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.)