After spending way too much time on social media and speaking with multiple families, we decided to write an “opinion” piece on something everyone seems to be talking about. And before even starting to write, we already realize the topic is going to be somewhat “controversial”.
Over the past couple years, club tryouts have slowly been changing. The normal anxiety, stress, and uncertainty is still there. Players are still considering different clubs for the next year, coaches deciding next season’s rosters, and club’s organizing all those “fun” registration processes. But there is a major difference - the timing of tryouts.
For the past 2-3x years, the “start” of club tryouts may seem like it’s creeping forward. And in reality, it is. Traditionally, soccer tryouts in Southern Ohio have been reserved for a 2x week period; the week of Memorial Day and the following week. That window would allow for players to attend multiple tryouts over 7 days and evaluate different local club options. This year? For this year's club tryouts, player offers started going out for multiple clubs on May 15th, almost 3 weeks in advance for some age groups!
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?: To understand the big picture, we must first understand what has changed in the youth soccer landscape. First of all, many of these changes have occurred because of competition between two different soccer organizations; the USYS and the quickly growing US Club governing bodies. Previously, USYS was the soccer organization more in charge of the soccer environment; continuing to keep standards and procedures fairly strict (sometimes overly strict). But over the past 10 years, US Club has become the more popular governing soccer body; with many clubs switching over. The main reason behind the shift is US Club’s lighter restrictions; more flexible player/ roster carding options, looser league regulations, and the ability to offer tryouts anytime of the year.
WHAT IS THE HARM?: Lighter regulation can be good when trying to card players at short notice or allowing for more flexible league competition. But the major issue is the tryout process. What started with 1-2 clubs testing the waters and “skirting the rules” has led to 60-70% of clubs starting tryouts BEFORE seasons are even finished.
If you ask many club directors, you’ll find a majority prefer to hold tryouts during traditional time periods BUT have to hold earlier simply to compete with the larger clubs.
Why is this an issue? In the end, it is more about the club and less about the players. Think about it. Here’s a couple scenarios to consider:
SCENARIO A: Club A offers tryouts mid-May. A player from Club B (already committed to their current club team) decides to accept an offer from Club A. What does the remainder of the spring season look like for that player? Club B’s team? Club B’s coach? Does that player continue to work hard or do they check out? Does Club B’s coach continue to develop that player or do they start to write them off; knowing they already signed their “moving papers”? In a perfect world, both parties continue to work hard until the end of the season … but the world is far from perfect.
SCENARIO B: A player has decided to investigate other clubs for the next season. Club A has tryouts mid-May, Club B has tryouts the next week, and Club C decides to keep with the traditional time period. The player receives an offer from Club A the first week BUT has to make a decision within 24 hours and put a deposit down. How does that allow a player/ family to make a balanced decision? Many clubs will "allow" parents to delay decisions BUT in reality spots may also fill up during that time period.
A CLUB SOCCER ARMS RACE: The next big question is how early is too early for club tryouts? If May 15th is the current start of the process and a majority of clubs shift to that date (effectively disrupting 1/5 of the spring season), what happens next? Do major clubs start to shift earlier to regain their "advantage"?
This almost feels like an unnecessary “arms race” for club soccer. Everyone rushing to beat the others; even if the result is harming the same players we claim to want to help.
Many clubs will argue they are trying to get a “jump start” on fielding/ forming teams, but our argument of "how soon is too soon" still stands. Just because you CAN doesn't mean you SHOULD. When does the "jump start" get to the point of late April? Late March? Even if the argument is to get an early start on Fall, clubs already have a full 2 months to start the pre-season process if they hold tryouts near Memorial Day.
SO WHAT IS THE SOLUTION? The answer is somewhat idealistic, but allows for clubs to have time to showcase what they offer, allow team dynamics not to be disrupted mid-season, and continue to protect players’ & families’ ability to decide the best choice:
STEP #1 - A month of open training & club information: Many clubs already started allowing players to check out their training programs May 1st. This actually is a great idea. Not only does it give potential players time to check programs out, it also benefits the current players and teams. If programs constantly have players & families checking them out, they actively need to be making sure sessions are well run, organized, and attractive to families. During this time period, NO OFFERS can be made to any players OR clubs should be fined.
STEP #2 - Starting the week BEFORE Memorial Day, current players can be offered spots on the team if a coach wishes to. Some players may be offered a spot while others may not. But at least families can plan before official tryout weeks start. Players not offered a spot also know they need to attend multiple clubs to hunt for a team.
STEP #3 - Official tryouts week starts and players have until that following Sunday to accept offers. This is contingent on if other players accept spots earlier in the week. If Team A has 5x spots open, they can offer the spots to a certain number of players BUT should notify those players that there are multiple players competing for that spot. If they wait until Sunday, the spot may be awarded to another player. In our opinion, a minimal deposit DOES make sense to ensure a player does not claim a spot and then walk away to another team; taking a roster spot from possible players. BUT it should be during the week of official tryouts, not 3 weeks earlier.
IS THIS REALISTIC?: Does our suggestion make sense? After 10 years of coaching experience in multiple roles of club soccer (head coach, Girls Director, Club Director, etc.), we think it could be a good solution to help alleviate stress and bring the process back closer players' best interest. BUT it would require an governing organization being strict on club fines, creating a tryout timeline that applied across ALL leagues, and … clubs/ coaches being honest when talking to interested players.
In the end, are we being too idealistic? Perhaps. But when a majority of coaches are in this game to help the next generation of soccer athletes succeed, it seems disingenuous to be enacting procedures that actually do the opposite. Maybe a couple clubs start to dig their heels in and stick to what is best; even at risk of losing players? Maybe a governing organization officially highlighting their desire to keep tryouts in players’ best interest; not allowing clubs to bend/ break the rules. Just maybe … but what do we know? We're just a couple of coaches.