Most kids begin playing soccer in their local community recreational leagues. These opportunities are critical for all kids to be introduced to the game in a safe and fun way, where they get to play with kids in their local community, learn the game, improve their skills, and play with friends from their school or neighborhoods.
The recreational leagues are powered by and rely on the awesome and amazing countless volunteer coaches who are committed to creating a great environment for young kids to start playing soccer in a positive way. Without all of these coaches, these programs would not be possible and they are the foundation of soccer development and growth.
As players enjoy and grow in their recreational experience, there may come a time that a player or team outgrows the format of recreational soccer and looks to move into a different environment that more closely matches their level of play and interest in the sport. While others, the recreational program is perfect for them and they continue to play in those leagues as they grow.
For those players and parents who look to move out of the recreational program, the “club soccer” world can be hard to understand and even more cumbersome to navigate. There are a lot of unfamiliar terms, unfamiliar processes, and MANY MANY options to look at in terms of “next steps” for their child.
With that in mind, I wanted to provide a basic breakdown for parents of kids moving out of the recreational program to guide them through the process.
This is not a club based endorsement and is purely a “guide” to help parents as they research their options. There are many great options out there for parents and players at the club soccer level, and the key is finding the right situation for your child and family. Hopefully the below information is helpful in your journey.
Tryout Based Club vs Non-Tryout Based Club
When looking at soccer clubs, they can be broken down into two major categories. First, a “tryout based” soccer club will hold tryouts for players who are interested in joining their club. The club usually hosts about 2 to 3 tryout events giving your child the opportunity to demonstrate their current playing level and understanding of the game. Typically, these events have a combination of different practice activities and games that allow the coaches to evaluate each player.
Players are then placed or assigned on teams based on their level determined through the tryout. Clubs will have a “1st team,”, a “2nd team” and so on, depending on the size of the club. The clubs try to group players by ability level so throughout the season they are training and competing with players of similar skill levels. There is a chance with these types of clubs that your child will not be selected for a team, but most tryout based clubs try to keep as many players as they can. Especially with younger kids coming out of the recreational program, they will do what they can to help find the player a chance to play when appropriate.
If your child is offered a spot, you will have the option to accept or decline the offer. If you accept, you will register and pay for the upcoming season.
“Non-tryout” based clubs do not hold tryouts. Often with these clubs, teams or groups of players come in as a group to form their own team within the organization. If it is a full team, no other players are added to the roster, and these players will compete and play together throughout the season. If a group of players want to come in together but they need more players to have a full roster, then the club will combine those groups with others to make teams (processes vary with each club).
In addition, these clubs will hold “player assessments/evaluations” for individual players who are looking for a team to help match them with a current team in the club or to create a new team. This is different from the tryout process as the club is not trying to form tiered or leveled teams based on these player assessments and evaluations.
This is a more ideal situation for players and groups of players who are looking to play with friends or teams they are currently playing with and are not as concerned with being on a tiered or level based team. There are no “cuts” in these types of clubs, and they try to find a team for each player, but like a tryout based club, there may not be enough players to form a new team or there are not any open spots on a team in their age group.
Registrations for soccer clubs for the Fall season usually open in May. If your child plans to try out, tryouts usually start the Tuesday after Memorial Day (in Ohio South). The format of tryouts tends to change slightly each year. In general, you will try out for one or more clubs, and then at a specific time (within a week or sooner), the club will notify you via phone, email, or in person, that your child is being offered a spot in the club and what level of team.
Seasons / Leagues
The club soccer season consists of two seasons. When you register and commit to a club, a player is typically committing to a Fall and Spring season. The Fall season usually begins at the start of August and runs through the end of October. Depending on the club, they may have organized events starting in July and extending past October, but generally, those three months are the main part of the Fall season. For the Spring season, teams play from March to May with the exact start date varying based on league and tournament play.
Again, when you register with a club, your commitment to the club and your assigned team is typically for both seasons.
Winter Months / Off-Season
Some clubs will continue to hold club wide or team based events through the November to February months either through organized training and games, or more optional training and indoor league play. Sometimes this is included in the club fees and other times it is not.
It is important to clarify with a soccer club what the expectations are during the “off-season” or winter months. This is different with each club, and sometimes it varies between different teams within the same club.
Again, some clubs will have no scheduled events or commitments in the “off-season” or winter months, while some clubs will keep a pretty regular training program and play games. Most clubs do something through the winter, but the amount of activity and whether it is required is different with each club soccer program.
Time Commitment - Practice/Game Expectations
The most common weekly schedule in club soccer is a team practicing two times a week and at least playing one game. Unlike recreational soccer, there is less consistency of game days and times. It could change week to week either in regards to day, time, and number of games through the week.
Some teams will practice more or less than two times per week, and some organizations may have other types of training through the week increasing the number of events per week for a player to attend. These other sessions could be group skill sessions, fitness training, goalkeeper training, team meetings, etc… Like games, this can be a consistent schedule each week or it can vary from week to week.
All clubs have different expectations and guidelines in terms of player attendance at all events.
It is important to understand, when moving out of the recreational leagues, there will be some type of increase in time commitment each week during the season (and outside of it). The amount of that increase will be different at each club based on their structure and expectations for their players, teams, and coaches.
Although at the club soccer level, there are a lot of leagues that range from local to national levels, I will not go into state wide, regional, or national based leagues because they are probably not something someone coming out of the recreational level will have to deal with or need to understand. They could become a factor as a player continues with soccer and their level and age increases, but normally not immediately out of the recreational level. With that in mind, I will focus on the local leagues that most kids coming out of the recreational league will play in with a club soccer team.
Most players coming out of the recreational level will play with a club in a locally based league. Typically these leagues are played in and around the major city in which a player lives. For example, in Columbus, most leagues consist of teams within Columbus or not far outside of the suburban areas.
Unlike a recreational league, you are not playing only teams within the same organization, but instead, playing teams from other communities and clubs. This normally increases the level of competition and the amount of travel related to these leagues compared to a local recreational league. Here is an example of a local league:
Each club will play home games in the community which they are based, and then travel to other communities to play away games. A typical season has around 10 league games, but that again can vary based on each club and team. Most will try to balance home and away games, but again, it can be different for each club based on each organization’s game field availability. It is good to understand where a club’s “home fields” are located so you can better understand how much travel will be involved for your child’s league games.
Although there is more traveling with the format of these leagues, it is not significantly different than recreational leagues. If you choose to play for a soccer club outside of your community, then your travel will increase as weekly practices and home games will not be within your local community.
Most club soccer teams participate in tournaments throughout the season that are not part of their league play. These are usually held over a weekend on Saturday and Sunday, and each team plays at least 3 games, with the opportunity to advance to a championship game based on their results.
The number of tournaments a team will participate in will vary from club to club or even from team to team within a club.
Teams can choose to play in local tournaments where there is no need for an overnight stay in a hotel, and others may choose to travel within the state or outside of the state to play in tournaments that require overnight stays.
Again, this is normally decided based on the level and age of team, but is really club and team based. Most younger teams will not travel a distance over 3 hours to play a tournament, but there are a few teams that will.
It is important to understand a club’s or team’s tournament plans and make sure it aligns with what your time, travel and expense expectations are for your child’s club experience. It is often harder to work around tournament conflicts with other activity commitments than it is to work around local league games or weekly practices.
Soccer clubs will have paid coaches, who are often labeled as “professional” coaches or volunteer coaches who often receive guidance and direction from a Director and other full time staff. Most tryout based clubs have teams that are coached by paid or professional coaches. Non tryout based clubs have teams that are parent or volunteer coached (normally).
Paid professional coaches vary in terms of experience, licensure and whether coaching is their full-time or part-time (side) job. In short, professional coaching may not mean exactly the same thing or look the same from club to club.
Paid coaches usually have more set expectations and regulations set by the club’s directors and leadership on how often training occurs, when it occurs, what is coached/sticking to a club wide curriculum, how games are scheduled and managed, etc…
Volunteer coaches are provided professional support and guidance through the year by their clubs directors and leadership, but there is often more freedom in terms of many of the above mentioned areas.
Experience and knowledge between both paid/professional coaches and volunteer coaches can vary greatly between organizations. With this in mind, it is important to have an idea of what your expectations are for your next child’s coach or what is most important to you in this area. Understanding a club’s expectations for their coaches in terms of their approach to coaching, training, games, positions, and communication throughout the year is helpful in making a decision about where your child will play.
Fees / Uniforms
Fees for each club depends on the club structure and what has been mentioned above. Clubs can cost more or less based on what is offered through the year, amount of full time staff/paid staff, their own facilities, and other services the club provides through the year. When looking at a club, you will typically find a registration fee for the season. This is the primary expense to participate within the soccer club.
The club may ask for this in one payment, there can be a down payment to register and then a series of installments over the course of the year, or some type of payment arrangement along those lines.
What is important to note is what is included in those fees. Often, uniforms are not included, and that will be an additional expense. Each club arranges their fees differently, so below is a list of things that may or may not be included in the general fee:
Uniforms (as mentioned above)
Tournament travel expenses
Coach travel expenses
Winter Training / Rentals / Off Season Leagues
All clubs are structured differently and so are their fee structures. It is important to ask what is included in the stated registration fee and what is not. There are obviously other costs throughout the year to consider that may not be included in what is mentioned above (like hotel rooms for tournaments).
When assessing a club’s cost, it is important to weigh what is important to you in regards to the youth soccer experience. The amount is not as important as the services provided being what you need and are looking for.
To illustrate this point, think about it as buying a car. You want to pay for what is valuable to you and what you need from the car. Normally, you do not want to pay for a lot of additional items you do not really want or need, but you also do not want to pay too little and not get the things you really needed.
In regards to uniforms, most clubs work on cycles that are either two to three years (or something custom to them). This means, when you purchase uniforms, they may be good for multiple years, not just one, depending on the year you join. If you enter a club in their last year of a uniform cycle, new uniforms would need to be purchased for the following year.
Child’s Level of Interest & Level
I am including this last as it impacts how you should view all that has been discussed up to this point. Even when moving out of a recreational program, all kids are not exactly the same in terms of their interest level and ability level as they look to move into club soccer.
Some players may be playing at a very high level and really love the game and it is one of their main interests, if not their main interest. Other players may be ready to make the move, but also are really involved in a lot of different things. They like the game, but do not love it, or they are playing at a level just above what is typical of a recreational league.
Most kids are going to fall somewhere on or between those two points on the spectrum and their needs are all very different. Looking critically at where your child is at and what would be best for them is important when researching clubs. Ideally, you can find a club that matches your child’s level of play, interest and commitment level, and time available that also makes sense with your family’s schedule and finances.
In your community, there are a lot of good options for your child to continue with soccer beyond the recreational level. Hopefully the information outlined here helps you have a clearer understanding of the outline of the club soccer experience and assists in guiding your research and questions to the club directors and coaches to learn more about their organizations.
If you ask others about local soccer clubs, you will get a lot of different opinions about each of them, positive and negative. Just like when you ask people about the best restaurants in your area, you will get a lot of opinions and recommendations. All of those are based on each person’s preferences and perspective. All opinions can be helpful and misleading.
It is good to ask, and get multiple perspectives, but be careful not to give any one opinion too much weight. Often positive or negative experiences are based on one person’s situation and perspective that might not be really indicative of the entire club, or match up with what you are looking for.
Like researching anything, get as many opinions as you can, be sure to ask good questions to the organizations’ directors and leadership, and make the best decision possible using the facts and what you know for sure. Bottom line… do not get overwhelmed or nervous about the choice you make. It is just one of many that will occur over the time your child plays the game. No matter where they play, the most important thing a parent will do for their child is unconditionally support them, tell them they love to watch them play, and keep the game fun.