Developing a Youth Athlete in Pacific Palisades

By Sue Pascoe

If you talk to parents in Pacific Palisades, many of them will assure you that the best way to have a child play a college sport is to start as young as possible, hire coaches along the way, and play on a club team.

Not everyone agrees.

“Parents think by paying, they are getting better coaching,” said Steve Morris, the long-time AYSO Coaching director and Coast Sports founder, who says there is no statistical data that shows a coach will help a 7-year-old develop into a college athlete.

“BJ” Bradford Jamieson (back row, fourth from the right), 19, who now plays profes- sionally with the Galaxy, played with Palisades residents on the U12 Santa Monica United Club team. His speed and talent were already evident as a child.
“BJ” Bradford Jamieson (back row, fourth from the right), 19, who now plays profes- sionally with the Galaxy, played with Palisades residents on the U12 Santa Monica United Club team. His speed and talent were already evident as a child.

Christian Chambers, a club coach for Santa Monica United and the Palisades High girls soccer coach, agrees. “I just held tryouts for a [club] team and there were 75 to 80 kids trying out. Many of them had not made their AYSO all-star team or their AYSO extra team, so they tried out for club,” said Chambers, who is simply looking for players with talent. “It goes against logic. They are good kids with good families, but say they are trying out because they don’t have a good coach.”

The harsh reality, of course, is that the vast majority of kids who play a sport will never advance past the high school level, let alone ever sign a pro contract. The few who do are exemplified by “BJ” Bradford Jamieson, who started with AYSO on the Westside, joined Santa Monica United, and now plays forward for the L.A. Galaxy II. He was early recognized for his speed and drive to score; by the time he was 15, he was already on the United States U17 National team.

In an earlier interview with the Palisades News, former L.A. Kings star Luc Jean-Marie Robitaille was asked if hiring specialty coaches will help kids become professional athletes.

“All professional players who make it, have a passion,” he said. “There are players who are good, but will not last if it was their dad who was pushing.

“I would ask my dad to spend money to send me to a power skating school to improve. It was my idea,” Robitaille said. “The kid has to want it.”

Coach Chambers said, “The classic line parents hear now is ‘If you don’t go club now, you’ll get left behind.’ The truth is, there’s always a club.”

“And if you’re good enough,” Morris said, “the club will find you.”

Cynthia (Jacobo) Rosa, an assistant coach for Cal State Northridge this fall, holds numerous records at her alma mater, where she earned 33 career wins in goal and helped lead CSUN to its NCAA Tournament appearance in 2012.

She told the News, “I didn’t like club much. I played AYSO my whole life and my dad was the coach.” She played in the International AYSO Games in Florida and recalls, “It was so much fun!”

“Parents are falling for the pitch that their kids will be failures [if they don’t play club],” Morris said. “There are so many voices in the ears of parents. They think their kid is the next Messi and if he/she is not competing at U7, it’s over.

“Clubs, because it has become been so diluted, is now what AYSO used to be— only more costly. The kids are now as young as U6 because the clubs are reaching out younger and younger. People realize they can make money on youth sports.”

Morris, the father of three, decries the loss of perspective, saying that with the em- phasis on club sports, recreational sports have taken a backseat.

“AYSO is great for the vast majority of parents and kids because it stresses development,”he said.“It’s a more nurturing environment, kids play in their community, they play with their friends.”

Hannah De Silva, one of the leading scorers at PaliHi during her high school career, now plays for Long Beach State.

“Some of my best friends are from AYSO,” said De Silva, who joined the Westside Breakers when she was 12. “There is less drama, less politics. I would say that AYSO was a better experience and I have better memories.”

Morris commented, “Fifteen years ago club soccer was more elite. Now there are a ‘zillon’ club teams on the Westside. In the last five years, it has gone from four clubs (Breakers, PCSD, Galaxy and Santa Monica United) to 10 clubs. There are now about 75 teams on just the Breakers and Santa Monica combined.”

Morris, whose three kids, Evan, Dorie and Griffey, initially played AYSO, all switched to club around 12 years of age.

“Dorie played until she was U16 and in high school, but dropped out of club because she said it wasn’t fun,” Morris said.

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