Fellow Chicopee Soccer coaches and enthusiasts;
This note is is an effort to keep you informed about the state of the Chicopee Youth Soccer System, to Sound the Alarm, to Issue a Call to Action, and to offer a glimmer of hope!
The state of Chicopee Youth Soccer is not strong.
Youth soccer IS on life support in our great city. The situation can be designated as nothing less than a **CODE RED** condition!
Soccer in the City of Chicopee has been kept alive over the years through the efforts of a handful of deeply committed individuals. If it weren’t for their passion and dedication, soccer would be nothing more than a mere memory in Chicopee today. Despite their efforts, I fear that we are teetering on the edge of that sad reality.
Sounding the Alarm!
The statistics paint the picture;
On the boys’ side: This fall season, we had seven (7) boys’ teams from Chicopee playing in the Pioneer Valley Junior Soccer League (PVJSL) from ages U-9 to U-14 (total combined teams between AJAC & Moose). There were a total of 188 boys’ teams in the PVJSL this fall and only seven of them were from Chicopee.
On the girls’ side: This fall season we had five (5) teams from Chicopee playing in the PVJSL from ages U-9 to U-14 (total combined teams between AJAC & Moose). There were a total of 152 girls’ teams in the PVJSL this fall and only five (5) of them were from Chicopee.
Of the twelve (12) Chicopee teams playing in the fall, only One (1) was a Division One team! A total of 340 teams played soccer in the PVJSL this fall, only 12 of those teams were from Chicopee (combined boys and girls, AJAC & Moose, across 10 age groups).
I’m sure you’ll agree that these are startling and worrisome statistics!
A Glimmer of Hope
As bleak as that may seem, there is some good news. For the past twelve months a group of Chicopee soccer coaches and enthusiasts have recognized the problem and have begun to take action. An effort to improve every single aspect of the Chicopee Youth Soccer system is currently underway.
Soccer Advisory Board Created
In June of 2013 we established a citywide Soccer Advisory Board. The board currently has more than a dozen committed members that have been meeting to devise ways to combat and reverse the trend across all levels of soccer programs within the city. Members of the Soccer Advisory Board include the coaching staff from the Chicopee High School Boys and Girls Soccer Programs, the coaching staff from the Chicopee Comp Boys and Girls high school soccer programs, current members of the Chicopee Moose Soccer Club, members of the A.J.A.C., members of the Chicopee Park and Rec soccer program as well as concerned citizens of Chicopee.
After careful analysis of the situation, the Soccer Advisory Board decided to prioritize its efforts. Improvement of the A.J.A.C. Academy program is our primary focus.
The A.J.A.C. Academy Program:
The Good News:
The A.J.A.C. Academy Program consists of boys and girls ages U-5 – U-8. Based on the number of players involved, the Academy program is one of the bright spots in this dark dream. It has grown to an average of 250-300 participants! That’s good news.
The Academy Program attrition rate is staggering. More than 80% of the players playing in the Academy Program fail to move on to the Competitive side of the ledger (PVJSL). U-8 and U-9/10 is the last time they play soccer. They quit soccer, most never to return. The low number of teams playing in the PVJSL (12) reveals this fact. There are a few explanations for this occurrence:
• Many of our youngest players are not prepared to play in the PVJSL. When they move up to play in the PVJSL they get creamed. In the fall of 2012 two of the male Chicopee teams in the PVJSL allowed a combined 70 goals against! That’s not fun for the players.
• Many parents aren’t prepared. Many parents simply don’t understand what the PVJSL is all about. They don’t understand the demands, or the benefits of playing at the next level.
• The cost sometimes seems prohibitive and value isn’t realized.
• Our coaches aren’t well enough prepared to help improve our players’ level of play from the recreational into the competitive level.
• Competition from other sports and activities.
• A fractured youth soccer system.
The task of the Soccer Advisory Board is to identify, address, and implement a plan of action to reverse the attrition level of the AJAC Academy.
The Academy Program is Changing!!
I am pleased to announce that due to the diligent work of the Soccer Advisory Board, progress is being made in this regard. Long-time soccer enthusiast and youth coach Tony Kibler has assumed the position of Director of Coaching for the Academy Program. Through his passion and leadership, the Academy program is on a solid path to turn things around.
• Restructuring the format of the Academy Program to allow players an opportunity to encounter more touches on the ball. The number of players on the field will grow progressively with age. From 3 v 3, to 4 v 4, to 5 v 5, to 6 v 6 so that the jump to the 8 v 8 Pioneer Valley League will just be another step in a progression for them. This new structure will also encourage the players to become more adept with the ball, which will, in turn, allow them to have greater success against their counterparts from other communities. More success equates to more fun. The number one reason kids quit a sport is because it isn’t fun. Competency with the ball = more fun!
• There are a number of other structural changes taking place in the Academy program, which will have a fundamental impact. We are following U.S. Youth Soccer and NSCAA Best Practices as well as NSCAA Club Standards to implement a system that will help give our young players the tools to successfully launch them into the next level of play.
• With the restructuring of the Academy program, a natural education of the player’s parents will simultaneously occur. We are developing several educational programs in an effort to increase parental involvement in the soccer program as well as their understanding of the nuances of the game. Education is the key, and we will be committed to this aspect in our program design. We can’t turn this around without the active involvement and support of our parents. The more they know, the more they understand, and the more they will become involved!
• Although the cost increase from Academy level to PVJSL level seems steep, it isn’t as dramatic as it would appear at first, especially when compared to other competing sport choices. The recent introduction of lacrosse is a very expensive sport for a young person to play. Youth football, and hockey are both more expensive to play as well, not to mention the cost of additional required equipment and the potential health risks of participation.
Having said that, we are looking very carefully at the price structure of our soccer programs. Soccer is the world’s favorite sport in part, because it’s the least expensive to play. All one needs is a ball, a field . . . and perhaps a pair of boots! We are in the process of creating a comprehensive budget and price structure that will be manageable for every player and family that chooses to participate.
• Coaching education will play a prominent role in our program improvement efforts. Coaches are the most important aspect of any program. A coach can turn a kid on for life, or turn him away forever. We took the first steps to improve this area in 2013. The City of Chicopee hosted two coaching clinics in the spring, the Mass Youth Soccer Association (MYSA) four-hour “G” course and the eight-hour “F” course. They were the first MYSA coaching courses ever hosted in the City of Chicopee! The cooperation of the Chicopee Parks Department and the Chicopee School Department were instrumental in bringing these educational opportunities to Chicopee.
The response to the courses was tremendous with more than 50 youth soccer coaches attending the two courses! We will continue to host “official” coaching courses. Plans are currently underway to host two MYSA courses in 2014. We will also develop other “in-house” opportunities to improve the craft of coaching. We have many talented and experienced coaches in our program. They are ready and eager to help!
• Competition from other sports has had an impact as well. However, that should not be a major concern. If we can provide a structure that makes the game of soccer fun to play . . . if the kids learn to love to play the sport . . . then they will choose to play soccer over other alternatives. The AJAC program has provided us with a core base of 250-300 kids every spring and fall. Our challenge is to instill within them a true joy for the game. If we are successful they’ll be hooked for life! As it is now, other sports are more appealing because soccer isn’t perceived as “fun”. That . . . will. . . change.
• Incredible progress is being made to unify the varying factions of the Chicopee Youth Soccer System. The division within the Chicopee soccer community over the years has taken a nasty toll and led us on a path toward destruction. We recognize that the estrangement has to end if the game of soccer is to continue. The formation and progress being made by the Soccer Advisory Board is a glowing symbol of the new era of Chicopee Youth Soccer. The Advisory Board has member representatives from every level of soccer working together to solve problems and offer solutions. As the Board grows to include more voices, the system will progressively improve, strengthen, and prosper. One Game, One City, One purpose: for the kids!
From the Academy Program, to the Competitive Program
Once the Academy program is stabilized and in good working order we will turn our attention to improve the weak competitive side. AJAC is but a shadow of its former glory. The Chicopee Moose soccer program has been able to pick up some of the slack, however both competitive programs will need much more support and direction then they have received in the past. A concerted effort to improve the competitive programs in the City of Chicopee will commence very soon.
…And then, the rest of the Chicopee Soccer System
Our efforts won’t, however, end there. Our work and collaboration with the Park and Recreation soccer program will be increased, as will our efforts to improve the two high school soccer programs. Eventually, attention to the adult amateur and semi-professional level organizations as well as the creation of a youth premier level program will be within our purview.
I’m sure you’ll agree that a city, our city, of 60,000 residents should have a significantly larger soccer playing population than the current 350-450 participants. Our school system has and enrollment of 7,800 students. A target goal for a new and revived Chicopee Youth Soccer system will be to increase our base number of players to 20% of the school population within five years. The soccer ball is the greatest toy EVER invented! The game is a blast to play! That’s why I know we can do this. It’s a noble cause.
A Call To Action!
We Need Your Help!
The Advisory Board has been working hard behind the scenes to make things happen, but we can’t do it all alone. We will need your help going forward. We have only scratched the surface of what we can do. A top class, professional organization requires a variety of talents and skills to operate. We need more than just ‘soccer’ people to take an active involvement. In addition to good-hearted people to volunteer as coaches, we also need experts in a variety of fields, such as marketing & promotion, finance, grant writing and fund raising, technology and more. Those talents are available in you. Can you help?
We welcome your help and your input. Please feel free to send a note with your thoughts/suggestions/ideas. If you would like to join the Soccer Advisory Board or have an interest in being a part of a special focus committee please contact us for more information.
Remember: One Game, One City, One purpose: for the kids!
Thank you for your involvement.
Thank you for your efforts and support.
Thank you for all you have already done to keep Chicopee soccer alive.
On behalf of our young players, thank you, in advance, for your assistance in helping to turn the Chicopee Youth Soccer system around!!