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Club vs Rec Soccer

There is always a debate about “which program is best for my child” when it comes to choosing between non-competitive recreational (Rec) soccer and competitive recreational (Club) soccer.  Soccer players age 5-19 have two distinct options and there are advantages and disadvantages to both.  As a parent, it is good to be informed regarding the options and what may be best for your child. 

Recreational (REC) Soccer
Rec soccer is a great starting point for every soccer player.  Almost all great US soccer players have their roots starting with their local Rec soccer program, usually offered by the local Park and Recreation department. 

The big picture with Rec soccer is getting the children involved with the sport; get them out playing the game, learning about the game, and having fun.  The Rec version of soccer is a place where equal playing time is encouraged and the skill level of players will vary drastically.  There will be children of all ages that are just starting soccer and there will be those that have been doing soccer for a few years.  Rec soccer is traditionally not as big of a time commitment.  So, if you are new to the sport of soccer, the recreational program is a great opportunity to find out if soccer is for you.   

The big limitation with Rec soccer at all levels is that traditionally, a non-licensed or lower level Coach is coaching the team.  The person coaching may be a parent that has never played the game before.   Volunteers can do great things and I am not saying that they will not do a good job.   What I am saying is that if your child is a player that is excelling at the game, their learning may be hindered at the experience level of the person coaching them.   Also, a child who is driven to play soccer may get discouraged when their teammates do not take the game as seriously as they do.  This can create frustration and it might motivate the player to quit soccer all together.  The final draw-back to Rec soccer is that if a player wants to continue playing into their teenage years, it does not do the best job in preparing a young player for middle school and high school levels of play.  In order for a player to get better, they need to be constantly learning how to play the game and play it well.  Most Varsity level players have more advanced training so the Rec program may not prepare an athlete for playing at this level.

Competitive (Club) Soccer

Club soccer is the next level beyond Rec soccer and it is the competitive version of youth soccer in the US. 

Club soccer has more dedicated players that travel to local and national tournaments to compete at higher levels of soccer.  The coaching staff has typically played competitive High School or College level soccer and they have a wealth of knowledge to share with the younger players when it comes to player development.   One common miss-conception with competitive athletes is that they think college coaches are actively watching their high school games and tournaments for scouting purposes and that they only need to play high school soccer to get recruited for college.  Actually, the opposite is true.  Most college coaches scout the Club level games and tournaments because these events are during their college teams off-season.  When a college coach is recruiting a player, they will generally contact that player’s Club coach vs. their High School Varsity coach.  So, college visibility is the highest at the club level.


These programs typically cost more than the Rec option because each Coach that works with the children is a licensed soccer coach and there are fees associated with tournaments and traveling to various events.  Playing time may not be equal. 

Closing Summary

Overall, both options have their advantages and disadvantages.  The Rec program has traditionally acted like a feeder program for Club soccer.  When a player and parent determine they want something more advanced, they make the change to Club soccer.  The big question is when should a player make the change? 

In order to answer this question, the big questions every parent should ask are as follows:

How serious is your child taking soccer?  When you take them to practice, are they excited to go?  Do they kick the ball around at home or with friends?  Are you noticing that they are getting frustrated with teammates for not being more driven to win?  Are you noticing that they are bored with the same old drills and techniques?  Do you want them to play at the High School level or College level someday?

If you answered yes to the majority of the questions above, then it is time to seriously consider the Club soccer option.  I know that the fees are higher, but in the end you are getting what you pay for.  Your child will excel faster at the game and it will prepare them for any future higher levels of play.

Notes about the author:  Jennifer Briggs was a college soccer player at South Dakota State University and she is the Head Girls Soccer Coach at Mandan High School.  She started playing soccer at the age of 4 through Rec soccer and then played Club soccer through her early youth to teenage years.T