In a previous post , I discussed when and how to start formal soccer training and the difference between recreational and competitive soccer. In Should Your Child Play Competitive Soccer? How to Know, we examined how to tell if your child is ready for the competitive leap. We discussed the benefits of club soccer in The 10 Pros of Club Soccer You Need to Know. This post will provide general guidance on how to select the right club and coach for your soccer star once you have decided to go competitive.
Competitive soccer — time to pick a coach and club
Selecting the right competitive club and coach is absolutely essential for development at this stage of your child’s soccer “career.” Depending on where you live, there could be several glitzy clubs with great looking kits to pick from.
The kit is awesome!
My first piece of advice is that you should not pick a club based on how cool the kit looks! (By the way, a uniform is called a “kit” in soccer. Click over to Soccer Lingo for more soccer term definitions) Don’t get me wrong, I love a sharp kit, but looks can be deceiving.
If you are moving from recreational to competitive soccer, you may have some idea which club you are interested in based on reputation in the soccer “world”. Either way, I would suggest you start with a little internet research. Most solid clubs will have a website that will explain their philosophy and provide additional information. A good philosophy statement will likely refer to development of the individual child on and off the field. Keep in mind that philosophy statements will likely look similar from club to club, but they can be used to rule out clubs that may overemphasize winning over development.
Check out the website
Most websites will also give you some idea of the cost structure. Make sure you look at the correct age group and desired level as costs can vary considerably within the same club. Cost considerations can be an easy way to winnow down the list of potential clubs.
A club website will also usually list coaches and team assignments. If you’re already familiar with some competitive coaches, this is a good way to see if those coaches are at a certain club and in a position to coach your child. It can work the other way as well. If, perhaps, there are some coaches you know you want to avoid, and a certain club has several of those coaches, mark that club off the list.
One other thing you can learn from a club website is tryout information. You can usually find dates, times and locations for tryouts. You might also be able to learn about intended practice frequency and practice locations for specific teams. A soccer “year” runs from late summer (July/August) all the way through late spring (May). Keep in mind that, when you pick a club, you’re committing for the entire soccer year, so knowing how often your child will be practicing and where can be very important. Tryouts occur almost immediately after the spring soccer season ends — usually in early June. For more information on soccer tryouts, read What to Expect at Soccer Tryouts.
Apart from the philosophy statement, cost structure and list of coaches, club websites are really just fluff. Remember, club soccer is a business and they’re trying to get your money. They will likely have a long list of club accomplishments that are probably not as grand as they appear. All “tournament championships” are not equal. If you’re like me, you’ve wondered how so many of your friends’ kids on social media win championships. Are all my friends’ kids just that amazingly gifted? Likely not. Most big tournaments will have many levels of competition at the same age group. A championship at the sixth tier of a tournament bracket is still a championship, but it’s a bit misleading. Take that club list of accomplishments with a grain of salt.
Choosing a coach
Once you’ve narrowed down potential clubs, the real work starts — picking the right coach. Having the right coach is one of the most important pieces at this stage of development. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the hardest things to figure out. On top of that, tryouts make it a two way street. You may find the perfect coach, but if your kid doesn’t make that coach’s team, then it’s all for naught. Since tryouts can be such a crapshoot, I would suggest ranking your coaching options.
She sounds European!
Along the same lines as “don’t pick a club because of the kit”, don’t pick a coach based on an accent! I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen parents gravitating toward a coach because he/she has a foreign accent. I realize that the U.S. doesn’t have a particularly good soccer reputation right now, but there are some great American coaches out there. Conversely, there are some foreign coaches making a living in clubs just because they’re foreign, not because they’re good coaches.
Watch the coach in action
The best way to get a feel for a coach is to watch him or her in action. If you get a chance before tryouts, watch your potential coach handle a game. Unless you wait to go competitive until your child is 10 years old or so, the playing field will likely still be fairly small, so, even if the coach is on the other side of the field, you’ll still be close enough to observe. How does the coach relate to the children? Is the coach a “yeller”? How are the children responding to the coach? Is the coach a positive coach? Is the coach overemphasizing winning?
At younger ages (10 and under), there should be active coaching during the game. Simply learning the mechanics of the game will still be occurring at this point. A little direction as far as positioning and field vision will likely be necessary. After that, there should be a transition to less and less in game coaching. The kids need to be equipped to handle game situations themselves. As much as possible, corrections and coaching should not occur in the moment, but afterward. You want your player to be able to “think the game” independently and not become overly reliant on the coach’s direction.
Talk to the coach
Talk to your child’s potential coach. As a coach, I was never bothered by a parent who wanted to learn more about me or what I intended for the team I would be coaching. I wanted parents to be engaged in the process. As a parent, I’ve never shied away from getting my questions answered. That said, as a parent, I’ve often been approached by other parents with questions about coaches. I’m always happy to answer what I can, but my response usually includes “I think you should talk to the coach about that.” If a coach is too busy or simply won’t answer your questions, rule him or her out.
Lastly, if you get a chance, watch your potential coach’s practice. A good practice session will be planned in advance of the session itself. Cones, goals and other equipment should be ready to go before the session start time. The session should have a theme (like building from the back or attacking from the wings). The exercises should relate to the theme and progress naturally from very basic concepts to the more intricate details. Time between exercises should be short and productive. Players should hydrate and get ready for the next exercise. Down time should be very minimal.
Practices usually only last from 1 hour to 1.5 hours, so every minute counts. You’ll also want to observe the coach’s general demeanor and the kids’ responses to that demeanor. Practice is where the “work” occurs. Both the coach and the players should be treating it that way.
For more on soccer practice, check out How Often Should Kids Practice Soccer?
How’s the fit?
When evaluating a coach based on the items above, you must keep your individual child in mind. Different kids respond to different things. Perhaps the most important piece of coach selection is the fit.
My daughter’s team was filled with internally driven, self motivated girls. In coaching them, I could direct and educate, but I had to do it in a soft manner to avoid hurting their feelings — which would cause them to shut down. My son’s team, on the other hand, was totally different. As much as I didn’t like it, they responded to yelling, so it took a much different approach to focus and motivate them. (Although, even then, there were certain boys that I would need to pull aside and encourage a little differently.)
For the best experience, the coach you select and their coaching methodology need to compliment your child’s personality.
Selecting the right club and coach
Picking the right club and coach can be quite a challenge. Take your time. Do your homework. It could be the difference between great soccer development and a wasted year.