Choosing a club: Key factors to consider

By Lisa Lavelle

Over the years parents continue to ask, "How do you choose the right soccer club?" While the answer may seem as simple as picking a club or organization that is close to home and that's financially feasible based on your family’s situation, the fact is that the decision-making can be much more complicated.

Here are a few factors to consider when selecting the right club for your needs.

The organization should have a published Club Philosophy and Mission Statement. Make sure the mission statement as it appears is being followed and upholding the standards it sets forth in its actual operations.

Coaching may be the most significant factor to consider. The strength and reputation of the club is heavily influenced by its leadership, but the coach is the person with the most direct influence on the player.

Soccer is the only sport where a license is required to coach. And while badges will not ensure the coach’s ability to teach the game, a coach who is pursuing or has already attained higher level coaching licenses demonstrates a desire to continue developing his or her own knowledge of soccer and how to teach it to the players.

Does the club have a Director of Coaching (DOC)? What is his or her job? If your son or daughter is a goalkeeper, ask if the club provides specialized training for goalkeepers.

DOC’s typically oversee all staff coaches, and usually are responsible for the actual hiring of all staff and continuing the education of coaching staff. Typically the DOC oversees the curriculum of all age levels, prepares player evaluation forms and conducts staff coaching evaluations. From player tryouts to team selection as appropriate -- the DOC is the ambassador for the club with positive public relations.

When choosing a program consider what commitment requirements does the club impose? Find out how much time is devoted to team practices, how many days per week will the team practice and how long is each practice.

Ask how many games are played per season and how many weeks does the season last. When it comes to league play, ask how many games will be played. Does the team play an indoor season during the winter and/or summer? State cup?

Ask about the number of tournaments the team will participate in during the season. Will the tournaments be local or will the team travel out of the area?

For parents, ask about volunteer requirements and required fund-raising events that are expected of you and your family.

These factors are not always apparent and should be taken into consideration as you choose an organization.

On average, a competitive player’s family will spend roughly $2,500 to $4,200 per year. A recreational player will spend $90 to $150.

Investigate financial commitments to determine the amount of dues and fees and specifically what they cover. Determine what they don’t cover to figure out additional charges you will be expected to pay during the year.

For example, some clubs may charge all expected cost in their up-front budget, while others may use dues and fees to pay for items such as coaching fees and registration. Uniforms, league fees, tournaments, equipment, lighted practice fields and other expenses will be assessed during the year.

Some clubs will allow teams to set and maintain their own budgets, while other clubs will have a set fee per player and a centralized treasury. The point is ask as many questions as necessary to enable you to compare the bottom line in terms of getting what you pay for from the club.

There are no refunds, even if the athlete decides to quit because of issues with playing time or how they are treated by a coach. Every family should be aware of the obligations they make when they sign a contract.

Some clubs require families to participate in “fund-raising activities,” which can include raffles, professional game ticket purchases, T-shirts, concession stand sales, event volunteer work, bake sales, etc. Be sure to ask the club if parents do not participate in the fund-raising activities, are they required to pay?

What’s the club’s club reputation in the community? How is the club perceived by its members and in community in terms of professionalism, ethical standards, stated missions, vision, values, staff credentials, league competition and attitude? When parents gather, ask questions of other parents like “What do you know about this organization? What do you know about the coaching staff?"

The goal is to evaluate ethical considerations, attitude toward players, and parents. Is it win-at-all-cost, or will your child learn the value of teamwork, commitment, dedication to improvement, or will your child just be a bench-warmer to fill a roster and financial goal?

Is bigger better? Not always. Evaluate the size of the club as it relates to your objectives. A large club will have many advantages, for example broad base of leadership and often attract a larger base of player to tryouts to form teams. They may also provide additional services smaller clubs could not afford.

Larger clubs allow cost to be divided among members. However, if a club becomes too large it can have a tendency to lose its focus and leadership become divided or apathetic.

Smaller clubs are more personal and offer personalized help to ensure you are receiving quality over quantity. Smaller clubs offer the chance to be more directly involved, creates as sense of community, allows a player to build confidence, skills and is usually less expensive.

Choose a club where you feel your child will grow and learn. Evaluate the program and make sure you child is able to add value, depth and dimension to the team.

What benefits will you as a member receive from the club? This is not about discount tickets to a professional game, or a chance to travel to Europe to train with the pros.

Benefits would be good coaching and regular practices where your sons or daughters will improve their abilities as an athlete. Does the club emphasis academic and college preparation? Check the club website, if the club is posting old or outdated tips ask the DOC when this will be updated?

Ask the DOC if college support is provided to all kids in grades 9-12 or is this available to only a certain group?

College readiness is not just about top level teams or NCAA rules. It’s about learning what options and opportunities are available including NCAA, NAIA, USCAA, NCCAA and NJCAA programs. It’s learning how to navigate the college maze academically and athletically. If the club is focused more on the “Elite and Academy” players, ask what support will be provided or if you are you just left to “figure it out?" Does the club offer older players assistance in preparing for college, particularly advice on schools and admission requirements? Do they host workshops on college recruiting? If so, is the college workshop open to all kids or just the select/competitive kids? Find out if the club offers a scholarship award to a graduating player. Check and see if the league offers a scholarship to a graduating player. If the club is actively promoting a “recruiting service” on its website, ask if they endorse this group, or if they receive any money for promoting the recruiting service.

How is the club structured? If the club reports to another organization or entity, ask to see the organization flowchart and club bylaws. Most soccer clubs qualify as a non-profit organizations giving them a fortuitous tax advantage and guaranteeing some oversight on their financial dealings.

Leadership should include elected or appointed officers and a Board of Directors. Parents should ask to see the job titles and descriptions as well as what actual functions they perform in the leadership of the club.

Depending on the region your family resides, club tryouts can be a great time to explore organizations and figure out which club best fits your goals. If you plan to attend tryouts, create a list of at least three clubs you plan to check out – and chart them as Club A-B-C and use this basic model to evaluate each organization.

Size of the organization
Number of teams
Financial Assistance Available
Board of Directors
Club Bylaws
Tax Exempt Status
Process of complaints/appeals
Standing in the community Reputation of the staff
Number of Licensed staff
Education and College Support
Individual/Team Coaches
DOC background
Did the coaching staff attend/play in college
Number of teams per coach
Other Questions
Training Facilities (practice/field location)
Training schedule (Days & Times)
Coaches interest in the player
Team atmosphere (players' perspective)
Travel (out of town/state for tournaments)
Contacts to Higher Levels (college, national team program, etc)
Estimated Club Cost
Club Dues (Total for year) includes
Coaching fees
Administrative cost
DOC Salary
GK Training Fees
Player Registration
League Registration
Qualifying Tournament Fees
Club Activities
Nets, Flags, Balls
Preseason Fitness Camp
Additional Expenses
Team Tournaments
Coach’s travel expenses
Two complete sets of uniforms
Warm-up & Bag
Required Fundraiser/ticket sales, etc
Indoor soccer registration

Remember, knowledge is power and you have the power to choose.

(Lisa Lavelle is President of The Sport Source, which has been connecting kids to college opportunities since 1989. For more information on The Sport Source’s Official Athletic College Guides, tools, and resources, go to, whose College Finder MATCHFIT can also be contacted toll free at 866.829.2606.)

14 comments about "Choosing a club: Key factors to consider".
  1. R2 Dad, April 6, 2016 at 7:43 p.m.

    Great punch list for evaluating a club. Unfortunately where we are, Mission Statement/Philosophy is inevitably some squishy verbiage about building well-rounded players, blah blah blah. This is great for rec teams but terrible for competitive teams--and most teams these days want to be considered "competitive". My 2 cents: If your child plays, or wants to play as a defender, the club should state, in writing, their insistence on playing out of the back. This is the ONLY way coaches will develop your kid into a defender that can dribble and pass. Otherwise, your kid will never get touches and spend most of their play time running backwards trying to toe-poke the ball away from attackers. If that sounds like a bad assessment of their "development", ask your coach WHY they don't play out of the back. This will lead to some humorous tap-dancing and BS about who-knows-what which really just means that coach can't be bothered to develop your player and would rather the keeper just punt the ball every time "for safety sake" or some other such nonsense. The fact that my "opinion" is still contested by cavemen coaches and parents (despite being established fact at all top international academies) tells you how far this sport still needs to go in the US.

  2. Lisa Lavelle, April 7, 2016 at 10:20 a.m.

    Charlie Kadupski is the Founder and CEO of The Sport Source - to learn more visit or to speak with Charlie, call toll free 866-829-2606!

  3. Oma Hawkeye, April 7, 2016 at 3:02 p.m.

    "Soccer is the only sport where a license is required to coach." When did this happen? That's going to be a surprise to a whole lot of coaches.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, April 7, 2016 at 11:33 p.m.

    She lost me there too.

  5. Scott Johnson replied, April 9, 2016 at 1:27 a.m.

    Many clubs affiliated with the national organizations do require some level of licensure, at least for senior staff. Obviously dear old Dad coaching rec ball will not have a license...

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, April 9, 2016 at 3:46 a.m.

    As a former parent coach, I am offended at the condescending nature of your comment. Do you think professional and other licensed coaches don't have children of their own? I co-coached a rec team with two licensed travel coaches (None of us could commit to coaching alone due to other obligations.) Another unlicensed "Dad" I co-coached with was much better than the two licensed coaches. He played college football rather than soccer; he didn't know soccer specific skills, but I handled that. (Most of the job with U-Littles in every sport is teaching the same basic athletic skills.) The best youth coach I ever saw was a mother without a coaching license, but well qualified as a former college player and teacher. She was far better than the licensed coaches I have seen. I have never seen another coach as good with young kids.

  7. Scott Johnson replied, April 9, 2016 at 6:13 p.m.

    Sorry if you took it as condescending--I didn't mean it in that way. Many of the rec coaches I've dealt with as a parent are quite good, even if they are not licensed. (Some were, some weren't). But many aren't--many rec teams simply don't have any children on the roster whose parents are able to procure a license. But I think we agree--for introductory youth soccer, it probably doesn't matter; what matters more is how well the coach relates to the kids and that they have a good basic understanding.

  8. jason ungar, April 7, 2016 at 6:47 p.m.

    My son is 8. I have brought him out to club tryouts in Jan/Feb and he has made flight 2 teams for the two top clubs here in Southern California (South Orange County)for fall. He is and has been in ayso and is currently on an all star team that may stick together and play in the extra ayso fall program that travels and is taken more seriously than regular ayso. So far they are 8-1-1 this spring and a real good team. We are playing all areas like in extra fall but more relaxed as it is spring

    Individually i think our core of 5-6 guys could easily play club based on my sons tryouts.

    My son is the leader though with outstanding goal total numbers and assists, and in 7v7 he just controls the field on offense. he is the real deal right now but i know how much work he needs to do in other areas of his game.

    I have a choice i need to make now for the fall. any advice is helpful.

    The ayso team is coached by me and another guy and we are pretty loose and we have fun mostly. Seriously.. I coach mostly choices on the field more so than technique.

    I see a lot of the technique stuff at club level. while i understand it and can still do it myself as a former player...i am afraid it makes players very robotic at a young age. those things to me should be done on their own. and i fear burnout longterm..I think juggling is for the circus, yet i understand why juggling well matters if that makes sense. But to have coaches do half of their practices around it for 45 minuets..ugh boring.

    As a player myself I went to three OPD State Camps when i was 15-17. And two western regional camps. I played with a bunch of 90/94 world cup players in club and high school so i kinda get it but other than being an AYSO coach i am outta the loop. i am wondering if this club stuff is worth it right now.

    or if we should wait....

  9. Raymond Weigand replied, April 8, 2016 at 11:17 a.m.

    Jason, AYSO was good enough for Landon Donovan and Alex Morgan thru U12. No worries ... just keep having fun / keep the challenges fun / and enjoy the younger years!

  10. dennis robinson replied, April 13, 2016 at 2:13 p.m.

    A few great things about club soccer, is the constant access to other teams of equal ability. Another, would be a constant structured training program that a lot of kids need and want.

  11. Philip Carragher, April 8, 2016 at 4:20 p.m.

    Several notes on this wide-ranging discussion: 1) teams should make sure their players know to play out of the back; 2) when I first begin coaching a team I like to have players stay in one field position until they learn "game flow", i.e. that enjoyable organic movement we call "the beautiful game"; 3)if player development is what you want for your child, the most important ingredient of a club (besides safety and positive coaching) is having a curriculum with knowledgeable coaches at all levels to teach and reinforce it (someone please identify a club that does this); 4) juggling is just one of several important skills that demands almost daily repetitions but not 45 minutes worth. This sounds like a coach who doesn't know how to develop players; 5)help your child to enjoy his soccer (and maybe travel fits for him/her) but not at the expense of other physical activities. 6) all parents should want their children to be physically literate (see "long term athlete development").

  12. Bob Ashpole replied, April 9, 2016 at 4:26 a.m.

    My approach was different than the typical big club approach. With 8 year olds, I started with teaching fundamentals instead of team tactics. I spent as little time as possible teaching a system of play and no functional training. I wanted to give them vision to see the field and skills to successfully execute. No functional training. The principles of play are all that U-Littles need to understand.

  13. Scott Johnson, April 9, 2016 at 1:31 a.m.

    Make sure team management strategies employed by coaches are age-appropriate. Nothing will get kids to quit more quickly than a guy who yells and screams at nine-year-olds. Unfortunately, there is still a large "old-school" contingent in the sport who think that abusive coaching behavior, including that directed towards elementary-school children, toughens kids up--and if a kid does quit the game--good, that's another sissy weeded out. It's amazing how few coaches act like they've ever read this:

  14. Philip Carragher, April 15, 2016 at 11:19 a.m.

    My last communique had one critical word missing: instead of "1)" stating that teams should make sure their players KNOW TO PLAY out of the back it should have read KNOW HOW TO PLAY out of the back.
    About Scott Johnson's correct comment saying that yelling at kids will get them to quit quickly: another way to get them to quit quickly is to laugh at them. I've had parents laugh at a goalie's blunder and another such mishap and those two kids failed to return to soccer. I make sure I mention my non-tolerance of this in the parents' meeting at the beginning of each season.

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