May 12, 2022

Innovating Youth Soccer with Evan Dabby, Executive Director of NJ Youth Soccer

Innovating Youth Soccer with Evan Dabby, Executive Director of NJ Youth Soccer

In Episode 81, Evan Dabby, Executive Director of NJ Youth Soccer and former MLS executive, talks with Phil about his innovative work with New Jersey Youth Soccer, including the Growing the Girls Game and Innovate to Grow initiatives, how we can make...

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In Episode 81, Evan Dabby, Executive Director of NJ Youth Soccer and former MLS executive, talks with Phil about his innovative work with New Jersey Youth Soccer, including the Growing the Girls Game and Innovate to Grow initiatives, how we can make high-level youth sports more accessible to more under resourced kids, the importance of collaboration, what we can do about referee abuse, and a common quality shared by some of the best players in US history who hailed from NJ. Specifically, Evan discusses:

  • His story, how he developed his passion for soccer and leadership, and how he ended up leading a state youth soccer association (1:33)
  • His personal why and how he is living it out every day (3:34)
  • The mission, vision, and values of NJYS and what is going well with the association (7:39)
  • Some of the things he hopes to improve upon during his tenure at NJYS (14:31)
  • The NJYS Growing the Girls Game (G3) Initiative, and what impact he hopes it will have on the girls’ game in NJ and across the US (16:52)
  • The Innovate to Grow Initiative and how it is working to include underrepresented communities in youth soccer in NJ (18:08)
  • How we can make high-level youth sports more accessible to under resourced populations (20:32)
  • The importance of collaboration and how NJYS is collaborating with other states on some really cool projects (23:39)
  • Referee abuse, what it tells us about ourselves, our youth, and the state of youth soccer, and what we can do about it (32:41)
  • How he is using lessons learned from soccer in his leadership of NJYS (42:22)
  • How he has used lessons learned directly from sports in his marriage and parenting (45:19)
  • His recommendations for us (50:28)

Resources and Links from this Episode


Phil: Welcome back to how soccer explains leadership. Thank you so much for being a part of this show as always. I am very, very glad that you get to be a part of the conversation I'm about to have today with me is Evan Dabby with New Jersey youth soccer, he is the executive director. And, as usual, I didn't have no doubt.

Paul would love to be a part of this conversation as well, but he's, getting ready to start doing some interviews with us, but we're not quite there yet. We will be there soon. So get ready for those. But to today as I said, we have this conversation. If you want to connect with us afterwards, if you have some thoughts, if you have some questions, if you have some feedback, also, if you have any guests that you think would be good for the show, please reach out to me,

You can also join us on the Facebook group, how soccer explains leadership. So without more from me right now, we're going to get right to it with Evan, Evan, how you doing?

[00:00:55] Evan: I'm doing great. Thanks for having me this afternoon. I know morning for you, [00:01:00] but either way we're here.

[00:01:01] Phil: That's exactly right. Yeah, no, I'm, I'm excited for this.

We had a, we had a brief conversation before we have some mutual friends, so I'm excited to get to know you better. I'm excited for the audience to get to know you better and all the good things that are going on out there in New Jersey. So, before we get into some of those things can you, can you share your story how you develop your passion for soccer and leadership and really your journey to New Jersey youth

[00:01:23] Evan: soccer?

Sure. I grew up playing soccer. It was, it was really more seasonal at that point and I played three sports in high school. And, you know, as you get older, you tend to focus a little bit more. And the soccer was that for me became the primary sport for me and had the opportunity to play in college at Tufts university and four great years there that Tons of stories and memories and friendships.

And, and that became my network both socially, but also professionally. And did you know, camps in the summer and you start to meet people. And I created my own software clinic in my hometown and learned a little bit about leadership with the kids and in that [00:02:00] endeavor, that was a fun time over the summer.

And when it came time to look for my first job, I utilize that network. And ironically, it was my our team manager from the high school soccer team, a woman carry girl Goldberg, who's out in California and an agent representing professional athletes. And she helped me get my first full job. She got me the interview and that was that major league soccer managed to survive a really awesome and exciting 16 season journey at MLS, before landing in my current role at New Jersey soccer as the executive director.

So. Right there, I guess is 30 plus years wrapped up into a minute or two.

[00:02:38] Phil: Yeah, absolutely. And one of the things I love about that is something I remember my mom would always tell me, and I've told so many people since it's, you never know who, you know, knows. Right. And so I love the team manager. It comes out with these great connections and, and there you are.

So, I mean, and that's something that great lesson for all of us. I remember a few episodes ago, Phil Smith, we talked about take the meeting. [00:03:00] Right. You know, just, you never know what might come from a call, what could may come from a meeting. So absolutely loved that. When, when I hear stories like that, where it's just folks out there, if you're not, if you're not really kind of mining the people you already know that's, that's just a great leadership lesson in itself.

So with that what is your, what is your personal, why, what is your kind of your, your life purpose and how are you living it out here?

[00:03:24] Evan: So, so that, that question about your, why? It's, it's something that I started thinking about after hearing a woman Amanda, Van de Voort, who's a, would be a great guest or down and had her and does amazing things, met her at MLS and now you know, back in professional soccer on the women's side and she spoke at a USC soccer conference about her, why, and, you know, candidly, it wasn't something that I had thought about a ton prior to that.

And you know, when I, when I did think about it, mine maybe overly simple. But you know, you are who you are. And, and I find myself every day, it's about just making things better. I [00:04:00] get satisfaction out of fixing the problem, bigger, small finding solutions and you know, point to an example you know, the things that, motivate me, you know, we wanted to create a goal safety video at New Jersey soccer and at MLS I was involved in creating the first ever concussion education video, and I learned how incredibly demanding it is to create a video of any sort.

And you know, when we take, take back to this project I also know that gold safety is gold safety or in New Jersey or in California, it's still about anchoring goals and all those basic things, but it's important for context, we want to do this because can you soccer? There's just far too. I mean, one injury is too men, too much.

One death is too much, and that's kind of a, unfortunately something that, that happens too, too, too often when in kids getting injured or killed. So, so that was the initiative, fast food. And I had the audacity, perhaps the thing a little differently, and then engage the state associations across the country in, in this project.

[00:05:00] So what we did was we created a video that was generic at its core, you know, the front end and the back end, you know, had branding opportunities. But you know, the idea of goal safety again, is similar. So. The what the why part. And this is, you know, the simple things that, that really motivate me, we created, you know, 20 state association joined, we completed the project and for these other state associations, it saved them what I would estimate 90% of their time and their expense, because it was this aggregated project.

So those types of things are solutions that, that really get any motivated home. You know, maybe it's something far more simple, a dry erase board with afterschool chores and responsibilities. So my kids can be more independent or I'm not here. Me and my wife constantly remind them what needs to get done, but it is little solutions.

It's, it's simple. I think I have that systematic practical approach that works for me and gets my brain going each and every. I think it falls shy of driving my wife nuts. She might answer that differently. But you know, I still realize how much I'm learning about myself in this new job [00:06:00] compared to my last job.

And, you know, I joke about it, but you know, that's kind of a skill set that I think I have. It's a strength in my just constant progress, constantly improvement. Step-by-step.

[00:06:11] Phil: Yeah. You know, and that's something folks who listen to this show know that my why is to, to help others flourish and make good things better.

So it's that it is simple. Right? And that's the, this, I think the simpler the better really for your why, first of all, because you can remember it. Cause if it's too long, you're not gonna remember it, but also just because it's a great filter, right. For everything that you're doing, how are you making that better?

What does that look like? And I think that's come into, and it's, it's very apparent in what I've seen, the little, you know, the, the research I've done do for this interview and just seeing what New Jersey youth soccer is doing. And some of the, some of the things initiatives that you already have been a part of and are going to be continuing, presumably by the way, Amanda.

Is still a, we've had conversations about getting her on. So yeah, we're, we're we're on the same page there too. So I'm looking forward to that conversation when we're able to be [00:07:00] able to have it. So, man, exactly. If you listen to this, see Evan said, you gotta do it too. So, so I know she's a little busy right now, but that's all right.

We'll get her off. We'll get her on one of these days. So, all right. So, so let's, let's take that and say, you know, with that, and as you're coming into New Jersey, you soccer, right. And your, your why is to make things better. So what, what does that look like? What, what are the mission, vision values you have for New Jersey, youth soccer?

What's going really well. What, what do you hope to change and what do you hope it will look like in 10 years?

[00:07:29] Evan: Yeah. So vision and mission was something that we developed not too long ago. It didn't exist. Coming into this job in, in a credit to our recent board of directors, there's been some really impressive stuff that our leadership, our board of directors have done strategic planning and born out of that was, you know, the, those things, our vision You know, simple as it should be to provide fun and safe soccer experiences at all ages and abilities for a new soccer community.

And those of us who've been involved that know that that simple sentence takes a lot of [00:08:00]work to get to there. But that's what we are and the fun part's easy. You know, we put on four before festivals, we, you know, create an afterschool soccer program. We partner with Tufts trading cards to create a custom card for the kids that win a state championship and something they bring home.

So, you know, there's, there's a lot that goes on there that the safe part is, is at least as important. It's certainly less fun but you know, in recent years, and I think it really stems as a. history the USA, gymnastic tragedies, and safe sport and protecting youth from sexual abuse.

It's just a massive burden. It's a massive risk spurt responsibility for those of us in youth sports and youth soccer is no different. And it's, it's it's, it's educating it's, it's the training, it's the enforcement it's dealing with investigations when there's questions of wrongdoing. So it's, it's, it's the opposite end of the fund, but we do, I do take personal pride when you know that [00:09:00] you have some role in making it safe and making it and creating an environment that's better for, for kids that should never have to endure anything of that sort.

So, that's a little bit about our mission.

[00:09:12] Phil: Yeah. You know, and, and so I love just hearing that, that part in, because we often think about every job, right. Has parts that are fun and that we can just wake up, go, yes, I get to do this today. And you know, those other things, it's a matter of how can we, you know, see the, the value of it on the other side of it, which does make it a lot easier to get up and say, yes, I get to do these things today.

Right. Because we know that on the other side of that, there are people that are mentally healthier. There are people that are safer physically, right there. Those are things that, that you're able to do, but it's not necessarily something you go, yeah. Super fun to go through all these regulations and rules and all these other things, but it's all, it's all part of the job.

So, you know, there is no [00:10:00] perfect job out there to, you know, spoiler alert. But I think some, we can, we can really take a, take a step back and go, right, this is, this is what really gets us going. So what are some of those things that are going really well, that you would say, you know, these are some of the things that I just get really excited to tell people about.

These are the things that are there, the initiatives or the things that that we want to just keep that foot on the pedal and knowing that we're doing it well. And how can we re-engineer this over and over.

[00:10:27] Evan: So, in recent, maybe their last year or two started talking about and, you know, take, it takes a while to get comfortable in this role far longer than I would have thought.

But, you know, hindsight is what it is and, you know, focus more on culture. You know, And I want to give credit to a gentlemen Roy Solario, he was the president of the board and really, you know, was part of the decision to give me the shot. In hindsight, he took a big risk. I was new to youth soccer.

I was in professional soccer, but you know, really very different [00:11:00] scene. I, without putting words in his mouth, I think he maybe saw what he wanted, New Jersey soccer to become. And what was the shifting landscape? You know, he took a risk and I want also credit you know, tragically passed away recently, but our past president, Evelyn Gill, who got the chance to work with for four years and just an unbelievable impressive.

She also left on me in there for years, his presence precedent. And I think what threw all of that in our current board that also deserves the credit we transitioned. What I would like to consider a governing and rule enforcement entity to a member service driven and notion a association. And you know what I point to in, in trying to, to explain it is the recent, relatively recent COVID pandemic.

So the return to play, you know, for soccer and everybody getting back to life, you know, the guidelines, the timelines, what can you do? What can't you do? It was a mammoth task and this was all [00:12:00] state driven. So, you know, our clubs look to us to say, what do we do? And when and how so overnight. So to speak, we became the source of information and guidance.

You know, our staff to their credit, they embraced the challenge. We created videos, we created templates, we created policies, you know, it was all about getting kids back. And that was just something we were kind of thrown into the mix without ever having been able to plan for it. You know, we, we hosted webinars almost weekly when it first came out.

And so, you know, that really what I think drove is, is the recent evolution of how we're viewed and, and go from, Hey, you're punished, you did wrong. You know, here's, here's what you get to, how can we help you and safe sports, another one of those examples and in that culture and that shift is something that's.

I think something as much as anything as much as any individual program, I think is something we should be really proud of. And build on cause that's [00:13:00] what our role is. And you know, I hope 10 years from now, we, I can have, dozens more examples of, of, of that shift and, and creating a better culture.

And we may get to it as part of the other questions, but it's a competitive marketplace and there's a place for competition on the field, but we want a culture where off the field it's about building the game and growing it and making it fun and safe.

[00:13:23] Phil: Yeah, absolutely. And, and just take a step back real quick just to help the, the audience understand the breadth of what we're talking about. New Jersey is soccer. This is rec too competitive, all of it. Right?

[00:13:37] Evan: So our membership. is grown recent update. We exceeded the a hundred thousand member point.

Again, we had a dip in with COVID. So a lot of growth in the last few years. So there's, approximately 50 plus thousand rec players and 50,000 plus competitive players. There's also you know, many hundreds of, of players registered your top soccer, [00:14:00] which is our program for players with special needs, something that we're immensely proud of and supported greatly by RWJ Barnabas health.

And we also have ODP, you know, the other end of the spectrum that you know, with a region, state team, regional identification, national identification. So, we feel it's a pretty wide range in, in what the services we are on offer to kids.

[00:14:21] Phil: Yeah. So there's a few things going on that are on your plate there.

So, and which is also why you have the ability to talk to so many different things and speak to so many different things. So with that, what's going well, what's the other side of that? What are some things that you hope to change about New Jersey Youth Soccer and youth soccer in America as, as it currently exists.

[00:14:41] Evan: certainly in New Jersey and I think it goes beyond New Jersey. We've seen a dip in the women's game and participation rates. So, that's been a focus to, to try to address that. We, we had the luxury of create a grant from the Northeast women's soccer foundation, which is something that was originated from the women's world cup.

[00:15:00] So, we're putting that money to use and we created this G3. growing the girls' game and it has a really wide range of initiative. So there's an internship opportunity for girls there's coaching education women's and girl's soccer wags sponsored a referee grassroots referee course, a C license and other, I mean, their support has just been tremendous to give these women that want to be referees or coaches have the opportunity and fund all of those course costs.

We have a 4v4 event that we'll introduce. We did webinars about leadership and women in leadership. So Yale adverse west Heather myths Amanda Vandervort comes back as well as sky SkyBridge. So. These incredible women educate and try to inspire the next generation. So we, we hope and it's just year one.

We fully believe that that's something that we [00:16:00] can replicate and build in years to come and hopefully you know, better support the, the women's game. Last thing I'd say on that, you know, the leadership at Gotham FC, or we're really realize how lucky we are to have a women's professional team and excited about, you know, what they're doing and, you know, try to figure out how to, how to grow.

[00:16:18] Phil: And so what does success look like that in, in 10 years? What, what do you, what do you hope that with that G three initiative will come out of that? What's the, what's the goal? What's the hope? What are we looking for? You know, I've, I have three girls and I coach high school girls. And so I have a huge heart for this as well.

So what, what do you, what are you hoping for as far as what, what to come out of all of these things that you're doing with

[00:16:42] Evan: the initiative? Yeah. At a, at a basic level it's participation you know, just see that there's more, more women and girls both playing and coaching and refereeing. So, imagined we might talk about it, but I know that soccer gave me a lot and talked about my story from, from [00:17:00]friendships to profession.

And it's not to suggest that soccer will be that for, for, for everyone. We know that's not realistic, but you know, for everybody who wants to give them the chance to get as much as they want out of the game. So I think at the core of it, we'll measure success in large part by, by seeing the numbers of, of women and girls in those.


[00:17:21] Phil: And not just at the beginning. Cause I think that there are a lot of girls that play early on, but continuing and retention throughout, because I think that's what we see. I know I have where the girls just dwindle as the, as the ages get higher and higher, it's harder and harder to keep the girls on even the best teams.

And honestly, sometimes the best teams are the most toxic. And so with girls, especially, they're like, no, thank you. You know? And quite frankly, I wouldn't blame them. Right. You know, with a lot of these programs. And so that's more than just soccer. There's a lot more to it. have you seen that as well?

I mean, is that something that you're addressing as well with the, with the, with the initiative?

[00:17:58] Evan: Yeah. So it's, it's [00:18:00] all aspects of the game, refereeing coaching, you know, playing and I, and I, if I'm not mistaken, a guest. In a prior episode was David Ricca. And in, I think another part of this is just getting out there into the community.

So, David is our leader for innovate to grow grant. The grant from us soccer and what that's done is allowed us to just get proactive and get into the communities and let you know, areas that aren't served by New Jersey soccer. I know that we're out there. You know, we, we're seeing thousands of new players come into the.

And a lot of it is just saying, here's where we are. I think we know, well, we know that at the end of the day you need a good product. And, and I think that's what we've been building. So we will let them know what we've offered. And as I mentioned, there was exciting milestone earlier in this week to know that we, we went back over the a hundred thousand member mark and just seeing growth year over year.

And that a lot of that is just, hard work and getting good programs. And as I mentioned, David getting into these areas where we've never been in configuring out that [00:19:00] strategy.

[00:19:01] Phil: What does that look like? How, how, you know, we, we both know that the game over the last 30 years or so maybe 20, especially, it's kind of gotten a fever pitch, but basically since I graduated from high school has become more and more professionalized, right.

I mean, for lack of a better term, but just the professional coaches, it's the different DAS PCNL is a lot of these, you know, just very high cost. And, and so the idea of the elite not just in elite players, but also oftentimes it's hard to get the underprivileged to be able to afford it. And to be able to, to pay for the cost of these things.

So I assume part of that innovate to grow grant, as you're talking about getting you some of these places that are underserved is part of that, but what, how, how are we, how can we make these high level use sports in this case, soccer obviously more accessible for the low income for the underprivileged youth that are in these places that they just simply can't afford $250 a month for dues and travel [00:20:00] costs.

And being able to go to these different places. A friend of mine just texted me in fact this morning and said, Hey, I gotta go on to Kansas city for a game. And it's going to be a thousand dollars for 180 minute game. And w what are we doing? You know, and, and it's, it's, that's the reality, right? So how can we make it more accessible, understanding that it does cost money to do these things.

[00:20:22] Evan: Maryland youth soccer. And we look in just the nature and I know this is a big part of what I do is not trying to reinvent the wheel. Now there's so many great people in so many great programs. So they have a let's play initiative that we're taking a hard look at because they introduced it into the schools and had a lot of success, you know, a fully funded program for, for, in a school system that otherwise couldn't have done that.

So, well, what we're going to do is look, and that was really the idea of a us soccer's innovate to grow grant is, is test ideas and figure out what works to grow [00:21:00] participation. So building upon that, where. We have a soccer outreach advisory board and trying to develop our own strategy of, of getting into some of these underserved areas and planting seeds.

You know, I think ultimately what, what I believe is that with a hundred thousand members 350 plus clubs and 10,000 coaches and our, our group in the state office of 10 or so, we're, we're not going to be running programs, but, you know, it's, it's developing that strategy. So if we can go into these areas, partner with the rec department, get the local officials involved, get the community engaged, train them, you know, train the trainer type concepts.

You know, I think then that's where we have what I think is the best chance for long-term success. You know, we could always go into, an urban area, run it and run a program, run a training, but I don't see that as sustainable. I don't see that as making, longterm, change or growth.

[00:22:00] So that's a little bit into some real time insight of what we're trying to navigate because of the stability, because of the growth and because of the support from our board of directors, I think the new. next few years, we'll, we'll anticipate and have the ambition to be much more aggressive in terms of making soccer available to, to those that don't have the means that some communities where they do.

So beyond that, you know, it's, it's, it's also just, you know, continue to do what we do and control what we control and do good work with delivering programs, tournament and just basic membership. We've been fortunate enough to keep our fees flat for a few years now. That's one piece of the puzzle, but it's part of the community.

[00:22:44] Phil: Yeah, absolutely. Why I look forward to having you on again, in a few years, I'm planning on doing this for a long time and be talking about the progress on these different things. That'll be, that'll be fun to see that as you said, real time to be able to hear. And also that goes to this idea of collaboration.

I [00:23:00] mean, you talked about Maryland. I know in our previous conversation, we talked about a few of the other state associations that you're having conversations with too, to share ideas and say, Hey, this is working, this isn't working. How important is that? Or how important should it be in your, in your mind and how is that something that I think we should emulate in, in everything that we do as far as this idea of, as you said, not reinventing the wheel, but collaborating and how hard is collaboration in reality?

[00:23:29] Evan: It's it's, I think it's probably another area that I'm spending my most time on because I, I think you hit on it. It's the areas for biggest growth. And. Seven years in, as I mentioned. And I don't pretend to be the expert. There's been people doing involved in youth soccer far, far longer than I have, but maybe that also gives me a little bit of advantage because I'm not as influenced by history.

And I look at it and, and it's really hit me hard. And in recent recent years is if we were starting from [00:24:00] scratch, you know, building soccer, I, I don't think it would be structured this way. You know, there's, there's 50 plus state associations. There are different governing bodies and we know that soccer differs from state to state.

Let me say is that I think there's differences, but there's far more than that. There's many similarities. I mentioned the goal safety project. I mean, that was just one small example of how we can do what we do better, more efficiently and can deliver a better product another, what I think really captures the idea of collaboration is we got together with other state associations.

Specifically Indiana Ohio and Tennessee, not states you'd normally think you'd collaborate with, from New Jersey, just from a geography perspective. And we found this opportunity to align our marketing assets and we contracted a group SSEC sports sponsorship and invent event consulting, and they're leveraging our commercial [00:25:00] assets.

So we know that the programs that we talked to. Getting into those markets underserved and, and delivering programming done, it needs, needs that investment. And if we have those sponsors and those partners and donors, we'll be better able to do that. So where we had that announcement maybe a month ago, and again, when we connect in a few years, I hope we'll have a ways of showing that success.

You know, the other idea of collaboration in which is also something that motivates me on I'm really a fan of the the collegiate setting. And I was I had a stint as a, as an adjunct professor. So I engaged with the global sports business masters program at Rutgers or meeting virtually with the students every week and diving into this concept.

I just mentioned of alignment with other state associates. And I think this is the future. If we do it right, we align we, we can improve the way we communicate. We market streamline. It just be more efficient, more effective. And [00:26:00] even a future one is at least in New Jersey is just aligned with the adult and referee associations and youth soccer or soccer, as you may know, but for audience members at least in New Jersey, there's three different associations, ours really governs the youth.

There's another ones for the referees and the third one for the adults. Again, different markets, different needs, but I'd like to think far more similarities than differences. And if you kind of work through that, and I think it was your original question, it is, is much harder than it looks from the outside.

And when I dig in it, it takes a lot of effort, but I'm super invested in it because I just think it's, it's the next phase to get us where we want to be.

[00:26:43] Phil: I love so much about that answer and there's two things in particular. One is collaboration is hard. It's one of the things that I spend.

I mean, one of, most of my time doing it's part of the reason I do this podcast is to get people aware of each other. I, the reason I've done think orphan podcast for last six [00:27:00] years is to help people in the orphan care space get to know each other and be able to be aware of what each other are doing.

That's one side of collaboration, but the harder part is that trust-building you're not going to collaborate if you don't trust each other. Right. So to get the only way to build trust is to get to know each other. Right. And I think what you hit on there is when I talked with one of my best friends he's one of my mentors and he, he does me mediation in the middle east.

So I mean, if you can do mediation in the middle east, you can pretty much, you know, you can figure things out. Right. You know, if we were talking about state soccer, so I think we can figure that out. And I said, how in the world do you do that? And he said, well, we just start with what we agree on. And I come in and say, I'm a dad.

Are you a day? Yeah. Okay. You know, do you love your kids? Yeah. I love my kids. Oh yeah. So do I, you know, and then you go from there. Right. And so I think we complicated sometimes with trust building and we think that we have to go to the core right away and then, and make sure we agree on everything. The reality is there will be things we disagree on, but we agree on probably [00:28:00]95% of the things.

Unfortunately in our world today, we, we tend to focus on the things we disagree on and we go there first. So have you seen that as far as that, that side of it? I mean, I'm assuming I'm making some assumptions there, but the other thing I saw as you start on some small projects together to build that trust as well, but have you seen that and have you seen success in that?

[00:28:19] Evan: Yeah. When you were saying that, I found myself thinking that. You know, when you, when you work on collaboration, it's most successful when you have someone that you can connect with. And I think you mentioned some of the examples, the middle east as an extreme, which is an incredible point. If you can get success there, you know, everything else kind of has to be easy by comparison.

But you know, I, as I reach out within our network and in a lot of the reason for that collaboration, I mentioned with SSEC on the sponsorship sales side was groups and individual individuals that, Hey, we ha we were thinking the same way. Now, differences are also healthy because, you know, if everyone just agrees, agrees, and you don't get [00:29:00] that counterpoint, you don't get that push back.

That is healthy to, to, to fine tune and troubleshoot, so to speak. But it's, it's, it is a group that, of, of individuals that were having a similar philosophy. And that allows for that success there. Inherently less resistance when there's conflict, it's better to work through. So yeah. You know, and that's that applies to our staff.

You know, when you're working together, it's better, it's at the home. And when everyone's thinking similarly at home and has the same idea of what one to do, things are better. So I think that point just goes across. It's not just thinking, you know, finding someone that does everything you do, but has a healthy resistance.

And finding that balance is, is really tough.

[00:29:45] Phil: Absolutely. You know, and that one of my favorite quotes of all time was Patrick Lensioni said when there is trust, conflict becomes the search for truth. When there's no trust conflict, it becomes politics where someone has to be right. And someone has to be [00:30:00] wrong.

And so there's that idea of healthy conflict really only happens when we have that trust built. Right? And so that healthy conflict that will happen with that disagreement, that's actually a very good thing when there's trust. When not, you usually end up saying, forget it. I'm not working with you. We're just going to go back to our states and do our own thing.

But when you can build that trust, you'd be able to say, Hey, we all have the same goals in mind. We want these kids to flourish. We want these kids to have fun. We want these kids to keep playing the game, right. So they can learn these things. So how can we do that together? And so I, I love hearing that from you.

I want to

[00:30:32] Evan: interrupt, but it's also compromised. I realize is another key word there because. You know, you have, it's like merger of companies, you know, and I haven't been involved in that, but as we look at some of these ideas with different state associations, we said, and we kind of had these core ideas.

And one of them that we came up with was compromised because we all have our own way of doing something, whether that's at the work setting or in the house of how you organize, put your clothes away, whatever that is. And if you're [00:31:00] all going to get, you know, swimming downstream in the same direction. So there's going to have to be some give and take.

And, and that's not always easy to let go of what you feel believer in and kind of shift. So to speak, not necessarily give up on your ideals or, or change your, your core values, so to speak, but, but compromise is another word that just jumped to me as I listened to you. And the perspective you shared.

[00:31:23] Phil: Absolutely. And hopefully, hopefully we can all find those win-wins if we can figure that out, but sometimes you're not able to get everything that, that you'd want. I just had the office come to mind. I don't know if you watch the office, but the win, win, win came to mind in that way. So, so there you go.

You never know what you're going to get here. My mind is a funny thing, so, all right. So going back to something you talked about earlier, the, the referees. All right. So I ref there's a referee association, obviously you're part of the initiative you're talking about with the G three is raising up girl referees, my daughter, 13, starting to referee.

Absolutely love it. She's having a blast and she's making some good money. But there is this other side [00:32:00] of it of referee abuse. That's been something that unfortunately is happening. There was out here in California. I don't know if you're aware of that. I'm sure you are. But the referee that got assaulted by a dad who, you know, ended up going to court and I don't know exactly what happened out of that, but Yeah.

What does that tell us when we see this, this, I don't know if it's the cauldron of the, of the youth sports or how it's become this pressure cooker. But what does it tell us about our parents, our youth, the game and that, and the youth sports in general and what can we do about it?

[00:32:31] Evan: Yeah, it's a, it's a massive issue in reality, as we've seen an uptick on alleged referee abuse and assault in the last, two years and, we think about it, why is that?

Is it, is it the stresses of the pandemic? probably some truth to that. And, you know, that's probably one component and I wish this were easier to solve and, and I don't think there is a quick fix. And I think it goes back to one hand is culture. We got to address that. I also feel, and I'll be honest.

I kind of have to point the finger at [00:33:00] myself at, at, at times. Cause I think parents. Probably too involved in the, in the game themselves, you know, with, with soccer specifically. I think parents generally know more because more often than not the numbers of parents who've played the game at my age versus when I was a kid playing is, is significantly different.

But I don't think they let I think there's the great Manny Schellscheidt watched his documentary. If you're familiar with Manny, he said, let the game be the teacher. And it's, it's hard, you know? I think parents as a parent myself, you want to help your kid and it's, you want to find the answer and tell them what to do.

You know, and I, I work hard. I think I'm do an okay job with it when I'm fortunate to be a spectator, not a coach. I just want to keep my mouth shut. You know, the kids don't need 50 people telling them what to do when to kick and when to do, you know, they, they, they need to figure things out and it's probably a cultural thing to want to be involved.

And then when you get involved and other people get involved in, then it kind of can escalate. But, you [00:34:00] know, I, in thinking about that, I, I, I look back and I realize how lucky I was. And I gave my parents a ton of credit. first they were, you know, my mom was at essentially every game through college, even through college and travel.

Back and forth from New Jersey to Boston and wherever we're playing. My dad was was there a ton and they never got involved as I think about it. It almost never heard them other than a positive comment on the sideline. And that allowed me to focus, enjoy the game and never get distracted. I don't think that happens the same way as much as we'd like, if we can wave our magic wand in the referees, often bear the brunt of this dynamic.

And I know that we know it's an issue. I, my son has started to do refereeing as in the local club on the rec side. And, and I hope he continues in his training to become a referee. I've gotten to know some of the individuals in the referee community, in the, I am as a whole, just so impressed.

W who they are, and I'm sure that's their training, [00:35:00] their composure, their presentation, their maturity, their decision-making decision-making is just an incredibly important skill. And one gentlemen, our office, Ryan Foley, he was a national level youth referee. And I have to imagine all of those skills that I mentioned came from his time as a referee and what's driving his success could now as a professional moving on from referee.

So, you know, the ref refereeing as a, as an activity is just so incredibly valuable. And I think you will have to educate you know, I think that's a key thing of what we can do because I think sometimes on the sidelines, people are yelling and don't really know what they're saying. So parent education is a huge part.

I think accountability is a big word that comes to me. And the last word is respect. Cause I think that's probably the core of this. If there were more respect, we wouldn't have these types of issues. So, you know, again, it's something that will roll out as our own little respect campaign, just to [00:36:00] try to, you know, talk about the positive stuff.

We know the problems, but it's a complicated issue. It's not going to be solved overnight, but I think there's a lot of people in youth soccer and probably all sports that are focused on it because this current trend isn't sustainable in terms of the number of referees and people wanting to get out there and.


[00:36:19] Phil: I agree. I mean, yeah. I mean, I, I help and I'm helping out reffing because they need them. Right. And there's a massive shortage. And I I've told people after reffing eight year old, nine year old games, I said every, every parent should be required to referee an eight year old or nine year old game and just hear what it feels like for those eight and nine year old kids to be on the middle of that field, hearing it from their coaches on one side and the parents on the other side, like you said, just yelling stuff. And then yeah, the referees get stuff too, but you know, I'm a 47 year old man. I can take it, but a lot of these kids don't, and that's why they quit.

And a lot of these younger adults are like, forget this. [00:37:00] I can go and not get yelled at all the time and go make money somewhere else. And, and so, you know, that's something that I, I really look at and go there. They're like you said, it's not something that's going to be solved overnight. But one of the things that I've seen, a lot of people trying to do is having the silent sideline thing, which I don't think works personally because people are going to say stuff.

So I'd rather focus on how can we encourage people and teach people to say things better. Right? I mean, because we know people are going to talk, so how can we encourage that side of it? And again, like you said, it's not going to be solved overnight. I think the polarization and the people just yelling at everybody about everything in our society is, is, is bled over to literally everything we do.

But I don't know if you've seen any successes in any of those things.

[00:37:48] Evan: You know, what I've personally done and it's not practical to do for every game that occurs because there's, God knows how many games in a given weekend in the spring season or fall season. But when we [00:38:00] host our state finals for our state cups I've taken upon myself and our staff does it.

And we, we talked to parents before the game on the side, And some of the messages and I think it's going to change, but the messages have been one, congratulations. Thanks for what you do. We know parents are key to have letting the kids participate in these state tournament's and succeed and have these opportunities.

And then I say, let's be honest with each other, the next, you know, 80 minutes or 90 minutes, whatever, whatever age group you got, the next two halves of the game, there's going to be mistakes that go on behind us. And I point to the field and I say, there's going to be mistakes by the players. I think everyone accepts the players make mistakes, probably the.

And the referees they're going to make mistakes. That's part of it. You know, I don't get into the fact that they don't have VAR and, you know, the complexity of, of being a referee. But I think part of it is accepting mistakes. It bothers me that we seem to accept a player making mistake. Cause they'll do that.

And you miss a goal. You miss a sitter that [00:39:00] happens, but why can't a referee make a mistake and there's, they'll give up, they might get answers to it. I don't really accept that. Because a lot of them are young referees learning as well. So, that's one way of getting people individually, but, reality is there's more than a hundred thousand parents.

You can have individual conversations, but it does make me feel good when I have that ability to influence. Talk to people. I hope it's had some impact. And at least for our state cups, we've been managed in recent years to, to avoid, you know, major drama and maybe part of it is just setting the right tone.

So, you know, that's one tactic that can't be done, but it's, it's felt good.

[00:39:40] Phil: Absolutely. And I think that that is something that it can be done in more games. If we train up our coaches in the same thing. And, you know, I think that that's something that it does take time.

It does take energy, it does take effort, but if we really see it as a priority, I think we will, because otherwise it's going to get worse if we're not addressing it. And we just let it [00:40:00] go. I think it is going to get worse because people just get more and more freedom. The ones that are going to do that, I think will feel more freedom.

If, if, if in fact, in fact, I just did an episode recently about, slurs from the crowd we had a parent yell, something from the crowd and I turned around as a coach and said, There's none of that right now. There's none of that. There's no business being here and, you know, things like that, that in the moment, but you can do that.

But I think if we can just train up people to do more and more, and like you said, whatever he is, are gonna make mistakes. The reality I had a referee on here toward the beginning of the podcast, talking about angles, you know, I mean, we know in life how you see something depends on your angle. Depends on your perspective.

Depends on your worldview. Depends on who you are. The reality is in these games, these referees could be blocked by three people. So to see a foul and they're not going to call it if they don't, especially if in the box, they, if they don't see it, they're not going to call it. [00:41:00] You can't call it. You know, that's what I had these kids yelling at me the other day and I said, look, if I call it, I'll see it.

I mean, if I, if I see it, I'll call it. And if I call it, I'll see it, I guess, too. But if I see it, I'll call it. Like, I get your frustration. If you think something's happening to you. But if I see it, I'll call it. And on that kind of diffuse the situation, right? Didn't mean they didn't yell at me throughout the whole thing, whatever, but, but it is, I think it's becoming the norm.

That you're yelling at refs rather than, Hey, if it's a really bad thing or if someone's getting hurt like that, that's the time I could see the intensity and the passion go. But anyway, I love that you're doing that even at the state cup. Cause that's a start. Right. And then that's a start that we can do.

So. All right. So a few more questions. You alluded to this earlier, but you learned, you've learned a ton from the game. I know because we've had the conversation and I know cause you played soccer and you're leading something in soccer now. So I have no doubt that you're using some of the lessons you learned from playing soccer in what you're doing today with New Jersey, youth soccer.

And what, [00:42:00] when you worked with the MLS as well, we'll get to your parenting and your marriage here in a little bit. But but what, what are some you know, just a couple lessons that you've taken from the game itself that you're using in your leadership in New Jersey Youth soccer.

[00:42:12] Evan: Yeah, I think leadership is kind of the constant learning process and they every now and then I even read some books or try to pick up some things because you know, it's, it's so important.

It's, it's, it's really challenging. And I I really look at myself often and see how I'm doing again, both at home and at work. And I, I think about in terms of what I've learned an impression from ironically high school. So, you know, turn back the clock, so to speak. And I, and my sophomore year was part of a really talented soccer team that was a successful, made it to the finals and the county's before loving, losing an overtime, double overtime, actually.

And you know, we came back the next year in junior year and we lost the majority of our starters and on paper there was no chance to repeat that [00:43:00] success. Fast-forward, you know, but even a better season win the county tournament against a higher seeded team, after going two goals down and you kind of say, okay, well, w w w how does that happen?

And if we go back to leadership, no doubt one, our coach, Bill Jager, he did something special and how he managed the group. And that's a subtlety that I, I, you know, was tougher to decipher, but I also think about one of our captains a man now a man Ted flick guide. Who's a college coach, as I understand now.

And he was, as most captains in high schools would be a really special talent. And he was our number 10, but that's not really what's sticks out. I mean, when I think about him, he, it was his personality, it was his presence. And I don't know that I've ever played with or against more driven competitor, fierce personality.

And even [00:44:00] 30 years later, I can still feel that he never quit. And I think that that exuded, I mean, I don't remember it consciously, but he, I got to figure he'd lead by example. And we as teammates, I think subconsciously fed off of that. So there was you, you, you just need, when you have a leader you just gravitate to, and you kind of learn from, and.

When I think about leadership, ironically, he's just one of those people I think about, you know, and there's so many people and I've had great men or mentors you know, having gazintas who went on to MLS and then went on to Arsenal Nelson Rodriguez so many incredible people over the years. But ironically, I think about, you know, my captain from, from high school so funny story, but you know, you learn what you learn.

[00:44:52] Phil: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, all right, so now I always, I always love this question because I just never know what people are going to say, but [00:45:00] what lessons have you learned directly from the game of soccer that you've applied to your marriage, your parenting you know, in any other relationships outside of the game that are close personal relationships,

[00:45:09] Evan: You know, when you radically, there's so much to learn from soccer.

And I mentioned the documentary, I watched many shelves site and, you know, talk about the teacher, you know, the game being the teacher. And now when I growing up, it was just so simple. I enjoyed competition. I want to be on the field, but you know, there's so much more to it as I more recently listening to folks that we've engaged in youth soccer through webinars, through clinics through events, Tony Meola, Tab Ramos, John Harkes, Carli Lloyd, Yoel Avar Bush west electro Eskandarian.

I mean, New Jersey is pretty fortunate that there's a pretty incredible history and I've gotten a chance to listen to them all, talk in different capacities and what I is not lost on me. And I try to remind. My family and my kids, because they made some impression it's it's, they, they were all [00:46:00]incredible talents, but the key that they all talk about is they worked, you know, they practice, they had an ethic and a drive that was stronger than the next talented player.

And that's why they got to the level that they did. So, we watch a game, it always looks easy for those that are, you know, at the top level of talent, you know, but what we don't see in all likelihood is, is all the work that got them there. And, soccer, more so thinking, looking back, realize that it's, it's about hard work and commitment and, you know, earning what you want, not just expecting the company.

You know, and even more recently, I started playing soccer again with an over 40 men's team. And that's been a shocking learning experience because now I need to work differently. I just need to work so I can get through the game and, and it's also the relationships and the leadership. I mean, it's, it's, you know, talk about mistakes.

You can imagine how many, many mistakes go on the field for [00:47:00] us, but, you know, it's, it's not getting down on teammates and. Because there's more mistakes. When I feel that we need to be more supportive and be more of a team it's it's guys going out there looking to have a good time, use that as their outlet.

They're, they're fun to get out to some of their energy be healthy. So, amazingly I find myself thinking about these, these lessons in soccer as much now as I did, and probably more so than it did 30 years ago, but the game keeps teaching.

[00:47:29] Phil: Yeah, absolutely. I love that. That idea of, of it's all, you're always going to be working hard if you're going to be successful, but we need to be creative, more creative in what that hard work looks like sometimes, you know, I mean, sometimes it's not just going out and just going as hard as you possibly can all the time, because you'll burn out.

Right. And that's a great lesson from it too, that, you know, you need to have you know, different things to keep your mind going as well. [00:48:00] So it's not just playing soccer really, really hard. You gotta have friends, you gotta have life. As you said, those friendships, or, you know, you're going to burn out most the vast majority of people.

If it's, if it's just continual going out and doing drills and training and. Constant soccer, soccer, soccer, soccer, soccer, soccer, you're going to burn out. Right. There's that handful that maybe won't, but so I'm not, you know, somebody is going to email me and say, Hey, you know, I did that and I loved it. And now I'm playing pro somewhere.

Okay. Yeah, there, there are those outliers, but for the most part, how can we make it, how can we encourage, how can we understand too, that, you know, part of the game of playing the over 40 league is getting out and getting exercise and that's success, right? If I always just, you know, didn't, it wasn't a joke.

It was my success for the over 35 league here was if I can get home and not have to scrub out the little black pellets from the turf out of my knee. And I got some exercise that's a successful night, you know? So, and you know, some guys are still like playing, like it's world cup and, and that, you know, that's their [00:49:00] thing.

And I'm not gonna argue with them necessarily. But, yeah, so I love that idea of just hard work is the constant, but understand that, what is your gauge for success? All of those go into the, the hard work and understand that there, there is a time for rest, right? There is a time for taking taken off.

Right? I mean, I, I, again, don't wanna put words in your mouth, but do you agree?

[00:49:23] Evan: Yeah, it's I won't, I won't, I'll spare you what I deem success at the end of Sunday's game and whether I can get up the next day. But you know, the honest answer is it's, it's created a little bit of drive to work to get, to, a place that I want to be.

Not that I want to try to match my 21 year old self, but, it's given me some motivation to challenge myself. And as I learned from, those names, I mentioned to let go and Harkes and, and Carli. Carli, as much as anybody we know, I mean, her work ethic is, is, is arguably unmatched. I'm not going to try to match it, but it gives me a little drive to [00:50:00] recognize that, Hey, let, let me challenge myself and see how far I can, you know, how far I can get.

[00:50:05] Phil: Absolutely. All right. Last question we have for everybody. And you've talked about a couple things that you've watched or read or listened to, but is there anything you haven't mentioned so far that you've read, watched or listened to those impacted your thinking on how soccer explains life and leadership?

[00:50:18] Evan: Yeah. So, do you know the you familiar with the great Danny Rojas, soccer is life, you know, where I'm going with this? Of course. Yeah. So, my wife and I now have just completed Ted Lasso, I think two seasons through watching it twice. And, you know, the entertainment is just incredible and, it's, it's actually even a little bit more, there's just this great wisdom. Wisdom that comes across and, we've talked a lot and I know this is about leadership and, you know, we, we know that coach Ted benched Jamie Tartt, star player because he wasn't playing as a good teammate.

And he showed leadership. We know how the story worked out. Yes. It's scripted. You know, Hey, great story and great lesson, and if I [00:51:00] reflect upon what I need to take about that and I, and I know it I remind myself, I remind our staff, if I don't succeed, I can't talk about what New Jersey Youth soccer is doing with you.

Without the, we have our team, our, our staff, our board of directors, the 9,000 coaches, the 350 clubs, the list goes on and on. I mean, it's a community and it's genuine. And that's why that idea of collaboration, we talked about is so important to me. So, that team first attitude that Ted coach lasso puts forth is, is, is something that's core that I never lose sight of.

And. Also reflect my early days at MLS. We had a lunch with our department and our leader that I mentioned. I have a disease that Suze went on to the CEO CEO roles with Arsenal and AC Milan and just an incredible mentor and person, a supervisor for me, I got really lucky. He said something along the lines of, at one of those lunches that thank you for all that you do.

That makes me look [00:52:00] good and makes my job look easy. And that's the rough quote. And it didn't really make sense to me at that time, you know, a few years into my job. I'm like, well, you do what you do. I do what I do. I don't understand how it relates, but it, it, in hindsight it does resonate. So again, I'm talking about good things of New Jersey soccer growth of a hundred thousand, over a hundred thousand.

And it's, you know, I know I'm one piece of a puzzle and I try to influence as much as I possibly can on any given day. But yeah, It's it's the collective we you know, and Ted has so many awesome quotes. that I could probably share at each of our staff meetings and learn something.

You know, we mentioned some initiatives and, and and one that I share and even share with my family every now and again is a quote that I write down. So I remember it is taking on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse. Isn't it. If you're comfortable while you're doing it, you're probably doing it wrong.

No, I don't think my delivery will ever come close. And I think if we had a Ted Lasso here, he [00:53:00] certainly haven't come across in a better way, but it's something that you know, we talked in the beginning. I, I share that with staff to interns when I guest lecture to my kids. And I don't say it and it's conveyed effectively, but it's about the idea of getting comfortable, being uncomfortable life.

Isn't easy. You know, work. Isn't always easy schools isn't always easy, but I, I find myself thinking and learning and seeing those out there that when you can handle adversity and thrive through a challenge, those are the successful people and nine times out of a 10. So, you know, Ted continues to entertain and teach us.

And we're pretty much ready for

[00:53:39] Phil: season three. Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, and that's why we actually, I don't know if you're aware of this. We have the halftime talk and the post-match show, whatever we did five shows of the leadership lessons from Ted Lasso.

And it's for that very reason that it absolutely is. It's just chock full of the leadership lessons. I think [00:54:00] season one more than season two. Cause I think they went to more character development and Season two. No, no, it's still phenomenal season, but just that I think a little bit different from the leadership lesson standpoint, that being said so many good things, like you said about comfortable.

I'd love that. I mean, I always talk about the fact that most of the great things in life happened just on the other side of comfortable. And if we really can understand that, I think it's key. The other thing you said that I, I just think of certain players on the, on the field, you know, you look at a holding midfielder most of what they're doing is behind the scenes.

Most of what they're doing is the things that they work so hard to do to make other people's job look easy. Right. And, and it's why a lot of the great holding midfielders out there, if you're not a you know, football/soccer fan, you wouldn't even know about them. Right. You know, Sergio Busquets, the Michael Carrick's, these different people that are increasing.

But they're not household names. Right. And I think there's so many of those in companies. I mean, you know that from New Jersey Youth Soccer, right? You're [00:55:00] at the Executive Director, your name's on whatever, but there are so many people doing what they do incredibly well to make what you're doing, better.

And I'm not going to say look easy. Cause I, from what I've heard, it doesn't sound easy to me. And I don't think it looks easy to others, but it is something that it can't happen without that. Right. That's why I think soccer is such a beautiful microcosm of, of these other organizations in the world, because it is a weak link sport.

You know, you're only as strong as your weakest link. And I think that's how our companies are as well. Anyway, thanks again Evan for, for being a part of this show. Thanks for doing what you're doing. Thanks for working hard to make this game more fun and more accessible and more loved and more have more retention so that these, these boys and girls can learn the life lessons that they'll use as men and women.

So thanks.

[00:55:49] Evan: Yeah, thanks for giving us the chance to talk about it and share, and likewise appreciate all that you're doing to, to promote, promote

[00:55:55] Phil: the game. Absolutely. All right, folks. Well, thanks again for being a part of this. [00:56:00] Thank you for your download. Thanks for engaging this conversation because we know we couldn't do without you, and we wouldn't want to do it without you.

So on that note if you haven't done so already joined the Facebook group, how soccer explains. Drop me an email. If you have any thoughts or questions or when you want more information about any of the things that we're doing, you can check out all of the things we referenced in this conversation on the show notes, we'll have the links to New Jersey Youth Soccer and the growing the games initiative and the, or the growing the girls game initiative and all these different things that they're doing.

If you have any questions about those, you can, you can, how you can connect with them on that. And again, as we've mentioned before, we have the Coaching the Bigger Game program that I'm working on with Christian DeVries. If you're interested in that, the Warrior Way Soccer program that Paul and Marci Jobson are doing as well,

So with all of that hope, you're having a great day, and I hope that you're taking everything that you're learning from this show. You're using it to be a better leader, a better spouse, a better [00:57:00] parent, a better friend. And you're continually reminding yourself that soccer does explain life and leadership.

Thanks a lot. Have a great week.