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Youth Sports Politics: One Mom's Fight to Make A Travel Soccer Program More Inclusive

Several years ago, I started a travel soccer club after our triplet sons, who had been on an undefeated U 12 (under 12) travel soccer team in the Massachusetts town where we live, were not offered the chance to continue playing travel soccer that fall when they moved up to U-14.

My immediate goal was to give them, and about sixty other kids who were also cut from the existing program, a chance to keep playing travel soccer.

My long-term goal was to bring about changes in the existing club so that all of the kids playing for our three teams would be offered spots on the existing club's teams the following spring season, at which point we would discontinue operation of a separate club.

When the club was formed, the president of the existing club sent a letter to all "soccer families" in town explaining the club's position about my renegade club.

As things turned out, every player on the three teams (all of which had successful seasons and more than held their own, even against teams from the established club), was offered a spot in the existing club's program that spring, so we were pleased to discontinue operations. Many of our players, branded by the existing club as not being good enough to play travel soccer, ending up playing on high school varsity teams!

The following is the letter I sent to him after receiving his letter:

No-Name Soccer Club
Anytown, USA

Dear President ____________:

Thank you for sending a copy of your letter to "soccer families". This letter is in response to a number of statements made in that letter and to make some constructive suggestions, as the closing paragraph of your letter requests.

Like you, I have also been fielding a large number of telephone calls in recent weeks from parents. The vast majority share my disenchantment with the manner in which the No-Name Soccer Club runs its travel soccer program. By sharing the concerns of these families with you and your Board of Directors, we hope to initiate a constructive dialogue that will result in changes being made in travel soccer.

The statement in your letter that we ( a number of parents later joined me) started our own soccer club because we were unhappy with the speed of "growth" of your travel soccer program in the Fall is inaccurate. The primary reason that we formed a new soccer program was to allow our sons, and those of sixty plus other families with boys who played Spring travel soccer, to continue to develop their soccer skills on a travel soccer team during the fall season. As we told you on a number of occasions, we believed that their development as soccer players would have been retarded had they been forced to return to playing recreational soccer on a mixed sex team, with untrained, unlicensed coaches and uncertified referees. Indeed, one member of your Board admitted to us that once a child had played travel soccer, he or she should not be forced to return to rec soccer. Yet nowhere in your letter do you acknowledge the desires of those parents whose children played travel soccer in the Spring to continue to play travel soccer in the Fall. Our philosophy is two-fold: soccer should be fun, and it should be developmental. Playing at a level that is below our sons' ability would neither be fun nor developmental.

Indeed, if, as the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association ("MYSA") suggests, Fall travel soccer is "developmental" and Spring travel soccer is "competitive," the Fall travel soccer program should be at least as large as the Spring program. That just the opposite is true suggests that the player development is not the real reason why the No-Name Soccer Club has chosen to artificially limit the size of its Fall program. Your statement that you have doubled the size of the travel soccer program, is, as we pointed out to you at the August lst meeting of the Middlesex Youth Soccer League, totally misleading and misses the point.

The fact is that the Fall program is considerably smaller than the program was in the Spring. By shrinking the program, the No-Name Soccer Club eliminated the opportunity to continue playing travel soccer for scores of children who played in the Spring. That your letter does not even address the concerns of those parents whose children were shut out, or in the case of 65 children playing on our teams, almost shut out of the Fall travel soccer program, strongly suggests a complete lack of responsiveness to their legitimate concerns. Thus, it was not our unhappiness with the "growth" of the No-Name travel soccer club that prompted us to form three new boys' travel soccer teams. It was our unhappiness with the reduction in the size of the travel soccer program from the Spring to the Fall which prompted our action.

None of the reasons which you have advanced thus far for shrinking the travel soccer program and not at least maintaining it at the size of the Spring program withstand even minimal scrutiny. When you told us that there were not enough fields, we offered to sit down with you and show you how additional fields could be striped so as to accommodate more teams. (We note in your letter that you do not rely on the lack of fields as a reason for a smaller Fall program).

Next, you told us that the reason that the Fall program was smaller was because of a shortage of licensed coaches. When [Concerned Mother] told you she was licensed and could coach, you said you would get back to her. (You never did). While you mention in your letter that one of your biggest challenges is "keeping our pool of coaches up with the growing pool of players", you don't rely on a shortage of coaches as a reason for a smaller Fall program either. That there were enough qualified coaches in the Spring, when there were far more teams, and that we had no problem in recruiting several highly qualified coaches for our three teams (one of whom has a "C" license) is proof positive that there is no coaching shortage.

The next excuse you proffered was that there weren't enough kids to fill more teams. This is the most far-fetched excuse of all. For you to even suggest that there were not enough kids to fill more teams when the number of boys' teams, for instance, was reduced from 16 in the Spring to 10 in the Fall, was disingenuous. Again, the fact that, without access to your data base and relying only on word of mouth, telephone calls and two newspaper notices, we were able to put together three teams in the space of a week and had to place players on a waitlist demolishes the idea that there was no demand for more teams.

The final reason that you advanced, both at the August 1 meeting of the Middlesex