The case for a full-service club: rec to comp

By Charlie Slagle

How important is it for a club to offer all levels of play -- rec to comp?

Soccer clubs in this country and around the world are tasked with developing players. Clubs are, also, tasked with instilling a love of the beautiful game. In the rest of the world, much of the instilling the love of the game comes from the professional side that is the pinnacle of the organization. In the majority of cases, this is not true in soccer in the United States.

Therefore, I think it is important for U.S. clubs to provide a full-service environment for their members. By this, I mean a recreation component to a competitive component.

The club should use its resources to develop players and instill a love for the game. A club with professional coaches, be they full-time or not, have a resource to instruct the recreation parent-coach to develop players and thus foster a love for the game.

In many municipality recreation leagues, the coaches are given some instruction but a club can expand on those offerings to better prepare these coaches to instruct the “future” of the game. A club doesn’t have to have its own recreation league if there is a strong recreation component already in place in the area managed by a different entity. If this is the case, then the club needs to work with the entity to provide quality instruction for the recreation league.

Clubs can establish curricula for the younger recreation leagues that make it teachable and enjoyable for the parent-coach and the players. Playing rules need to be established and enforced. This includes fair playing time for each player.

When the younger recreation leagues are managed well, players will develop a love for the game and have the building blocks for the players to reach their potential in their later years. Clubs should encourage these younger teams to watch older teams play to see, first hand, what the end goal is for these players. These games could be pro, college and/or competitive club games at an older age group.

Clubs can, also, develop a mentor system of professional coaches to parent-coaches and also, older competitive players to younger recreation players. In both of these cases, it is rewarding to all involved to have that kind of involvement. This fosters a stronger bond within the club. It is too easy for players and parents of a team to see the club as only their team and reaching out in this way provides a better affinity with the club.

The curricula that was established for the younger recreation parts of the league should be a part of an all-inclusive curriculum for the club. Clubs should establish what and how it teaches to a 5-year-old through an 18-year-old. Also, different levels of play within those different age brackets should be considered as a curriculum for the top level team might be slightly different than one for a second team in that same age bracket where the goal has changed in that the players are attempting to move up to a higher level team.

It is important for clubs to have developmental access to the players who will be playing at their higher levels later in their lives. Clubs need to establish a curriculum that encompasses all levels that will produce the goal of developing players and instilling the love of the game.

(Charlie Slagle, who served as CEO of North Carolina’s Capital Area Soccer League (CASL) for more than 12 years, is the owner of Charlie Slagle Sport Consulting LLC, specializing in working with soccer clubs to help them reach their potential -- with emphasis on working with clubs' professional staff and board of directors. Slagle, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Vice President of Education, was Davidson College head men's coach in 1980-2000 and tournament organizer of 14 NCAA Division I College Cups.)

8 comments about "The case for a full-service club: rec to comp".
  1. Tom Maegerle, September 25, 2014 at 11:25 a.m.

    Many good points, but missing one. Large youth clubs need to add an adult component to their program. Too many times, players believe soccer ends after college. There needs to be an active and visible adult team as the top of the chain, so the players know from the start there is a place to go after u19. The team does not have to be professional, or even semi-pro. Playing in a local USASA league is sufficient. This not only provides a goal for the youth players, but also provides a source of experienced players able to assist with the youth component.

  2. Steven Hulland, September 25, 2014 at 11:53 a.m.

    We have AYSO and another youth recreational league in our area. No "steering" AYSO as they have their own curriculum and ideas and the other large recreational league will do what they want as well based on $.

    One other "club" is also in the area but they are from a larger town and not supported as much from their "mother-ship".

    All great ideas Charlie but very hard to use in environments that are already set-up and in business.

  3. Anthony Kahn, September 25, 2014 at 3:32 p.m.

    Clubs with a rec division need a mechanism for open promotion. Players need some encouragement to try out and at least some identification along the way. If recreation divisions are too protective of their players, it will only be the parents who decide to have their players try out for the comp teams. Also, if it's only parents doing the recruiting, the formation of closed "super teams" becomes problematic.

  4. Martha Diop, September 25, 2014 at 6:52 p.m.

    Sorry to focus on semantics here, but I think getting it right will avoid misunderstanding and many misconceptions.
    1) Recreational means low level, no skills
    2) Recreational means not competitive
    3) Recreational means low cost
    4) Recreational means incompetent, non-licensed, unpaid coaches
    5) Recreational means no player development
    6) Competitive, (or travel, or select) better soccer
    7) Competitive means all games must be won
    8) Competitive means player development
    I can keep going on with a much list of statements that in my opinion are all WRONG. The one thing that would be certainly be true is that “*comp” soccer costs arms and legs, and does not necessarily produce better, more skilled players.
    In my opinion, the two terms to oppose should be Recreational vs Professional. The clear delineation would then be playing the game for the sake of the game versus playing the game with the objective of making a living out of it.
    Can’t we play the game, pay a lot of money for it, have it extremely competitive, top level skills, and yet not aiming at making it a source of income? Why would not that be “recreational”
    Clubs tend to neglect Recreational in favor of Comp, because of the money making, when at the end of the day they may end up with players with similar levels on either side.
    Many very excellent players play "Rec" precisely because they don't have the money. Too bad, right?

  5. David Trapp, September 26, 2014 at 7:35 a.m.

    An answer to Martha, competitive or travel soccer may not produce better or more skilled players, but overall it does produce better and more skilled players. In fact, most of the clubs that I have worked for do a fairly decent job of training and developing highly skilled players, both on the girls and the boys side. That's why the coaches and administrators get paid what they do...unlike the parent coaches on the rec side of the pitch.

  6. Martha Diop, September 26, 2014 at 9:13 a.m.

    David Trapp, thanks for the answer, although I do not fully understand it as it seems contradictory: "it may not produce better players but overall it does produce better players?"
    I think a rec player is made. All you need is neglect a kid and he becomes a rec player. Usually neglected either because no money, or no athleticism to help win games. Next tryout he is gone, or pushed to a “lower” team.
    The fixation on winning games is what drives almost all clubs, because winning attracts parents, and thus money. So even if you gave the best coaches, and pay then heftily to run a program where winning is not the driving force, people would not be interested. They would rather pay top dollars for a program where it is about winning. If the club does not want to decline the money, you end up with players that have no skills, sit on the bench, but have the glory of being in a winning team.
    The dedication of clubs for the comp or travel is here to stay for long time. So is the neglect of man-made rec players

  7. John DiFiore, September 28, 2014 at 7:05 a.m.

    Be honest here, have any of you seen a competitive coach really make a player better?? Having 4 kids play club, I've seen more progress in rec players than with competitive players. Club coaches poach good players (players that have worked hard by their own fruition), they dont make good players great, as they should. Correction: in the last 16 years I have met ONE coach who is good for players, the rest just poach.

  8. John DiFiore, September 28, 2014 at 7:15 a.m.

    A good coach builds confidence and esteem. Yes, there are some serious discrepancies in our youth systems. The bigger your ego and thicker your accent determines who good of a coach you are. Such a shame. Youth soccer needs heros, nit men and women feeding their egos. Too many "bubble" players being ignored for one reason or another. And we ask "where will the next LD come from?? Will he be from a good coach? Or from a good support system....

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