By Jeffrey J. Jaye
Being involved in youth soccer for over 15 years with all 4 of my own children playing at the time of this writing a total of over 30 seasons the topic of “Guesting” seems to come up every year. The one thing I can say without any reservation is the topic, when it rears its ugly head, whether it be with a Director of Coaching, Head Coach, parents on the sideline or in social setting is not only that there’s not a clear and concise directive but in cases causes arguments, irreparable harm and dissention between teams and families.
Why the simple concept of playing with other kids, other coaches, getting out of your comfort zone, learning different playing styles and making new lifelong friends thanks to the great game of soccer is beyond me.
I guess it best to start with my official position and the whys will be shown later in this article is one of a very big FAN and supportive of guesting. That being said, the topic when pitched to the powers that be at NSCAA, was one of intrigue and encouragement to write because it’s not something that has been addressed or delved into. I received the go ahead to write this piece over a year ago thinking I had enough experience and had talked to the top coaches in the Country on the club, ODP and National staff level that I was sure I was ready to accomplish it. However, 1 year later as I sit down and organize my thoughts that just in the past 12 months the guesting concept is still evolving and has given me much more fodder for discussion so I am glad I procrastinated on it.
Even as recent as 12 hours ago as we sit up in Lake Tahoe on a family Thanksgiving vacation with two other soccer families, I added and changed several paragraphs after getting into a “philosophical” (read spirited) debate when one of the dads asked me the simple “what are you writing” question. 2 hours later and with 3 soccer moms jumping in and 2 passionate dads who each took opposite sides I continue to find this one topic fascinating and hope it will start more healthy dialogue when published. Only through discussing and hearing each other can we effect a positive change in our clubs for our kids.
In advance I am going to name several top coaches by name who’ve either have agreed to go on the record for this topic or who have shared their guesting philosophy with me over the past 10 years and I have gained the utmost respect for. The coaches and DOC’s (both men and women) who have taken the opposite point of view will not be named personally but will be quoted as the fictitious “Coach Will” for purposes of setting the counterpoint without any backlash. Their words are a compilation of their philosophies I have encountered in the soccer guesting world during my Q&A’s with them. The goal of the article is to get people talking about guesting and hopefully opening up minds and opportunities for our kids not only to play more soccer but make more friends from all over the Country and beyond.
So let’s get right to it. What gives me the right or authority to write on the topic of guesting? Great question.
Let’s see…… I have a daughter going to playing D1 soccer at U Hawaii on a partial athletic scholarship for the sole reason she guested starting at age 13. I have a son who has, at age 20, traveled the world and already played in 4 Full 1st Team Men’s International FIFA sanctioned matches against World Cup teams because of guesting. I have a 12 year old who recently played overseas in China in the U14 AFC FIFA Qualifiers against China, South Korea and Chinese Taipei because of guesting! Guesting has allowed my wife and I to travel the world with our kids and experience things we never would have save for guesting. At last count all 3 of my kids who are currently playing at all different levels of soccer have guested for about 18 different teams on top of their normal club team over their youth soccer careers. They include 5 different clubs in different states other than our home State of California ( AZ, HA, NE, WA,MN) and 13 different in State. And we still have 5 more years to go!
I have battled very good soccer friends and coaches who to my face (and behind) labeled me over the years as crazy, nuts, pretentious, un-loyal, unethical and some that are even not suitable for print simply because my wife and I chose to engage our kids in one of the most basic life lessons I feel they will have to endure and learn to overcome to have a successful life: getting out of your comfort zone and dealing with change.
Not many parents or players even realize that guesting is an option I have found over the years. So let’s begin with the cons list.
There are many obstacles and hurdles to be able to guest for a team to start with. After you go through the process of getting approached or approaching another team about an opportunity***, then you have to get approval from your own team coach and sometimes even the Director of the Club. Once that is done then comes the logistics of State guest forms (out of state forms for tourneys not located in your home State) obtaining your players pass, possibly training with the team if that is an option, obtaining a uniform, and setting up travel if the guesting team your playing with is out of State.
Once you have overcome all of the above you would think that finally your player can now set aside all the administrative protocol and get down to simply joining the team for a game or tourney and enjoy being able to meet new friends, a new coach with a different style and even learn to play in a new formation. However you would be wrong. Now the actual in front of and behind the scenes drama really begins.
A few lines ago I added a *** to reflect the “art” of obtaining the invitation because to some, if guesting is a disease then the agenda behind it is the major cause and symptom. There are only two real ways to be able to guest for another team and they really are pretty simple, ask or get asked. How you ask and how you get asked in and of themselves seem relatively sublime tasks. You see on your soccer calendar your team has a free weekend, a week or two off for training or breaks for vacation or high school. So why not get your son or daughter a chance, with no team conflicts, to go and experience something new and enjoy meeting new players and parents meeting other parents? For those parents who have not tried it be prepared to have the Scarlet Letter “G” put on you, your child, your pet and your neighbors. The “G” stands for two things: A, the “Grass is Greener” you will be accused of by every parent on your team and B, the you think your kid is too “Good” for us stench that will be attached to you. What they are really saying is “why didn’t we think of that” and “we should do that for our kid, too” but something gets lost in the translation, I think the word I am looking for is….. jealousy. Then you have the other side of the coin which is getting invited by a team to guest. The team is short players maybe due to injuries, vacations, religious holidays, SAT dates and a coach may need a few players to fill a few positions so he does one of 2 things:
A: Reaches out directly to the opposing teams head coach and asks permission to guest the player(s) in question. B: He enlists his players to become 007 secret agents and conduct secret meetings in the parking lot, on Facebook or maybe even in the halls of their school to get them to do the dirty work. It usually is B that gives guesting a bad name. Guesting is only a fancy word for “poaching” players to get a free tryout or look with the team. Trust me this goes on and is the seedy underbelly of guesting. A coach loves a player for his team, tryouts are 8 weeks away and he gets the star player from the competing team in the area to “guest” with the team on a travel tournament. They will pay all fees and just want the player to come and have fun, help the team and get some extra work in. But deep down Coach Will knows that if he can get that player and his or her parents on a weekend trip with his team and bond with the players and parents he has a legit shot at landing that player at tryouts a month or two later. Get a few nutty over the top soccer parents, each team has them, and have them chaperone the parents at night by the pool with a little parent bonding and “we would love to have Johnny on our team, he would start and fill in the blanks and there you have it, Splashdown! And the best part of it the coach’s hands are clean as a whistle.
Now there are thousands of great, ethical, honest and moral coaches reading this that have never done or would do this, but they also know this goes on and it won’t improve unless we take the fear and loathing out of guesting.
Guesting has different implications of severity as players get older obviously and it gets more and more cut throat and divisional with players wanting to get onto the USSF Academy and ECNL teams that offer some additional opportunities for showcase and competition exposure. These programs have set standards and by-laws on guesting and pretty set and fair tryout rules so they remain for the most part above reproach when it comes to this topic.
Well at this point most people are thinking how much of a hassle this is. Pick a team and stick with it. Put all your faith and child’s development and success with one club, coach and set of players and parents and let the chips fall where they may. At least you won’t get called names and you will tow the company line no matter what great life lessons and soccer experiences may be missed.
I was either lucky, thick-skinned, stupid or a combination of all to start guesting my kids back when my son was about 12 or 13. I set some pretty basic rules and even though circumstances do change on a case by case over the years, for the most part these work.
- Club team comes first. No missing games or practices to guest.
- Always get permission from head coach before accepting invite.
- Do not guest if it puts a physical strain on your child meaning no rest period from club team right to guest team. Use 3 days on 1 day off rule.
- Do not guest if coming back from injury to play for the guest team. Injure it worse or again while your with your guest team and you will hear it.
- If I searched out the opportunity on my own, clear it with my head coach first. Worse thing is for your head coach to hear this from other parents or other coaches.
- Understand that playing time and position when guesting is never guaranteed at all. As a guest you may play or not play in every game and you will be asked to play different positions then you normally do. If you don’t like this then guesting is not for you.
- Understand that with guesting your child and parents as well for that matter are going into another team’s environment. If your child or you as parents don’t do well with change or are shy then it may not be a good thing to pursue until they get a little older.
- While guesting, never talk about how your kid is better than the kids on that team while you’re on their sidelines as a guesting parent. Also, don’t criticize the team you’re coming from players, coach, club or parents. This one will come back to bite you probably before the game is over no matter how many hundreds of miles away you are.
- Do not talk about joining the team you’re guesting for during your time there and never recruit your guest team players to your team. See #8 only with a nuclear mushroom cloud over it.
- Lastly, don’t come back to your team and extol the virtues of how great it was to guest. Talking about how great the team played, how great the coach and parents are and how great the team party was etc will only alienate you farther down the sidelines to sit in your chair near the corner flags.
Once you have determined you are going to cross over to the dark side and try guesting, and your committed to following the above protocol as a great starters guide, here are some great stories that are 100% true and what I consider to be the PROS:
As I mentioned at the beginning of this story , guesting in our family is basically the normal soccer way of life for my kids and us as parents. In the last few years my kids have played all over the US and the world because of two simple experiences that occurred back in 2008 that by pure happenstance showed how small the (soccer world) really is. Let’s start with my son Dallas who is currently playing for the U South Florida Bulls in college. At U14 he was invited to guest as the backup GK for a team in San Jose to Surf Cup in San Diego.
Now Surf Cup is something that I hold as dear to me and our family ..well as family. I have attended to date 17 Surf Cups with my kids playing and the one tournament all 3 of my kids have guested at the most. Mike Connerley does an outstanding job of setting up a guest registration system that we started taking advantage of and it has led to the greatest and most memorable family vacations at the Best of the Best Tournament in my opinion in the US. I joke to my kids that when I leave this Earth, I want to be cremated and some of my ashes spread on Field 11 where my daughter won Surf Cup with MVLA a few years ago..but I digress.
So my son is guesting as a backup keeper and after 3 games at Surf he played a total of around 11 minutes for the whole weekend (10 Rules of Guesting #6) and while walking from one field to another my wife heard what she thought was people speaking the language of Guam, Chamorro. Being from Guam, my wife’s parents and grandparents were born there so she knew she heard something she recognized. So she walked up and asked a parent if he was Guamanian and he said yes and he was the manager of the U18 boys team from Guam that was playing on the field. Fast forward the story to where she tells them that her parents are from Guam and our son was just playing and he interjects about any interest in coming over to Guam to play for the Youth National team as they are always looking for American born players with Guam heritage. We exchange emails and cells and after a grand total of 11 minutes playing we head back home on our 10 hour family bonding drive. A year later Dallas gets invited to come over and play for the U19 Men’s team going to China to play in the FIFA AFC qualifiers and at 16 he is off and plays GK in 3 international games against the likes of China and North Korea. Last year now as a 19 year old he was pulled up to the full National team for Guam an has traveled all over Asia and played against full World Cup squads from Australia and South Korea and has earned 4 caps. His teammates include several current MLS players that also have Guam linage and the coach of Guam who is from England has invited him to England this summer to train with and EPL team. I hate to beat a dead horse but again guested for 11 minutes at 14 years old and walking to car to go home my wife heard a language she thought she recognized. Not too shabby. Thru that connection my 12 year old son is now on the U14 Guam National team and this past February went to China and played in the U14 championships against National Teams from China and Korea and Taipei. He and I got to go on the Great Wall together as a once in a lifetime father son experience …again all from guesting. I need to also acknowledge the De Anza Force Academy club (DOC Jeff Baicher and staff of Chris Dangerfield, Shaun Tsakaris and Eric Yamamoto) who allowed Dallas to leave the Academy team during his senior year to “guest” with Guam overseas so they too contributed to the guesting experience without hesitation to promote their players to play against the best players in the world.
Now my daughter’s story, although not as global, is closer to me because of her challenges medically. I mentioned earlier I had to be part lucky to have these guesting opportunities come to fruition. That luck comes in the form of a DOC of the MVLA Soccer Club in Nor Cal , Albertin Montoya. He and his wife Erin, who was my daughters head coach at U12 and U13 were the ones who not only supported guesting they encouraged it. They gave me the green light to always find places to play and try new things when the team was off or not playing for a weekend. So not only did they always approve when an invite came up, they always received calls from outside team asking for their permission to let the girls guest and the answer was always “yes” as long as it fit schedules. Her first guesting experience was with the Leahi soccer club in Hawaii. Thru mutual coaching relationships a local coach here knew the head coach of Leahi 96 and when they came to California to play tournaments they sometimes needed a player or two due to the cost of the trip over. The coach at the time was Shane Shimatsu and he was welcoming to our reach out and used my daughter Spenser on two or three occasions over the next couple of years. She established a relationship with the girls from Hawaii over time and thru social media and seeing each other at Surf Cup or Regional’s she developed deep long lasting friendships with the girls. She had an 18 month setback as she developed epilepsy and had to give up the game for almost two years but when she came back healthy and seizure free, we used guesting to get back in shape and play wherever she could. Over the years of all the tournaments we attended, meeting coached coupled with the registration system to guest she was able to play for Banat in AZ (Jon Ruzan), Elite out of Nebraska (Marcus Kelcher), Thunder out of MN (Nels Dokken) as well. Each time meeting 18 new friends and us as parents getting to know friends from all over the country. As we went around tourneys there was always a team of girls who she knew from guesting and to this day she has more soccer friends that she stays in touch with and we as parents, can pretty much go anywhere we want and have parents host us. The thrill is being able to give back to them when they come into the SF Bay Area and we get to host them. She is able to learn from many different coaches and can play in a 4-4-2, 3-5-2, 4-5-1 system without thinking about it. Using those contacts we have used them to go with her to college camps and the coaches of the teams she guested for referred her to their contacts in college for recruiting offers. Back to the Hawaii guesting to tie this all together. As stated this was her first guest experience and over time she caught the eye of Head Coach Michele Nagamine at U Hawaii during some of these games that she was scouting at. Spenser played like she belonged with them and her interaction and friendship with the Hawaii girls who were being recruited also was carefully being watched by Coach Michele. When it came time for recruiting she offered my daughter a spot on the team for 2014 and her best friend on the Hawaii team as well. So they are now going to be roommates and playing together after guesting with each other almost 5 years ago. They say you always find the perfect fit and thru guesting my daughter and us as a family could not have been happier with the offer and acceptance.
So you can see how guesting, even for a few minutes, can not only help with confidence, character building, tactical knowledge, acquiring lifelong friends and making contacts that can help with playing at next level. Is it for everyone, not at all. Do the benefits outweigh the negatives, I believe a resounding yes. My hope again is for this piece to create a dialogue in your clubs, on your team and amongst your families. If done the right way with professional courtesy and putting principles above personalities guesting can be the door that opens your players to another aspect of this beautiful game.