Don't get me wrong. Soccer isn't just a great game. It's the best game. The Beautiful game. The world's most popular game.
But the question for those of us involved in coaching, teaching and supporting girls soccer is this: Is the game is actually the most important thing we're selling when we encourage families to sign up for soccer? If the answer to that question is yes, we're probably shooting short of the goal.
The sign in the picture above is part of a wonderful marketing campaign developed for my hometown grassroots, nonprofit soccer club for girls, Newton Girls Soccer, by the remarkable Alyssa Toro. Alyssa is chief creative officer at Connelly Partners, a national branding, marketing and advertising firm whose clients have included, Puma, the Four Seasons Hotels, American Express and Samsonite. NGS is also incredibly lucky to have her as a Board member.
Alyssa surveyed a bunch of folks in the program about what she thought NGS really stood for, what it was really about. In short, what our values were. That led to our current "We Believe ..." campaign - in addition to the banner in the picture, there are also signs that say "We Believe In Instilling Positive Values From Our Coaches To Our Girls" and "We Believe In Fun First And Foremost When Playing The Game Of Soccer."
When you get to "we believe" you're already well past a game of kicking a ball, as wonderful as that may be. You're well into the intangibles, the life benefits that girls get from playing soccer and other organized sports through their high school years. Study after study has shown that girls who play sports get better grades on average than girls that don't. They have better careers after they leave school. They make friends more easily and have high self-esteem. They have fewer high-risk behaviors, including early experimentation with substance abuse and early sexual activity. They have lower rates of obesity, depression and many other health problems.
It seems like every soccer tournament out there now is a "College Showcase." But how do we showcase the once-shy girl who found her confidence and her voice? The ex-junk-food-loving girl who started eating healthier because she didn't want let her teammates down on the field? The formerly-struggling student who learned to transfer her on-field work habits to the classroom?
I like to remind my fellow coaches sometimes that the thing to remember about youth sports is that when you win a game or a tournament, you don't actually win anything. But helping a girl become a strong, healthy, confident woman? That's a win.
It's what I believe, anyway.