10 Ways to Manage High School vs. Club Conflicts

By Chris Hummer

Whether you're a coach or a parent, below are 10 things to think about (because everyone loves lists) when it comes to handling the high school vs. club conflict. These are areas where I see the most mistakes in helping over-worked players get through the season healthy.

1. Unnecessary Running
The kids are playing every day -- they’re already in shape. You don’t need them to run sprints to help win the next game, or worse -- threaten them with running if they don’t win. You need them to be rested, so they have the energy to perform when it counts. If you're going to “run” them at all, use a ball.

2. Shorter Practices
If the pros can do what they need to do in 90 minutes, so can you. Anything more than 90 minutes means you’re not efficient enough in progressing through your practice plan (usually because there is no plan). That extra 30 minutes (or more?) saved from the more typical 2-hour sessions is valuable time players could be using for homework among other things.

3. Manage Playing Time
Every coach likes their best players on the field, but you need to manage their minutes. A two-goal lead in the second half should be more than enough cushion for a good coach to give their best players a rest. And so is being down three goals against a team that is clearly superior. The minutes add up, and tired legs equal more chance to get injured.

4. Injury Recovery
We all have players who will chew their own foot off to stay in the game. We also all have players who think a slight twinge is an ambulance-requiring injury. The trick is knowing your players, and knowing when it’s OK to get them back in the game. But the last thing you should do is ignore a trainer's requests, or discourage your players from seeing a doctor because you’re worried the doctor will only tell them to stay out of the game longer.

5. Team Tactics
I rarely see a team that doesn’t chase the game full speed, the whole way to the opposing keeper, every time they don’t have the ball. This can be effective for winning when you have unlimited subs and/or an opponent who turns the ball over constantly in its own end. But it’s tremendously taxing on the players, and also creates enormous gaps in your team shape if not done properly. A lot of times it’s much better to let the teams come to you while you rest, letting their backs come up to midfield to create space behind them. Then, when you do get behind them, your forwards will have the energy to win the race and put the ball in the net.

6. Too Many Rules
Making a lot of rules about what players have to attend, or what they’re allowed to do often places players in a position where you force them to lie to you. You can’t be a high school coach and say “you guys are too tired, no one is allowed to play club this weekend,” and expect your players to skip their state cup games. You also can’t be a club coach and say “This practice is 100 percent mandatory,” because odds are some players have a high school game, or have 4 hours of homework due the next day after spending the last three days on a field, on a bus, or in a car. In the end, your credibility as a coach is undermined more by your inability to actually enforce your punishments -- just so you can have 11 players on the field -- than it is by being flexible with your players’ unique life situations at the risk of some players feeling like you’re playing favorites.

7. Overscheduled
Team building is a must. Watching film is helpful. Accepting a last-minute weekend scrimmage invitation on a artificial turf field when your league game is rained out is too good to pass up. And fundraising is a necessary evil. But think twice about too many pasta dinners, group outings, meetings, or community service. These are all great things, but the kids already have no extra time. Coaches who try to dominate their players’ schedules are usually just creating busy work so they can feel like they’re in control. During the high school season, do what you need to do away from the practice field, not what you want to do.

8. Rest and Recovery
Some scenarios to think about.

* Next time your fields are closed due to rain, cancel practice.
* Your last high school game was Friday, and your next is Wednesday, so on Monday you plan to work the team hard. But you forgot most kids just played two club games over the weekend.
* Club teams that have weekday practices know their players just came from at least a 90-minute practice at high school, but you still work them hard and yell about doing more.

Any of these sound familiar? Players have to rest and recover. (See above for ideas for resting.) The recovery starts on the final whistle. After every game and practice, players should be static stretching their big muscles for several minutes. Their feet should be in the air so the blood circulates through the heart. And recent best practices from the U.S. Soccer Federation say you don’t need the “cool down run,” because they just got done running. The sooner the players get stretching, the less chance of the lactic acid building up and the sooner their muscles will start to heal.

9. Nutrition
You wouldn’t put milk in a Ferrari as ask why the engine didn’t start. So why do so many coaches completely ignore proper athlete nutrition and hydration? There’s an entire industry surrounding sports nutrition, so I won’t go into too many details here, but if you’re not thinking about it and putting it into practice, you’re not doing everything you can to help your players – let alone win games. The cheat-sheet version: only eat what you can buy at Whole Foods and drink water till your pee is “light” in color (assuming you’re not on any medication or vitamins, which will change the color).

10. Injury Prevention
Lots of what was discussed above helps with injury prevention. In fact, preventing injuries is pretty much the whole point of this article. The more you can prevent injuries, the more you’ll get out of your players. It’s that simple, yet one of the best ways to both prevent injuries and win soccer games is completely ignored or misunderstood by so many coaches. Active warmups have been common “best practice” knowledge for many years now, yet most teams I play against or see preparing for games – especially in high school – still have players in big circles doing static stretching before the game. This is a huge mistake. Same as nutrition, look it up and you’ll find many articles and books. The cheat-sheet version: Run to get the muscles warm, then stretch them “actively” in motions that will be used in the game.

These are all drawn from experiences, observations, classes, and stories shared with fellow coaches and industry professionals. I’m not perfect. I’m not always right. And, I’m probably missing some obvious points. But hopefully these will help everyone who reads them find a way to put the players' well-being higher up on their list of priorities. The secret message to the "ego coaches" behind all of these suggestions is in the end, they’ll help players win.

(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.)

Read Part I of "High School vs. Club" HERE.

8 comments about "10 Ways to Manage High School vs. Club Conflicts".
  1. Ronak Shah, May 21, 2010 at 11:17 a.m.

    An additional discussion is to force the issue of schedule management. There are many online resources, like google calendar that are free and easy to use. Young folks are good with social media tools and online management. Coaches need to get on board and begin to share schedules with one another to minimize conflicts.

    on these calendars, gaps must be created specifically for homework, school time, and non-soccer activities.

  2. Jay Allen, May 21, 2010 at 11:23 a.m.

    It's crazy to be playing two sports at the same time, a byzantine list of 10 guidelines proves that. Make a choice, play only one at a time, and live with it.

  3. Barry Ulrich, May 21, 2010 at 11:27 a.m.

    SO CAL CIF does not allow high school players to perform for a club team during the high school soccer season, so the AYSO (and USYSA-South) U19 and U16 leagues close down and release the high school players to their respective high school soccer programs. Some leagues resume after the close of the high school soccer season.

  4. Gary Rue, May 21, 2010 at 12:35 p.m.

    This article could be broaden to cover most any sport overlap at any level. When I am able to determine overlaps of any kind, I first get a commitment from the player (and parents) of priorities. This includes not just game vs game, but training vs training. If I can't accept the player's priorities, then we part. If I do accept, then the player must communicate those priorities with the other coach. In the best of worlds, I will try to establish a relationship with the other coach, always willing to compromise to an appropriate degree, keeping what I think is "best" for the player, the team (and me) in mind. However, at the end of the day, it is the player that must be responsible for deciding what s/he wants to do, then it is the coach to adapt or cut the player loose.

  5. michael finizio, May 21, 2010 at 12:38 p.m.

    One easy way to decrease the overload is to eliminate overtime for the regular season high school games. Many stubborn coaches have commented " this is America, you need a winner!" In fact, if regular season games stay tied after overtime, it ends there: the game is a tie. For the superstubborn coaches I propose to go directly to PKs, to avoid unnnecessary waste of physical resources.

    michael finizio

  6. John Molinda, May 21, 2010 at 1:19 p.m.

    The author is to be commended for providing a very good approach to very challenging problem. Most of his guidelines are excellent advice regardless of the club versus high school soccer conflict. And they are good advice for coaches of other sports as well. But youth soccer presents some unique challenges and opportunities that simply don't allow it to fit neatly into the same model as other scholastic sports such as basketball, football and baseball. First, college soccer coaches simply CANNOT, and do not, recruit from high school competition they way college coaches for other sports can. These other sports have well established competition and single, well defined, seasons (e.g, football in the fall and never in the spring). College soccer programs do not have the budget to even try to scout players at high school games and the level of competition, quality of refereeing, etc in high school games would not even allow the college coaches to make meaningful eveluations. Club soccer provides the college coaches and the players with essentially their only opportunity to get together. Second, soccer was not invented in this country like the other sports mentioned above. While this causes complications in terms of integrating it into our scholastic systems (e.g. different soccer seasons from state to state), it provides a unique opportunity for the youth soccer players to have a truely international experience. Club soccer provides an essential channel, along with ODP for youth player to capture this experience through regional and national teams at various age levels. It would be shame to force young players to decide between playing for their High Schools and pursuing these great opportunities. By the way, I am an engineer, not a club soccer coach. I have no affiliation with a club and my youngest child is playing her last club matches this summer at regionals. So I have no direct future stake in this debate. My only reason for taking the time to comment is that I have lived through this HS vs Club conflict and I see the substantial value of what this author is trying to accomplish.

  7. Sal Lopez, May 24, 2010 at 4:29 p.m.

    This article is great and I believe the battle of HS vs. club is they very fabric of what hurts the sport.

    Soccer will have a difficult time becoming highly popular until it moves predominately to the high schools, but there-in lies a conflict.

    Easily, club soccer produces the most talented players but they are basically unknown in the general community; high school soccer doesn't produce as strongly talented players but they could be well-known in the high-school community of families; which would then create fans and followers as that player plays thru college and beyond.

    Another thing that hurts HS soccer's popularity is it's season. Here in Texas HS soccer starts in January and ends in March/April. The weather is cold, windy, and miserable making the stands look like ghost towns. What non-family members are gonna wanna go see that for entertainment?

    HS football kids are followed by fans who are complete strangers and will go to a game regardless of weather conditions, travel, or other circumstances; that's what HS soccer can bring to this sport.

  8. Amy Tucci, October 18, 2010 at 10:44 a.m.

    Being new with my child to this soccer world, I was wondering why the soccer season is different in Texas from other areas of the country. Are other areas soccer season at that same time? Midwest season is fall, same time as football. My son is playing u14 and will have the conflict next season whether he plays club or HS at least for one year.

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