Lauren grew up in Vail, Colorado where she played for Vail Valley Soccer Club. She moved to Florida during her junior year where she attended the IMG Academy. She played Division 1 soccer at Northeastern University and also played for the Bradenton Athletics W-League team. She earned her master’s degree in Exercise Science in 2012. Lauren has been coaching club since 2009 – most recently with Rush Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs. She has the USSF B and Y licenses as well as the NSCAA National Diploma. Lauren is the Digital Brand Manager and Micro Programs Manager for Rush Pikes Peak, handling all of the social media for the club and overseeing the U3-U5 programs.
How different was the club experience going from the mountains of Vail to the tropical climate of Florida?
It was every difference you could think of. Vail was a small town with one team for every other year when I was growing up there, so while we had competitive soccer and good athletes from a passionate soccer community, there wasn’t the high level of training or competition. We were playing inside in basketball gyms in the winter because of the climate. Now the landscape is different, with more teams, players coming down to the Denver area to play at ECNL and Academy levels. They have indoor facilities now too. Florida was a professional environment. I went to school until 12:45pm then we trained five days each week for nine months and played games and tournaments. Being a player in Florida was also my first exposure to how to coach, with microcycles, mesocycles, talking in tactical language and so on.
With such an intense environment, how was IMG for developing players socially and academically, as well as in soccer?
My first year there I lived on campus so I lived with other athletes. I had five tennis-player roommates. You are away from everything you knew in a totally crazy environment. You couldn’t help but be pushed to a higher level. We had sports psychology once per week on Mondays and you could pay for extra sessions but I just did them with the team. At the level I was at when I came in, which was far from being the star, you have to develop as a person and learn to deal with struggle and rejection. Mom and Dad weren’t there to complain about playing time so you were on your own. I think that developed me as a person and I took lessons that help me now with my coaching.
How did you choose Northeastern? Did you have other offers?
I was always interested in the North East region and my goal was Division 1. My advice now for players is not to get hung up on Division 1 because I think you can have a good college experience outside of that, but I was very focused on that. Being in Boston fit the profile and they had a Co-op program there. The idea of trading off work and academics for 6 months of the year was very attractive, as was the academic scholarship I received, so there was definitely more going into the decision than just the soccer.
Did you contact coaches to get recruited or did they find you?
They called my coach looking for an outside midfielder or outside back. My club team didn’t play with outside mids though so I was an outside back. My name got floated to them in the fall of my senior year, so late in the process, but I was by no means on anyone’s radar until then. They saw me play in Raleigh and that was good enough for them. I had taken a visit before and they signed me up at that point. As I was receiving academic scholarships it was less risk for them and it all fell into place in about a month.
How would you compare D1 college level with IMG?
IMG was a cauldron with high intensity every day. At college there are rules that limit how much you can train throughout the school year. I had to go to the racquetball court on my own in the winter just to get some touches in. There weren’t that many kids on the team who had had a club experience like mine so I would say it was less intense of an environment in college. That would be different now that girls today are coming from ECNL and similar more professional training environments before they get to college.
Were you able to keep up academically and socially at university while playing at the D1 level?
I speak for some my teammates who had more time-intensive majors, such as nursing, that required class, clinical hours, and co-op. My coaches were very understanding of the co-op setup and if that was part of your academic program then that came first. In-season was harder to keep up with academically because we missed a decent amount of class but I just figured out a way to keep up as best I could. I was pretty shy in college so soccer forced me more out of my dorm room more, which helped me integrate with friends. Soccer was like a built in sorority really and made the college experience easier for me socially.
How did you get into the role of digital brand manager and what does it involve?
We were trying to find ways to increase our membership and I wasn’t in a director role but was willing to help the club however I could. I was presented with the opportunity to run the social media and website and work to define what is Rush Pikes Peak. I used the strong Rush philosophy as a starting point to build from. They had a template that they had applied to Colorado Rush and the international brand, which helped. Also, social media platforms are mostly available for free so really the question was why not do it?
Do you have an IT background and do you think it is a requirement of the job?
I think it can help, but I am more of a content creator on the website, working with an already established framework set up by our web designer. I log in and enter information but don’t need any programming knowledge. Missouri Rush has created an app that gives training schedules and field status updates that all the members can use, so if you have someone who can develop applications like that I think it would be beneficial.
Do you track how many of your members are registered and/or active on various social media outlets?
We haven’t done it yet, and part of the restriction comes from the Facebook back end that doesn’t always give the best information about who is ‘liking’ the page in terms of specific people and usernames. Twitter and Instagram can be challenging too, with random profile pictures and names. We look at geographic areas and ages so we can target each platform accordingly. Facebook is more for the parents. With Colorado Springs being a military town, if someone is coming in doing research we try to give them an overview of the club as a whole. Instagram is more for getting the players excited about being connected to the club, then Twitter ties in more broad soccer news – general interest things like the World Cup or Champions League.
How do you encourage more of them to get involved?
With Instagram it is more word of mouth with coaches telling players on their team about it. Sometimes if you post a picture then players will share it with their friends who might end up following the page, which is a more organic approach. As we are dealing with youth I don’t use the accounts to follow any kids. If they are out of the program and alums it is different but we don’t look for players directly. Beyond that we use general promotion through the website and having the information in email signatures. Teams using programs such as Team Snap and Shutterfly and promote it through there also, but we don’t spam people with emails about it.
Do you get feedback from the various platforms and do you read it?
I do pay attention to the comments – especially through Facebook. You can look at insights and compare yourself to different clubs, in our case other Rush clubs and local competitors. I look at what kind of engagement they are getting and the percentage growth of likes from week to week. I have a general metric in mind for what kind of engagement I would like to see and it is about 20% – so if we have 300 people I would like to see 60 comments or likes within a week of posting. Looking at that helps you to learn which kind of posts give you the most traction. People want to see pictures of their kids playing and having fun so those have the most engagement for sure.
How do you find the right balance between keeping people connected but not overloading them with information?
People are way less connected on Twitter so that platform is less used. As a Facebook user myself I don’t want to see five different things from the same person within an hour, so I try to keep that in mind when I’m posting things. I try to use the timing function to break up posts throughout the day or spread them over a couple of days. People are seeing it but it is not overloading them. The trouble with Facebook is that you are victim to what Facebook puts on people’s news feeds, so not every post gets seen by everyone who has liked the page. I try to be conscious about posting things that will show Facebook it’s worthy of putting in people’s news feeds, such as pictures or content that gets a lot of likes and comments. With Instagram, again users don’t want too many pictures at once filling up their feed. Instagram isn’t selective in what it shows on people’s feeds though, which helps get our content out there. When I look at the engagement on there, most likes and comments happen within 24 hours and then it drops off as they are ready for something new.
Are there specific messages you try to get across with the posts?
I try to include our core values when I’m writing captions or hashtags, just to get the language consistent for people who are viewing that media. Rush is big on playing Rondo at the beginning of training so I posted a video of Manchester United doing the same thing when they were here playing against Roma, to reinforce why we do what we do. That way we are educating about the culture of the club with everything that we do.
Do you have policies for coaches and staff regarding use of social media and text messages between them and their players? How much does this affect your role?
We don’t have a policy for text messages. It is how kids communicate these days: when I was a U14 I called my coach on the phone because we didn’t have text messages, so I don’t think there is a problem with communication between coaches and players. After a certain age I think the players should be telling me if they are sick – I stress the responsibility side of it for them. I had a player who scored an own goal and I sent her a supportive text about it as she probably didn’t want to have a long call at that point. I understand the safety side of it, but I think there is a need to communicate and it can be a useful tool for talking about schedule changes and talking about what is happening on the field.
How do you see the role changing in the future as technology continues to advance?
I would like to learn how to put an app together and create sophisticated photos and videos using more professional software. You can tell that our photos are from cell phones mostly and I would like us to build on that. I spend time talking to other Rush clubs so I can learn from what they are doing too, which is very helpful. We have a partner club in Haiti which is run by one of my old IMG teammates who is on the Haitian Women’s National Team so when she was going through qualifying it gave us the opportunity to look at Rush’s international reach and share it with our membership. I also follow Adidas and Chevy to show that we value our partnerships with them and understand our global responsibility.