GPSolo Magazine - July/August 2006
My Life in Soccer
Those who know me also likely know that, for many years, soccer was a big part of my life. I had three careers in soccer, running more or less concurrently: coach-ing, refereeing, and administration. I had a short and unimpressive career as a player as well, but I don’t count that. When I moved from coaching recreational soccer to coaching competitive soccer, I thought I should have the perspective of a player, so I played in an adult recreational league, primarily as a goalkeeper, occasionally as a defender. While I did fairly well and the team ultimately won its league, I also tore an anterior cruciate ligament. That injury ended my career as a player.
My First Life in Soccer: Coaching
I got involved in soccer the same way most parents do. My son (then in first grade) asked if he could sign up for soccer. My wife and I said he could. The next thing I knew, someone called me to ask if I would be willing to help coach; the league lacked enough coaches for all the kids who had signed up to play.
I said “no,” as I did not feel competent to coach—I knew little about the game and had never played it (except once in fifth grade). The volunteer recruiter hung in, refusing to take “no” for an answer. I have always believed that we each should give something back to the community. I enjoyed sports and teaching and felt it was important to help children develop. Ultimately, goodwill won out over good sense, and I agreed to serve as an assistant coach for an under-eight (U-8) team. As it turned out, the “experienced” head coach was a guy who, a year before, was recruited just like I was. He knew little more about the game at that point than I did.
As the two of us were both former football players, we followed the coaching models that we had as youngsters. Knowing little about the game, we started using football agility drills under the theory that agility couldn’t hurt.
After looking at what we were doing for a few weeks I reached a conclusion that ultimately changed the way I lived my life. I decided that if I was going to coach children in soccer, I owed it to them to learn how to do it right. I immediately began studying the game and going to coaching school. Several years later, I had accumulated every coaching license available at the state level and found myself enrolled in a National Coaching License course. Ultimately, I collected State F, E, E/D, and National D licenses; U.S. Soccer National C and National Youth licenses; and an NSCAA Regional Academy diploma. I continued my education as a coach by observing professional coaches and trainers whenever I could. Eventually I even became an instructor in the youth program and helped teach other coaches how to coach.
My career as a coach exceeded 20 years. I coached my own children’s teams at first and ultimately coached teams composed of other people’s children. By the time I retired from coaching youth soccer, I had coached boys’ and girls’ teams, teams in every age group from U-8 through U-19 and in every level of play of youth soccer in northern California from Recreational to Advanced House to Competitive, from Olympic Development to Premier. My teams learned to play the game and play it well, winning a substantial number of trophies for competitive play in leagues and in tournaments. My teams did well in California and traveled to tournaments throughout the United States and ultimately to Europe. In one European tournament, my U-15 girls’ team played in a U-16 girls’ division. Notwithstanding their youth, the girls won the tournament, my daughter received the award as the Outstanding Player of the Age Group, one of the other girls on my team received the Golden Boot (a traditional award to the player scoring the most goals in the tournament—she scored seven), and I was honored as the Outstanding Manager of the Age Group (I think that was because my girls performed as well as they did). As much fun as we had winning, the most important things that came out of that trip were the bonds and experiences shared by the players. Although that trip occurred more than ten years ago, the girls still talk about it.
From my perspective, the life lessons my players learned had greater significance than any lessons I taught about the game itself. They learned what it meant to play on a team, to support their teammates, and work together for the success of the team. They learned the importance of training, hard work, and discipline. They also learned the importance of giving back to the community. Many of my former players went on to play in high school, college, and on Olympic Development teams; some played on national teams and even professional teams.
One of the things I taught my players was that, in helping them, I repaid a debt that I felt that I owed to those who helped me in my youth. When they wanted to thank me for coaching them, I told these young people that they would repay what they felt they owed me by coaching the next generation of players and helping them develop as I had helped them. Some of them did not wait very long to repay that debt. The youngest age at which you can get a referee or a coaching license is 12. At one point I had a U-12 girls’ team that had nine players licensed as referees and two licensed as coaches. All of the referees were helping referee younger players, and the two coaches had a parent assigned to them as the team “manager” for insurance purposes and were coaching U-8 girls’ teams. (That U-12 team, by the way, evolved into the team that I took to Europe three years later.)
I found the experience of coaching and working with the children personally very rewarding. I always said, “The money stinks, but the pay is great.”
Being a coach and working with players to help develop them as athletes and teach them life lessons is heady stuff. The coach has a special relationship with the players. To this day, young men and women who played for me as children still come to me for advice or just to let me know what is going on in their lives.
My Second Life in Soccer: Refereeing
After I started getting serious about coaching soccer, I decided to read the rules. We call the rules the Laws of the Game. It made sense to me that if I intended to coach the game, I needed to know the rules. That sounds very basic, but you would be surprised at the number of coaches in those days who had not read the rules. After reading the Laws of the Game, I noticed that many of the referees made calls that did not comply with my understanding of the Laws. Somewhat frustrated by that situation, I reached the conclusion that I should not criticize the referees too much until I had stood in their shoes.
Next thing I knew, I signed up for referee school. I graduated, passed the test, and became a referee. I went out and got a uniform and stood in the middle of the field ready to referee. I then discovered that the game moved a lot faster when you stood on the field as compared to when you stood on the touchlines (soccer’s term for the sidelines). Eventually, I got the hang of it and became more comfortable with the role of the referee. As I did that I started progressing up the ladder of refereeing ability, ultimately acquiring my badge as a State Referee. By the time I acquired my State badge, I was past mandatory retirement age for a FIFA referee, so I understood that I had no chance of going to the World Cup finals (unless I bought a ticket). Nevertheless, I did enjoy refereeing, and it was a good reason to try to stay in reasonable condition.
As I continued to train as a referee, I also acquired licenses from U.S. Soccer as a Referee Instructor (ultimately a State Instructor) and as an Assessor (ultimately a State Assessor).
My Third Life in Soccer: Administration
I never really wanted to get involved in the administration of soccer, but I did know it was something I could do well. Ultimately I agreed to go on the board of the league’s Competitive Program as the Referee Coordinator. The next year I took over as the Competitive Program’s Commissioner, which put me on the League Board. As time went on, I was elected to positions on the District Board and finally the State Board for the California Youth Soccer Association. I served a term and a half as Board Secretary, then two terms as Chairman of the Board, and finally one term as the Immediate Past Chair. In all, I spent nine years on the State Board. During the period I served as Chairman, I also served on the U.S. Youth Soccer Association’s Regional Counsel and on several committees for the Youth Soccer Regional Administration, U.S. Youth Soccer, and United States Soccer.
I also served as the Youth Referee Coordinator and the Referee Coordinator for our District for a period of time. Later I served for several years on the State Board of the California-North Referee Administration.
Sequel: My After-Life in Soccer
After retiring from the administration of soccer, retiring as a referee, and retiring as a coach, I continued to help coach a team for a few years. I also continued to teach coaching courses for the California Youth Soccer League.
As I retired from my various soccer lives, I got more and more involved in futsal (five-a-side indoor soccer). I have coached futsal for about ten years, and for the last several years I have served on the Board of Directors of the U.S. Futsal Federation, first as the Coaching Director and currently as the CFO.
Why did I do this to myself? Why do I continue to do it? Because I truly feel the need and believe in the duty to give back to the community and because I truly love sports and working with young people. I can only think of a few things in my life that I have found more rewarding than the work I have done in these areas. Someone once said to me that I must truly love soccer to have devoted so much time to it. To her surprise, I answered that what I truly love is helping young people. Because I also love sports, soccer became an excellent vehicle for me to do so.
Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California. He is the special issue editor of GPSolo’s Technology & Practice Guide and editor-in-chief of the Technology eReport. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.