If you’re trying to find a local soccer club to join, deciding which competitive soccer club to choose, looking for a travel soccer team, or wondering which select soccer team tryout to attend this guide was written for you.
At the end of every Spring soccer season we get lots of questions about which youth soccer program to sign up for or which soccer association to register with if your child is ready to play competitive youth soccer.
We know you’re probably too busy to read this whole guide but we can promise you this, the
- More Money you spend…
- More Time your family invests…
- More Stressed out you feel…
- More your daughter or son falls in love with soccer…
the more valuable you’ll realize this guide is.
Here’s a challenge you’ll face. When your kid first starts out it probably won’t make sense why all this is important. It might even seem silly to put in the time we suggest you invest to choose the right soccer team and the best soccer club for your player.
However, the longer your kid plays for the club the more you’ll realize whether you made a good choice or whether you regret it. A year is a long time in a kid’s life and for any soccer family it’s a big decision. We want you to look back on your soccer club tryouts and know you didn’t just settle for the nearest soccer club or the one at the top of the youth soccer rankings.
We want you to feel confident and excited about your choice of youth soccer clubs and know that you considered all the important criteria when picking the right soccer team for your family.
The difference between a great club and an average club (in our opinion) is that a great club puts the development of the players first. It’s not about the coaches or how many championships or medals they win. Question is, how do you know if they put the players first? Many soccer club websites will say they’re about player development but how can you actually tell?
We’ll start off with a quick summary of what we think is important and give you a list of questions you can ask coaches & clubs to get down to the details of how they actually work. A big part of choosing the right team is picking the right club so we’ll give you the information you need to find a club that’s right for you.
Lastly, we’ll talk about helping your player get ready for soccer club tryouts.
Where to Start?
One of the simplest ways for you as a parent to help navigate the world of youth soccer is by asking yourself the following question any time you have to make a decision about your player. Does this help or hurt my kid developing as a player and a person?
We hear from soccer families in SoCal, Orlando, Houston, Ellicott City, Chicago, Kansas City, Denver, Phoenix, and soccer cities all across the US. Although the leagues, regulations, and clubs differ around the country answering that one question always seems to make it easier for you to make decisions that you’re happy with months and years down the road.
When you’re new to youth soccer there are a lot of things you don’t know about the sport and the organizations involved. Coaches, team managers, registrars, and other parents will be asking you to make decisions about your player that are new to you. You’ll rely heavily on the advice of others so you’ll have a lot of uncertainty about whether you’re making the right choices. That’s why it’s nice to rely on that simple test – does this help or hurt my kid developing as a player and a person?
Typically for competitive youth soccer in the US when you commit to a club it’s for a year, the Fall and Spring season. A lot can happen in a whole year in a kid’s young soccer career. A year is definitely long enough for a kid to fall in love with the sport and to thrive in the right club/team for them.
It’s also unfortunately enough time for bad experiences to sour a kid on the game and drive them away from soccer forever. That’s why this guide exists, to help you make decisions about soccer and your kid that will help them get the most out of their time on the field next season.
“Put Me In Coach”
We can all sing those four words from John Fogerty’s famous song with gusto because we know what it feels like to be on the bench and itching to get into a match. They also sum up the two most important parts of the game, the player and the coach.
In youth soccer the coaches job is to be teacher. How well prepared they are to teach your kid to love and compete in soccer is the biggest question you want to answer as a parent. In this guide we’ll look at how you can gauge coach competency and a coaches commitment to continually improving themselves as a coach.
The organization she or he coaches for plays a huge role in both how the coach prepares themselves and also with the plan that’s followed to develop the skills of your player.
The 3 main areas we’ll give you questions to ask about are:
- Coach Competency
- Coach Development
- Player Development
If player development is your main concern as a parent why do we list coach competency and development ahead of player development you might ask? The answer is simple. Clubs and teams that put a lot of emphasis on high quality coaching typically see that translate into well planned and executed player development systems.
This holds true whether your child is 5 and playing soccer for the first time or 15 and figuring out where they fit into an 11v11 team. If you get these wrong then the next set of factors we’ll cover won’t be able to makeup for shortcomings in coaching or player development.
For example let’s say your player is on a team with a coach who understands the game but not necessarily how to teach young kids. On the other hand the cost is low, facilities are great, and practices are close by. That team might check a lot of boxes but if your kid is frustrated or stressed because the coach isn’t connecting with them then chances are they’ll eventually be unhappy and either want to quit the sport or switch to a different club.
If you’re lucky enough to have found several teams with quality coaches and player development approaches then there are additional other things to consider:
- Club Mission/Values
- Parent Engagement
In this guide we’ll go over questions to ask about each one of these areas and also explain why it’s important to your player. If you just want a list of the questions to ask without all the explanation enter your email address and we’ll send it to you.
Who is this Coach?
When you’re looking at a new club one of the things we would ask about is their minimum required level of coaching education. What’s the lowest level of coaching education a coach must have to be a coach in their club? If the answer is no minimum then we’d move onto the next club.
As an example, my 8 year old daughter’s team played against a good team from a neighboring city last season. The opposing team was a little overmatched and their coach was getting frustrated with his girls for mistakes they were making on the field. He was correct about how his players should have handled the situations on the field and what they should have done differently. However, the way he was yelling at his players wouldn’t have motivated any 8 year old I know to keep playing soccer.
Curious, we looked up his coaching profile on their club’s website after the weekend and saw that although he had experience playing soccer he didn’t have much coaching experience and little formal coaching education.
It’s not that having coaching education means you won’t ever yell at your players but a coach who’s been given the tools can teach their players in training and in games with methods that are more effective than simply yelling at 8 year olds.
The minimum level of training that you’re looking for depends on the age of your player.
The level of the license a coach earns is based on the age group that they want to be trained to coach. It can be confusing because the names of the licenses and diplomas have changed over time but it’s important to understand that the training is age based.
There are 2 main bodies in the US that train coaches, US Soccer and United Soccer Coaches. Both have their own licenses coaches can earn. US Soccer calls them licenses and United Soccer Coaches calls them diplomas.
US Soccer used to have an E and F license. The F covered ages 5-8 and the E covered players ages 9-12. Now they have the 4v4, 7v7, 9v9, 11v11 licenses as part of the Grassroots Licenses that align with the new US soccer age group guidelines.
United Soccer Coaches used to be known as National Soccer Coaches Association of America and had a Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 Diploma for the younger ages. Now they offer Foundations of Coaching, 4v4 , 7v7/9v9, 11v11, and Advanced Diplomas.
The alphabet soup of acronyms can be confusing so here’s a chart to help simplify which level of coaching education to ask about depending on the age of your player.
It’s actually good to find a coach who’s studied the level above where your child will play so they understand the level they need to be able to coach your kid up to in order to move onto the next age group.
Some of the training is online but I’d look for a coach that’s gone through the in person sessions. One of the main benefits of in person training is what they learn both from their instructors and also from their coaching peers in the course. Finding coaching mentors and also forming a network of coaches is an invaluable step that makes a coach more capable of meeting the training needs of your kid and their teammates.
One thing to note is that for coaches who are interested in self-improvement, years of coaching experience can give them the same type of “on the job” training. So if you have someone who’s been coaching younger age groups for 10 years as part of a respected club then chances are they’ve learned far more than they would have in a coaching course.
If you’re still wondering why coaching education makes a difference for your kid let’s take a look at some of the self-reflection the courses ask the coaches to go through. Coaches are asked to think, write, and talk about the importance of development in the competitive environment. They’re also challenged to examine the differences between a player-centered versus a coach-centered training and game environment.
Basically putting the focus on your player and making them better rather than the desire the coach may have to only play the most developed players and focus on getting the win. Also to focus on teaching teams the important fundamentals necessary for their age and using them in a game, even if that means the team doesn’t win.
A great example of this is teaching kids to be technically skilled enough to be able to play a controlled pass from the goalie to a defender rather than the goalie just booting the ball down the field. In a game younger kids will make mistakes, lose the ball, and the team will be scored on. A focus on player development will allow a coach to let players know that mistakes like that are ok as long as they’re trying to do what the team worked on in practice.
Coach Development & Your Player
Here’s an example of a objective the coaching courses try to reach with each participant:
“Design and deliver an appropriate, reality based, progressive training session that will teach principles of attacking and defending in a small-sided game environment.”
Kind of a mouthful but what does it mean for your kid? Let’s look at each part of it below to show why coaching development is important for your player.
Design – The course gives coaches tools and methods for planning out a practice. A prepared coach will have a specific topic in mind that their team needs to improve on and will plan their practice around that.
A lot of times an instructor will give a coach a sample topic, for example here are some of the ones coaches had in a recent license course. Improve your team’s ability to:
- create scoring chances from wide positions
- recover the ball in the defensive half
- ability to defend zonally
- recover the ball in the attacking half
- build up from the defensive half
One way to think about it is as an elementary teacher preparing a lesson plan to teach their students fractions. Except in this case the coach is creating a plan to help teach your child and their teammates how to build up from the defensive half.
Deliver – This helps a coach with the execution of the training plan. How early do I need to arrive to get setup before practice begins. How large should I make my cone grid? How do I introduce this concept to the players? What does the flow of the players look like? This helps a coach think through the details to help the training session go more smoothly for your kid.
Appropriate – This is really about recognizing the skill level of your player and their teammates in relation to the complexity of the topic.
For example, it’s a waste of your kid’s time to try and teach them about offsides when they’re not old enough to grasp it. The idea is to avoid introducing topics that are too complicated that will only frustrate the player and coach and take up practice time that could be spent learning something their brains are ready for.
Reality based – Does the environment that the coach places your kid into simulate actual situations that could occur in a game? Is the coach helping your player think about the skills they’re learning in the context of the game?
Progressive – Using a progressive approach means starting with a simple version of a concept and adding more complexity to the drill once your player demonstrates they understand the basic form of the concept.
You’ll be able to spot coaches that don’t understand or use this approach because they’ll start practice off with something that’s too complex and the kids won’t “get it”. The players get frustrated and lose interest. The coach gets frustrated with the kids and might start yelling and it goes downhill from there.
Of course this can happen even with coaches that have gone through the training because it’s human nature to get frustrated when you have a picture in your mind of how things should go and it’s not working out like that.
The difference is that trained coaches have made a plan and they’ve planned a progression so that they introduce a concept and they don’t move on until enough players understand it.
A progression doesn’t have to only be within a single practice. A trained coach can have a vision for where they think the team should be and also a plan for getting them there. The progression of complexity might build practice after practice during the season
Teach principles – Part of the planning taught in the coaching education courses are deciding which specific points to focus on in a training session.
For example for the topic of recovering the ball in the defensive half the coach might include details like the following in their session planning:
- Who – 1,2,3,4,5,6,8
- Where – Defensive half
- When – Opponent attacking from mid-field into defensive half
- What – Apply pressure on opponent while keeping defensive shape and avoiding numerical mis-matches
- Why – Deny goal scoring opportunities and attempt to start counter attack after recovering possession
- How – Closest player to the ball apply pressure, Close down attacking player quickly & then contain, Position body to force attacker to sideline or into other defender, Eliminate gaps between defenders in back line
Having broken a practice down ahead of time allows the coach to work with your player on very specific coaching points
The training also teaches coaches the most effective way to interject themselves into a training session so that they let your kid play and learn first on their own and then step in to make observations/comments at the appropriate time.
A very useful approach for helping your player learn faster and think for themselves is the method of guided discovery. Taught in many coaching courses, this approach can help your coach teach your child soccer principles that will stick with them. Guided discovery is probably not the method that an untrained coach would use to teach soccer skills. However a coach that’s seen it in use and recognized how effective it can be in teaching youth players is much more likely to use it.
Attacking & Defending
Teaching your kid to recognize what their role is on the field at a certain time will look different from age group to age group. As will helping them understand how that role changes based on which team has the ball and what part of the field they’re on.
Small-sided games – If your kid’s coach has gone through coaching education courses they’ll understand how to choose the right small sided game to reinforce the specific topic they’re coaching.
A small sided game is NOT just a scrimmage with only a few number of players. The layout of the field, the role & positioning of players, the constraints on players, & the rules of play for a small sided game are all carefully crafted so that your kid can have fun while she or he is getting a lot of touches and working on very specific skills or concepts.
Experienced coaches will have a whole “library” of these games in their head. However even newer coaches who haven’t coached much but have gone through training will understand how to apply a small sided game based on what they’re trying to teach your player.
The best way to see these things in action is to attend a practice for a team that you’re considering joining. Watch for things like this:
- Does the coach arrive early and setup the training session?
- Does the coach teach one topic (ex: defending, finishing) or do they have the players switching between a range of things like free kicks, throw-ins, passing?
- Is there a lot of time spent standing in line?
- Do players seem to understand the point of the drills? Do they seem confident or do they seem confused?
- Do the drills seem to engage the players? Do all players participate?
- Does the coach make adjustments if things aren’t going well?
- Does the coach do a lot of yelling?
- Does the coach jump right into complex topics or start simple and add complexity as they go?
- Does the coach make coaching points during training? Do they continue to work on a skill or concept until the players grasp it or do they just move on in the interest of time?
- Do they end with a small sided game?
Now that we’ve talked about the coach’s role in your child’s club let’s take a look at how the club approaches player development.
What you want to find out is whether the club has a tested plan for helping your child develop. If so, do they also have people and processes in place to implement that plan? And do they have people and processes in place to make adjustments when the plan doesn’t work?
Can you get lucky with a coach and club that doesn’t have these things but does a great job for your kid? Of course but without trained coaches and a player development plan the odds are not as high. In addition, your son or daughter may have a good coach for a few years but eventually your kid will outgrow that coach. Just like your school district doesn’t give your kid the same teacher and curriculum K – 12, having the same coach their whole soccer career probably isn’t the best for your kid.
Here are some questions you can ask about player development:
- Who creates the player development plan?
- How do coaches know what part of the plan to teach on a given week or month?
- Who is in charge of coordinating the plan with the coaches is the plan age group specific?
- What happens to kids who come into the club behind in development?
- What happens to kids who fall behind their team in development?
- Is your kid’s coach the only one responsible for helping them progress through the plan?
- Are there other resources for your coach to help your player in areas where they are struggling?
- Is it possible for a player to play with multiple groups of kids? Ex: the second team in their age group and also the top team in their age group?
- What is the club’s approach to playing time versus winning games?
- What is the club’s approach to choosing where on the field to play a kid?
- What happens if a player really excels and is developing far faster than their peers?
- Who performs player evaluations? How often are they done and how are the results used/shared?
- How do your coaches ensure that their team has quality levels of competition and games?
- What is the ratio of time spent training to playing in games?
- Does the club have teams in a range of divisions?
- Does the club have teams that are typically in the top few divisions?
- Does the club have teams to participate in the Development Academy or the ENCL?
- What is the reputation of the club among other coaches?
- Is the club constantly adding players or more frequently losing players?
- How are the resources divided among the club? How are the second and third level teams treated in terms of coaching and training?
- Does the club have a recreational soccer program where players can move from rec into competitive?
That last question is important because it provides the club with a good pool of players which is helpful for your child. You want your kid playing with a group of players around their same level. If the player pool is small then chances are your son or daughter will be playing with kids who are either more developed or less developed than them.
This makes it tricky for the coach to run a really quality training session because they either have to exclude the less developed players or build their session plans to accommodate the abilities of the lease develop players.
Have you heard parents talk about how the smart kids are bored in school because they’re not challenged? The same thing can happen to a good player who’s on a team with kids who aren’t as far along as they are.
They know they can get away with half effort and partial focus and still be the top player. What you really want is them to be surrounded by other players who are as good or better than them. This will challenge them and push them to improve and make them work their hardest.
Having a good base of rec players makes the overall player pool much bigger and gives your child a better chance of being on a team with similarly skilled kids.
Soccer clubs that have a process in place to evaluate players are more likely to help your kid find the right team for thier level of development. That’s not to say if there’s no formal process that coaches won’t place them on the right team but having an approach to letting players (and parents) understand the progress they’re making allows coaches to more easily track and communicate development to club families.
The clubs that have a player evaluation process typically do it once a season or once a year. They often use a standarard set of criteria to rate your player based on a range of abilities from technical/tactical/physical/mental. It’s pretty time consuming for the coach but the benefit is that it helps you and your player understand the areas where they’re doing well and also the things they should work on.
Many clubs have their own evaluation forms they use and some use systems like iSport360, Team Genius, or Zoom Reports
Below is an example of what an evaluation form for your player could include. Typically it would show an average rating for an age group to show where the expected level of development would be and also your child’s rating. You can see why it would take a coach a while to rate each of their players on all of these criteria but you can also see how it would be helpful to know as a parent what areas your player might need additional work in.
- Defending (1v1)
- Attacking (1v1)
- Decision Making
- Movement off the ball
- High pressing & ball recovery
- Penetration with and without the ball
- Changing the rhythm of the game
- Mark and control opposing holding midfield player
- Ability to find space & lose a marker
- First Touch (receiving)
- Shooting (finishing)
Ability to play with non dominate foot
- Comfortable dealing with the ball
- Skillful in tight space
- Shielding skills
- Final pass
- Dribbling to create scoring chances for others
- Dribbling to create scoring chances for self
- 2v1 situations
- Self Confidence
- Mental Toughness
- Creative mind and clear thinker
- Aggressive intelligence
- Strength in duels
- Recovery power and capacity
Club Mission, Values, & Accountability
The quality of a soccer club has a lot to do with the leadership that’s guiding it. This isn’t something you’ll able to observe at tryouts so it’s a good idea to research it ahead of time.
All clubs should be governed by a board of directors.
- Who makes up the Board of Directors?
- What is their accountability for results?
- How are they elected?
- In the last few years have board members been added? Why were they added?
- Have board members left recently? Why did they leave?
- How does the board make decisions, what are the guiding principles when making decisions?
If you’ve never been part of a club with a dysfunctional board before then these questions may seem silly. We’ve seen what happens to the morale of the coaches, parents, and players when the board’s not up to the task of making decisions that are in the best interest of the club moving forward.
One thing that can help guide a board is the mission, vision, and strategic plans for the club. You want to be part of a club that has a picture in their mind of where your player should end up. They should know what that experience should look like and have policies and rules in place help make that happen.
Finding a club with a vision is important so that your kid can grow along with the club. Soccer clubs that don’t have a vision and a plan are more focused on operations. They worry about what they need to do to get through the season to the next season.
A club that has a vision for the future is making decisions not just for the short term but also for the long-term. This is important because player development takes years. If you have multiple kids you could be with the club for a long time. Soccer and the youth game is constantly changing in this country. You don’t want to be part of a club that thinks about things is the same way today they did 15 years ago. You want to be part of a club that keeps what’s working but adapts what isn’t working or what is changing.
So how can you measure this? Here are some questions you can ask.
- What new programs have they put in place in the last five years?
- What major changes have happened in the club?
- Has the club seen an increase in the number of teams that play at a higher level?
- Are there players from the club who go on to play with their high school teams?
- Are there kids that go on to play soccer in college?
- What new technologies have been implemented?
- What new injury prevention has been implemented?
- What new training has been added?
- What kind of mentorship programs have been implemented?
If you visit many clubs websites they’ll list a handful of guiding principles. What you want to know is whether they’re simply published on the website or if they actually influence how the club operates? Also, do you agree with those principles in their approach?
- If you asked a player could they name the principles?
- If you asked a parent could they name the principles?
- If you asked a coach could they name the principles?
One of the clubs we’re part of has five core values. During this season that coaches talked about those values at the end of practice. They discussed how they actually impact everyone in the soccer club – players, parents, coaches, referees, opponents.
Talking about the values isn’t the end of it. Introducing them creates a reference point so if something happens in practice or during a game we can ask, is that a good example of showing respect? We can address challenges that come up in the course of the season through the frame of the core values.
The main thing you want to know is whether the club is just paying lip service or if they’re actually implementing those principles in the club.
That may not be important to you but we think it’s good to know because we think of soccer as a way to develop kids in more than just sports and the kids who are more well-rounded and developed over all go on to become better people and better athletes.
It’s nice to know when you get involved in a club what is expected of you as a soccer family. Publishing expectations is a good place to start.
- Does the club have a set of expectations for parents, for coaches, and for players?
- Do they publish those expectations on the website and distribute them to everyone in the club?
- Are those expectations explained and enforced?
- What expectations does the club have for the players who wear their uniform ?
- What expectations does the club have for the parents of their players and how they act?
- What is the parents expected role and what things does the club want the parents to avoid?
- What expectation does the club have for coaches to teach the players?
We ask our players to be accountable, it also makes sense to ask the club leadership to be accountable as well.
- How are coaches evaluated?
- How is the technical director evaluated?
- How is the director of coaching evaluated?
- Do teams and families reviews coaches?
- If you were to ask another coach from another team what they thought of your club what would they say?
The cost of playing competitive soccer is a barrier to many families, especially if you have more than one kid who wants to play.
The costs of playing varies from club to club and each one handles the fees a little differently so it’s not always the easiest to compare. Most clubs will break down the cost on their website so it’s a good idea to check it out before going to tryouts.
What you’re really interested in is the total annual estimated cost of playing with that club. Here are some of the fees they might list on the site or on the flyer at tryouts:
- Coaching fees
- Club fees
- Facility fees
- Tournament fees
We’re part of a group of soccer families online called Scholarships for Soccer and one parent in the group recently asked about the costs of competitive soccer. There were families from around the country who shared the costs of playing in their soccer club in places like Detroit, Chesapeake Bay, Cincinnati, Chicago, Washington State, Illinois, Nevada, Jacksonville, Alaska, Syracuse, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. There are the numbers they shared:
- Highest – $3600
- Lowest – $1330
- Average – $2100
That seemed to cover coaching fees, club fees, league fees, and uniforms in most cases. The lower end didn’t include the costs of soccer tournaments. Most of those estimates also didn’t the cost of travel or equipment like cleats or goalie gear. That’s a lot more than my parents paid to have us play YMCA soccer when I was a kid!
Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t play for less than those families pay. I’m sure if you look hard enough in your area you’ll be able to find clubs that have lower fees. This is just to give you an example of what some families pay in other parts of the country.
There are a few ways to save money for new soccer parents. Often times clubs will charge lower coaching fees for younger age groups so if you’re just getting started the cost might be lower. If you have multiple kids playing with a club be sure to ask if they offer a sibling discount. If you’re an organized person many clubs offer a discount on coaching or club fees for a player if the parent volunteers to be the team manager for the season. Another way to lower the cost may be to pay for everything up front. Many clubs offer a payment plan where you can make monthly payments throughout the year but they’re willing to give you a discount if you pay everything up front.
One thing that can actually cost more is playing on an academy team. The difference in cost between the regular competitive teams and Academy level teams is usually due to:
- More training sessions = higher facility costs
- Additional travel
- Higher level tournaments (often more expensive)
- Additional uniform kit
- Additional training like technical or speeding/agility
So if your child is trying out for the highest level team you can expect expenses to be higher. Hopefully if that’s the case you’ll be notified before tryouts. For example the Sporting Kansas City Academy program sends out the email below when you register for their tryouts:
Extensive travel is required on weekends to places such as: Colorado, Texas, Florida, Indiana, etc
Regional Travel is required on select weekends to places such as: Texas, St. Louis, Tulsa, etc
Players may miss 5 to 8 day sof school per semester due to travel and showcase tournaments
The SKC U14s are partially funded. Sporting KC takes care of the following: coaching fees, uniform fees, field rental cost, tournament entry fees, league fees, and player registration fees. The players are responsible for paying for the following: transportation, room & board while traveling plus a membership fee. The membership fee will pay for a SKC season ticket for the player.
If you signup for tryouts and you don’t know these types of details beforehand its a good idea to do some research before showing up to tryout. You don’t want your kid to get an offer to play for a team that’s way beyond your budget.
You can ask if the club offers fundraising options for the players because that can help offset your costs. Many clubs also hold their own fundraising events like poker tournaments for the parents or FIFA tournaments for the kids and some of the money raised goes towards player scholarships for kids who are really talented but can’t afford to cover all the required fees.
Is Competitive Soccer Worth The Cost?
In our opinion the coaching fee is where you get the most bang for your buck. The coach is the most important part of your kid’s soccer experience and a good coach is well worth the money. If you take the number of hours a good coach will dedicate to games, training, and planning practice for your player over a year the cost of their time is pretty low.
We know some parents don’t like paying those fees and would rather have a volunteer coach. However, like many things in life you get what you pay for. Coaches who are paid to coach often take their job more seriously and put a lot of time into it. One exception would be coach a who has a child on a team. They’re more likely to put in the effort without payment. The question then becomes are they qualified/experienced enough and can they be an objective coach with their own child on the team?
Another fee we feel is worth the cost is programming provided by the club in the form of additional training. We talk more about the value of this later in the guide.
The one area we feel is the biggest waste of money are the uniforms. When my 7 year old daughter started playing competitive soccer it was bad enough we had to spend about $150 on her uniform but when you added up the costs for both our kids we were looking at over $400.
That’s a tough check to write and you have to pay it all up front to get the jersey’s ordered and back in time before the first game the following season. Often times right after you commit to a team the club has you order the uniform which pretty much locks many family’s into the club for at least a year because many people wouldn’t want to switch after paying all that money for uniforms. The one cost saving tip we can offer for youth soccer uniforms is to order them large so your player can wear them 2 years in a row.
To answer the bigger question of whether competitive soccer is worth the cost that really comes down to your family and what you hope to get out of youth soccer. We have 3 kids playing soccer, the youngest in rec soccer and the older two in competitive soccer. For us the confidence they’re building and the lessons they’re learning with their teams is well worth the money. However, that’s a lifestyle choice that our family has made. In the Spring and the Fall (and often the Winter) our weekends are mostly centered around soccer games so we’re not out spending money on many other things. For us the experience is worth the money and at the end of this guide we’ll share some lessons learned.
The indoor and outdoor fields that a club has available for training and games can make a big difference in your player’s experience.
As a parent one of the first things you’ll probably want to know about is how far you have to drive. The distance to the practice fields from where you live is an important question because that’s where you’ll spend the most time during the season. Most clubs list their practice locations on their website so it’s a good idea to lookup where they train to see how much time you and your kids will have to spend in the car each week.
You’ll also want to know what league they play their games in and where those fields are located. Some teams choose to travel to other cities to compete to find higher levels of competition. Here in Kansas City we have teams that drive from 3-4 hours away to play in the Heartland league. If the team your daughter or son tries out for has to travel that far to play you’ll want to know ahead of time. Usually the league works with teams from other states to schedule multiple games on a weekend so they only have to make the trip a few times in the season but it still eats up several weekends in the Fall and Spring.
You may have read about how Clint Dempsey’s family drove the 6 hour round trip to Dallas and back 2 or 3 times a week when he was 11 years old. That might have worked for his family but most kids aren’t Clint Dempsey so make sure the location of training and games fits into your family before you signup for a whole season or year.
Our kids have practiced on some pretty sketchy fields in the past and it can impact the quality of the training session. It’s more difficult to work on a good first touch and playing the ball quickly when you’re training on a field that feels like a cow pasture and the ball is bouncing every which way. This is especially true with younger kids where disruptions due to the field can distract and interrupt them more easily and really mess up the flow of your training session. Be sure to ask about whether the fields the team practices on are grass or turf and what the condition of those fields are.
Often the Spring season sees the most rainy weather and the most frequent practice rain outs due to soaked fields or inclement weather. On a really cold or rainy Spring you could see a big percentage of outdoor training sessions cancelled at the beginning of the season.
It’s nice to belong to a soccer club that has access to indoor facilities where your team can practice in the event of bad weather. Competitive soccer clubs typically practice and play over the winter months as well but not having enough indoor space available can really impact the amount of time your player gets to spend with their team.
Clubs that don’t have sufficient access to practice fields can also impact your kid’s training schedule. In some cases limited field space can mean packing lots of teams into a crowded space and coaches don’t have the room they need to run their training session as they’d like.
Another problem it creates is the scheduling of practices. We’ve had some pretty young kids practicing pretty late at night in the past because it was the only time the team could reserve field space. A really late start means they’re more mentally fatigued and less capable of listening and focusing at practice when they’re younger. Of course it also means a later bedtime and can be the cause of grouchy kids the next morning.
We’ve also seen the case where limited field space has created really early afternoon practices that are difficult for parents to get their kids there on time. So be sure to ask about what kind of training facilities are available to your child’s team before you accept a position with a youth soccer club.
The more time your player spends on the ball the more confidence and ability they’ll build in the game. That’s why supplemental training the club offers in addition to their team training is an important thing to ask about. This includes things like speed and agility, technical training, and goalie training.
We’ve played for clubs that offer zero supplemental training and also for clubs that offer a range of additional training options. Just because a club doesn’t offer supplemental training doesn’t mean that your kid won’t be successful there. You can still find additional training if your player wants it but there can be a few disadvantages to that approach:
Location – From a convenience perspective you’re probably going to have to travel to other locations for that type of training. If you have multiple kids in training it’s more convenient to have them all going to the same club sessions, even if they’re at different times for younger/older age groups at least they’re still in the same spot.
Cost/Quality – If you do one on one training the level of attention your player gets should be great but the cost is also higher. You can lower the cost by doing group training but there’s no guarantee to the age and skill level of the other players in the group. If they’re all a lot older or more skilled than your child it’s harder for them to work on 1v1 drills and not great on their confidence if they do. If they’re not as technically skilled as your player then they don’t challenge your kid as much.
Something else that happens with a wide range of age groups and skill levels is that the top kids get somewhat ignored because the attention goes to the players that need it most. Or it can work the other way where the focus is on the highly skilled players and the less developed players get less out of it.
Benefits of Club Training
There are several reasons why clubs that offer supplemental training for their teams can be a good option.
Imagine if you took your kid to a math tutor and they taught them to solve math problems a whole different way than their teacher did. This wouldn’t necessarily be a terrible thing because it’s good to learn different approaches but it could be confusing to younger kids.
The same confusion can come up when you have trainers calling move different names, teaching them different methods, or focus on different aspects of foot skills. The older they get the more this variety can be helpful because they can learn different ways of playing the game but at younger ages the inconsistency causes confusion.
If you’re attending club training chances are they’ll be organized by age range so your player will be more likely to be with kids that are about their same age and about the same skill level. This allows the trainer to follow the club curriculum and focus more specifically on where those players are developmentally.
For example, if a club has a certain sequence of escape or attack moves that the coaches teach at practice. The trainers can work on them at technical training so the players come to practice better prepared and the coach can focus using those moves in certain scenarios rather than working on the fundamentals of actually executing the move.
Another benefit of having club programming is that they can build the training to reach across multiple disciplines like technical, speed & agility, and soccer IQ. Not that outside training programs can’t achieve a similar thing but it does take resources in terms of skilled trainers, equipment, and facilities to do it well.
A good club will be well positioned to offer the same quality training with more consistency and likely more convenience and lower cost.
Injuries are bound to happen on the soccer field but what you’d like to know is how a soccer club works to prevent those injuries and what they do to assist kids that do get hurt.
For teenage players there’s a warmup routine called FIFA 11+ that’s been shown to reduce the occurrence of injuries for teams that go through it at least twice a week.
The main difference between FIFA 11+ and more traditional methods of warmups that coaches have used in the past is that research has shown dynamic stretching to be very useful in injury prevention. In contrast to static stretching, the dynamic stretches take your player’s muscles through a range of motions, getting them warmed up through activity.
Your team doesn’t have to use that specific warmup but coaches need to be aware of the latest developments in injury prevention and it helps if they’re trained by their clubs in those types of warmups. Ideally you’d find a club that has access to trained professionals who can show players how to do the workouts and run them through the exercises.
Another thing to ask about is whether the club offer any baseline testing for concussions. This can be helpful if your player does suffer a head injury so you can monitor their recovery and see how close, or far, they are from their state prior to getting hurt.
You should also ask about the policy for working players who might have a concussion? Are the coaches trained in recognizing concussions during a game/practice or does the club have appropriate personnel in place during games in the event of injury?
If your player does get hurt what’s the club approach for bringing back injured players? What kind of facilities or relationships do they have with professionals to help them rehabilitate after injury?
How do they help monitor your kid’s progress and know when it’s ok to start working them back into training sessions?
Do they offer ways for the player to remain involved with the team even if they can’t practice? Often a player’s connection with their teammates is an important part of their identity and suddenly losing that can be a big mental shock to go along with the physical injury.
In fact, Children’s Mercy Hospital actually discovered that some of the suicide attempts they dealt with were from injured athletes who felt cut off from their team after a major injury and weren’t coping with it in healthy ways.
Does the club help injured players work their way back to health and keep them involved in the team and the club during the process?
How do clubs accommodate for injured players during tryouts or other key times during the season?
Fortunately for younger players they typically don’t have to deal with the types of injuries that older kids do but if you can find a club that has already figured this out for their older age groups that shows they value the safety and well-being of their players. It’s also is something your kid will need as they grow with the club.
Let’s say you have a U-10 player and you join a new club. Five years from now you likely won’t switch clubs just because another club has a really good injury prevention and rehab program but it doesn’t hurt to consider it when you’re evaluating a club to join.
If your player is only playing U9 why do you care about college prep? Of course you don’t right now but if you’ve found 2 great clubs and are trying to decide between them this is something that could set them apart for you someday.
The fact that a club invests time and resources into helping players after they’ve left the club reflects that they’re interested in the developing players as people and not just soccer players. Of course it does look good for the club to be able to say that they’ve trained kids who went on to play college soccer so there’s something in it for them as well. Regardless, if they have a good college prep program your player can benefit.
Our experience in this area is limited because our players have not reached that age yet so we’d suggest you check out the Scholarship for Soccer group to learn from other parents who are going through that stage.
What you’d like to see is a club that educates families on the process of evaluating colleges and how to prepare for the process of trying to play soccer at a college level.
Some clubs will have one or more college prep nights where they fill you in on the rules of college soccer recruiting and offer tips for the process. Sometimes they’ll invite coaches from around the area to come answer questions and meet the families.
We went to a really good college soccer panel put on by the Sporting Kansas City Academy that had a panel of college coaches from Division 1, Division 2, and NAIA schools answering questions.
The event was coordinated by the team at iSoccerPath and offered a lot of practical tips for parents and players on choosing the right schools to reach out to, contacting coaches, college visits, recruiting videos, and following up with coaches.
Clubs that can offer this kind of support and information for you as a soccer parent can really help prepare your player for life after youth soccer.
It’s hard for a club to get everything perfect but one thing that you’ll appreciate as a parent, especially if you have multiple kids playing, is a club that’s well organized. There are several areas you can ask about that
How much experience does the club registrar have? The more they know about your state rules, local leagues, and which paperwork to fill out the fewer mistakes your team will run into. Having an experienced registrar is vital to a smoothly run club. It’s also good to know what the process is for interacting with the registrar. They’re very busy folks, hopefully the club has processes in place to both keep them from being overwhelmed with emails but also allow your questions to be answered in a timely manner.
Obviously this will vary from team to team but there are things a club can do to support their managers. For example some clubs have a manager training guide that helps the managers get setup and keep on track of their responsibilities.
Being a manager can be a lot of work so many clubs offer a discount on club fees for parents who volunteer to make it worth their while. This is a good sign because it shows they value the time and contribution of the parents. We’ve noticed that managers who get a discount also tend to do a better job because they feel they need to deliver in order to earn their discount.
Many coach like to focus on coaching and not have to deal with the managerial or organizational aspect. A good team manager will work with the coach to make sure there are an appropriate number of kids at each game so that there’s enough playing time to go around and also enough subs.
Clubs can also help out their managers by giving them the right tools, we’ll talk about those in a little bit.
One thing to ask when trying out for a new team is the club’s policy on assistant coaches This may vary from team to team but it’s good to know:
Will the coach have an assistant coach?
An assistant can help with setting up training sessions, warming up players, covering practices or games a coach has to miss, disciplining kids, working 1 on 1 with kids who need help.
What training does the assistant coach have?
You want to make sure any assistant coach has gone through the same vetting and background checks that a head coach does. Ideally you also want assistant coaches that have gone through coaches training for the age group they’re assisting with.
The assistant coach can also be a good person to approach with questions about your player or about the game if the head coach is hard to get in touch with.
Do they have a kid on the team?
This is good to know for both coaches and assistant coaches. The upside is that coaches with players on the team are likely to be committed and dedicated to the team. The downside is that it can be harder for them to be objective and share playing time equally. Parent coaches sometimes give their kid preference or treat them differently than the other players.
If they do have a player on the team it’s a good idea to talk to other families that played for them before to see what the dynamic is between the coach and their kid.
Having a website and an app to keep track of when and where practices and games are held is a huge help as a parent. Especially when the coach or manager includes details like which uniform to wear and the address of the field. This software comes in really handy when there are schedule or location changes. Some of the ones we’ve had experience with are:
- Sports Engine
- SI Play
- Team Snap
It’s fine if the whole club doesn’t use the same software but it’s really nice to be part of a team that does, especially if you have multiple children playing soccer. The ability to pull up game information on your phone and get email reminders is very helpful. It’s even more valuable if your child plays on multiple teams for the club because it can help you keep track of scheduling conflicts.
How does the club organize uniform ordering and delivery? Does it have a website where you can review all your options and order online to have the jerseys shipped to your home? Are you able to login later on and order extra socks or jerseys if your kid loses theirs?
Does the club have a system to automate the payment of your monthly fees? Some clubs will offer you a discount if you pay the full amount upfront but also offer a monthly payment option if you’re not in a position to drop all that money at the start of the season.
We’ve been a part of a club where we had to remember to send in money each month and it’s really nice to be able to have an automated system that handles it for you. What you also would like is a dashboard where you can login and see what you’ve paid and what you still owe. It’s convenient if you can also pay for supplemental training through the same dashboard.
The fact that the club has payment systems in place is also good for the health of the club. There was a club in our area that was pretty successful on the field but were doing a poor job of collecting their fees and they ended up having to shut down because they didn’t have enough money to operate. So you definitely want to avoid situations where lack of organization and structure creates problems for the club and teams.
- Do coaches from neighboring age groups go and watch each other’s games?
- Do they have inter-squad scrimmage is at similar age groups?
- If a club enters tournaments with a bunch of teams do they come watch each others games?
- What is the relationship between the coaches in the club?
- Do coaches reach out to each other when they have questions about tactical or technical approaches?
- Do coaches feel comfortable getting advice from the technical director of the director of coaching?
- Do teams typically hold end of the season parties or have events during the season outside of soccer practice/games?
- How are players encouraged to get to know each other off the soccer field?
- When teams play in tournaments do they have team meals or events in between games?
- Do teams play in away tournaments?
- Does the club do fund raising for charitable causes?
- Do teams volunteer in the community?
- What’s the relationship of the club and the local high schools? What about local colleges?
- What’s the relationship of the club in any semi or professional soccer teams in the area?
Youth Soccer Tryouts
We have a whole additional article soon to be published on getting ready for soccer tryouts but one of the questions parents ask is how many clubs should we even tryout for?
We posed that question in a Soccer Parenting webinar to someone who’s been involved in youth soccer for over 20 years. Jay Howell has been a club, high school, and college soccer coach in addition to Club Director, Director of Coaching, and Executive Director for various soccer clubs. On top of that he’s a Scout for US Soccer so he’s run quite a few soccer tryouts over the last 2 decades.
We asked what the recommended maximum number of clubs a young player should tryout for in one season? For example a U-12 player looking for a place to play? His suggestion was to do the up front work and then look at 1 or 2 possibilities.
The point isn’t to limit your players options but rather to use the criteria we’ve covered here to narrow them down and then let them show off their skills at one or two tryouts.
He made it clear that at the younger ages the main focus should be on which coach your kid would be playing for. The right team isn’t necessarily the best team in the city. Instead you should focus on finding your kid a coach who’s a great teacher.
Soccer Tryout Research
Here are a few ways you can help narrow down which club tryouts might be best for your player in the weeks leading up to tryout season. We’re listing them in order of most generic to most specific in terms of finding specific teams/coaches.
Club Information Night
You likely won’t get a chance to ask coaches any questions at these events. However, they’re still good to attend in terms of getting a vibe for the direction and “personality” of the soccer club. If you like what you here you can do more digging and pursue the next step.
Sign Up for Pre-camps
Many clubs offer a 1-3 day camp before tryouts where your kid shows up for a few hours a day and goes through scrimmages or drills with other players either in the club or considering the club. These give you more insight into the “on the field” operations of the club because you can see how they’re organized and how the trainers interact with the players.
The club usually uses this as a way to get a preview look at players who will come to tryouts since it’s hard to evaluate kids after watching them just an hour or two at one tryout.
Play in Kick Arounds
These are somewhat similar to Pre-camps but often are more age group focused, so might just be for U-11 and U-12 kids for example. You’re also more likely to have actual age group coaches at these events who are there to watch the kids that come to play.
Due to state rules those coaches may not be running the event and aren’t supposed to approach you but if you go talk to them about the club and the teams they coach you might be able to glean some good insight.
Another valuable resource at these events are parents who’s kids are already in the club and might be there watching. They’re usually happy to dish on the club and the coaches and can give you some good food for thought, of course to be taken with a grain of salt because you don’t necessarily know what their intentions are and there always seem to be 2 sides to every story between a parent and coach who might not get along.
Both my son and daughter had an extra kid at training the last 2 practices of the season. This can get trickier if you’re already playing competitive soccer because coaches aren’t allowed to recruit players from other teams/clubs during the season. In order to bring your kid to a practice you probably either need to have a waiver from their current coach or say you just moved into the city. (We know that’s probably breaking the rules but these are kids we’re talking about, not professional athletes, give them a break).
This is the best way to see how the coach operates and also how the current players on the team interact and how they treat a “newcomer” to the team. If there’s a club or team you’re considering having your kid practice with them is the best way to learn about what environment your player might be stepping into.
Youth Soccer Summary
We’ve covered a lot of information about youth soccer. The question you’re probably going to ask is whether you really need to consider all these things when choosing a club?
It definitely takes time to do all this research and of course since you’re a soccer parent you don’t have a lot of extra time on your hands.
We can answer with a question of our own. How important is soccer to your player and to your family? The more important it is the more time you should invest in researching and preparing.
For our first kid we didn’t do this research. Our rec coach said he was taking the team competitive and invited us to tryouts. There were 10 spots and 10 kids showed up so that began our adventure into competitive soccer. In hindsight we wish we would’ve read a guide like this. If we would have known these things at the time the first two years of his youth soccer career probably would’ve been more productive developmentally and less stressful for him and for us.
At the time we weren’t sold on the concept of paying money to a coach and a club to train our kid. In hindsight it would have been money well spent and we’ve done things differently with our second and third kid.
We said at the start that the more you become involved in youth soccer the more you’ll realize how useful this guide can be. If you could go back and ask parents of high school or college players what they would have done differently chances are they’ll cover at least a few things in this guide.
Your Soccer Adventure
Like many things in parenting, youth soccer is an adventure and if you’re just getting started it’s an uncharted one. Our hope is that this guide will give you the tools you need when faced with decisions that impact the development and happiness of your soccer kids.
We can see how it can be a little overwhelming if you’re new to youth soccer but one of the best ways to research the things we cover is to just talk to other soccer families and parents in your area. If you don’t have time for anything else at least spend time to evaluate the coach. Your players coach is the most important thing at a young age and the most important feature to look for in a coach someone who is a good teacher.
To help make this whole process easier on you we’ve put together a summary of all the questions from this guide ask organized by topic and also a Parent checklist that will help you easily compare multiple clubs. If that would save you time you can just enter your email below and will send it to you for free.