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Advice Jun 10, 2009

The Departed Player: Doing the right thing when leaving a team

This time of year in competitive youth soccer really stinks. Organizing and holding tryouts, and all that goes along with it, is my least favorite thing to have to go through as a coach, and I know I’m not alone.June should be named National Youth Soccer Drama Month, and we should all get a one-week government holiday just to hold tryouts and visit our therapist.

The ingredients that create the ‘stress stew’ we all eat in June might be different depending on the level of team, but no team has a full roster of perfectly happy players and parents, and every competitive coach is always open to evaluating new players who show an interest in their program.

Every season, competitive teams change. Players leave that coaches don’t want to leave and coaches release players who don’t want to leave. Feelings get hurt, egos bruised, friendships stretched, and blame assigned. It’s the natural process of dealing with stress that human beings go through.

Whether a player leaves a team voluntarily, or involuntarily, the high road still needs to be taken. The entire process needs to be about the player and only the player, not about how much damage can be done to the former team, or how many former teammates the player can get to go along to a new team. Players choose to move on for their own good reasons, or they are asked to move on for what the coach believes is best for that player’s ability to continue to enjoy the game and improve. This needs to be the focus. The player needs to find the next best thing for their situation that helps them reach their goals. It has nothing to do with former teammates.

Any player or family who, after departing a team, encourages remaining or undecided players to also leave the team is violating a serious unwritten rule about how to behave in a team departure situation. Emails, text messages, phone calls to team members, attempting to influence their decisions about where they play next season, is a selfish thing to do, and could cause a teenage player to make an emotional decision that negatively impacts their own goals and/or ability to achieve their dreams.

This is especially true if the advice is to follow friends to a team below the competitive level the player is capable of, or a training environment less focused and demanding than they need to keep progressing. The “setback” in their development could have devastating repercussions.

Players – or parents – who do this need to think twice and choose to do the right thing. They need to set aside the natural desire to want to continue playing with friends and focus on their own goals. Let former teammates make their own decisions, because your path may not be the same as theirs. Actively recruiting or unduly influencing friends to follow could cost that friend their own dream. Don’t be that kind of friend.

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