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Richmond Soccer: A Few Minutes with Doug Long

The myriad fallen warriors of summer lay strewn everywhere in their autumn dress of reds, yellows, and browns, as the crisp October breeze ushers in the change of season. It seems the winds of change are also blowing within the youth soccer landscape in Richmond.

Whether an early-morning match or an evening practice, Doug Long is a constant for Richmond Soccer.
Whether an early-morning match or an evening practice, Doug Long is a constant for Richmond Soccer.

Since early summer, there's been recurrent rumor of change coming to the Richmond Youth Soccer Association. In early October those rumblings were indeed substantiated when the RYSA emailed its members with a relatively extensive online marketing-type survey.

The survey asked respondents for their view of their respective associations, as well as the traits and values that they currently associate with the RYSA, along with the traits and values that ought to be reflected going forward. Members were also asked to rate the association across a number of criteria, including cost, quality of program delivery, program spectrum, player development, and quality of communication.

I sat down with Doug Long, Chair of Richmond District, and also Chair of the Richmond Youth Soccer Association, to find out a little more about the latest happenings and to catch a glimpse of what lies ahead for the youth soccer scene in Richmond.

86 Forever: For the past couple months it's been rumoured that the Richmond Youth Soccer Association is planning a wholesale re-branding of sorts. Is something in the works, and what might it impact?

Doug Long: Yes, we're in the process of reviewing our brand. The driver for the review is our Board's commitment to not only make the RYSA a stronger club today, but 10 and 15 years from now, and beyond. As far as re-branding's concerned, name, moniker, uniform colours, website, and general presentation are all being considered. More generally, mission, values and vision statements, financial and organizational succession planning and fundamental mandate are just examples of matters that we're currently considering and reviewing.

86 Forever: In what way will re-branding make the club stronger today and in the future?

Doug Long: In respect to re-branding, our objective is to ensure that all who interact with the club find that we have a consistent voice and message. Combine this with a dedication to delivering programming reflecting our core values, and we hope to have a club that stands out in the Richmond community, not just as a premier soccer organization, but as a premier organization.

86 Forever: Is the board seeking, or has it already secured a sponsorship arrangement for the RYSA - something similar to what's in place in Coquitlam with Metro Ford?

Doug Long: Yes, we're currently in the process of seeking a principal sponsor(s) for the RYSA.

86 Forever: Will member input gathered from the survey determine the future direction of the club, or is it more a case of the club taking stock of the current landscape?

Doug Long: As some of our planning involves some very fundamental matters - values for example - the Board's consensus was that we needed a larger range of views and inputs than those of the Board alone. Member input will be taken into consideration during this process.

86 Forever: Can you share some of the initial results of the survey?

Doug Long: The number of responses and the thoughtfulness of the responses were tremendous. From the responses, it's clear that our members view the RYSA programming not only as a vehicle to develop soccer skills, but as a vehicle for developing social skills, and for promoting lifelong friendships as well.

86 Forever: What does the timeline for implementation look like - when might RYSA members start seeing changes?

Doug Long: We hope to launch in spring of 2014, with a focus on fall 2014 registration.

86 Forever: Figures available on the RYSA website indicate that Richmond Youth Soccer Association showed a slight uptick in registrations last year, but that in the five years previous there had been a steady downward trend. To what do you attribute both the decline and recent recovery, and was the survey in any way related to these trend lines?

Doug Long: RYSA registration has increased in the past two years - apparently these trends are similar to overall provincial trends. The focus of our survey was to capture input on branding and therefore not related to these trends.

86 Forever: The RYSA has also recently entered into an informal arrangement with the Langara College soccer program. What does that involve, and is that somehow connected with any aspect of the re-branding?

Doug Long: There's nothing formal with Langara. The Langara men's team is simply training in Richmond (before regular youth times), and the men's and women's teams played some of their home games in Richmond. Currently, there are 13 former Richmond Soccer players on the Langara teams - a large Richmond representation is consistent over the years - and for this reason alone, the informal relationship makes sense. Moreover, working with Langara fits squarely within Richmond Soccer's objective of assisting players, whether at the elite level or the soccer for life level, in continuing to play soccer after they graduate from Richmond Soccer's youth programming. In this respect, Richmond Soccer currently has five post-youth soccer women's teams and two men's. Finally, in respect to Langara, collegiate soccer players are good role models for youth players. So just being in proximity - be it games or practices, is positive. But there's no connection between Langara and the RYSA re-branding exercise.

86 Forever: As I understand it, RYSA was formed in 2008, as an amalgamation of what used to be four distinct soccer clubs in Richmond. Five years on, has it been a complete success? Have there been any legacy issues that may have accelerated the move to re-brand?

Doug Long: The amalgamation was simply practical. Richmond's four clubs were formed in the late 1970s - when I was a player in what was then the Richmond Juvenile Soccer Association - because the demographics at the time resulted in the organization being too large, more than twice the current registration, for one district board to manage. When the demographics changed and the registration substantially decreased, there was no need for five boards - four clubs, and the district.

86 Forever: Where does the RYSA sit now, in comparison with where you as Chair would like it to be, and what are the greatest challenges currently facing the club?

Doug Long: That's a very broad question, and I'll answer by addressing just one challenge: Coaching. Quality coaching delivery is fundamental to the soccer experience. Finding and retaining the quality coaching that will continue to result in successful programming is, and always has been, an ongoing priority. There's much I could say in this regard, but I'll keep to three observations.

First, the RYSA is very appreciative of the breadth, dedication and quality of our volunteer coaches - we are also thankful for having high-quality professional coaches. Second, as to volunteer coaches, I think that we have to do a better job in making the case, if you like, as to why a mom or dad should volunteer in the first case, and why they should then continue on with it. Those of us who have coached for many years know the satisfaction and personal growth that one finds from coaching, so somehow - and this surely includes more experienced coaches being more involved in our youngest age groups - we need to find a way to transfer this understanding and do the other things necessary like providing education, certification, and support so that coaching is not so much an obligation as it is an opportunity. Third, soccer culture and changes to structure have resulted in a much greater demand for paid or professional coaching. The challenge is to find and develop professional coaches.

86 Forever: You identified coaching as one particular challenge. Is that the greatest challenge, or at least one of the biggest ones?

Doug Long: Securing, retaining, and developing both volunteer and professional coaches is fundamental to the successful delivery of our program, and therefore remains as one of our most important initiatives. Succeeding in those areas ensures consistent and high-quality programming.

86 Forever: Finally, what does the future of youth soccer look like, both in BC as a whole, and for the RYSA specifically?

Doug Long: Again, that's a very broad question. I'll focus on one subject - player retention. As part of our review, we have asked ourselves some very fundamental questions. Of those questions, the most basic is: "What is our principal objective?" Distil everything down, and the answer is encapsulated by a simple phrase: "Get them playing; keep them playing." I think that we achieve this by way of programs that observe differing player objectives, abilities, and stages of development. So, as clubs, I think that we need to be as broad as possible in offering such programs but, at the same time, as there will be some programming that we can or may not offer, we need to be open to building strong and respectful relationships with other soccer organizations.