Am I the Only One Who Thinks That is Rather Sad?

I learned a lot while reporting for more than a month, off and on, about the bans against two local youth soccer coaches for inappropriate conduct with players. I have been a soccer dad for three years, and last year was assistant coach of my son's U8 soccer team, but I had not yet been deeply enough involved to grasp the intensity of the youth soccer world that I discovered in my reporting.

PAID COACHES

One of the things that surprised me was that some youth coaches are paid, and not only that — some coaches make their livings off of coaching youths.

I knew, of course, that high school coaches are paid. What I didn't know is that, as children join more and more elite teams, "coaching fees" tend to become a requirement.

At Arizona Rush last year, those fees went as high as $100 per month, former Rush parent Michelle Cozzens told me. Those fees go to pay the coach, which means that if a coach can take on enough teams, he might be able to make a living off of it. (Other clubs also charge fees, but that's the only one I have a number for.)

Former Rush coach Francisco Fierro told me he's seen coaches try to coach up to three or four teams at a time as a way of making a living. Two teams is as many as any coach can succesfully lead at a time, said Fierro, who now leads a Tucson branch of a Phoenix soccer club called Cisco. And that generally isn't enough to support yourself.

I interviewed Fierro at the warehouse-district office where he works full time, in addition to his coaching duties. His message to coaches who would try to make a living off of youth soccer:

"Please, get a job."

BIG MONEY

Another aspect I hadn't quite grasped is the sheer cost of putting kids through youth clubs, especially the high-level ones, such as Rush and Tucson Soccer Academy.

When you throw in all the expenses, Fierro told me, it could add up to $5,000 per player per year at Rush. (Again, I got figures for Rush, but other clubs may charge as much)

Cozzens broke it down for me this way:

  • Coaching fee: $100/month
  • Team fee: $40 to $50/month
  • Uniforms: Up to $200 per season
  • Travel: Can add up to the thousands when you throw in flights and lodging in Las Vegas, Albuquerque or Southern California.

Cozzens, who switched her kids to Tanque Verde Soccer Club last year, appreciated the efforts of all the volunteers pouring their time into running Rush, but she said she couldn't help but wonder, "Where is all this money going?"

Detlef Lange, who founded the Tucson Mountains soccer club and is a county soccer official, told me he, too, questions all the money going into youth soccer.

"Soccer's become a really lucrative little thing," he said. "I still believe it should be as cheap as possible and done with volunteers."

AVOIDING IMPROPRIETIES

Another theme I hadn't thought much about, despite helping coach six- and seven-year-olds in the Fort Lowell club myself in the season just ended, is how to maintain irreproachable relationships with players.

On this subject, I interviewed Richard San José, currently a Fort Lowell girls coach, but for years a girls coach at different clubs around Tucson. I regretted having to cut his comments from the story Sunday.

He said he makes it clear to players from the first team meeting that, "I'm an adult and parent and I will tell on you."

He also said he's learned through the years never to be alone with a player. Even if a player is the last one waiting after practice for a parent to pick her up, San Jose said, he'll ask another parent to stay with them.

San José also avoids hugging, he said, though occasionally will allow a "healthy hug" with nothing questionable about it.

"I make sure it's a very safe, clean, sterile environment," said San José, who is a social worker.

"I know several other guys who will not coach girls. If you piss a girl off, if you haven't crossed every 't' or dotted every 'i,' they will come after you," San José said. "I make sure we have a good relationship, but that it's healthy. They're reminded of these boundaries, regularly."

INTER-CLUB COMPETITION

It also took me aback how fierce the competition can be between the various youth clubs.

Arizona Rush's attorney, Don Loose, made that clear as the publication of Sunday's story approached. He accused me of a conflict of interest in writing the story because of having had a child in Fort Lowell and having been an assistant coach there last season.

"Tucson youth soccer is a very competitive business," he said.

Maybe I'm being naive, but am I the only one who thinks that is rather sad?

Send your comments to:
Karl Dewazien
CYSA State Director of Coaching
cysakarl@comcast.net