As a parent, we all want the best for our kids when it comes to their participation in and enjoyment of playing sports. When my kids first started playing soccer at the recreational level, it was obviously just for fun and to learn the aspects of the sport. It was with a small local soccer club, the time commitment was minimal, one practice a week and a game on a Saturday. It was a practice filled with fun games, running around with their friends and learning a bit of soccer. I believe we paid a very small amount for the two seasons (Fall & Spring) plus a uniform. All three of my kids really enjoyed the sport, their teammates, and coaches, which meant they continued playing into the developmental stage of soccer. As parents, we loved the proximity to the field (2 miles), inexpensive activity, and manageable commitment of time.
Developmental soccer is a step up from Recreational, therefore it is more expensive and more of a time commitment for all involved. At this stage, individuals are placed with other players at their playing level and will more likely play teams with similar skill levels. Costs range anywhere from $150-$400 a year (2 seasons) depending on the club and/or level each team has been placed. Practices jump to 3 times a week with games on Saturdays, again depending on the level of the team. I believe this stage is very important when it comes to the coaching individual players receive. A good coach has the ability to truly help a child improve and prepare for the next level of play, competitive. I have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly with coaches at this level. The technical/skill development with a mediocre coach, as compared to a skilled coach is night and day. Learning proper technical skills during development is extremely important and this fundamental concept is often forgotten.
The next step from Developmental is Competitive coupled with the T word, Tryouts. This is the most stressful event for both kids and parents. It should be, they are taking their skills to the next level and told if they are good, mediocre, or bad depending on the team they make, based on a 3-4 hour evaluation period (Tryouts). Depending on the amount of desire a player has, it can be very nerve-racking time for the child and parent. Understand, the start never dictates the outcome, and what appears as a bad team might be the best opportunity for the development of your child. My oldest made the third team and was the only one from her soccer Developmental club team not to make the first or second team. She was OK with it and worked very hard, became a leader and developed amazing friendships. Within a few years, through hard work and drive, she was moved up to the second team. Looking back at her club soccer tryout, the evaluation was correct, based on her motivation and desire, not skill level, she was a third team player.
My other two kids made the top soccer club team for their age when making the leap to Competitive soccer, but the process was just as stressful. The commitment doubles when your child enters Competitive, along with the fees! My youngest just finished playing her first year, Fall season of club soccer. The last few months of the season she was practicing 6 times a week. This may seem excessive, it is, but she is on the top team and is expected to perform and excel on a grander basis. I spend an amazing amount of time in my car, driving my kids to practice; it is inevitable when playing at the top competitive level. You will be traveling much farther than the neighborhood park down the street for practices as well as games. Usually the teams will travel out of state at least once a year and/or season. Common destinations are Las Vegas or Arizona. It is hard to justify sending a 9 or 10 year old to Vegas by themselves for a tournament, not to mention the cost. I guess if they are on the top team, it is justifiable?
For boys, Academy or Developmental Academy (DA), run by US Soccer, is the next step and for girls, ECNL and soon to be Academy as well. Playing at this level is what most kids are striving to achieve. The fees are almost quadruple ($4,000 – $8,000) that of Competitive. The commitment is year round and they play all year. Games start in August, with a mini hiatus through the winter months and continuing in February. At this level, high school soccer is prohibited, and any other sport are frowned upon and against US Soccer rules. No longer can kids play two sports at this level and continue to play competitively. Travel is much more emphasized at this level as well. Teams compete in “Showcase” Tournaments with scouts from the National level as well as College attending the games. There are several perks to playing Academy; free stuff, which teenage boys love!!! Prior to a tournament, each player on my son’s team came home with a free a pair of trainers and a pair of cleats, courtesy of Adidas.
Youth Soccer in the United States is constantly changing, they are trying to keep up with the International skill level and in doing so there is a lot more pressure on kids to achieve at the Academy level in order to really be successful. US Soccer wants the men to win the World Cup. Will this happen, who knows?
Soccer has become ingrained in the fabric of our family. Our oldest daughter plays on her High School JV soccer team, our son plays Academy, and our youngest daughter plays competitive. This level of soccer requires a tremendous amount of resources and commitment, but it also provides an amazing amount of excitement and self-worth. Our kids are very supportive of their siblings and attend a majority of each other’s games, even games that start at 8:00 AM on a Saturday morning. I have the opportunity, while driving to games and practices, to connect one on one with each child. As they grow, become more independent, and spend more time with friends, this time together becomes a rare commodity.
Keep in mind; the craziness is not limited to soccer. Lacrosse and basketball are year round sports with similar costs. Competitive baseball and softball teams play 75 – 100 games between April and August.