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Finding the Right Youth Soccer Team for Your Kid is a Matter of Knowing What to Look For

It’s not easy navigating the youth soccer environment, here's an insider’s viewpoint on the process

Orlando City's U-15's Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

With all the excitement surrounding Orlando City, the fact that it is youth soccer tryout season may go unnoticed. But I do believe that youth soccer is an integral part to an organization and one that can be often overlooked given the construct of our system. The reason people don’t dive deep into youth soccer often is because people don’t realize — and to be fair the system isn't set up that way yet — that the path in youth soccer should lead to the first team.

But I digress. What I want to talk about is youth tryout season and the questions from parents and kids alike on how to navigate the process as a whole.

It’s tough as a parent, or kid, trying to figure out what to do when it comes youth soccer. Which club should I join? Does a certain league matter? What should I be looking for? All these are perfectly fine questions to ask but the tough part is making the decision when outside pressure comes into play,

Before I jump in here, I do want to bring up a caveat. I used to work for Orlando City as a goalkeeper coach for two years. Please note I am not trying to push anyone to the club. I have worked in youth soccer — in some capacity — for over 14 years and have had my share of experiences in the environment. My goal is to help those that haven't been in it, or those that have but need some guidance.

A Good Player Will Find a Team

A common issue with tryouts is that a player goes through the process of trying out and at the end of the process, is “forced” to make a decision. The family at times is pressured into making a decision on the spot. “Sign now, or you won't have a place on the team.” I hate this. Youth soccer is a business in the United States and that is always what peeves me in this situation. A kid becomes a dollar sign.

I’m not saying every organziation views kids like that. I’m not saying coaches view kids like that. But the issue is that when it becomes a business, people begin to see youth soccer players as dollar signs.

If your kid is good — hell, even if they are not — take the time to find out what works for you and your child. If a coach pressures you into making a decision, don’t overreact. Respectfully say you'd like to explore your options and then make an intelligent and informed decision.

You don’t know what you don’t know. And the only way to do it is to see what’s out there. The club should respect your needs. The spot on the team will be there if your kid is good enough. Don’t fall prey to scare tactics.

Find The Right Fit

The most important thing is to find the organization, the coach, and the environment that is best suited to your child. Every kid is different. Some want the most competitive, some want one that will drive their kids with structure, and some need a fun atmosphere that will keep their kid engaged.

You hope you can find all of this but it’s not realistic. Every club has a different mindset set by their directors. As a parent, you’re forced to navigate this without much, if any, advice. So you fall prey to coaches and directors that pressure you into making decisions because you don’t know any better. Most don't even know what questions to ask. So let me help you in that regard. Here's a list to help you ask the right questions to find out what really matters to the club:

What is your training development like? What are your priorities?

If the answer to this question doesn't sit well, don't pretend not to be bothered, This is the number one question. Training builds everything. If they just play, run away. If they don’t bring up a balance of being technical and tactical, run away faster. You should be looking for a coach that wants to build all aspects of the game simultaneously while getting a good emotional feel.

Which is more important, development or winning?

Too many coaches are focused on winning. Winning is important but it’s not the end all, be all. If a coach harps on winning, something is going to suffer. Your child isn't a professional yet and should be treated as such. Development is key and should be the focus.

How many players make the jump to higher levels in the club?

This might be the most important because it’s the question that wraps parents up. But it’s also one of the toughest to decipher the answer. So many parents and kids are seduced with the highest levels. But few make it, with many wrapped up in making it while ignoring the fact that their kid isn't on that level.

So many clubs get kids to sign up because of these high aspirations. However they never see that next step because the kid was never that good. Don’t buy into the pipe dreams that clubs sell you. If your kid is good enough, they will get there. Hopefully the club is building kids to get there.

Don’t automatically think your kid will be at the highest level because a coach tells you there is a chance after two years they’ll make it. Ask them for specific examples. Call them out. Put them on their heels. Without asking honest questions you won't get what you need out of the conversation.

At the end of the day, I could write a book on this topic and I’m happy to have a discussion with anyone who needs guidance (feel free to message me on twitter or comment here for my email). But what should come first is the player and what they need.

Don’t be pressured into decisions you don’t want to make and always remember there are options available despite what anyone says. So navigate this time with caution and always keep your child’s best interest at heart. I know better than most that sometimes that isn't the case and I hope this little bit of guidance helps you in that decision.