A True Story

Over a year ago my son's coach, Christian, was bombarded by his U11 soccer team to begin playing travel. They were a recreational group with a few exceptional players.

Having been raised in the soccer culture of England, Christian understood the value of playing more challenging teams, how it would help them grow faster, and they appeared to want to go fast.

But every decision like this can place a group under greater competitive pressure, and if not handled right, the players could become discouraged, lose self-esteem, and eventually fall out of the game-and into more disruptive and destructive types of behavior.

It was a decision demanding community help, and so I was asked being a seasoned coach in the league and since one of my sons was on the team.

So Christian and I began to shop for a club who would take onboard a recreational group, who had zero to little money, but who had big hearts, lots of enthusiasm, and way too much energy.

We found it hard. Most clubs wanted large amounts of money, wanted control of the player's future, and had rules and lots of meetings that our new-to-travel-parents could not afford to attend, working multiple jobs, and having that difficulty-with-the-language shyness.

It became evident most clubs wanted Christian's knowledge, having been Regional Director of a major league soccer training organization of English players, the only EUAF coach in the area, plus his influence over the team's exceptional players.

Finally, after many calls and inquiries, we found a newly formed club, a group that that split away from a local club with hopes of improving player development as well as many perceived flaws in the organization.

We signed, cobbled funds together, and played the typical beginning season-the kids were handling it; we were keeping them positive, and they were moving forward, learning so much socially, emotionally, and physically.

Plus, they began caring about each other more, concerned about injuries, how each felt, if their families could get friends to practice.. all positive aspects of a budding community awareness. It was a good first season.

But we were deeply struggling with the money requirements. We looked for donations, talked to the league, filled out scholarship forms, but, unfortunately, we were given an ultimatum by the new club-come up with $1200 in 24 hours, and they'd let us play. We weren't able to do that, and were erased from the league's onsite process.

Shocked and dismayed, we doubled our efforts: The league stepped forward, accepted our scholarship requests, the state waved its fees, and an established club came forward, collecting used uniforms for our players, waving many support rules, and granted us the rights to keep the players together, not demanding we place them in the end-of-year pool, so other coaches could take our top players and let the slower developing ones be culled.

However, we came to realize we could live with cobbling together funds-but there were other issues-and things became even clearer-in dramatic ways.

Other children and older family siblings began showing up to practices, and we had a mass of children of multiple ages. Some would bring a few crumpled dollar bills, opening their hands and asking, "Can we now play with you?" Others a copy of their birth certificates and looking for a uniform, when's the next game, maybe their mother could take them.. And there were the dope smoking older boys at the edges of the small park, along with macabre jokes from our players themselves about crack smoking people..

It became clear we had a larger issue here:

  • One that could be attacked with the positive effects of soccer
  • The other with the help of the extended community...

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