Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Don't mess with Mama Bear

I've never been terribly assertive or aggressive. I've never been the sort of person who would welcome confrontation - in fact, I'd go out of my way to avoid it.

Until I became a mom.

You mess with my kids? You'd better watch out.

My eldest son is playing rep soccer this year. This is our family's first experience with rep sports so it has all been new for us - the tryout process, the year-round training, the intense practice schedule, the out-of-town games, the insanity of tournament weekends, and the exorbitant cost. It's been an intense experience for all of us and an incredible opportunity for our little athlete.

Since the start of the summer season last month, however, we've hit a few bumps in the road in our dealings with our club that have brought out my inner Mama Bear.

During the winter season the focus was on skills training and development. The coaches are AMAZING. The improvement in the players from the fall tryouts to now - not just ours, but all the little soccer stars on the team - is astonishing. In September they were a bunch of kids just playing a game - talented kids, certainly, kids who ran faster and kicked harder and had a little more ball control than the average group of schoolyard eight-year-olds, but still just a group of kids racing around after a ball without a lot of focus. Now they are a cohesive team of remarkably talented athletes. Fancy footwork, picture-perfect passes, near-impossible shots on goal, players playing their positions and incredible teamwork. We're impressed beyond words. I can't say enough positive things about the program and the coaches.

But.

We are not happy with our club.

We noticed a few little problems as soon as the summer season opened. Gym time not booked, field time not booked, double-charging parents for fees already paid, last-minute schedule and location changes, missing uniforms, miscommunication and lack of communication and very questionable business practices. The team parents bitched and moaned and grumbled amongst ourselves, but no-one wanted to be that mom who rocked the boat and went in to the club to complain and cause a fuss.

Then.We received an email from our team manager last Thursday around noon - six hours before game time - listing the roster for the evening. The roster listed fourteen names. Our team has nineteen players.

A flurry of phone calls between moms and emails to and from the club, the coaches, and the manager finally revealed what the club had done. The provincial soccer association allows for a maximum of fourteen players per team when competing. These things are recorded and regulated at the rep level - it's non-negotiable. Teams, therefore, register up to fourteen players and no more - if there are more than fourteen qualified players, they will sometimes create two teams to compete, but fourteen is the maximum per team. Our soccer club decided to ignore the registration cap and register nineteen players on a single team - with the result that five players will not be playing in each and every game all season long.

I lost it.

After the game that night - the duration of which the parents spent comparing notes on phone calls with the club and manager (after which I was elected the unofficial parent representative of the team) - I went home and drafted an email to the club. It was copied to every member of the Board of Directors, the coaching staff, the manager, and every parent of every player on the team. Each and every parent replied in agreement. The coaches agreed. The manager agreed. I spent all of Friday seething and waiting to hear how the club was going to fix the problem.

I did not hear back from the club.

At six-thirty that night, however, the team received an email outlining the roster for that weekend's tournament - our first of the year - which the kids had been looking forward to and talking about for weeks. It didn't occur to any of the parents, even after having found out about the over-registration issues, that a third of the team would be left out of the tournaments as well.

There were only fourteen names on the list.

My boy was not on the list.

I lost it again. Actually lost it.

My son lives and breathes soccer. My son was so excited to try out for rep this year. My son was so excited to make the team. My son has enjoyed every minute of every training session this season. All he wants to do is play. And the club is keeping him from playing the games he was told he would play.
And every other parent on the team feels the same way. This group of eight- and nine-year-old boys are at an age where they're just deciding what their passions are and how much they're willing to commit to those passions. A bad experience could sour them on the sport and they could decide to give up on something that might otherwise have been an enormous part of their lives.

Because of my email to the club at large that morning - and our parent forum at the game the night before - my phone was ringing off the hook after the tournament roster was released. I always end up in this position. Despite having always been a fairly passive, go-with-the-flow, don't-rock-the-boat sort of girl, since the day I became a mom I've turned into this vocal, aggressive, passionately defensive person when it comes to my kids and my family. Don't mess with Mama Bear's babies.And because I have slightly better than average communication skills, I'm constantly finding myself in the position of speaking for other parents.

There were five kids crying their eyes out that night, having been told with only twelve hours' notice that they were not on the roster for the tournament they'd been looking forward to for weeks. There was no way we were going to take that lying down. I told my son he'd play - maybe not the first game, but he'd certainly play. Mommy would make sure of that. I reponded to the email, letting them know that my child was not going to miss a tournament because of the club's mismanagement. I let every parent who called know that we would be there with the rest of the team in the morning and thought they should do the same.

Every child on the team showed up the next morning, rostered or not.

The coaches and manager approached the host club, explained the situation, and got permission for our team to have a floating roster - fourteen kids suited up for each game, but a rotating group between games. So all of the kids got to play - but only in two thirds of the games. We were very lucky that the club allowed the rostering exception - but we've already found out that the remaining tournaments for the season will not allow it.

We are still in the same position. Our kids are being denied play time because our soccer club couldn't resist the extra several thousand dollars' revenue five extra players would generate. Instead of capping registration at the team capacity or creating a second team to accommodate additional registrations, they chose instead to make the children suffer by eliminating game and tournament play time that they'd been promised (and, incidentally, that we'd paid for.)

The team is pulling together to work with what we have. The manager and coaches are trying to arrange for extra "fun" games between extra clubs or other teams within our own club. The parents are sucking it up and supporting our kids - we were by far the loudest, most enthusiastic cheering section at last weekend's tournament, despite the fact that our kids were sidelined for some of the games. But there is no way we are letting this go.

I'm in full Mama Bear mode right now.

You don't mess with my kid. You don't make my kid cry. You don't promise my kid something and take it away. You don't screw with my kid's dreams. You don't mess with my kid.

The parents are taking it in turn to call and email the club looking for answers. One parent is looking into litigation, one has approached the media. I have contacted other clubs in our region and been in touch with the regional soccer association and the provincial regulating body. And the club should have expected this. It's one thing for a business to have poor organization and questionable business practices. It's quite another if those practices affect children. Because all of these children have parents - and you don't mess with someone's kids. Unless you're prepared to face an army of Mama Bears.


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1 comment:

  1. Oh wow. That's unbelievable! Good for you for speaking up and acting as the voice of the team. I'd be absolutely furious!

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