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How to choose the right club or team for my child

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b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_3004-300x200.jpgIt is that time of year again…tryouts for youth soccer teams. Or rather, it is the hunting season for clubs and coaches to recruit players and find new investors. So, having 5 kids in the system and being a licensed coach, I thought I would add a list of questions and answers for parents for this time of year. I seem to keep having the same conversations so it would be easier just to put the information here:

I. Why should I pay for soccer coaching? I mean, I see dads coaching soccer every Saturday or Sunday. Why should I spend money on something that obviously anyone can do?

While parents don’t necessarily say this exactly, I hear it in their reasons why they do not feel the need to pay for soccer training. The best analogy I can think of his music lessons or dance lessons. People have no problem paying for those lessons but somehow think soccer is different. What is sad is that parents make this mistake at the most critical ages (7-12) thinking that it is just kid soccer. In my opinion, this is when you need professional help the most. If your coach does any of the following, he or she is hurting the development and love of the game in your child (this is aimed at players 7-12):

Plays your child in only 1 position. The reason your coach does this is to try to win games. But, at the younger ages, the focus needs to be on development of the player, not on the success of the team. If your child is learning only 1 position (be it forward or defense), their development is suffering.
Puts pressure on your child to be successful. Does the coach demand performance from your child at a certain level? What happens when that level is not reached? Does your child feel pressured to score? defend? stop goals? If your child is playing in fear of making mistakes, then their development is hindered. Usually, in situations where a player is under too much pressure it is because the coach over-values winning and each game’s result.  Gives repeated and thorough instructions throughout the game. We call this remote controlling – like the coach has a joystick and can remote control the players. Some parents are put off that, when placing their children in the academy, that on game days their professional coach does not give enough instructions. They are accustomed to a volunteer coach giving instructions the entire game and, assume, that by now paying that the instructions are just going to get better. Professional coaches, however, are trained to use guided discovery to teach the game to the players. If your coach is telling your players when to pass and to whom, then they are too concerned with the result and are getting in the way of your childs’ development.

So, why should you consider paying for soccer instruction? Maybe you don’t want your child yelled at throughout a game or placed under too much pressure. Maybe you want your child to learn to touch the ball better — have better technique. If you want your child to maximizes soccer talent and have a passion for the game, it is something you should consider. If you want your child to be a standout varsity player, you should consider it. If you are aiming for something higher (college soccer), you should consider it.

II. A coach has approached my child to be on a different team than he or she is on, should I do it?

A bit of advice — you have to start by asking, what is in it for the coach? Why do they want my kid? Get over the flattery of someone interested in your kid, find out why the person wants your child on their team or club. You may find out–

-The person is genuinely interested in the development of you child and thinks they can help.
-The person needs your child to help their team improve.
-You are being told that for this team or club, you will win more (trophies and the like).
-You are told that he or she can get your child to college.
-Finally, the person has a financial stake in your decision — they literally make more money if you switch to their club.

Now, could the reason be a combination of the above? Yes, of course. But parents need to be warned about any promises for college scholarships for 11-year-old kids. If the reason is that your child helps their team win more, then you have your answer — they are not interested in your child’s development, they are interested in what your child can do for their “team.” If they benefit financially from your decision, you need to treat their advice with the same weight you would anyone else motivated by money.

It is a myth that playing on a “higher level” team at young ages guarantees your child will improve faster. Rather, it could hurt your child’s development. Are they relegated to one job on the “higher level” team? Are they under too much pressure to perform? Are they having fun or is it “serious.”

The key is not what your child is doing at 10,11,12,13,14, but what do they think of the game when they are 15, 16, 17. If they have not developed a love for the game in the younger years, you will lose them to the game. The best player I know to come from our area, who committed to a Top 10 Division 1 College as a sophomore in high school, when she moved clubs, she immediately was moved down to her age group (and she is an August birthday so could go either way) and played on teams where she was a dominant player for years. Her coach was wise enough to give her that chance — could she have played up and been the strongest player 1 year above? Yes. Two years above? Yes. But she didn’t. She left a local team playing up to go to a big club team and played down where she was one of the oldest players on the field. Her mom has posted a great article about the experience.

III. One coach has won a lot of tournaments so obviously I should put my kids under his or her watch, right?

Real simple — you need to ask yourself — how much value do you place on winning tournaments? How do they translate to the development of your child? If it is something that you place a lot of value on, then, while it is misguided, you should choose a club that gives you that satisfaction. If the tournaments are promoting passion for the game and social benefits for your player, to me, that is the only advantage they offer. Quality competition is a myth — you can find that anywhere without the pressure and price of tournaments.

If your coach is selling you on a history of tournament success, he or she is only interested in player development as it helps them win. Usually, those coaches have made the game more about them than the kids. Here is your parental checklist for what you should demand of your soccer club:
Is my child improving?

  • Is the environment safe?
  • Is my child developing a love of soccer/passion for the game?
  • Is my child being encouraged to try new things?
  • Is my child’s ability to touch the ball and control it getting better?
  • Is my child interested in playing soccer when they are not at practice?
  • Is my child allowed to be creative without the pressure of failure from a coach?
  • Is my child appropriately challenged (not too much, not too little)?
  • Do my coaches have a curriculum for the year? Are they teaching my child, not just coaching them?

IV. I have been paying money to my club for 3 years and my child’s team never wins any tournaments and only wins some of their games …..if I am paying money for soccer coaching, shouldn’t my kid be winning more?

Some of this is handled above…but, being as competitive as the next coach, I get it. But, as a coach, particularly of young players, you have to set aside your desire to win to create an environment that is challenging, positive, and fun while also recognizing that soccer is a competitive sport and there are winners and losers.

If your club focuses primarily on winning and trophies, you will know. If your club focuses primarily on development, you will know and recognize it in how their teams play. Despite the results, do they rotate players? Do they encourage 1v1 dribbles? Beyond most everything else, how do their players touch the ball? Are the developing players from their club? Or, are their best players recruited from other clubs?

Ultimately, as a parent, you should be concerned with these technical/tactical components:

How does my child touch the ball? Can he or she use different body parts? Is their ball control and first touch improving? What understanding does my child have of the game? Has their thought process and tactical decisions been made better (without a coach yelling at them what to do)? Do they have good ideas on the field? Are they having fun and developing a love for the game? Other than that, you shouldn’t be bothered. That is how you should be measuring the return on your investment. Tournament success does not help answer any of those questions.

V. What level of pressure should be placed on my child to succeed or fail during a game?

None. If so, the game is more about the coach than the player. Now, as the players age, they can accept some pressure as the quality of the competitions increase. But, from 7-10, your coach should be putting none on them (they put plenty on themselves).

That being said, that does not mean that your coach cannot challenge them to do better. Encourage them. Motivate them. That is all expected.

VI. The team that my child has been placed on is not good enough for him or her….I was told that I should get my child on the best team possible and that is what my 04 is playing with 02s. I just think my kid is too advanced to play at his or her age.

Sadly, I have talked to parents of advanced players who have been told that the best thing for their child is to player on the highest and best team they can — regardless of age, social structure, etc. Usually, this is an excuse to direct the player to a team for the coach. At any rate, that sort of advice cannot be given to every kid. Here are some thoughts:

There is a social element that is important to players and their growth a love for the game. There is plenty of times at 14,15,16 to “get serious” about the game. Playing on a team with peers is a benefit for developing players.
It is okay to be the best player on the team. While your club will want to find other ways to challenge your player, if you fill that your child is better than his teammates consider that is not always bad. Our State Technical Director, once told me it is important for kids’ confidence and love of the game to be in games at times where they find success more easily.

There are leadership opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist that will help develop your player’s personality on the field. If your child is routinely pushed at the edge of their limit, it will not necessarily make them better — it may detract from their creativity and confidence. One such parent told me, at one point, that their 04 played on an 02 team (she was proud of that) but, on the other hand the 02s did not “respect” her son as much as they needed.
Keep in mind social dynamics and puberty. During the 11-15 ages, there is a lot of maturation. It may not be the best fit to have a pre-pubescent child playing on a team full of kids that physically are more dominating because they have reached puberty.
It may be that an advanced player needs to play up in recreation soccer to even the game. But, if you are allowing a professional club make choices about your player’s development, you should trust that they know what is best for them. Unless you are willing to attend the conferences, courses, read the literature, etc., then you really should defer to people who have invested that time in educating themselves. That is what you are paying for. Just because it is soccer, does not make it any less hard to understand the concepts.

For example, I talk to parents who constantly think they know more than their paid coach, whether it be tactics, instruction, etc. Yet, the parent has no qualifications or education in coaching the game other than watching their kid play on weekends. Why this is tolerated in soccer and sport but, for example, we would never consider listening to legal advice from a non-lawyer puzzles me. I told one parent (after listening to critique of a professional coach — at a time when the team was losing games) — “why don’t you go a try my next case (as a lawyer)?” My point is, they know as much about the law as they do about player development. And, while these people would never consider being a lawyer for a day in court, they have no hesitation being a coach for a day or week, etc.

VII. What is different one club to the next?

The bottom line is that you want your child to improve in a positive environment that is free from too much pressure. If the emphasis is on winning at a young age, it is sometimes hard to balance that with development. Make sure that the team and club you are joining values individual player development — are they going to help your child touch the ball better? are they going to help you child develop a passion for the game? or are they most interested in using your child to help them win.

VIII. I am leaving my team for a team that is ranked higher. How important are rankings of youth teams?

Not important. If you are that parent wanting something bigger for your child, say college or professional soccer, know this: college scouts are not bothered by how a U11 team plays. Professional teams in the U.S. are not bothered either — in fact, our local professional team is completely unaware of the top players in various age groups playing right under their nose. If you are serious about professional soccer, consider moving to where you are close to a professional set up and can take advantage of what they have to offer. In the U.S., it is limited. The investment by MLS teams in youth academies is small compared to, say, Holland, Belgium, UK, Spain etc. If you want an MLS team to notice your child, you have to make it happen (it works the other way in Europe — they find you).

But, if you cannot move, then the most important thing for you to decide for your kid is to place them on a team and club where they will develop a love of the game. That, to me, is the most important thing. How good they are at U11 matter less than their love and commitment to the game. Maybe the best all time player for Manchester United was a smallish kid with asthma (Paul Scholes). His coach saw something else in him. Above all else, Scholes loved the game. So, what you need to ask yourself is what are things that can hinder your child’s love of the game?

  • A coach that places too much value on winning at all times.
  • A coach who come to the practices unprepaired.
  • A coach who doesn't correct mistakes in the practice but he does during the game to blame the players
  • A coach who puts too much pressure on players.
  • A coach who yells and screams and berates players during the game.
  • A coach who does not love the game (but is coaching to get paid or because they enjoy the power).
  • A coach that doesn’t teach the game or the “why” of things, focusing only on the results.
  • A coach that doesn’t care about his or her players — they are just tools to win a match.



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