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

League and in your letter was that you didn't want to destroy the rec program by growing the travel soccer program too rapidly. Your letter speaks of phasing in the travel program in the Fall in order to determine the "appropriate' equilibrium between travel and rec. This statement, unfortunately, suggests that you believe it is up to the No-Name Soccer Club to determine the relative sizes of the two programs. We submit that the sizes of the two programs should be determined not by you and a small group of self-appointed experts, but by the parents whose children are the "consumers' of those two programs. If there is consumer demand for a larger travel soccer program, it seems to us that the No-Name Soccer Club should do everything within its power to meet that demand. To suggest otherwise is to leave your club open to charges that the desire to preserve the rec program, and the other so-called reasons advanced for cutting the size of the Fall program, are really just a smokescreen, and that your organization's real goal is to make travel soccer something it should not be: an exclusive, by invitation only, club for only those deemed by your organization to be "talented" enough to "represent" our Town1.

In any event, the fear that travel soccer will lead to the demise of rec soccer has no basis in fact. You yourself conceded at the August 1 meeting that the rec program was not threatened by the large size of the Spring travel soccer program. There is no reason to believe that a program of equal size in the Fall would have any deleterious effect on the rec soccer program. Chances are that there will always be some children who do not want to play travel soccer for who the rec program will be ideal. In any event, the rec program will continue to have a role in introducing younger children to the game and providing older children not interested in travel soccer an opportunity to continue playing for the fun of it.

As we have told you on a number of occasions, our goal is not to run a competing travel club, but to give all of the children who want to play travel soccer the chance to do so. We want nothing more than to have our concerns addressed by the No-Name Soccer Club. If we can work together, then we will disband our club.

The following are some of the changes we would like to see:

  1. Establish A Parents Advisory Council ("PAC"). We contemplate a group consisting of parents with children currently playing travel soccer who would provide the Board of Directors with feedback (both negative and positive) from other parents. Many other town clubs have successfully set up PACs; their value is in providing parents a way to voice concerns without going to the Board of Directors. They also provide the Board with important input to insure that its decisions are reflective of, and responsive to, a broad cross-section of the soccer community. I have attached an article from the MYSA newsletter about the success that a club in Weymouth has had with a PAC.

  2. Publish the dates and times of Board meetings and the names and phone numbers of Board members. The club should be run in the open; anyone who wants to attend a Board meeting should be able to do so (even if only to observe). Also, you should invite all of your coaches to at least one meeting a year. The high school and middle school soccer coaches should also be invited to your meetings and, perhaps, added to your Board (as Youth Baseball does). You should know that we have heard from a number of No-Name Soccer Club coaches that they are unhappy with the secretive and arbitrary manner in which the No-Name Soccer Club is run.

  3. Make available in a public place the Program Mission Statement and by-laws.

  4. Encourage "Term Limits" for the board of Directors. Directors, administrators and coaches who become entrenched in a program for years on end tend to put the "blinders" on and may become too comfortable with the status quo. New "eyes and ears" keep a program fresh and strong.

  5. Eliminate "tryouts" and "cutting." We suggest that you implement the model followed by another Massachusetts town of having evaluations, not tryouts, and not cutting kids, even at the high school level (some of their best players only blossomed as seniors). Kids should not be "cut." It is well established that kids develop at different rates and that cutting kids often has adverse, and totally unnecessary, psychological effects. We also suggest that, to ensure fairness, an unbiased group of evaluators be employed to conduct the evaluations (i.e. parents should not evaluate their own children). An effort should be made to construct the evaluations so that they are not as heavily weighted to identifying forwards (there are, after all, different skill sets for midfielders, defenders and goalies).

  6. Give family discounts. For some families with several children playing soccer, $75 per child represents a financial burden. Adopt the policy used by Youth Baseball of setting a per-family cap of, say, $150. Scholarships should also be made available.

  7. Eliminate the requirement that a child play soccer in the Spring to be eligible to play travel soccer in the Fall and visa versa. Some children are denied the opportunity to play travel in the Fall simply because they choose to concentrate on another sport (baseball, lacrosse) in the Spring. If Fall soccer is developmental, why prevent them from playing? We believe it is unfair to say to a child that he or she can't play travel soccer in the Fall unless that child plays in the Spring. Again, families with a tight budget and a couple of kids may not be able to afford to pay for them to play two sports in the Spring. Forcing kids to play soccer year round can also result in burnout and exposes them to overuse injuries. Your present policy basically requires that kids play soccer year-round. Believe it or not, soccer is not the only sport around, and a desire of a child to play a number of different sports does not mean that he or she is any less skilled a soccer player.