Vancouver soccer coach and dad Will Cromack has come up with a way to motivate kids to play better soccer, and, at the same time, do something good for the world.
He’s the creator of Play Better, a program that rewards youth soccer teams that demonstrate improved skills and sportsmanship.
The idea grew out of his coaching experiences — not all positive, Cromack notes. “I’ve seen some crazy stuff happen: parents are yelling at referees. Parents are bringing doughnuts to the field. They’re paying their kids reward money for scoring a goal,” he says.
All that isn’t doing anything to make kids better soccer players, he notes. “Canada’s world ranking scores somewhere around Papua, New Guinea,” he says.
“Iceland produces more pro soccer players than Canada. Tiny little Iceland!”
Cromack wants to change that. His idea is simple — yet the results have been brilliant. To start, he convinced a couple of volunteer parents to use retail counter clickers during a game. The kids were then encouraged to make passes to their teammates — instead of aiming solely for the goal, or not paying attention at all. Every time they made a pass, the parents clicked.
At the end of the game, they realized the kids had all come together to play better as a team. The game was no longer just about who wins or scores the most goals.
“It was an epiphany. They were instantly playing better soccer,” he recalls.
Inspired by the initial results, Cromack made the kids a deal. After discovering that 10 of the 12 kids had been impacted by cancer in one way or another, Cromack offered to give $10 to the kids to “fix cancer,” he says.
“They were so pumped because it means something to them.”
Almost immediately, the kids began to play better, and parents and family loved it — so much so that by the time the season finished, the team had raised $2,392. Some money went to children’s cancer charities, and some went to Freekicks, an organization that helps disadvantaged kids around the world play soccer.
“These kids made a real difference, and not buy selling chocolate-covered almonds,” he says. “They did it by doing what they love doing.”
(They raised their money via Chimp, a crowd-funding website, so that Cromack could focus on coaching, not on juggling fistfuls of dollars and donations.)
Parents stopped yelling at their kids and coaches, Cromack notes. “How can a parent yell at their kid when they’re intentionally passing to raise money for their sick auntie who’s in the hospital?”
Perhaps not surprisingly, it didn’t take long before other teams were also paying attention to Cromack and Team Falcons.
A second team in Vancouver started to incorporate the idea early last fall.
More recently, nine West Coast soccer clubs have signed up, as well as teams in Halifax, N.S, Toronto, and London, Ontario.
As a child growing up in North Vancouver, Cromack was soccer-obsessed. He played throughout his teens on junior national teams, and also played with the ’86ers, a precursor to what is now the Vancouver Whitecaps professional soccer team. He went to the University of British Columbia, but dropped out to run a successful bicycle shop with his father.
While he was running the bike shop, he developed a reputation for his charitable fundraising stunts — including riding his indoor bike for 24 hours in a row and racing across Canada.
You can learn more about Cromack and his project and sign up your soccer team for the program at the website; you can also follow him on Twitter.
Coaches and parents can also download an information package at the Play Better site.
As for Cromack, he hopes that one day the principles behind what his team has been doing can be applied to other sports, everywhere.
“Soccer for now,” he says with a laugh. “Then we take over the world.”