Recreational vs. Competitive Soccer
In San Diego, there are two distinct levels of outdoor soccer, recreational and competitive (also known as 'club' and 'travel'). The hallmark of recreational soccer is that the coaches are volunteers and generally the parents of one of the players. Rec programs are put on by organizations like AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization), whose motto is "Everyone Plays".
In addition, some soccer clubs have rec programs, also coached by volunteers, that act as a feeder/farm system for their club teams. The stated focus of the rec programs are generally to give all players a chance to play and be exposed to the game. In reality many of the rec teams turn into quasi competitive teams, where winning becomes more important for the coach than everything else.
Club soccer is the exact opposite of rec. It is much more expensive, uses paid coaches rather than volunteers and does not guarantee equal playing time The ideal club program is more concerned about the development of the player rather than winning, but this ideal is sometimes swept aside and replaced with the the desire for immediate gratification (aka wins).
Club Soccer Categories
In my mind, club soccer can be divided in four categories. The first are Matrix clubs, which are a hybrid of rec and club soccer. A Matrix club may have paid coaches on staff, but most of the coaches tend to be parents. The teams subscribe to a philosophy of players getting to play at least 50% of a game, but the teams play in competitive leagues. Matrix teams are found throughout San Diego in cities such as San Marcos and El Cajon.
The second category are the local club teams, such as Impact (La Jolla) or Express (Encinitas). At this level all the coaches are paid and the teams generally service players from the surrounding areas. Depending on the club and the specific age group, playing time is not necessarily guaranteed. These clubs also offer varying levels of extra training clinics and skills development.
The third category is a regional team, such as Carlsbad United, that draws players from a wider area than a local club. The last category are the national clubs that have a "Development Academy" sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation ("USSF"). In San Diego three teams bear this distinction, Surf, Albion and Nomads.
As the best players age, they tend to funnel up from rec programs, to local clubs, to regional clubs to national clubs. At the same time, participation in youth soccer peaks around age 11 to 12 and players begin to quit the sport. As a result, after the age of 12, local club teams begin to disintegrate as players quit or move on to a regional or national club.
All this makes tryout season an incredibly stressful period for the youth soccer player at a local club. The average 12 year old player is concerned with whether they will be offered a spot on their current team, if their team will even exist next season and if they should try-out at another club, be that local, regional or national. It also calls into question whether a local club team should attempt to field older squads, as those squads will continually leak players to regional and national teams and never be able to recruit enough quality players to replace those who leave the team.
The Tryout Experience
With the above as prelude, I offer a synopsis of the experience of four boys dealing with the 2014 tryout season. The four boys all played for the same team at a local club and all tried out at the same national club. Prior to tryouts beginning, we were informed that two of the best defenders on their team were quitting soccer to play football and another player was leaving the club. On top of that, we learned that one of the players was going to be cut before tryouts even began.
Thus, to even maintain the status quo, the team needed to find four quality players to replace the ones leaving. To have the ability to cut some of the other lesser performing players, the team would need to recruit even more players. This placed the team in the unlikely scenario of finding five to six quality players who wanted to play for a local club team, rather than a regional or national club team. At the same time, we were told a number of players were going to tryout with a national team, including the goalie, potentially putting the number of players to replace at seven. Consequently, our son choose to tryout with the national team too.
Listed below is a brief synopsis of the tryout experience for each boy, based on the information I learned from the parents:
The first player tried out with the national club on Monday (2/10) and was offered a spot that evening. On Tuesday (2/11) he attended tryouts with his current team to see if any new quality players showed up. When none did, he accepted the spot on the national team on Wednesday (2/12).
The second player, who had already been practicing with the national club, tried out on Monday (2/10) and was also offered a spot that evening. The second player choose to take a little more time to evaluate the situation with the current club, but he eventually accepted the spot. The lesson to learn from the second player is, if interested in another team, ask to practice with them a month or two before tryouts begin.
The third player tried out on Monday (2/10) and did not receive a call. He then went to his current club's tryouts on Tuesday (2/11) and back to tryouts at the national club on Wednesday (2/12). He was not offered a spot on Wednesday and it appeared he would not make the national club. As a result, he went to tryouts on Thursday (2/13), played in State Cup on Saturday (2/15) and Sunday (2/16) with the other boys and then went to tryouts at the regional club on Monday (2/17) and Tuesday (2/18). He was then offered a spot at the regional club.
However, player three had persisted to contact the national club and due to a spot opening up, was asked to come practice with the team. Although, that practice was a week away, during which the the regional club kept calling and asking if he would accept the spot they had offered him. On the Tuesday (3/4), player three was slated to practice with the national club, but rain closed its field. Instead, he went to another tryout session with his local club, which was on artificial turf. Finally, two days later on March 6th, almost a month since tryouts began, he practiced with the national club and was offered a spot, which he accepted. The lesson to be learned from player three is persistence pays off.
The fourth player tried out with the national club on Monday (2/10) and was offered a spot. The player, like player two, waited a bit, but eventually accepted the spot. But a few days after accepting, player four revoked his acceptance to continue to play for his old coach.
In the meantime, player five, a goalie from another club, was offered a spot at the national club. Unfortunately for player four, the very next day after player five was offered a spot, player four's coach from the local team quit. Now player four is in a difficult position. His local club team, as he knew it, has largely disintegrated and his spot on the national club team is dependent on another goalie turning it down. Player four offers two lessons: don't follow coaches and recognize when it's time to jump ship.