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High School Players Need Club Soccer

High School Tryout Dates Announced

Why play club soccer in high school?

Originally published March 2021.

This article explores the reasons why club soccer is important to a high school soccer player’s improvement and success, and busts a few myths about club soccer.

To do that, we asked Springfield area high school soccer coaches for their opinions on club soccer.  The responses feature coaches of teams at all three IHSA classifications who have had success at the sectional, regional, and state level.

Pat Phillips, the long-time boys and girls soccer coach at Springfield High School with a long list of coaching sectional and regional champion teams.

Chad Kutscher, the boys soccer coach at Rochester High School who also has coached three state champions in girls soccer

Chris Bertolino, the boys soccer coach of the Riverton and Tri-City co-op team known as the Hawknadoes, one of the area’s best small-school soccer programs. The team has won two regional titles in his five years at the helm.

Tommy Johnson, the second-generation boys soccer coach at Glenwood High School, following in the footsteps of his father Tommy Johnson Sr.

To get right to the point, when high school players ask if they should play club soccer, what do coaches say?

Bertolino has a short but to-the-point answer:

“Do it.”

The coaches all emphasize that playing club soccer is not a requirement to play high school soccer.  But in fielding the best team possible to compete against other schools, coaches play the best players.  And based on their experience, those players are the ones that play club soccer.

“I encourage it greatly,” says Phillips. “It is very hard for players that do not play club to get on the field during the high school season.”

“We have been the most successful in the seasons that our roster is full of club players,” adds Kutscher.  “I tell them that it's a must if they want to take their game to the next level.”

To understand why all the coaches believe in the benefits of club soccer, it is important to get past a few misconceptions. Some players believe you play club soccer only if you want to play in college.  Others associate club soccer with high costs and travel.

But recruiting and winning tournaments are not the core purpose of club soccer. You can find many soccer clubs with low fees and tournament or league schedules that don’t require overnight stays.  Soccer clubs adhere to a US Youth Soccer’s player development model which emphasizes “having kids play and learning from playing” according to Alfonso Mondelo, MLS Director of Player Development.  
“Players need to play,” says Phillips. “The more they play, the more comfortable they are on the ball and the more confident they become on the field.”

“The best things that high school players get from playing club are spatial awareness and adapting to possibly being in a different role,” says Bertolino. “They can also work on other intangibles like being a leader or competing in various ways.”

With IHSA restrictions on the length of season and number of practices and matches, there’s only so much a soccer player can get from playing on a high school team.  High school players typically need to work on many individual skills, such as “passing, trapping, dribbling, and just an overall understanding of the game.” says Phillips 

“Touch and technical ability are always something that can be improved upon,” says Kutscher, “But higher level skills, such as reading the game and awareness, are rarely seen in players that only play during the high school season.”

Johnson has a similar but more comprehensive view. “To be a complete player,” he says, “high school players need to work on being a good teammate, being consistent in training, speed, power, agility, knowledge of the game, work rate without the ball at their feet, effective communication, and confidence with the ball at their feet.

“It is important for them to be around the game as much as possible,” Johnson adds. “Playing and being around the game more often results in quicker on the field decision making, increased knowledge of the game, better footwork and simply a better understanding of the game.”

It is no surprise that many high school soccer players play other sports for their school.  Much has been written about the benefits of playing multiple sports.  Players from sports that are primarily played with your hands, such as football, basketball, and volleyball, often credit soccer for improving their footwork and spatial awareness.

“I think it is important for athletes to be multisport athletes if they desire to be,” says Johnson. “It is an important aspect mentally and physically for athletes to participate in other activities and sports if possible.”

The challenge of adding club soccer to a high school athlete’s schedule is finding the time when the other sports are in season.  Soccer coaches are aware of the challenge but say it can work.

“Multiple sport athletes can fit club into their schedules,” says Phillips. “But usually there will be some conflicts. Communication is the key to making it work.”

Bertolino observes the better players he has coached are athletes that play all year long, and not just soccer.  As for the conflicts, Bertloino says, “There will be conflicts most likely, but I’d hope that most coaches are understanding. Kids should be able to play as much as they want to play.”

“There has to be consistent and effective communication with players and coaches,” says Johnson. “Guidelines need to be put in place before the season starts if there is a conflict between the two sports.”

“When it comes down to it, it's really about the desire of the athlete,” observes Kutscher. “I have quite a few players that are multi-sport athletes.  During their seasons, they have been very busy, but they made it work because they want to make it work.”

In addition to the soccer season in the fall (boys) or spring (girls), IHSA allows 25 contact days during the summer.  Another common misconception is that the summer contact days are enough to substitute for club soccer. Bertolino says that most players he has coached love to do both school and club soccer during the summer. When there are conflicts, Bertolino encourages those players to stay with their club teams in summer.

Phillips concurs. “We use contact days, but it does not replace the value of club.”

“The level of play or instruction during those contact days doesn't come close to what you would get at a club practice or game.” notes Kutscher.

Most area high school soccer teams feature a mix of players who play soccer only with their high school teams and players who join soccer clubs for additional competition, training, and exposure.  And in the end, the club players stand out.  

“The most intelligent players, players with a high soccer IQ, have been club players,” says Bertolino. “They get more exposure to different coaching philosophies, roles, experience, game time, and different ways to learn how to compete.”

Phillips agrees. “My most technical and highest game IQ players have all played club,”

“Club soccer elevates a high school player's game,” adds Kutscher. “Training and playing against the best players around will do nothing but make players better.”

SASA High School Boys Tryouts November 8th

Tryouts for High School Boys will be held at SASA on Wednesday, November 8th.  New 2009  freshman to 2005 seniors are invited to try out.  2009 Boys will be evaluating the birth year as a whole at HS tryouts and proceed with teams. 

Please register for tryouts by clicking on the link to the left.