By Randy Vogt for Soccer America
The Huntington Boys Club and Massapequa Soccer Club, both of the Long Island Junior Soccer League, became the first formal soccer clubs to have Special Children's Programs when they separately started programs in 1979. A year before, I became a referee. As I have lived near both clubs for most of the past 34 years, it’s not surprising that I have refereed their games and the games of other Special Children in TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) plus also ref the Special Olympics every year.
Although I have never received a penny for officiating the Special Children, it’s annually one of the highlights of my ref career. When refereeing, I’ve noticed mainstream kids, instead of practicing for their upcoming game on the same or adjacent field, attentively watch the Special Children instead and applaud every good play.
One of the Special Children named Craig Ludin, playing for the Huntington Boys Club since he was a little boy, has received so many gold medals from the Special Olympics in soccer and other sports that he’s been inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, just like noted athletes Sandy Koufax and Mark Spitz have been.
The U.S. government is now ordering schools across the country to make “reasonable” changes to sports programs so that Special Children can play -- or else create separate teams for them. The new guidance from the Education Department issued this past winter was hailed by advocates for Special Children and could do for them what Title IX did for females. It’s great that Special Children are starting to receive the same opportunities that mainstream kids and adults have always had.
Special Children’s Programs provide an opportunity for children who deviate from mainstream kids in mental, physical or social characteristics to such an extent that they require modified practices and services in order to develop to their potential. The question certainly comes up from my colleagues who are assigned to officiate Special Children’s games on what they should do.
As there are generally not as many Special Children playing as in a mainstream game, most of the TOPSoccer or Special Olympics games I ref are small-sided games of 7v7 or 8v8 rather than 11v11 on a full-sized field. I have never seen soccer’s only complex rule, offside, enforced with Special Children’s games although it might be on the books of some leagues.
It’s very difficult to differentiate the skill level of some of the Special players from mainstream kids while other kids are not nearly as advanced. For teams with kids who are rather remedial, you would want to keep the team going to the same goal in each half so the kids do not become confused which goal to attack in the second half.
Some leagues allow for kick-ins instead of throw-ins as a legal throw-in can be difficult for some Special Children to execute. In any case, the ref in Special Children’s soccer is more of a teacher than an enforcer and should not be too officious in determining illegal throw-ins and should clearly explain decisions that need to be made.
Handling fouls should be not be whistled unless they are very obviously deliberate.
One of the challenges in refereeing Special Children comes from very different abilities and sometimes different ages and sizes of players being on the same field since there are not as many Special Children as mainstream kids. Another challenge is a few Special Children will display anti-social behavior from time to time. The coach knows much more about that player and would probably be better trained for Special Children than the ref so the ref should ask the coach to get involved in calming down the player.
I’ve actually even seen a few Special Children trash talk while others will approach me during a game and ask me how they are doing. To which I always say, “Great!” After all, just being on a field running around and making friends is such a big step in their lives. Hopefully, we will see more Special Children soccer games in the future.
(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In Preventive Officiating, he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at preventiveofficiating.com/)
By Donna Olmstead from Soccer America
The recent death of Salt Lake City, Utah, soccer referee Ricardo Portillo makes me incredibly sad. There isn't a game on earth that is worth someone's life. I read that his family says the parents of the 17-year-old keeper who hit him in the head should bear some of the blame. I guarantee you that neither the parents nor anyone else on the sidelines intended for Portillo's death to happen. But time and time again I've watched negative energy result in unintended consequences.
We were at a U9 rec league soccer game Saturday. These kids are at the age where some of them are beginning to show a real talent for soccer and the rest of them are just having a good time running around in the sun.
One little girl, we'll call her M, should be on a competitive team. She has two older brothers who practice soccer with her, and the lessons show in the way she moves, handles the ball and watches the players around her. She's the team's top scorer, of course. And she's a nice kid.
The coach is great with the players. He plays them evenly throughout the game and encourages them with positive comments. He's not the type of coach who keeps his strong players on the whole game with the object of winning. I wish we could clone him.
And I wish we could banish M's father to the parking lot. Actually, to a parking lot in another county. Or state.
When a player whom M's father considers to be weak is playing defense, he snorts and makes comments such as, "Well, now they'll score for sure."
When a player besides his daughter has the ball, he yells that they should pass it to her.
And, with M's father on the sideline, who needs a coach? He knows everything about soccer and "coaches" at the top of his lungs.
Besides not having a volume control, one of the problems with M's father is that he really doesn't know everything about soccer. For example, when the keeper picked up the ball outside the box, M's father yelled, "Penalty kick!" Of course it was just a hand ball, but he really didn't want to hear that.
I'm not sure how to handle parents like him. Sitting at the other end of the field helps me a little, but it doesn't do anything for the parents around him whose feelings he's hurting. He simply goes into his own world when the game begins and becomes unconscious of everyone else.
Because at this age the kids still are shorter than the parents, they get to run through a "parent tunnel" at the end of the game. And they love it. It doesn't matter who won or lost, they run through smiling while the parents yell encouragement. Then everyone gets a treat.
We tied this game 4-4. When M's mom told her husband it was time to form the tunnel, he looked at her and said, "They don't deserve a tunnel. They didn't win." And he picked up his chair and walked off the field. I hope M didn't notice that he wasn't there.
I don't know how to handle M's father. Actually, I know I can't handle him. And I'm pretty sure he doesn't realize that the negative energy he is sending to the players and to the players' parents will have unintended consequences. At the very least, he's ruining the game for the people close enough to hear him. Let's just hope that's as far as it goes.
By BRADY McCOMBS, Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The oldest daughter of the Utah soccer referee who died Saturday a week after a teenage player punched him in the head hopes to forgive the young man who did it — but not yet.
"I will, but not today; it's too soon," said Johana Portillo, 26, speaking Sunday night at a vigil to honor her father, Ricardo Portillo. "He was a father, he was a friend, he was a grandfather; he left a whole family behind. They should think before they do something stupid."
Police have accused a 17-year-old player in a recreational soccer league of punching Ricardo Portillo, 46, after he called a foul on him and issued him a yellow card.
Portillo died Saturday night after a week in a coma.
Nearly 100 family and friends gathered at a candlelight vigil Sunday night on the front lawn of the Salt Lake City home of Ricardo Portillo. Wearing white shirts and holding signs that read, "In loving memory of Ricky," family and friends stood around a table that had a picture of Portillo raising his arms in victory, with flowers and candles surrounding it.
The suspect, whose name is withheld because he's a minor, has been booked into juvenile detention on suspicion of aggravated assault. Authorities will consider additional charges since Portillo has passed away. An autopsy is planned. No cause of death was released.
Johana Portillo said Sunday she doesn't care what punishment the teenager gets — saying nothing will bring her father back.
"When he did that, he took a part of me with him," she said, crying. "He took my daddy away from me."
She added: "I feel sorry for him. I feel for his family. But if he was old enough to do what he did, then he's responsible to pay for it."
Pedro Lopez, his brother-in-law and a fellow soccer referee, said the teenager made a mistake and isn't solely to blame. He said he's been involved in soccer his entire life, playing and refereeing, and seen a troubling trend emerge.
"It's not the ignorance of the child, it's the poor manners of the parents," said Lopez in Spanish, who played soccer professionally. "The yells and insults from the sideline from the parents make kids more violent."
Lopez, Johana Portillo and youth soccer coach James Yapias called on athletes around the world to hold their tempers in check so another family doesn't have to suffer — and to bring something positive from Ricardo Portillo's death.
Yapias, a longtime friend of Ricardo Portillo coach in the same league, said coaches and parents need to do a better job teaching children about sportsmanship and being non-violent. He also called for more police presence at games. Portillo's death is a reminder that life can change in a second, he said.
"We all love this sport," Yapias said. "But we all need to respect the rules."
Johana Portillo said she hopes her father's death leads to more security at sporting events and better self-control from players. She said her father had been attacked by players twice before in his eight years refereeing soccer matches — even having his ribs and legs broken.
Lopez said players need to respect referees and remember it's a sport meant to relieve stress — not cause pain.
"Remember that we are human beings, and we make mistakes," Lopez said in Spanish. "Don't take justice into your own hands."
The former professional soccer player said he plans to continue working as a referee. He said leaving it behind would be abandoning his passion. He said he'll do so remembering Ricardo Portillo.
Ricardo Portillo's daughters had begged him to stop refereeing in a soccer league because of the growing risk of violence from angry players. But, like Lopez, Portillo told his daughters he couldn't quit.
"It was his passion," she said. "We could not tell him no."
Now his three daughters are faced with planning his funeral after he succumbed to injuries late Saturday that had put him in a coma for a week since teenager goalie punched him in the head.
Accounts from a police report, Portillo's daughter and others offer further detail what occurred.
The teenager was playing goalie during a game at Eisenhower Junior High School in Taylorsville when Portillo issued him a yellow card for pushing an opposing forward trying to score. In soccer, a yellow card is given as a warning to a player for an egregious violation of the rules. Two yellow cards lead to a red card and expulsion from the game.
The teenager, quite a bit heavier than Portillo, began arguing with the referee, then punched him in the face. Portillo seemed fine at first, then asked to be held because he felt dizzy. He sat down and started vomiting blood, triggering his friend to call an ambulance.
When police arrived around noon, the teenager was gone and Portillo was laying on the ground in the fetal position. Through translators, Portillo told emergency workers that his face and back hurt and he felt nauseous. He had no visible injuries and remained conscious. He was considered to be in fair condition when they took him to the Intermountain Medical Center.
But when Portillo arrived to the hospital, he slipped into a coma with swelling in his brain. Johana Portillo called detectives to let them know his condition had worsened.
That's when detectives intensified their search for the goalie. By Saturday evening, the teenager's father agreed to bring him down to speak with police.
Johana Portillo said she last spoke to him that night before he fell into a coma. She grabbed his hand and told him he was going to be all right. He held her hand tightly and said, "no." Within seconds, doctors ushered her out of the room and he lost consciousness.
She said Sunday night, with tears streaming down her face, that her father will always be in her heart.
"It's going to be very difficult," she said. "But I know he's going to help us from heaven."
by Tony Earp for Soccer America
I truly believe nobody accomplishes anything on their own. Success is a combination of individual effort and surrounding yourself with the right people who will influence your life in the correct way. I was fortunate enough to have a mom who loved me dearly and would do anything necessary to make sure I had the best chance to be successful. As a kid, my success on and off the soccer field was a direct result of a lot of hard work (because I am not overly gifted in any capacity), and the discipline instilled in me by my mom in every aspect of my life.
My mom would often say to me, “You can only control what you do.” With this in mind, she rarely ever allowed me to blame other people or look anywhere but internally on the reason for, or the result of, my actions. This is a tough thing to stick by because there are a lot of times in life that you do everything you are supposed to and things do not work out the way we want. It is usually at those times we look for external reasons for “why” and will point blame to a person, group, or organization. My mom would never allow me to do that. She always refocused me to learn from the experience and work harder the next time around.
It may have been different times when I was a kid, and I will never tell a parent how to raise a child or to not step in when their child is being treated unfairly. All parents have the urge to protect their child and want their child to have the best opportunities to be successful. But when do parents step in too much? Even with the best intentions, by parents protecting their kids from negative situations, they can create situations for their kids that actually will have long-term negative effects. On the surface, it looks like the right thing to do, and may have a short-term benefit, but will have negative effects on the child moving forward.
As a soccer coach, I hear a lot of things said by parents to me or their kids that my mom never said to me growing up. I attribute my success on the field to my mom avoiding these comments and not allowing me to make excuses or justify disappointment in the wrong way. By avoiding the comments below, my mom forced me to always focus internally and never make excuses for myself or others. My high school team won 3 state championships, I received a full scholarship to play at Ohio State University, I was a four year starter for the Buckeyes, and captain my senior year. I am convinced the only reason I made it to that level and had success, not being overly athletic or talented, is my mom forced me to take responsibility for everything that happened to me on and off the field. Her most common advice to me was, “work harder next time.” The sentiment stuck.
Below is a sample of comments I hear all the time. As a coach, I cringe every time I hear them. Maybe because I never heard them growing up from my mom.
“My child is not being challenged enough.”
My mom never said this to a coach when I was growing up. If I ever came home from a training session and said, “Practice was easy today,” my mom would reply, “Then, you did not work hard enough.”
She did not even humor the idea that maybe I was not being pushed hard enough by the coach or the coach was making me do training activities that were “below my level of play.” Her immediate reaction was to let me know that how hard I worked was completely under my control. If I felt practice was easy, I just did not put forth enough effort. Case closed.
Am I taking the coach completely off the hook, absolutely not! It is critical for coaches to try to challenge every player and push them to excel. But being challenged is more internal than it is external. For example, if an athlete is asked to run a mile, it may not be a challenging distance for the athlete. The player may be in great shape so a mile run is not challenging at all (on the surface). If the player wanted the mile to be challenging, all the player would need to do is try to run the mile as fast as possible, maybe try to break his/her record, or to put it simply, the player would make the choice to make the activity challenging.
My point is players can control how challenging any activity or environment can be for them. Playing with more skilled or less skilled players, doing complicated or simple training activities, or the duration of activity are not the only reasons something is challenging.
Many parents reaction to a child indicating they are not being challenged it to search out other types of training or a higher level team. I am not saying this is not a good idea at times, but at times it is a quick fix to a deeper issue that goes unaddressed. The child does not put forth the effort required and the reason for that is being put on everyone else but the child. In time, this will hurt the kid’s ability to continue to develop down the road. Anytime a situation is not “ideal” for the player, the excuse of “I am not being challenged enough” will be an acceptable reason for their lack of success and effort.
“My child should play in a different position.”
I came home from a game when I was 13 and told my mom that I think I should be playing forward. Up until that season, I had always played forward and did very well. This coach however felt I was better in the midfield. When I expressed my frustration to my mom, she politely listened but did not give me her opinion or express concern about me playing the new position. My team was having a hard time scoring goals and I was certain I could make more of an impact playing as a forward where I can score more goals versus playing in the midfield. I added the fact that I did not feel as comfortable in the midfield as I did as a forward.
When my mom got tired of hearing me complain about my position with the team, she said something that I will never forget. She cut me off in mid-complaint and sternly said, “Are you a good player?” Stunned by the question, I stuttered, “y-ea.” She moved to eye level with me and said, “Then it should not matter where you play. If you are really that good, you can be great anywhere on the field. If you can’t, then you have more work to do.”
Again, my mom took my complaint that I was being cheated out of playing my best by my coach’s decision and turned it right around on me. Her point was not subtle and quick to the point. I was an upset teenager by my mom’s lack of support and apathetic attitude towards my displeasure with the team, but deep down, I knew she was right. Although not easy to accept and it meant more work for me, I was ultimately in control of how well I played. With a slight change in my attitude and a refocus back on what I can do to improve, I did what was necessary to find success in the new position.
It should be noted I played center mid in college.
“My child should have made that team.”
There were several occasions when I was a youth player that I was not selected for a team. There were times I know I did not deserve to be on the team, but there were other situations where I knew the coaches made a mistake or I was overlooked in the process. Although the disappointment was tough to bear at times, I know it helped me deal with adversity later on in life.
When I would vent to my mom, she was a great sounding board and she allowed me to get out everything I needed to say to let out my frustration with not making the team. She was very supportive and always tried to make me feel better. But, she NEVER told me I should have made the team.
My mom would tell me I am a good player and I worked very hard during training, but she never told me that I got looked over, it was not fair, or some other player was wrongly selected over me. All she told me was “next time, do more to make sure they HAVE to take you.” Again, although deep down she may have felt I did get over looked or it was “political”, she never let me know that. She felt it was more important for me to view it as a challenge to work harder the next time around and continue to get better.
My mom could have complained to the coaches and pointed out how her son played for this team or was much better than this player. My mom could have accused the coaches of taking players they “liked” or “knew” from their own teams. My mom could have never let me try out again in protest to the gross injustice suffered by her son. But my mom never did any of that. Was she unsupportive? Was she not sticking up for her son?
In actuality, I think my mom was looking out for me. She wanted me to learn how to deal with disappointment and respond in a way that would help me not just in soccer but with other challenges I would face in my life. As we all know, life is not fair and at times we do not get what we probably deserve. Many respond by just pointing blame and deciding not to every try again because it will most likely end up with the same result. Others decide to work harder and use what they learned from failing to their advantage the next time around. Which one are you? If you are the latter, you should probably pick up the phone and thank your parents.
“I will talk to the coach.”
Nope, never, not going to happen… if I had an issue with a coach, I always was forced to discuss it with the coach. My mom never stepped in and expressed concerns for me. I asked my mom why she always made me talk to the coach. Her response was not what I expected.
In short, my mom said to me she would never talk to the coach about what he was doing on the field because she would never expect him to talk to her about what she was doing with me at home. It was a simple point and again a very good one. Can you imagine if your soccer coach knocked on your parents’ door and gave them suggestions how to be better parents? Her view was that he was the coach and she was the parent. She will do what she thinks is best for me and the coach will do what he thinks is best. Both will make mistakes and will need to learn from those errors.
With that in mind, my mom gave me the responsibility to discuss issues with my coach or any adult I felt it was necessary. When I was younger, she would go with me, but would still make me talk. I know there were times she may not have agreed with the coach but she would never express her disagreement to me. Why? Probably because as soon as I knew my mom did not respect the coach’s decision, she knew I would not respect the decision either. She would be giving me the “green light” to dismiss the coach anytime I did not agree with him.
There a lot of lessons my mom was teaching me by doing this, but I will not go into them all. Outside of taking responsibility and learning how to bring up concerns to people of authority in a respectful way, the most important lesson was probably the least obvious. By my mom refusing to talk with the coach, it made me really decide if my concern was important. When a parent will quickly bring up an issue with a coach, a player will be more likely to bring up every little thing seen as an issue with the parent because the parent will discuss it with the coach. When the kid is forced to have the discussion, the child will be a little more selective about what a REAL issue is and what is not.
“You are better than that player.”
I would ask my mom if I was better than player “x” or player “y” because those players were getting more playing time than me or playing in a position I wanted to play. Whether I was better or worse did not matter much to my mom, or at least, she never made it the focus of the rest of the conversation.
In my mom’s heart she probably thought I was the best player to ever wear soccer cleats. She loved watching me play and thought very highly of my ability and potential on the field, but she NEVER compared me to another player. She would let me know when I had good days and bad days, but she would not compare me to any other player on the field. There were no coaching points or suggestions on how to play better, but she would be honest about my level of play. Normally the comments would be limited to things like, “I have seen you play better” or “it just did not seem like your day.” On the positive side it would be limited to, “You worked very hard today” or “It was a lot of fun to watch you play.” She always made it just about me, positive at times and negative at other times. She was not afraid to let me know when it was not my best effort, but never slow to let me know I played well.
Honestly, I am not sure if I know how my mom felt about any of the players I ever played with. She never gave me specific feedback about any players on the field. Her comments about the rest of the team would be very general. She would always refer to the team and never about individual players. After games I would hear, “the team looked great” or “the team seemed a step slow today.” This continued all the way through college.
My mom just focused on me most of the time. I was her focus and none of the other kids were her responsibility. She never spoke about me to other parents or talked about other players with other parents. Although parents may ask, my mom deflected the questions and avoided those types of conversations. It just was not her concern and made a choice not to allow herself to be part of those discussions.
This kept me focused on me. We are quick at times to justify how well or poor we are doing based on others around us. My mom forced me to measure myself against myself. When using other players to decide how well I did can dangerously lower, or raise, my expectations for myself. It can create a false sense of success or a false sense of failure, depending who I would measure myself against. We all compare ourselves to others at times. It is unavoidable. But when you cut through all the distractions, you should measure success or failure against yourself. It takes a deep sense of awareness and the courage to accept the fact you did your best or you never even really tried. Both are hard to admit at times.
As parents and coaches, sometimes it is the things we do not say that have the biggest impact on a child’s ability to be successful. Youth sports is not about the parents or the coaches, it is only about the kids. It is their time to play, learn, and grow. The kids need to experience success and failure, confidence and doubt, courage and fear, anger and joy, and everything else that comes with playing sports. My mom allowed me to experience them all. She did not shelter me from the bad or shower me with the good, and I never got to take the easy road to where I wanted to go.
Now a successful soccer trainer and educator, Tony Earp was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. Tony's achievements included 2nd Team All-Big Ten in 2001 and 2002, serving as Captain in 2002. Tony was named Most Inspirational Player in 2001 and 2002, as well as achieving Scholar Athlete status in those same years. Tony was a member of the 2002 MLS Draft Pool.
Kevin Parma, a native of Peconic, NY and former LIJSL player and Southold HS standout, has been named to the 2012 Capital One Academic All-District Team for NCAA Division III men's soccer, as announced by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). Parma, a junior tri-captain at Western New England College now advances to the national ballot for Academic All-America team consideration.
Parma also received this award last season. This fall, he earned All-Commonwealth Coast Conference accolades for a second time when he was placed on the first team as a defender. With three goals and three assists for nine points--which ranked tied for second for the Golden Bears--he became known as one of the most dangerous offensive-minded backs in the CCC this season. A workhorse with a team-leading 1493 minutes played, he has performed in the clutch as most of his points have helped either tie the game or put WNE ahead.
Parma excels equally well off the field as he does on it. Carrying a 3.93 grade-point average as a double major in accounting and finance, he is in the Western New England Honors Program, has earned a Provost’s Scholarship Award, received a grant for leadership and been inducted into the Alpha Lambda Delta Freshman Honor Society. His overall GPA ranks second on the CoSIDA District I team that includes Division III student-athletes from Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.
In addition, Parma has served on numerous community service projects and worked clinics for local youth soccer teams.
By Randy Vogt for Soccer America
Most youth soccer referees quit within the first couple of years of officiating with verbal abuse by kids' parents being the No. 1 reason for quitting. But if they can get through those critical first two or three years, refs will develop a reputation and style, both of which will evolve over the years.
My style as a ref is to call fouls a bit more conservatively than many of my colleagues but to try to play the advantage clause as much as possible, in part so the game will have a nice flow to it. With most fouls, I am looking to see if the player can play through the foul.
Yet it’s extremely important that I communicate that I’m playing the advantage to help prevent retaliation. The signal being both verbally by yelling “Play on!” and physically by extending the arms with an upswept gesture, starting with a position below the waist and brought up to shoulder level. I will often even briefly tell the fouled player afterward that I saw the foul and played the advantage plus sometimes speak to the player who did the fouling as well.
During the recent college season, I noticed many teams who I officiated were adjusting their play to fit the amount of contact that the officials allowed. Certainly on the pro level, the players are aware what that ref will allow and will not. It will be nice when more and more youth teams adjust their play to fit the way the game is being officiated.
So if teams are adjusting their play to the officials, should the officials adjust the way they are calling the game to the teams? My answer is certainly, especially if the ref can sense during the game that there is broad agreement between the teams within the Laws of the Game as to what is a foul and what is not.
I still have the superb “Fair or Foul?” book, which helped me develop as a ref at the beginning of my career. Authors Larry and Paul Harris use nine cartoons on the different types of referees. The Facilitator is a happy man with a halo over his head and wearing a badge that says “Goody Two Shoes.” According to the cartoon, the Facilitator calls fouls commensurate with the level of play, covers every inch of grass on the field (if necessary), is flexible, prevents problems before they occur, is respected by the coaches plus compliments and complements his linesmen.
Try as I might, it’s too bad that I was not the Facilitator during a recent high school game as I misread a bit what the players wanted. Two skilled teams were playing and there was not anything going on from a discipline standpoint so the officiating crew let the teams play. Any dissent, and it was a little at first, came from the perception that a foul should have been whistled. There was no dissent at all after fouls were given. There was little interest in playing through the foul except when the fouled player was right near the opponent’s penalty area.
I should have whistled a few more fouls and played the advantage less as that’s what both teams wanted. In the second half, there were two cautions -- for dissent as well as for unsporting behavior when a player showed little interest in playing the ball. If I had read that game correctly, I believe that both cautions would not have been necessary.
(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In Preventive Officiating, he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at http://www.preventiveofficiating.com/)
Interview by Mike Woitalla for Soccer America
Steve Swanson, who guided the USA to the 2012 U-20 Women’s World Cup title in September, has coached women's college ball since 1990. After stints at Dartmouth and Stanford, he has coached the University of Virginia since 2000. He spoke with us about the perils of a recruiting system that has girls commit to colleges when they’re still sophomores or 9th-graders.
SOCCER AMERICA: It’s become common practice for college coaches to offer scholarships to 10th and even 9th graders – and for players that young to commit to a college …
STEVE SWANSON: I think it’s one of the biggest potential problems that college athletics has as a whole. It’s happening with our sport in particular. We’re getting earlier and earlier.
It’s a serious enough problem, the [college] presidents have to be involved.
If this was strictly a job situation, who would make a $50,000 investment after seeing a player play for five minutes, or one game in one tournament, three years out before they go to that college?
That’s insane. But because we’ve gone down this road, because the ball is rolling, coaches feel, “Hey, we’ve got to do this for us to stay up.”
It’s a disservice to student-athletes, to the parents, to the coaches. You’re don’t have all the information. You’re going to make poor choices.
SA: Considering how expensive it is to send a child to college, wouldn’t one expect parents to be fine with their 14- or 15-year-old daughter accepting a scholarship?
STEVE SWANSON: Would you want your daughter to figure out who she’s going to marry at 14 or 15? They don’t even know themselves.
I get the financial side. But I don’t think there’s one person -- I don’t think there’s a college sophomore who gets up in the morning, they go out, they have a coffee, and they breathe in deep and they say, “I’m happy here because I’m on a full ride.”
That ain’t happening. They get up in the morning and they’re happy because they’re at the right place that fits with what they want, what their needs are, on and off the field.
My concern is we’re only doing this because of the finances.
I see more and more people transferring. More and more decisions that are reversing themselves because it wasn’t the right fit one way or the other.
SA: Does this early-recruitment have a negative effect on the USA’s effort to improve at the highest level of women’s soccer?
STEVE SWANSON: One of my biggest concerns in our sport is we tend to rely so much on the physical aspect. There are some other aspects that in the long run are going to benefit more.
The tough thing we have in college is we’re being asked to evaluate players when they’re freshman in high school and pull this crystal ball out for four years down the road, and say, “Hey here’s where you’re going to be!”
I think any coach in our sport who’s saying where this player’s going to be technically, tactically, mentally – they’re just fooling themselves. And I think we have to be really careful with that.
The easy thing for a lot of college coaches, a lot of club coaches, is to go for the physical side. You know what that’s going to be. It’s probably not going to change that much.
More often than not I think the selection process, the evaluation process is looking at the physical. It’d be one thing if we were swimming or track. The college coach says, “Hey you run the mile in 3:53, so I don’t care what your technique is, how you run, because that’s better than any college runner I have right now.”
But soccer is so much different. There are so many things that go into it.
I worry about the kids. How much growth can happen between [high school] freshman and junior years? You can see amazing amounts of growth. A freshman may believe a mid-major college is about as good as they’ll get, but by their junior year they’re unbelievable and now they want to challenge themselves and play in the best conference.
SA: I’ve heard one reason players so young commit to a college is to get the process over with …
STEVE SWANSON: There’s a lot of pressure. It’s sad that for them recruitment has gotten stressful. It should be enjoyable. It should be fun to explore, go to schools. It’s become stressful and they just want to get the thing over with.
We don’t even have official visits. A student can’t make them until you’re a senior. They’ve already made the decision two years ago.
They visit all those schools on their own. The beauty of an official visit is I can pay for you to come out here. Pay for you look at this school.
SA: So players, because they pay their own way to visit colleges, may be less likely to explore opportunities farther away from home?
STEVE SWANSON: How would they know another option wouldn’t be a better fit without visiting?
SA: The pressure to commit early is applied by the coaches because they want to lock in who they think are the top players?
STEVE SWANSON: If I really wanted you and was willing wait for you, I would tell you that. Some other coach might say, “I’m moving forward here and you’re going to have to make your decision.” There are a lot of coaches out there pushing the envelope. They want to get a body into their program as soon as they can. They want to get their recruiting tied up as soon as they can.
In football you don’t wrap that kid up until they sign. Our sport is different. We have this kind of collegial agreement if somebody verbally commits, that’s it. The recruiting’s done. But a coach might gain a verbal agreement by less than moral means. Maybe they say to a sophmore, “Here’s the scholarship. You have a week to decide. I’m not going to let you look at other schools.” I think there’s some things ethically wrong with that.
This is the same person who, if you committed at a very early age, for financial reasons, gets all upset if another coach came in to recruit -- even though that’s completely within the rules.
SA: What’s your advice for young players who are being pressured to commit at a young age?
STEVE SWANSON: Never commit somewhere unless you have all the information about the school, the soccer program. There are a lot of players out there who have made those commitments early and are very happy. But I think what’s happening is there are a lot of players that are equally unhappy.
If a coach really wants you, they’re going to wait for you.
by Pat Grecco
College bound student-athletes, whether you are an entering freshman or a returning college varsity player, be fit, be ready,and be informed. I have discovered that unless you sign a Letter of Intent with an NCAA D-I, D-II or NAIA college, you are not guaranteed a spot on the varsity roster. Those who sign a Letter of Intent are student-athletes who received athletic grants, otherwise known as athletic scholarships.
Recently, two players I was working with went off to play Soccer at a D-III program. Prior to beginning school, they were wooed and pursued by the college coach and received a substantial amount of academic money from the university. However, upon arriving at preseason practice they found that there were 14 freshmen recruited just like they were, and that the coach could only fill 5 varsity spots. Neither of these players made varsity, there was no JV program, and they were placed on a reserve "team" of 8 players. I find this scenario to be happening more often than I would like to admit. I call this the "cherry picking method" of recruiting.
A female player I know went off to a D-I school where no athletic grant in aid was offered to her. After going through preseason she wound up being cut and heartbroken. I intervened and spoke to the coach, who insisted she did tell the player that she would have to "try out" for a spot on the roster, though the player insisted she did not hear her say that. The lesson? Be sure to listen and ask questions.
Bringing your "A" Game to college as an entering freshman is of the utmost importance. A coach that has not seen you compete, or mentions that you will be a "preferred walk-on" is simply telling you that you are not getting any money and are not guaranteed a spot on the team.
Of course, there is the other side of this scenario to deal with as well. If you were recruited and you received athletic scholarship money, but you arrived to preseason unfit and did not follow the work out program the coach sent you during the summer months, your position could be in jeopardy as well. You will be on the team, but most likely watching the game from the bench. Returning varsity players must also be aware that they are competing for their position every year. Coaches at competitive programs are constantly trying to improve their team and raise the talent level of their roster. As new, talented players are recruited each year, returning players must be fit and ready for preseason in order to hold on to their spot.
It is important to consider several important factors when picking a school. When selecting the best school for you, consider academics, affordability, social fit, and lastly, your sport. Be sure to ask yourself the big question, "If I could never play my soccer again, would I choose this school?"
How can you make sure that you are a good fit for the school and the team? Communication is key! Review this matter with the coach that is recruiting you and your parents. Ask questions like:
* Coach, have you seen me play?
* Do you feel I'm at the level to compete on your team?
* Do I have a spot on the varsity team?
* Will I be an impact-type player for your program or will I challenge for a position?
* Will I be receiving an athletic grant in aid, AKA scholarship?
Finally, when visiting with the coach in his office, perhaps during your official visit, have your parents present and listen to what coach is telling you with both ears. In other words, ask the big questions: Am I being recruited for a roster spot or am I invited to tryout during preseason?
Be fit, be informed, and make good choices.
If you would like to discuss this further, please contact me at email@example.com
Things are falling into place among the ranked teams in both the men’s and women’s polls, and for those who are looking for a game to see in person, the local Division I teams are playing well and competing with quality opponents.
As the season enters October, the rankings seem to have settled down as teams get in a groove and fall into place. #1 Maryland had to overcome a 2-1 deficit to College of Charleston in the second half, but emerged with a 3-2 victory and a firm hold on the top of the rankings. Connecticut hosted Notre Dame in front of over 5,000 fan and emerged with a 2-1 victory, their 32nd straight at home. That is the 7th-longest such streak in NCAA history. Akron cruised to a 4-0 win over Buffalo to secure their spot as the #3 team in the country, while #5 Santa Barbara beat UC Riverside, 3-1 in their conference opener.
In other Top 25 news, #7 Marquette beat Providence in their Big East opener to stretch their win streak to 10 games. Meanwhile. Cornell, who has risen to #23 in the polls on the back of a 9-0-0 start, scored three goals in a win over Penn. That gave the Big Red 26 goals on the season, one more than they scored ALL of last season!!
Potential fallers in the poll this week could include #14 Creighton, who didn’t score a goal this week in losses to Tulsa and Drake. They had already fallen from #11 last week and could continue to slide. Penn State lost a tough 1-0 decision to #10 Indiana in the Big Ten opener, but a 1-0 loss to Lehigh will hurt.
Locally, #19 St. John’s outscored opponents 5-1 in wins over Columbia and DePaul after a tough week last week. Though neither team is ranked, getting back on the winning side of things could push them back to their #13 ranking of a week ago. Speaking of winning ways, Stony Brook has run their unbeaten streak to six games after a 1-0 win over Albany over the weekend. Hofstra wasn’t so fortunate, dropping a 3-2 decision to UNC Wilmington. Long Islander Adam Janokowski (Coram) made four saves in the game.
In women’s soccer, simply put, the ACC rules! Five of the top ten teams in the country hail from the Atlantic Cost, including #1 Florida State, #3 Virginia, and #5 Duke. The PAC-12 isn’t far behind with Stanford (#2) and UCLA (#4) also in the top 5. The Seminoles boosted their record to 11-0-0 with a 2-0 win at N.C. State. The Cardinal is also unbeaten after a close call with Oregon this week. Virginia packed over 1,500 fans into Kloeckner Stadium for their 1-0 win over Duke, giving the Cavs their first win over a ranked team this season and boosting their overall mark to 10-2-1.
Fallers could include #12 Oregon State, who lost 3-1 to Cal, #14 BC, who lost at home to Pepperdine, and #10 Maryland, who dropped a 1-0 decision to Virginia Tech.
Still others are climbing up the polls thanks to prolific offense. Georgetown got five goals from Soph Daphne Corboz in an 8-0 win over Pitt in the Big East. Marquette scored seven goals in two games, defeating Louisville and Cincinnati, also in Big East conference play. Memphis tallied nine times in wins over East Carolina and Marshall as well.
In local action, the Stony Brook women went 1-1 as they opened America East Conference play, dropping the opener to Albany before topping Binghamton. St. John’s sophomore and Bohemia, NY native Deanna Murino (Connetquot HS) scored her first game-winning goal for the Johnnies in a 1-0 defeat of Rutgers. St. John’s then blanked Seton Hall, 4-0. Senior Megan Klement, a defender, scored her first career goal in the contest. Junior Jen Gibbons, a Bellport HS grad also had a goal. Over at Hofstra, LIers Jill Mulholland (Levittown) and Lulu Echeverry (East Meadow) continued their strong play with goals in a 3-1 win over James Madison