So, how should you pick a youth soccer club for your child?
The answer is, you shouldn’t.
By definition, most kids are average, or below average, soccer players, and really should be playing recreational soccer. “Select” soccer is a misnomer. There’s nothing select about it after the first or second team per age group. If you’re kid is on the sixth team … well, it’s your money.
My kid is not on a top team, and it’s somewhat heartbreaking to see the youngster treading water in the club atmosphere. Sam I am is a good player (isn’t every parent’s child awesome!), but Sam doesn’t fit the mold of what American soccer looks for. Connor Casey and Abby Wambach are the prototypical American player, from MLS to U-littles. Bull in a china shop, head down, work hard, aggressive, athletic. And poor soccer players.
So if my kid is not on a top team, why are we in club soccer? I would start a rec team, but there are literally no rec teams in the right age group in our area. The clubs have so monopolized the, ahem, game of soccer, that you have to pay large sums of money to play poorly coached soccer. There are no players outside of club. So you pay and the kid plays.
In a better system, you would pick a coach, not a club. That’s what we’ve learned. The coach makes all the difference. Unfortunately it’s slim pickings, and you don’t often (ever?) get to pick your coach in the club soccer system. There’s the problem of geography, matters of circumstance, talent, politics, availability, affordability, etc. If all the coaches were good, this wouldn’t matter. But they aren’t, they are hacks. How do I know? I watch their product.
Here’s what I see from all coaches we have had in club soccer: they choose a formation (maybe), assign positions (based on flawed criteria), and say ?work hard?. They yell, “go, go, go” a lot.
The internet blames me and my kid for this state of soccer affairs. My kid isn’t technical enough, doesn’t play “street soccer”, can’t juggle. I coddle my kid too much, don’t demand 10,000 hours of practice, value winning over “development”.
Hogwash. Excuses. I’ve seen many very technically sound kids. I’ve seen kids that can juggle a tennis ball a thousand times, kids that eat, sleep and live soccer, kids that train year round, every day. But those kids don’t “make it” either. And the truth is because of coaching and player evaluation. Look at MLS, college soccer, club soccer, u-littles. Look at Jozy Altidore. The optimal player at all levels in the US is not the soccer player, it is the athlete. The coaching is designed for the non-soccer player, the philosophy tailored to them. And it doesn’t work.
I think most technical development should be done by the individual, either at home, in the streets or at an outside trainer (and optimally all 3). Tactical development and soccer intelligence should be the job of the club, but I don’t see it, or what I do see is misguided. No work on spacing, width, swinging the ball through the back line, running off defenders, making diagonal runs, combination play, keeping triangulation, the DM or CM coming back to receive the ball, scanning the field before you get the ball, shifting defensively … I could go on and on with all the things that I don’t see being taught. I do see a bunch of drills and quite a bit of scrimmaging with not much game instruction. I see lots of running laps.
So we’re left with a conundrum: your kid shouldn’t be playing club soccer, but there’s no other choice. Club is really rec, and rec has become club, but clubs don’t teach smart, successful soccer. So what can you do? How should you pick a club? Educate yourself and go watch lots of games and practices. Pick the least bad option, the cheapest, the most convenient. Maybe you’ll find a diamond in the rough. Maybe a coach out there is bucking the system.
Remember, your loyalty is to your kid, you are their only advocate. Choose wisely.