our clubs when it comes to player inspiration, retention, and parent satisfaction levels. It’s ironic to me that now, once our ability to connect physically is removed, we are focusing on community more than ever.
A seemingly counterintuitive shift to “community” while we’re apart, yes – but essential during these unprecedented times.
The challenges we are facing reach well beyond the soccer fields, however our connection from the fields can be what helps bring us together now. Club leaders, coaches and parents who are embracing this concept of community in their actions and messaging are highlighting what makes youth soccer special in the lives of the players and parents – we are a family. Community Matters.
5 Ways Parents Can Build A Stronger Sense of Club Community in COVID-19.
1. Stage a Virtual Happy Hour with Other Parents
The other night I sat in front of my computer in my living room and enjoyed the company of 12 of my female coaching friends over a Zoom meeting. IT – WAS – AWESOME. I didn’t realize how much I needed some extra adult conversation, some laughs, and just to see the faces of people I care about. Plus, there were a couple of women in the group who really needed to talk about some things they were going through, and us coming together was really, really important for them.
Be intentional about staging a virtual happy hour with the families on your team. INVITE ALL OF THEM. Setting it up was easy. If your club has a Zoom account, chances are they will be willing to share a link for the parents to gather.
We did a quick “Pop Corn” question where we each gave an update on how things were for us the past few weeks and then called on someone else on the call to speak next. I’d recommend doing this to be sure everyone’s voices are heard.
2. Express Gratitude to the Coach Publicly
The emotional strain club leaders and coaches are going through is very real. The overall uncertainty and financial stress, combined with a strong compassion for players, has led to a huge physical and emotional burden for coaches and club leaders. I have seen coaches and club leaders pushing themselves to find new and innovative ways to connect with players to help them during these difficult times. Coaches are staying up all night preparing new virtual presentations, announcing new programming to help keep players engaged, and getting out of their comfort zone by utilizing social media and messaging in new ways to be sure players feel inspired.
If your coach and club has done a good job staying connected, please give them a shout out on social media and your club/team messaging apps.
One of the components of Sense of Community Theory I discuss is the need for boundary setting. Setting boundaries will help establish a Sense of Community. With that in mind, I know that parents are often worried about expressing gratitude for fear of it being perceived as a ploy for favoritism for their child. Let’s put all of those thoughts aside – and be clear on the boundaries of the coach-parent relationship: Gratitude Matters - Express it loudly, clearly and repeat.
3. Stage a Team Family FIFA Night Challenge
Organize yourselves via Playstation and Xbox and do a team-wide bracket draw live on Instagram or Facebook. You can get creative with participation rules for parents and children and even spread the tournament out over a few nights. The final can be streamed live for everyone to watch and the winning family definitely deserves a social media share on the club channels!!! Tag @SoccerParenting and we will promote as well.
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4. Check In on All Families for Lost Jobs, Financial Strain, Sickness.
While, yes, we have largely met one another on the soccer fields, our bond is much stronger than Saturday afternoons on the sidelines. For many families, our soccer family is our strongest bond to the fabric of our greater community, and it’s times like these where we need to be extra intentional about making sure these interactions are maintained.
Families are struggling and while some want to go through this privately, coming together as a soccer family is important here. If you have a parent chat going – be sure to ask people to share important updates. Side note, if you don’t have a parent chat via a messaging app like Team Snap, Whats Ap, etc….– start one today.
I have been so impressed by the power of good people coming together during this crisis and I know this is a time parents will rise to the challenge to support the families on their team in any way possible.
5. Start a “Good Deed Challenge”
There have been so many challenges coming across social media: toilet paper juggling, ball & wall, etc. Now it’s time for the parents to issue a challenge: Start a team-wide “Good Deed Challenge”.
Consider highlighting siblings helping siblings, doing extra chores around the house, leaving nice notes for neighbors, writing letters to friends and relatives in nursing homes. Be sure to get the extra support of the coach to push this out to the team – and let’s help our children learn some additional character lessons during this time, and find a bit of motivation by sharing it on line with their team.
Community Matters: When good people come together, great things will happen.
Our youth soccer teams are a family and when we work hard to establish a strong Sense of Community we will find the real reason for our children’s participation in sport. Lessons in solidarity, teamwork and commitment are not just for our children. Let’s use the connection we initially found on the fields to bring us together when it matters most.