High School vs. Club: Putting Players at Peril (Part I)

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.

Or not.

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, 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.)

12 comments about "High School vs. Club: Putting Players at Peril (Part I)".
  1. Michele m Gettler, May 20, 2010 at 11:29 a.m.

    Although some of us would like to experience this problem, it is not a problem in Kansas. If a child is playing for school sports, then that child cannot participate in the same sport with a club during that time. This has lead some to believe that our children are falling behind the curve.

  2. John Molinda, May 20, 2010 at 11:52 a.m.

    It is not only coaches and parents who are at fault here. Some state scholastic athletic associations seem to think that they have the discression to prohibit high school players in their districts from playing with their clubs. They think that this is best for the players when, in reality, it can be very costly for their elite players who have college scholarship potential. One coach of a well known university in the Mid-Atlantic told me on a recruiting visit that his inability to watch players like my daughter at tounaments during the fall high school soccer season forces him to give scholarships to others who he can watch. In some cases the high school players put scholarship value of $100,000 or more at risk because they cannot bear to forgo playing for their highs school teams. This seems terribly inconsistent with the high school mission of optimizing the student's college opportunities.

    The problem is complex but the answer is NOT to legislate the problem away by making sweeping rules that severely penalize certain players. The only answer that works best for the players is for both of his/her coaches (high school and club) to work together to allow the player to do play for both teams without overplaying them. High school coaches could make some of their resercves very happy by giving them a little more playing time when their elite players are needed for club practices and tournaments.


  3. Bob Escobar, May 20, 2010 at 12:09 p.m.

    Parents are also to be blamed, they want their kids in ODP, travel club, high school and also do a 100 other activities....sometimes they forget School work is THE MOST IMPORTANT, but they only look at how good their kid will be is he/she plays 7 days a week. I played 7 days a week, 365 days a year from morning to evening, but I grew up in South America, which our goals in the 60's was to play professional soccer. I am a successful travel club coach and I do work with all the high school coaches in the area....I do not and I repeat...I do not hold practices 2 weeks before high school begins or 2 weeks after high school ball ends....the MOST successful soccer players are the ones that work continually on their own, attend their two weekly practices (working hard and paying attention-not goofing off), get enough sleep, eat the right foods and most importantly....PLAYING SOCCER WITH PASSION!!!!! RFE

  4. Gene Jay, May 20, 2010 at 1:03 p.m.

    I agree with Bob E above; kids can and should play soccer every day if they want to, except for conflicts like school work, social events once in a while. Remember when kids played pick up games in their backyard or in the street every day? Kids play just as hard (ie win at all costs) in pick up games as they do for any coach, more so in many instances. Don't worry about the idiot screamer coach--no one listens to him(her) anyway, least of all the players. And don't worry about 'burn out' either. That is a BS concept sports phychology folks invented to justify themselves and have something to talk about. good athletes have been dropping out of sports for eons--not because of psychological pressure of playing too much but because they simply want to move onto something else in life. Had a good friend who stopped playing baseball because he discovered guitars and girls were more fun. today someone would say he was burned out. Okay doc--standing in an outfield for hours with nary a ball hit to you IS more fun than sex and rock and roll!

    Last word from me: school work is most important, and parents who think being a fleeting soccer star in high school is more important than getting all the education possible are probably 'burned out'.

  5. Peter Klemkowsky, May 20, 2010 at 2:22 p.m.

    This is quite a comical discussion. I have 2 daughters. Next year, they will both be playing D-II soccer and at least once, will play a match against each other. WV is similar to Kansas in that the secondary school association does not allow club and high school sports to be played during the same seasonal period. In most instances, the club teams reform directly following the high school season and go play in some of the large showcase or midlevel tournaments through the winter.

    But after all of that, my girls will receive over 80% of their scholarship funds from academic program areas. So keep the priorities in perspective. Keep in mind the small percentages that move up to next level. For those that think their child will lose a scholarship because they are not in the right tournament playing with the right team, I feel for you.

    I, for one, believe that states should go the way of Kansas and WV. Three months is not such along time for players to represent their school and their community. Even with this split the players will likely play between 40 to 60 games per year. In college, it will be 20 seasonal games, plus 4 or 5 spring games. That's it. And most players are much happier for it.

    And for those who are thinking that he doesn't know because his daughters are only playing D-II, get a grip. My daughters turned down D-I based upon their priorities. I trust that parents will sit down with their children to help them work through their own to make the right college decisions. Soccer may play a part of it, but it should not be the only factor.

    Good luck in your seasons. I vote to keep them high school and club in separate times of the year.

  6. John Molinda, May 20, 2010 at 4 p.m.

    I think Gene and Peter miss my point...or maybe I'm not making it well enough. I think it would be fantastic if all of the players could play only high school soccer during the high school season WITH NO ADVERSE CONSEQUENCES. And for players who do not have college opportunities this will work fine. However, for those who have college opportunities (as is the case for most of the higher level club players), not playing for their club teams in showcase tournaments during the fall of their junior year in high school (i.e. soccer season for most high schools) will very likely cost them scolarship opportunities. Unfortunately we cannot make a rule forcing the college coaches to refrain from recruiting and offering these scholarships during this time frame. Most coaches of top womens college soccer teams try to have their recruiting classes established by December of their Junior year in high school and they base a high percentage of their scholarship offers on what they see at showcases leading up to that date. And it is not just soccer scholarship money at stake, many of the Ivy League schools and top academic D-II and D-III schools will base their decisions regarding which "below 1200 SAT" athletes they will support on what they see at these showcases. We learned all this the hard way. Twelve girls on our Western PA club team eventually went on to play college soccer. Of those twelve, ten will tell you that they were adversely impacted by playing high school and skipping club soccer during the fall of their junior year. Most watched in confusion as they went from heavily recruited status to off-the-radar status as scholarships were handed out to girls who "showed" well during the fall soccer showcases. What about the two girls who were not advesely impacted you might ask? They were the ones who made their college commitments during the summer after their sophomore year because they new what was going to happen to girls who were competing for scholaships while being banned from competing on the field. The whole issue could be resolved if High School coaches would simply let their elite players miss some practices and games (and reward their reserves with more playing time) when the elite players have to play with their clubs in the two or three showcases during the high school season.

  7. James Madison, May 20, 2010 at 6:56 p.m.

    Other states should follow the lead of the leader, i.e., California and require that during the high school season, players make a choice, club, if its season is going concurrently, or high school. The only exception is for national team call-ins.

  8. James Himes, May 20, 2010 at 10:19 p.m.

    Having coached at the High School level I dealt with college scouts and if the player is good enough the scout(coach) will come out to a game. BUT make sure when you contact a college scout/coach that your player is worth thier time to scout. If you call them out for some less than highly skilled player they will eventually ignore your invites.
    So I don't think an elite player HAS to play club during the fall to be recognized.

  9. James Himes, May 20, 2010 at 10:26 p.m.

    Ohio also has the HS or club rule.

  10. John Molinda, May 20, 2010 at 11:19 p.m.

    It is absolutely true that most players dearly want to play high school soccer. That is precisely why "one-or-the-other" rules like those in California, Kansas and Western PA are so unfortunate for these players. It is also absolutely true, as one commentor stated, that you don't have to play in fall showcase tournaments to be "recognized". In fact initial recognition of most female players by college coaches seems to occur at the tournaments that they play in during spring of their Sophomore years. However it is also true that once a player is "recognized" the college coaches want to see them again, several times at least, at other tournaments, before they decide to give them scholarships. I'm surprised that all of the coaches commenting here don't seem to recognize this. The college coaches ASK the recruits to tell them when they can see them play again. A girl is likely to hear that a coach is interested in her at the end of spring of her sophomore year. She will likely hear this through the club coach (due to NCAA restrictions on direct contact at this age) The girl can then contact the interested coach and that coach will inevitably ask the girl when she can see her play again at a tournament. Keep in mind that this might be the June time frame and a girl from Western PA unfortunately has to tell the interested coach that she will not be playing in a tournament with her club until the following MARCH! ....unless maybe she can land a "guest player" arrangement (not optimal but better than nothing) with another club at the Disney Showcase in January. Meanwhile this college coach will have filled 80% of his/her scholarship allotments for that recruiting class by December. I think everybody is missing the point that the author of this article is trying to make. The problem of conflict between high school and club obligations IS real and and it cannot be simply legislated away by "one-or-the-other" rules without adversely impacting players. The authors point is that the best solution to the problem is for the two coaches (High School and Club) to recognize this and strike a reasonable compromise on their demands that keeps the welfare and best interest of the players in mind.

  11. Rod Lewallen, May 21, 2010 at 9:41 a.m.

    John great points!!!

  12. Sally Smith, October 6, 2010 at 9:13 a.m.

    I'm new to the high school soccer world. Are all high school coaches also club coaches? In our town of Greenwich CT, our high school coaches also coach the local club team, this really seems like a conflict of interest to me. Is this how it is everywhere? If you don't play your $3000.00 to the club team (where your child's high school coaches are) your child won't play in high school?

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