Few youth soccer associations have the ability to put together a high-powered event like US Youth Soccer’s New Jersey Youth Soccer. Attracting all-star talent and key influencers, this annual event has a lot to celebrate. New Jersey Youth Soccer hosted the 32nd Annual NJYS Awards Dinner presented by RWJBarnabas Health on Friday, January 31st, where it honored players, coaches and members of the soccer community.
The following was written by Richard Leister on New Jersey Youth Soccer.
It all started with a simple email.
However, what I imagined would be a temporary, volunteer position has developed in ways that I cannot begin to imagine, and I have the NJYS Annual Awards to thank for that.
In April of 2020, I was faced with similar circumstances as many professionals; I received an update from my employer at the time that I was being furloughed and would return to work after things began to open up again. Much to my surprise, though, I was informed in August that I would not be coming back after my furlough period. Despite the unexpected news, I tried to remain positive in my job search, but after many failed applications, I turned my attention to part-time and internship opportunities, so I could continue to build my resume without any major gaps in experience.
With that in mind, I noticed a Sport Management internship offered by NJYS and decided to apply. I heard back from NJYS Executive Director, Evan Dabby, and following our conversation, he thought I might be a better fit in a new volunteer position that was opening up. Specifically, this role would work from November to February on the digital communications of this year’s Awards efforts, as they were going to entirely be conducted online as a result of COVID-19. Without much thought, I happily accepted and looked forward to the opportunity.
Regardless of the role being temporary, I embraced it as if it was a full-time position and gave NJYS my maximum attention and effort. I felt as though I was quickly proving my worth to the organization, as I was even offered publishing opportunities prior to the start of the Awards activities. Then, my family and I were dealt a blow that we could never have expected, as we lost our father to a battle with pulmonary fibrosis and COVID-19. To say that the following weeks were probably the toughest of my life would be an understatement, but after my family and I had some time to mourn, I jumped back into my work with NJYS as it offered the exact distraction that I needed during that time. Nevertheless, this is not a story of my struggles, but rather, one to discuss the Awards content and how this work truly helped to change my life.
To begin, I was tasked with creating the press release announcements for each of the respective awards. From the TOPSoccer Volunteer of the Year to the Comeback Player of the Year and everything in between, I was introduced to some amazing individuals and their even more incredible efforts in the youth soccer community. Honestly, the chance to read their inspiring stories helped me during my grieving process in their own unique way, so, whether they knew it or not, I would like to thank each of the recipients for their assistance with that.
However, to my disbelief and that of the award recipients, the NJYS staff still had some special surprises in store. In an effort to make the virtual Award festivities memorable, the NJYS staff called upon some special interview guests, which included two-time FIFA Women’s Player of the Year and NJYS Ambassador, Carli Lloyd, Co-founder of the Soccer Parenting Association, Skye Bruce, former MLS and FIFA referee, Mark Geiger, and current and former New York Red Bulls’ captains, Sean Davis and Connor Lade. Therefore, after the completion of the releases, I organized a time to finally meet all of the winners via a Zoom session to review the next steps, as that is how the interviews would be conducted. While I completely bought-in to the role prior to this news, this really solidified just how amazing of an opportunity this truly was as I had the chance to communicate and moderate interviews between the incredible award winners and the special guests.
After some internal communication, we discovered the availability of our interviewers and planned the interviews accordingly. To start, Bruce and Nicole Petras had a captivating conversation about the efforts of soccer parents for the inaugural Soccer Parent of the Year award. Following the conversation with Skye, NJYS Ambassador Carli Lloyd conducted a majority of the interviews for the Awards content, which included TOPSoccer and Liesel Krehan Volunteers of the Year, Recreation Coach and Program of the Year, Bob McNulty Coach of the Year, as well as all of the Scholarship recipients. With the assistance of Geiger, we were able to interview our Youth Referees of the Year, and finally, Lade and Davis helped us to honor our winner of the NJYS Goal of the Year.
Once the press releases were complete and interviews conducted, I shared all of the available material with NJYS consultant, John Archibald, who made any necessary edits and adjustments prior to their publication. As previously mentioned, the role was meant to conclude after the completion of the Awards content, but due to my hard-work, I was offered an extension of the role and continue to serve as a Communications Coordinator. Prior to working with NJYS, I was convinced that I was destined for a career in sales, but after the marketing and communications work I performed, I cannot imagine myself working in a different capacity and cannot wait to see what the future holds.
From lost and searching for an opportunity to working in a position and sport that I love, truthfully, I could not be happier, and for that, I really would like to thank everyone at NJYS for their support and belief, especially Evan Dabby, John Archibald, and Ryan Foley. While it may not be a traditional “behind-the-scenes” look, this is the Awards content from my perspective.