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Excellent article for the Soccer  Parent

Touchline

February 19, 2007

Soccer Parenting 101

Even for those of you who were soccer players when you were younger, parenting a young player today is a daunting task. At the recreational level there is often a vast difference between the ways teams operate.  Some of the youngest players are receiving excellent, developmentally appropriate training built around fun while others are receiving little, or worse yet, bad training with no concern for fun. Travel players also find themselves in a quandary due to vastly different experiences. Even at the elite level, parents and players struggle with a constantly changing youth soccer environment. For example, we have an ever changing vocabulary, where once teams were identified as either ‘A’ and ‘B’, we have now added ‘Elite’ and ‘Premier’. For those who have never played the game, the situation is that much worse! It can be overwhelming! This article is intended to serve as a catalyst for thought for parents who are truly trying their best to help their sons and daughters have as positive a youth soccer experience as possible. As the game itself and the “game within the game” continue to evolve, we all need to continue our “education” so as to be “educated consumers”. There are far too many coaches, administrators and other parents who wish to “sell us” fiction. As such, they may be playing on our lack of knowledge. We will first focus on general points, then look more specifically at the three basic levels of youth soccer participation

  •  The recreational player
  •  The travel player
  •  The ODP player

General Points to Consider

Soccer is a game – it should be FUN! Yes, this is an obvious statement but, far too often it is overlooked partially or completely. Perhaps it is a result of membership in a hypercompetitive society or, maybe due to a lack of understanding, but the reality is that we, the parents, are responsible for our children’s youth soccer experience. It is our job as parents to navigate a good “match” for our children.  It is our job to make sure we have placed our children in the right environment – a healthy situation that should realistically help our children grow toward their goals.

Coaches

Years ago Charles Barkley (while still with the 76ers) inadvertently spit on a young girl sitting court side. The next day, as part of a press release, Charles noted that he, a professional athlete, should not be viewed as a role model and that parents instead should be their children’s role models, a point well taken. Furthermore, we, the parents, have to accept our responsibilities to help our child navigate and grow from whatever level of youth soccer experience they seek. As mentioned above, this is far from easy. There are far too many coaches who may not be equipped to teach the technical aspects of the game and, even those who are, may not be well prepared to appropriately give this information to young players. One must also consider the role league and club officials play. They too are integral to the experiences your child will have while in youth soccer.

Level of Play In Soccer

Soccer is one of the most highly organized youth sport in America. There are ongoing, extensive efforts made to provide multiple levels of play to meet the needs, interest and ability of all. The choice of “level” should be thought out and based on issues such as:

  •  Cost
  • Time availability (parent and child)
  •  Desired ultimate goal for participation
  •  Interest (hopefully the interest of the child)
  •  Skill (at that point in time)

Most importantly, decisions such as what level to play at, where to play and for whom to play should be based on fact not fantasy or improper perceptions. The next section offers some information / food for thought for each level.

THE RECREATIONAL SOCCER PLAYER

Participation at the recreational level includes both the youngest and oldest players. Everyone tends to enter youth soccer through “rec” or intramural programs. Most clubs offer these programs. For the youngest players the teams / leagues will be comprised of several groups – future stars, those who will drop-out midway through their first season, those who will play “rec” soccer for the next ten years and everyone in between. As such, the coach has the complex task of providing fun, learning and a challenge. Those who will choose to pursue higher levels of play need to be provided the requisite skills (mentally and physically) to help them reach that next level. For those players, mom and dad need also be educated to the options and the whole process. Even for those who played the game, they need to consider how things have changed and/or how they may differ from the community in which they played their youth soccer. For those who have no desire to move beyond “rec”, the coaches (and administrators) need to make sure that these players are not overshadowed or ignored in favor of those who are working toward the higher levels of play. “Rec” programs will be the least expensive and time consuming. These players deserve an environment where they have fun and maintain their interest in the sport. For the older ”rec” players, they have already made their decision to stay with in “rec” programs or, have been dropped from travel teams. For these players, the priorities shift to a primary focus on fun. For these players coaches ought to be providing a more relaxed, low key experience, one that keeps them coming back!

Food For Thought

  1. Despite the intended purpose of these programs, there are often as many incidents of poor referee, coach, player and parent behavior in these games as there are at the highest levels.
  2. Not all coaches have attended coaching license courses.
  3. Not all leagues use certified referees.
  4. No college coach is ever going to show-up at a “rec” game to scout for prospects.
  5. The sole focus of these teams is NOT player development.
  6. Not all players and families will be 100% committed.
  7. Not all coaches will focus on fun!

THE TRAVEL SOCCER PLAYER

Some of the recreational players will decide to tryout for a spot on a travel team. In general, these teams provide yearly, structured tryouts for limited rosters. Although the youngest group tends to be U8, many teams will permit players as young as six years to tryout. These teams often compete up to and beyond the U18 year. Travel participation automatically carries with it a few givens:

  1. Greater expense
  2. Greater time commitment
  3. Higher level of play
  4. Higher level of competition

Where most “rec” programs only require a participation fee (this generally covers costs such as field leases, permits, insurance, uniforms and referee fees), travel fees will include the costs of tournaments, league fees, possible coaching fees and field / gymnasium / indoor facility rental fees. Such fees are not set by EPYSA and can vary greatly. Most clubs offer spring and fall “rec” programs. Each may range anywhere from six to ten weeks. During this time a player is invited to one or two practices and usually one game per week. In comparison, most travel teams’ compete all-year-long. Some teams may take breaks throughout the year but, competitions are available every month of the year. There is a much greater expectation placed on attendance at all events and games are no longer bound within the community. Travel teams do “travel”.  As the level of play rises, so too does the level of competition. At the highest levels competition can be fierce. Spots on teams are highly sought and “cuts” inevitable.  The bottom line is, teams exist to provide multiple levels level of play.  Note: A team can refer to themselves at whatever level they wish. But, this does not guarantee that they will in fact play at that level!  Unlike swimming or track, which have objective measures (how fast you swim or run), soccer does not. As such, evaluators rely on observations of drills and skills to make their decisions. At the higher levels, tournaments and league play tend to be over a much wider geographic area and costs also tend to be higher. As was true at the recreational level, there tend to be more problems at the lower levels of play. EPYSA deals with more arbitrations for inappropriate behavior at the lower levels than the highest levels. Note: Some league still offer “league select” programs. In such cases, a given league will hold open tryouts for the players on teams competing in the given leagues to play on a sort of “all-star” team. These teams generally train and compete in the spring and summer. Teams are not created to serve as alternatives to the players’ original club team. Rather, they offer further training and high level competition.

Food For Thought

  1. Not all coaches have earned the same level of coaching license (D, C, B, A).
  2. Not all teams seek the same level of competition.
  3. Despite the intended purpose of these programs, there are often as many incidents of poor referee, coach, player and parent behavior in these games as there are at the highest levels.
  4.  Not all coaches are paid.
  5. Not all coaches charge the same amount.
  6. Travel soccer participation in no way guarantees a college scholarship.
  1. There are more than a half dozen levels of play above the basic travel level (second team ODP, first team ODP, regional call back, regional pool, regional team participant, national pool, national team participant, Olympic team, full-national team, etc…)
  2. Not all teams train the same amount.
  3. Travel participation does not guarantee equal play time.
  4. Once you make a travel team your hard work is not done!
  5. Players are rostered, not parents.
  6. No player, parent, coach or team official may approach a player already rostered about leaving that team to join another team.
  7. High level travel teams will compete in as many as 80 – 120 games per year.

THE ODP PLAYER

For those who choose to tryout, youth soccer offers yet another level of competition. The Olympic Development Program (ODP).  Started in the 1970s, ODP (once known as state select), provides the most competent, competitive, committed players (and parents) an opportunity to compete at the state, regional and national level. Within EPYSA, ODP is rooted in training. The coaches are selected from amongst the best, most qualified coaches in the state.  Unlike the travel programs, these coaches are paid by the state office (EPYSA). The lengthy tryout process starts in September or October and final rosters are generally not set until April or May. The goal is to provide as much training for as many players as possible. After an initial tryout (usually two sessions), players are invited to be part of the “indoor pool”. These players will train several times during the winter and may even represent the state in one or two tournaments. Ultimately, a final roster is created.

            U13 – Three teams

U14 – Two teams

U15 up – One team

Each age group fields a team (or teams) to participate in the “Region I Tournament”, held each year in June. The final ODP event is the Regional Camp, held in July. All players are invited to a multi-day camp where all ODP players in Region I try out for a chance to become part of the “Regional Pool”. Beyond the Regional pool, a National Pool is also selected in most age groups

Food For Thought

  1. ODP participation does NOT guarantee a college scholarship.
  2. ODP participation at the State level does not guarantee regional participation.
  3. Making ODP one year does not guarantee a slot the next year.
  4. ODP participation does not guarantee equal play time.
  5. Attendance is very important.
  6. Making the regional or national team one year does not guarantee a slot the next year.
  7. Once you make ODP you are not done working hard.
  8. Players are rostered, not parents.
  9. The focus is training, NOT game play!
  10. Coaches do not coach within the age group they are involved in at the club level. They are not there to recruit.
  11. 11. Even the best players can be injured.

In conclusion, it is up to the parents and players to find the situation that provides the “best fit”. Such decisions need be based on reality and an honest assessment of the situation. No one should ever assume that participation (on any team at any level) will provide a guaranteed scholarship! Furthermore, just because it is a “rec” or intramural program, don’t dupe yourself into believing that the sidelines will be calm and behaved. Much to their credit many leagues have civility programs but, at all levels, behavior sometimes gets out of control.

We all want the best for our children. But, knowing “what is best” can be mind boggling. Making matters worse, sometimes even the noblest of efforts can produce less than favorable results. Two final pieces of “Food For Thought”:

  1. Ricky Watters (while with the Eagles) once was quoted to say, “For who, for what”. It isn’t a bad pair of questions to ask yourself  (and your child).  For who are you competing and, for what? There are good answers and bad answers. If you are competing, paying the bills and making all the trips for a college scholarship, STOP! Less than 3% of all players earn soccer scholarships to college.  Of those who do, they must first be academically eligible. No coach ever got a player into a college.  Don’t permit your child to forfeit their education for training. If you are doing all the work and paying all the bills so that your child is happy and grows as a person, please DON’T stop! You are doing a great job!
  2. Are you pushing your child or, are they pulling you along with them as they move toward their goals.  Are the goals realistic? Most young players will tell you that they want to be a “pro”. Check the numbers. It is far from a given! Remember, it is one thing to support your child and quite another to live your life through them.

One final thought:

When all is said and done and your sons and daughters are done with their soccer careers, will the time you spent together contribute to you having a good relationship? Is the time spent making you closer or further apart?