Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The danger of "The Deal" when a new soccer player recruits you.

Winning is not a crime.  Wanting to win is not a crime. Recruiting is not a crime.  As a parent, wanting a better place for your child to play is not a crime.  Wanting to find another place to coach is not a crime. Let's all understand those points.  Good people have good reasons for a change.

I've had a lot of time to consider my position on recruiting.  I know people say I am not aggressive enough in recruiting and that it was my biggest weakness as a youth coach.  I take that as a compliment :)

When some coaches engage in heavy recruiting, I don't see them as bad people (although I don't like heavy recruiting).  But I do wonder
what they are thinking when they roll out the red carpet for the kid(s) who is/are going to change their team (and their parents).

I recruit for our Niagara College program, it's my job.  I've only recruited at the youth club level once, but parents/coaches have often called to bring their child over.  My reply was simple "Here is the tryout schedule".  My friend is a VERY good coach and coaches a very good 1994 girls team in the next city over and always has people calling him.  I know he handles that well and his team seems to get along fine because he honours and values his core of girls.

But what happens when a new parent calls you to come to your team?  That's a different dynamic altogether.

The poison these days, in my humble opinion, is the aggressive "Parent-Agent" and the coaches who are flattered by them.  The player movement and side deals are already in progress starting with house league coaches quietly massaging their potential U9 team into place at U7.  We all know it's going on.

There are parents who call to ask about tryouts and teams.  Then there are parents who call with a "deal" in their pocket.  The "deal" is what bites a lot of coaches in the rear.

The aggressive recruiters and parent-agents increased dramatically once we went to a system of promotion and relegation for youth soccer in Ontario.

Here are some famous deals that I've heard over the years:

"Hey, why don't we take 7 players from each of our teams, and merge.  Our 2 coaches will join your 2 coaches.  We'll clean up."  Ahhh.... the merger...
  • Who will be the head coach?
  • What if they don't get along?
  • What if the philosophies don't match?
  • 7 from each team?  What if your 8th player is better than his 4th player?  :)
  • Four coaches?  Do you now have 4 coaches' kids on the field?
  • Which club gets the team?  Which club just lost a team?
  • What happened to the displaced players on both teams?
  • Is the incoming coach trustworthy?  Remember, he just ditched half his team and club to make this "deal".
"Hey, I want to bring my daughter to your team and we'll bring over 2 other good players as well".  The package!
  • So, they told you they will entice two teammates to come over. Cool.  Does that mean they will entice two of your players to follow them to the next team?
  • What if those extra players are not at the same level as players you did not select?
  • How do you tell current families that somebody got a free pass as part of a package?
The best player on another team will come over but his dad wants to help coach.  Great.'
  • Do you know anything about this parent? What makes you think they will be a good assistant.
  • What if two players and their dads came with the same offer? Three?
  • Are they coaching on the current team? No?  Why not?  Yes? Why are they leaving? 
  • The parent already thinks his child is good enough to warrant a free spot on your coaching staff.  What will they demand next?  Captain's armband?  Playing striker?  90 minutes?
A kid shows up who has been on 5 different teams in 5 years.
  • You better ask why.  Chances are slim that they've had five legitimately terrible experiences.  Possible, but slim.  
  • If the player was released because of skill level and still interested in playing, that's different and you owe him/her the respect of a full look.  The player obviously enjoys soccer and wants to play. 
  • If you live in a small area and it's because of the parent, you'll already know who they are :)
  • Are you going to release a long time player for a player who might leave next year?
  • Was the family a problem?
  • There is the real possibility that there is a good reason why the kid has been on different teams.  As a kid who wants to play, he deserves the respect and honesty of you asking questions to get the truth.
"I need to know what's going on with tryouts because another team is asking for her to play."
  • You never know if this is a ploy to fish for an answer or a serious question.  Be careful to not jump to conclusions.
  • If you tell a kid if they are selected or not before others, it will not be a good scene if the others find out.
  • I've told 3 parents who approached me with that: "You need to weigh what's for sure and what's still up in the air and make your own decision.  Let me know. "
  • Their question might be legitimate, so you should be respectful enough in your discussions.
The new parent calls you for next year while the current season is in progress.
  • The poaching rules in Ontario have changed, but as a coach you can NEVER look good talking to active potential players for next year while this season is still on.
  • Has this parent been walking along his sideline telling other parents in July that he's already planning to leave in October?  How would that be received on your sideline  by your cvusrrent team parents?
  • How would your players feel knowing you are already looking to replace some of them and the season is half over.
The new player's dad shows up to tryouts in a track suit and soccer boots and walks on the field!
  • Oh boy .......   that's all I have to say about that.
You have to be careful to not jump to immediate conclusions.  There are some very nice people out there who just want a nice place for their child to play their favourite sport.  Everybody loves their child.

Whenever we were approached by the "special" player or their family, I simply gave their parents our tryout information and left it at that.  For me, anything more was asking for trouble.  If they felt snubbed and went elsewhere, then I knew my instinct paid off.  If they came, then they were treated like everybody else, with respect.
'The poison these days, in my humble opinion, is the aggressive "Parent-Agent"'
There is more going on than just soccer.  Teams are about development friendships, memories, respect and co-operation; you want to ensure the off-field experience is as positive as the on-field portion.  You have to keep an eye out for disruptors.

In one age group that I coached for eight years (1994 boys), there was one club that we played for six of those years.  They never had the same coach or core of players.  It was like a new team and club every year.  Coach came, recruited, played, the team exploded/imploded and they started over.  Every year we played teams from their area and we always ran into their parents on different teams.

One sad byproduct of deals gone bad is the coach losing his credibility with the existing players and club.  Not all "deals" go bad, but when they do, it's ugly.  I've seen coaches appease new recruits to prevent ugliness, only to watch current players leave for another team.   I've seen new parents assume a seat on the parent side of a new team only to complain all year long (about the very coach they chose to sell their kid to)

I've had new parents prove at tryouts what a pain or cancer they would be and, sadly, I let the whole package move on to another team. 

If you are not a good technical or tactical coach and recruiting new players is your only choice, you better have a lot of ground rules in place for the whole group. 

When a player shows up and wants to be on your team, they have to be treated as kids who love playing soccer and your job is to ensure you positively affect that kid for the time they are with you.  But you have to be careful of the adult influences around them if there is a sign of an over-anxious "parent-agent".  The solution is SIMPLE.  Tell them they have to tryout and you'll see if and where they fit in.  Cut off the parent's sales pitch and offers to help and simply say "We'll have a look at your child during tryouts." You can't be more fair than that, can you?  I've used that line many times and it keeps everybody at bay and allows the child to do what they want to do, PLAY.  I've had parents leave their child alone and I've had parents not come back for a second tryout.  The latter proved my point.

Side story: I had a parent bring their child to tryout after many phone calls and emails to see "what's going on".  When I arrived at the field for our first session, I was unloading my stuff and the dad comes to my car to continue telling me how good his son is. I stopped unloading, smiled and told him I will see for myself in about 20 minutes.  As I walked away I heard one my current team parents say to him "I told you not to do that."  His son was a wonderful boy and we got along very well.  He did not stay until the end of tryouts as he was trying out for three teams at the same time and took a spot that was offered to him.  I still see the boy often, he still calls me Coach and we still get along.  The father doesn't talk to me.

When that special player does arrive, you probably know they are going to have a spot on your team, but you do a kid no favours when you treat them differently.

Let your program do the talking for you.  Let their feet do the talking for them.  Let the interested kid tryout with everybody else and show them first hand, via your environment, why they made the right choice in wanting to play for you.