“Honestly, it’s the parents who want HS soccer.” Club coach describes his view of DA vs High School

“Honestly, it’s the parents who want HS soccer.” Club coach describes his view of DA vs High School

I recently spent time with a high level girls soccer team who joined the girls’ DA in the inaugural 2017 season. This team is full of NCAA D1 commits, and even a few US Soccer National Team selectees. The girls began their high school years in the ECNL (Elite Clubs National League).

A top-level club coach offers insight into DA vs High School soccer

I asked the coach how the girls seem to feel about having to miss their junior and senior seasons of high school soccer.

“The girls have handled it really well.  US Soccer and the DA came in and made sure the girls and the families understood that sacrificing high school soccer would be worth it, and they’ve all bought in.”

“The boys’ DA has been around for a long time, and you’ll see players leave the DA during their senior year to play that one senior season of high school soccer, but that’s not happening on the girls’ side. I thought the girls would have a harder time missing high school soccer. A lot of people did. But the girls have all seemed to buy into the system. I think as the years go on and the DA keeps improving, even more players will not worry about missing playing for their high schools.”

The coach then added something very interesting when he said,

“Honestly, it’s the parents who miss high school soccer more than the players.”

Later that day, I spoke with a girl who is in the middle of her senior year. I asked her how she feels about not being able to play high school soccer.  Her high school consistently fields a very strong girls’ soccer team.  She stopped to think for a bit, and said, “Yeah, I miss it. But I don’t miss it as much as I thought I would. The level of training and the level of the games we play with DA is not even close to high school. I understand why the DA doesn’t want players leaving for a few months to go play high school soccer.”

Question to parents: “Do you miss high school soccer?”

Her parents were nearby, so I asked them, “Do you miss high school soccer?”

Their answer was emphatic and instant, “YES! High school soccer is so fun. We really miss it. In a perfect world, she’d be able to do both, but we understand.  High school soccer is really fun, though.”

The players response compared to the parents’ response, combined with the coach’s insight, made me stop and think.

These players didn’t seem to miss high school soccer as much as the parents do.   Is it because the parents grew up in a world where high school sports were a rite of passage, and they don’t want their kids to miss out on such a wonderful experience? Possibly. 

Whatever the reason may be, the coach may be correct when he said that it’s the parents who are the driving force in the DA vs High School battle. This debate is not dying down, that’s for sure!


  • comment-avatar
    Patrick 4 years

    Basic human psychology, when presented with a reasonable alternative, it is easy to not miss the original option. If I’m given sugary soda instead of candy, over time, the candy becomes less important.

    Likewise for the players, if they love soccer, they won’t miss playing for the high school, but they do miss an unique and valuable experience that makes them well-rounded and socially advanced.

    What is missing when we create an elite-athlete scenario, like described in this article, is the camaraderie and learnings gained from the high school experience. Too often these days we push children into “adult” competitive levels of sports, and kids lose the chance to build a unity with those they are schooled with. With the HS experience, kids learn to have loyalties beyond just competitiveness which make them well-rounded members of society.

    It is too frequent that “elite” athletes get to adult stages in life and they cannot function like normal humans, making bad decisions, being physically or verbally abusive, not able to manage finances and quite frankly lacking optimal social skills.

    Yes parents love HS sports. Selfishly, it is fun to watch, to have rivalries and to bring parents of the kids together – build a community – it’s been that way for decades. But beyond the parental selfishness, HS sports help create an extended family, where there is care given to not only one’s child, but for the community of students. Where competitiveness is shared among the highly skilled and the less skilled. Where the team is more than a team but part of something bigger, where non-players can feel like they are part of the team and success. You just don’t get this with Elite and DA programs.

    Maybe if the HS sport experience was emphasized, we’d see less school shootings, drug use, and unfortunate accidents and create better humans out of the kids.

  • comment-avatar
    Sam Gordon 4 years

    So you talked to one coach, one player, and one set of parents, and decided that’s how everyone (or at least a majority) feels? How many kids are in a DA program nationwide?

    • comment-avatar
      Derek Mays 3 years

      Great point Sam!!

    • comment-avatar

      Hi Sam. This was one coach’s view, yes. I did not assume or say that it is the view of the majority. I try to present views from all sides to help families make well-informed decisions on their own.

  • comment-avatar
    Michelle 4 years

    1. If you want to know why parents said that high school soccer was fun, why not ask that follow-up question? Presuming that the reason that the parents think high school soccer is fun is because their mid-level players become superstars is presumptuous, and maybe dead wrong! I have a high school soccer player who has also played club since U9. The traditions of club and high school soccer are markedly different. In club soccer, there is no camaraderie of wearing your jerseys to school on game day. There is no turn out of your high school classmates, in groups, wearing high school gear, to cheer you on and make signs for big games. There is minimal playing in the full high school stadium under the big lights. There are no varsity letters. There’s no big/little soccer sister traditions where varsity players are paired with JV players to form bonds between those teams. In club soccer, we do not elect team captains voted on by the team. There’s no soccer banquet with awards and a slideshow and speech is made by one player about another. There is no senior night. There’s no yearbook photo. There’s no announcements of your team’s performance on the schools news program. There’s no yearbook photo. There’s no announcements of your team’s performance on the school’s morning news program. Need I continue? All that said, I’m completely on board with the idea that a talented soccer player cannot take every opportunity as some are mutually exclusive. Each talented player who wants to move on must make tough choices. That choice may very well be sacrificing high school soccer in favor of something that will further their career track. I do not dispute that statement; I dispute the idea that parents say high school soccer is fun because their child will perhaps be seen to perform at a high level in a more mediocre game. Please take note that parents care about more than just wins. They care about their child’s social development, their high school experience, and what soccer may mean to that child off the field.

    2. In making the comment that a “mid-level” player may be a “super star” on the high schoolsoccer field… Did you just indicate that DA is offering positions to mediocre players?

    3. OF COURSE The parents are the driving force in this battle, and any battle involving the established soccer administration. You’re talking about kids under 18 years old with a soccer future hanging in the balance. You expect them to have the maturity to fight grown-ups and the established system while hoping they’re not burning the bridge that leads to their own future opportunities? This, after we have taught them to respect and not dispute their coaches, and referees, and at an age when they do not have the legal authority to even sign their own papereork to play (or not play) DA, high school, or club. Unreasonable. Parents are their kids’ advocates until they are old enough to advocate for themselves – so you can expect to hear parents weigh in on this issue and others.

    • comment-avatar
      Hooks 3 years

      I agree that the elite of the elite should probably be focusing on rigorous development and forgo high school. But how many thousands of kids are in the DA? Are they all the elite of the elite? Are they all going to make a national team? Of course not. So why deny all them the chance to play high school? Money maybe?

      • comment-avatar
        Harden 3 years

        I agree that most of these kids are obviously not going to make the national team. I think the point is that high school and club soccer should be allowed to co-exist during the same season. With very very few exceptions high School soccer is two or three levels below club soccer. When you force kids to play high school soccer or be inactive for 3 months you lower the level of what is coming out of the country when it comes to soccer players. I think the point that needs to be emphasized is that kids that want to play club the whole year should not only have to go to DA but should be able to continue to play club at a much higher level than high school. If a kid wants to play high school let them play high school, if a kid wants to play club soccer let them play club soccer. One of the reasons DA is so expensive is because they are the only ones they play year round. If you had clubs allowing boys and girls to play fall and spring when they are at a high school age less kids would be forced to go to DA.
        I think the main issue is money but for high schools more than four clubs. If all your best players stay at club and what you get are division 3 and 4 players playing high school, varsity eventually the program will peter out.
        I say eliminate the restriction and let players choose and see what happens and not tell players in spring girls rule play high school soccer.

  • comment-avatar
    Harden 3 years

    Here is my family’s experience with HS Soccer:
    My daughter has been a D1 player since the age of 12 and had the opportunity when the age “brackets” were changed to “year group” to play one extra year of club (U16) during her HS freshman year. This year she was forced to go to HS soccer in the spring and made varsity yet has been very disappointing in the quality of coaching and overall play, to the point of our family thinking if DA (with it’s enormous expense) might be a better option next year.
    It is painful to watch HS soccer (at least here in KC) after a State Cup runner up season in club and it is frustrating for the girls who come from high level teams to play for coaches with limited knowledge of the game and the tactics.
    While I understand the whole teammate/camaraderie angle that players might get from HS soccer, our experience has been the opposite and it’s actually the club girls who still get together on weekends and hangout while the social interaction of the HS team has been very limited.
    The problem is that Girls DA here in KC is the pay to play model at its finest, with parents having to pay about $15000 for their kids to play year long at a high level (while Sporting KC subsidizes their boys teams). So what is a parent to do?
    As a military brat living outside the US and played club soccer in the lower divisions of professional teams HS soccer never crossed my mind and kids who played in HS were the ones that could not play under a professional club’s sponsorship. The idea that kids have to chose HS or Club because there are “rules” that prevent a kid from playing club for me are outrageous. If HS is so popular and kids would never chose club over it, then why don’t we continue year long U17, U18 teams instead of only allowing them to play together for 6 months? Let’s see if HS soccer wins out. I know that most club parents I know would love year round club soccer instead of HS but cannot sustain the financial burden of DA.
    While most club soccer is already pay to play and puts some financial burden on parents, the fact that if you want to play year round club you have to play DA is just one more kick in the shin.
    Interestingly enough I head a commentator a few weeks ago mention that as women’s soccer grows more and more popular in other countries that for years only sponsored boy’s soccer, they expect that the advantage US women’s soccer has had to shrink rapidly, to the point that we will no longer be a powerhouse in about 10 years. One of the factors sited was the fact that now top clubs in the world (and even in some developing countries) now sponsor girls soccer teams year round and the silly rule of half club / half HS does not exist. These players train under higher standards and play against quality opponents the entire year while here in US top coaches lose their players after about 4 or 5 months. It might be one opinion out of many but there is some merit.

    • comment-avatar

      Harden, check out this post from the head of Talent ID for US Soccer: https://www.soccernation.com/talent-is-overrated-a-comparison-of-three-of-the-worlds-top-gu17-strikers/ She sees exactly what you describe (the rest of the world catching up), and she’s working VERY hard to make sure the US stays at the top of Women’s soccer. But it’s a battle when it comes to convincing parents and players that they need to make choices that match their goals. Stay tuned for more articles all about that — I just had a long conversation with her as she was waiting for her flight to Denver for the DA showcase. We’ve got some great articles coming out in the coming weeks that will be very educational and enlightening for families and players who want to be part of future USWNT global success.