Insider Secrets – What Youth Soccer Clubs Won’t Tell You

Let’s begin by stating this undeniable fact:

If American youth soccer clubs “in the system” were doing their jobs, TVC wouldn’t exist.

Now, it’s also true that if the youth players in that system were playing and experiencing the game on their own, we probably wouldn’t exist either. If they were out enjoying the sport with their friends, getting touches, and discovering the little details about the game that really should be “learned rather than taught”, we at TVC wouldn’t have much to contribute.

But since modern life in the US is what it is, with so many available activities and every one of them scheduled, and recognizing that organized soccer “in the system” here follows that same course, we realized that there was a need for something that bridged the gap between what the kids weren’t learning on their own, and weren’t being taught by the clubs.

And so, TVC was born.

The players in the US youth soccer system generally don’t get anywhere near the introduction and head start in the game that their counterparts outside the system do, and the very people they flock to and depend on to teach them the game–the youth club coaches– unfortunately often do a very poor job, instead selling them a pricey, flashy and ultimately hollow imitation, because for them it’s more about the system itself and not the game.

We recognize that it’s foolish to expect the average suburban American kid in the system to go out and get steeped in the game like, say, their immigrant compatriots “outside” the system. We cannot simply snap our fingers and make it so, nor can we rub a genie’s lamp and have a squad of culturally-infused immigrant “ballers” fall in our lap and give us a head start.

Most of us, therefore, should be trying to make the “organized” game, the one that happens in the system we all know, as good as it can be, within the constraints we are presented with, and using the tools available to us. We also, however, need to push and test and break those constraints and hold the system accountable, but also push ourselves to become educated about the game and not wait around for it to change.

Why? Because youth clubs ARE the system, and most want to preserve exactly what they have.

What the clubs won’t tell you, is that they’re generally not about making the organized game as good as it can be. And if that is true, then it follows that they are not making your child as good as they can be.

In fact, most clubs treat players as property. American youth coaches often literally refer to your children as “my players”. Very often, clubs want to sign as many kids up as possible, create as many teams as possible, and keep the gravy train rolling. And they are incredibly protective of their environment, to the point where we as trainers straddling the system are constantly told, overtly or through the grapevine, that “their players” are not allowed to train outside the club.

They claim it’s because they don’t want their players getting poor training or mixed messages about how to play the game, but we constantly hear players and parents who say “we learned more in 8 weeks with you than in 3 years at our club.”

If word of that got out, I’d be very protective of “my players” too.

The odd thing, though, is that this attitude toward compliance and mediocrity is generally accepted and even enabled by many parents in the system.

I recall the father of one of my first clients telling me that he was going to ask if any of his teammates were interested in joining up and making it a small group affair. No one took him up on the offer.

Yet when the player showed up for the second session, his dad pulled me aside to tell me that the other parents were upset that he had decided to follow through with the training by himself. The message was clear: “how dare you try and get better than our children!”

Because of this prevailing attitude, many players literally just kick along (pun intended) and go with the program, never learning the real game or the insights and skills necessary to play it, until they drift out of the sport entirely.  Imagine if clubs actually provided the richness of experience they charge you an arm and a leg for.

So, while TVC strives to provide that, the clubs usually keep a lot of facts to themselves, and typically obfuscate around everything else.

With that in mind, what are some things you need to be asking your child’s club, and probably yourselves, about your child’s experience “in the system”?

1.  Does your child get ANY true ongoing individual insight into the game or their play, either in a general sense, or position-specific? Or do they only get a yearly “evaluation” (or worse, are you promised one that you never receive?) If your child plays the wing, for example, does their coach try to improve their play regularly by giving them some specific concepts, moves, or playing advice that will help them, or are they simply yelled at about not “doing what they were supposed to do”? If they’re not getting constant feedback, ask for it. And if they get it, but do nothing about it, then look in the mirror.

2.  Can the coach or DOC explain their actual playing philosophy? Do they even have one? Can you see it in the way your team plays, and do other teams in the club show a similar approach to the game? DOES YOUR CHILD’S TEAM PLAY ANYTHING LIKE YOU ARE TOLD IT WILL? Observe other teams in your club practicing: do all coaches share the philosophy and abide by it? If the club can’t explain how they want their teams playing, and can’t describe what they want their players to be able to do (specifically!) at each age, you have no ability to judge whether the club is actually “successful” as you have nothing to compare it against. And if your child and team play nothing like you’ve been told they will, well you’ve probably been swindled, at which point you should look elsewhere, but only if you’ve educated yourself enough to know better.

3.  If a true visible and verifiable club philosophy doesn’t really exist (which is sadly the norm), you might still be able to find the odd coach that satisfies your requirements and truly develops your child, but you still need to be able to judge this properly. How does your child actually play the game, and how does their team play? Do they play skilled, smart soccer, or is their success and your judgment simply based on winning games? Are the players trying to “think” the game? Do they look like they know what they’re trying to do, and is there an obvious progression over the weeks and years? If not, ask why. If you don’t get a satisfactory answer, look elsewhere. Remember, though, that if your child isn’t working on their own, even the rare truly great coach can’t save them.

4.  The sum total of 1-3 above really boils down to this: what does your child’s coach or club brag about in person or on their website?  Is it tournament wins? League titles? Or the technical and tactical abilities of its players? I can guarantee that if your child isn’t developing a fundamental attachment to the game through skilled and smart play, no amount of trophies will repay your investment.

It is incredibly hard to produce gems within the US youth club system. The system, in fact, is almost set up to ensure that it doesn’t happen, lest soccer take over the landscape and nudge other professional American sports out of the way. American youth soccer within the system is at its worst a diversion for most. Even at its best, it forces players who want much more to go through bizarre hoops that don’t just involve maximum commitment and effort. The few gems that do emerge really do so despite the system, not because of it.

However, what we all need to do is make our best effort to demand more of that system, and when it impedes us, we need to find ways around it.

And so, TVC is here to keep filling in those gaps and helping players try to make the most of their hopes and dreams in an environment that wants them to settle. It is our passion, and our mission.

There is work to do.






2 thoughts on “Insider Secrets – What Youth Soccer Clubs Won’t Tell You

  1. great article, ken. made me realize there are things i need to do better as a coach. but i feel i’m on the right path. i wish more (heck, any) parents would ask the questions you outlined.

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