Chasing Greatness

How to Play High School and Club Soccer

A Conversation Starter For Parents and Players.
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How to Play High School and Club Soccer

Being a High School Soccer player that also plays club soccer can be tricky depending on where you live and how the club you play for manages its yearly schedule.

Some clubs will offer, say, Sunday practices during the High School season while others will not engage their players until late October to early November.

Either way don’t let this stress you out!

Remember your club is a developmental program. It’s sole purpose is to help you develop as a player in an effort to aid you in your personal soccer aspirations.

I’m writing this article with your best interest in mind. This is a conversation starter alone. There is no possible way to walk through the intricacies of playing for your school and for a club, no matter the level, in 1600 words.

Your High School and club team will be demanding of your time. In most cases neither will want to budge.

In the end, the decision belongs to you and your family as to the level at which you commit to your club during the competitive Fall High School season, post season and off-season. The caveat to this is the current rules of engagement of Developmental Academy (DA) club teams which restrict you from playing High School soccer outside of case by case waivers. DA teams are not what we are talking about here.

Here are some ways to prioritize and make the best decisions based on your individual situation.

There are several questions that need to be answered in making choices as to when to re-engage with your club for practices and or games and tournaments.

What are the physical demands on you from your High School Coach?

If you have a coach that likes to turn the screws at every practice and pushes your team mentally and physically, well then that’s another problem all together. There needs to a flow, a cycle if you will, of intensity and selection of drills to keep you and your teammates firing on all cylinders. This also includes tapering and rest.

But I digress.

If this is example is similar your situation, then I recommend getting rest when you can so any additional club practices during the High School season should be avoided.

How much playing time are you getting?

If you’re a starter that gets significant minutes during every game then rest will again be your best friend. Prioritizing rest and recovery will keep you on the field and reduce the chances of experiencing an overuse injury.

Remember: A lack of pain doesn’t always equate to health. Like a volcano waiting to erupt…too much is too much and you may not realize it until it’s too late.

Conversely, if at this point in your still young career you’re getting minimal time on the pitch during matches then attending club practices as soon as they are made available to you will be a good idea. Not much rest and recovery is needed when there is a lack of volume and game intensity unless it’s from the emotional and psychological toll of being a student-athlete.

A caveat to this point is how your High School Coach approaches conditioning during the season for starters versus non-starters.

If your High School Coach understands and manages load and intensity dependent on the amount time players get on the field, then you have a decision to make regarding any extra on field training with your club. For example, if you tend to the ride the bench you should be engaged in conditioning with more volume than the starters or players who see significant time.

How are you feeling? Really.

You need to be smart about energy level, soreness, injury and overall health. Yes, there are times too “push through”. I can’t tell you when those times are versus taking the rest and recovery you need as well as making a positive contribution to your team.

Do not discredit the totality of demands that are placed on any student athlete. It’s not just about schedule. The mere fact that there might be an opening in their schedule only speaks of time allocation. The mental and emotional effort given towards academics, social life and home life all add up to fatigue that must be managed.

If there’s honesty in the decision-making process, it will be the right one.

Take your time.

At the end of the day, the High School soccer season is long and arduous. It’s a grind. To that end, coming off of last year’s club season and, if you’ve done it right, 3 to 4 months of off-season strength and conditioning you’ll be ready for a break. You deserve a break and so does your body.

Therefore, take your time and return to Club soccer when you are ready mentally and physically. The club matches you might play in the late Fall after the High School season ends don’t have much relevance. I repeat, your club experience is about your development not about wins or ranking.

The competitive Club season is in the Spring. The season will be lengthened into Summer IF your team qualifies to move on to regionals or nationals.

Have your priorities straight.

During the season it’s your HS team and your teammates. If you’re constantly tired and sore from outside influences you need to change your plan. It is to your detriment as well as your team, teammates and Coach if you are trying to do it all.

Your  number one priority is your health and long-term development first and foremost.

Much of what I have mentioned so far deals with either the High School season or in the immediate future, as well as during the postseason.

Keeping in mind the year-round nature of soccer, know that you must cycle your volume, intensity and of training. This includes having a dedicated off-season for strength and conditioning,

That takes care of club soccer practices during the High School soccer season, but what about Fall club soccer tournament play?

Once again, you need to be smart while taking an inventory of yourself including:

What’s your role – If you are a Sophomore starter getting significant minutes in every match during this season than opting out of a club tournament that falls within a few short weeks of your last High School game will be the path to take.

Conversely, if you’re a player that rides the bench for the better part of 80 minutes, then from a physical standpoint a post season tourney with your club team can benefit you.

Year of High School – Freshman through Senior year a lot can happen and change. Personal goals, ability, exposure to college coaches, height and weight and more. Take the totality of who you are, where you are physically and mentally and where you want to be. Write it all down. Now weigh out the value of a Fall club tournament against all of it.

Future goals – Do you want to play in college and at what level? When I ask this question to parents and players, in most cases they either don’t know or are unrealistic. For more on scholarships and what that looks like (or doesn’t) you can check out this little guide I put together with some of my pals in the industry called GAME PLAN: The Student Athletes Guide to Scholarships.

Are you currently talking with coaches that will be attending the tournament you’re contemplating…and do they have interest in you? If not, you need to consider the economics and time required to attend that tournament.

Why’s that?

Well, here’s a bit of truth about recruiting and tournaments.

These days, the trend of interested College Coaches is to have you attend their own ID clinics or camps. It’s more cost effective, they don’t have to travel and they can zone in on the players they want to evaluate.

No matter what you’ve been told (or sold), College Coaches do not attend large club showcase tournaments to find a player. They are not scanning the fields to discover their next starting center back. When and if they do attend a tournament, they go to see specific players they have already had communication with.

This brings me to my next point.

Coaches cannot recruit or contact Freshmen and Sophomores. Therefore, your reasons for attending the tournament as a Freshman or Sophomore should be focused on other goals. The NCAA could augment their rules on this as they have in the recent past. You must know that the most recent changes have not gone toward contacting your earlier in your career, but later.

Team building and competitive play are both great reasons to attend a Fall club tournament once all the other factors have been considered and you believe it’s the right decision for you.

As a performance coach and soccer coach for over 2 decades as well as a parent of both College and High School players I can tell you soccer tournaments can be a blast. The meals, hotel pool, plane rides and overall comradery can be so fun.

HOWEVER, when either my boys or the athletes I consult and coach have attended it was not for these reasons alone.

Team building can happen in your hometown at a bowling alley. Team dinners can happen at your local family restaurant. Team chemistry should be built over time during every practice session.

As you can see the waters are a bit muddy. There’s no clear view here.

There are too many factors to consider and every individual player has their own unique circumstances.

I leave you with this.

This is about you. This is about what is in your best interest now and in the future.

More isn’t always better.

Better is always better.

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