Youth clubs are like cars. Yes, cars. Some clubs are like Toyotas, others are like Land Rovers.
Everyone knows that Land Rovers are super fancy. They are a great status symbol and are incredibly nice looking with all of the bells and whistles.
Toyotas, on the other hand, are not all that fancy. Their interior and exterior appearances are simply adequate – not bad, but certainly not fancy.
However, Land Rovers break down all the time. They are simply not reliable. Toyotas, on the other hand, are built very strong with parts that last forever.
We see this same relationship among many youth soccer clubs. We see some clubs focused on adding the latest gimmicks to give themselves a perceived higher status. These clubs are so focused on implementing nice-looking add-ons to bolster their reputation to be perceived as “professional.” However, when you really look behind the curtain, there is no foundation. The club isn’t really doing anything to provide reliable and sustainable development for the players — the one thing that should truly matter.
Too many clubs are focused on the aforementioned bells and whistles instead of establishing a solid program and process for the players, which should be centered around growth and learning. These clubs need to focus on less “sexy” and ultimately more effective concepts that lead to a club that can grow long-term and truly help players develop.
The Problem with Land Rover Clubs
One club we worked with in the past had been around for over 20 years, but in the recent years had been surpassed in size and reputation by some of the newer clubs in the area. As a result, they had been constantly struggling to retain and attract players.
Before we began working with this club, they came up with a plan to become more “attractive.” Their plan to attract players was to 1. lease an office space, and 2. hire a professional video company to film and create a promotional video that they could put on their website.
At the onset of our arrival, when we were reviewing the club, these decisions puzzled me. For a club hardly getting by, paying for an office space, and a professional video crew seemed like a waste of valuable money (not to mention that the video filming disrupted several valuable training sessions in order to obtain “cool” shots of the players).
My assessment was right. Even though the club had a nice office and promotional video, nothing changed. In fact, they lost a number of their already limited coaches and players after the shooting the video and the leasing the office space.
When we arrived, we learned that the thing most parents, players, and coaches were most frustrated with had nothing to do with having an office or a cool promotional video on their website. Instead, it had everything to do with the club’s leadership: how they communicated on a day-to-day basis, how they made promises and didn’t follow through, how they lacked a vision or plan, and how they were completely unorganized. There was inconsistency between coaches and player experiences with some players getting over-worked by playing on too many teams, while other players were not playing as much as they wanted. It was a total mess.
Not only did the office space and video not solve these problems, but by creating the perception that they were something better than they were, the club set the expectations of new parents and players to a level at which they could not deliver – a recipe for failure.
A Better Approach
A much more effective use of this club’s time and money would have been to focus on improving their communication, operations, and player development processes. This would begin by developing and implementing an effective player development philosophy and curriculum, followed by clear communication of how and why they did things. If they spent more time solidifying this foundation, players and parents would have had a more enjoyable experience. They would have continued to come play, and the club’s reputation would have improved as people heard about the positive experience of the players at the club.
There is indeed a market for Land Rovers. They are a successful car company and there are people that, despite knowing that is not the most reliable vehicle, want, purchase, and drive them anyway. They prefer to have the luxury and glamour. This is what is important to them.
Some clubs are like this, too. It’s the fancy uniforms, social media-worthy perceptions, and the water cooler bragging points that are most important to those involved.
Just keep in mind that, in reality, a club like this may look nice, but the players might not truly be developing the way they could or should. Keep in mind what the organization’s values and mission are. Are they to truly serve the children and develop players, or are they to just provide a good-looking experience for parents? Consider who each of these focuses serve – children or adults? If the kids don’t enjoy their experience, how long will they stay? How often and how much will the clubs focused on luxury have to work to retain and attract players?
Just like cars, luxury without reliability is expensive. Can you afford to constantly repair your club?
When planning to achieve your club’s goals, consider whether you are building a sustainable and solid foundation like a Toyota, or are you just creating the perception of professionalism when there really is no reliable foundation beyond the bells and whistles?