AYSO’s Director of Sport, Scott Snyder, On Life After COVID And The Success of AYSO United
AYSO has nearly 400k players across America, with over 100k volunteers who coach, ref, and help make the games possible. What has AYSO done during this moratorium on youth soccer due to the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic? We wanted to check in and find out so we asked AYSO’s Director of Sport and Development Scott Snyder.
Scott Snyder is Director of Sport at American Youth Soccer Organization, the oldest national youth soccer program in America. Known best by its initials, AYSO, this program has been a thriving volunteer-based organization and has helped millions of youth soccer players including Landon Donovan, Alex Morgan, Carlos Bocanegra, Julie Foudy and Paul Caligiuri fall in love with soccer. AYSO’s all-star alumni line-up speaks well of its fun-based program in which every player has to play 50% of the time.
Snyder, a former pro player with experience in England and the USA wrote the current version of the AYSO National Coaching Curriculum.
A star youth player, Snyder represented the Red, White & Blue on the USA in the U20 World Cup. As a striker on the U20 squad in 1983, Snyder played alongside Caligiuri, Hugo Pérez, and Tab Ramos.
SoccerToday Interview with Scott Snyder
Diane Scavuzzo: How has AYSO been impacted by COVID?
Scott Snyder: Like everyone, we have been at a complete shutdown across the country and missed most of our spring seasons. This is an extremely challenging time for everyone, including all of us in youth sports.
Diane Scavuzzo: Where have your AYSO youth players Returned To Play?
Scott Snyder: Gradually, we are getting on the field in Arizona, Utah, Hawaii to name a few states. Reopening information changes daily but our guidance is to always respect local legislature.
Diane Scavuzzo: Where are AYSO youth players not yet back on the fields?
Scott Snyder: The AYSO footprint reflects national trends. New York and the entire New England were hit significantly harder than other areas and are going to take a bit longer to get back on track, but there is progress.
Diane Scavuzzo: Are parents/coaches willing to deal with all the new safety protocols set forth by the CDC, WHO, and state and local governments?
Scott Snyder: As you reference, our coaches are often parents, so they have a personal interest in making sure the environment is as safe as possible for their own children and their neighbors.
Personally, I would welcome a parent/coach in terms of health and safety protocols!
Diane Scavuzzo What, if anything, did you do for your players during the moratorium?
Scott Snyder: We started rebuilding as soon as the situation broke! We quickly recognized the severity of the situation and basically worked a 3-point plan based on Service; Communications/Engagement; and our eventual Return-to-Play.
We mobilized our entire office team to issue refunds to families who needed the funds.
This has been a difficult time, so we wanted to make sure our membership knew our priority was to help wherever we could.
We created a COVID-19 Resource Microsite with announcements and creative resources to engage ALL our membership:
- We had special offers for our at-home training app TopTekkers, and to our AYSO Coaching Manual portal to keep our coaches engaged. We encouraged our volunteers to take the time to develop their coaching and refereeing knowledge.
- We created innovative content: virtual stadium tours; podcasts; movies, coloring, etc. Any creative effort to stay connected and provide some normalcy to the players and their families. We even had soccer-related book readings for younger kids.
Now, as regions gradually return-to-play at various stages under various conditions, we have launched our Ready! Set! PLAYSOCCER! Campaign.
- We produced three age-specific Coaching Manuals with over 100 activities tailored for the likelihood of modified environments. Reduced numbers; technical development; spatial awareness; grid work; less contact.
- We designed Alternative Play Models for regions that might not be able to run a regular season: skills nights, futsal, pick-up games, etc. More organic and free-flowing platforms than the regular 10-week, team-based environment.
- There are special promotions from our partners at SOCCER.COM and Augusta Sportswear with uniforms/equipment and fundraising to make it as easy as possible to get back on the field. Tangible solutions our local regions need to get going again.
Of course, we’ve provided comprehensive and timely health and safety guidance, which has of course been a challenge since the information changes so quickly. We emphasized adherence to local authorities but developed a general framework to create as safe an environment as possible for Region/club; Coaches; Parents; Players; Officials and eventually Games.
Regardless of our desire to get back and playing, our main priority is the health and safety of our players and members.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you face post-COVID?
Scott Snyder: Our goal is to create a safe and welcoming an environment as possible for our players and families to play.
We have provided the guidance to help create that environment and it will be a commitment from all members, both volunteers, and families to help make that environment a reality.
We cannot remove the risk completely until there is a vaccine, but we can take the best possible steps to ensure the safety of all who come to our fields.
We are looking at virtual coach education models. Redesigned coach training sessions for virtual delivery! The same objectives to engage, empower, and educate adult learners … different platform.
We are also very proud to be recognized by the Aspen Institute as a Project Play Champion for 2020! Based on updating our coaching curriculum to incorporate Social and Emotional Learning components, and intentional modifications to support and encourage women athlete and coach participation.
This effort will genuinely provide a more holistic experience for our players and their families.
Diane Scavuzzo: How many players play soccer at AYSO?
Scott Snyder: We provide playing opportunities for nearly 400k players across the country, with over 100k volunteer coaches, referees, and administrators.
We have approximately 40% of our players in Southern California.
All our volunteers are afforded free training and certification (accredited by the National Committee for Accreditation of Coaching Education).
Diane Scavuzzo: What’s new with AYSO United?
Scott Snyder: United is really excelling beyond expectations. In less than four years, the program has really grown.
AYSO United is in 17 markets across the nation.
And now, we are starting to see results based on our training curriculum, coaching staff, and more importantly, solidifying our philosophy, which includes 50% playing time for ALL players (just as in the AYSO Core Program).
AYSO UNITED has had 9 State Cup Championships.
We have also had numerous ODP graduates and our SoCal club have recently petitioned for the ECNL.
Our Bay Area clubs have just been accepted into NorCal Premier. We are very proud of our efforts to blend our culture with performance.
Diane Scavuzzo: After this long break, how can we come back better than before?
Scott Snyder: What if this is the opportunity youth soccer has been waiting for to hit the reset button and give our youth sports back to the kids?
Genuinely, child-focused! Not the club; the business; the DOC; or the coaching staff! A more realistic and fairer exchange for the parent and player. Inclusive rather than exclusive when it comes to commitment (time and finances) and accessibility. A more holistic platform where participation and social characteristics are of equal value to performance or perceived elite play!
Rather than the standard organization of full-teams, perfect uniforms with numbers and sleeve logos, corner flags, etc., can we get bold and creative in our programming and provide a more organic, free-play type offering?
And then, what if this local, organic, free-play environment becomes a more conducive backdrop for creativity and expression? What if this, in turn, starts to produce more dynamic and entertaining players? And then, ultimately, more players want to play!
I am genuinely optimistic about what the AYSO and youth soccer horizon looks like beyond Covid-19 but it will take compromise and commitment from everyone involved.