By Scott Barbara, Vice President of Recreational Soccer, Mercer Island Youth Soccer Club
Over the past two years, I have been asked by many parents, “Why does the Mercer Island Youth Soccer Club (“MIYSC”) use parent/volunteer coaches;” or the flip-side of the same question, “Why doesn’t MIYSC use professional coaches?” As the Vice President of Recreational Soccer with MIYSC, I’d like to offer a response to those questions.
Parent/volunteer coaches are the backbone of youth sports on Mercer Island. Hundreds of volunteers donate thousands of hours annually to coach youth sports, including: tackle football; boys & girls basketball; boys & girls lacrosse; Little League baseball; softball; and, yes, boys & girls soccer. The Mercer Island Boys & Girls Club reports 325 volunteer coaches donated 30,000 hours on behalf of over 2,000 MIBGC athletic program participants. Last year, MIYSC had over 125 volunteers, 88 of whom were in our recreational program, coaching more than 1,100 youth players, nearly 850 of whom were in our recreational program. I, personally, cannot imagine, and hope to never see, our community without all of these volunteers supporting our young athletes.
MIYSC supports and augments its volunteer coaches with professional training. For more than 10 years, MIYSC has retained the International Academy of Soccer (“IAS”) to provide professional instruction on the development of soccer fundamentals. IAS professionals teach, in a clinic-style format, and our coaches reinforce, soccer fundamentals for our 5-8 year old players. Clinic style training, where one or more professionals train players from more than one team, allows MIYSC to keep its recreational player fees reasonable because the cost of the trainer is borne by more than just the members of a single team. Our coaches run all their own team practices starting with 9-year-old players but use a club-wide curriculum.
Two years ago, MIYSC began establishing a club-wide player curriculum arc that is focused on player development, not winning. It is patterned after the Dutch/Barcelona player skill development program and includes weekly practice plans for our coaches. The MIYSC player development curriculum has been very well received and is being adopted by our sister clubs and the Eastside Youth Soccer Association.
In addition to practices with their teams, MIYSC players are also able to participate in several optional, weekly, professionally-run clinics at no additional cost. These clinics focus exclusively on individual player skills development and tend to draw committed players who want to push themselves beyond their team practices. While MIYSC supports recreational soccer for players through age 18; starting at age 10, MIYSC players may elect to pursue our tryout-based select program. All of the MIYSC select teams have dedicated professional trainers, but most still have volunteer coaches and managers.
On several occasions recently, I have heard members of the Mercer Island community use the term “parent/volunteer coach” as a stereotype for people who know nothing about the game of soccer and/or coaching our young athletes. While it is possible for a volunteer coach to have little or no experience, that is not a disqualifying factor if they have a passion for the game, a desire to become a qualified coach, and find meaning in enhancing the lives of our children through the game of soccer. On average, MIYSC parent/volunteers have nearly 19 years’ experience playing soccer and more than 7 years’ experience coaching youth soccer. Additionally, more than 20% of the MIYSC parent/volunteers have earned a US Soccer Federation National Coaching License after multiple days of classroom instruction and practicum and passing a written exam and practical evaluation.
Youth soccer should, first and foremost, be about fun. The number one reason children give for participating in youth sports is to have fun. Millions of children all over the world play soccer for fun, many without the benefit/curse of adult organization and interference. Youth soccer does not have to be a “pay to play” activity that costs thousands of dollars. We, as parents of youth soccer players, should not lose sight of the reality that our children will only achieve their individual soccer potential if they are engaged, having fun, and enjoying the game.
My goals, as the VP of Recreational Soccer, are: (1) to keep as many Mercer Island youth soccer players playing for as long as they remain interested; and (2) to provide our children with positive experiences and fundamental soccer skills that will enable them confidently to join an intra-mural team in college, or participate in a pick-up game, or even play in an over-50 league at some time in their future.
On behalf of the Mercer Island Youth Soccer Club, I want to publicly thank the thousands of volunteers who, over the past 50 years, have donated their time, energy and experience in service to the Mercer Island community through support of youth soccer. I also want to thank the thousands of families that have entrusted their young soccer players to MIYSC over the years. Finally, I want to thank you, the reader, for your consideration.
Scott Barbara is the vice president of recreational soccer for the Mercer Island Youth Soccer Club. He can be reached at email@example.com. Learn more about MIYSC at www.miysc.org.