Kieran Clancy loved soccer. Like most club soccer players in Arizona, the 18-year-old had long hoped to land a college soccer scholarship.

Clancy and his family had done all the right things. Since he was 10, he'd played with one of the most expensive clubs in Arizona, the Sereno Soccer Club, at a cost of about $10,000 a year.

This past June, Sereno's top boys' team gathered for the State Cup. Clancy scheduled college scouts to travel to Arizona to watch him play, according to one of his teammates.

Les Armstrong, former director of coaching at the Sereno Soccer Club
John Dickerson
Les Armstrong, former director of coaching at the Sereno Soccer Club
At the Sereno Pro Classic Tournament in October in Phoenix.
Arizona Action Photos
At the Sereno Pro Classic Tournament in October in Phoenix.
At the Sereno Pro Classic Tournament in October in Phoenix.
Arizona Action Photos
At the Sereno Pro Classic Tournament in October in Phoenix.
At the Sereno Pro Classic Tournament in October in Phoenix.
Arizona Action Photos
At the Sereno Pro Classic Tournament in October in Phoenix.
Petar Draksin, men's soccer coach at Grand Canyon State University and director of soccer operations for club CISCO.
John Dickerson
Petar Draksin, men's soccer coach at Grand Canyon State University and director of soccer operations for club CISCO.
At the Sereno Pro Classic Tournament in October in Phoenix.
Arizona Action Photos
At the Sereno Pro Classic Tournament in October in Phoenix.
Brittany Cole, a scholarship athlete for the University of Arizona, also played high school soccer for Corona del Sol.
Courtesy of Brittany Cole
Brittany Cole, a scholarship athlete for the University of Arizona, also played high school soccer for Corona del Sol.
courtesy of Arizona State Media Relations

But Clancy never got to play in the tournament. A signature on a form showed up — allegedly Clancy's signature — stating the boy had agreed to drop out of the game, to make way for a college All-Star player. (Clancy's mother did not return repeated phone messages left for her and Kieran.)

As he and his family apparently told soccer officials, after Sereno had won the state championship and then the regional championship in Hawaii, Clancy never signed the form. At a meeting of soccer officials, they said that his coach, Les Armstrong, 45, forged his name to get him off the team.

Such are the high stakes in Arizona club soccer.

It caught the interest of the club team in Colorado that had lost to Sereno. The team hired lawyers to investigate. In July, the US Youth Soccer National Championship board revoked Arizona's victory, awarding the championship to the second-place team.

Then, the Arizona Youth Soccer Association conducted its own investigation. It concluded that Armstrong had ordered the forgery.

On August 8, the Arizona board suspended Armstrong from coaching soccer for five months. As the director of all Sereno coaches, Armstrong was making a base salary of $75,000 at the time.

Armstrong went from being the coach to beat in Arizona to being unemployed.

"Kieran had these college coaches coming out to see him [play] at the State Cup game. It was just terrible because they forged his drop signature on the form," says a Sereno teammate who played with Clancy since they were 10.

The teammate, now 19, doesn't want his name used — for fear that Les Armstrong could sabotage his chances of getting a college scholarship.

"With people like Les, who have huge pull in certain colleges, one phone call could destroy us. If he makes one call to a university that I'm looking at, there goes my soccer career," the young man says.

Armstrong says Clancy was never on the team in the first place. He maintains that he never signed anything.

Armstrong's drive to win the State Cup was typical, according to a Sereno parent who also worked as a sports psychologist for Sereno athletes. That man, Daren Treasure, resigned from the club in April, citing an abusive culture that trickled down from Armstrong.

"Based on my observations and work with the coaches and virtually all competitive teams in the Club, I believe the culture in the Club is at best unhealthy and at worst abusive," Treasure wrote in his April 17 resignation.

"Winning cannot be the ends that justifies any means, and the desire to win should never serve as a justification of dysfunctional, abusive, or demeaning comments or behaviors," Treasure wrote, adding that under Armstrong, "winning has come at too high a price for the emotional, psychological, and physical well-being of the children and adolescents in the club's charge."

On a recent Saturday afternoon, about 5,000 soccer players, parents, and siblings gathered for the annual Ahwatukee Foothills Soccer Tournament. A comfortable breeze passed over the groomed grass. SUVs, Lexuses, and motor homes with plates from Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado lined the parking lot.

Soccer moms with umbrellas and snacks relaxed in lawnchairs as their kids played. But the apparently calm parents at this tournament belie a deeper reality that's taking hold of Arizona club soccer.

As parents have grown increasingly concerned about college scholarships, the competition — both on and off the field — has grown fierce.

Standing under an awning, digging through a box of red T-shirts, Alec Gefrides, director of the tournament, says some Arizona club parents and coaches have lost sight of the sport altogether.

"Most states only allow eight tournaments a year. Arizona has 42, so the kids are literally playing year-round," he says. Gefrides adds that he knows a lot of great parents and coaches in club soccer. But the competition is getting out of hand.

"It's ridiculous. It's jealousy. Those parents pay all that money, and they want to be the best because they're paying all that money. As a parent, you get obsessive, I think," he says. "When I see somebody saying a 10-year-old kid shouldn't even be on the field, that's going too far. These parents are way too competitive."

That competition routinely spills off the soccer field. A few weeks after Sereno director Les Armstrong lost his job and was suspended, two parents of former Sereno players contacted New Times. Both parents requested anonymity.

Over coffee, the parents told stories about Armstrong. One provided an inch-thick binder of legal "dirt" on Armstrong: divorce documents, a citation from the city of Scottsdale for urinating in public, and a stack of photos that looked as though they'd been taken by a private investigator. The photos show Armstrong standing on a soccer field in Nevada, a violation of Armstrong's suspension, they said. (Armstrong says he wasn't coaching in Nevada, just watching a game, which would not be a violation of his suspension.)

The parents' bold attempt to oust a soccer coach is indicative of the high stakes in club soccer. Not surprisingly, the entire trend of club sports — now a national phenomenon — was born out of a lust to win.

In the late 1970s, parents and coaches across the country created "clubs" as an opportunity to get the upper hand. Most school sports last only two or three months, so parents created private clubs to train their kids year-round.

When club players showed up for school sports, they dominated the players who trained for only a few weeks. Other parents saw the skill of club players and quickly enrolled their kids in clubs, too. By the mid-1990s, the best high school athletes in nearly every sport played club.

Now some of the best club soccer coaches in Arizona ban their kids from playing high school sports altogether because they say the competition is beneath them.

Twenty years ago, however, club soccer in Arizona was still just a half-step up from recreational soccer. Soccer moms brought zip-lock bags of sliced oranges to games and gave carpool rides to kids who played the sport for the fun of it. Most coaches were volunteer dads who didn't get a penny for their hours on the field.

Now, soccer moms refuse to give rides to their children's teammates if those teammates get more playing time. Directors like Armstrong make annual salaries of $50,000 to $75,000, on top of the $50 to $100 an hour they can charge for private training sessions. Coaches ban parents from talking to their kids during games and, during out-of-town tournaments, some coaches require parents to sleep in separate hotels from their children.

Club sports have grown into the premier training grounds for top college athletes, particularly in soccer. As the relationship between club and college soccer tightened, a market for paid coaches developed.

The concept is that a professional coach can help a high school student get noticed by a college coach and receive a scholarship. Because colleges have more scholarship funding for female soccer players (see sidebar for more information), the competition is most brutal among the girls.

To this day, the best club coaches in Arizona don't waste their time coaching boys' soccer. Coaches like Armstrong spend their evenings and weekends coaching girls under-15 to girls under-18, for which parents gladly pay between $8,000 and $12,000 per year.

In a culture of intense competition, some are wondering whether the basic love for soccer has been lost.

When the board members of Sereno met to discipline Armstrong for the alleged forgery, about 100 parents and athletes showed up to protest. The issue became so nasty that Sereno president and soccer mom Darla Sipolt wrote in a letter to parents:

"Somewhere along the line, it seems that some folks have lost sight of the reason why we are all here — FOR OUR KIDS! Let's be mindful that it is still YOUTH soccer."

Others are concerned, too. Athletic trainers worry about chronic over-training and career-ending injuries during the teen years.

High school and college coaches say the best athletes are no longer playing high school soccer — an experience those athletes could eventually regret missing if they don't get a college scholarship.

Some wonder whether club coaches, focused on their salaries, have become more concerned with self-promotion than player development.

Parents say they're concerned about verbal abuse from overly competitive coaches, too. Some are having second thoughts about the psychological effects of throwing 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds into that mix.

Jim Dougher's oldest daughter, Maggie, played on Sereno's top team for three years. He remembers a time when Armstrong berated his daughter in front of him and the other parents.

"We were at a game at regionals and Maggie got called offsides. Les yelled out, 'Oh. Maggie, how the fuck can you be so stupid?' I said, 'I can't believe he just said that.' Other parents said, 'Oh, don't worry. It's nothing. He's just trying to get her motivated,'" he says.

Fed up with the drama at Sereno, Dougher recently transferred his younger daughter to another top club that he feels is slightly less competitive, SC Del Sol.

"In my opinion, youth soccer has gotten out of control. It's become a cottage industry. My other girl is going to [a tournament in San Diego] this weekend. We're being forced to stay in certain hotels, pay more than we would at other hotels. We have to prepay for three nights, no matter if we stay there or not."

Other parents are less concerned about cursing and more concerned about losing. They're wondering where Les Armstrong — known for his championship teams — will be coaching when his suspension ends in December.

Before the early 1990s, there was little money to be made in club soccer, says Hugh Bell, who has coached club, high school, and college soccer in Arizona for more than 20 years. Soccer was the most popular sport in the world, but it wasn't a priority for parents or kids in Arizona.

Among other reasons, American kids had no superstar soccer players to idolize. Boys in the 1950s could dream of becoming the next Mickey Mantle, and the 1980s begat Magic Johnson, but there were no American professional soccer pros to emulate.

Major League Baseball started playing its World Series in 1903.

The NBA took root in 1946.

Leatherheads formed the NFL in 1921.

Major League Soccer, the only pro league to succeed in the U.S., wasn't formed until 1993.

Now American kids can dream about playing in the MLS or even the World Cup. They can idolize superstars like David Beckham or Tim Howard, a New Jersey goalkeeper who now plays on a multimillion-dollar contract in the U.K. (Ironically, Howard didn't play for an expensive club team. The U.S. National Team recruited him straight from his high school, where he played basketball, too.)

As soccer's popularity increased in the U.S., so did the market for paid club coaches.

Alec Gefrides, at the Ahwatukee Foothills Soccer Club, says that because soccer is young in the U.S., parents don't know the sport. They hire foreign experts to coach the kids.

"Dads know how to teach baseball, basketball, football. But dads don't know soccer in the U.S. So what happens is the dad would be trying to teach, but their knowledge of the sport is just not big enough," Gefrides says.

"Then these English and Brazilian guys who didn't have careers moved to the U.S. and found this huge hole for kids who needed coaches. They didn't take a lot of money back then. But they knew how to teach the game. The dads realized really fast, 'Wow, I don't know anything about soccer.' So a guy could call his buddy back in England. 'Hey, come over and coach soccer.' Then all the sudden the whole club soccer phenomenon happens."

Les Armstrong was one of those international coaches. In 1986, he moved to Phoenix from Scotland. He lived with his uncle, a plumber, and worked at an indoor soccer complex in Tempe.

In 1988, Armstrong took the reins of Sereno from a volunteer dad and became one of the first paid coaches in the state. The money was tight. Armstrong says he made just $114 a week when he started.

"I was painting fields, working with other coaches. We were working 70 hours a week, easy, and every weekend. But it's not work when you love it. Even painting the fields, I loved doing it because I wanted the teams to come and say, 'Wow, look at Sereno's field,'" he says.

Clubs with paid coaches soon began to dominate the competition. Other clubs followed suit, hiring their own full-time coaches. Now the top clubs in Arizona have staffs of 10 or 12 coaches, all on salary. Directors at top clubs can make between $75,000 and $85,000 per year.

In those days, Sereno was one of the few clubs in Arizona. Now the state has 63 clubs. Many of those clubs have dozens of teams. The five or six top clubs vie for the best players in the state. Those clubs have multiple girls' teams and boys' teams in each age bracket. At the very top of each girls' and boys' bracket is an A-team and, below that, a B-team.

Even within clubs, the competition to get bumped up to the A-team can be fierce. Armstrong remembers when a new board of directors was elected. The board members privately tried to use their positions to promote their own kids.

"Within one week, I had already been approached by three of them, asking me if I could push their kid up onto the top team," he says.

As demand for club coaches increased, also-ran soccer players from England, Brazil and Central Europe migrated to the U.S. to coach. Now the directors of Arizona's top clubs hail from overseas. Mark Lowe, director of SC Del Sol, is from England. Petar Draksin, who directs the club CISCO, is Romanian.

Ironically, given his international status, Draksin thinks the influence of international coaches has been detrimental to soccer in Arizona. "We have too many foreign coaches," Draksin says. "If we foreign coaches were so great, our own countries would keep us. Ninety percent of coaches are great. But there are some who are very controlling and many of them are in the top clubs."

Hugh Bell is an Irish-born American who moved to New Jersey from Ireland during high school. He coaches the men's team at Yavapai College and has coached at every level in Arizona.

"Some of these people — who usually talk with an accent by the way — are supposed to be God's answer to coaching. That is the biggest joke in the world. They come to this country and have an opportunity to make money. And they're just waiting for the next check to come," he says.

Whether it's the fault of foreign coaches or not, Arizona club players now train and play more than those in neighboring states. Some parents feel the players get more attention from college coaches than they did in the early 1990s.

Nevada, Colorado, and California each have eight or 12 weekend tournaments a year. Arizona has 42. This doesn't mean Arizona's players are better. It just means they play — and pay to play — in a lot more tournaments.

Also unlike in other states, Arizona club soccer continues year-round. Some drive from Gilbert or even Yuma to make practices in central Phoenix four nights a week. Then the teams spend all weekend together at tournaments.

Coaches on the top teams are discouraging — or altogether banning — their kids from playing high school soccer. College players and coaches think that's a disservice to the athletes.

"Playing high school got me prepared to play for a different coach, because my club and high school coach weren't the same," says Brittany Cole, a freshman at the University of Arizona on a full-ride soccer scholarship. Cole played for Corona del Sol and for a club that allows its players to compete in high school, AZFC.

Many of the girls on the soccer team at Xavier Preparatory, a private Catholic school in central Phoenix, do manage to play both club and high school soccer.

Xavier's athletic trainer, Laurie White, says that with the increase in club competition has come an increase in career-ending injuries. "I have to say that, from back then [in the '80s] until now, I just see so many more over-use injuries and chronic things," White says.

Some former club parents also think the training has gone too far.

"I would say that [Armstrong's] training style is a somewhat abusive, controlling style," says Peggy Neely, a soccer mom — and the vice mayor of Phoenix. Neely's daughter, who now plays for University of Nevada-Las Vegas, walked away from Armstrong's Sereno team during her senior year — after she felt punished for deciding to play high school soccer.

"Les' deal was always to control everything they did at all times," Neely says. "There were kids who had brothers and sisters graduating from high school. They didn't go to the graduation because they were too afraid of what Les would do. Those are just some of the tactics he would use. Les wouldn't even let the parents stay at the hotel with the kids."

Asked about over-training his female athletes, Armstrong says there's no such thing as over-training.

"Over-training, it doesn't exist. The bar was set here," he points to his chest. "We took the bar, and we made it up here," he points above his forehead. "Some kids are not capable of stepping out of the comfort zone. Those are the parents who will complain. They don't want to travel. They just want to have fun and have cupcakes after the game and play some baseball, too. That's not how it works."

Armstrong says that if a kid won't play up to the level he or she is capable of, he'll tell them: "No, take your boots, get the hell out of here. We don't want players who are going to decide when they're going to train and not. This is a special environment. If you want to be here and prosper, then you'll play by my rules."

The scholarship dream rarely comes true. Some 36 years after Title 9 went into effect, women's soccer is incredibly competitive. That doesn't keep Arizona parents from dreaming, though, or from paying thousands of dollars to keep their daughters in the best clubs.

"I know now kids are thinking about playing college when they're like 8 or 9," says Kyleyn Felts, who attended ASU on a soccer scholarship.

She was a starter and captain of ASU's soccer team until spring, when she finished her senior year. ESPN the Magazine named her to the all-district team twice. Now, Felts coaches under-9 soccer for the Ahwatukee Foothills Soccer Club.

Felts, who played club soccer in California, says Arizona's club culture has an increasing over-emphasis on scholarships.

"Now I see more pressure from parents to get scholarships. A guy approached me in the gym and asked if the SoCal Blues helped prepare me for a scholarship. I was like, 'Yeah, they helped.' Then I found out in the stream of the conversation that his daughter was 9 years old. I was just blown away."

Few, if any, parents will recoup the thousands they invest into club soccer, college coaches and other experts say. Alan Meeder, former college coach for University of California-Santa Barbara and director of The Soccer Academy, says most scholarships are only partial.

"Cobi Jones [an American soccer legend who played for the Los Angeles Galaxy] was a walk-on at UCLA. He was not a scholarship student. That's a reality check for some of these kids. Cobi Jones wasn't a scholarship player at UCLA," Meeder says.

Bell agrees. "That's nonsense that you have to play club to get scholarships. I have sent players — very, very good players — to Division I programs. I'm talking about Alan Gordon, who now plays for Galaxy. That's quality. Now, did Alan Gordon get 100 percent at Oregon State? No. He got an 85 percent scholarship, but that didn't start until he was a junior," Bell says.

Other coaches confirmed that the majority of scholarships they give out are not a full ride. Many are not even awarded until an athlete's junior or senior year.

Jim Dougher spent $32,000 for his daughter Maggie to play three years at Sereno. During her first two years at Washington State University, Maggie didn't receive any athletic scholarship. Now the captain of the team, she gets a 70 percent athletic scholarship, which will equate to about $22,911 in scholarship savings by the time she graduates. That's about $9,000 less than Dougher invested in club soccer.

"There are very, very, very few full-ride offers," he says.

On an early November morning, Les Armstrong is seated in the open-air patio of an Einstein Bros. Bagels in Phoenix. Steam from his coffee swirls into the chilly air. Armstrong has just returned from a visit to his mom, in Aberdeen, Scotland. He's counting the days until his suspension ends.

Soon, he'll get back to doing what he loves: coaching soccer. He says he has three job offers and that wherever he lands, it will become the best club in that state (he won't say which state) within years.

One thing is sure: Armstrong won't be returning to Sereno. President Darla Sipolt says the club remains competitive, but adds, "We're trying to broaden our perspective, as opposed to being just about wins and losses."

Armstrong has shoulder-length hair parted down the middle. He's wearing a waterproof Nike training shirt, warm-up pants, and an athletic watch. Armstrong says that after 20 years of directing a club, with more than 40 teams per year, he can point to dozens of parents and players who enjoyed their years at Sereno.

Paige Carmichael, a senior on Texas A&M's soccer team, told the Sereno newsletter that Armstrong prepared her to play at the college level. "I think the club experience I had with Sereno prepared me above and beyond for college. Les really made me — I think everyone else would agree he did the same for them — the player I am today."

Claire Bodiya, a captain on the University of Arizona soccer team, agrees. "When I came in to University of Arizona along with the other girls from Sereno, we were definitely the most prepared," she says.

Armstrong's former players have excelled in college, and two former Sereno girls on the U.S. Women's National Team, which recently played in the World Cup.

Armstrong says the parents who aren't happy are the ones whose kids didn't make it to the next level, probably because they weren't good enough.

"The reality is that, if my kid has a bad experience, the easiest thing is to blame somebody. Right now, I'm a pretty easy target. They can blame me for the rain, the snow. I'm probably at fault for the economy right now."

Armstrong says he doesn't mind parents complaining about his dirty mouth, but he wishes they'd confront him in person — rather than baiting a newspaper. He says the parents can be just as brutal, whether they swear or not.

One group of club parents booted a "scholarship player" who was an African refugee off the team because he was getting more playing time than their rich white kids, Armstrong says.

"On road trips, we were asking people 'Can you take one of these kids?' These are kids that have no money. We were asking 'Can somebody let this kid share a room with you?' They'd go, 'No, there's no way I'm taking him, because my son's only playing 20 percent of the time, and he's playing 80 percent of the time. We'll not take him in,'" Armstrong says.

"The culture really changed. It got kind of twisted, you know, from being a team sport, which is what it should be, and it ended up being a group of individuals — parents — doing what they think is best for their own kids," he adds.

For all his wily ways, Armstrong has delivered what club soccer parents paid for — victory at any cost and opportunities to play before college scouts. Former Sereno parent Jim Dougher says, "Les was verbally abusive, in my opinion. His method for motivation was fear and intimidation, a lot of threats. But he really does a good job of getting kids prepared to play at a college level."

Competitive parents created the market for coaches like Armstrong. Now, it seems, they're getting what they paid for.

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Ben Cowan
Ben Cowan

This article and all the comments have been quite interestingto me, as Les Armstrong, is now training my son's team, herein Las Vegas. I must say that after reading it all multipletimes, I'm not sure whether to be worried or thrilled.So far, no complaints.


There are two main issues that need to be separated: playing youth soccer, and coaching youth soccer. First, "playing" youth sports should be enough fun, that you want to continue playing as long as you can. Does that happen in our Youth Soccer programs? I don't know - you tell me.Second, Youth, or children are defined under the AZ Revised Statues as "any person under eighteen years of age". These same Statutes provide for the welfare of our children, and identify abusive behavior. It would appear that all adults that care for/ supervise youth are required to do so without abusing them, that this is not an option, and that the youth players can not absolve an adult by agreeing to tolerate abuse from them. Perhaps we should get the opinion of USYSA/ USSF Counsel as to whether publically berating a child, etc qualifies as abuse.?


There are two main issues that need to be separated: playing youth soccer, and coaching youth soccer. First, "playing" youth sports should be enough fun, that you want to continue playing as long as you can. Does that happen in our Youth Soccer programs? I don't know - you tell me.Second, Youth, or children are defined under the AZ Revised Statues as "any person under eighteen years of age". These same Statutes provide for the welfare of our children, and identify abusive behavior. It would appear that all adults that care for/ supervise youth are required to do so without abusing them, that this is not an option, and that the youth players can not absolve an adult by agreeing to tolerate abuse from them. Perhaps we should get the opinion of USYSA/ USSF Counsel as to whether publically berating a child, etc qualifies as abuse.?

Drake Northpine
Drake Northpine

Jesus, these parents are no better than stage parents.

Angelo Onorato
Angelo Onorato

I am a 70 year old man who strated coaching youth traavel soccer in the 70s and continue to this day. I have never taken a penny and don't intend to do so. I have had girls teams that have won multiple titles including multiple state and regional championships.

Being one of those parents who started learning the game as I volunteered to coach in the seventies, I have observed the trend described in the article and have been concerned for a long time. It's very worrisome. Some good things have also happened over the years. The kids trained and coached by the volunteer parents in the 70s and 80s are now better equipped to coach and train the new kids. Some are doing so on a volunteer basis or for very little compensation. This is a good thing. However, some of the big money makers frown on those who still coach for the love of the game and for the kids. Of course, if you don't take any money, you can't be very good (sarcasm on my part). Some coaches/trainers/administrators now involved in youth soccer are in it full time and strive to make as much money as they can. This is not a good thing in my view. Too many parents willingly pay exorbitant amounts of money for their children to play on the so called elite teams. These parents want results for the money (winning, scholarships, etc). They put more pressure on the paid coaches which builds on the kids. Thus the real ugly issues described in the article. The kids suffer.

This business environment brings about too many competing money making entities who go after the top players at early ages when it should be about fun. The focus on scholarships, Olympic development, etc. at early ages adds to the pressure and forces kids and parents to make difficult and stressful decisions such as "play here but you can't play high school soccer, etc. I look back with fondness at the days of oranges at half time and drinks at the end of the game. Sure there were problems and maybe the kids did not get the best training but they developed into pretty good athletes and citizens. We all have a stake in this and can't let it go to far out of hand. We need to get back to competition, development and fun. I have no issue with reasonable compensation and benefits but it is way out of hand. We need a better balance. Thanks for the article.

Angelo Onorato

molly bear
molly bear

I'd like to start by saying that if this whole thing never happened, I would still be playing for Les Armstrong right now and would be happier than ever. Yes- he can be a little strict sometimes. Yes- he says some things that he probably shouldn't. But truth is, he knows what he is doing. I never left a training session feeling like i didn't get anything out of it, i've never had a coach push my team so hard. Even the nights that we felt like quiting, second best isn't good enough for Les Armstrong, and that is the best mentality that has ever been instilled in me. Sereno is not for every one, there is no doubt about that. If you aren't willing to practice 6 days a week, if you aren't willing to sacrifice social things and not play high school soccer, if you aren't willing to compete for your playing time, no one ever said you had to play for Sereno, or Les for that matter. But for people who have never played for him to judge his character or to judge the Sereno program is unjust. I have 15 teammates who would love nothing more than to train with Les Armstrong every night. I'm not saying what he did was the right thing to do, but to take away a program that he built wasn't right either. instead of interviewing an angry parent or a coach of a team Les has beat in state cup every year, how about interviewing the girls playing Divison 1 soccer right now? Or the ones who can say they have represented the US National Team? Or the teams who don't know what it is like to lose a state cup title. People can disagree with the way he coaches and treats players as much as they like but when it comes down to it, he builds champions. And after all, as mentioned multiple times in the article, our parents don't pay ALL THAT MONEY for nothing.

Shaylyn Scott
Shaylyn Scott

I am an assistant coach for a u-11 Boys team in Oro Valley and a parent forwarded this article to me. I played for the Sereno 86' Golden Eagles under Les Armstrong and to this day I am thankful for everything this man has done for me. I don't play soccer anymore and quit playing shortly after my first season in College. But the memories I have of playing for this very special team are everlasting. It hurts me everytime I hear some negative story come up about les, or hear some parent slandering his name. If it was so awful to play for Les, why did your daughter continue to play?

I worked my butt off and sacrificed a lot. There wasn't a practice I came home from that I wasn't dead tired and every part of my body sore. He pushed me every step of the way, but more importantly I know he believed in me when even I didn't. I still quote some the inspiring things he used to tell our team to pump us up. He built a toughness in me that even three brothers couldn't beat into me!

I am a huge fan of Les Armstrong, and no, I wasn't one of the best players on the team, nor was I on any national teams.. but none-the-less, I'm a fan. I am forever greatful for everything he taught me.

And like Les would say.. "if I went to war tomorrow, I'd like to have him fighting there with me" =)

Mitch B
Mitch B

Loved this article. Glad to know Nevada is not the only state that seems to have moral corruption problems with youth sports (soccer in particular). I would love to share Nevada stories with you.

Kathy Stump
Kathy Stump

This is an excellent article! I'm researching the club sport movement for a local magazine; this is the most comprehensive piece I've come across to date. Thank you!

I'd like to know more about the increased competition among women athletes due to more scholarship funding being available. I was unable to locate the sidebar referred to on the website.

Again, thank you for publishing a detailed, balanced piece on this phenomena.

Phat Daddy
Phat Daddy

I want to make it clear, there are different levels of play (and commitment) for soccer club teams, there is "A", "B" and rec teams. My daughter played Sereno rec but when it came time for more competition we queried other parents for a new team. We found that the Scottsdale Blackhawks (Red A.K.A. the B team)was a good fit. The drive to where Sereno practices is a 1/4 mile from our house but we found the 15 mile round trip to Blackhawk practices were well worth it. I feel our success is that our teenage girls all get along, our parents are not expecting there girls to the next Mia Hamm but a student first and a athlete second. Our manager and trainers are a good fit for the level of play.

The coaches and players are only 2/3 of the team, the parents are part of the team too. It doesn't matter if a player, coach or parent is a poor sport at a game, you represent the team and will not be remembered as the "dad in the green shirt" yelling at the ref, you will be remembered as the "Blackhawks dad" yelling at the ref.

Our team play is on hold for High School soccer season, anyone who wanted to play High School Soccer is on there respective High School teams. Over the past 4 years we have had girls play all year on the soccer team and play other sports like softball or volleyball. Our Manager and trainer expect to the girls to give 100% at practice, games or school work. If a girl has a school function or school work, we make it work without them.

As far as cost we are not an "A" team so our fees may be about $700 per year plus a couple out of city tournaments a year. It is worth every penny because my daughter loves it.

Sereno is one of the most competitive teams in the US, it a a good fit for some but not all.

Mark Smith
Mark Smith

It is interesting reading the article and comments about Sereno and Les. Before I comment, in the interest of full disclosure, I was on the board of Sereno for over 7 years and was president when he was hired. We moved to Minnesota 15 years ago, thus I have had limited contact with him over the years.

First off, if he is as bad as some are claiming, what kind of parents would let him coach their children, and what kind of player would play for him year after year? Many of these comments come across as sour grapes more than a picture of reality.

Second, if your kids are playing soccer just to get a D1 scholarship, you need a serious reality check. The scholarships are few and far between. Over the years, my kids have played on top teams (including two trips to the youth national tournament) and we have seen more kids quit (more often due to parents than coaches), get injured, or their talent just not progress to the point of playing at the D1 level. One of my kids did get a scholarship, and she was an All-American, thus I have a perspective of what it takes to get to the top of the heap � drive, desire, skill, a lot of luck, and most importantly, a love of the game.

When we left Phoenix, Sereno had never had a state championship team, much less gone beyond the state tournament level. 7 years later, we ran into 4 Sereno teams at the national championships. Sereno has become one of the best clubs in the country. I am sure that many people contributed to this rise, and I am also certain that Les was a major part of this success.

We have run into Les numerous times at soccer tournaments, and he has been nothing but gracious, supportive and even though my daughter left the club when she was 7 years old, he would still come to her games and proudly cheer her on and give her big smile and hug after the game. From our perspective, he is a class act.

As for the allegations against Les, I can assure you that as a former board member of numerous youth sport boards, sadly, it is often petty jealously that drives the results more than a desire to find the truth and correct the situation. Keep this all in perspective, the judge and jury are not without bias.

We wish Les the best of luck in his next endeavor. He is always welcome to join us in Minnesota either as a coach or as a friend.

Janele DeBaca
Janele DeBaca

I had just heard about this article today from one of my teammates. When I read it, I agreed with pretty much everything that was stated. I have been playing for SC Del Sol for most of my youth soccer career, so I will not comment on Les since I never knew him personally. Although, I do agree with what he has said about parents. I think that the parents of competitive players have caused the biggest problems. From a players point of view, it is pretty evident on how parents try to embellish their kids' abilities; trying to prove to other parents that their kid is better. I believe money is thrown around and flaunted through the camps their children are sent to, their personal training, and the equipment they use. The saddest thing out of all of this is the bad mouthing parents resort to during games. Many times I have heard parents bashing on other kids' abilities during games, for everyone to hear, and when their own kid makes a mistake, they say nothing about it. I don't want to sound like I am saying this about all parents. Sometimes there are maybe just a few of these parents on one team, but even one is too many in my opinion.

There is an immense difference in club soccer in Arizona from when I was younger to now, as a U18 player. Clubs have become a lot more expensive and false hope has been given to players based on scholarships. We're told if we outplay everyone on the field we will be noticed. Coaches need to start explaining to their players the importance of their academics. I have not met one person to go on to play for a D1 college that had horrible grades. I do know many extremely skilled players that are given a chance in community college to play, which for some reason is looked down upon by some soccer players, coaches, and parents. Coaches need to explain how much of a step there is to the next level. From my jr year to senior year, about half of the soccer players I know have changed their mindset from a D1 or D2 to community college, including myself. The other half is still following the dream, while paying a good amount of money, and not having any guarantees of playing their freshmen and sophomore year. I think those decisions should be placed in the hands of the player with parent support. It's sad to see some players being forced into situations they don't want to be in. Some parents and coaches need to settle down and rethink what we all do. Soccer is a beautiful game and I couldn't imagine my life without it. I love my team. We are a family. I enjoy every moment with them, including all of our practices. I just wish that all players at different clubs in Arizona could say the same.

sandi leroux
sandi leroux

I'm very disappointed to read only the negative things this writer could dig up on Les Armstrong. When I tried to call him for a interview he hung up twice on me. He knew the interview wasn't going to be negative. Isn't it funny that most people like to hear the dirt rather than the positive. Ok parents those of you complaining did you think your kid was a starter? Or did you think a competitive club was all fair time? Or did you really believe your kid was better than the ones getting the minutes and Les just wasn't fair? I'm sure Les trained everyone of those kids to be better than they would have been if they were coached by a parent that just coached so his kid could play. I'm sure you all know where I'm coming from. My daughter left home to go after her dream when she was 15 years old. She called me crying many times that she couldn't do it anymore. The door was open for her to come home. The only thing keeping her in Arizona was Les Armstrong. She loved him as a coach and a person. She believed he would get her to the next level which a player like her needed. She has told me many times she believed if it wasn't for Les she wouldn't be where she is now. Which was on the U20 womens national team and she won the golden boot and ball award at the world cup plus the world cup gold medal. I'm not saying this to brag I'm telling you this cause he was her coach and he trained her to be the player she is today. She is so upset that this has happened cause she doesn't see it this way. Don't tell me there isn't a coach out there that doesn't have their favorites. Lots of times they are harder on the ones they believe can make it to the next level. They know how hard they can push them. Or they let them get away with more than they should. I'm right I know that but every coach has his or her favorites. It's more the parents that have the problem with the coach than the players do. Or the parents all fighting with one another because of the competitiveness. Which we all know how much that happens. Most time the coach doesn't want to even get involved he's just there to coach the kids not to get in the middle of parents hating one another. I heard a call one day when Les was on the phone saying that the club was cutting back on scholarship money and he told the guy on the other end that he would do whatever he could so those kids could play. He was so worried about what would happen to these kids if they couldn't get scholarship money from the club. Now for the kid that thinks Les would sabatoge him from a college coach, come on do you think if a college coach thought your kid was special and was willing to give the kid scholarship money Les would honestly put the kid down. If your kid didn't get a scholarship it's because there are so many kids in the country and other countries they liked better. The parents that do the complaining are the ones that shouldn't have their kids in competitive clubs cause they are hurting their own kids because they want them to be this super star they aren't. It's just not in their blood parents. We all think are kids are so much better than they are and it's us as parents that are to blame. So please quit blaming Mr. Armstrong if your kid didn't get his or her scholarship, or fair playing time, you had your choices on what club you wanted to play in and its time to wonder what you did wrong. We wish Les the best of luck and remember don't always believe what you read cause it's only one sided..

Former Sereno Parent
Former Sereno Parent

As the father of a daughter who received a "full-ride" scholarship, I can tell you that my daughter would not have traded her experience at Sereno for anything. Over the last year we visited 6 schools on the East Coast and all said the same thing, "we like Sereno players because the club has them prepared mentally and phyiscally to play D-I soccer". Les Armstrong, Ally Maxwell, and Vini dos Santos were all outstanging trainers who took her game up to where she now has the opportunity to compete at the D-I level. No one forced her to play, or stay, at Sereno. She did it because it attracted serious players who had the same motovation and drive that she has.After reading the article and notes I see that most miss the point of Sereno and the top club programs in the country, to develop players that have a desire to play soccer at a university level. Compitition is fierce for these scholarship dollars and most of the partents I met wanted the best for their kids.

This is a wonderful country and you can vote with "your feet" if you desire. Some kids leave because the program or coach doesn't suit them, for others it is a money or time issue, or sometimes the parents just don't understand what they signed their kids up for. And yes, some level because they do not receive the playing time they were expecting but that is usually a function of skill level and hard work. Sereno was very clear to us in the beginning that this program wasn't for everyone. No one lied or told us it was a love-in. We were told that soccer at Sereno was serious and it was run for the benefit of the kids and the club, not the parents. If the program is so terrible, why did they win all 8 girls State Championships last year and 7 of 8 for coutless years before that?

Top level club programs around the country are for the serious, college bound player. There are plenty of other programs that have different goals and objectives and parents should ask those questions before they commit their kids to a program. Find the one that is in line with what you and your child desire.

Steve Cooke made a valid point that there is a whole other side to this story. Soory it would not be nearly as sensational as most of the garbage, half-truths, and lies printed in this one.

My daughter received exactly what she wanted from Sereno. Was everything perfect, of course not. Find me perfect program in the valley or anywhere in the country. We got exactly what we paid for. Thank you to Les, Ally, and Vini for what you have have done for 1000's of kids in the valley!!!

Been there, Done that, Glad it
Been there, Done that, Glad it

This article just begs a follow up in the arena of girls club volleyball. Misleading promises of scholarship offers, competitiveness beyond all normal bounds, AIA turning a blind eye to infractions by club directors, the list goes on and on. Check out the winners of recent high school volleyball titles, then see how many members of those championship teams play for the same club.


If Les and Co (in fairness to Les, there were other coaches that did similar things) really believed this sport was all about the team, I'm not sure how you measure their success.. Helping - to the extent you really can - your players get individual scholarships does nothing for the team. Winning a tournament by cheating does nothing for the team, except label it...Recruiting players and sitting them on the bench does nothing for the team, except to humiliate those players in front of their friends and teammates... Embarrasing and berating players, and officials ("your embarrassing yourself sir" - is so pompous and condescending that I don't know how the refs restrain themselves), does nothing for the team except teach them how to make excuses.This club has many state cup victories, but only one national title to show for all the effort, sacrifice and expense incurred by their players and parents.In my book, coaching and teaching is all about the students... It's all about preparing them to succeed, in whatever discipline you teach, and in life, in general. To that end, cheating, demeaning players and officials, etc are typically not an approach you want to hold out as an acceptable means to an end.

Tony Genualdi
Tony Genualdi

It's kind of a shame that youth soccer has to be so money-driven.

I've read lately that the English Football Association has started not keeping score at youth games, so the kids and their parents can focus on sharpening skills, and keeping a love for playing.

Alos, the big Argentine club Boca Juniors doesn't keep track of trophies won by its youth teams. Their "Hall of Fame" is what matters. That is, the players themselves who graduate to the first team, and indeed go on to play for Argentina's national team.

It's a shame we can't be like that.

Barry M. Rybicki
Barry M. Rybicki

I for one would like to echo the comments made by Steve Cooke. I also coached with Les at Sereno as a parent, not a paid trainer, I also have 2 boys that absolutely love him. With this being said I can not even begin to tell you the knowledge and understanding of the game that I picked up from Les. It is unfortunate that bad words spread faster and with more furiousity than anything positive. It is also unfortunate that it was never mentioned how parents have used Les, sure he was paid for the job he did but there was also a ton of stuff he did just for the benefit of his players and was never compensated for these actions. The one thing I can say is wherever Les ends up the club and its players will be better off for it.

Steve Cooke
Steve Cooke

Dear Mr. Dickerson,It would appear to me that you have taken many comments and from them made many false interpretations. I have known Les for around 12 years and was a colleague for 8 of those years.Les took a fairly recreational soccer club from anonymity to national prowess. This does not happen by merely having an accent and bluffing your way through. It takes incredible dedication, tremendous knowledge and a culture of discipline, organization and excellence. True, there will be some who disagree or dislike some teaching and coaching methods, but there will be many who are extremely grateful for their experience and the expertise that their children were able to gather.Les Armstrong is without doubt one of the most knowledgable soccer coaches in the country and one who has enabled many young people to live out their dreams. His vision for the program at Sereno created immense success for both individuals and teams. You should probably do some research and print another article citing all the many positives that parents, players, coaches and administrators have to say about Les Armstrong and the Sereno program he created and guided for years.I personally would like to thank Les for guiding my coaching career in the years I worked with him. Undoubtedly, the experience and information I was able to gather from Les has and will continue to be tremendously valuable to myself and the many young people we work with.I believe my comments will be echoed by many.

Regards, Steve Cooke.

A Mom
A Mom

"Armstrong says the parents who aren't happy are the ones whose kids didn't make it to the next level, probably because they weren't good enough."

This quote couldn't be further from the truth. My daughter (and many like her)is playing on a full ride scholarship at a top ranked division 1 school. Les Armstrong was her coach and I was counting down the years until I could get that man (too nice a word) out of our lives. He constantly swore, yelled and threatened the girls and let the parents know that if there was a problem the player needed to address it; not the parent. The parents and players on the team were terrified to say anything to Les, knowing that if they did their playing time and/or position on the team would be cut.

Many times certain running drills would end up with one or more players literally throwing up; they were told to wipe their mouths off and re-join the drill.

Yes, we did stay on the team as it was one of the top ranked in the country and did result in scholarships for every girl on the team. Today I am not sure if the verbal and mental abuse was worth it.

Please withhold my name as my daughter is STILL uncomfortable with Les knowing how she feels and is concerned he could STILL sabatoge college career.

J. Fishman
J. Fishman

The local soccer community would benefit from integrating the philosophy of the Positive Coaching Alliance ( into its core programs (Club, High School, etc). This organization promotes the concept of a "Double-Goal Coach". To directly quote from their web site: "A Double Coach strives to win, and, more importantly, uses sports to teach life lessons through Positive Coaching."

In fact, the soccer community may look to the Arizona lacrosse scene to mirror these efforts at improving coaching philosophies and by extension finding balance in a sport's winning tradition...

The Arizona Youth Lacrosse League ( comprised of over 40 High School Lacrosse boys teams (Varsity and JV), and 22 Junior High teams---note that lacrosse is not currently AIA sanctioned so all HS teams are essentially Club level--has mandated that all Head Coaches for the 2009 season become Double-Goal certified through Positive Coaching Alliance. With these coaching philosophies in place, a Club's culture will still embrace a competitiveness to win, but no longer will "win-at-all costs" be the primary focus.

Lacrosse, like soccer, may offer a few elite players a chance at college scholarship--typically a partial ride--but ultimately the student-athlete has to find satisfaction and reward in academic pursuits...the prospects of becoming a professional lacrosse athlete are remote (and far less lucrative on the financial totem pole than perhaps a professional soccer player), so ones academic achievements will be a more likely route to career success.


Some one double check this for me, hundreds of parents spend upwards of $10K/yr on club soccer for 8 years in the faint hope that their kid might get a scholarship?

Tuition at Arizona colleges is about $6K/yr for 4 years.

Athletics is fun but wouldn't all those girls be better served with a better education and a bit less soccer?

Jim Dougher
Jim Dougher

For the record, it appears that the author has misunderstood my comments about my daughter's scholarship.

She did receive athletic scholarships (in addition to her academic scholarships) in both her freshman and sophomore years at college - they were not just full scholarships.

The maximum number of scholarships (as I understand the rules) for a womens D-1 soccer program is 12 and most programs carry at least 20 girls, so unless your kid is a super star, a four-year full-ride soccer scholarship is not likely. That's why I have always preached to other parents about the importance of grades. Coaches like kids that get good grades and some schools provide very generous academic scholarships that supplement athletic scholarships nicely.

Also, the money I spent for club soccer was for four years, not three as was stated.

As far as Les saying that he would have preferred that parents confront him personally about his foul mouth, unfortunately he made it painfully clear that he did not want to be bothered by parents. Unfortunately, I think that was a mistake on his part as it allowed anger to fester with parents.

The whole situation is unfortunate because Les was really able to get his players to play at a higher level. He just didn't seem to understand the need to take care of his customers - the parents of the players.

Although I didn't agree with all of Les' coaching methods, I do hope he figures it out because he really does have a lot to offer in preparing kids to play college soccer.

Rich Williams
Rich Williams

As a preface...I am a totally in favor and support our children participating in athletics and do believe children who excel at whatever sport should have "elite" teams to play for. I am also a member of the National Youth Sports Coaches Association. However-

What kind of an idiot believes there is no such thing as over-training??!!!! There is a HUGE amount of scientific research in this area, much of it paid for by people have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the salaries of professional athletes. It seems as though Mr. Armstrong feels he has a better understanding of this than someone such as Dr. Phil Maffetone..."...overtraining comes with many potential structural, chemical and mental problems...". Why in the hell we let egotistical idiots like Armstrong control the lives of children is beyond me. You can bet that for every athlete that gets a scholarship there is another who has been "warped" by a dictatorial coach who is more interested in his own ego that the overall welfare of the athletes they attempt to instruct.

Mike Chichester
Mike Chichester

It's interesting how Armstrong appears to criticize parents who use withholding of rides to other players as a means of competition while simultaneously demanding his players be unrelenting on the field. If this is all in pursuit of a future reward (however illusory) of scholarships, then everyone appears to be playing the same game.

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