Powered by MOJO: Fairbanks Youth Soccer Association

How one executive director used MOJO to help transform a struggling soccer program

Laura Lambert

| 5 min read

It’s no accident that Colt Chase runs Fairbanks Youth Soccer Association (FYSA). He played soccer with FYSA at age 9. A serious accident at 13 forced him off the pitch for two years, but he stuck with the game — playing for fun and officiating. By his 20s, as the president of the local referee association, Chase was working directly with the woman who held the role he now calls his own. 

Marriage and family drew Chase to Iowa in 2010. Then, in 2014, he started getting texts from Alaska that a job had been posted: executive director of Fairbanks Youth Soccer. “I had been looking for an opportunity to come home,” says Chase. “And here I am.”

A lot had changed in the four years he was gone. “At the time, they were bleeding players left and right—and there isn’t even another soccer league to lose them to,” says Chase. There was a dire referee shortage — down to single digits, from more than 100 strong when Chase had refereed. When some 6,000 youth sports organizations close down each year, change was critical. He would be the only full-time employee, serving a community of 95,000. But leading FYSA was his dream job — and he was up for the challenge.

Serving kids and parents

“The business side of youth sports is weird,” says Chase. “The customer is the parent and the consumer is the child. You have to serve both.”

Chase started with what families need most — notably, clear communication, options and predictable, convenient schedules. It’s a particular challenge in Fairbanks. “Because of our location, and Mother Nature, we have summer soccer,” Chase says. “And summers in Central Alaska are precious.”

The goal was to make a soccer season fit into a family’s schedule, to ensure no games were canceled for lack of officials, and, ultimately, to make the entire rec sports experience great, so families would return. According to a December 2022 MOJO survey, 77% organization leaders like Chase say that focusing on a great playing experience is their top priority.

Chase tackled the referee problem right away — bringing in 50 new referees, 90% of whom were brand new, but, as Chase put it, “eager.” And in his second year, he added a Saturday morning soccer league, which allowed kids to play other sports during the week. 

On the best day, youth sports is organized chaos,” Chase says. “But disorganized chaos isn’t worth the price of admission for most families.”

Serving coaches

And then there are the volunteers. Chase wrangles up to 250 volunteers a season for his youth rec programs.

Before MOJO, says Chase, coach education looked like this: printing off a page or two of games or practice plans for up to 200 teams every week, and pointing them to Google and YouTube for the rest. 

“Even if I held a coaching clinic, at best I could expect 50% of the coaches to show up,” says Chase. “MOJO essentially fixed that.”

The app did more than just disseminate drills and practice plans, though. 

“I was always asking myself, How do you take the willingness of a volunteer and make them feel, I did a good job? And not because they’re such a great person, but because they were given the tools,” says Chase. “That’s what MOJO did for us.”

Serving Fairbanks

MOJO also helped to free up time for Chase to focus on other aspects of his organization — namely, growth.

Since returning in 2014, player count has grown from 1400 to nearly 4000. FYSA now boasts three full-time employees. But his real goal is loftier than that.

Today, FYSA runs programs on a 52-acre grass field complex in the heart of the city each summer, and, starting this year, indoor programs at the Carlson Center, a community building typically used for collegiate hockey games. Inside, FYSA has three regulation-size futsal courts — the first in the entire state — as well as lines and equipment for basketball, tennis, pickleball, flag football, volleyball, badminton, handball and more. 

“Our primary focus is soccer but our second one is making sure that people can be active and engaged with our organization in some way,” he explains. “It’s about improving the quality of life in a place that is more often than not cold and dark.”

One particular weekend in January, FYSA held 24 total hours of league games, plus open volleyball, flag football and drop-in pickleball on the schedule.

And it’s about giving people options — in particular, older kids. 

“All of us are dealing with the same statistics: Kids are dropping out. It’s not just soccer,” says Chase. But FYSA exists to reverse that trend, regardless of sport.

It’s simple, says Chase. “I work so kids can play.”

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