I was active with youth soccer for 15 years. During that time I was involved with several local clubs where I created, coached and managed programs for players who were interested in club soccer but were too young to join a team.
After I retired as a soccer coach, I went back to the parents I had met over the years and asked them to share their experience by telling me what they would want parents who are considering club soccer to know before they commit.
There are a two points made by these experienced parents that are relevant to the ongoing discussion in the larger soccer community around player development.
The first point is that the club soccer is a business and this has resulted in competition to get players involved with a particular club and to do so at an increasingly earlier age.
Soccer has become a continuous activity for team members. Additionally, clubs provide activities for players who are not yet old enough to join a club team that include skill sessions, indoor soccer teams, soccer camps, development programs, and soccer academies.
These year-round activities have made it financially possible to have professional youth soccer coaches. As one parent stated "Clubs are designed for Club profitability and positive exposure." What parents should know is that with this comes team turnover as clubs continue to recruit better players and release others to open spots on the roster.
It often feels to the parents as if their child is a commodity. At one end they experience pressure to commit and on the other selling approaches that can be unsavory and even dishonest.
The second point relates to player development. Parents are leery of clubs that represent themselves as being focused on player development but then display three behaviors that parents see as belying this commitment.
These behaviors are playing only their bigger and faster players so they can win games, taking guest players to tournaments -- not to make up for regular-team players who are unavailable, but to strengthen the team and use the tournament as an opportunity to recruit the guest players -- and building a team not by developing existing players into better performers but by recruiting players who are already better.
One parent put it this way, "Avoid coaches who claim to develop but past experience shows they play only their biggest and best players."
What parents recommend to other parents is caution. Prospective parents need to understand the underlying economic model and to be aware that what clubs do in the interest of the club may not be in the best interest of their child.
The challenge to the clubs is twofold and the first is to behave in ways that are consistent with their message. If clubs are going to promote player development then there has to be a path within the club for players that provides a real developmental environment.
The second thing that clubs can do is to educate parents about age specific player development needs and why focusing on winning games at a young age is not in the best interest of the player.
Overall the experience for most parents was positive. In the words of one ... "well, as I said in the beginning, there's a lot of politicking going on in club soccer. We have experienced some dishonesty from people we thought we could trust, but overall, we have been thrilled to be part of club soccer. For the most part, it's good kids playing a wholesome sport, and nice parents cheering on the sidelines," and that's the way it should be.
A full version of the report "The Ten Things Other Parents Want You To Know About Club Soccer" is available at http://maretmaxwell.com/10things.pdf
(Maret Maxwellno longer coaches youth soccer but he still coaches the games of business and life. You can find him at http://maretmaxwell.com .