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Starting a New Youth Sports Club

How One Dedicated Mom Started A New Youth Soccer Club

Dedication and determination required

As with team sports, success in starting a new youth sports program takes teamwork, determination and a willingness to do one's best to reach a common goal. 

You will need a team of dedicated individuals to head the effort and the support of parents who share your passion for providing a place for children to play based on the MomsTeam mission of "safer, saner, less stressful and more inclusive."  You and your team will have to be able to put everything aside because as will often be the case you will be under severe time constraints. There is nothing like a good adrenaline rush to help complete a monumental task. 

Be prepared for the possibility that the existing club will wage a behind the scenes battle and pull as many strings as possible to prevent your club from getting off the ground.  But know that if you do your homework, if you understand all the hurdles that you are likely to face, you will be better able to clear them.

Phase One: Justifying Your Decision 

Starting a new program should always be the last resort, so it is vital that you do everything in your power to reform the existing youth sports program before you make the decision to start a new one.  If you can document the meetings you attended and your written request for more inclusive program then it will be easier to explain the reasons you have been forced to start a new one.

There are four main reasons to start a new club:

  1. Lack of inclusiveness:  The number one reason why people start a new program is to give kids a chance to play who would otherwise not play.  It is also the best reason, the one easiest to justify, and the one most likely to garner the political support you are likely to need from the officials in your town or municipality who control the fields, diamonds or courts.  Putting officials in a position where they will be viewed as engaging in discrimination if they deny your request for fields or facilities makes it less likely that they will block your requests.  It will also make it very difficult for third parties to support what you should be able to cast as an elitist program.
  2. Lack of accountability:  It is far easier to start a new club if the existing club is not affiliated with a national youth sport organization or is run by a group of adults on an entrenched and self-perpetuating board of directors that doesn't conduct open board meetings or have term limits.  Where the board feels it is not accountable to anyone but itself, it can lose sight of its responsibility to serve the best interests of its constituents: the children.
  3. Adult centered: If the existing club is run with a child-centered philosophy, there most likely won't be any need for a new club, so an adult-centered program - one whose missions and goals, while they may pay lip service to the interests of the children, are really to serve the interests of parents looking to give their children an advantage by excluding late bloomers from the program is pretty much a given, and great reason for starting a new organization.
  4. Value winning above player safety.  Because many private youth sports organizations operate outside the coverage of state law (which is why an increasing number of municipalities are exercising the power of the permit to require organizations that use town-owned fields, rinks, courts, or diamonds to comply with minimimum safety standards, especially with respect to concussion risk management), another reason to start a new club is because the existing clup values winning above player safety. Making sure kids are as safe as they can be playing sports should always be job one.


Phase Two: Research

This is the phase in which a lot of the research that is necessary to organize a new club and get it off the ground will be done.  Among the questions you will need to answer are:

  • Are there enough interested children?

  • Where will the children play?

  • Who controls the permits?

  • What national organization will your new club join, if any?

  • Who will handle the money?

  • Who will officiate the games?

Facilities Inventory

Because it is the rare town that has recreational facilities that aren't already being fully utilized, you will probably have to be creative in finding the space you need for your teams to play:"

Start off by conducting a facility inventory.  If you are trying to start a new soccer club, for example, make a list of every soccer field (or potential soccer field) in town.  Look at the community fields, the school fields (both private and public) and fields that aren't even fields (for instance, many large businesses have expansive fields that can be turned into soccer fields)


Once you complete the field inventory, determine who is responsible for giving out the permits for each field.  Figure out how many fields are needed for your new club, best case and worst case.

The next mission is to secure permits for practice and game fields.  Usually the recreation department within a city or a town keeps a master list of fields and facilities and gives out the permits.  For school fields, you will need to get permits from the school's athletic directors; for businesses, you will need to talk to the facility manager.

Securing permits may be the most challenging hurdle to clear.  You are likely to find that just finding enough space for existing clubs in an issue.  If the person who is in charge of permitting is overworked or shorthanded the challenge will be even greater.  In my experience in speaking with parents from around the country, most of those who are responsible for issuing permits are used to working with the established youth sports organizations and view a newcomer as one more headache, not as a solution to the larger challenge of finding a place for every child to play. 

Expect to be given multiple reasons why you cannot have permits.  If this happens you will have to take the matter up the chain of authority to that person's boss.   If there truly are no fields available, you may reach a dead end (this is why this step is in the beginning of Phase Two).

I have often found in working with parents that where there is a will, there is a way; and that if you are very creative you can come up with a solution to the facility shortage.  Ask to see the existing schedule.  At the very least, you will have a better understanding and appreciation of the challenges the permit person faces.  At worst, you will see that the existing program is hogging the fields (like tying up a field five days a week when it only plays games on two) and have to "rent" fields from them.  Hopefully, by using a scheduling software program, you will be able to free up the necessary fields.

Remember that there are laws that restrict the ability of municipalities or recreation departments to hand out permits for public fields in a discriminatory manner.  Be ready to plead your case to your elected officials.  In the case of the club I started, I was faced with a situation in which the recreation director had simply given the existing club essentially unfettered access to all of the town's fields.  I was forced to appeal to the town manager. 

When I didn't get anywhere with the town manager, and with time running short, I approached the athletic director at all the town's schools.  As it was July, most were on vacation, not to return until August.  The AD at the high school told me he had no available fields.  Because I had actually walked around the high school, I knew that there was one run-down soccer field up a hill in the middle of the woods that nobody used (for obvious reasons, as it was in dire need of reseeding). He tried to pour cold water on my idea, referring to the poor condition of the field ("too many holes" etc.).  I told him our club would clean up the field and that the school department had to cut the grass anyway.  He agreed to let us use the field.  But we needed more.  Ultimately, after lots of hard and creative work, we were able to cobble together enough game and practice fields to accommodate five teams of about 90 boys who would not have had a place to play soccer in the fall.

Some communities such as Scarsdale, New York have implemented a policy that requires that a set of standards are met before a permit is issued.

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