There is not only a place for small soccer clubs in this country but small youth soccer clubs are essential to the continued development of the sport. However, these smaller clubs must be quality clubs.
Parents of younger children, typically, want to have a level of convenience in choosing their children’s activities. Proximity to the activity is a major factor in that decision. Thus, smaller clubs with a smaller geographic foot-print accommodate that desire.
Two other factors play heavily in this decision at the younger age brackets -- price and quality. At day care, play dates, etc., there is plenty of conversation going on among parents of these children. They are just beginning an activity and the proximity advantage can be negated by a high price, a lack of quality or a combination of both. It is important to have a great program for the younger players because families form an affinity with the club that makes leaving that club for another club problematic.
All clubs, regardless of size, need to provide a great product. At the younger age brackets, parent-coaches need to be trained and monitored not only in appropriate age-based soccer techniques but also the psychological make-up of the age bracket that they are coaching. Age-appropriate numbers of practices and competitions is, also, important. An emphasis on learning through competitions should be maintained. Overzealous, winning-is-everything coaches at the younger age brackets can hurt the club’s product.
A smaller club needs to realize that there comes a point where combining with another club(s) is important for the development of their players. The goal for teams is to keep the difference in level of the most accomplished player to the least accomplished to a minimum. Players develop from not only training but being tested in practices and games.
Strong working relationships with other local clubs make for great competitive leagues starting at the U-9 level. Trainings can be combined, combined resources of coaches can be utilized and the teams can be chosen with the development of the players as the continued goal.
After developing these players through the elementary and middle school years, a smaller club needs to have a good relationship with a club that has the ability to challenge the best players with similar ability and dedicated teammates and competition that will challenge the players. Smaller clubs need to be proud of the players they have developed and let them go when the time is right for the individual player.
Smaller clubs can and should have older age bracket competitive teams. In most areas of this country, there are like-ability teams to play at every level. A club, small or large, cannot produce all great players as athletic ability and desire limit that.
Clubs should, however, have given the chance for all players to reach their potential. Players will continue to want to play with their club that they have grown up with and the friends that they have made. Parents will want to continue to enjoy watching their children play and continue relationships with families with which they have stood on the sidelines with for years.
A place for small clubs? Definitely! Give your area a good product, develop great relationships with other clubs and the club can be a source of pride for the community. The players will be better and have a love for the game due to the efforts of the club.
(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.)