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Soccer Parenting Primer: The Move to Travel Soccer

I really haven’t blogged a sentence since Friday. So what have I been doing? Well, I have been attending Child Number 2’s soccer game on Saturday and Child Number 4’s soccer game on Sunday (after attending Mass), and preparing to host Child Number 3’s soccer team at our house Sunday night for the weekly team pasta dinner. Today I am trying to whip together a cheesecake so we can celebrate Catholic Dad’s birthday. Of course the celebration has to wait until Child Number 3 gets home from her high school soccer game. It is a good thing my husband and I have grown to love the game of soccer!

Which brings me to the next entry in my Soccer Parenting Primer. Your child started playing soccer somewhere around the age of five. He has been progressing every year and you think he is really good. When he is nine or ten-years-old, someone approaches you about playing travel or select soccer. What do you do?

Stop. Think. How much does your child like soccer? Do you ever see him pick up the soccer ball except to go to an organized team practice or a game? Do you see him out in the yard juggling the ball or kicking it against a wall just for fun? If he doesn’t play soccer of his own initiative, there is no reason to step up the intensity and cost and move to travel soccer. The great thing about soccer is there are so many levels at which to participate. You can fully enjoy the game in the casual house league. You can immerse yourself in hard-nosed intense competition in travel soccer. Depending on where you live, you might be able to find several options between these extremes.

Let’s say you decide to try travel soccer. Your child has to try out for the team. Depending on the community, there may be several teams available. Which one is right for your child? Some of the decisions will be made for you based on the skill of your child. Your player will be better off playing for a team that fits his level of play. Why sit on the bench so you can say you are on a Division 1 team when you could be getting much more time on the field playing for a lower division team. Skill development is all about getting touches on the ball.

As a parent, you also need to be looking for a good fit with the coach. What are his priorities? How does he determine playing time? Remember, unlike the recreational or house league soccer, there will be discrepancies in playing time among players. The best coaches will base playing time on performance in practice. If your child shows a good work ethic and skillful play in practice, he should be rewarded with more playing time in the game. Travel soccer is about skill development but it is also about winning. If you are not ready to deal with performance pressure you are not ready for travel soccer.

That said, teams can focus too much on the win-loss record. It takes time and good coaching to develop the team chemistry required for a team to play like a single unit instead of a bunch of individual players. If the coach is talking about college scholarships when he is coaching a bunch of ten-year-olds, run—do not walk—to another team. He is a coach who will attract a bevy of prima donnas. His will be a team that suffers from interminable parental strife. Players will be selfish and conceited. All in all, the risk of an ugly, unpleasant experience runs high with such a team.

Travel soccer is expensive. Many coaches are paid. Trainers are paid. Tournament application fees are expensive. At the younger ages, the fees will run between $250 and $600 per season. (not per year!) Some of the tournaments are out of town and require hotel stays. Make sure you have a good idea of what the team is planning before you join. When you join the team you will be expected to participate in all the games. Missing a game because the family wants to go to a movie or because a school buddy is having a birthday party is no longer acceptable. If you need that kind of flexibility, you need to be playing in the recreational soccer league. You just need to be realistic about the level of commitment you are willing to give this game.

With so many expenses inherent to travel soccer, there is no reason to increase the financial burden with lots of frills, especially extra uniform items. Remember, these kids are growing like weeds. Matching warm-up suits are a ridiculous expenditure unless you have a corporate sponsor that is buying them. Even then, the team will benefit more from buying balls, practice pinnies, cones, and pug goals with sponsorship money. Those warm-ups run between $75 and $100 each. Kids are just as happy with a screen printed team sweatshirt. Team bags are a good investment. Kids need to carry a ball, water bottle, cleats, shin guards, etc. The backpack style is the most practical.

Of my four soccer players, two kept up with recreational league soccer and two moved on to travel soccer. It comes down to how much time, money and energy are you willing to give the game. If you love the game of soccer, travel soccer offers many rewards. But your soccer player will be much happier in the recreational league if you or he is not ready to give the commitment travel soccer requires.

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