Is there a place for 'small' clubs in the USA?

By Charlie Slagle

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.)

9 comments about "Is there a place for 'small' clubs in the USA? ".
  1. Amos Annan, October 14, 2014 at 11:14 a.m.

    The ONLY reason there are select teams at U9 is MONEY. Every study out there about youth sports says that cutting players prior to U13 is counter-productive and does not take into account the psychological needs of children.

  2. Kent James, October 14, 2014 at 11:35 a.m.

    Amos, I agree completely. U9 is too early for sorting (at least on a regular basis). I developed a skill based program where the in-house teams were very fluid, and half the time the players played on teams sorted randomly (so there would be weak, mid-level, and strong players on the same field), and the other half of the time we sorted them by skill levels (we created a strong field, a weak field, and the rest were in the middle). All the games were small sided (3 v 3 up to 5 v 5). All the players in the age group had the same color game jersey, and we created teams with pinnies. It worked very well, because the fluidity of the teams meant no player was permanently classified as either good or bad (and most people other than the coaches didn't know how we determined which players were on which fields; all the micro fields were created on one regular-sized field and the games were all at the same time, so coaches just met there kids and told them which part of the field they were going to play on that day). But what was nice was that when sorted by competitive levels, you had very high quality games with all the strong players, and even the weak field was beneficial, because the weaker players could all play a bigger role. And the randomly sorted days meant that the good players remained in the mix; one problem with extracting the best players from local leagues to play on exclusive teams is that the quality of the local games goes down (because all the best players are gone), which discourages the remaining players from continuing to play (and some of them could have developed into the best players). So it is good for developing players to be challenged, but disastrous to have exclusion as a necessary part of that equation. But the author is right, small clubs, if they are smart about development, can play a very positive role by providing local training at an affordable cost.

  3. Rick Kurianowicz, October 14, 2014 at 11:53 a.m.

    In theory a great concept, in reality there are a tremendous amount of hurdles to jump. The political aspect of larger clubs Vs small clubs, the lack of higher level coaches mentoring lower level coaches and the fear of “Losing their players” to other clubs when combining practice sessions. Also you have to deal with the ego’s of the high level competitive program who believe their program is the best and their coaches are the best an treat lower level coaches poorly.

    Again the concepts are great, but implementation would be VERY difficult. I believe the starting point is Coach mentoring. Academy Coaches mentoring Competitive level Coaches. High level Competitive Coaches mentoring mid level Competitive Coaches and so on.

  4. TC Ward, October 15, 2014 at 1:33 p.m.

    Amos, you could not be more wrong.

    Making "select" teams at U9 does not increase revenue, if anything it hurts it because naturally players not making the "top" team will look to play at other clubs where they can be on the "top" team.

    Moreover, if you look at the top European Academies, most of them start a selection process at U8 that is, for lack of a better word, brutal. Each year players are brought in or released, and they know that every year they are on the chopping block. This does not necessarily hinder their psychological development, if anything it hardens them to understand that every moment is vital to their continuation in the sport.

    That being said, I do think "select" teams at the U9 age is young, unless you have the support teams around it to nurture players that haven't yet grown into that special player. I have never seen the top 10 players at U9 be the top 10 players at U15 in my lifetime. It simply does not happen, which is why creating a "select" team doesn't necessarily make sense to me.

    But it definitely isn't financial.

  5. Allan Lindh, October 16, 2014 at 4:31 p.m.

    What a pile of doo doo. Kids develop physically and mentally at such different rates, that anyone who thinks they can sort kids at early ages is bonkers. Only thing that matters for kids is developing ball-foot skills while having fun playing. People love to idolize the Brazilians and their skill on the ball. Do they really think those millions of poor kids are getting sorted into good and bads and put through mindless drills at the age of eight?? They go play, wherever and whenever they can, for fun. All this blither is just a full employment act for third-rate coach / egomaniacs.

  6. charles moraes, October 16, 2014 at 9:55 p.m.

    American prodigy , this kid is playing in the club of Brazil, the son of a Brazilian father where he lives since he was 8 years and says his dream is to play for the US Men’s National Team!!
    he was born in Dallas – TX, on 06/20/2001
    link to

  7. charles moraes, October 16, 2014 at 9:59 p.m.

    search youtube His name lucas ordonho

  8. John DiFiore, October 17, 2014 at 5:21 a.m.

    Rick K., you are exactly spot on!!!
    And good point Allan, but in America we have a different set of cultural values and understanding of organized sports. Even in basketball, street kids need drills and yes IMHO ALL kids need unsupervised playing time.
    Personally, I'd rather send my kid REGULARLY to an organized event with adults for hours then to send him/her down the street regularly for hours and leave it up to them to learn on his/her own. They do need both.

  9. The Face, October 17, 2014 at 11:56 a.m.

    I agree with the notion of small clubs sending their top players to a USSDA club but only if this club shopws signs of wanting to further devlop them. I dont see that mostly. I see those clusb worried about winning trophies/rankings and not as much about development. I see many of those top players get worse at these USSDA clubs, especially MLS Academies. I know one can say well they are playing better competiton and therefore dont shine as much. I am saying that these plauyers go there for 2 years and are worse than players they were better than when they first left. They are now worse than players that didnt go the USSDA route. Explain that one. I say be very careful if you do have a top player as to what his environment will be. An attacking player that can penetrate with dribbles and creative plays is probably better off at a small club. USSDA and MLS teams are playing a 1-2 touch style of play. They worry more about posession than they do about attacking.

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