Dan Woog, Chair of United Soccer Coaches’ LGBTQ & Allies Advocacy group and United Soccer Coaches member since 1983.


There are few things I like less than the incessant thumping of EDM, or the incomprehensible-to-me appeal of rap.

But that was a small price to pay, for the joy of spending four days in the Vermont woods with 11 teenagers last month.

They were the returnees on our Staples High School (Westport, Connecticut) boys varsity soccer team. Every year, we plan a bonding trip a couple of weeks before tryouts. There’s no soccer –state rules don’t permit that – but there is plenty of other action.

The players think the goal is to have fun with their friends, before the rigors of the season. They’re right. But there’s another agenda: putting them in unfamiliar situations, getting them outside their comfort zones, and having them work as a team.

There are a few rules: limited cellphone use. Every time they get in vehicles, there’s different seating. And no parents – just a young alum, and me.

Usually, we rent a house. (Planning starts in January. Do you know how hard it is to find a place that sleeps 15?) This time we lucked out: One of our returnees had a house with an adjacent barn, 2 ½ hours away.

It’s at the end of a three-mile dirt road that had been partially washed out by recent rains. So – listening to music I dislike, bumping along – I too was out of my comfort zone.

But the beauty of a trip like this is that everyone rises to the occasion. After figuring out who would sleep where – a random, pick-a-number process – and a bit of competitive spikeball, the group figured out the next activity: cliff jumping.

We headed to a nearby river. Players clambered over rocks, jumped into the chilly water, and headed straight for a ledge. They wisely checked the depth. They tested it, from a low ledge. Then they hurried to the top.

The intrepid boys supported those who were hesitant. They warned each other not to jump until everyone was clear. But they also did team jumps, and jumps where they attempted (unsuccessfully) to catch a football in mid-air. It was a joyful afternoon, one totally different from those they’re used to in their suburban hometown.

That set the tone for the next three days. They made decisions as a group. They went hiking and canoeing (where they found an even higher railroad bridge to leap from). They played a few fierce games of paintball, and relaxed at a pick-your-own berry farm. (The more knowledgeable players taught the others all they needed to know about fruit.)

At night they played Manhunt and cards – and sat outside to watch a meteor shower.

Leaders emerged, from likely and unlikely sources. Jokes were shared. Bonds tightened.

I got a great, inside look at the lives of my players off the field. There are many similarities to my own teenage team days, back in the 1970s. But I realized how many pressures youngsters face today, and how different their world is now.

We had a great time. They learned a lot about each other, and themselves. I learned a lot too, during impromptu conversations at meals, in canoes and on hikes.

And in the long car rides back and forth. Even over the din of what passes today as “music.”