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THE X-Factor in Player Retention

Someone asked me recently:  What do we need to do or change to improve youth soccer?  We certainly made a lot of progress over the past 30 years.  One of the areas that still needs attention is the large number of players who quit organized soccer by the time they are teenagers. 

The three main stakeholders in youth soccer are the players, the coaches, and the parents.  While we have devoted most of our attention to educating the coaches and providing development programs for the players, the parents have been somewhat neglected.  It’s time we invest more resources towards educating the parents.  Informed parents play an important part and are more likely to support their child’s soccer experience positively.

We need to create an age—and level-specific parent education program. As children grow and graduate from one age category to the next, from one level to the next, their parents are provided with appropriate guidelines (E.g. ‘FUNdamental GUIDELINES’) and resources specific to their needs. The delivery modes can be online or in-person. In the writer’s experience, the parents who really need the information don’t usually attend parent education meetings. Youth clubs should find creative ways to ensure ALL the parents get the information.

Below is a summary of talking points that can be expanded into a series of age-specific presentations.

  • Over coaching.
  • Ethics in youth sport.  
  • Understanding the odds of success.
  • Practice versus games, which is better.
  • We are evaluating the club and the coaches.
  • Sideline behavior and its impact on referee retention.
  • Shielding the player from abuse, not from life lessons.
  • The hazards of playing up.  When is playing up acceptable?
  • Team development versus individual player development.
  • Helping players perform in the zone versus distracting them.
  • Avoiding burnout, de-motivation, and unrealistic expectations.
  • It is getting the balance right between free time and supervised time.
  • How do players develop?  Teaching players to play before teaching them to compete.
  • The two best coaches in the world:  Watching high-level soccer and Playing pick-up games.
  • The four components of soccer are technical, tactical, physical, and psychological.
  • Understanding the role of sport.  Mission of youth organizations.  Focus on the process, not the short-term game results.
  • How to stop youth soccer from getting hijacked by adults.  How to put the needs of the players above the expectations and agendas of the adults.

In conclusion, informed parents who buy into the club’s philosophy and understand their role as sports parents can make a huge difference and contribute to high player retention.

Jacob Daniel

• Director of Coaching for Georgia Soccer 1993-2020 • USSF ‘A’ License • USSF National Youth License • NSCAA Premier Diploma • Presenter at US Youth Soccer Annual Coaches Workshop numerous times • Presenter at NSCAA Convention 2011 • Presenter at coaching symposiums in USA, Canada, Jamaica, Bahamas, Belize • US Youth Soccer Instructional Staff, 1997 – 2018. • US Soccer Instructional Staff, 1997 – 2011. • US Youth Soccer ODP Region III Technical Director & Staff 1993 – 2020. • Published Author of ‘The Complete Guide to Coaching Soccer Systems & Tactics’. • Received the 2015 NSCAA Charlotte Moran Award for Long Term Service to Youth Soccer (awarded to a coach who has elevated the game at the youth level). • Received the 2020 US Youth Soccer Tom Fleck Excellence in Coaching Education award.

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