Soccer starts as an activity for little kids. It competes with swimming lessons and karate as a way to keep them busy and physically active. For some it might be cheap daycare and for others a chance to build social bonds or function in a group environment. Over time it becomes more serious, taking up more days of the week and budget. Generally in the US though you reach a point at around age 10-11 (sometimes younger in more developed states) where you are faced the choice of jumping to a higher level of experience: this might be called “competitive”, “travel”, “club soccer” or any manner of other words. Whatever it is, the distinction is that now this is your first priority for time outside of school, with several practices and games per week, high costs and driving to play other good teams from far away.
Competitive soccer distinguishes itself from Recreational soccer by prioritising winning as well as development, keeping scores from games, and in many cases hiring paid employees to teach rather than volunteer parents. In theory this increases the development of the players as they are exposed to a better level of education and more time to do it. The games too are at a higher level as they play against others who are also at that level, and it is widely recognized that being challenged by those at your level or better than you force you to get better.
Different clubs have very different objectives though. Some want to become the best pathway for making the highest level soccer players. Others have a more holistic approach, wanting to make well-rounded individuals who will be successful academically and at life as well as the beautiful game. Maybe your club is focused on growing to become the biggest in the area, or maybe it is fighting for survival. Whatever the goals are there will be an impact on the players. A large number will drop out before reaching the 18 year old conclusion. Others will enjoy it so much that they will come back as adults to coach.
We have interviewed coaches and directors from successful clubs to ask them how they do that they do, including Jared Spires (Real Colorado – US Development Academy), Stuart Hilton (Dallas Sting – Technical Director), Ryan Henkel (FC Boulder – 9-12 year old director), Brian Contreras (Pride Soccer Club – U13-15 director), Adam Creasey (FC Boulder – Recreation Director), James Davies (FC Boulder – Tournament Director), Lisa Cole (Boston Breakers and Club Teams), Kyle Lineberger (FC Boulder – 9-12 year old director), Aaron Metzger (FC Boulder 13-18 director)