I have spent the past five days in Los Angeles at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Convention with thousands of soccer coaches seeking knowledge, friendship and a deeper connection to the sport that occupies much of our hearts and minds. I am energized by the conversations I have had, the coaches I have observed on the field and the youth soccer experts I have listened to in the presentation rooms.
I feel profoundly motivated to drive forward and even accelerate my efforts in effectuating the mission of The Institute of Soccer Parenting: To engage, educate and advocate for parents in the youth soccer experiences of their children in order to elevate the game.
Last year at this time I wrote a NSCAA Convention recap article with the headline: “Youth Soccer Needs a Cultural Shift.” That article actually formed the basis of my presentations at this year’s convention. Today, the headline is: “Youth Soccer is at a Tipping Point” because after these 5 days, I am acutely aware of the fact that frustration with the youth soccer environment by youth soccer coaches and leaders is doing just that, reaching a tipping point.
Youth soccer is broken. It is not working as well as it should, and we must rethink our behaviors if we want to provide our children and families with the experiences they deserve. The first step towards changing our behaviors is altering our thoughts and perceptions about our interactions, our practices and our objectives.
We have been slowly rising to this quiet, still moment at the highest point of the roller coaster – where we pause for a moment – then will rush down, the anticipation of what lays ahead pounding in our hearts. The Tipping Point. The point where we can go no further; where a change must occur in order for us to move forward.
I had the honor of giving five presentations at the Convention. My coaching and fellow-presenter friends were making fun of me a bit because this is an unusually large number of presentations for the Convention. Most people present one or two times, so five seemed a bit over the top to my friends. To me, the number was a testament to the fact that coaches and administrators are eager to improve the game, to fix the youth game, and deal with the issues we face.
My first presentation on Thursday was entitled “Building Trust in the Coach-Parent Relationship.” I found myself in a room with over 300 people in attendance. There was a podium on a stage and a microphone affixed to the podium, however I was so passionate about the subject, there was no way I could stand behind a podium to deliver my message. Needless to say, my voice was pushed to its limit by the end of the 75 minutes without the use of the podium microphone!
Thursday was the first time I had stood in front of a room of coaches and presented my personal ideas about the youth soccer scene. Up until then I’d written about them, but most of the recent public speaking I’ve been doing was for the Changing the Game Project. My thoughts just poured out of me and I found myself completely in flow. In that 75 minutes I realized, more than ever before, how deep the passion I feel for fixing youth soccer is a driving force in my life.
I will write a separate article about each of my presentations in order to get into detail on the subjects.
After my first talk, I rushed to a room across the hall to interview John O’Sullivan with the Changing the Game Project. The experiences I had with the Soccer Parenting Summit paid off (21 interview under my belt) and I was really happy with the interview and the way John and I were able to dive deep into some of the issues we face in youth soccer such as the fear that is a driving factor in actions of coaches, parents and players.
The Exhibit Hall with hundreds of booths opened Thursday evening, and I spent an hour at the Changing the Game Project booth talking to old soccer friends who stopped by and engaging in conversation with many new faces. I especially loved my conversation with a youth coach from Indianapolis about the Thursday evening program they started at his youth club when they hold a training session for parents, followed by free play with their kids. The response has been exceptionally positive and the results have been increased parent engagement and club connection, not to mention the fun with the game.
My presentation on Friday was entitled “Engaging Parents to Improve Club Culture.” This talk was in a theatre style room, complete with spotlights in my face, theatre seating and the inability to be able to see the audience as I was speaking. I wasn’t sure how my message about engaging parents instead of using the Crazy Soccer Parent as an excuse to keeping distance between coaches and parents was being received by the coaches in the audience because I couldn’t see their faces. However, at the end of the talk the response was overwhelmingly positive.
Coaches are seeking a better way.
Again, I was overcome with thought and excitement at the positive response, so many people asking questions afterwards, talking about how much my message resonated with them.
I am hopeful.
I had two presentations on Saturday, both of them a bit more instructional in nature, as opposed to presenting big ideas.
The first was about “Developing your Coaching Emotional Intelligence.” This was a perfect subject after I had spent the past two presentations talking about the need to change culture and establish better relationships – now we are getting into some specifics of how to establish meaningful relationships.
My second talk on Saturday was entitled “7 Steps to Get Parents to Stop Talking on the Sidelines.” As you can imagine, as this is such an issue in youth soccer, the room was full of eager to learn coaches.
At the moment, I’m sitting in the lobby of the JW Marriott near the Convention Center that just last night was packed with coaches socializing and is now filled with Lakers jerseys, and people heading to the NBA game around the corner. Coaches have by and large left, returning to their home environment, I am sure eager to put into practice everything that was learned at the 2017 Convention.
My experiences this past week leads me to the tipping point conclusion. Time and time again I had conversations with coaches who are fed up with the environment they work in and energy is mounting for some significant change to occur. Of course, this will be a very long process, as cultural change takes time. However, if the response I felt from the Convention attendees at my talks is any indication of behavioral change leading to cultural change, than improvements are ahead – the result: an improved environment for our children to learn and grow as soccer players and people.
I am hopeful at the possibility for change, and I look forward to writing my Convention re-cap article after next year’s convention in Philadelphia to gauge the progress we have made. I wonder what the title of that one will be?