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
Tax Exempt Status
Process of complaints/appeals
Standing in the community Reputation of the staff
Number of Licensed staff
Education and College Support
Did the coaching staff attend/play in college
Number of teams per coach
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
GK Training Fees
Qualifying Tournament Fees
Nets, Flags, Balls
Preseason Fitness Camp
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 www.TheSportSource.com, whose College Finder MATCHFIT can also be contacted toll free at 866.829.2606.)