Mike Singleton, the new Executive Director of Mass Youth Soccer Association (MYSA), spoke with me at length about the challenges he faces improving soccer development in Massachusetts. In Part 1, we talked about coaching, parent education, and the local organizations. Continue reading Part 2 below.
LE: Why do kids have to travel so far to play another U-10, U-14 team when there are comparable teams in surrounding towns?
Singleton: I’ve been saying publicly for a while now that we need to look at those towns that are close to each other and should be collaborating together and figuring out how – when you have U-10s traveling 45 minutes to a 45 minute game – how they can save themselves that time. In a group of five or six towns that have two or three U-10 teams, why not just do it in those small localities? If I’m in Winchester, Woburn, and Waltham, we’ll have two play days in Winchester, two play days in Burlington, two play days in Lexington – something like that and we don’t have to go down to Milford. You can have the people who are doing the traveling truly just the more elite players as opposed to the competitive, but not elite player, who can get quality competition 20 minutes away.
LE: Why isn’t this happening?
Singleton: It’s very hard given the number of decades the structure has been set up. If people would sit down and work together – the root of the issue is we have 457 different organizations – clubs and towns – in Massachusetts soccer and that’s one of the most absurd things I’ve seen. The problem is we don’t have 457 top quality coaches, we don’t have 457 top quality leaders.
What seems to happen is when people get frustrated they go off and create their own club and we’re pulling apart things so much. If people would sit down together and figure out a way to do what’s best for players, then it would be better not to have 457 different organizatons. If we could get to where some clubs are combining and working together and towns are working together and we start to do a lot more collaboration and unification, then we can reduce the travel, we can increase the education and have the volunteer support and professional support to do more education and more communication with parents.
LE: The local issue seems to be a big piece of the U.S. development puzzle. There’s an advantage to local rivalries. Kids who’ve grown up competing against local towns know the players and their styles and the games are intense because it’s personal, authentic rivalry. They enjoy that, it’s an organic part of the game. Overseas youth players do not travel as much and often know their opponents. How do you make this happen in Massachusetts?
Singleton: Change is hard. Whenever you’re building new things or taking power away from some other people, that doesn’t come easily. But we’re the luckiest state there is because Tom Goodman is technical director now and the development coaches that we have, they’re resources to be supportive help to towns, clubs and all the members and give suggestion and guidance.
LE: Specifically, what does it take to schedule town teams to compete locally?
Singleton: Quite honestly, if town directors and town leaders talk to the other towns and leaders around them and say how do we do this? – then they can do it. There’s no rule saying they can’t, nothing preventing them from doing it.
Each board is different, but on the board there is a travel committee that determines what level they compete against and which towns.
LE: In each age group there are divisions of ability and within those, dozens of leveled sections. What is the point of this bureaucracy if youth development isn’t about winning, but developing players and playing well?
Singleton: Right. You just want to make competitive games that are safe with no huge age differences for emotional and physical well-being. There’s no reason that if the town is big enough they couldn’t run a whole U-10 group within itself. And if they’re not big enough they can combine with a couple other towns nearby and do it all together.
LE: Some quality players leave their elite clubs sometimes because they’d rather play with the comradery of their local friends, but the quality of the local coaching isn’t there so they can’t progress.
Singleton: That’s a bigger issue. Here [in the U.S.] we have amalgamations of teams but not a club, so there’s a different feel to it. When you have a clubhouse, the feel that ‘we’re all part of this bigger organization,’ then you get the family feel, the friend feel, whereas if you’re just a whole bunch of teams that wear the same jersey and may not even train in the same space or play on the same home field or ever see each other, you lose that. Some stuff is bigger than what goes on, on the field. If you create a community of sorts, it tends to add a lot of passion to the members that translates to the club itself.
LE: What has mostly impacted your philosophy on soccer development?
Singleton: Growing up in Massachusetts playing soccer, that’s important for me in my role now because I knew what it was like being a player here and going through certain structures and challenges. From playing ODP I learned a lot because it put me in a bigger pond and made me compare myself nationally to other players and taught me a lot about the game and what I needed to learn. Being both a college coach and a youth coach, you look at kids across different age groups and having schooling and taught clinical psychology and sports psychology and seeing what people are going through and having gone through a lot of those challenges as a player, it resonates quite a bit. I could be that 18 or 19-year old college player and know what they’re most stressed about or what is so important to them and then the next day I get to be on the field with a five year-old. It’s really educational. It’s amazing when you go from working with a coach who’s super competitive and going through life in sports wanting to put all their players in the World Cup and then working with seven year-olds or TOPSoccer players the next day. It grounds you and makes you really appreciate the bigger picture at times and makes you realize it’s about a lot more than just the 1%. There’s a lot more to it.
Read Part 1 of my interview with MYSA’s executive director Mike SIngleton here.
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