Over the last few years I have been asked this question on multiple occasions by many parents from different towns and clubs. Should my son or daughter play high school soccer? In the United States the soccer pyramid system is based on a pay-to-play model so parents are constantly looking to make the best investment in their players and maximize their learning experience. Unfortunately, we don’t have a system in place where we can allow the ones who are less fortunate financially to play and compete at the higher levels. There are few player who make the academy level and they get financial help from the clubs but that number is very low.
Once players go into 9th grade, they have a tough decision to make and are forced to choose between high school soccer and pre-academy club level. On a brighter note, they can choose to play premier soccer and still be competing for their high school team. Over the last decade, soccer has become a 10 months sport where many players have specialized at early ages and in some cases turned it into a 12 months sport. I personally don’t support the early specialization as I was a product of it myself and I do believe that I could have benefit more if I didn’t specialized at such an early age. I started playing soccer at age 4.
High school soccer games should be open for the academy players as well and vice-versa. For the most part this will help players develop and provide them with different environments where they need to learn to adapt quickly. They need to play in order to improve and by allowing players to do both, it will accelerate their development process. Organizations, clubs, high schools and coaches need to work together and not against each other. We divide our players development in so many ways that parents are often scared and confused in knowing what’s best for their kids. We need to create our own culture, offer options and platforms where we can all work together if we want to see our players happy and developing to their best abilities.
I will share with you 5 reasons on why you should play high school soccer. I am not telling you what to do, I just want to share my thoughts so you can think about it before making a decision you will regret.
1. Represent Your Own Town
It’s a privilege to have the opportunity and play and compete for your town’s team. It gives you pride and purpose for what you do and makes you feel recognized for your effort. You work hard on and off the field to get the respect you deserve form those around you. For some players, this will be the highest level of play throughout their soccer careers. You will play in front of your family and friends where you constantly look to prove them how much you have improved. That’s how many players get their adrenaline going.
2. The Rivalries
The crowds and the atmosphere is often very intense. Some crowds are bigger and some are smaller based on the division the high school competes in. Players and coaches like to win but also do the fans. There is drama on the sideline, competition on the field and everyone is cheering for their favorite team. Players may be friends with each other but when they are on the field competing on different teams, they all got something to prove. They will play hard against each other, no matter what. There is tension, talk, drama, pressure and of course lots of preparation behind the scenes. It’s always fun to play or even watch a game where you know that the teams will go at each other with all they’ve got.
3. High Intensity And Physical Demands
There are many premier and town team players who are playing for their high schools. Just like there are players who only play for their high school. The intensity and physical demands are very high. In some cases there are 9th and 10 grade players who play for their Varsity teams and compete against Juniors and Seniors who are physically more mature and developed in most cases.
I have watched many high school games for boys and girls over the years. I have seen some great coaches where they try to play a possession game and build up from the back, create chances through the middle and try to find the open space in the attacking third to capitalize on their opportunities. Also, there were coaches who played long balls, very direct and their main focus was on winning at any price. They don’t care if they win ugly or nice. They play their way no matter what. The style of play for a team can be different but the speed of play is always high. The high school players are fit, ready to run and if they are coached the right way, they will aim to play a technical game based on possession. This will help players develop at a higher rate rather than coaching them to kick and run.
4. The Camaraderie Will Help Players Build Character
Not sure why the US Soccer Development Academy doesn’t allow players to play both, academy and high school soccer at least for Freshman and Sophomores. I know the styles of play can be different but it takes away the camaraderies and the high school fun and social experience. The quality of academy soccer is far better than most of the high school’s but the experiences are unique. Players remember how you make them feel and the high school environment is one of those places that will remain remarkable. Let’s hope that’s in a positive way.
When players train and compete in a team environment, they build friendships, camaraderies and in many cases become friends for life. High school soccer gives them that experience and nothing can match the social aspect of it. Those kind of relationships help shape and build student-athletes’ character where they also take great pride in representing their schools. I personally don’t want players to have regrets about not trying to play high school soccer. At least, try it and see how it goes.
5. No Cost To Play In High School
Well, parents pay the taxes but once you make the team, all expenses are payed. If you truly want to play at college level, coaches and scouts can also watch your high school games as well. Just make sure you do well and you shall be notice as long as you are active with your recruiting process. Start by creating your free sports resume here. Academy players sometimes give up the high school experience for the academy one. And if they think that;s the best decision for them, I am cool with that. I just hope they see a lot of playing time and everything works out for them.
Playing academy is great and unfortunately not many players can compete at that level. It’s a lot of training, traveling and big competition amongst players for playing time. High school soccer is free, intense, allows you to play against older players and you travel less.
This country has many talented players who can’t afford to pay for elite soccer. When that changes and there is a better system infrastructure where the less fortunate financially have a chance to compete, then we will be able to cultivate and produce more talented players.
Playing high school soccer gives you the option to be part of a premier club as well. You get the best of both worlds. My advise is to try and play high school soccer for at least one year, give your best effort and make the best of your experience. I am sure you will enjoy the social life that goes with it. Don’t say NO to high school soccer because you are limiting your options and take away all the fun that you could have.
If you decide not play high school soccer because many college coaches are not watching, you are making a mistake. Like I said earlier, do well in your high school games and college coaches will come as long as you contact them and you are persistent with your recruiting strategy. If you are 14 years old or you are in your 9th or 10th grade, I highly recommend you try to play high school soccer. Once you are in 11th or 12th grade and you truly feel like high school soccer has nothing to offer twoards your development, then feel free to join an academy club full time. Just see all your options and choose wisely.
There are less than 2% of high school players who will go on and play in college. Just try to enjoy your high school experience, learn and grow from it.
One day you won’t be able to turn back time, and you will look back and maybe you wished you could have done things differently. Try to do the right thing now and have no regrets. If you give high school soccer a try and you don’t like it, then you can decide without any regrets.