Someday I Promise to Write the Book
When I “retired” from coaching travel baseball, I promised myself I’d write a book about the experience. I saved almost every e-mail I ever received from parents, including the entire thread that ensued after I benched 2 players for horsing around in the dugout (they were 14 and should have known better) and it turned out they were laughing at the fart of a 3rd player. The mother of one of the benched players was irate because I didn’t bench the kid that actually farted. In retrospect, she had a point. My book idea is to start each chapter with an e-mail I received from an over-functioning parent, print the e-mail and tell the story behind it. Maybe someday. Maybe I’ll even share a few e-mails and stories on the blog.
But, today I want to share the funniest travel sports parent e-mail I’ve ever read. Sadly (or happily, I suppose), it was not sent to me. Rather, I was babbling on and on at a party to a guy I had just met about this book I want to write about my experiences as a travel baseball coach (memo to all readers – if you see me in the buffet line at a party, run the other way). He liked the idea and promised to send me an e-mail he had just received from a buddy of his whose son had just been cut from his 11 year old travel soccer (soccer, AKA the scourge of America) team. I have reprinted that e-mail below. It’s long, but if you’re not crying by the end, I’ll refund all the money you paid to join this blog. Trust me, you’ll want to get to the part where he introduces his daughter’s gymnastics prowess into his argument.
Now, here’s the shocking part – this dude sent this e-mail to my new found bud at the party to SCREEN it for him to make sure it was reasonable. So, as you read this, imagine that some otherwise sane friend of yours sent this to you with the note saying, “Hey Bob, I’m a little bummed that my son didn’t make the travel soccer team. I’ve drafted this very reasonable note to the coach and would appreciate your confirming that it is appropriate.” How the hell would you answer? I’ve copied it verbatim so all typos, etc. are his, not mine. I run a tight grammatical ship on this blog! Enjoy!
I wanted to touch base with you regarding any feedback you may have received from Mike or the current U-11 coaches, as well as share some of my thoughts on the situation. It frankly has been a bittersweet couple of days as we are still confused by the oversight, but we have received wonderful comments from numerous parents about our son. The dialogue typically includes the recounting of their “shock” and “surprise” that Nicholas was “robbed” or “shafted,” followed by a strong “praise.” While we are certainly proud to hear that another father has told to his son to “watch Nicholas play – he has the highest soccer IQ on the team”; “I wish my son was as competitive as Nicholas”; “Nicholas is one of the best defenders in the league…his quickness to the ball is unmatched”; “Nicholas was our most consistent player”; or “our Premier team has four or five players that Nicholas should have been picked ahead of,” these remarks do increase our frustration and lack of understanding.
Most parents have added an anecdote about a kid they knew that got cut and then the following year made Elite (or scored the winning goal in the World Cup). While these stories prove this does not have to be the end of the world or Nicholas’ soccer career, I actually believe it also helps illustrate that mistakes like this happen, but they should be corrected if possible. I note that some of the comments were totally unsolicited and from a range of parents, including those with kids with whom Nicholas has never played and one whose child did not make a Premier roster either, which increases their credibility in our opinion.
Despite repeating these interactions to you, please be advised that I do not think that Nicholas is a “great” soccer player at this stage. On a relative basis, he does have weaknesses (leg strength and body size), but his strengths have far outweighed his weaknesses and he has been a very effective player in the travel program for two years. Given that Mike coached Nicholas for those two years and ranked him at or near the top of the U-9 team and in the middle of a very strong U-10 team, I do believe Nicholas is a very good player and would be an asset to a Premiere U-11 team. Perhaps this was not a factor, but I am not sure If the U-11 coaches have read too much into Donovan’s record this spring. They were 6-3 against a tough schedule that included three “home and home” matchups against the top ADSL teams and did not include games against weaker opponents, such as Powhatan or the PDP team of FC Richmond . Two of Donovan’s losses were 2-1 contests that illustrated the strength of their defense for which Nicholas played, while the team was missing two offensive starters in the third loss (a shutout).
Given that I am one in basketball, I do appreciate a coach’s prerogative to choose his own team, but another element that we are having difficulty in reconciling relates to Mike’s ranking and Nicholas’ four year commitment to, and past success within, the Strikers club and not being given any benefit of the doubt based on a three hour tryout when many attributes, such as ball movement, positioning, consistency, and passing may not be readily apparent. This year in particular, we experienced the joy of watching parents come to appreciate what Nicholas brings to the table as a player. My sense is that most of them did not necessarily notice him for the first couple of games given the overall strength of the team, but by mid-season they recognized his quickness, touch, aggressiveness, and mental strength enable him to make the correct play with rare exception. Having made ADP as a six-year old, which was especially impressive given his size, he has a near perfect attendance record over this four-year period and has been an active participant in Strikers camps, winter practice at Rockville, and optional skills training. He is a product of the Strikers club and is a soccer player (and kid) of whom you, too, can be proud of his development and character. I do think that his passing ability and feel for the game can be attributed to the Strikers approach, while his lack off a strong leg can also be attributed to that skill not being a large focus for the club at this stage.
The final element that we struggle to comprehend is the “open” spot on the Adu roster. You mentioned in our initial conversation that the consensus was that Nicholas would benefit from a being a strong player on a weak team, which I have interpreted to mean that his non-selection was partially a paternalistic decision related to Nicholas’ development. As deferentially as possible, we can assure that none of us, including Nicholas, agree with that approach. First, there are several other kids who have not started either year and could potentially benefit from increased confidence or playing time. Second, Nicholas’ U-9 experience was essentially this exact circumstance, and Mike chose him to be the center defender and play the entire or nearly the entire game. However, the relative lack of competitiveness, focus, or skill of some of his teammates did not provide the most conducive environment to develop. Nicholas also does not believe the U-9 season was as nearly as fun or as worthwhile as the recent U-10 year when he was not necessarily a standout, but still a starter and a recipient of many minutes on a very strong team. We recognize Nicholas may not earn a starting position on a U-11 Premier team, and that as the kids age, the discrepancy of playing time between starters and substitutes can increase. However, given that Nicholas has probably played nearly as many minutes over the past two years as anyone in his age group, we think that the advantages of training with kids of similar talent, commitment, competitiveness, and field awareness far outweighs extra minutes of game time given that teams practice about three times more than they play. We also feel confident that a Premier team would benefit from having a player like Nicholas regardless of his playing time given his approach, desire, and effort, which can help drive others to achieve greater success.
At this point, I am sure you are wondering what I intend to accomplish by writing this letter. I had hesitated to do it since emails can be passed along [Bruce inserts: YIKES!] and taken out of context, but I hope that you will keep it in confidence, especially the parents’ remarks, other than to the extent you feel the need to disclose it to others. You had mentioned that you would make sure that Nicholas was at least considered for guest appearances with a U-11 team for tournaments or could be brought up if he was dominating the “weaker competition.” While we appreciate the gesture, my suggestion is that Nicholas be allowed to participate in Adu’s practices at the beginning of the fall. To the extent Kwaku judges him not worthy of a spot on the team, he can be sent down to Platini at any time. My rationale is that I believe that Nicholas does deserve the benefit of the doubt given his historical strong performance and overall commitment to the program. Further, this approach would be consistent with the Strikers message that the entire year is the tryout for the next year, and it would not put him in an awkward position of relying on a couple of cameo appearances for a team with whom he has not played. If there is any concern about the precedent you could be setting., I think you would find that parents in our age group would agree this was the correct result, and it would give them a greater appreciation for the responsiveness of the club to a problem that could occur with their child at some point.
Finally, I want to give you some perspective on my wife and me. Our daughter recently had a similar experience in that she was asked to repeat a full year of Level 4 gymnastics despite finishing 14th out 41 girls in her age group in the Virginia State competition. While she was relatively successful at this level of gymnastics and there can be a “stigma” of having to repeat a level, we were in total agreement with her coaches that she was not yet ready to go to Level 5 (and I did not write any emails or make any phone calls!). I mention this experience and the above praise about Nicholas because I know it is difficult for someone in your position to distinguish between a true oversight and a situation where parents do not see their children in an accurate light. I apologize for the length of the message, but I wanted to convey our thoughts to you in a coherent [Bruce inserts: COHERENT? REALLY?] manner.
Given the level and length of commitment, historically and prospectively, related to travel soccer, I hope you can appropriately view this letter as a worthwhile attempt to maximize the experience for both Nicholas and the club. Further, I do appreciate your time and I hope that this letter is more convenient for you in comparison to having a long phone call. I look forward to hearing back from you with the coaches’ feedback and the reaction to my suggestion.
With best regards,