Soccer commitment proves time consuming

The life of a high school soccer player seeking championships and scholarships bears little resemblance to what a normal student experiences. It also might be a bit more expensive.

Weekends in and out of season often consist of sleeping in hotels or playing back-to-back games. Nights are spent training, and summers often consist of crashing in vacant college dorms for technical camps.

Whether a player is part of the high school team, joins one of the area's elite teams or participates in an Olympic Development Program, much time is spent training, practicing and gaming, which ultimately affects social lives, family commitments and college choices. In high school, it starts with the preseason where time is set aside up to three times a day to test players' talents, fitness and potential through running, agility and technical tests.

Grueling practice sessions are designed to test a player's conditioning.

"On average, soccer players burn between 800 and 1,500 calories during a two-hour practice, depending on their position, size and current level of fitness." Duquesne University athletic trainer Kate McCartney said. "I would say that preseason would definitely be at the higher end of that since they run more and practices are longer. My guess would be that they burn more like 1,500 to 2,000 calories a practice."

To prepare they followed an intense individual program that consists of running, weightlifting and playing pick-up games.

And that's after an elite or club team player spends the spring and winter practicing once or twice a week and playing weekend tournaments, often traveling out of state.

"We go to showcases and tournaments to experience a different level of competition," said Boss.

It also helps players get noticed by college coaches, who are unable to attend many high school games because of their own teams' schedules.

Playing for an ODP team adds an even larger amount of travel and expense for a player's family. Some players journey hours to make a two-hour practice, and get up for school the next morning. The cost includes gas for the car, meals, hotels, participation fees, equipment and uniforms.

Parents of younger traveling players are forced to rearrange schedules, drop personal weekend plans and figure out sibling care.

Shelli's mother Christi Spamer admits the weekends can get expensive and complicated.

"Shelli is our youngest, so we do not have much trouble," she said, "but I always think of those families with three or four other children and feel for them. It's difficult, especially in a tough economy.

"At times we cut back on other things in order for her to travel all over this country and abroad, like the last few years when the Regional team went to Italy, Portugal, California and Florida. Hopefully, it will all pay off when she goes to college."

Boss' father Tom said annual expenses for the typical travel soccer player fall in the $3,000-$5,000 range.

For many players, the effort and expense is worth the trouble.

"If it did affect my social life, it did in a positive way," Nate Sharbaugh said. "I was able to meet more people and friends, and develop a close relationship with my teammates."

Boss said soccer often trumps family functions.

"We didn't go away this year for vacation because I was away so much for soccer in tournaments and camps," she said. "It's hard to find a week that we can all coordinate our schedules. My siblings also play soccer, so it's hard to plan around each of our camps, tournaments and seasons."

Nonetheless, soccer gave the Boss family an opportunity to bond, even if it wasn't at the beach.

"Traveling made us closer," she said. "Getting one-on-one time with my parents is nice."

Despite the large expenditure of time, Boss is able to maintain a 4.2 grade-point average.

"I work better when I am under pressure," she said. "I don't have time to procrastinate. I get it done."

For Michelle Esposito, the payoff was a scholarship to Duquesne University and a lifetime of memories.

"I will always look back on my high school soccer career with pride and joy," she said. "I still reminisce today about how great of a time I had. I loved my teammates, the travel, the friendships gained, the hard-working attitude of the team, the victories, the chants on the bus as we returned home after a win, the home games at night, and of course, the game itself."