SoccerToday Spotlight Interview On People Making A Difference
Soccer News: After 16 years with the MLS league office in New York City, Evan Dabby joined the New Jersey Youth Soccer Association. During his time with MLS, Dabby was an integral part of the league’s operations department. Dabby helped establish and maintain league standards in the beautiful game as well as oversee stadium operations, game production, team travel, security, supporter relations and sports medicine.
Dabby’s most recent position with MLS was as the Senior Director of Supporter Relations & Safety. In this position, Dabby directed MLS’ concussion-education and prevention program, as well as other player safety-related initiatives, working directly with club and medical staff, as well medical boards, players and their union.
Today, Dabby has turned his talents and passion for soccer to help New Jersey Youth Soccer, a nonprofit organization affiliated with U.S. Youth Soccer and the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has more than 150,000 players ages 5 to 19-years-old; plus 40,000+ coaches and thousands of volunteers. Dabby is the Executive Director of New Jersey Youth Soccer – a state with a population of over 8 million and is responsible for the day to day operations as well as crafting the vision for the future.
Members of New Jersey Youth Soccer collectively support the sport of soccer through training, practice, competition and the spirit of good sportsmanship. The association features recreational youth soccer as well as highly competitive travel soccer programs at multiple skill levels. The state association also provides Olympic Development Programs (ODP); tournaments including the National Championship series; coach and referee training and certification programs; and TOPSoccer, a program for children with special needs.
SoccerToday’s Diane Scavuzzo spoke with Dabby, about his personal background and New Jersey Youth Soccer:
Diane Scavuzzo: When did you become involved with soccer?
Evan Dabby: Soccer has been a part of my life since I started playing youth soccer at the age of 7 years old. Growing up in Tenafly, New Jersey, I moved from recreational youth soccer to the more competitive youth travel soccer, high school soccer, college soccer at Tufts University and then enjoyed a professional career in the sport.
Pretty simply…I enjoyed playing the game of soccer and I kept with it. Soccer remains the source of my best friendships.
Diane Scavuzzo: How are you involved in youth soccer today? What are your goals?
Evan Dabby: After 16 years with MLS, I am 20 months into my role as the Executive Director with NJ Youth Soccer. My primary goal is to work with our Board of Directors and clubs to cultivate a positive culture — on and off the field — for players, coaches and parents to thrive in youth soccer.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is soccer popular in New Jersey?
Evan Dabby: There is probably no state with a richer soccer tradition than New Jersey. Names like Tony Meola, Christie Rampone, Tab Ramos, Carli Lloyd, Tim Howard, Heather O’Reilly, Yael Averbuch and John Harkes make us proud.
Diane Scavuzzo: How has NJ Youth Soccer grown since you joined?
Evan Dabby: Our Young Olympians Program’s participation grew 50% last year and our ODP tryout event increased more than 60% to more than 1,200 registered participants. TOPSoccer is also thriving with a growing number of affiliated programs, thanks in large part to our volunteer area coordinators in each region of NJ.
Diane Scavuzzo: How technology friendly is your state association?
Evan Dabby: Technology is a big focus for us and we are leveraging that to enhance communication with our membership. Over the last 18 months, we’ve increased our social media presence we are actively on Facebook and Twitter to supplement our website. We’ve launched our Instagram account to better connect with players and LinkedIn to improve our presence in professional circles. We have leveraged TeamApp, a free mobile service, to manage communication with our ODP and Young Olympians parents and players. We also use a computerized registration program that our member clubs and coaches use to register their players and teams.
For me, it is about reaching out and delivering quality, user-friendly content and programs to our members.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are the challenges your state association faces?
Evan Dabby: While NJ possesses a tremendous soccer history, we must continue to adapt and innovate. Embracing new opportunities will open the door to new audiences and improve the experience for our existing members. We have seen how utilizing technology – such as TeamApp and social media — can help us better communicate with our members.
Diane Scavuzzo: Any thoughts on the impact of soccer parents on the sidelines?
Evan Dabby: I am a parent of a 6 year old who enjoys soccer. I know that sideline experience changes as children get older and the game gets more competitive. I also know that my parents’ approach – always supportive and positive – helped me decide that soccer would be my sport of choice. With the exception of games in Maine, my mother never missed a soccer game of mine in thirteen years of recreation, travel, high school and college. I’ll never forget that commitment and support.
Diane Scavuzzo: How much do you believe youth soccer has turned into a business and that player development and the simple joy of playing the game suffer as a result?
Evan Dabby: Volunteers remain the backbone of our association. We have incredibly dedicated people who help make this association’s wheels turn. As a group, we constantly talk about how our efforts are all about the kids. We direct our focus to keeping the game fun. Events like our NJ Youth Soccer nights at Sky Blue FC, Red Bulls and Rider University allow us to connect with our membership to focus on the joys of the game. The Kohl’s US Youth Soccer American Cup this May in Freehold was all about celebrating the recreation players.
Diane Scavuzzo: How does US Youth Soccer (as an organization) help you?
Evan Dabby: The staff at US Youth Soccer has been of tremendous value to NJ Youth Soccer, assisting our branding efforts, supporting social media campaigns and providing quality programming such as the Kohl’s American Cup and the National Champions Series.
Diane Scavuzzo: Who is your favorite pro soccer team?
Evan Dabby: I spent 16 years with the MLS League Office where I felt guilty rooting for any one team. Now, with the Red Bulls as a NJ Youth Soccer partner and plenty of friends working with the team, I have a team to call my own. The fact that the New York Red Bulls won the 2015 MLS Supporters’ Shield is a lucky coincidence. It was tough the way the game played out on Sunday night but, as a fan, I absolutely loved watching their never-say-die effort until the very last second of the match. I’m already looking forward to next season.