I found this forum around a year ago when my youngest was considering changing clubs. I went here hoping to find information about the various clubs in the Austin area to figure out where would be a good fit for the youngest. While I did find some useful information, I did have to wade through a lot of mudslinging, chest thumping and crazy generalizations made by hopefully well-meaning parents (and probably coaches) to help youngest figure where (s)he should look.
I’ve come to love reading this forum (who doesn’t love a little bit of the crazy mixed in with good info?) so to contribute, I thought I’d offer up advice and some perspective based on our experience last year. It’s a very stressful and confusing process; especially if you’re leaving a club for the first time after many years. (By the way, I’m purposely being vague about my kids gender and what clubs were part of our decision in order to avoid any speculation of who we are. Not that it’s a big deal, but the only attention I want my kids to have from soccer parents/coaches is when they’re on the pitch.)
First off; advice for when you’re looking at different clubs:
1. Try to keep an open mind and keep all of your options open. Attend as many open practices/POEs you can and talk to as many coaches and DOCs as you can in the process. While you may be looking at a club for a certain coach, there is a chance that the coach you have your heart set on won’t be the one your child ends up with in August. (Coaches change jobs and clubs shuffle coaches and teams right up the night before the first practice). If the clubs you’re looking at have more than once coach for your child’s age group then assess your comfort level and your child’s chemistry with those other coaches as much as possible.
2. Look at the next 2 age groups to get a feel for how your child will progress; unless you want to potentially change clubs every single year. If your child will be moving from 8v8 to 11v11, this is even more important. The first year in 11v11 is a big transition for many teams, they don’t really get their ‘groove’ down until their second year so you should get a feel for what the training is like for those kids 2 and 3 years into 11v11. (We saw this first hand with our oldest, the first season in 11v11 was an exercise in losing gracefully, over and over. The next year with the same kids, they moved to the top of their bracket and many of them were placed on the highest team going in to the 3rd year. )
3. When you’re talking to perspective coaches/DOCs, be honest about your child’s abilities—what they’re great at AND not so great at. Just as you want them to be honest with you about what the club can provide them. I think, we parents, secretly want our child placed at the highest level possible but you’re only doing a disservice to your child if you get them there by exaggerating their abilities. Plus coaches will finally figure it out and not take you seriously going forward.
4. Please please please, follow your child’s lead. They’re the ones attending the 2-4 nights of practice and playing every weekend so whatever club you go to, or even the decision to leave your current club, should be mostly your child’s decision. I believe this whether they’re a U8 player or a U18 player. Kids can and should articulate what THEY (not you) want out of the soccer experience and that is what should set the criteria for determining the best club for them. I hear from a lot of parents “I’m the one paying the dues so it’s my decision.” I’ll say it again, it’s not you out there playing, it’s your kid. If you decide that you are willing to fork out the money for them to play club soccer let them have a say in where/what environment they will play in.
5. By time tryouts roll around, I recommend you have it narrowed it down to 2 clubs. Quietly attend tryouts for both. Last year, tryouts for the 2 clubs were on the same 2 nights. Youngest attended tryouts for his/her current club the first night and didn’t tell anyone there that (s)he was going to be attending tryouts the second night somewhere else. (S)he did tell the coach after the first night had ended and (s)he knew his/her team placement. The other club knew before tryouts that (s)he would be attending the second night only and had no problem with that. I was really worried about this, but it’s really more common than I realized. Don’t let the horror stories of coaches threatening parents/players scare you.
6. When/if you do decide to leave your current club, don’t leave in a flashy obnoxious manner and for pete’s sakes, don’t warn/threaten that you’re looking. You only look stupid, seriously, you do. Heck, I wouldn’t even tell anyone else you’re looking, there are some rumor mongering parents out there that love to bring that gossip to their coach in the hopes of improving their own child’s position in tryouts/team formation. Youngest ultimately decided to move to a new club. A quick phone call directly to the coach followed up with an email thanking them for the great previous season was the only announcement we made. We were honest with the coaches in the reasons behind the decision to move but left it that. (Be prepared for lots of follow up phone calls/emails asking you to reconsider.) My oldest was remaining at the club so I wanted to be extra sure we were not burning any bridges. Plus, Austin is a small town and you will run into coaches over and over again. I will tell you, it’s nice to be able to go up to Youngest’ s old coaches and give them a hug and have a friendly chat as opposed to having to go out of your way to avoid awkward confrontations when you see them at games/tournaments.
Our experience a whole year later? According to Youngest, it was the right decision to change clubs/teams. It wasn’t an easy year, saying goodbye to old teammates that had been together since U9 and getting to know a new set that had also been together that long was hard. It took until about November for Youngest to feel fully comfortable with the new team. I really missed the old set of parents but did enjoy getting to know the new ones. We did catch a little bit of heat from parents on the old club as to why we left, why didn’t we tell anyone, how can we have 2 kids in separate clubs, etc.; but for the most part there was very little drama with the transition. I almost feel silly as to how much stress we felt last year this time with the whole process.
Overall, we feel like everything that was promised to us before last year’s tryouts, especially the training and coaching style, was actually provided so Youngest feels a strong sense of comfort going into this year’s tryouts, even though his/her placement is not certain. Most importantly, (s)he feels that the decision was his/hers and (s)he is in control of the soccer environment (s)he plays in.
Lastly, some general advice as my oldest is getting closer to leaving the club environment and heading off to college. Enjoy every minute of this experience but pace yourself; we’ve all heard it before, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It may seem super important to track W/L records and roster changes for U9/10 teams, or which club is having the most success in a single President’s Club season but in the long run, those details aren’t important. Whether we realize it or not, how we approach the club/game experience influences how our kids approach it and this level of focus and scrutiny stresses our kids and burns them out. Sit back and enjoy the marathon and do whatever you can to ensure your child enjoys mile 26 as much as they did mile 1 and they finish that race happy for the experience.