I was fortunate this week to take part in one of the coolest events I’ve ever been associated with as a youth sports coach.
The Baltimore Celtic Soccer Club held a college signing night for all of their players who have committed to play soccer for a junior college, NAIA, or NCAA Divisions I, II, and III. I had the honor of being there to support one of my players as he signed his commitment letter to play at Frostburg University.
The event was a display of the talent that comes through that club and moves on to the next level each year.
It was a first class event held in a radio studio with Celtic banners and MedStar Health logos projected on the big screens, spotlights blaring down on the signing table, master of ceremonies calling each individuals name and photographers snapping shots as every player sat down with their parents and Celtic coaches to sign their commitment letters.
At the end of the night there were more pictures of the collective group, first with the club uniforms on and then with player slipping on a sweatshirt or T-shirt of their respective college program. There were players with shirts from schools a good distance away such as Ithaca College, Virginia Wesleyan, Stanford University, Elizabethtown, West Chester, and Villanova, and across our state at schools such as Frostburg, Salisbury, UMBC, Navy, and reigning men’s soccer national champion University of Maryland.
Besides being there to support the players, one of my favorite parts of the night was talking to colleagues I have either coached with or developed a relationship with over the years by coaching against each other in club, futsal, or high school games.
As expected, the topic of our conversation centered on “the beautiful game” and each of our connections to it. We rehashed old war stories and talked about the current state of the game and the Men’s National Team.
We also discussed how impressive it was to see this collection of young men and women that have worked for all of these years to see their dreams of playing in college unfold in front of a crowd of their peers, parents, coaches and family members.
I have coached a lot of kids in my time in the game and many have gone on to play a collegiate sport, whether it be soccer, lacrosse, basketball, baseball, or tennis.
In order to be able to continue taking her game to a higher level, each player begins with a certain level of God-given talent, has had to develop a commitment level greater than her competitors, has had some bit of luck to avoid major, career-threatening injuries, and has had coaches and parents that have supported, encouraged, and mentored her until the point where she can reach her childhood dreams.
But what happens when that same player who has endured the same sacrifices and spent countless hours and dollars pursuing her dream, then changes her mind and doesn’t want to play at the D-I level and just wants to play at the less committed, yet still competitive Division III?
What about that player who has to decide between playing his sport at a lower level program or going to the school of his dreams where his talent level doesn’t meet the needs of that school’s athletic program, basically ending his “career?”
As parents, and even as coaches, we keep telling our kids and players that whatever they decide to do is fine with us and we do and say all the “right” things, but subconsciously do we even believe ourselves? Is it really OK with us if we’ve invested all of this time, energy, and riches into our young athlete only for them to decide it’s really not what they wanted?
It’s actually kind of a tough realization for some of us. Initially as we founded the Wolves as a youth program our focus was to get our kids ready for high school play but as we matured as a club and our kids got older, our focus was on getting those players to the next level.
Part of the reason I have affiliated myself with the Celtic organization is their commitment to doing the same and this week’s event confirmed my belief in the organization’s goals.
I played collegiate soccer. I have three sons who have all come through the organization and not one of them had or has an interest in playing a sport in college. I have two graduates of Maryland’s Smith School of business in my house, and probably have way more players who have gone on to successful academic or work careers after sport than I do that have gone on to play any sport in college.
The most important thing is not what we wanted or want for our kids — as a parent or a coach. What matters is what the players themselves want out of college and really the rest of their lives.
And for us? Well, as Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan once wrote, “Don’t think twice, it’s all right.”