The Value of ECL Soccer
Opportunities for young people to learn and play the game of soccer in our state and across the country have exploded in number and complexity in the last decades. Thousands of youth soccer players take to the modified soccer fields in our state’s communities to play in house league, small sided games at U7, U8, and U9. They are cheered on and coached by supportive parents, and the games are refereed by young people just a few years older than the players. The kids learn the joy of running on green grass (or field turf) and try with all their might to cooperate with their team mates in the simple object of getting a ball through the goal at the either end of the field. Once the fall season end in some areas, the players can move indoors for the winter to continue playing the game they are (possibly) beginning to love.
At U10, the young players begin playing other teams from other neighborhoods and clubs within their cities, towns, and communities. At U11, the young players begin to face a choice. Should they remain in the recreational soccer system, or should they move on to the select soccer club system? The recreational system will provide players with a team, a volunteer coach, a schedule of games to be played each fall, and the opportunity to maybe play in a city our regional tournament at the end of the season. Select soccer clubs provide the players they choose with paid coaches, multiple training sessions per week, multiple tournament opportunities, a league season, and the opportunity for state, regional, or national competition if the teams do well. The cost of travel, uniforms, and coaching are born by the parents of the players.
No matter what the path young players choose, the opportunities abound. Into this mix, at the U15 age level, comes high school soccer. High school soccer is its own animal. For the recreational players it is often a step up in terms of skill level and speed of play. For the select club players it is a chance to play in a different style, with a different group of players, and even in a different position on the field. For either player, it is the chance to play the game with the support of the of the school community behind them. It is an incredible opportunity for players to develop their skills and their sense of the game.
The high school season is compressed. Two weeks to put a team together out of whoever shows up and then two games a week for the next 8 weeks, three weeks of playoff games if the team stays in it until the bitter end. The team I coached this fall at University Prep played 23 games between September 6th and November 23rd. The game and the team take on an emotional meaning and quality that only the cast of the high school experience can provide. It is wonderful to behold.
Some of the best soccer players in our high schools will, however, never play high school soccer. High school soccer is, in many cases, the unwanted step child of the increasingly developed and demanding extended family that is the youth select soccer club system. Club coaches advise their players not to play high school soccer because of a perceived the lower level of coaching or play and the possibility of injury that might occur when playing at such a level. In some cases, club coaches simply forbid their players from playing high school soccer. I am always disappointed when I hear these claims of poor quality coming from club coaches and players. In my 18 seasons of coaching at University Prep, I have had plenty of select club players on my teams and some who have chosen or been asked not to play for our school. All of those select club players who have chosen to play in the ECL have loved their opportunity to play for their school and have loved the level of play and sportsmanship we have cultivated. Every player on my teams has, regardless of background in the game, found a reason to push each other and enjoy each other’s ability and growth as players.
What we have in the ECL is something special. The high school soccer found in the ECL is played and coached at a high level. The rivalries between schools in our league are healthy and provide strong rallying points for our schools. The success our league has enjoyed at the in WIAA State Tournaments in soccer should be envied by many. We have a strong tradition of respect and sportsmanship between teams both on and off the field. I am happy to be a part of the tradition and success that we have built together.
Boys and Girls Varsity Soccer