Updated: Jul 4, 2019
I started playing club soccer when I was in the second grade. That would have made me a U8??? I remember I had to play up with the 4th graders because there wasn't a club team for my age group or something, I don't - know I was 7. Which makes me wonder how much of all of this our kids are going to remember. Hopefully they forget or were oblivious to some of my initial crazy soccer mom antics in the early years.
When my son was in first grade we went through his first fall of competitive rec soccer. In Cincinnati they have SAY Soccer which is for the most part run through the schools with volunteer, mostly parent coaches. He had participated in all of the miscellaneous soccer programs available to toddlers through 6 year olds and this was his first "full" 8-a-side experience.
Going into SAY Soccer I knew already club was in our future but, did they even have club soccer for kids his age? Was he really as good as I thought he was? He had never even been in a program that did throw-ins, or had referees for that matter. We should probably take it slow, so SAY Soccer is where we were the fall of 2013.
When we went to his first supplemental try-out that winter as a U7 trying out on a U8 team, I was immediately confronted with reality. These kids were good, they had control, coordination and confidence. Nicholas had never had any real instruction. At the time I was on the coaching staff with a high school in Cincinnati where I also worked so he was spending most nights on the sideline with the high school girls watching and imitating. He was still only 6, certainly he wouldn't make the team, maybe this was a bad idea.
When is it time to look at club soccer?
Every child develops socially and physically at their own pace and these are two factors you will want to consider when deciding if you need to move your player into a more competitive environment. After talking to coaches, directors and parents here is a list of signs that seem to be common among players ready for a higher level soccer experience.
1. Is he asking for it? If your player is asking to play club soccer you should explore it but with caution and conversation. Help your player understand the commitment that comes with club soccer and the increased expectations from his coach and teammates.
2. Is she a strong player? If your player is in the top 2-3 players on her team, especially in the area of defense club soccer might be the next step. Defensive positioning, tackling and distributing the ball are more advanced concepts and if your player is naturally picking some of these up you will want to channel that. NOTE: I am not talking about players that just clear the ball, that doesn't take any thought or skill and is actually a bad habit.
3. Is he confident? When a player is confident enough to take on a defender, move into space and take a shot when it is appropriate especially in the younger age groups he will benefit from professional coaching and real player development.
4. Is she advanced in coordination and intelligence? You might find that your player isn't the "best" on her rec team and maybe she is smaller and seems to get pushed around a bit. BUT you also notice that she is really coordinated and maybe has natural talent and Soccer IQ. She knows where to move on the field and can see a play develop. These kids are a good coaches dream, in the younger age groups size is king but as players matures and size balances out its these players that with patient committed training become the diamonds.
What do you need to know?
EVERY KID MAKES A TEAM
Well let me rephrase that, in U10 and younger, every kid makes a team. Try-outs in that age group, shouldn't even be called a try-out they should be called evaluations because they club really just needs to figure out who is going to play on their first team, and who is going to go into their development program. The development model used by most clubs includes recruiting as many young players as possible, developing those players and creating a funnel of talent for future teams. As age groups approach full sided play (right now that is at U13) clubs begin to move players around and position what their top teams will look like when playing 11v11.
If you have reservations about club soccer because you are afraid of rejections (for yourself or your player), you really don't need to worry about it. Unless a club just doesn't have a program for your player's age level...they will find a team for him to play on.
DON'T WAIT TOO LONG
I don't want to sound like an alarmist but if you are considering club soccer you should probably pursue it before its too late. Brock Schnitzer who coaches Columbus United's U12 girls says he likes to see players enter club soccer around U8. "It really depends on the parent and depends on the kid" Brock says, "but, teams are generally established by U11."
From my experience Brock is right, after U11 a player coming from a rec environment is behind developmentally and breaking through on an elite U11 or older first team will be very difficult. More importantly, Brock pointed out that "the longer a player is in the right training environment the better foundation they will have in the long-run."
ASK QUESTIONS - UNDERSTAND THE CLUB PHILOSOPHY
Many parents coming from a recreational soccer environment have to be reconditioned for their new club's philosophy. Your player might transition really well, and you might have a harder time. Make sure you have a clear idea of the club philosophy and expectations. Some of your frustrations with rec soccer might not be fixed by moving to club if you aren't aware or on board with your new club's player and parent expectations.
Jeff Krigbaum, Director of Pride SC in Canal Winchester suggests new parents "don't assume just because its club soccer, its going to be win at all cost and all players will be great." Many parents coming from rec think that club soccer should be more about winning, therefore playing time should be earned more, and all game should be played to win. Jeff confirmed, "Depending on the club and the particular age group that may not be the case. There are vast differences among recreation leagues and clubs, so (parents should) have an understanding of all that the club entails."
BE PREPARED FOR THE COMMITMENT
This is probably one of the hardest parts for new to club soccer parents but club soccer is a big commitment. Do they expect you to miss your sister's wedding for a tournament, no. But do they expect you to prioritize soccer training over baseball training, yes. Every time, yes.
Jeff Krigbaum gives this advice "know what the parent expectation is...events per week, travel, tournaments, coaching and how to communicate with the coach." The last part is great advice, nearly all rec coaches are parent coaches and parents who coach want to criticize or critique the club coach, Jeff noted that this is not beneficial.
CHOOSE A CLUB IN YOUR SAME GEOGRAPHIC REGION
There are so many clubs in Columbus and Central Ohio, when you are deciding on a club start out with a club near your home. Switching teams will be different for your player and your family and it will help being in the same general area. If not for friendships then at least for carpooling.
Brock Schnitzer said the best piece of advice he got when deciding if club soccer was right for his oldest son was this: Your kids are going to make friends anywhere. This is a true a statement as any, we are talking about young kids, who are adaptable and playing the game they love. They will make friends.
PLAYER DEVELOPMENT IS A PROCESS
In the end the most important thing to remember is that player development is a process. Jeff Krigbaum of Pride SC says "Just because you played a season of club soccer and haven't seen what you believe is improvement/development doesn't mean its not happening. In many cases players can get frustrated if they have played recreation soccer several years, then play with club players who are more advanced...parents automatically think their son/daughter isn't getting better because they compare them to those other players. Development takes time and its different for every player."
I have found this to be so true in my player's lives, development isn't automatic. Its hard for players and parents to see other players growing while their player is in a plateau but that plateau is where the real improvement is being made.
My son made the team as a 6 year old and played U9 for what felt like a decade but was only 3 years. He eventually found his way onto a first team here in Columbus and he has had some amazing experiences. I'm now discerning if my current 6 year old is ready for club soccer...maybe in the fall? Right now we are enjoying the training and just having some fun with a ball.