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Navigating Travel Soccer Tryouts

Drew Scott playing goalkeeper for his Lincolnshire Lightning travel soccer team.

Drew Scott playing goalkeeper for his Lincolnshire Lightning travel soccer team.

It’s hard to tell what you’ll see more of while in your car this time of year, orange road construction barriers grinding traffic to a crawl or lawn signs dotting suburban landscapes promoting youth travel soccer club tryouts. The end of May always is a pivotal time for soccer teams on a number of levels. While many prepare for upcoming Memorial Day Weekend tournaments, travel soccer clubs are also gearing up behind the scenes for open tryouts – hoping to retain current players and recruit new ones.

Most area travel soccer clubs schedule tryouts during the end of May and beginning of June. It’s the tight time window of the year that sort of resembles a college fraternity or sorority rush, with families registering kids for one or multiple club tryouts to see which is best for them. Whether you’re new to the travel soccer routine or a decorated veteran of hitting the road for weekly practices and games in far-off communities, here’s a quick guide for navigating your way through tryout season.

Is travel soccer right for your player right now?

Joining a travel soccer club requires a significant investment in time and fees. It involves a commitment that typically spans the school year, with fall, winter and spring seasons of outdoor and indoor games and practices. Clubs may also offer additional camps and clinics over the summer. Regular attendance is expected at practices and games and younger players begin learning important values of teamwork, discipline and support for one another.

For those who love to play and always look forward to the next time they can lace up their cleats, playing for a travel team may be a logical next step. Other children may like soccer only within the context of a fall or spring season and for socializing with friends. In that case, signing up for a park district or “house” recreational league may be a better bet for the time being. It’s always good to first have a conversation with your player to see what he or she is thinking and as with any sport; everyone’s development timeline is different.

Which team should I pick?

Fortunately, there is no shortage of places for kids to play soccer. Beyond park district programs offering seasonal soccer leagues, many communities have at least one travel soccer club, if not more to choose from.

The club located closest to your home may be the logical choice, considering all the back-and-forth driving to practices and games, but it may be worth checking out more than one to team make sure its mission, goals and philosophy about player development are right for your player’s needs. Referrals from friends who can share their experiences of having their kids play on travel teams are also valuable

Most clubs have their own web sites full of information and a nice rundown of travel soccer teams with web page links can be found on the Illinois Youth Soccer web site: (http://www.illinoisyouthsoccer.org/clubdirectory.htm).

Don’t be shy, ask questions!

It’s not a bad idea to ask a club if they’re open to having your player take part in a practice before tryouts to check things out. If you get a chance to talk with a club coach or director prior to or at tryouts, don’t be afraid to ask plenty of questions! They are the experts and they should be prepared to field questions of all shapes and sizes.

Many parents ask about playing time, but I think a better question is about player development. Asking about coaching methods aimed at improving play covers players at all levels. For average-skilled players or below, coaches should be able to outline what practice techniques, drills and methods they employ to develop foot skills and improve overall ability. For highly-skilled and elite players, ask about what coaches do to build on their talent as well as goals players should have in mind to achieve the next level of play.

Be cautious of coaches or club directors who immediately point to their teams’ winning records, tournament victories and championship trophies when asked about player development. If you can’t get a straight answer about how they develop players, it could mean that their focus is on “star” players who can carry a team with others available to fill out the roster and play sporadically as needed by the coach.

A great resource for parents, coaches and all those interested in youth soccer is the U.S. Youth Soccer home page: (http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/). Doing a little homework ahead of tryouts can help you set expectations and better prepare you for deciding what level of soccer or which travel team is the best fit for your player. That’s a winning game plan to encourage young soccer players to run down the pitch for years to come.

See you on the sidelines.

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