The surface level differences between recreational programs and select youth soccer
I am writing this as a parent of three sons who participated in different programs and was very active in their little youth careers. I understand everyone has different talents, skills, experiences, and are in different financial situations so I am not advocating which is best but what I have observed.
My kids started soccer at three years old. Some places even cater to kids even younger! My boys started with the “Itty Bitty” program at the YMCA and also did a few sessions with Little Kickers which was indoor and usually supplemented the fall and spring outdoor seasons. We had YMCA memberships so the cost for these seasons was very reasonable. A few years we even did both YMCA and SAY since it wasn’t expensive. YMCA uses parent volunteers as coaches and use teen refs. They usually only have one practice a week and a game on Saturday. Some of the ages have a practice for 30 min prior to a 30 min game on Saturday. The whole league usually plays their games on Saturday at the same location usually close to the YMCA itself. YMCA does have teams that can go to preteen/teen but you will notice most kids have moved to SAY or Select by that time and sometimes they only have a few teams and they are co-ed again. They tend to be co-ed at the youngest ages and then branch to boys and girls teams if numbers allow it. You are still able to play if you are not a member of the YMCA but the cost is more comparable to the cost of SAY from what I have seen.
SAY soccer is usually ran by different branches dependent on your city or town. There is one payment and you are given a shirt and soccer socks. Everyone is put on a team as long as numbers allow and you sign up on time. There are no tryouts.Our local SAY soccer is Fairfield SAY. They have all of their games on Saturdays at first then they will have one week night game as well. They are coached by volunteer parent coaches. They normally have two practices a week until they start having week day games then that usually drops to one practice a week. So total commitment is usually three days as a week. They usually hold a tournament at the end of the season. The teams are pulled randomly and you will usually never have the same team year to year. I believe smaller SAY organizations that might only have 1 or 2 teams per age you could end up with the same team for years. Those SAY team with good coaching usually end up quite successful because they aren’t relearning a coach or a team every season like the larger SAY organizations do. I do understand why they do that so you don’t have a stacked team every year but at the same time it is tough to gel as a new team every year. A lot of the kids will start to identify they want more training and more competition as early as 7 or 8 years old and may leave for a club or select program. SAY does go up to the teenage as well but a lot of the programs only have a team or two, sometimes go co-ed again, and are for recreational play. Again, some of the smaller SAY organizations may keep a team together for many years but they will play them against other competition. Many will start taking their teams to compete against the select teams in tournaments through the season to get more competition as well.
By around 9-11 grade many kids already know their reasons for playing. They just like to play for fun or they are willing to put in more hours and parents are able to put in more money and they may decide to pursue trying out for a club or select soccer program. The number of clubs have increased over the years expanding the select soccer wing. Age groups have A,B,C and more team. Tournaments will cater to gold, silver, bronze, and many more levels. It is the top of the top as far as skill level to beginner. The difference here is that you are paying a club fee and a team fee. You are paying trainers and or coaches. Some clubs the trainer is the coach. Some clubs they are different people. Most teams go at a minimum of 2 practices a week but the older and higher level your team you go 3 or maybe 4 times a week. Games are played at your home fields and at away fields. Away for a lot of the midlevel teams is within an hour or so. Teams as they get older and higher level can travel 2+ hours to one single game. I won’t act like I know what I am talking about for the highest of the high levels but I have friends who have traveled hours for just one league game!
Depending on your coach, club, level, and parents tournaments can take you further. We took a U9 team to Tennessee (5 hours)! I have also taken kids to Chicago and Michigan. We typically started around 5 hours. Tournaments you are usually promised 3 games and if you make it to the finals you have 4 so an overnight stay is usually the way to go. It is actually a lot of fun!
The select route like I said comes with the club dues which can range from $600-$2000 a year. This is for kids 8th grade and below, youth soccer. The club fees pay for coaches, insurance, fields, etc. Each team once formed after tryouts in the spring you will pay team fees. Once formed each team decides how many tournaments, finds out how many league games, and then you calculate a team budget. This pays for tournament fees (runs $500-800 a team), league ref fees (ranges $25-50/game), travel for coach if going out of town, team bench, corner flags, etc. The fee is for fall and then calculate for spring. The commitment once you are on a team is from Fall through spring. I have had team fees run $120-$300 depending on the numbers and what we have done. Usually teams participate in 2-4 tournaments in the fall and 2-4 tournaments in the spring as well as 6-9 league games in fall and same in spring. You buy your uniform separately. Most have a home and an away kit. Costs are $100-200 but one good thing is that they usually are worn for 2 full years!
League games can be week day, Saturday, Sundays on evenings or mornings you name it. Tournaments you won’t get your exact times until the week prior so if you are a big planner just mark out the whole weekend until confirmed. Saturday will be 2 games and Sunday 1 to 2. If is eat, sleep, repeat soccer from August 1st to Halloween and again March until Memorial Day. Many select teams enter their teams to play 1 or 2 indoor sessions during that “winter break.” A lot of clubs don’t stop but maybe drop down to one training a week indoor to keep the kids in shape and get touches. Coaches do the training but some won’t coach the indoor team because they are usually not paid for that so one of the parents usually steps us. This isn’t mandatory but most kids do end up doing it.
Clubs are businesses. They have different numbers they deal with annually, keep budgets, have employees, have a board, and have to work with many other organizations to make the seasons possible. The good things is there seems to be a place for everyone if you look around and have kids that truly want to excel and get better and what to be there. I will say a lot of them are similar. We have had experience with 2 clubs with ups and downs but surely more positives than I could list.
I have spent hours upon hours on soccer fields or driving to soccer fields. I have spent thousands of dollars. I have made many new friends on the sidelines. I have watched kids grow and seen their successes and their tears. Seeing those successes have made it worth every dollar and every hour. It might not be for everyone but I will say as a parent I have been blessed and grateful for the experiences that YMCA, SAY, and Select soccer have afforded my kids and myself.
I do know there are other organizations that have leagues that we have not participated in but I believe have great programs as well. Those are Upward sports and i9 Sports programs. I know Fairfield has those programs. You can check them out online. There are community leagues as well. Check with your local community center, school, or other parents along the sidelines.