How To Build A Youth Soccer Powerhouse
The United State Men’s National Team is searching for answers. Namely, how can the U.S. catch up to the fútbol powerhouses of Europe and South America? Opinions may differ on the proper tactics, training techniques, and resources necessary to facilitate a quantum leap on the pitch, but there is a consensus on where it needs to happen. Youth soccer.
To truly appreciate the strides youth soccer has made and the work left to be done, we sat with one of the founding members of our Soccer Advisory Council to discuss culture, technology and the importance of quality coaching.
Nick Mulvaney, once a young lad playing for St. Kevin’s Boy Football Club in Dublin, is now overseeing a soccer behemoth in the Windy City. As the founder and executive director of Chicago City Soccer Club, he is in the process of perfecting a blueprint that desperately needs to be replicated across youth soccer. Between his playing days and his vast coaching experience, the savvy Irishman represents nearly three decades of soccer wisdom. Needless to say, when he spoke, we listened. And you should too.
Chicago City has an impressive social media presence. Did you naturally have an understanding of social media, or was it a point of emphasis for your organization?
I wasn’t big into social media personally, but as we began trying to get our name-brand and our product out there, we quickly realized that social media was a great way of doing it.
Social media is only as good as your message. So I had all of our coaches create professional accounts and encouraged them to post the good things we were doing throughout the community. It wasn’t about winning whatsoever.
When you look at what we posted from an on-field perspective, it was centered around player development, team-specific pictures, and that was intentional. We wanted to be known for more than winning, and that required a strong message around that was consistent.
How much do you shape your message, and how do you cultivate a top-rate culture?
When I was starting out, the biggest challenge, without a doubt, was creating the right kind of culture. The coaches I brought in all played and coached at a very high level. Having quality coaching is the first step, and keeping them on board is the next step. I’m fortunate that they’ve all been with me for three or four years now, which makes a big difference. When you have that continuity, it shows. For example, we’ve run into a few situations where one of our teams was beaten because a team moved players down a level to get an advantage on us. And if we weren’t united as a staff, the natural reaction might be to do the same thing and take advantage of a talent discrepancy. But because we’re on the same page, it’s an opportunity to show some class and prove that we’re about more than the wins and losses.
I’d be lying if I said it didn’t take time to build a culture that valued player development and commitment to the community, but we did it together. And that didn’t happen by accident. We’ve met twice a week for four years to develop our staff professionally. We have the same mentality now, to the point that we can bring on new coaches and they sense our culture and want to adapt and join us.
And how do we measure success? Well, for starters, we talk to our players and our parents. But the best moments are when we have opposition players and their parents stop and talk to us. I’ve had parents from other teams tell us, “we really enjoyed your coaching philosophy where you’re not shouting and screaming. We can tell you’re not just in it for winning even though you did beat us.”
We get similar feedback from the referees. They come up to me and tell me that they love our coaches because they’re respectful and it’s clear they’re coaching the right way. Now does that resonate immediately with coaches, players and parents? No. It takes time for that to make an impact, but once it does, it’s incredibly meaningful.
I mean we all want to win, we’re all competitive and that’s fine. What I make sure to do is to avoid placing any pressure on the coaches to win. I want the long term development of our players and our club, and once they feel that support, they buy into what we’re looking to accomplish.
How much do you rely on technology to not only support but to elevate your program?
Before we made the switch over to LeagueApps, we didn’t put our coaches in the best position to succeed from a technological perspective. We always feel that coaches are the best way to connect with our parents, and we need to communicate through them. So with that in mind, we need to give them tools to communicate effectively. Everything today goes through the phone, so it needs to work on those devices, and it needs to be clear, quick, and sleek. LeagueApps’ platform checks all those boxes for us. The fact that everything is so organized is incredibly helpful to our coaches and our parents. The amount of information that needs to be passed back and forth can be daunting, particularly for parents with multiple players. If we didn’t invest in a solution like LeagueApps and were bogged down in the paperwork, our product would suffer, that’s just a fact.
The communication tools, streamlined registrations, the scheduling feature, and payment processing, all that adds up quickly to efficiency. All the time we have saved by working with LeagueApps has allowed us to innovate in other ways. We love meeting with parents face-to-face, but now if they can’t make it or if there’s a conflict, we can record those conference calls and send them out so they stay informed. Whether LeagueApps is helping to free up time for us or actively helping us innovate, that’s how we stay ahead, that’s how we succeed as an organization.
Beyond Chicago City Soccer Club, what do you hope to achieve in the game of soccer?
My hope is that by working with the club, and others in the Chicago area, we can positively impact the culture of soccer here in the U.S. Because at the end of the day, I want what is best for U.S. soccer. Yes, I want America to win a World Cup someday, but I also want kids to fall in love with the game so that they play, they coach and they referee. My hope is they get involved with the game however they can. And I’d love to be involved in the conversations to come surrounding “pay to play.” Because I think if we crack that, the future of the game will be in a great place. Right now we’re trying to do our part by offering free clinics, camps and educational courses for coaches in the inner city. If anything, I wish more people would take us up on it. It’s going to take a lot of work to make this an inclusive sport, but I’m proud to be playing a part in the solution.
For more from our Soccer Advisory Council, click here!