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South Jersey coach calls for limitations on youth soccer tryouts

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Mike Otto calls growing practice of teams inviting players to try out during the season “a circus”

Mike Otto low-fiving one of his players during a Delran High School game last fall
Matt Ralph

Mike Otto has been coaching high school and youth soccer in South Jersey for more than two decades so he’s seen a lot of trends come and go.

But the recent practice he’s seeing of players trying out for and leaving youth clubs mid-season has motivated him to speak out.

The head coach of the Delran High School boys soccer team and a youth coach for both boys and girls teams in the scholastic off-season sent a letter earlier this month to N.J. Youth Soccer outlining a proposal to put limitations on try outs.

“Youth soccer is an absolute circus right now,” he said in a recent interview. “It used to be that you had tryouts after each season or at least not until the end of the season. Now I’m getting emails in early March, late February, this season in particular, about players trying out for other teams. First game in the spring season I’m already having issues with parents and kids talking about trying out for other teams.”

With this practice, Otto outlines in his letter, “comes stress, anxiety, lack of trust” and “animosity between parents, players and coaches.”

His solution is to mandate two tryout periods during the year. For example, two weeks in February and two weeks in June could be set aside as tryout windows for clubs.

“My philosophy is I try to see the tomorrow in every kid,” Otto said. “I like to see the development. I like to build the relationship and be an influence. When players shuffle in and out of these teams every year, you can’t build that trust, you can’t build that loyalty.”

Otto isn’t alone in his thinking.

A response to his letter from N.J. Youth Soccer Director Rick Meana cited fellow coaches who “have expressed the same outrage that change is needed now.”

Meana recommended Otto touch base with the other coaches and officials to flesh out a formal proposal that could be brought to the board in New Jersey.

Otto plans to submit a formal proposal this week.