Sacking Soccer Coaches

Anyone who is even remotely familiar with high school soccer has probably seen the simmering conflicts between ‘pointy ball’ and ’round ball’. Football and soccer usually share field space and sometimes even practice space. All sports programs compete for funding, but at most schools, football is king. Many schools require sports to pool their income into the central school budget, with football taking the bulk of the funding. At others, football may bring in enough to mostly fund itself, so they get much less of the school budget and they feel like they’re somehow ‘losing out’ to other sports that bring in little or no revenue and rely on a football surplus.

For the most part, this conflict is simmering below the surface. But not always.

I know at one of our local high schools the soccer team has always been treated as an after thought. They practice at a municipal soccer field instead of a school field, have sometimes not had enough uniforms, and the selection of coaches has always seemed to be whoever would volunteer to do it from the teaching ranks. Now that we have a thriving soccer league in our community, with over 1000 players in any given year, the pressure on the school program will be immense in a few years once our ‘first waves’ reach high school age. This will be in about 2-3 years. However, with our football team doing very well and reaching the playoffs in recent years, the pressure will be great to spend as much money on football as they can, while other sports may be left far behind.

Yes, football does draw the most spectators and thus the most income. But that doesn’t mean other sports have to suffer at the expense of football. There is no reason to require other sports like soccer to turn over all revenue to the central budget when they have unmet needs. This takes away any incentive for teams to raise funds. Now, football supporters will say their revenue shouldn’t pay for other sports either. Yet as the only revenue generating sport, sometimes that’s necessary to have a balanced sports program.

But all these things are subtle. What really is alarming are stories of successful coaches being let go because they are too successful. Once such story appears to be unfolding here in North Carolina. An extremely popular, and successful, soccer coach has been fired, with no reason given by the school district. The common belief among his supporters is that he was too successful. His program was drawing significant crowds, their revenue was rising, and he started pushing back against the football biases present in many high schools. In this case football appears to have pushed back. There is a developing thread on a local soccer forum about what may be behind the firing, and what can be done about it, both in this specific case and on a broader scale.

How common is this in other areas? Nobody expects soccer programs to rival football programs, but you hear stories all the time about discrimination against soccer programs at the hands of pro-football athletic directors. It can be subtle like gradual funding decreases to help increase football funding, or more overt like screwing up the soccer lines when painting the football lines and such. But an outright dismissal of a successful coach? Yes, in this case there could be an undisclosed issue that necessitated his firing. But currently the belief among area residents seems to be his pushback against football got him shown the door. Until more facts are published, the truth may never be known.

Have you seen this in your area? What can high school soccer coaches and supporters do to try and gradually strengthen their programs without drawing the ire of the football program and supporters? What can youth leagues do to help strengthen their school programs? Sure we develop players, but beyond that. I know our league is ready to start asking for meetings with our athletic administration under the guise that we have a LOT of kids rising up who play soccer and we want to ensure there is a viable program for them when they reach high school. Given the huge numbers relative to the area population of many soccer leagues, that can carry some weight behind it. Have any leagues used that to their advantage?

It is an interesting situation, but an unfortunate one. It may be time for youth soccer leagues to start working together, even if just sharing strategies and ideas, to help counter the overwhelming support most football programs enjoy. Nobody expects soccer to receive the funding and attention football does, but it would be nice for it to receive fair treatment and equitable use of a school’s facilities and funding.

UPDATE: For some additional insight into the specific situation I mentioned above, here is a lengthy post from an alum. Two FaceBook groups have been formed in support of Coach Martin (here and here) and the local newspaper has started a comment thread devoted to the situation.

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