High school soccer, like high school football, often means playing in a stadium, with lights and fans. This can be very appealing to players as it raises their standing in the school social structure and gives them the challenge of performing under the pressure of watching eyes and representing the reputation of their institution. It is not uncommon for larger high schools to get thousands of fans attending every game and twice as many at derby games. Players will train every night of the week and have two or more games, increasing their contact hours with the sport, and they are competing with players up to three years older than them, which is a key part of the development model used by academy programs around the world.
On the other hand, very few players are actively recruited to college teams from high school soccer. Just read our interviews with college coaches and you will see that the majority find players through the club system – watching club games and going to tournaments or taking part in camps. Also the sheer number of games doesn’t fit with the current ratios suggested, with often teams having a 3:2 or 2:2 ratio of practices to games. High School soccer fields have to fit within stadiums which tend to have been designed before soccer became popular in the US, which means they can be very narrow if they are overlayed onto 120×50 yard football fields. This can impact the style of game that is played and set habits we can be hard to break. Finally, in many instances the coaching staff are primarily school teachers rather than specific soccer coaches, which can affect the quality of the instruction on the field.
There are exceptions to the rule though. Two of the professional players we interviewed got recruited at least in part from high school games. Shane O’Neill didn’t have offers until he appeared in an all-state game for high school, and Nikki Marshall had her future D1 college coach attending her high school games.
With the development of club soccer into a year-round program, complete with offseason training, showcase events and camps, the previous boundary between club and school seasons has become blurred. We have seen players having to decide between conflicting events from each and now there are entire teams who are dropping out of high school soccer to play club all year. What will be the impact of this on high school soccer and the development path of players? Check out our interviews with current high school and club coaches to see what they think, then join the discussion!
Hardy Kalisher (Varsity Coach – 5a school (largest classification – 1410 or more students)
Stan Jozwiak (Varsity Coach – 5a school)
Dan Watkins (Varsity Coach – 4a school)
Gabe Massine (Junior Varsity Coach – international school)