A season’s worth of incidents. A lifetime of sins committed for the sake of winning. These are all the things I witnessed:
• A Board member from a very large club walking onto the soccer field to verbally assault a referee at a U9 boys game.
• The coach of a U10 boys team sent off for dropping F-bombs when the opponent scored.
• The coach of a U11 girls team telling her players they sucked and didn’t deserve to be on her team.
• Parents at a U9 girls game verbally attacking the team taking the field after their game. The team was from the same club.
• An incident report filed for a parent threatening a referee at a U12 girls game.
• A parent at a U11 girls game saying something to a player from the other team that made the player cry.
• Two coaches at a U11 boys game squaring off at midfield chest to chest and needing to be broken up before punches were thrown.
• A coach accosted during the awards ceremony for his team by parents from his team because they were not happy with what THEY got from the season. He missed most of the ceremony.
• A coach kissing the trophy and dancing in the parking lot (in front of the team they recently embarrassed) after his elite level team won every game by a margin of at least 5 goals. Apparently that trophy was of utmost importance.
That certainly is one heck of a season’s worth of bad behavior, but it wasn’t a season.
It was 48 hours.
Not a single child incident of note. In fact, through all this mayhem, they were still playing the game. I saw tears. I saw dropped heads. I heard one boy tell his father “you’re embarrassing me”. My own child asked me to “do something to get rid of this” after witnessing many of the events alongside me.
My son wanted to spend the weekend with me. The only way we were spending time together was if he sat beside me, listened in on my radio calls, and held front row seats to the circus we call youth sports.
My son is right. Why don’t us level-headed, intelligent, rational adults do something about this? After all, we seem to be the ones creating this culture and hijacking their game.
He doesn’t simply want me to do another TED talk, write another book, or speak at another couple dozen clubs. He wants me to do something right here, in his backyard, for the games he plays. He wants me to take action for him. So he can have the youth sport experience I had. He has heard my stories of what it was like playing sports growing up and he has seen the joy on my face in all the old pictures. He knows what sport did for me as a player, and more importantly, as a person. He just wants what is fair: to have the same opportunity I had.
“This is our culture. This is our legacy in sport. This is appalling.” I tell him.
He says, “So. You’re in charge. You can change it.”
“What would you suggest?” I asked, letting him own this moment.
“I don’t know. You’re the adult. You should know what is best for us.”
There you have it. From the mouth of a child. My son was dead right. This is his game, this is his childhood, and this should be as rewarding as mine was. Since when did sport become about us adults? How on earth did we get to the point where we can witness a lifetime of awful behavior in a mere 48 hours at a couple of soccer fields and none of it had to do with the kids on the field?
This is our culture, ladies and gentlemen. Coaches, clubs, and parents are to blame for this mess.
This is our culture. Children robbed of the gift we were given when we played.
This is our culture. But it is supposed to be their game. It shouldn’t be this way. We have a New Year, New Wishes in 2016.
Here are STAR Soccer Club’s Wishes for 2016 I hope you make some resolutions that matter and join us in changing the youth sport culture.
1. Educate parents – Stop abusing them, ignoring them, or making them the scapegoats. Educate them about what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how they can help.
2. Live your values – They are not words on a website or that you can use to wow potential customers. They are the life breath of your club. Live them. Model them. Become them.
3. Model from the top down – You need to show your coaches, players, and parents what the culture is by modeling the mission, the vision, the purpose, and the values EVERY day.
4. Adhere to the “Us” Ideals of Club Culture – Gratitude, Respect, Empathy. If we start and end every day with gratitude toward all those people trying to build into our children, we can’t help but behave a little better each day. If we make concerted efforts to respect ourselves, respect the game, and respect those in this game with us, we cannot help but begin to treat them the way we would want our child to be treated or the way we would want our child to treat his or her peers. If we can show some empathy for what our children are going through, the effort referees, coaches, club administrators put forth for love of the game, or even what the opponent may be experiencing, we can’t help but realize we are all in this together for a greatest good – the children and the lessons they can learn beyond the game. Remind everyone of those three ideals every week.
5. DOCs, lead your coaches on more than X’s and O’s – Be present at training sessions, modeling the cultural values. Show up at some games and provide support and feedback. For goodness’ sake, how about you do a clinic on something other than the next great “drill”. We can find millions of them on the internet. Most coaches I talk to say they only need a few new ideas for training, but what they really want is guidance in how to work with these little humans. We expect our educators to get advanced degrees in multiple disciplines in order to be effective but all we care about with our coaches is showing them the newest shooting drill or Barcelona’s latest formation. Coaches ARE educators. Prepare them to do their jobs by doing yours.
6. Club leaders, invest in building culture – I know you have the money to spend. Youth sports is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise. I bet your parents would agree to spending on culture building if they were included in it. Invest some money in building culture. Talk to experts, seek out training programs, heck, give me a call. I have a culture building program with modules for leaders, coaches, parents, and children. It is all about creating shared purpose, developing proper communication, instilling values and habits to reinforce them, and creating “badge champions” who are so excited to represent the badge with pride and class. There are those of us with deep experience in this area. You should probably start investing in your club by seeking us out in 2016.
7. Coaches take a course, read a book, have coffee with someone who can teach about more than the game – Round yourself out to be more effective for your players. Ethics, Communication, Storytelling, Child development, nutrition, exercise science, educational principles, teamwork dynamics, psychology…the list goes on, my friend. Make yourself a better educator and you will be amazed at how the children respond and the results you get from fixing the process.
8. Clubs: Promote your values through habits of excellence, club stories, ambassadors. Send weekly emails discussing habits of excellence that reinforce the values. Have a weekly value with a couple of habits that build the value (such as thanking the refs and parents after each game promotes gratitude and respect). Promote stories from club members who have gone above and beyond to exemplify the values. Everyone wants to be in the spotlight, and everyone wants to belong to something special. Make exhibiting club values a priority and they will all be in the spotlight.
9. Assign a badge champion on every team whose job is to remind us all why we are there. We have snacks, travel, social, photographer, etc. Why not assign a parent on each team whose job it is to promote the club values and mission, keep everyone on task, and report back WOW stories to the club for inclusion on the site. Call it goodwill, call it keeping honest people honest. It works.
10. Tell your WOW stories – In his latest book, Carmine Gallo, discusses the power of story for promoting great culture. He calls them WOW stories. Moments when the organization put its best foot forward and exceeded expectations. Those moments, when shared with each other and with the public, create a very powerful sense purpose. They remind us of what matters most. They point us back toward our mission. They also make “brand champions’ of us all as we seek to find more stories or create our own for the sake of the greatest good of the club. Imagine your entire club of parents, players, and coaches all looking to create WOW stories at your club. Those hold more power than tweeting about your latest win, or how many State Championships you’ve won. WOW stories touch the soul of sports where trophies simply can’t.
There you have it. Pick just one of these for 2016 and stick to it. Put all you have in to changing the youth sport culture for our kids. They are the only ones punished by all this chaos we have created. They are the only ones that matter. Remember, it is “youth” sports, not “Adults Behaving Badly” sports.