Lessons Learned from the Soccer Field

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As a dance teacher and studio owner, I know many of my colleagues consider soccer to be one of the biggest activities that draws children away from dance. As dance educators, we make assumptions about how parents, coaches and children participate in and behave in soccer as compared to dance. Often, we come at these thoughts from the perspective of the dance teacher that has been working with a child for months only to have them abruptly stop dancing or request a schedule change midway through the season after our work is choreographed. I’ve experienced the same - students arriving late wearing their cleats and uniforms, students begging to switch classes in April because their soccer schedule just came out, or when new leads never register only to find out they are on a soccer team now and will “explore dance later.”

So, much to my surprise, my own son wanted to give soccer a try! He was excited and I was reluctant, but fortunately, his dad was the tie breaker who encouraged us to register for soccer. And that’s where I began to see the similarities and differences between soccer and dance from a parent perspective, as a new parent to the sport. I will mention that at least here in New Jersey, the local soccer club is entirely volunteer driven, all the coordination and coaching is done by volunteer parents of the soccer players. So, now as a “double agent” I’m sharing my insights with you all!

  1. Registration is vague. The registration process was simply agreeing to some disclaimers, entering a t-shirt size, and paying for the season up front. There was also a line about how we could get some of our money back if we volunteered during the season. Key details missing from the registration process were: what team my child would be on, what day and time practices would be held, when practices would start, when and where games would be, and when we would get all of this information. From here I understood why parents get into a bind- you’re already booked into activities, you add soccer, but you simply do not know the schedule up front, which is why they ask the dance studio, which has a clearly defined schedule for what options are available to them, to make changes. The abrupt notice that we get is due to the registration being vague.
  2. The organization struggles to find volunteers. I received numerous weekly emails informing me that my son could not play if parents did not volunteer in some capacity. Though we paid for the program, that did not guarantee a spot on a team. I saw firsthand what I already knew to be true: mass emails asking for volunteers do not work for the most part - you must identify individuals that would be a good fit and then ask them personally. Overall, I’ve seen supportive parents that want their kids to do the activity but don’t want to have to volunteer because they already have a full-time job and a family to care for. They simply don’t want another thing on their plate.
  3. Simple and affordable pricing is attractive for large groups of people. On any given Saturday morning, there are hundreds of children on the middle school fields playing 12-15 simultaneous soccer games. There are many families with three children all playing soccer. People of all different income levels participate and the price of $180 for April through June includes all practices, games and their team uniform. Parents also have to purchase cleats and shin guards on their own, but if they can’t afford these, the soccer club has a “hand me down” table where people can pick out a used pair of supplies at no cost. The pricing is simple and there’s no added extras or last-minute requests for purchases.
  4. Attendance is just as bad as it is for dance. Out of the nine-week season, my son’s team has never had full attendance at a practice or a game. Never. In fact, most teams are looking around at 5 minutes to game time wondering if they have enough players to actually do a game. And, when there aren’t enough players, then teams swap kids to make it fair and balanced. The families also do not show up on time for practices or games. As for team photo day, we got in line and teams took group photos as long as they had at least half the players. Our team photo is missing a bunch of kids. Don’t believe the myth that people disrespect dance and show up for other activities, it just isn’t true, it’s systemic as youth activities.
  5. There are firm rules to protect the coaches from parent abuse. From the very beginning, there are rules outlining the expectations for parent behavior on and off the field. There are rules about how kids and parents speak to the coaches and volunteer student referees. There are rules about where to sit during games so that parents are on the opposite side of the field from the coaches. And there are consequences for failure to follow these rules. I think a lot of us dance teachers and studio owners can learn from this.
  6. Game day is a great time to be supportive. When I go to the soccer fields, I see so many of my dance families and I hug and high five each kiddo! The kids are playing, and we all are a united front supporting the children within our community. One of my ballet students is on my son’s team (and boy can she kick and she’s sooo light on her feet!), and my son’s opponents are often kids from hip hop or tap class too. There are so many studio shirts at the mid-week practices too. At the end of the day, we are one community that is here to love and encourage our children. Parents are thankful for our flexibility and kindness when we see kids doing multiple activities.

So, I’ve learned we have a lot in common with our local soccer clubs. They struggle with attendance, complainers, getting volunteers and growing pains of having a large organization. I believe we can learn from each other and support one another through communication and understanding. We also run very different models - as studios must make money to pay so many expenses and soccer is volunteer run, but outside of pricing, we have more to gain than lose when we get to know each other.

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Ginger Haithcox is a born leader. She graduated with high honors from Douglass College, Rutgers University with a BA in Religion, and a minor in Cultural Anthropology and completed an array of dance, performance, and production courses at Raritan Valley Community College.

Ginger is a consummate professional, collaborative team player, and creative colleague that consistently delivers programs and products of excellence. In addition to the above, she’s the principal owner of Haithcox Business Solutions, which offers mentoring and support services for aspiring entrepreneurs.

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