Club Administrator, Sporting Omaha FC
Many of us fantasize about quitting our desk jobs to pursue a career in something we have an undying passion for. Most never get the chance to even consider taking such a leap of faith. But Renee Wanderscheid isn’t your typical daydreamer.
“I just had a moment in life where I needed to do something meaningful. It took a little bit of time to discover what that was, but I believe I have found it.” That’s how she explained her decision to quit the corporate world after 20 years to become one of the most well-respected club administrators in youth soccer.
At Sporting Omaha FC, you’ll find Renee in any number of places. In the office on a Wednesday working through documentation requirements for coaches and team managers. Plugging away through new player registrations on a Sunday morning. On Monday, she may be leading her staff in dodging spiderwebs to clean out boxes in the storage closet, and then out on the field coaching one of SOFC’s girls’ teams that same evening.
Renee has developed quite a reputation over the years.
A reputation for dropping everything to help her staff (bathroom scrubber and net mover, anyone?). A reputation for knowing how to “calm” that parent. A reputation for working through weekends and vacations. A reputation for being a model of what it looks like to genuinely love what you do for a living.
In this interview, Renee shares what most people really think she does (no, she isn’t sipping lemonade on the sidelines with a wad of player payments in hand), the not so glamorous and yet tremendously rewarding moments in her day-to-day, and what it means to her to represent the “unsung heroes” of youth sports.
It’s Wednesday. The last day of September 2020. What is on your to-do list today that we’re keeping you from with this interview?
RW: Actually, I’m preparing teams for State Cup. Preparing them, making sure that rosters are completed and players are transferred, moved, and everything’s set and correct because today is deadline day.
Say you’re at an event and someone asks “What do you do?” How do you explain it to them?
RW: It’s a common question, and it’s a very common response for the other people that are asking the question when I tell them I run a soccer club. People think that I’m just taking some money, registering a child, sitting out in a chair, having a lemonade.
Before this, I worked in the corporate world as a project manager for 10 years and when people asked what I did for a living then I’d say it was “glorified babysitting.” I can kind of apply that to what I do now in a lot of ways. It’s taking care of coaches, team managers, and staff, in making sure all their documentation is complete, and they pass risk management criteria.
Many people think that I just get kids registered, collect some money, and walk away. I remind them that we’re the largest soccer club in the state of Nebraska, and it’s similar to running a small business or a non-profit. There’s a lot of things that happen behind the scenes and to think of it as being an administrator for a small business. So, when I typically explain that to people in that manner, they seem to understand it.
How many people are in the club?
RW: For our Fall 2020 season, we have approximately 1,500 kids across multiple programs, about 150 coaches, and then probably around 80 team managers that manage every one of the Select level teams, as well as Recreational teams. We also have a group of staff which probably equates to about 10 people, not all full-time. There are five of us that are completely full-time as office staff.
How did you get started in youth soccer?
RW: My oldest child has played since she was three, starting in the YMCA. That’s when I started learning about organizations in the area. Being busy with work, you kind of forget everything else that is out and around you, so in finding other clubs, I got involved with a small club in the area and served as the secretary on their board.
Also, having played soccer myself through high school, sometimes we watch as a parent, and then that player inside pops out, and we just want to get out there and coach because we tend to think that no one can coach as good as ourselves, right? So I started coaching all three of my children and it led to where I am now. My exposure to soccer started as a child on the playground fields and in the street, playing street soccer with the neighborhood kids, and it continued to grow through my high school years. I began coaching with Bennington Soccer, then Gladiator Soccer, and finally Omaha Football Club (OFC), which was the result of a merger between Arsenal & Gladiator Soccer Clubs in 2009*. Within the OFC organization, I began working with our youth program, alongside our youth director, running training sessions for the players. I had a moment in life where I needed to do something meaningful. It took a little bit of time to discover what that was, but I believe I have found it.
*The name changed to Sporting Omaha FC in 2013 when the club became affiliated with Sporting Kansas City (SKC).
I had a moment in life where I needed to do something meaningful.
So you went from coaching into your current role as club administrator?
RW: Yes, but I never left the coaching world. Along with already coaching a team in our soccer program, I also began coaching in our youth program, and then they needed some help in the office and asked if I wanted to come in and help out during the season. I started doing things around the office when I was at the “I’m only going to do what I want to do in life” point. The administrator who managed the club at the time retired, I was asked if I wanted to take over the role, and here I am today. I found my passion and what drives me every day to get up and get out of bed, come to work, and enjoy what I do. I’ve been in this role for just over three years now. And to complete the dream, I have the most talented, dedicated, and loyal staff you could ever hope to ask for.
If you had to display your responsibilities in any given week in a pie chart, how would it look?
RW: Well, when we hit April, and through the middle of November, I would probably tell you that 50% of my time is spent in the registration realm. Registration entails so much more than just completing a form online. From the point of the player registering with the club, completing all necessary documentation within the system, to then popping through the queue. You have to understand that with the team formation process, players are allowed to attend tryouts for a certain amount of time, and after that time, they now have a window to register on a certain day at a certain time. At that point, they can all go in and register and make their commitment to the club that they’ve chosen. So the club administrators, like myself, are now dealing with multiple kids, 50 to 100 or more, popping through the queue at 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday. The registration process extends well into weekends and leads into long days that turn into late evenings. There are no holidays or vacations during this peak time. With all these players sitting in the queue, we are now tasked with assigning them to specific teams, and we have well over 40 teams. Keep in mind, I am only dealing with our competitive side of the program at this point.
Ensuring that proper documentation has been completed for all of those players accounts for 25% of my time. Have they met all the documentation requirements? Do they have their birth certificate? Do they have a photo loaded? Did they register for the correct program? That happens all the time where they register for the incorrect program, and now it’s a change in the background, and it affects payment plans and everything of that nature. So from that point on, once you get them assigned to the team, now you’re working with entire team rosters and there can be anywhere from 14-18 players per team. You’re cross-checking rosters to make sure everybody’s registered, and if they’re not, you’re sending multiple emails prodding people, “Hey, let’s get this done.” I’d say another 25% of my time is spent on the phone and responding to or sending emails. In June and July, that takes up a huge chunk of my time. Along with that, you’re assigning coaches and staff to team rosters, and reminding them to complete background checks, Safe Sport checks, and concussion certifications. These are pending requirements that must be completed and approved before they are allowed to interact with any of our players.
It’s the same process with team managers and every volunteer in our program that has anything to do with the kids. Even if you’re the team parent on the sideline, the team manager, the assistant coach, whoever you are that is part of a team, you have to meet the requirements of risk management. So, now we’re tracking another 80 people in addition to all of the coaching staff and my regular staff. And then once we get past that and we start getting those rosters ready, now we have player movements from one team to another or one program to another. Let me tell you, June and July are rough.
That’s generally known as the quiet time for other businesses.
RW: Not for us. The staff is up to its ears with work and just treading water to stay afloat. In addition to team formation and registration, I also have the league registrations for every one of our teams. All of these teams play in leagues, and some of them play in multiple leagues, so we have to get them registered for each. I have to know how many teams are going into the league because then, ultimately, I will have to submit them, and also enter blackout dates for the days in which they can’t play games. I have a bundle of teams that I handle all of this for, but a lot of it is, again, the glorified babysitting and following up with my team managers to ensure they are on track and guide them through the process. I will spend a good part of a day just going through each team to ensure all required items have been completed and that every one of our teams is registered on time.
There’s much more going on that people don’t see. Leading up to that point, in April and May, I have to manually build our registration every season for each program. However, It’s probably the worst for June and July and going into the fall of the new season, because I have to manually build the complete season for all of our programs, and that involves building the payment plans for our competitive programs. It’s very time-consuming.
…. years ago, you may have had a handful of options. Today there is a bucketful of options so parents can shop around and look for what they feel is the best fit for their children, whether it’s the coaching staff or the club’s objectives for players.
Club administrators such as yourself are often referred to as the “unsung heroes” of youth soccer. What does that mean to you?
RW: We have an amazing staff. It’s like one big family, and we all just do what it takes and give 100% of ourselves anytime it is needed. So even when you ask me what I do, and I describe all these little things to you that are normal, functional job responsibilities, that doesn’t mean that we don’t step outside of the box. We may be in the office one day and start cleaning out the spiderweb infested nest of boxes in the back closet. Or we need to jump out on the field because maybe the fields crew didn’t get to do something that needed to be done because they can get overwhelmed at times, too. All of us just drop what we’re doing and go do it, no questions asked. I think of those kinds of things when I hear “unsung heroes.” We do what it takes to make our club operate. We do what it takes to make our program happen. And we would stop on a dime and change directions if someone needs help or something needs to be done. If I had to go scrub the floor or clean a bathroom, I’d go do that. Whatever it takes.
With that said, what do you think it takes to not only be good at the job but also enjoy it?
RW: “Enjoy it.” That’s going to be my first point. When I was a project manager, I loved my job, don’t get me wrong. The people were amazing, and I believe people are what keeps you in the game in a lot of places. If you have a great staff and you’re all working towards the same goal, it makes life and the job easy. I tell people today that if you don’t enjoy what you do, then you need to sit down and focus on what your passion in life is. What engages you? What is the thing that triggers you? What makes you happy? I’ve had the flexibility to be able to do that, and as I said, my passion is working with, and for, the youth players within our club. Everything I do is for the players to be able to pursue their dreams on the pitch. I still coach teams. I still work outside of the office and train in our youth club. I sit behind a desk for eight hours, and then I leave to head out to the fields and coach when we’re in season. My day never really ends until I’m off the field. If you have a passion for something, you can get up every day and you can enjoy it. Yes, you need to have a little bit more than just that. It’s a lot of time and dedication, it’s a commitment to your club and its core values, and being willing to do what it takes for your organization.
You have to be extremely flexible, you have to know when to be strong and determined, and when to put your foot down. But there are other times that you need to be understanding. You have to be creative. You may pick up the phone and be dealing with an irate parent for some unknown reason, and they let you have it even if it’s not even geared towards you. You need the skill set to be able to understand why this person is having the issue, get them in a calmer place, and then try to resolve the issue.
For me, it was also the support of my family. They understand the heaviness of the work and putting in extremely long hours, and that I don’t get to take the normal family vacations in summer, and that I’m not always going to be there for some holidays or events. Having their support as I pursue a passion of mine is a big piece of it.
You have a perspective as both a parent and a club administrator. How does that impact the work you do?
RW: The expectations of parents have grown from year to year, and I see two sides to it. There’s the Select Program side, which is our competitive program that goes year-round, and then our Recreational Program side, which is coming out, playing with friends, and having fun. I think the expectations have increased on both sides. Expectations on the competitive program, I think, grow from season to season along with the growth of soccer and the number of new clubs that pop up along the way. For example, years ago, you may have had a handful of options. Today there is a bucketful of options. So parents can now shop around and look for what they feel is the best fit for their children. Who are the staff coaches and what is their experience level? What are the club’s objectives and philosophies? Is there travel involved and how much? How much does it cost? Cost is a big factor. Every time there is an increase in a price, we have to look at it and ask if we are providing as much as we can and how do we justify that? Because we know parents have many choices and we ultimately want them to choose our club.
Even on the non-competitive, recreational side, I think it’s still an issue with expectations. Parents want to see experienced coaches out there with their kids but without the price tag of competitive soccer. And knowing that they’re volunteers and they’re not paid, that’s a process in itself. So, our youth director does a wonderful job in providing curriculum and equipment to those volunteer coaches to prepare them, and give them a knowledge base so that they feel as though they have some understanding of the game and can feel confident in their coaching abilities. They are always invited to our club training events so that they can visualize and learn on the field of play as our club trainers are demonstrating and coaching through sessions for the kids. If the coach is knowledgeable and comfortable coaching in the environment, then the parents feel more confident in knowing that their child is developing their skills along the way.
What would you say to other clubs looking for advice on responding to those expectations? How can clubs be proactive?
RW: You have to be willing to change and make adjustments to your program. As I said before, there’s now a bucket of programs to choose from. What’s going to make your program stick out from the others? What value are you providing to your parents and players? Depending on what you’re looking at, if you’re looking at the recreational side, parents are looking for the kids to have a place to have fun, grow, and still develop. They want their kids to learn and understand the sport. And at the same time, they almost expect to be taught as well. They might not understand it [the game], but they start to get a feel for it. You have to be proactive in changing your program. We’ve had to do it many times.
If I had to go scrub the floor or clean a bathroom, I’d go do that.
Whatever it takes.
Do you have any examples of special programs or events you have done that have been successful?
RW: In our youth programming, we now have some clubs that are extending out into locations that are in close proximity to our club fields, so we now have to find new ways to compete with them to retain our players. Even if you provide a better program, if a specific field location is closer and they can just simply drive down the street in five minutes, that can be an issue, especially when parents have the time constraints they do now. That’s just the way it is, and you have to figure out how to continue to retain players in the program.
So then you have to change things up. We currently have a six or seven-week program where kids can come out and play games once a week, along with a practice. For three Saturdays within that program, we offer skills training, where we’ll have club staff train the children for an hour, work through small group skills, and then ultimately have a little scrimmage at the end. Change happens with each new season. The youth director may decide to run things a little bit differently. Maybe this time, we’re going to take a particular group of girls or boys and work on a different skillset each week, in addition to what we are already providing. We work to incorporate change in everything that we provide. It’s really important not to get stagnant and remain in the same place all the time.
What are some of the biggest innovations you’ve seen in club management over the years and what do you see coming in the future?
RW: For starters, Zoom. There is that word that everyone would like to forget, COVID. Everything hit in March for us here in Nebraska, and as a staff, we had to find a way to adjust rather quickly.
We sat down around the table and started finding answers to the questions we were left to deal with. How do we continue to train our players? How do we proceed forward? And looking at the big picture, how was this changing us? What do we have to do to continue to provide value to our members? We began using Zoom for meetings since the staff was required to work from home. We also introduced it to our coaching staff for virtual training sessions. This technology allowed us to be able to meet with our teams, just like we normally would, twice a week, and provide them with a curriculum that they could work on from home. We were able to demo skills moves virtually. For me personally, it allowed me to communicate with my staff, coaches, and team managers to cover important team management changes and training on new communications software that we implemented in late spring, due to not being able to meet with them in person as in previous years. Moving forward, this will be a valuable tool for the times when everyone is too busy to meet in person but can sign in on their mobile device and have that discussion while multi-tasking, or for the times when weather or illness makes it impossible to be training outdoors. You now have the ability to run a virtual session instead of simply canceling and losing out on valuable training time.
We adjusted to what COVID dealt us, and I think we did a pretty decent job at it. We worked to keep our member base happy and provide value since we couldn’t be out on the field and physically train the kids. Finding alternatives was what we had to do.
Knowing what you know now, if you could go back would you have done anything different at the get-go?
RW: I would have bought stock in toilet paper, sanitizer, and masks!
As I said before, you’re always trying to be proactive and think outside of the box. We’ve always been proactive in developing alternative plans. For example, if it’s too warm outside, what can we do? Well, we can move inside, or have what we call a “chalk talk session,” which is where we go through formations, line-ups, and different things like that in a classroom environment.
Before COVID, every once in a while you’d use a GoToMeeting or something of that nature for large groups, but we never really incorporated into the club. Knowing that and having it incorporated ahead of time, we would have had an easier rollout when something like a pandemic happens. But nobody plans for that. We do a really good job of planning for other things.
You talk about Zoom. How big a part does other technology play in the day-to-day operation of the club?
RW: Technology plays a huge role within our club and its value is priceless. An example of a night and day change would be Team Formation. When I started working in the office, a lot of things were on paper, and that required printing multiple copies of documents and manually writing in changes or additions. We would have to run reports and manually pull the data we needed and then plug that into spreadsheets so that we could sort it out to provide to our volunteers and coaches. The process would take hours upon hours to complete. Then we were introduced to a program that would allow us to do things through mobile devices, and avoid all the paperwork, spreadsheets, and manual key entry. We were able to throw our data into a software platform, and then access it from a mobile device so things like check-ins for team formation, when players walk through the door, for example, was just, “Oh, your name is Joe Smith, click, take a photo, click, assigned number 31, and you’re good to go.”
And from that point, coaches could be out on the field running sessions and just look at their mobile device and know who was wearing what number, what the player’s name and contact information were, and what club they played with. I can’t even explain to you how wonderful that process has been versus us handing out sheets of paper to the coaches with that same information. You have to keep looking at technology season after season and review how you can make your processes better. Or, maybe you’re at a point where the process is the best it can be.
As the club administrator, what part do you have in bringing new technology and tools to the table?
RW: We all have a role. It goes back to finding more effective and efficient ways to perform a task. There was a time that I used to sit down at the dining room table at my husband’s family farm, far away in Minnesota with little to no distractions. I used a huge oversized whiteboard, a box of dry erase markers, and a printed spreadsheet of every team that listed the days they wanted to practice, how many teams they coached, if they wanted to practice back to back, the field they wanted to practice at, and every other detail there was that they would provide. And for hours, I would sit and map out every field that we had and then plug in every team to an assigned spot until everybody had a place to practice. Once that was completed, I would then enter all of that data into a spreadsheet so that we could publish it out to our members. From the moment of creating the form and accepting the responses, to printing off the responses and going through this whole nightmare, we knew that we needed to find a way to improve this process, by reducing the amount of manual labor and ending the duplication of repetitive tasks. Today we house all of our scheduling within PlayMetrics, and all practice schedules are directly loaded to each team’s account. And if a field should be closed due to weather or other circumstances, it’s a few clicks of a button and everyone knows about it immediately. Before that, we had to notify the coach and the team with a phone call and/or email and text. We were reaching out in multiple ways to accomplish one simple task. Now it’s as easy as click, click and it’s done. We all look for improvements, it’s not just me. Everyone in the club is responsible for making their job more efficient. Anyone can bring something to the table and say, “Hey, I found this. What do you guys think?”
The field scheduling nightmare, as you put it, is common in a lot of clubs. Are there other administrative processes that you have seen change or transform through new technology?
RW: The new communication tool that we are now utilizing is a wonderful addition to the current programs we use within the club. When composing an email, if I want to reach out to one particular person or group, I can just click a button and select a specific individual, or I can create a group by clicking each member I want to add and save it for future use. I can select all of my team managers, or all of my coaches from all programs, or just certain ones. I can select every one of my girls’ teams or my boys’ teams. The choices are endless. I no longer have to cut, copy, and paste email addresses, as all the contact information for every member in our club is housed within the communication tool and it’s all just a few clicks of the mouse away. That alone has made my life easier, and I’m pretty sure it has made our members’ lives easier as well. There are many times during the workday when I am focusing on certain tasks, for example, scholarship applications, and it may be a few hours before I can check my incoming email messages. So say a new team manager has a simple question that a more experienced team manager may know the answer to, they now have better access to be able to communicate with each other rather than waiting for a delayed response or calling the office to ask how to get in touch with a specific team manager.
Team formation has also been positively impacted by this new communication tool. It used to involve printing off multiple copies of each age groups’ attendance lists by gender, time, and location, and then making copies and handing them out to multiple coaches on the field that were evaluating the players. That manual process has been cut down to almost nothing and what is left is a very small percentage.
Everyone in the club is responsible for making their job more efficient.
Anyone can bring something to the table and say, “Hey, I found this. What do you guys think?”
How much resistance do you tend to get when introducing new technology to the club?
RW: The thought of introducing the new communication tool to the club and its members, after everyone had already had big changes thrown at them recently with the wearing of masks, frequent hand sanitizing, and social distancing, seemed to be a challenge at first glance. “Oh, by the way, we’re going to train you on something completely new, a new communication tool, that will be implemented in one month and you have a few weeks to learn everything.” So yes, little bits of resistance, but once I got everyone on board via Zoom meetings and showed them how things worked and explained what it was going to do for them and how it would make their job easier, it was enthusiastically accepted in the end. Anytime there is change involved, there will always be some resistance since we are creatures of habit. However, change is inevitable and we must accept it and move forward to be able to adapt to the never-ending new technologies that are yet to come.
You’ve talked about finding your passion and doing the thing that gets you up in the morning. But what, if anything, keeps Renee Wanderscheid up at night?
RW: You know, I’m a pretty good sleeper, so by the time my job is done for the day I’m usually out the moment my head hits the pillow. However, every once in a while, I’ll wake up because my brain can’t seem to stop thinking and it’s usually during those busy months of June, July, and August. I think to myself, I have tasks A, B, and C done, and now I need to get tasks D, E, and F done. And sometimes I will wake up and my first thought will be, did I miss something? What did I forget to do? It’s second-guessing myself. Or, did I put that player on a roster? What tasks do I have to have done tomorrow? It’s very overwhelming within those three months. And there are those moments where you don’t get to sleep right away because you’re already preparing mentally for what tomorrow is going to look like. Thankfully, we do have an amazing office assistant and we are able to delegate tasks to ease the weight of the workload. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to get through what we have to do. It takes multiple people to run the ship here.
Can you imagine doing anything other than being the club administrator/registrar for Sporting Omaha FC?
RW: If I wasn’t doing this any longer, I do know that I would still be out there coaching. I don’t think that’s ever going to stop. I recently just told some of the girls on my older team that I’ll still be doing this when I’m 80. It was hilarious to see them laugh at me like, you can’t do that at that age, coach. I replied, “Watch me, I will just get an assistant to perform the demonstrations.” Outside of soccer, you’d find me out on the lake boating and fishing. If I could do that from sun up to sunset, I’ve had a good day.
RW: I grew up around a lake in South Dakota. We had a cabin there, and I spent a lot of summers in the water and fishing off the dock. My son shares the same interest in fishing as me and everyone calls him my double. So we spend as much time on the lake as we possibly can. I also have two daughters ages 24 and 16 that enjoy spending time on the water, but not so much for fishing. I try really hard to make sure that our time is quality time spent together because my family supports what I do. My husband understood from the get-go that when I said I was going to take over this job, what this job entailed. He knew it was my passion, and that it made me happy. It’s a sense of fulfillment. And without their support, it would be very hard to balance my family and work life.