How do I find the best soccer club for my child? With tryout season starting earlier and earlier, this is one question parents are constantly asking me.
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. As you’ll see below, many elements, including collective goals, personality type and other key factors, that often change over time, must be balanced to find the ideal club environment for your child.
Your son or daughter’s football club is very likely to have the biggest impact on your child’s football development. More importantly, it’s also highly likely to affect their perception and enjoyment of football, team sports and physical exercise in general.
It’s an important decision to get right.
The Youth football landscape is complex and constantly shifting, unless you’re involved directly in the business, it’s tough to stay up to date.
This shifting landscape is very distracting to many parents, who often don’t have the time or the inclination to follow the changes and can be influenced by clever marketing from the clubs.
Most clubs are ambitious and want to progress. This means keeping their strongest players to help attract others, creating strong team, to win games, gain more Got Soccer points and help grow the clubs, or in some cases coach’s notoriety.
The unintended negative byproduct of this unnecessarily complex and competitive system, is the fact that very few clubs can afford, or are brave enough, to look after the best interest of individual players.
It’s rare to hear of clubs or coaches recommending their best players go and play elsewhere, even when they know that player’s development would benefit. The current system doesn’t promote such behavior.
Putting the interests of the team or club first, is hugely detrimental to player development.
This is one reason why at NCE Soccer we focus strongly in individual player development.We couldn’t care less which club a player plays for, or where they are in the standings. Our focus is on them as an individual and how best to fulfill their potential.
As parents, it is ultimately our responsibility to look after the best interest of our children. We can never assume the club or coach will do it, because their interests, more often than not, run counter to our own.
The key when choosing a club is to create a balance, of predetermined key factors, based around your knowledge and understanding of your son or daughter’s character, personality and personal goals.
I’ve listed 5 below that I feel can provide a framework;
- Having Fun, Happy and enjoying the experience
- Location/Travel time
- Challenged Appropriately
- Coaching – ‘A Parents Guide To Good Coaching’
- Leagues & Competitive Platforms
It’s vital to take your child’s physical and psychological maturity into account when allocating the importance of each of these key factors.
For example, a more mature child may be able to understand that being challenged more, having less playing time and being on the periphery of the squad, is the price to pay for working in an exceptional development environment.
An average 8 year old wouldn’t naturally think this way.
Key Points To Consider
Having fun, happy and enjoying the experience
Number 1 on my list as I feel it’s the most important. If you don’t enjoy something you are very unlikely to become good at it. Enjoyment doesn’t mean the training sessions are a laugh and a joke. Enjoyment should be derived mostly from the satisfaction of learning and improvement.
Location & Travel Time
In England players within professional academies cannot travel more than 90 minutes to and from training. At the younger ‘Foundation Phase’ age groups (5-11) this reduces to 1 hour.
Obviously, England is a much small country and an exception should be given for the fact that distances are much greater in the US. However, traveling 90 minutes plus, 3 or 4 times a week can be detrimental for development.
Professional clubs recognize this and put limits in place to reduce the negative effects of excess travel time.
Being challenged appropriately is vital to any successful learning experience.
If the player is out of his/her depth, other players will deliberately bypass them (Not pass to them) in training and games, the coach will, very often, be less inclined to play them and ultimately confidence can be damaged.
On the flip side, finding things too easy is equally, if not more damaging. It can lead to developing bad habits, over confidence and plateaued development.
In my opinion the sweet spot for optimal development, is for the player to rank between the 50th and 75th percentile in his or her squad. This way they receive a challenge in training from the top 25%, are regular starters in games and confidence is boosted by being consistently better than most.
This could be two or three blogs in its own right, but here’s a couple of things to consider. A good club should have a consistent, age appropriate methodology, that all coaching staff adhere to. Many clubs claim to have this, but very few implement it properly.
An easy way to see if the club has such a thing, is to watch other team’s sessions. If other team’s practices look nothing like your son or daughter’s team, then it’s highly unlikely that the coaching staff are following a predetermined set curriculum.
If you find one of the few clubs that do this, then you’re highly likely to be in a great place for your child’s soccer development. Adhering to a curriculum is a very positive sign. It shows strong club leadership and is likely to mean other key development best practices are being implemented.
If you don’t see consistency from team to team it doesn’t necessarily mean your coach is bad. It just means he or she is likely working independently. The onus is on him/her to deliver a well-organized, predetermined, age appropriate and effective curriculum.
If your coach works for multiple clubs, coaching teams at multiple age groups and levels, then it’s a huge job to plan, develop and implement 3 separate annual coaching plans.
A simple way to check the coach’s competence is simply to ask to see their session plans. If they can produce previous and upcoming session plans, this proves they are implementing planning and forethought into their delivery, which is a massive plus.
Leagues & Competitive Platforms
My final and least important factor is the league your child’s team plays in. In many ways the 5th key factor is similar to the 3rd and should be considered in terms of travel, competition and game day environment.
A team that consistently finishes in the top 25% of the table and travels no more than 90 minutes for its furthest away game each season is in a good place.
If all games are played at good facilities, where parents & coaches respect officials and gaining Got Soccer points isn’t the chief objective, then this platform is ideal.
If your child’s team is winning the league every season and he or she is starting every game, it’s probably time to consider moving on.
As with most decisions it helps to start with the end in mind when choosing a club.
What is the goal of playing soccer?
It’s probably a question that most families don’t formalize, but when choosing the appropriate club, it’s very important.
Take a minute to really think about your goals for playing soccer. In most families the parent’s goals will be very different from the child’s.
As a parent, my personal goals for my sons to play team sports are as follows;
- Friendship & Social
- Character Development
- Leadership, cooperation & Teamwork
- Physical Fitness
- To keep out of trouble!
I’d guess many parents would have similar priorities.
Young players generally have totally different goals. Particularly players who are involved with NCE. They are already committed football players, who demonstrate a high level of competence.
If they have them, their goals or dreams are often very different;
- To play in the national team
- To play pro
- To play in college
- Or most often, I just want to have fun
Whose goals are more important, the parent or the child? I would suggest using a sliding scale. The older the child the more weight should be given to their goals and dreams.
We must be careful when setting goals and try to be as objective and realistic as possible. Always remember SMART Goals – Google it if you need to!!
The goal or desired outcomes will ultimately affect the weight given to each of the key factors in your decision making.
If the long-term football development is the number one aim and a starting place in college or amongst the pros a serious aim, then working with a top coach is going to be vital.
Sacrifices like increased travel time and reduced playing time might be necessary to provide this. Their level of enjoyment however must always remain high.
Some key characteristics of top players include their ability to thrive in challenging environments, remaining focused on the end goal and staying confident, even in adversity. Demonstrating a growth mindset is critical.
Ultimately, we as parents must remain realistic and guide our children based on our knowledge and understanding of their character and personality. Helping to weigh the key factors accordingly based on their goals, to create the ideal balance of fun, coaching, travel and challenge.