By Chris Hummer
The annual tug-of-war between club and high school soccer in many states has been around since the first days "travel" club soccer was invented and became a year-round option for players. Since then, it only seems to be getting worse, especially as more "showcase" travel events and elite leagues crop up and place additional demands on the upper-echelon players.
It’s not just the elite players either. Just about all players good enough to make their varsity teams also play for clubs, and are obligated to do everything they can to attend tournaments with at least some promise of college exposure. And of course, ODP doesn’t sit idle for anyone either.
The result for many players is they play nearly seven days a week for at least three months straight each high school season – on top of their already nearly year-round, four or five days a week club schedule.
The players can hardly be blamed for wanting to play as much as they can. After all, it is the world’s most popular sport, and the most successful players in the world all have stories about having played sun up to sun down when they were young.
But those players never had to deal with the over-scheduled, win-at-all-costs, and uniquely American world of organized soccer. And in that world – this world - it sometimes seems like no one wants to “give in” for the benefit of the players’ health and/or long-term goals, and by "no one" I mean coaches with big egos.
Even where you find a coach doing the right thing for one player’s team, the odds are not very good for any player to have a coach like that on both “sides” of the high school vs. club conflict that “get it”.
The result? Pretty much every player ends up paying the price at some point for the ego of an adult who is supposed to be putting the players first, but can’t stop treating their role as a youth coach as if they’re really only one or two career steps away from coaching in the Champions League.
The coaches who “get it” are the ones who accept the fact that their players are playing for two teams, and find a way to manage the conflicts to the best of their ability given the situation they’re given – always erring on the side of the players’ health and/or long-term goals.
On the other side are the coaches who do not “get it.” They pretend their players only play for them, run their players as hard as they can, and talk about how other coaches don’t know what they’re doing. All the while, they are ignoring reality and what’s best for the young athletes they are responsible for.
Why they do this is more of a mystery, but I’m sure the excuse of needing to win is used quite a bit. They’ll rarely admit that sometimes less is more – like running less at practices when kids are already playing seven days a week -- can actually improve the chances of winning in games.
This doesn’t mean the “ego coach” or the “get it” coaches in either case aren’t good at the three things most people use to measure whether or not a coach is “good.” Coaches with huge egos who forget to put the players first come in all shapes, sizes, and experiences. They may still run a world-class training session, teach technical or tactical skills like nobody’s business, or have the tactical prowess to out-coach someone else in a game.
Parents aren't immune to fault here either, but it’s hard to blame them when their kids are the ones saying they want to play, or when they don’t understand how to recognize a good or bad coach.
Look for Part II of "High School vs. Club Soccer," in which Chris Hummer lists 10 common mistakes coaches make and how to avoid them, in the next Youth Soccer Insider.
(Chris Hummer, a longtime player, coach, and soccer business executive, is the editor of the PotomacSoccerWire.com, where this article first appeared. Hummer, who has a USSF B license, is the assistant director of coaching for youth club FC Virginia and head coach of the Potomac Falls High School Girls team in Sterling, Va.)