Several years ago, my triplet sons tried out for the travel soccer club in our town. Two of my sons were wait-listed for no apparent reason, along with over sixty other boys who had previously been in the program. Here's the text of the letter I wrote to the President of the club. I was able to get all three spots on a travel team, so the letter obviously worked, up to a point. After playing travel soccer that fall, and again in the spring, on a U12 team, they were cut from the program the following fall, when they moved up to U14. My husband and I were then forced to set up a new travel soccer club so they, and about sixty other boys, could continue playing. For a copy of the letter we sent after we started our own club, click here.
No-Name Soccer Club
Dear President ____________:
Two of my triplet sons were recently notified that had been wait-listed for places on the U12 boys travel team, while a third received a letter congratulating him for making the team. The two who did not make the team were, of course, disappointed. They both want to play travel soccer, and having spent a year in another town, where every child expressing an interest in playing travel soccer is included in the program, they did not understand why No-Name Soccer Club is run under such an exclusionary policy. Because I, too, was at a loss to explain your policy, I am writing to provide you with some constructive criticism on No-Name's program, and to suggest some changes in the way No-Name approaches youth soccer, which I believe should be implemented in January. I would also like to have a chance to speak at your next Board of Directors meeting in January.
First, some observations:
As I understand it, there is no limitation imposed by the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association ("MYSA") on the number of travel teams a town can field. Why does No-Name limit the number? As long as there are enough fields and coaches, shouldn't every child who wants to play travel soccer be given the chance? Two other towns with which I am familiar include every child who wants to play. Since they both have excellent high school varsity programs (one, as you know, won the state title in both boys and girls soccer this fall), they must be doing something right.
No one has been able to articulate for me a reason for this policy, other than that, if everyone who tried out were to make a travel team, then the town recreation league would be "diluted". What does this mean? Isn't the town rec. league already diluted, since it is deprived of the players, who, at this point in time, appear to have the most ability and thus play travel and not on a rec team? Also, I have some serious concerns about the wisdom of letting my two sons who did not make travel soccer play in the town league. Both sons are big for their age and for their grade. I share their concerns from a safety standpoint about continuing to play with girls, some of whom are two years younger than they are and quite a bit smaller. Also, it was painfully obvious from watching their team play this fall that, because there was such a wide range of ability, it was very frustrating for everyone, because there was no real chance, given such disparities, that they could ever really "mesh" as a team. Why, then, should there be a concern about diluting the town teams? If all the players who tried out for travel soccer are given a chance to play and the town rec league, at the 5-6th grade level, is reserved for players who don't want to play travel soccer, everyone is likely to be better off: the travel soccer players, because they get to play with other players of roughly the same ability and thus can learn to play as a member of a team, and the players in the town rec league, because they, too, will be playing with those of similar ability and motivation and can themselves learn to play as a member of a team.
By telling a child that he has been placed on a wait list, and hasn't made the team, you are basically telling him that he isn't good enough to "represent" our town. What kind of message is that to send an eleven-year-old boy? No-Name's attitude seems to be that travel soccer is only for "stars". That is not, as I understand it, the purpose of travel soccer. Let the strongest players, at any point in time, play on Spirit [select travel team]. Yes, the children should be on teams comprised of others of roughly similar ability. But, no, they should not be denied the opportunity to play travel soccer altogether just because, in the subjective judgment of those running the tryouts (some of whom, I suspect, are not even certified soccer coaches, and who appeared confused at times during the evaluations about the rules of soccer), they are less "talented" than some other children.
As the mother of triplets, I can speak from experience that children, even those born a minute apart, mature at differing rates. One fraternal triplet son, is 5'6" and 130 pounds, another is 5'2" and 105; Our son who "made" the travel team is 4'10" and 70 pounds. At this point in time my biggest son is growing so fast that his coordination can't keep up. When he begins to slow down in his growth, chances are he is going to grow into his body and quickly catch up in the coordination department. Who's to say that he won't turn out to be faster and more agile than my son, who, at this point, is the fastest and most agile of the three? That child A may a "better" athlete than Child B at age eleven does not mean that Child A will be a "better" athlete at age fourteen or seventeen. Yet implicit in the decision to place Child B on the wait list for travel soccer is the judgment of someone that he will never be a better soccer player than Child A.
To those who say that Child B will have just as much of a chance to make future teams, I say, let's not kid ourselves. Not only will Child B be likely to get discouraged and give up on soccer completely and permanently (because the Fun has been removed), so he will never have the chance later on to show just how wrong that evaluator was, but, as a practical matter, by not being on travel soccer, he will be at an extreme disadvantage in future tryouts, first, because he will not be a "known quantity" like Child A, and, second, because he will have had less of a chance than Child A to develop his skills by receiving the coaching and the chance to play with the better players. This is simply not fair, and it substantially reduces the pool of soccer players from which the middle school and high school can later draw. The town where I grew up wins titles in boy's and girl's soccer year after year. From speaking with board members in that town, and from personal experience (having grown up, coached and played soccer there), I know for a fact that some of its best players were not "stars" when they were ten or eleven. Yet because they were not discouraged from continuing to play, and were included rather than excluded from the travel soccer program, they were still playing soccer when they reached high school, where they blossomed into varsity players. Can the same be said for our town?
I also have some suggestions regarding the way in which the teams are selected. Like our town, the town where I grew up at one time used the 6 on 6 format of mini-scrimmages. They soon found out, however, that such a format only identified the boys and girls who, at that stage, were strong offensive players. The format did not identify those with the potential (again, remember, that is really all we are talking about when we are speaking about eleven year olds) to be strong halfbacks and fullbacks (which involve different skills). As a result, the town doesn't use this system anymore. My experience with the recent tryouts, at which I was an evaluator, proved my point. My biggest son, who was identified by his rec league coach has having outstanding potential as a fullback, is, as mentioned above, very tall and not as agile and cagey as some others. He probably was not viewed, perhaps correctly, as being forward material at this point in time (although last year, when he was six inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter, he was a top scorer for his town travel team)[Note: as things turned out, he ended up playing both fullback and forward in high school], but travel soccer shouldn't just be comprised totally of forwards; it needs fullbacks too. Also, what about goalies? How are they identified?
In closing I would like to volunteer to coach, or at least assist, an additional team this spring so that all those who tried out are given a chance to play travel soccer. I have an "E" license, and coached a travel team last Spring (BU12) and am intending to get my "D" license this winter. My sons will turn 12 in July so that they will only be eligible to play under 12 one more season before they have to move up to under-14s. At the very least they should be given priority over younger players who still have a year of eligibility left (as is done, to some extent, in Youth Baseball). Ideally, they should be able to play with a lower level under 14 team in the fall as well. I feel strongly that they should not be playing with 10 year-old fifth grade girls. It isn't safe and it isn't fair.
Everyone should have a chance to play travel soccer (with licensed refs and licensed coaches). If a child is motivated enough to spend six or seven hours over two Saturday mornings scrimmaging (the idea, suggested in the wait-list letter, that it was "fun" was small solace indeed for not making the team), he or she should be able to play. It seems to me that we should, as parents, and as a town, be doing everything humanly possible to give our children the opportunity to continue playing sports.
I know that many of the views expressed in this letter are shared by others in our town and throughout the nation. If we can talk about our ideas and start a dialogue, I am confident that changes can be made which will be beneficial to all children who want to play. All that it will take is for the No-Name Soccer Club to strive toward inclusion, rather than tolerate a policy of exclusion.
I look forward to hearing from you.