At over 105,000 strong, youth soccer players represent the single largest portion of Washington Youth Soccer’s membership — more than the total number of coaches, referees, and league and club administrators combined.
Yet, until just recently, they had no official platform from which to speak on topics of interest to Washington Youth Soccer’s development.
In November, Washington Youth Soccer convened the first meeting of the all-new State Youth Advisory Board, giving identified players and youth referees from around the state the chance to voice their opinions and share their thoughts on how to further grow and develop the game of soccer in Washington State. Boys and girls of middle- and high-school ages, representing all levels of play in all areas of the state, were nominated to the Board by coaches and club administrators, and held their first meeting at the Washington Youth Soccer offices last month.
The results surprised even those who had helped organize the event.
"We want to hear from the players, to get their perspective on their experience, and what we can do to make it even better," says Kim Calkins, Washington Youth Soccer’s Director of Programs. "I knew that I would learn something new, but I was still surprised at how the kids took the lead. They were very insightful."
Ethan LeClair, an eighth-grader who plays for Seattle United, was among those in attendance at the meeting.
"I think a prime goal for the Youth Advisory Board should be making the experience for young soccer players one they can remember, one they look back on and say that they would love to get their kids involved with this association," he says. "Another prime goal should be for us to come up with better ideas for making kids want to join our association, to communicate the benefits of being part of a team and developing a passion for soccer."
Calkins says that the main points of discussion at the first meeting included a desire for more face-to-face communication and interaction with the soccer community, refereeing and sports nutrition.
"I thought it was really revealing that even though they are a very tech-savvy generation, they still really appreciate face-to-face communications," Calkins says. "They still follow what’s being written on Facebook, or Twitter, but it’s those face-to-face moments that they say are the most memorable and important."
Jasmine Curl, a 16-year-old sophomore at Liberty High School who plays for Eastside FC and is also a youth referee, appreciated the chance to provide input from a player’s perspective.
"The first meeting was extremely fun," she says. "I have always wanted to make a difference in the world around me and to have the chance to help my soccer community intrigued me. I love working with kids and to be able to have an impact on their lives means the world to me."
The Board is scheduled to meet once per month during the school year, with their next meeting in December. Plans laid out at the November meeting included community outreach mentoring, drafting action items for sports nutrition education for younger players, increasing involvement in community programs such as TOPSoccer, and increasing the available pool of referees by encouraging more kids to enroll in referee programs.
For Calkins, it was rewarding to see the players jump so enthusiastically into their work.
"This is a great chance for them to take a leadership position, and make a difference in youth soccer," she says, "and they really took the lead. It’s a great group of kids."
LeClair is looking forward to the opportunity to reach out to other kids who love soccer as much as he does — or who might, if just given the chance.
"I have been in Washington youth soccer all my life and love the game," he says. "I appreciate the chance to be able to give back and help out. This is a great idea."
To learn more about the Youth Advisory Board, contact Kim Calkins at 253-944-1613 or by email at kimberlyc@WashingtonYouthSoccer.org