How the journey of club soccer can assist in raising a well-rounded child
On a December drive to a showcase tournament to coach my u19 boys team, my wife asked, “Why do kids play club soccer?”
She continued, “Why do parents spend all this time and money when they can just play high school soccer for free?”
As you can probably guess, my wife was not a club soccer player and does not have much interest in sports. In the backseat, our 3-year old son, whom I hope will be the next Christian Pulisic and win the 2038 World Cup for the US Men’s National Team, was enjoying the ride with us.
Initially, I did not have a quick answer to her question, “Why club soccer?” which is remarkable since I have spent the past 25 years of my life heavily involved in club soccer. Quite frankly, I was flabbergasted that I didn’t have an immediate answer.
As we continued into hour two of the drive, I thought about the question and reflected on how club soccer molded me into the person I am today.
As a result, the purpose of this article is not to talk about how club soccer can assist in achieving athletic college scholarships or a professional career. At FCUSA, we have developed 4 alumni that have seen stints of playing professional soccer. We are very proud of the long list of alumni that have played soccer in college. However, the reality is that many of our club players do not move on to play college soccer. Therefore, my purpose here is to provide an overview for parents about how the journey of club soccer can shape the future of your child.
So as a father, I asked myself, “What happens if my son doesn’t play on the national team, or receive an athletic scholarship, or even play college soccer after investing 12+ years into club soccer?
To help me answer this question, I reached out to alumni and a current high school senior who all decided not to choose the route of competitive college soccer.
In my opinion, the most important aspect of deciding to devote your family to a child’s club soccer career is to set realistic expectations. If the sole focus is to achieve a college soccer athletic scholarship, you likely will be disappointed.
Did you know the odds of a male high school soccer player moving on to play college soccer (at any level) is 13:1, or 7.6%? The odds for a female high school soccer player advancing on to play college soccer is 10:1, or 10%. Achieving an athletic scholarship, which is only offered at the division 1 level, is even rarer.
To provide guidance we have created a college pathway program designed to educate our players and parents not only on the college soccer recruitment process but also the general college admissions process.
As soccer closes in on baseball to become the 3rd most popular sport in the United States, youth club soccer has become more competitive; therefore, it is very challenging for players to secure a spot on an elite-level club soccer team. The key is finding the right fit for your family. Most of our club members move to FCUSA from local town clubs because they are looking for a more serious training environment with certified coaches to develop in a year-round training environment.
Using my experiences as a player, club coach, and father, here are four reasons why playing club soccer is beneficial for your child.
On weekends from age five through eighteen, I spent countless hours on the road with my family. During the week, my mother and I would leave the house around 4:30 PM to beat rush hour, often with my brother and sister in the car. I would eat dinner and do homework in the car two or three times per week. My father would pick me up at practice and we would return home around 8 pm. Add it all up and you have hundreds of hours of dedication from multiple family members to travel to practices, games, camps, and tournaments.
If you have the luxury to make club soccer work for your children, think about all the extra conversations in those car rides you will cherish. The songs you will sing together, the meals you will share, and the movies you will watch during those precious years before your child moves away. With this extra time spent together, you as a parent can better understand what is going on in your child’s life, and ensure that they stay busy and away from troubling situations.
Here is a helpful hint….find a teammate that lives in the area for carpooling. This can also lead to lifelong friendships.
Through club soccer, I developed many friendships with teammates who were “soccer people” just like me. I was a bit of a shy teenager. Connecting with kids who were serious about soccer helped me build relationships with my peers. Also, as a result of all the time you spend on the road, soccer families have fun and build camaraderie. Your club team becomes your extended family, as you spend so much time together and have a common interest in the love soccer. You surround yourself with families with similar core values where developing a successful child on and off the field is the end goal.
I played with my town club until middle school when my path lead me to bigger opportunities. I needed to be pushed by better players in practice each week and to play against the top players in the state, on better fields, and in a more advanced, demanding coaching environment.
When I moved up to the next level, at first, I would come off the bench. This team became a state cup champion and eventually one of the best club teams in the region. The environment allowed me to rapidly improve. After a couple of years of hard work and being in a more serious soccer environment, I developed into one of the best soccer players in the area. I remember tryouts for my high school varsity team as a sophomore when I battled with the top seniors who seemed like men to me at that time. With my impressive tryout performance, I was selected to become a starter. A couple of the seniors were not happy that I would be taking their minutes, but days later they welcomed me with open arms. The invitation to be a part of their social group allowed me to come out of my shell. We went on to win a state championship that year. As a result, I was proud to walk around town as a vital member of such a successful team embraced by the local community.
Developing into a successful soccer player provided me with abundant opportunities for me to grow and mature. Being offered a roster spot on an elite club team, working my way to becoming a starter, becoming the best player on my club team, playing in the state Olympic Development Program, and eventually becoming one of the most talented college prospects in New Jersey built character and developed self-esteem.
As a coach, I am dedicated to working tirelessly to provide the same opportunities for the next generation of soccer players.
Each year, many FCUSA high school seniors face a tough decision; whether t play college soccer or enroll in a prestigious school solely to focus on academics. Our club’s recommendation is always to think about what will provide the best college experience for 5 years down the road when it’s time to start a career.
My advice to high school freshmen and sophomores interested in playing soccer at the next level is to keep your grades up and continue working hard to develop your abilities as a soccer player. See how good you can get on the field while maintaining an excellent academic status. The goal should be to have as many quality options when you arrive at senior year. At that time, you can evaluate the best fit. Many of our alumni decide not to play competitive college soccer as it’s best for them to find a less demanding college club or intramural soccer team in order to focus on their studies.
Families should consider club soccer as a piece of the puzzle in shaping their child’s character and future whether they play college soccer or not.
A child may not realize that each week, they are developing habits and learning life skills through soccer including:
Club soccer will teach a youngster about structure and maintaining a routine. Time management will be a priority as team members juggle hours spent traveling to and from soccer commitments, schoolwork, family time, and trying to fit in a social life.
This hectic schedule will mimic their future lives in the workplace and prepare them to succeed.
I have spent most of the last thirteen years coaching boys soccer, and I can think of several examples of young players who needed much guidance to eventually become mature young men. Club soccer, along with the leadership of your child’s head coach, can have a significant role in your child’s personal development.
As much as club soccer can be a fun and social environment, the experience is also humbling. For youngsters, club soccer will teach them how to lose gracefully when they cannot run to their parents for support. It will provide sole searching during tough times and build strength and character. Throughout the disappointing times of not making a team, or making a mistake in a championship game, these experiences teach children to learn from their mistakes, stay the course and get back in the game. These are all crucial life skills.
My wife might ask, “Can’t you do this on your high school team, or local recreation team?” The difference is that club soccer is a more demanding environment. Playing time is not guaranteed and players are competing with their friends for playing time. Players need to arrive at practice on time ready to perform, be diligent and coachable. If they fall behind and don’t keep up with the demands of the team, there will be another player looking to take their spot.
Not all, but many high school and town recreational teams can be casual, unorganized and lack a challenging atmosphere. A proper club soccer environment will almost feel like a professional environment. The coach will introduce advanced ideas and at times challenge players beyond their comfort level to promote excellence.
The right club soccer environment will challenge and prepare your child for a successful future. “Why you should fill your company with athletes,” lists the traits that athletes have and companies desire.
Recently on our social media pages, we shared a quote from a local executive that said, “work ethic, coach-ability, and competitiveness are the three key things he looks for when interviewing new members of his company.” Club soccer provides all of those and more.
As a player, there are many sacrifices when playing club soccer: the grueling workouts, the 90-minute games playing with 10 men on a 95-degree day, or practicing at night in late November in a windy 24-degree night when you cannot feel your toes to name a few. Then there are the offseason track sessions and missing high school social events because you are away for a tournament. All of the above build character and resilience.
The commitment and challenges throughout my soccer career came to mind when I began the first day of my professional career. As I sat down at my desk having no experience in this environment whatsoever, I thought to myself, this can’t be that bad after everything I’ve accomplished. Bring it on.
Club soccer offers unique opportunities to players and their families that can last a lifetime. While playing, teams travel to destinations across the country and possibly overseas experiencing different lifestyles and making connections with diverse players, coaches, and families. Moreover, soccer is “the world’s game.” Soccer in the United States was popularized by immigrants who came from different parts of the world mirroring the “melting pot’ of America. Often a club soccer team has team members from varied ethnic backgrounds and cultural differences are celebrated as players bond. Players learn to respect differences and find commonalities.
Also, many club soccer coaches in this country were not born in the U.S. These coaches come here with different outlooks, strengths, and expectations. Their vibrant personalities will influence your child and mentor them to develop a wider world view. As a parent, I welcome these cultural differences to guide my son’s character on and off the soccer field.
In conclusion, something I’ve noticed in the past few years is that the pressure from academics, peers, and social media are taking a big mental toll on young people. Playing club soccer, or sports, in general, can help reduce anxiety and develop a lifelong interest and activity. Becoming part of a team provides time out of the house with social interaction, away from the internet, gaining important communication skills while developing confidence and self-esteem.
As a child, I was fortunate to experience what club soccer offers and I notice the attributes I gained every day as an employee, husband, and father. I wish your children the best as they embark on their club soccer experience.
By Kevin Nash
FCUSA NJ 00/01B Blue Coach