Community Relations Builds Field Partners
The care and feeding of local recreation officials
When Regional Commissions are asked what is the most challenging problem facing their AYSO Region, many will answer with one word: FIELDS!
The lack of soccer fields and playing facilities for practices or games may occur for a number of reasons. Lack of physical facilities, or competition for limited facilities, are the most common reasons.
The information and tips below are intended to provide a guide to assist Regional Commissioners, Section Developers, Area Directors, and other AYSO representatives to “put a face” on local AYSO programs and insure that AYSO players and volunteers have every opportunity to grow a successful Regional program with more soccer fields.
Who Are ‘The Players’ For Getting Fields? 10 Tips to Make Officials Your Friends Special Tips for Parks and Recreation Districts Staff Is Key to School District Fields Ideas for Other Types of Special Districts Try for Non-Traditional Playing Venues Be Consistent and Persistent
Who Are ‘The Players’ For Getting Fields?
Most AYSO and other youth sports programs rely on local government resources for playing fields. These agencies can include:
- City and county recreation and parks departments
- Parks and recreation special districts
- School districts
- Other special districts such as water and sanitary districts.
In addition, a number of AYSO Regions across the country are using non-traditional venues, including:
- College play and practice fields
- Fee-based play fields
- Surplus industrial property
- Land-banked property
- Non-profit owned playfields
The key to securing and maintaining agreements with any of these types of facilities is finding the right people who own or manage the facility.
10 Tips to Make Officials Your Friends
Cities and counties are governed by elected members of a council, board or similar governing body. Parks and recreation programs and facilities are usually overseen by a parks and recreation commission and in most cases, paid staff. Here are ten smart ideas to put a face on your AYSO Region:
- Be familiar. Get to know the representatives at all levels.
- Stay in touch. An AYSO volunteer should be present at ALL public parks and rec meetings and at city council meetings where parks or recreation issues are being discussed.
- Open meetings, public comments. In most states, these meetings are subject to open meeting laws and there is an opportunity for residents to make public comments.
- Put a face on AYSO! Use this opportunity to introduce yourself and provide periodic updates on registration, tournaments, field needs and other issues facing the Region.
- Get on TV. Many communities now broadcast and/or live-stream the meetings. Your message can get out into the community as well!
- AYSO votes count. Remember that city council members and county supervisors are elected officials. As a regional commissioner, you represent a voting bloc. Elected officials can do quick mat to determine how many votes your player numbers represent.
- Call them. Most elected officials and many appointed ones are happy to meet with constituents one-on-one. Many are listed in the phone book or agency director or website. Call them.
- Get to know staff. Be sure to make contact with the local parks department staff. Depending on the size of the community, you should meet with the department director or a parks or recreation supervisor. Also cultivate a relationship with the staff person in charge of scheduling facilitates or issuing field use permits.
- Be positive. Be sure to maintain a positive attitude and express appreciate for the assistance of staff and officials. Some Regions provide small gifts of Region or tournament pins or shirts as a token of appreciation. Holiday cards and a box of candy for the office don’t hurt either!
- Get to know the groundskeepers and custodians at your facilities. They can make your job much easier by attending to small problems without going through channels just by giving them a “hi” and a “thanks” every time you see them!
Special Tips for Parks and Recreation Districts
Most parks and recreation districts are governed by elected board members. Many of the strategies for cities apply here as well. The advantages with districts are that their sole focus is on recreation programs, and that the board deals more directly with staff, in most cases, without an advisory board or commission. Relationships with management and maintenance staff are just as important here.
Staff Is Key to School District Fields
School districts are usually governed by an elected board of education. The key challenge with school districts is that their focus is on education, not soccer.
In fact, most school districts officials and staff see the use of their fields and facilities by non-school organizations as a nuisance... Unfortunately, this can include AYSO soccer. Further, many districts don’t have a consistent policy on the use of school facilities and are not set up to deal with recreational users on a daily basis.
Staff connections are key with school district field use. Here are important people to introduce yourself to and make friends with:
- Facilities. If the district has a Director of Faciliaities, set up a meeting with that person.
- Scheduling and use. Find out the staff members responsible for field scheduling and use and introduce yourself to them.
- Principals et al. Introduce yourself to the school principal, athletic director, school secretary, and maintenance staff. They will all be quite concerned about the use of the school faciliaities and should have a Region point of contact.
Ideas for Other Types of Special Districts
Occasionally, other districts or agencies may have surplus land that can be used on a seasonal or ongoing basis for recreation purposes. These can include water, sanitary and flood control districts.
These situations are often unique and unrelated to the agency’s primary mission. In fact the agency may not even be aware of the opportunity. You may envision soccer fields on a piece of fallow land or an abandoned use or Brownfield (a piece of land that may have previously had an environmentally damaging industry or other use, but can be cleaned up to youth-sports standards.)
Here are three tips for working with Special Districts:
- Start with staff. Your best bet is to start with the agency director or staff to discuss possibilities.
- Going upstairs. If you feel you are being “stonewalled”, take your proposal to a board member.
- Put it in writing. It always helps to have a clear proposal or idea, preferably in written form.
Try for Non-Traditional Playing Venues
In addition to the more traditional playing field opportunities associated with cities, counties and school and special districts, there are other venues that can be considered for AYSO playing fields.
Region 122 in Santa Barbara, Calif. conducts some of its games at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Another Region plays games on a vacant privately-owned industrial property. Region XXX in Bakersfield, Calif. plays at a dedicated soccer park owned and operated by a non-profit organization.
There have been opportunities for Regions to control (through long term lease and other agreements) properties for exclusive use. All of these situations are unique and often require extra effort on the part of the Region or Area volunteers to identify the opportunity and the “the players” (not the soccer variety!) Additionally, business and legal review by AYSO national staff and commission resources (such as legal review) may be required. Also important to remember is that only the AYSO National Executive Director can legally sign AYSO contracts of material value. Fields are definitely material value!
A Region considering non-traditional venues should contact their Area and Section directors as soon as the possibility arises. To reach the AYSO National Office, call (800) USA-AYSO (800-872-2976.)
Be Consistent and Persistent
Relationships build over time. And it is always easier to work with local officials if they already know and respect your Region and you. So begin your relationship building before you need those fields. Go to city meetings, visit city staff in their offices, ask questions and get a clear understanding of their issues and problems. Do it consistently over time and you will be both respected and remembered in a positive way! Good luck!