It is an ongoing discussion in the soccer world: does a club concentrate on recruiting as a priority? I believe it is crucial to recruit at the entry age but if the clubs model works, that necessity should tail off. Player development, however, should never stop.
There is no doubt that recruiting players at the starting age is a priority. That much has been proven. I am seeing young teams winning games by large margins in both regular leagues, SCDSL, CSL and Academy. It is a given theory that players learn 80% of their knowledge between 8 and 13 years of age. There is a large group of coaches with great recruiting skills, but little proven experience emerging at the younger age. I hear from coaches that the American parents are “soccer stupid”, and use winning as their success barometer, but what is their alternative? I think there is also something that is forgotten, going into any activity, it has to be fun and enjoyable all round. It’s not fun being on a losing team, and explaining to your young player that they have to go through all this pain, and sometimes ridicule from their peers, that all this will pay off five seasons from now, is not realistic.
Also emerging are teams at the older age groups that are winning games but when we study the roster there is minimal number of players that have been developed at that club. I’ve had players coming from Paso Robles and Las Vegas coming to play “for me”. We won a lot, but in the end it all came to nothing. Yes some players went onto play D1 and three locals went onto College but that would have happened without “the exposure”. I am hearing players looking for teams in their senior year desperate for that exposure, and being sold by coaches that this is their ticket to College. With the advent of College recruiting software and recruiting agencies this selling point of exposure is so old school and very dated. Of course, it is a box ticked if you play for a good club in a good League, but Colleges do not recruit teams. The only benefit of winning Leagues at the older age group is bragging rights for the coach, and perpetuating that recruiting machine.
So what does all this mean and how can a parent cut through the smoke and get their kids in a good place short or long term? My answer is to look at the coach who is working with their player. I believe I must put well-trained coaches at the younger ages to teach the kids the game — coaches with proven experience not just a slick line. Among our coaches are those with Academy experience at a big professional organization, an ex-College player who coaches at a D1 high school, a coach who took his own player from recreational soccer through High School, and coaches licensed well above the requirements of the League for that age group.
I have a deep concern that parents and players will not become aware of how hard it is to go on to play after high school, and will look for a quick fix. Being involved in HS sports, I believe there is a simple solution – good coaching beginning at a younger age. I see parents very focused on their kids’ school curriculum and the level of their teacher and school, but when a soccer ball is involved all that vetting goes out the window. I see potential College level players on teams with a “kindergarten coach” who happens to have a good sales pitch. In the era when we started coaching and playing in Southern California, there were great coaches at the under 10 group and great players were flowing out of Southern California. When I looked across the field at U11 coaches there was Ebert, AB, Armstrong, Koeman, and Balboa. They were all very experienced and it was definitely the golden era of player development.