Enabling a Different Pathway For Your Child with Jeff Causey

Join Skye and former MLS goalkeeper Jeff Causey for another interview for High Performance Week here on Soccer Parenting. Jeff played the University of Virginia, Richmond Kickers and then, upon the launch of MLS -  D.C. United and the New England Revolution between 1996 and 2002.  He has also coached at the University, MLS Academy, and youth level.

Skye and Jeff discuss Jeff and Heather's decisions related to their sons' developmental journeys - the unique paths they have both taken.  They dive in to how, as a parent, you can identify different paths and journeys for your child, and what to consider when a non-traditional playing pathway seems like the right journey for your child.

Join in with the discussion via the comments box below - you can also find the transcript to the interview further down.

We hope you enjoy!


Join the Conversation! Post any Comments or Questions about this interview below!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


TRANSCRIPT:

Skye:
Hey, everyone. Welcome to another interview with High Performance Week. I am so excited for this conversation with Jeff Causey, goalkeeper, friend of mine, and so excited to have him on the platform to talk about his experiences with his children and how he and his wife Heather have sort of decided and enabled a different pathway for both of their children as they're coming up in the game. So Jeff, welcome to Soccer Parenting.

Jeff:
Thank you so much. Good morning. How are you?

Skye:
Good. Great, great. We're really excited to have you here. Why don't we start with giving everybody just a little bit of a backstory on your background in the game as a collegiate professional athlete, and then we can kind of go from there?

Jeff:
Yep. Not a problem. No, I grew up in Virginia, kind of a good strong powerhouse region of the country in soccer. Went to University of Virginia, had some good success there in the early nineties, won three NCA titles, was an All-American. Came out of college and MLS hadn't started yet in 1995, right after the World Cup, so I was playing in the highest level at that point in time down in Richmond, Richmond Kickers, and we were able to win the double there, the U.S. Open Cup and the League Title as well. Went, got drafted to actually Kansas City and was immediately traded from Kansas City to D.C. United, more hometown. Weird experience there, being traded right off the bat, kind of having the excitement of a new league, a new team getting drafted, but then being in limbo for about a month and a half.

Jeff:
So a weird introduction into really the new Major League Soccer, but I had great success there too. Won the first MLS Cup up in New England and then also the U.S. Open Cup. So I had a good run of about six or seven years of some championships and titles and success, and then finished up my career in New England, was switched up to New England Revolution for the last six years, and then I retired in 2002. Got into coaching a little bit. I coached University of Virginia for a year, University of Maryland for a year right after I retired, and then coached in the women's professional league, the WUSA at the time, for Boston Breakers. Then decided-

Skye:
I didn't know that. I didn't know you were with the Breakers. Was that when Tony was there? Ooh.

Jeff:
Ooh, hold on.

Skye:
Just lost your video.

Jeff:
Yeah, no.

Skye:
That's fine. Was that when Tony was there, or was it a different coach?

Jeff:
No, it was different coach. So it was Pia Sundhage.

Skye:
Oh yeah.

Jeff:
Pia was there for that year, and then the league folded. So I had to grow up and get a big boy job, and so I've been in finance ever since, pretty much 20 years later.

Skye:
Yeah, awesome. And so you have this strong, obviously athletic background, soccer background, and Heather, your wife competed collegiately in lacrosse and field hockey at UVA, and also has a strong mentality. I guess I was curious because if the path, the different paths that you've kind of chosen for your children, if those were sort of intentional on you and Heather's part based on your athletic background, or is it just something that sort of organically evolved?

Jeff:
It's a combination of both. I mean, Heather was more of the, she took the scholarship route. She was two-time All-American in both sports in high school, and two-time All-American in both sports in college, she had a full scholarship. She was an All-American National Championship champion. So we were going back and forth in college, but her route was always, she was the top in the nation. She was one of the top teams. She was one of the top players, full scholarship everywhere. I came more of the working class, did well when I had to, got noticed, worked hard, got a scholarship and went that part. Different route. Both routes ended up in the same place, I just was good success there.

Jeff:
So we have the hard work mentality for the boys, but she was just as tough or tougher when they were growing up on the boys with just trying hard, working hard, getting outside, constantly moving, playing different things. But she was a great mother and is a great mother. I don't want to come across the wrong way with her, but she was just as tough on them with that mentality of, if they'd get hurt, she's like, "Are you really hurt, or can you go back in and play?" Versus, just hug, take them off the field and immediately Band-Aids and things like that. She was just as strong, so the boys have grown up with playing a lot of different sports, still focused on soccer, just because that was easy for me to help cope and be around and we just played in the backyard. So they learned from an early, early age how to kick a ball.

Skye:
Awesome. Let's start with your son in Germany. So how old is he?

Jeff:
Eric's 16.

Skye:
Okay.

Jeff:
Yeah. He's 16.

Skye:
So he's still in high school, and so why don't you give us a little bit of a backstory? And by the way, part of this High Performance Week, we will be interviewing the program where he is to get some bigger backstory on their processes. But why don't you just give us a really quick overview of the experience that he's having right now, and I'm most curious about your decision to send him there. The why behind it. What were you hoping to accomplish from this experience he's having there?

Jeff:
Right. So he's at an organization called Talentprojekt in Germany. He was scouted probably two, two and a half years ago, locally up in Boston. They came over with a couple of German coaches, and their premise is just to get exposure for American kids over in Germany. The director, Mark Dillon, has been there for 20 years. He's had the organization going in a lot of different places. So they'll put them in a professional atmosphere, have them train with German kids, German coaches go to school in German, and just try to gain exposure to see who might stick. Eric broke his leg, unfortunately, right after he had done the trial. Got accepted, and then he broke his leg that fall. That put everything on hold. Then COVID came around and shut everything down again, and we really, as he got into high school, we really weren't happy with the high school soccer experience, especially up in the Northeast.

Jeff:
Club soccer is strong up here as well in the Mid-Atlantic, but high school soccer was still struggling. So we wanted to give him, my older son was playing in the Revolution, New England Revolution, MLS Academy, so he was year-round solid competition. And we wanted the similar thing for Eric, and we were finding that was just a disconnect. So we were looking for a program that was going to do that. Talentprojekt had come back around and started up everything again, so we actually flew over to Germany, took a look at the organization, took a look at the schooling, got to get really a good day in the life. It's something that we ultimately, he made the decision.

Jeff:
We were a little tentative. We were a little worried that he might not want to do it, be away from home, be away from his friends, be on his own, because you really are on your own in a foreign country. I mean, you're surrounded by other American kids and everybody really does speak English over there, but you're on your own. You don't have the comforts of home. You don't have your Xbox. They have cell phones, but it's not as easy to do things as they do it here. A big adjustment, so we're really proud that he had the courage to go ahead and go at it on his own.

Skye:
Yeah, absolutely. Just the life lessons there alone, just in kind of building that self-confidence and gaining perspective just globally, whether it be as a citizen or whether it be as a footballer. Regardless, just gaining some better perspective globally. I'm sure those lessons have layered into his experiences.

Jeff:
No, absolutely. I mean, just shopping on his own, riding the train. I mean, it's funny to hear his experiences. He's six hours ahead, so his day is pretty much almost done by the time we connect with him late morning or when we get up, and then my day, I'm trying to talk to before he goes to bed and I'm still in my work day. So it's good to catch up on things, but exactly. I mean, even with the situation in Ukraine and Russia right now, they've been some direct experience where one of the German players, or one of the German kids that is in that school is from the Ukraine. So his family was caught there and they actually brought them across several countries to Germany, to DFI where they're at, in that Bavaria area. And so there's probably 25, 30 refugees at his little campus. So he's gotten some world things, where normally they'd be kind of shielded from it.

Skye:
Yeah, absolutely. And how's the football been for him? Do you feel like he's developed, has it been a good decision from that standpoint?

Jeff:
It has. The football's been really, really solid. I mean, the kids from around this country, around the US, they're coming from good quality teams, some MLS academies, high ECNL academies. They're getting trials from around Germany, and that's the name of the game for them, is can they get some exposure, can they get out in the community? And they're playing, I mean, they're playing Bayern Munich, they're playing Ingolstadt. They're playing Bundesliga Academy teams, they're playing Red Bull Salzburg. So they're traveling, they're seeing the stadiums, and it's a different style, right? It's big kids, physical, fast, quality, skill, but high press, and that was something that he wasn't used to.

Jeff:
So he's really coming into his own to settle himself down. He's got to be accurate. He's got to be fit. There, it's a professional atmosphere where they're training twice a day, they're getting games. COVID was a little bit of a slow down for them at times, and then as soon as things opened back up, they were ready to go to ramp up the games again.

Skye:
Awesome. And then when Eric comes back to the States, is your hope and intention to get him into an academy program ideally here, so that he can wrap up high school here?

Jeff:
Exactly.

Skye:
Yeah, awesome.

Jeff:
No, exactly. It's funny, because the exposure that we were hoping to get overseas has also created exposure back in the US for him.

Skye:
Sure.

Jeff:
I think several kids have done that. I've seen different posts that they've given, where these kids are moving on to college, these kids are moving on to USL teams. These kids are moving on MLS academies. So it not necessarily does its job, but for some kids it does its job to get them exposure over in Germany or Europe, but it also gives them the reverse exposure back in the US.

Skye:
Yeah, absolutely. I totally hear that. Well, you mentioned the USL, so let's move on to Austin. So for those of you watching, Austin actually, when he came to Richmond to play for the Kickers, lived with me and my family for a little bit as he was kind of getting settled, but let's skip backwards a little bit. Austin bypassed college and opted to go pro. A big decision, I'm sure, for him, for your family. Why don't you talk a little bit about why that was something that you were considering and why maybe the college pathway wasn't necessarily the perfect thing for him?

Jeff:
Right. I mean, college pathway was, for some kids, especially goalkeepers, and he's young, right? Austin was the younger age, he's an August kid, so he graduated at 17. So he was still young and still developing, and we felt that he definitely needed some sort of a gap year, a gap exposure to get bigger, get older, just more confident. He had a great academy exposure with New England Revolution. And we were thinking, instead of him, we did a lot of research. I know a lot of coaches, we see a lot of things where the college game for especially younger, and goalkeepers, is you sit. You sit and you wait your time, if ever. So he was very adamant that he didn't want to sit, he wanted to play. Whether it was go to a smaller school, I mean, he had interest from a lot of schools, even larger schools, but the 24 year old German or the Yugoslavian, or the Croatian or Spaniard is coming in with age and size and experience, and it was going to be tough for him to see the field in the first few years.

Jeff:
So he decided that within that four years of college, could he gain exposure, experience in a professional atmosphere, 10, 11 months, a year of actually playing? Versus three and a half months on, two or three months off, and then a kind of a mild half-season in the spring. That, even if he wasn't playing, he was getting twice a day, once a day, constant training, being able to get loaned out or get scrimmages. So he decided to go ahead and bypass college and find that atmosphere. I used to play for Richmond, we have different contacts, got him down for a trial. They liked him and they brought him in.

Skye:
Yeah, and this is such a key time developmentally for kids. This 18 to 22, in terms of developing as an athlete, as a player, gaining experience. I mean, I think you kind of raised a point that oftentimes doesn't get addressed or adequately addressed, and that is the lack of time on the ball and experiences that you have in matches when you play collegiately. You're limited to the fall season, if you're going Division One, I think it's five playing dates still in the spring, and that's your experience, in addition to whatever you can muster in the summer. So, from a developmental standpoint, it made sense just as much as anything else, I'm sure.

Jeff:
No, you're absolutely right. It's thinking about that process. I mean, I coached at a couple of different colleges, so I have that knowledge. We have a lot of friends in there, but the college season is very fast, and unless you're playing, unless you're in that top 15 or 16, you have a Wednesday and a Saturday or Sunday game, but the day before the game, you're winding down, it's slow. The day after a game's kind of a regen day. So if you're not playing, you have a mild off day, an off day and then a light day the next day, and then you're doing that twice a week. So there's very, very few solid training days during the seasons. And like you said, time off the ball is not very good for development. So we figured a solid week-long atmosphere, professional atmosphere, bigger, faster, stronger players, older, more experienced, so he could learn to be a professional while he's still developing.

Jeff:
So it's the mental side as well as the physical side, and then the game development is just huge in these early ages. So we felt that maybe bypassing college to put him in the same atmosphere, and he's still early in it, he's only 20. So we still have several more years to see if our experiment works, but we're hoping that he'll be more ahead of the game by the time he hits 22 and coming out versus the same kid that might have gone to college and coming out of trying to turn pro at 22, 23.

Skye:
Yeah, and for those listening, when Jeff is saying we and using that pronoun, he definitely means Austin. Austin's in this too, and is a part of the decisions. It's not like Jeff and Heather were saying, "Oh, this is what we're going to do for our son." I love talking to him and kind of peeling back the layers with what he's learning, and still work to try to keep this relationship with him here in Richmond. So it's been neat to see him growing into an adult, into a professional athlete, and figuring that out these last couple of years.

Skye:
So, when my kids were little, I made the decision that they were going to go to single sex middle school, because that was just something I felt really strongly about. I personally had a great middle school experience, and here in Richmond, there are two phenomenal middle schools, one for boys, one for girls, and I was like dead set on doing everything possible to have my children attend those two schools and very intentional. I guess I'm just curious, and I sort of asked you this before, but I want to dive in a little bit deeper. Were you and Heather intentional on trying to do something different, or did it just evolve that way and based on your experiences and comfortability within the structures that we have, willing to think a little bit outside the box?

Jeff:
Everything kind of evolved. We never had a dead set plan. I was a public school kid, born and bred in it, and went through it all the way through. Heather was public school then went private school, because as her family moved around, she played field hockey and lacrosse, and not many public schools had lacrosse, so they went into the private setting. But we brought the boys up in regular public school, but then as we start, my wife, Heather's more into the educational side of the boys for sure, and just felt that the public schools were not giving them what they wanted educationally, supportiveness there, as far as their pathway on how they were going to learn. This support system for soccer kind of stems from that, where we're trying to put them into something that's supportive of them individually, to help them grow individually in their personal development, versus just a cookie-cutter program, part of the greater picture, where we're finding that somebody's more personally involved.

Jeff:
They're in it, like you said, with Austin, they're ingrained in everything, they're making the decision. So we're just being supportive as possible, trying to create as many options and letting them decide on it, or we as a group, but it's really ultimately their decision. Because I tell them, "You're the one that's on the field, you're the one that's there during the downtime. You're by yourself, you have to now fend for yourselves." So it's one that they were both online schooled, so Eric going overseas has been an easy transition educationally, because he was already used to it. COVID didn't bother him as far as his academics, because he was already used to it. It turned out good for Austin to be also online schooled. It wasn't homeschool. We weren't homeschooling them, it was online school. They had their curriculum, they had their teachers, it was just all through Zoom or self-study. But with Austin-

Skye:
Before COVID you all were doing this.

Jeff:
Before COVID.

Skye:
Yeah, exactly.

Jeff:
Yeah, before COVID we were doing that. But with MLS academies or any of those full-time academies, they're missing a lot of days. They have a lot of travel, a lot of tournaments, a lot of things. So it was a sacrifice that Austin wanted to take where they missed prom, they missed homecoming, they missed the dances, they missed the social part of it. But both kids find that their teammates, their environment, their soccer friends, that's their true friends that they still see and interact with.

Skye:
Yeah, I love it. I love it. Okay, thank you so much for all these great insights. Any kind of wrap up comments for parents, words of advice for those that are raising children that have big dreams, and are thinking that maybe the structures that are currently in place aren't necessarily right for them?

Jeff:
I think the biggest thing is we found early on that we were fighting against a system that, "Don't think about being a professional athlete. It's very rare. You're never going to make it. You're never going to do it." And when the boys would hear that from their teachers or from their guidance counselors, when they would go in on professional day, of, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" And they would get that negative reinforcement, but they're like, "Well, my dad was a professional." "Oh, well, that's rare. That's the exception." So we always instilled that in them. I lived it, my wife lived it. We can do it, you can do it. Why not? Why not you? So we supported them in those pie in the sky type of dreams, because it's really, it's not. It's hard, it's a lot of hard work and you might not make it, but it's worth the effort, it's worth the ride.

Jeff:
So we just supported them and we encouraged them. We probably pushed them too early on, on the days that they didn't want to get up or do the extra work. And then the other thing I think is huge, is not to be influenced by others or have to follow the path, because everybody, the direct path isn't always the best path, especially for that one individual. Breaking that mold is where you find the special stars, and putting them in an environment that they might struggle in. They might have heartbreak or be hard in, but that might not could easily be a maybe or a success story. And we're hoping that they can find that, instill that hard work that they've grown up with and have success in it.

Skye:
Thank you so much. Those are such great wrap up words, and I'm so excited to bring your voice here to this conversation, because it is an important one. I think that the experiences that your boys have had, and the successes that they've had just in experiencing so much, is really a testament to you and Heather both being really thoughtful and intentional. So thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it. And for those of you that are listening, catch up with all the content that we have during our High Performance Week, where we are diving into support parents who are raising children who have some dreams. So thanks for being here, everybody.

Jeff:
Thank you.

Skye:
Awesome. Thank you, Jeff. That was awesome.

Jeff:
You're welcome. Good. Thank you.