Who’s the Mentor?

Who's the Mentor?

By Joe Ulm

I’m 50 years old – or, as my son reminded me the other day I’m “half way to a hundred.” Half way to a hundred, indeed. The thing about being half way to a hundred is that I’ve learned things over those years; things I want to share with younger people so they can avoid some of the pain I endured learning those lessons, so they get a head start on life, so they learn fundamentals of success. It means I’ve become “that guy” – you know, the guy who can turn any discussion with younger people into a lesson (these people are more commonly called “dads,” but that’s a topic for another day. 😊).  All joking aside, this idea of sharing knowledge with younger people is how our I-Mentor program started. This spring, three of our I-Mentor players accepted roles as Field Assistants which means I’m their mentor.  I was so excited to dive in.

Now before I turn this story on it’s head, it’s important to know that our I-Mentor program is hard.  Players are asked to create solutions to difficult problems, meet challenging timelines, communicate at a professional level, be a role model for other players, oversee projects, etc.  In fact, it’s expected that players will fail at a number of tasks throughout the program.  They’ll be supported by their mentor throughout, but in the end, they’ll do the work – they’ll be the ones to make it happen.  It’s with this approach in mind, that I asked Soli Kothari, Sam Diebert, and Eli Rades to develop the plan for our fields this spring.  Here’s what they were asked to do:

  1. Create a schedule for every field to so they’d all be prepared and ready for team practices by 4/9.
  2. Define what “prepared” means – for both practices and for games.
  3. Develop a checklist and process for how we prepare fields.
  4. Create an inventory of all the field equipment we have.
  5. Estimate how much paint we expect to use for lining the fields this spring.
  6. Develop calculations for paint usage by field size that can be used for this spring AND for future seasons.
  7. Create a schedule for checking the fields when it rains (for both practices and games), and develop a checklist for how it’s done.
  8. Create a plan for Wagner park.  The plan needed to include a new way to use the park – something we’ve never tried before.

That conversation occurred on March 16th.  Our next meeting was on March 24th which meant they had just 8 days to complete all of it. 8 days that are full of school work and other obligations.  Just 8 days.  If you have kids in High School you know how busy they are; how many obligations they have. How little time they have.  Still, I gave them the list stoically, leaving them with no excuse for not having it done. I hung up the phone wondering if I gave them too much; wondering if I asked too much so soon. I assuaged my concern by reminding myself that challenges like this was what the program was about.  Besides, I had most of the work done already; work I was ready to use as a teaching tool, you know, because I’m the mentor and all.  What I received from them changed everything.

Not only was every task done, but it was all written clearly, color-coded, created using the right tools, and shared with me 15 minutes before our meeting started. On top of all that, they walked me through everything professionally, sharing their thought process along the way and detailing various options that may be worth consideration in the future. Oh, let’s not forget that most of the fields were prepared already, as well.  Weeks ahead of time.  I was amazed.  I wasn’t amazed because I thought they couldn’t do the work, but my gosh…the degree of professionalism they showed and the critical thinking they employed in the process was… better than I’ve seen some people do who are twice their age!

In the end, I did have some suggestions; some ideas I could share with them, things I hope they found helpful. But there’s no question that some of their ideas were better than mine. Some of what they presented taught me.  I firmly believe there is a ton we can learn from younger generations – I just didn’t expect it so soon. 

Half way to a hundred, yes, but also with plenty still to learn, apparently.  Even from those whom I mentor.  Soli, Sam, and Eli – thanks guys. Thanks for letting me be your mentor – and thanks for mentoring me – it means a lot.  Together.  United.  

Stay United, everyone.

The Changing Landscape of Youth Sports

The Changing Landscape of Youth Soccer

By Joe Ulm

Over the past two weeks, two events have caused a shift in the youth soccer landscape in South East Wisconsin.  

The first occurred a couple of weeks ago, when two respected clubs – Bavarians and Inter North Shore – announced their merger.  The second occurred just a few days ago when one of the Kickers affiliate clubs, Germantown soccer club, announced they were leaving Kickers to join The Wave.  

From a personal standpoint, I wish all four clubs the best and brightest future.  After all, we’re all part of a larger community to serve the kids in our clubs, the families, and our communities.  

However, if you’re not deeply involved with the youth soccer community on a daily basis, this news may come as a surprise.  Yet, recent history of youth soccer in this area tells us it’s an absence of mergers that would be surprising.  

Over the past 10 years we’ve seen over a dozen mergers and acquisitions take place in SE WI.   Strike has acquired and / or merged with Oconomowoc and Wales soccer clubs.  Brookfield and Elm Grove merged to become Elmbrook United, and The Wave has acquired Greendale, New Berlin, Walworth, and now, Germantown.  And let’s not forget that just 9 years ago, Pewaukee and Sussex came together to create the club we are today. 

So these mergers and acquisitions aren’t surprising.  In fact, in many ways, they’re required.  It’s how soccer clubs work. 

The good news is that we’re prepared for these changes – and have been prepared for them for some time.  In fact, we’ve already made over a dozen changes to make sure our club will be healthy, vibrant, and strong for years to come. 

We’ll be sharing these changes during our annual member meeting on March 23rd.  Please consider joining us.  Because there’s nothing we can’t accomplish together. United. 

Stay United, everyone.

The Belief/Opportunity/Success Conundrum

The Belief/Opportunity/Success Conundrum

By Joe Ulm

Success requires opportunity, opportunity requires belief, belief requires success.  Put another way…when we’re successful, it’s easy to believe in ourselves because we have proof that our efforts create successful outcomes.  Therefore, we’re more likely to embrace opportunities, and embracing more opportunities gives us more chances to be successful.  It’s a chicken and egg situation, but in this case, we don’t need to figure out which should come first (belief, opportunity, or success) – the real question is…how the heck do we teach this to our players?  The answer has two parts.

First, we need to recognize that embracing opportunity almost always requires us to do something new or change in some way, and that means being uncomfortable.  For our players, uncomfortable often means a painful experienceespecially if they’ve put effort into an opportunity in the past and failed.  So the first part of the answer is that they need to understand how belief, opportunity, and success work together – and that even if they fail, it’s their belief in themselves that will can carry them through the next failure, and the next, until they’re successful.  As adults, we know the path isn’t easy, but we also know it’s worth it because we understand how the three concepts are connected.

The second part of the answer is to create the best possible environment that allows players to learn these concepts; an environment rich in opportunity and full of people who encourage and support every player.  Because players will fail more than they’ll succeed, initially.  Just like we did.  But that’s what we’re here for.  Parents, coaches, club, and community, teaching, supporting, encouraging.  United in purpose, United together.

Stay United, everyone.

Of Course, Success Means….(Part 2)

Team success.

Of Course Success Means...(Part Two)

By Joe Ulm

Team success.Imagine for a moment…imagine that you are trying to accomplish something big, really big, life-changing big, and you had 20 amazing people around you. People you hand-picked; people who were phenomenally skilled at their craft – people who are committed to your goal as deeply as you are. With all these people around you, you create a rock-solid plan. You consider every contingency, every variable, and you figure out answers to them all. Everyone is confident as you set off to accomplish your goal. Then things start going wrong. One thing after the next; everything begins to fall apart. You fight through each problem, but over time, the opportunity passes. You’ve lost. 

What are you going to do now? Now that you’ve lost? Are you going to start from square one and do all that work over again? Or are you going to move on to something else?

I don’t think there’s a right answer to either question (go after the same goal again or go after a new one), but I do think there’s a wrong answer: doing neither.

As adults, the idea that failure (i.e. losing) is part of life seems obvious. Likewise, we understand that if we’re to achieve our goals, we’ll need to pick ourselves up after we fail, learn from our mistakes, stand tall, and get after it again. Because we understand that failure is always part of the success and taking action is the best cure for failure.  However, with hundreds of kids in our Club, there are bound to be many who don’t understand these concepts.  It’s another reason why youth sports are so important – because sports teach.

So please, humor me one more time and imagine… 700 kids. More. 1000. 5000. Every one of them understands the relationship between failure and success. They have the resources around them they need to handle failure productively and they have new opportunities to dive into. And, of course, they have a United community of family, friends, teammates, and coaches to support them. Can you even imagine all they could do?

Stay United, everyone.