Can Your Child NOT Play Club And Still Succeed?

Asia Mape
In Balance
By Asia Mape | October 4, 2016

Can Your Child NOT Play Club And Still Succeed?

They come from an upper-class neighborhood in Southern California where the 3 S’s reign supreme: success, status and sports! So I was particularly taken aback when I heard the plan for their extremely athletic and highly competitive 7-year-old daughter. Unlike EVERYONE around them, they were not going to jump into the club game. They are “bucking the system” and going to do it their way. Something I’m sure a lot of us wish we had the courage to do!

Here is their story as told to me by the Mom…

When my daughter’s peers of similar ability “tried out” for a local club team, my husband and I started a discussion that turned into an ongoing debate … Should she or shouldn’t she play club?

My husband’s view: A 7-year-old girl is too young to dedicate that much time to one sport and burnout is inevitable. He also didn’t want to spend so much weekend time driving all over Southern California for tournaments.

My view: If she doesn’t get on board now, she’ll fall behind and we will ruin her chances of being at the same level as her peers later.

We discussed our long-term hopes for her and for soccer. After talking about our goals and plans, the answer surfaced quickly. Neither one of us was interested in committing so much of her time as a child (or ours) to a sport that is so ubiquitous that her chances of ever playing at a high level were next to nil. That being said, both my husband and I are competitive people and also played sports through high school, so we devised a plan that worked for us and our lives.

She plays both fall and spring AYSO soccer. She trains in the off season with a youth coach from the UK and with a trainer at TOCA Training Centers (think ball machine that helps with footwork). We do both of these at our convenience.


For now she has plenty of time in her schedule for other sports, activities, friends, and family time. We also love that she plays at fields in our neighborhood. We don’t know if what we are doing will keep our daughter in step with all of her high-performing friends, but we are certain that we aren’t burning her out of a sport that she loves and plays beautifully.

What are your thoughts? Do kids have to play club to keep up?


  1. I love the articles AND the comments section! As a mother of 5, I get the parents always wanting the most/best for their children! My youngest has been the only one interested in sports. He is 11 and LOVES soccer! We started this journey only last year with our local rec soccer, this yr we made the switch to club because he was not being challenged at all. He got offers from both teams he tried out for as a goalie on U14 team. Guess what, I let him pick what he wanted to do. HE picked, and that’s key! ( he did not pick the team with the coach who is a go coach for our university ), and I am very ok with this! I have already told him if or when he’s done with soccer I will never force him to play. Even in rec soccer I would be so excited to watch him play he would tell me to chill out. I tell you this because we have an open talk relationship so we both know each other’s true heart. I tell him we will figure things out yr by yr. Also I stress the 4 most important things…do good in school, respect others, have fun, and try your hardest…. that’s what is important at his age!

  2. AYSO is great fun and it allows kids to learn to love the game of soccer if the adults in charge are truly following AYSO philosophy. I have coached at all ages, boys and girls, for over 20 years, and I am certain I have taken more training than most club coaches. This is not always the case with recreationlal coaches though. Parents of stronger players tend to become impatient with recreational soccer before the kids do. Strong younger players enjoy the confidence boost provided by shining as athletes in the rec environment. Properly coached, they can develop leadership skills as well as performance skills. The more talented and determined players will let you know when they are ready to earn a spot on a club team if you are watching and listening. A good clue for me is they become impatient with their less capable teammates, usually around the age of 12 or later. Don’t rush it but be sure to respond to their desire to excel. In my area we may tend to keep some of the strong players in the league for longer because we all go to church on Sundays. Just sayin’… AYSO is developing a national club program nowadays after many years of sticking to their strict and very strong recreational philosophy. I will be interested to see how it progresses.

  3. This is such a difficult question. I despise the club system here in NY, but I acknowledge that my daughter learned the game and her skills in the club environment.

    But 7 is too young to declare athletic virtuosity. I’ve had dozens of those ‘great players’ on my club team, who plateaued, usually within a year or so of being declared the ‘strongest player’ in the line up. At 7, hey its all about orange slices at half time and snow cones after the game. Do a couple tournys, play rec ball and save your money for when and if she loves the sport. (Disney ain’t even free to go watch your own kid!)

    And college? You would be very, very surprised how much opportunity there is to play in the NCAA.

    • Thanks for sharing Chris, that’s a great point, you always hear how there are so few scholarships available, but that doesn’t mean you can’t play in college, great stuff.

  4. Being a club coach and rec coach, my opinion is that club is not a must. Talking soccer here, if you child is getting good instruction from a highly competent trainer and doing their part to touch the ball every day then playing for a club is not needed. Depending on the level of rec competition they could just play rec. But if you notice that your child is becoming less interested because they are always leaps ahead of the competition then maybe club ball is worth looking into. Or a local sports center may have a way to play against better competition. The important thing is to get quality touches on the ball every day. Club or not.

  5. The idea of playing in college is, in my opinion, highly overrated. My son played club, went to showcases (where a host of college coaches admitting in speech after speech that no one was offering full ride soccer scholarships), and received offers. The offers, while generous, did not cover the cost of the inevitably more expensive schools. He chose on his own to hang up his cleats and choose a college based on academics and his future plans – which do not include being a pro soccer player. I don’t think we “wasted” our time on club and competitive, year round, endless training, etc. but I think a LOT of families are kidding themselves thinking there is an illustrious post-high school boon to be had.

  6. From my own personal experience, club sports are only as good as the coach and the level of instruction they receive. I played on my first baseball club team in 7th grade. I was good enough to be on the team, but not good enough to start (in the coach’s opinion). The following year, I was too old to play for that team, so rather than find a new club team, I played for a local rec baseball team. I was head-and-shoulders better than everyone on my team. We only played about 16 games, of which I pitched 12 of them. This constant work, along with my own individual workouts (me and my dad, not paying someone else), got me the opportunity to play on the Varsity team as a freshman the next year.

    The same coach from my club team was also the Varsity coach for another local high school. I will never forget the look on his face as I took the mound against his team. I continued on to have an amazing successful high school career, earning All-State honors. I then played baseball at the Division 2 level, where I earned All-American honors. During my senior year, I was scouted and offered a spot with an Independent League team in Georgia. Unfortunately, I broke my forearm during a practice and was unable to live out that part of my dream.

    Club or not, if your child works hard and loves the game they play, someone will find them and give them an opportunity.

  7. My daughter did not specialize in 1 sport. She played basketball and softball growing up as well as in high school. She did not play on a travel or club team at all and probably played more basketball than softball. I know that college coaches prefer multi sport athletes over those that specialize. She is currently playing D1 softball. You absolutely do NOT need to play club or travel to be a college athlete. Just be willing to work hard at what you do. It’s actually killing high school sports!

  8. I think if they don’t start playing club around 5th grade (10 years old) it becomes impossible for the child to catch up! I see very good 12-13 year old players trying to “break into” a club and almost 100% across the board: their skills, footwork and field iq is lagging.
    Keep them in other sports for as long as possible…and make sure they actually have a real affinity for the sport before they dedicate so much of their time and your money. Also, if they want to stop playing (at the end of the season) LET THEM…they will probably find something else that they are really talented at and, therefore, devote the hours to becoming a master!
    And a big fat: HELLO: if you have any notion of your child playing in college, get him/her into the best club possible. Cause college coaches go to showcases NOT varsity games!
    -mom of 1 D1 athlete, 1 Academy Developmental player and 1 All American (cheerleader)…hey it’s an NCAA recognized sport now 🙂

    • Your success doesn’t guarantee the formula for others, nor does it preclude success if you don’t follow it. As a club coach I’ve had kids start with club for the first time as a U18 and make it on to a university D2 team. Alex Morgan was CUT from her club team when she first tried out as a U14. Don’t buy in to the hysteria. I’ve seen plenty of kids who played for years, and they never play college.


Leave a Comment.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.