High School Soccer - To Play or Not to Play?
high school soccer

High School Soccer – To Play or Not to Play.

I’m just going to come right out and say it…

I didn’t want my daughter to play high school soccer.

For those of us with children playing at a high level, this is often a difficult situation.

I know – I hear some of you right now…the gasps…I see you shaking your heads.

But let’s not get critical of each other as our children make these decisions.

I consistently work to navigate this very confusing path of wanting to help my child live up to HER goal of playing soccer in college while simultaneously making sure it’s FUN and that the path is her own.

It’s been a path filled with many contradictions, for sure. I have learned from all of them – (and hopefully you have as well)!

The contradictions are everywhere! For instance….

I see the many positives of her playing high school soccer AND the negative affect it could have on her skill level and the toll the non-stop practice/game schedule could have on her body.

I see the positives of her training 4 days a week with her ENCL team as it keeps her busy and she loves it AND the negatives as the stress from school sometimes seems too much.

I see the positives of her traveling the country playing and competing AND the negatives on my check book.

I mean…the list goes on an on.

I know you all feel the youth sports contradictions as well – because I hear them in your emails and your messages.

At times the contradictions are PRONOUNCED, other times – SUBTLE….but regardless of their intensity – they are underlying to the entire youth soccer experience.

How do we reconcile these contradictions and make sure we are on the right path as a soccer parent?

Often times – we just need to pause and think and listen to that inner voice that guides us.

For me, last night – I just needed to listen to the ding of my email to understand what do to with my stress over the high school decision.

I was sitting on the couch thinking about my daughter playing high school and trying to get myself on board with it – reminding myself of:

• the great leadership lessons that will come from her playing,

• the social development,

• the unique camaraderie of a high school team,

• the soccer development that will occur from her playing different positions.

I sat there – closing my eyes – and was literally imploring myself to calm down with my emotion and simply focus on her having FUN….when all the sudden – my computer dinged with an email.

Guess who it was from?

It was an email from none other than Tom Farrey.

The parent education and engagement platform brought to you by the Soccer Parenting Association

THE Tom Farrey – the Emmy-winning sports journalist and author of the book: Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children  (A must read book if you haven’t read it!)

Tom is the Executive Director of The Aspen Institute’s Project Play. I most recently heard him speak at the Project Play Summit in May in Washington, DC. I had been introduced to Tom via email earlier in the day from a mutual friend – so he was simply making a connection.

Well – I took it as a sign – A BIG ONE.

I woke up this morning excited for her and I am completely supportive of her decision.

DONE!

For my daughter – the decision came down to FUN.

She decided that if she could play on the team understanding it will not be nearly as serious as her club team and HAVE FUN (not get frustrated) – then she should do it.

Personally – that’s just what I did in high school. Being a goalkeeper who played at a high level outside of my high school – I realized quickly that it was too much pressure for me (and therefore not FUN) to try to play in goal (plus we had a very good goalkeeper, Terry Suehr!)….I decided I could have FUN playing as a field player. I am a better person for my high school sports experiences (not to mention I was a better goalkeeper for all the field playing experience).

Let me be absolutely clear.

There’s no judgment here.

I have no issues with the parents of kids who choose to forego high school soccer for their club. Some of the girls in my daughter’s club have done just that.

Why?

Because it was the right choice for them personally given the environment in which they would be competing. They would not have FUN given their goals and aspirations and the high school environment.


Where did all my emotion come from when it came to her playing or not playing high school soccer?

There were a few reasons:

1.    I was worried that her skill level would drop off playing with teammates who are not as soccer-advanced as she is.

• This may happen a bit – but there are also many positives with the number of touches she will get on the ball, the game will slow down a lot so she will be able to see more and this may help her when she rejoins her club team to make different decisions because she will have learned to see new options.

2.    I was worried about the stress on her body with the rather non-stop schedule of games (too many games in too short a time) and practices (not enough time for recovery) as her ECNL team also has 2 showcases and Nationals this Spring/early summer.

• This is probably the most valid point – BUT SHE’S 15 and the training will be much easier/less stressful.

OKAY – I feel like I need a disclaimer before I put down #3. I know this is irrational and ridiculous and I’m only sharing it in an effort to be completely honest and help other parents out there work past their contradictions.

3.    I felt like if she decided not to play high school soccer it would demonstrate to her coaches – and the “world”- how serious she is about the game.

• Her coaches are not asking her to give it up (the U.S. Soccer Development Academy will in a couple of years) and they know how serious she is.

This last one is a perfect example of what happens when we get caught up in the “The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children.”

After dealing with my personal contradictions – I am thrilled for my daughter.

She walked out the door this morning with her backpack, her lunch, and her soccer gear and a big smile on her face.

She was excited!

Excited to be on a team with older girls and to meet new friends and to show off some of her hard-earned skill.

As a parent, I know there will be some challenges for her as she figures out the dynamics of the team and how to be a leader when she is the youngest. And I look forward to her growing from those challenges.

We had a great conversation over breakfast about being a leader, empathy and what it means to be a teammate.

Thanks, Tom Farrey – for the perfectly timed email!

I needed it!


About the Author Skye Eddy Bruce

Founder, SoccerParenting.com Skye is a former All-American goalkeeper, professional player and collegiate coach. She holds her USSF “B” License and USSF National Goalkeeper License and is an active youth coach, soccer parent and coach educator.

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  • Peggy says:

    Playing high school soccer for the elite players isn’t about getting better developmentally but having fun, doing something for your school and did I mention the FUN. Our sophomore plays high school soccer which is difficult because she plays in the fall since she goes to a Catholic school. We are lucky because both coaches are fairly understanding. She actually plays with other club players on her HS team and the speed of play, older players and physical nature of the game has helped her play quicker and be more decisive. My issue is with club programs/coaches dictating that players are not allowed to play high school. This seems like crossing the line a bit. Each kid is different and the decision to play HS ball should be with the player and parents not US soccer or their club team.

    • Skye Eddy Bruce says:

      Hi Peggy…I hear you when it comes to people dictating what our kids can/can’t do. I suppose it comes down to a choice – if the kids choose to play USDA (U.S. Development Academy) then they choose to not play other sports or play high school soccer. As a coach, I understand the issues at the highest level…As a parent – well, you all now know how i feel as a parent!!!

  • Laura says:

    This article came at the perfect time! My sons twelve, playing at the U13 select level for his club. He is the goalie. He loves playing on the field, but is really too big and too slow for his club team. He plays on the field for his school team. He attends a small Catholic School so his team is co-ed and most players have not played more than a season or two of rec ball. This should be fun for him, but because he takes soccer so seriously, he gets so frustrated when his other teammates do not. He had considered not playing for his school this year after his experience last year, but I talked him into it. Thanks to this article, I will not make that mistake again. It is his choice and he is a better judge of his limitations than I am. Thanks for the perspective.

    • Skye Eddy Bruce says:

      That’s great the article was a help. I’ve heard from lots of parents, like you, who were not sure about the decision. It’s very situational – and I think you’re right – definitely should be the player’s choice.

  • Mike Carroll says:

    Disclaimer, I work at a high school and have been here for 13 years. I also attended (although much earlier than him) the same high school that Clint Dempsey did. Clint Dempsey played high school soccer. The best soccer player that the school I currently work for plays for her high school team. She signed with an ACC team and will be playing for them next year. I think as along as there is an understanding between the student, the high school coach, and the parent of the student that there is no reason not to play high school soccer. Our girl’s coach played on a high level club and traveled the country when he was that age. He played collegiate soccer. He says that the best memories he has of soccer from those years were from high school soccer. He says that those were the kids he grew up with and sat in class with. He hung out with those guys. They are his life long friends. He says that his travel soccer experiences to him felt like a job. He remembers certain things, but he also says that he couldn’t tell you 80% of his team mates because they changed so often. He strongly recommends to all of his girls to play outside of high school. He makes accommodations for them to get to their other teams practices and games. What he asks for in return is that they play hard for the school team when they are there. They be good leaders and that they support the school team. From time to time we have had kids and their parents that looked down on school soccer and bad mouthed it and everything associated with it while they played. In that case that kid needs to remove themselves from the program. One quit high school soccer with the excuse that they didn’t want to get injured. They then tore their ACL in a club game.

    The reality of it is that very few kids play “elite level” soccer. While the high school team will not play in exotic locations or have fancy uniforms and bags I believe that is what most kids will remember about their soccer experience once their playing days inevitably end.

  • Alison says:

    Great post, and I can completely relate to having to make that decision 2 years ago! My daughter has had a great high school soccer experience and was starting keeper as a Freshman. This was a big deal for her to earn the respect of her upper classman teammates as well and learning to play on full-size football fields of turf! The one negative I have seen with high school soccer is the injuries. The girls encounter many unskilled and unsafe players as they play teams around the county and on my daughter’s club team, two players were injured with ACL tears leaving them to miss their entire club season and the opportunities to attend college ID camps and showcases their Freshman/Sophomore year- a critical time in the recruiting cycle. There were also several girls that had knee, back and ankle injuries, although not severe, kept them from coming back to club right away. As the club team approaches their Junior/ Senior year next year there is talk of the entire team not playing High School and opting to continue training as a club and traveling to other parts of the country to play. I will encourage my daughter to continue playing high school, but I can certainly understand why some parents would opt out.

  • Brad says:

    We have a decision to make next fall. My son started HS soccer as a freshman. It’s not that he is the greatest, but really about an opportunity to step in because he is more advanced than several upperclassmen. At issue is whether to continue HS or club in the fall. The HS coach is a nice guy, but didn’t play and doesn’t know the game, technically or tactically. He stepped in when needed and has been there since. There were several practices when a third or more of the team (Varsity and JV) was absent. By the end of the season he was glad it was over. He did not have fun. We are not sure what to do. He wants the camaraderie of playing with his schoolmates, but at the same time he takes it seriously and gets frustrated with the laissez faire attitude of teammates. Has anyone else experienced this?

  • Mike says:

    We have twin daughters getting ready to go into high school. They both have 9 years playing experience. 5 at rec and 4 at the comp club level. Both are very skilled players With a heart of gold. They play with desire and a humble spirit. both girls want to play club AND for their new high school team. They also want to play volleyball and last night at dinner said they wouldn’t mind trying lacrosse. That covers fall, winter and spring. The questions is: do we forgo club soccer so the girls can “experiance” everything high school has to offer or do we stick with club? They will go to college wether it be with a scholarship or bank of Dad. Maybe we do club soccer one more year and see how it goes? I just don’t know what the best decision is.
    Please help! If anyone has questions, pleas ask.

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