A New Series on Creating Good Leadership In Youth Soccer:
Results and Perspectives From The Youth Soccer Directors of Coaching Survey
Termination Terrors: Boards of Directors Perspectives (Part 3 of 4)
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 3 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 – PART I of the ‘behind scenes story’ of a Director of Coaching being fired at a youth soccer club.
TERMINATION TERRORS: THE IMBALANCE OF POWER IN YOUTH SOCCER is Part 2 with the responses from the Director of Coaches – Results and Perspectives From The Youth Soccer Directors of Coaching Survey
Who Responded to the Youth Soccer Directors of Coaching 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 Board of Directors Perspective?
Just like the survey results from a DOC perspective, the survey did not identify conflicts with parents as one of the top issues for Boards of Directors.
The Top Two Issues:
- Poor leadership and management of organizational programs by DOCs
- Lack of understanding of the DOC’s job.
Just for reference, these were the Top Two Issues from DOCs:
- Poor communication
- Lack of understanding of the DOC’s job.
From a Board of Directors perspective, other important issues included poor communication – including DOC unresponsiveness to phone messages and emails – and a poor relationship with the Board of Directors.
These issues directly relate to three of the seven deadly challenges youth soccer clubs face:
- Our DOC has so much administrative work to do that s/he doesn’t have time to work with our coaches and players.
- Our coaches need communication, management, and people skills.
- Our team managers and coaches are overwhelmed with administrivia, emails, and phone calls.
In Youth Soccer: Who Made the Decision?
Survey results indicated that most of the time, the full Board of Directors made the decision to fire the DOC, and this was communicated in a private conversation between 1-2 board members and the DOC.
However, it also found that almost 25% of the time, the decision to fire the DOC was made by only 1-2 members of the Board of Directors, sometimes by the president alone.
- “It has been my understanding, that my separations were decided upon by an EC – so, maybe a group of 3-5 people, and they go with a majority vote. In my cases, the full board was not even aware!”
Other ways DOCs were fired varied quite a bit: phone call, written letter, email, or even in an open board meeting or Annual General Meeting (AGM).
The survey also found that about 15% of DOCs “resigned”.
- “We did not frame the issue as a ‘firing’ for PR purposes, but rather, we allowed the DOC to resign and pursue other opportunities.”
- “The DOC ‘resigned’ after a meeting with the TD and several board members made clear that he would be fired if he did not resign.”
In Youth Soccer: Does Board Turnover Matter?
The survey found that 55% of the DOC firings were in clubs where less than half of the board members had changed between the time the DOC was hired and the time the DOC was let go.
Most of the responses indicated that the president of the board had not changed (45%), although a change in president could make a significant difference in the situation (39%).
- “DOC served with over 12 different presidents within 12 years.”
In Youth Soccer: How Was the DOC Replaced?
The survey found that half the time, the club promoted another coach in the club to be DOC (25%) or advertised the DOC position and hired someone from outside the organization (25%).
In other instances, the DOC role was assigned to someone on the Board of Directors, outsourced to another organization, given to a group of coaches who were assistant directors, or given to someone hired from outside the organization without any advertisement of the position.
Many comments indicated that the person who became the DOC was already known.
- “I was asked to interview a coach for a POTENTIAL open position, which actually ended up being the person they had lined up to replace me.”
- “The DOC position was filled by a prior DOC who had left the Club a few years before and gone to another club. The Board of Directors specifically reached out to the prior DOC and asked if the return would be considered – even before the DOC had been terminated.”
- “While the DOC was still in his position the BOD engaged in conversations with another coach from another organization who eventually took the job of the DOC that resigned.”
- “The coaches’ representatives who sat on the Board of Directors engineered the firing of the DOC. One of them was immediately given the DOC job as well as coaching responsibilities for the former DOC’s teams.”
However, 19% of the organizations did not replace the DOC at all, so the DOC work was either absorbed by others or left undone.
In Youth Soccer: What Does It Mean?
The tone and language in the comments collected in the survey illustrate the lack of communication and the level of distrust between many Boards of Directors and their DOCs.
One of the most damaging phrases heard in the soccer community is: “Soccer people need to make soccer decisions.”
It perpetuates negative assumptions and reinforces the walls of distrust between people who need to work together on the Off-Field Team of adults needed to provide critical support for coaches and players.
Board members and DOCs play different roles as soccer people. The governance role filled by boards of directors is responsible for strategic direction, program priorities, policies, finances, and personnel management. The DOC and coaching roles are responsible for the quality of delivering soccer programs using their expertise in the sport.
When either plays out of position, it triggers conflict and organizational dysfunction.
Since the Board of Directors is ultimately responsible for the financial and human resources management of the organization, it is imperative that the relationship be good between the experts in the game (DOCs and coaches) and the people who are legally responsible for managing the club.
Check out Results and Perspectives From The Youth Soccer Directors of Coaching Survey TERMINATION TERRORS: THE IMBALANCE OF POWER IN YOUTH SOCCER in Part 2.
What are the solutions to increase board competency, improve the relationship between boards and DOCs, and decrease the number of DOCs who are terminated?
Major Survey Finding from a Board of Directors Perspective:
Neither DOCs nor Boards of Directors identified conflicts with parents as a major issue that indicated there was a problem that could lead to the firing of a DOC. However, survey comments indicate that there can be significant concerns when board members are also parents of players in a club.
- “One board member wanted a key staff member fired because they did not pick the board member’s child for a top team.”
- “Inexperienced volunteer parents making soccer business decisions without understanding the business of youth soccer management.”
The good news is that the major issues identified from the perspectives of both board members and DOCs can be successfully addressed.
What is Next in SoccerToday
- 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.