Games Grownups Play

Recruiting violations. Cutthroat competion. Big money. Larger egos. It isn't NCAA football. It's kids' soccer, Dallas style.

The level of animosity generated in these incidents has left parents and coaches apprehensive. Most would talk to the Observer only on the condition they not be identified for fear the NTSSA would ban them, or their children, from soccer. Parents also are afraid of provoking coaches who are involved in picking the state and regional teams or have connections with universities.

One parent, who has devoted the last decade of her life to select soccer, went as far as to warn me to be careful about what I wrote because it could jeopardize the future of my 6-year-old son should he prove talented enough for select soccer.

Another parent, Carolee Aderhold, a mother of three who has been involved in select soccer for the past 10 years, just resigned as the under-11 commissioner of the Classic League because she's weary of the politics and skullduggery. "It's getting ugly out there," Aderhold says. "I could write a novel."

Politics aside, many parents have soured on select soccer for more basic reasons. "Coaches have begun to care more about winning and their paychecks than they do about the kids and their development," says one mother, an eight-year veteran of select. "They tell you at the beginning how they want to become such an important part of your family--that they'll be at your child's wedding some day. Then they turn around and berate you and your child if he's having a bad day. Gee, what happened to being part of the family?"

She says her two children burned out on club soccer this year and told her they wanted to drop out. The coaches lectured her that quitting select soccer was too important a decision to be left to children.

"There was a time when I would have talked them back into it, when I would have kept them up to all hours and drove all over creation to keep them in soccer," she says, "but not anymore."

Diego Castro is still stunned over being summarily dismissed from his job as coach of three Genesis soccer teams. Castro has a reputation for being exceedingly fair with his players, for trying to teach the values of sports--discipline, teamwork, loyalty--and for caring about player development as much or more than about winning.

Some say being a nice guy, ironically, is what got Castro in trouble in the first place.

Like many kids in his native country of Chile, Castro learned the basics of soccer before he learned to talk. His passion for the sport continued when he and his family moved to England, then Los Angeles, where he played on school teams. He turned pro at age 18, playing for a Chilean team. For the next decade he played for a variety of pro teams here and abroad, including for the Sidekicks.

By the 1990s, pay for professional soccer players--which has never been very high--began drying up as leagues crumbled. Castro supplemented playing pro ball with a job as an assistant coach for the men's team at University of North Texas, where he had gone back to school for a degree in history. When the men's soccer program was axed, he turned his attention to competitive youth soccer.

A boyish-looking 34, with the massive thighs common among lifelong soccer players--Castro was in his third year of coaching with the Genesis club when the 1995-'96 season started. He and his wife, Kathy, a former star professional soccer player herself, coached five Genesis teams between them. The club had 13 teams in all, but only the Castros' teams were playing in the preeminent Classic League, which gave the club a cachet.

This year, about 45 10-year-old kids competed for 16 slots on Castro's '85 team. One of the boys was the son of the club manager. Smaller and slower than most of the other candidates, the boy was the weakest of all 45 players, Castro says, but he put the boy on the team anyway. "His father had contributed an incredible amount to the club and I felt his son deserved a place on the team--if he was willing to work hard and had a good attitude, which he did," Castro says. "But I also felt it was my duty to tell them both that developing skills takes a long time. He needed to be patient because he wasn't going to see a lot of playing time in the beginning."

The boy averaged only about 10 minutes per 60-minute game, more in scrimmages, which didn't count in the standings.

Castro spent the fall trying to mold the boys into a cohesive body and teach them to play strategically. "It was exciting to watch the kids, who didn't know each other before, to come together as a real team," says Gordon Hunter, whose son is on the team. "I fell in love with the game, even as it was played by 10-year-olds. To see them working their way down the field, finding a niche in the defense, moving the ball around as they got into formation, helping each other out, it was a joy to watch--and unique. Hockey is sort of a whirlwind. Football is interrupted by downs and huddles and time-outs. Baseball is so laid-back. Soccer has a tempo, a flow."

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