Think herding cats is tough? Try organizing 2,900 kids into 268 teams, then dispersing them among 25 fields for games and practices each week. Once the kids are settled, then try keeping their parents in line. Sound like a challenge? It’s all in a day’s volunteer work for AYSO Commissioner John Maloney.
Leslie Dinaberg: When did you start volunteering with AYSO?
John Maloney: I started as a referee a long time ago, when I was 12.
I grew up around soccer. I played in college (at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA) and then when my youngest daughter Meghan started playing I started to ref and just went on from there, so that’s 12-13 years.
LD: And what was it like then?
JM: We had about 2,500 kids back then…we used to practice all over town and games were all over town. We didn’t have UCSB back then, Girsh Park didn’t exist, so on a given Saturday you had kids (all over town). You would have about one or two fields per location so it was tough getting goals set up and making sure we had refs at each field.
LD: What a huge logistic nightmare.
JM: We probably have actively involved over 20 people to help make things happen. Each age group has administrators that run it.
LD: How do people begin as volunteers?
JM: They start out coaching, and then they say “Have you guys ever thought of …” and we say, “No, how would you like to…” Suggestion is a great foot in the door to being a volunteer.
…We’ve got referee administrators for both genders. Making sure we have refs. …(There’s our) picture day coordinator, our volunteer coordinator, ….our party angels, that run the volunteer party at the end of the year. … People find things they like, you get them doing it and you try to get them to do it for five or six years so you get some consistency, and it helps.
LD: Do people generally stay for the life of their child’s involvement?
JM: Generally but … we get a lot of people who stick around after their kids grow up.
LD: What are the biggest challenges you face?
JM: There aren’t enough fields … we’re by far the largest youth sports organization in town. And for most kids it’s just from the week after school starts until the week after Thanksgiving, but for the talented kids that want to keep playing we have all-stars and that goes all the way to June or July.
LD: After all these years of involvement, do you think the girls and boys teams behave differently?
JM: Oh, absolutely. I’ve coached both and yeah, there’s a difference. You motivate them differently. In AYSO you don’t yell at kids, you try to keep it positive, but you can discipline a boy differently than a girl. … But both are really rewarding, especially this age group (8-10) because you see so much improvement throughout the year. You look at the first game and the last game and there’s a huge improvement. I just love to see kids when it starts to click for them.
LD: Do you have any tips for parents to be a better soccer/sports parent?
JM: Just watch. Every year we have problems with parents … the cheering stuff is good, but the parents that try to get into coaching that aren’t coaches … we get some that stand behind the goal and talk to the kids. We get some that counteract what the coach is trying to tell them to do. That’s kind of frustrating sometimes.
LD: I assume you’re not going to be the commissioner forever and ever and ever.
JM: Not if my wife has anything to say about it.
LD: What kind of advice would you give to your successor?
JM: Get a lot of people to help you, and don’t let things get to you. We’ve talked about mostly good stuff, but there’s stuff that I have to deal with every year that’s not too pleasant. We’re dealing with almost 3,000 kids, and 6,000 parents, and we’ve got divorces, restraining orders, one parent on the other, child protection issues come up.
LD: What’s your favorite thing about AYSO?
JM: What everybody says on the board is, “If I got paid I’d quit. You couldn’t pay me enough to ref this game with some of these parents. It’s a good thing I do it for free.” The board members get a really rough time at time. We’ve had these new coaches get hit with some of these parents who are just high maintenance…
For every little bad thing there’s like 20 good things. There’s so much. When you watch these kids just having a blast and get so excited at the end of the game is the best.
Name: John Maloney
Born: New London, Connecticut
Family: Wife Valerie and daughters Meghan, 17, and Carleigh, 14.
Civic Involvement: AYSO Commissioner; Sunday School Teacher at Holy Cross Church; runs the Society of Professional Engineers’ Math Counts Program for Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties
Professional Accomplishments: Electrical Engineer, owner of JMPE Electrical Engineering and Lighting Design with offices in Santa Barbara and Bakersfield.
Little-Known Fact: John’s first job after college was as a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey clown.
Originally published in Noozhawk