Recently British Columbia Soccer bypassed parents and coaches to ask their players about why they participated in their soccer program and for those who were leaving the program, why they would not be returning the following year?
In an attempt to get to the bottom of declining registration numbers BC Soccer took a proactive approach last year by conducting an on-line player survey in partnership with specific soccer clubs that volunteered to participate. The objective was to try and pinpoint some of the key issues facing today’s players, in the hopes of finding potential solutions to stem the tide of those leaving the game. The survey was sent to just over 14,000 players/participants and their parents from U6-U17 boys and girls in all areas of the province, with a response rate of 17%. BC’s total Youth Soccer population sits at just over 90,000.
This coming from an organisation who in the last decade have managed to buck some of the trends of decreasing participation and registration rates but in recent seasons have become aware of how difficult this may be.
Although some of the results of the survey were not surprising and validated some widely held beliefs, there was a feeling that at least it had come directly from the participants, something that often can be lost in translation by organisations and coaches.
One of the biggest disconnects that we see is how the adults involved in youth sport can have very different success criteria and very different views about how the youth sporting landscape should look.
One of the big findings of the survey was the significant role that the coach played in the delivery and success of a particular program, which further emphasises the importance of coach behaviour and attitude on the ground.
The two key questions in the survey were:
- Why do you play soccer?
68% of the participants said they enjoyed their soccer and made reference to having fun.
Friend of mine Glen Mulcahy of Paradigm Sports who shared the survey told me,
‘As I have been saying for years, kids play sports because they’re fun, they quit when they’re not. It’s NOT Rocket Science. Watch this great video clip of 4-year-old hockey player that was mic’d up during his practice. Do you think he had fun? Will he continue to have fun down the road? Only if the association he plays for recognises that fun is the number 1 reason why children play sport and continue to do so.’
This types of response again back up the work carried out by Amanda Visek around how children define fun and what fun is to them. In her work, of the 81 definitions of fun when children were asked to rank what was important to them, winning came 48th and playing in a tournament came 63rd.
I often challenge parents in our workshops that if we were part of the survey as parents or adults that there is a good chance that winning and playing in competitions would be far higher on our list of priorities, very few disagree with that!
This isn’t about not valuing winning or competition, but it is framing it in a way that we understand that it is not a child’s primary success criteria and as the adults in the process we need to be more aware of why our children play sport and then try to behave accordingly to encourage and support.
The next highest response, (54%) was playing with FRIENDS. And if it wasn’t pre-existing friends from school, neighbourhood or past teams, it was about making new friends through soccer.
Interestingly, only 19% listed “development” (i.e. learning new skills/techniques and tactics) as important, while competition (winning, scoring, being in a competitive environment) was an even lower priority at 14%.
- Why are you leaving soccer?
Although 75% of respondents were happy, answering “excellent or good” with regard to their respective soccer programs (answering “Excellent” in most cases) the 25% who characterised their experience as only “fair or poor”, were very specific as to the reasons why.
Of the group of 25% that indicated they were “not likely to return”, 39% cited poor coaching as the biggest reason. Next came lack of development/learning (26%) and intriguingly, inconsistency in Kick-off or training times (17%).
Other factors that influence whether a child returns or not, include a disparity in ability within a team or a league (20%) and disorganisation or poor communication (20%).
One sided matches, poor management of the match-day environment can all add to a poor experience for the players. It is great to see some of the fantastic work being done by a number of sports and individual coaches in trying to address this particular issue.
The coach role was incredibly significant and emphasises the importance of great and continued coach education to ensure that coaches are meeting the needs of a changing generation of children, who have far more alternative choices to make than ever before.
BC Soccer’s vision is to ensure every British Columbian has the opportunity to be involved in soccer as part of a lifelong commitment to an active and healthy lifestyle, no matter the age, gender or skillset.
This is refreshing to hear, parents often ask us how would I know if the sporting experience has been a success for my child?
We have two answers for this. The first being that they become engaged in a way that allows them to foster a lifelong love with physical activity and exercise.
Secondly, that they use the sporting experience to equip themselves with key life and character skills in a safe environment, that they can then use and be a success, no matter which walk of life they choose to take.
BC Soccer are not standing still and should be congratulated on their approach, going straight to the participant and then following up by inviting all stakeholders into the process to try and create a balanced approach that meets the needs of individuals and teams as well as meeting the social and ‘fun’ requirements of young players.
The full summary of the survey and report can be found here.
Will this approach take off? Is this the way to go moving forward? We would be delighted to hear from organisations, coaches and parents as to their thoughts on this?
Here are some things for the short term that can easily be implemented.
Do we give out feedback forms as an organisation to our parents and players?
Do coaches ask for feedback at the end of the season for their group of parents? This would certainly help the coach to plan for the following season.
One of the biggest things that we encourage coaches to do during our workshops is to give parents a voice, so they feel valued and part of the process. This would certainly be one part of accomplishing that. There are some ideas for coaches here when putting together an end of season questionnaire.
All stakeholders have a part to play in ensuring that the sporting experience is a positive one, that we try our very best to increase participation numbers in sport and physical activity and perhaps this may be just one of the tools that will help give us objective rather than subjective data to work from.