It's almost June and that means tryouts for club soccer teams. There are a
few select regional-quality teams that can pick and choose the
cream-of-the-crop players. But in general, soccer teams are a buyer's
(players/parents) market. Teams need players more than players need teams
and players can exercise their power by moving to a team that closely fits
With that in mind I have a list of questions that players and parents
should be clear on before accepting a spot on a club soccer team.
I intend no disrespect to any team. I do think that players who are
offered a spot on a team should know for sure what they are being offered.
And I think most teams and coaches will be truthful and forthcoming. Most
coaches really want the players to know so there are no misgivings later
in the season. If the answers are vague or the team/coach doesn't respond,
players and parents should take that as a warning flag and look for
another club/team. The critical point is to find a team that is a good fit
Here are the important areas of concern and some questions to ask.
What is the actual overall cost of what I am signing up for? Can I get
a copy of the projected budget or last year's budget?
What does it include? Usual items included are
tournament fees, state fees, referee fees, coaching and club fees? Some
teams include uniforms.
What does it not include? Uniforms, bags, warm-ups,
equipment, team camps, etc.?
Are there any unexpected fees that could come up? For example, if the
majority of the team feels that they want to play in a more expensive
tournament than what is budgeted, do I have any recourse other than to pay
Are goalkeeper gloves, jersey, training included or is it to be paid
out of pocket by the keeper's parents?
What are the expected travel expenses? (i.e. some
higher level teams may rent a bus to go to a tournament or charter a plane
at additional cost and players may have no choice but to contribute even
if they would prefer to opt out.) Hand in hand with this goes the question
of who is in charge of choosing the tournaments - coach, players, managers
or parents? Are there other players to carpool with?
Can the fees be paid over time? Can they be charged on
a credit card or is cash/check required?
Is there any scholarship money available for players?
Where does that money come from? For example, if a player is on
scholarship is the cost spread among the entire club or is that cost bared
entirely by the team? This can be a point of contention - especially if
the "scholarshipped" player is taking the playing time of a paying
Are there required fundraisers in addition to the fees?
If I miss a fundraiser will I be assessed additional fees?
Who is my coach going to be? Is that a guarantee? I
have a firm belief that the coach should be THE MOST IMPORTANT
factor when choosing a team. If the coach is a "coach to be assigned
later" you may want to look for added assurances.
What are the coach's qualifications and experience?
Does it include experience with your age group? How long has he/she been
with this club? Does he have any playing experience? What is his training
What do his former players and players' parents think about him?
Coaching licenses may not tell you everything about the ability of a coach
but they do show that he/she is willing to keep learning and has been
exposed to modern teaching techniques.
How does the coach decide who starts?
What is his philosophy on playing time? Some coaches
only go to the bench for two or three players while others do their best
to play every player. That will make a difference if you envision yourself
as a starter or if you think of yourself as the 15th or 16th best player
on the team. What formation (4-4-2, 4-5-1, 4-3-3, 3-5-2, 3-4-3, etc.) does
the coach prefer and how does that work within your strengths as a player?
If you think of yourself as an outside fullback who is not comfortable
attacking and the coach prefers a flat back four defense then you will
have to change in order to get playing time.
What is the coach's policy about player position? Does
the player get input into where he plays or is the decision solely the
coach's? It's a recipe for dissatisfaction if you feel your child will be
playing striker but the coach has him/her pegged as the team's back-up
What is the coach's policy on guest playing? This is a
question that brings about all sorts of emotions. Should a guest player
take playing time away from the regular (paying) players? Who covers the
guest player's expenses? And from the other side of the issue: Will the
coach allow your child to guest play at showcases so he/she can be seen by
What team am I on? This seems obvious, but it's
amazing how many times a parents thinks he/she is assured that their child
is on such-and-such a team after tryouts only to be told later that a
decision was made to move the child to a different team.
What level team is it? Is it a Division I or Division
II team? Or is it a Region III or Academy team? Am I guaranteed to stay on
that team or is there a chance I can be moved down to a lower level team?
Do I feel that the competition will challenge me to become a better player
at every practice and game?
Where does the player fit in? Ideally, he should be in
the middle skill-wise, not one of the best players and not one of the
If I am of high school age, are there five or less other players on the
team that will be attending my high school? This is very important,
especially if a club intends to use a club pass system where a complaint
can be made that more than six players from one school played together at
one time or another during the season. No matter what you think about the
six man rule, potential violations could cause players to lose
The complaints could be lodged by a parent or player on your high
school team who felt that their child failed to make the varsity or JV
because a spot was taken by a player who violated the rules. In other
words, a player who loses eligibility might open a spot of a high school
roster for another player (their child?).
Or it could be made by a rival school. Don't believe its not done it
is. A team in the heat of a playoff race is prone to use any possible
means to turn their game-day loss into a forfeit by their opponent in
order to stay in the race for a playoff spot.
There are a lot of concerns about whether players on the new Academy
teams will be allowed to play high school or if they are committing to the
Academy year round.
Is this a year round commitment or fall season only?
Many younger players want to play other sports during the spring. But if
the rest of the players on a team play soccer in the spring, will my child
be pressured to quit baseball or softball? If she doesn't play will she be
welcomed back next fall?
Am I going to get to play my position (i.e. forward,
goalkeeper) or am I going to play wherever the coach feels he needs me?
Not an easy question but the answer can be quite telling and can go a long
way not only in the satisfaction of the player and parents but also the
rest of the team. Nothing stirs dissention more than parents and players
who feel that a player is getting preferential treatment. Most coaches
have to juggle this issue very carefully.
Do you know who the manager is and how well do you get along with
him/her? Parents often have much more contact with the manager than the
coach. Is he/she well organized, accessible, e-mail or phone tree savvy?
How will my child fit in with the rest of the team?
Are there friends of her/his on the team? Do the other players have
similar levels of commitment? For many players (especially girls) this is
an important factor in whether they enjoy the season.
How well will I fit in with the rest of the parents?
This might seem silly, but parents spend a lot of time together at
tournaments and games. Am I comfortable sitting with loud "woo-woo"
parents or will I be uncomfortable yelling if the parents are quiet? Do
the parents share my beliefs about the importance of winning and losing?
Where, when, how often and how long do we practice?
Location may be a huge factor in these days of $3.50 per gallon gas.
What are the rules concerning attendance at practices?
Will we practice with other teams in or close to our own age group? If
so will there be more than one coach available (what ratio of players to
coaches)? At older ages additional players (up to a limit) make practices
easier and more beneficial as it's difficult to work on tactics without 15
to 16 players.
What is the level of commitment required?
Are there acceptable reasons (without consequences) to miss practice
such as school conflicts, religious reasons, etc.?
Is there additional goalkeeper training available and if so does it
cost the goalkeepers additional money?
ROSTER SIZE AND PLAYING TIME:
Playing Time - If I show up at all practices and do my
best am I guaranteed any specific amount of playing time? My personal
response was always that you pay for the training but playing time is
How many players will be on the roster?
As a general rule larger roster size equals more success for the team but
less playing time in games. This is very important with the roster limit
now increased from 18 to 22 players at the U16 levels and above.
I was part of a nationwide coaches' survey several years ago before the
current small sized rules. Coaches were asked what they considered optimum
roster size for each age group. The answers and reasons given varied but
the general consensus was:
8v8 soccer 11 to 12 players
11 a side soccer up to age U15 15 Players
U16 15 to 16 players
U17 16 to 17 players
U18 17 to 18 players
Any more players than that and it was hard to get them all adequate
playing time. Any fewer players and it was difficult to be competitive due
to players missing games due to injuries or schedule conflicts.
What makes this program better than other programs?
If your child is U15 or younger, don't be swayed by state championships,
etc. Those younger age championships are often won by the best athletes
not soccer players. And at older ages, many of those players that are on
state championship teams are recruited rather than developed (grown) by
If your aim is to move to such a team in order to win a state
championship then that may be a concern. But if your aim is to get the
best training possible and grow as a soccer player you may be better off
on a team where you will be playing good teams AND getting more playing
What are the priorities of the club, team and coaches
(i.e. Winning, tournaments, college scholarships, teaching, developing,
Did the players (and the parents) on last year's team have a
good experience? If a lot of players are returning, that's
usually a good sign. If there are a lot of openings on the team you should
ask why. The parents and players who were on last season's team may be the
best overall sources for information about the team and coach.
The answers to many of these questions will vary according to the
player's age. At older ages, I give a lot of weight to the player's
wishes, though I have pointed out the advantages and disadvantages of the
alternatives. At the younger ages, I would be looking for different
answers for some questions.
These questions are not meant to provide correct or incorrect answers
but rather should give you a feel as to whether you or your child will be
a good match for that team.
When you ask questions don't confine yourself to Yes/No type questions.
You should ask open-ended questions so that you can find out truly what a
team/coach/clubs philosophy is and whether that will match up well with
what you think you want. And LISTEN carefully.
If I go to buy a dog I may ask the seller, "Is this dog mean and will
it bite?" The seller should tell me the truth because he does not know my
If I'm buying the dog for a pet I probably want a docile, loving
animal. But if I'm buying a dog for a guard dog I want a mean-as-a-snake,
You ask questions mainly to find out what the future holds rather than
be surprised. Nothing ruins a good experience like a misunderstanding.
Find out up-front and you and the player and the rest of the team will be
better off. The old adage of "Buyer Beware" applies to soccer players and
parents. Know what you are getting for your money.