A New Series on Creating Good Leadership In Youth Soccer:
Results and Perspectives From The Youth Soccer Directors of Coaching Survey
As the popularity of soccer increases all across America, it is more important than ever that we have excellence in leadership on all levels of the game … from youth soccer to the professional. Here is Part 2 of the 4-part series from Ruth Nicholson on a major part of the turmoil in youth soccer.
Read TERMINATION TERRORS: WHY DIRECTORS OF COACHING GET FIRED with the ‘behind scenes story’ of a Director of Coaching being fired at a youth soccer club … This is Part 1.
Who Responded to the Survey?
In February and March 2020, GO! conducted a survey to gather information about Directors of Coaching (DOCs) who have left youth soccer organizations through termination or resignation. The purpose of the survey in youth soccer was to gather information about the issues and concerns that lead youth soccer clubs to separate with their DOCs.
Who was Surveyed?
The people who participated in the survey included DOCs, executive directors, coaches, board members, and regular members and volunteers of youth sports organizations. The 78 respondents came from 26 states in the US and two Canadian provinces primarily from the soccer community, with additional participants from track and field, Nordic ski, and lacrosse. Most of the organizations represented in the survey had 200-1,000 youth soccer players and offered programs for recreational, mid-level, and high-level athletes.
Youth Soccer Survey Results:
What are the Most Common Issues — From a DOC Perspective?
Surprisingly, the survey did not identify conflicts with parents as one of the top Red Flags for DOCs.
The Top Two Issues:
- Poor communication
- Lack of understanding of the DOC’s job.
Other important issues included poor human resources management of staff — this included the failure to communicate clear expectations, and weak support of programs. In addition, strained relationships between DOCs and their club’s boards of directors plus overall weak leadership were also cited.
The individual comments in the survey bring a more human perspective to the numbers. One of the most insightful was from someone who described the DOC job in youth soccer in relation to the story of the blind man and the elephant.
People see your value where you intersect with them. The board president rates you on how effective and diligent you are in terms of income, membership, and lack of conflict. Coaches evaluate you on your level of service to them. Parents evaluate you on your available time and agreement to help with their special concerns, usually involving their kids.
In Youth Soccer: How Well is the Role of the DOC Understood?
A recurring theme was the confusion regarding the job description and tasks of the DOC plus the board of directors interpreted their role and responsibilities, and the power and influence of individual board members.
- “The lack of experience by the Board of Directors running a club …”
- “The board had no real idea what the DOC was doing and why.”
- “I had no idea the board was dissatisfied. I had not had a performance review for over two years prior to dismissal.”
- “All of my issues, with each separation, were board-related. And, with each separation, I genuinely believed I had a great relationship with the board and its members.”
- “It was always the case that one single board member had an issue with something, and riled up the others.”
Yet despite the more specific reasons identified as issues, the primary reason identified for a DOC leaving a club was politics, personal agendas, and ego.
#1 reason a DOC was fired? Politics & Ego.
The #2 spot is tie.
- Poor DOC performance.
- Mismatch of the vision & approach between the DOC and the youth soccer club’s boards of directors.
In Youth Soccer: Job Descriptions and Hiring Agreements
Only a third of the survey respondents indicated that their DOC role was a full-time, paid position with no team coaching responsibilities.
It was more common for DOCs to be full-time, paid positions who also coached one or more teams.
The survey indicated that the majority of DOCs have a written hiring agreement, job description, or contract that governed their work. However, almost 20% had none of these.
Some survey participants indicated that, even though they had a written agreement, it was not realistic, nor did not clearly reflect the job responsibilities or the time required to accomplish the proposed work.
As one participant described it:
The DOCs job description is full of lofty and idealistic goals on player development, but the reality is at least 50% of a DOCs time is spent putting out fires and dealing with conflicts. A secondary inherent responsibility is maintaining the ‘attractiveness’ of the club as the best option in the area’s competitive environment.
The bottom line:
A DOC’s time is taken up dealing with difficult parents and the club’s reputation — a marketing challenge that is important for attracting and retaining players. In the zero sum game of the hours in a day available for a DOC to work, that time is in direct competition with a DOC’s other responsibilities related to training and mentoring coaches, developing curriculum, and creating a positive environment for player development.
The survey validated the #1 challenge in GO!’s Seven Deadly Challenges of Youth Sports Organizations. “The DOC has so much administrative work to do that s/he doesn’t have time to work with our coaches and players.”
Another participant explained:
The board of directors asked the DOC to work outside the scope of the written job descriptions in violation of state employment law and regulations. When the DOC asked to address these issues, she was fired via email, effective immediately following an unscheduled board meeting which was held in a parking lot.
The bottom line:
A DOC is often at the mercy of a board that is not adept at leading and managing a club organization. Without a good, candid relationship about how to balance the game expertise of the DOC and the management responsibilities of the board, the DOC is vulnerable to being sanctioned or fired.
In addition, there is often no performance review process or feedback. One participant described it:
I had no negative performance reviews, no coaching or performance plans with Human Resources due to unsatisfactory performance.
Just eight weeks prior to the separation, I was given a three-year contract extension.
The reality was the organization had failed to heed warnings on important issues and when things started to become visibly wrong, it was easier to blame me instead of taking responsibility for their own negligence and ignoring advice.
Survey Says: Consistent and clear issues exist
When fired, most DOCs had neither a severance package nor were they available for unemployment insurance.
Less than 20% negotiated a severance package at the time of separation. One participant indicated that “It required the hiring of a lawyer to protect my rights and negotiate a somewhat fair agreement.” Immediately after being fired, how many DOCs have the money to hire a lawyer?
Major Survey Finding from a DOC Perspective:
The lack of clarity in DOC job descriptions, as well as lack of performance reviews, were consistent themes in the survey results. The DOC job often has no regular feedback or performance review process. Further, a DOC can be fired with no warning, even after being awarded a new contract. And the job is often 24/7. (When I talk with DOCs and coaches, I have yet to have a single person tell me that they have a designated, single day off during a week.)
What is Next in SoccerToday
- Termination Terrors: Results and Perspectives from Boards of Directors (Part 3 of 4)
- Termination Terrors: Red Flags and Solutions (Part 4 of 4)
Ruth Nicholson is an internationally certified professional facilitator, mediator, and organizational alchemist helping youth sports organizations better support coaches, teams, and players. She is the founder of GO! offering proven governance, leadership, and administrative tools.
As a coach for TeamGenius, Ruth helps sports organizations develop assessment and feedback programs for players, coaches, and referees. She was a co-creator of the international Think Tank to Improve Youth Sports which engaged over 60 speakers from two dozen sports.
In 2018, Ruth was a finalist for the Hudl Innovator of the Year award for youth soccer. Her work has engaged coaches, sports professionals, and organizations in North America, Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and South America.