Anthony DiCicco pens open letter to ECNL leaders as league plots course
The country’s elite youth soccer scene has been quietly roiled by new developments and backroom intrigue over the past several months — arguably even longer — and another prominent name has spoken out.
A former ECNL coach and club executive in Connecticut who now works at AstroTurf, Anthony DiCicco is a well-known presence on the East Coast scene, much like his father, Tony, three-time World Cup winner with the U.S. Women’s National Team and an experienced veteran of the youth coaching environment.
Citing Glenn Crooks‘ report that ECNL leaders have been called to Chicago this week to confer on the league’s response to the official announcement of the new U.S. Soccer Girls Development Academy, the younger DiCicco took to Medium.com on Tuesday to post “An Open Letter to Directors of ECNL Clubs.”
Tracing the ECNL’s short but eventful history and laying out a three-point proposal for the immediate future, DiCicco addresses several pressing issues and his communique seems intended to carry the discussion forward. He agreed to SoccerWire.com’s request for cross-posting, including his contact information. Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section below, or send submissions to [email protected].
An Open Letter to Directors of ECNL Clubs
To whom it may concern:
I know you have a great deal on your plate at the moment. Between the announcement of the U.S. Soccer Girls’ Development Academy and planning for tryouts with the new birth-year registration mandates, in addition to the daily work of developing players, running your club and managing your staff, I won’t take much of your time.
You may know that in 2008, when my father, Tony DiCicco, returned to international coaching with the U20s, I assumed responsibility for the club started in Connecticut in 2003. We were one of the 40 charter ECNL clubs and one of the smallest in the country. Over the next couple of years, to compete and be true to our vision for girls soccer, we assembled a staff that I would still put up against any in the country – led by Central Connecticut State University women’s coach Mick D’Arcy, Erin Fisher, Sam Lopes, Avi Dubnov, Eleri Earnshaw, Ciara Crinion, Jason Grubb and Shawn Kelly.
We didn’t win as many games as most of you. But we trusted the process and in Olympic qualifying last month, although we didn’t have any USWNT players representing SoccerPlus (Alyssa Naeher played for SoccerPlus CT’s WPSL team, but was not a product of our youth program), we did have players representing Puerto Rico and Trinidad & Tobago.
Connecticut was tough – that’s another post for another time – but while the ECNL’s Northeast regional league benefited from two clubs who could serve as travel partners, it probably stretched the player pool too much. What’s going to happen now? Where are all these players going to come from to make up another top-tier league?
I have not been involved in the club since the summer of 2012, but I have remained close enough to it and have enough distance from it to be objective. I remember coaching with the 15s against PDA one April Sunday at Loomis Chaffee, and before the two games started, simultaneously chatting with Mike O’Neill of PDA. And Mike was beaming. He turned to me and he said, “Don’t you love this? I absolutely love everything about this.” And he was right. It was a fantastic environment, with the players who had just competed staying to watch their younger selves challenge the best in the country.
I see the inception of the ECNL as a exceptional leadership moment that was executed extremely well and improved during my involvement. USSF didn’t want to step in and fill the void, so you, the directors of the clubs, did. It is a moment that should be used to teach our players how soccer and life intersect and can create incredible positive forces.
You have, on and off the field, have made the experience for ECNL players better. You’ve introduced them to former ECNL commissioner Sarah Kate Noftsinger (and Brody). Skate is the type of woman that young women need to see, to model, to emulate. Under her guidance, the league’s strength grew, its membership grew and the brand grew. Nike and the ECNL have done it right. If you haven’t seen the Instagram feed recently, check it out.
But now you’re being challenged. And I want to urge you to lead again. As a strong supporter of the ECNL, here are three things I would like to see implemented as soon as possible:
- The Board – Grow the inner sanctum. The men who have served have done so to the best of their abilities and with the best interest of girls’ and women’s soccer in mind. There are others who can and need to serve, too. You can achieve this by diversifying the board. Get more women involved at that level, now.
But also consider providing the athletes a voice and an opportunity to learn and experience the process, how boards function, how to build coalitions towards further evolution. I would urge you to consider creating an athlete’s council, maybe with one player from each club, and two of those players elected to represent their contingency at board meetings. The first women’s professional league, WUSA, had a voting member on the board. It’s a model worth replicating.
Many of them are already gathering at national events; this should not be an undue burden logistically. Empower them and you will find the #AmazingYoungWomen can hold their own.
- Coaching Standards/Education – Since Day 1, the coaching education has been very good. The guest speakers, the seminars, I ate it up. I loved it. And I have had many conversations with many of you and I know you learned and enjoyed them too. Go further, invite third parties into your training sessions, either to run them or to observe and provide feedback.
Hold your coaches and yourselves accountable. Create a proper disciplinary council with a three-strike rule or something of the sort. It’s not just about what you can get away with, it’s about the standards we can achieve, the behavior you model. I know USSF has taken issue with this and from my experience it is a small minority, but there were times when I was on the sideline where I would have benefited from the knowledge that there were more severe consequences of my behaviors, specifically with my interactions with officials in what might not be my finest moments.
Ask yourself, how many of your coaches this week wrote down their sessions before arriving at the field? Just curious.
- Don’t Slow Down – Trust the experiences you’ve had, trust that what you’re doing matters and keep getting about the work. Be more efficient. Be more self-aware but don’t let the politics of soccer get in the way of the work to create, to build. You should be proud but not content.
Hire another badass commissioner, someone your players can look up to and 15 or 20 years from now, when an ECNL alum is sitting in that chair, think back to this moment and the deliberate decisions that made that possible.
Like I said, I know you’re busy. Let me know if I can help in any way.
Anthony DiCicco is the former CEO of the SoccerPlus companies including SoccerPlus Goalkeeper School and SoccerPlus FieldPlayer Academy. He has coached in the ECNL and at the Division 1 level with the University of Vermont. He is currently the Director of Soccer for AstroTurf and is based in Los Angeles, California.