Youth soccer on the decline?

David Cahue drives down the field Thursday during an American Youth Soccer Organization practice at Wampler-Keith Park.

Several American Youth Soccer Organization volunteers have noticed a decline in participation from parents, which has raised concerns about the future of youth soccer in Loudon County.

Erica Ammons has been involved with AYSO for 17 years and has served as the Loudon County AYSO Region 325 commissioner the last 14 years.

She has noticed a sharp decline in parent participation.

“The volunteers just keep going down and down and down,” Ammons said. “We have a need for about 30 coaches per season and it’s really hard to even get those coaches. We also need a pool of about 15 referees so they don’t have to do three or four games per weekend apiece, but we just can’t get that right now. I’d say there’s about five referees that referee every weekend. Out of those referees, none of us have kids in the program.”

Ammons has been forced to coach at least two teams every year, which has required much time and effort.

“I haven’t had a child in the program the last four years because they aged out,” she said. “I still coach, at least, two or three teams every season. It needs to be the parents stepping up. It seems like it’s the Millenial age and they’re becoming parents and they just don’t want to volunteer. This is the generation that actually played soccer in their youth. I’m in my 40s and most of us didn’t play soccer, so you’ve got a lot of grandparents involved who are actually doing the coaching. It’s really hard to get.”

Ammons believes a large underlying problem is simply a lack of commitment among younger parents.

“I don’t know if they’re just terrified to volunteer,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like it’s much of a fear thing, like I’m fearful of volunteering or being in front other people. It’s almost like this entitlement of somebody else will do it. It’s not like it’s a parent that just wants to go shopping. No, they’re at the field for every practice and every game. They put their two cents in and are judgmental, but they won’t get out there and coach their child. They’re just not willing to volunteer. I think it’s a generational thing.”

Lori Melroy has been involved with AYSO soccer in Loudon for more than 20 years and has also voiced concerns.

“It’s always been difficult to get volunteers,” she said. “A few years back, Erica recruited somebody to train for the job and that sort of fell through. I got roped back into it and we’ve been unable to get anybody to take over since then. There’s a bunch of us that don’t have kids in the program and getting somebody to step up into the commissioner role has been impossible.”

Melroy agreed with Ammons and believes many young parents are unwilling to sacrifice their time.

“I don’t know, but I think part of it is generational,” Melroy said. “A lot of parents are more willing to put down the money, but not willing to spend their time. That’s tough.”

Ammons believes the issue does not just lie with AYSO, but with other local programs as well, including Lenoir City Parks and Recreation sports.

“Not volunteering is very common,” she said. “I spoke with Steve Harrelson a year ago and he voiced the same issue with getting volunteers for basketball and baseball. The majority of our volunteers are in their mid-30s or 40s. There’s an occasional 20-year-old — maybe one per season.”

Ammons will more than likely step down as commissioner at the end of the April, which could signal the end of AYSO in the county.

“If it goes away, it’s really going to be a loss for the community,” she said. “We have about 300 kids every year that play. As soon as I say, ‘I’m gone,’ then there is no program unless the parents step up and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to volunteer.’ If not, then all the AYSO resources for the county will be returned to the AYSO national program. They’ll just absorb everything back in. If somebody from the community steps up, volunteers, takes all the courses and fills out the paper work, then they can run the soccer program.”

Melory is uncertain of AYSO’s future in Loudon, but she is hopeful recent messages will help spread awareness.

“I don’t know if it’s going to survive,” she said. “We did stir up a little bit of response from the postings I’ve had on this so far. If we don’t get a commissioner, we will not have fall season if we don’t get people to step up.”