Questions to ask when choosing a soccer club

It’s the end of another soccer season so tryouts are upon us once again. And this time we are going to see more than the usual movement of players because of the reshuffling of teams driven by the U.S. Soccer mandated switch to calendar year age groups.

This switch isn’t mandatory until 2017, but the leagues are implementing the switch starting with the Fall 2016 season and many clubs are implementing this switch for this upcoming Spring season to get a head-start before the more important Fall season starts.

The following is a guest post from another soccer dad here in the Bay Area. I’m sure you will find Andrew’s suggestions helpful as you try to make the ‘right’ decision for your son or daughter.

Is your 7-10 year old ready to promote herself from recreational soccer to competitive? Or is your 12-14 year old competitive player ready to raise the bar and move to a more competitive club?

Either way, you’re probably looking at a much larger investment of both time and money compared to what you’re spending today.

It’s all too easy to choose a soccer club based on where your kid’s friends or schoolmates play. Or based on that banner you saw stuck on the side of a fence. Or on the teams you see practicing and playing at the local fields.

That will certainly work if you’re just looking for ‘more soccer’. However, if you’re looking for ‘better soccer’ and a good return on your time and money, then you need to do your homework and ask some important questions.

I’ve coached rec soccer and have had two kids in comp soccer for a total of 7 years, or, put another way, an investment of about $14,000 and untold hours. I’ve served on the Board of a soccer club and seen the inner workings of club soccer in the Bay Area.

With that background, here are the questions I would ask if my kids were choosing a new soccer club. Keep in mind that no soccer club is perfect, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask.

  1. Is the club a 501c3 company?
    • In other words, is it a charity and therefore has its financials somewhat open? You can request that a 501c3 company make its tax submission available to you to read, listing basics like executive salaries, top 5 paid employees salaries, etc.
    • Or is it a private company, in which case you must ask yourself if the club exists to truly teach high quality soccer or to maximize the financial return for the owners. If it’s the latter then decisions might be made (such as the number of teams per age group, the number of kids on each team) that benefit the financials at the expense of the kids.
  2. Are the coaches paid hourly or salaried? This speaks to whether or not your coach is being motivated to excel and how.
    • If hourly, how? Are they being paid for the full time they invest in practices and games and tournaments?
    • If salaried, how are they incentivized to go the extra mile vs. just showing up?
    • Are they compensated for travel to tournaments and similar?
    • Do they have a bonus program and how does that work?
    • Is their equipment bought for them or are they expected to provide their own?
    • Are they provided with team jackets and pants and raincoats etc. or are they expected to buy their own?
  3. How are coaches monitored on the field, at practices and games? Most clubs will tell you “We have a fantastic curriculum”, but how is that actually implemented consistently across all teams at the club?
    • Is there a Director of Coaching/Training who spends a minimum amount of time with each coach making sure they are following the curriculum, the discipline model, training ethos, etc.
    • What is this minimum amount of time spent monitoring coaches? Many clubs will give lip service to this model but do not follow thru because it takes a significant investment of time (and therefore money).
    • If a coach isn’t monitored, then there is nothing to incentivize them to follow the clubs curriculum and training, vs. just doing what they want. And there’s nothing there to support them to say “You’re doing that wrong, lets show you how to do it right”.
  4. What is the curriculum? What coaching model is followed?
    • Is it written down? If not then how do coaches know what it is?
    • What is taught at what age? What is taught first? E.g. Understanding space and position and movement, or moving with the ball, or passing and receiving, or tactics, or technical skills? Or all at once?
    • How are coaches educated (initially and ongoing) on the curriculum? At hire and never again? At weekly or monthly meetings? On the field or in a meeting?
    • Along with training to the curriculum, what is done to ensure the kids are still having fun while working hard?
  5. What is the clubs model for winning vs. player development?
    • Do the best kids play 100% of the time and the worst kids sit 50% of the time? Or do the most dedicated kids play more of the time? Or is playing time shared equally at younger ages, as suggested by US Soccer and most European models?
    • Is the goal at the team level to win or to develop players? How is this enforced with the coaches at the team level?
    • How many kids do you place on a team – a few to make sure playing time is high, or a lot to make sure there are always enough kids?
    • Do you keep smaller teams and use guesting across teams to ensure enough players at games? Or do you build large teams with minimal to zero guesting?
    • Note that 100% of costs (coach, field, etc) are driven by teams, not players. Therefore adding kids to teams is adding revenue and very little extra cost.
  6. How is fitness and diet incorporated into training?
    • Do practices incorporate endurance, speed, strength etc., on and off the ball?
    • Do children who maintain a low level of fitness and/or high BMI get education/training on getting fitter, changing their diet etc.
    • Do players who refuse to develop their fitness get moved to the bench or lower level teams? This becomes more important as the kids get older and more serious.
  7. What is included in my fees:
    • Uniform – included? How frequently changed?
    • Practices – how many a week and for how many weeks of the year?
    • Games – NorCal or CYSA, and how many games per season/year?
    • Tournaments – included or paid out of pocket? How many per season/year?
    • Are coaching and field fees included in my annual fees?
    • What training sessions are offered during the off-season and how much do they cost?
  8. What are the policies for player movement between teams
    • Are there opportunities to guest-play on other teams, to both gain confidence and challenge the player?
    • When are players moved between teams – once or twice a year or on an ongoing basis?
    • What’s the balance between building team cohesion vs team movement? Is the team roster a revolving door of players, or is there some team stability?
    • What are the reasons for moving a player up or down

Choosing a soccer club can be deceptively simple – just choose your local neighborhood club or the one your kids’ friends play at.

But if you want to make sure you are spending your time and money wisely and have your child develop well in a positive environment then you have to do some homework.

Happy hunting….

Andrew Hogg

Lifelong player and student of the beautiful game in Germany, England, and USA. Volunteer futsal coach and USSF referee.

One thought on “Questions to ask when choosing a soccer club

  1. Would love to see this as a standard FAQ page that all clubs have to fill out as a requirement to list in a league. though not holding my breath…..

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