Everyone Plays: Mike Hoyer, National Executive Director of AYSO
For so many people growing up in the United States AYSO is a an indelible childhood memory they treasure for the rest of their lives.
Many associate it with a halcyon time they played sport purely for fun and without the anxiety that creeps into so many “games” with their teenage years and beyond.
Parents are happy enough to see their kids blossom in teams with names like the Purple Panthers and the Star Trek Troopers and the most important job on match day is ensuring there are enough snacks.
Mike Hoyer, AYSO’s new National Executive Director, is passionate about protecting all those precious memories and safeguarding the family values of sportsmanship and inclusion that have always been the central pillars of the AYSO ethos.
But he is also determined to buck the tradition of AYSO’s most talented players quitting to join clubs to improve their chances of progressing in the sport.
From entry-level AYSO Playground Soccer to AYSO United, the organization’s nascent “club” teams, and the AYSO adult leagues, Mike wants to keep the nation’s soccer players, young and old, in the family.
Like many administrators, Mike’s AYSO experience began as a youth player and youth referee and then he became a founding member of Region 75 in Whittier, California.
He returned to AYSO as a volunteer coach when his children began playing soccer in 2004. Coaching led to other volunteer opportunities including Regional Commissioner, Area Director, serving on a Regional Board and being elected to the volunteer National Board of Directors in 2013.
Now in the top job overseeing the 460,000 players under the AYSO umbrella, Mike wants to keep the organization moving forward to improve its programs and broaden its attraction while maintaining the fun, family environment based on AYSO's Six Philosophies:
- Everyone Plays
- Balanced Teams
- Open Registration
- Positive Coaching
- Good Sportsmanship
- Player Development
He points out that no less than 5 of the US Women’s National Team at the last World Cup played AYSO at some point, which is a fine achievement. But he sees no reason why such an important sporting brand should stand still.
The great advantage AYSO has over its cash mill club competitors is that it isn’t governed by the bottom line.
“We are not driven by revenue,” he explained. “We have a very different cost structure than the clubs and, as a result, we are considerably less expensive.”
Mike is concerned by what he terms the “inactivity pandemic” among youngsters. While spectator sport is rising, participation is down in almost every sport, with the anomaly exceptions of lacrosse and fast pitch softball.
“The challenge is to get kids out to play,” he said.
The AYSO United academy-structure addition to the core network is being tried out in New Mexico, North Carolina, and California and has won an enthusiastic response from players and parents alike.
“Our reaction so far is enthusiastic and cautious. We are excited about the potential but, at the same time, it’s important to protect our core business,’ he said.
“When I ran for the Board of Directors one of my platform items was that there were areas of this countries that we didn’t serve,” he added.
The AYSO executives were realistic about the challenges of some inner city communities where parents often have to work two jobs and don’t have the time or the money to pay for their children’s sports. It was often more difficult to recruit volunteer coaches and referees in those areas and, as a result, the programs never got off the ground.
So what Mike and his colleagues have done is to create new partnerships with the Parks and Recreation Departments of city councils. The councils provide the locations and spread the word to families and AYSO starts off by putting on soccer camps for the local kids.
“We do this through a couple of cycles and get a coaching base and provide the soccer framework. AYSO will also offer after school soccer programs. Our hope is that these kind of partnerships will grow and kids from every community will have the opportunity to join AYSO.”
Taking the outreach one step further, AYSO is also founding a foundation that will teach fitness and wellness to younger children as well as the soccer basics.
Mike, the father of two kids, ages 16 and 13, is determined to ensure that every child in the country is able to join AYSO.
And he hopes fewer will simply look back fondly on their time with the organization. Instead, they will keep AYSO an integral part of their everyday lives as they leave the Cuddly Dinosaurs uniforms behind and carry on playing soccer into adulthood…with a smile, of course.