Club sports should be revered nationwide by high schools, colleges, and the Olympic movement for helping enhance the young athlete and preparing him or her for competition at the highest level. As various factors have played a role in transforming club sports from high school athletics feeder source to the premier sport experience, forcing one high school athletic director to admit, “I think we might see a time when high school sports don’t exist and club sports completely replace it.”
While unlikely in the short-term, that statement symbolizes the pressure school athletic directors and coaches in traditional sports settings like public schools, are being challenged to keep up. Keep up with better-trained coaches; provide better equipment and facilities; meeting athletes and knowledgeable parents expectations. When athletes get used to winning and performing at a high club sport level, sometimes it proves difficult to step back into a less athletically challenging or successful setting. Of all the sports played in the United States, except for American Football, club sport programs are consistently better than the old traditional school or even university setting.
For many sports such as Fencing, Judo and Kayaking, club sports are the only opportunity. For athletes in other sports like All-Star Cheerleading, Gymnastics and Water Polo, the athletes avoid the school sport setting at the insistence of their club sport coaches or even their parents for a variety of reasons.
Other sports like Basketball, Volleyball, Baseball, and Soccer athletes usually compete in both settings, and often the school coach is also a club coach.
But for many in the school or traditional community sport setting, they see club sports hurting a variety of sports as bigger issues loom that could have a much more devastating impact on the future of high school athletics. Some think that that the seasons overlap, or the season is to long, or other weak excuses.
But is that really a problem? When Apple invented the Smart phone and it replaced flip phones did anyone cry that the old product was gone and the new product replaced it? If club sports improve athletic performance and give every kid the chance to compete at the appropriate level, in the sport they love, shouldn’t club sports replace the old system.
College coaches in Basketball, Volleyball, Soccer, Cheerleading, and some others, all ready recruit club sport athletes. WHY – Because they are better prepared and better coached.
Improved coaching, committed training programs, focused efforts on performance improvement, better and more regular competition, and more opportunities have propelled club sport athletes to the top of their school’s sports programs.
Parents and athletes love to compete in club sports for the primary purpose of getting better at their favorite sport and most importantly they get to do what the LOVE to do. Club sports offer an additional sense of community among athletes and parents, that frankly school sports have started to lose. If club sport teams want to pray on the field after a game – they can. If club sport athletes want to train till 8:00 at night or on weekends, they can. If they want to go to 52 competitions in one year, they can. Parents and athletes and coaches can decide what is best for their athletes without a quasi government school board or association telling them what is best for them.
Take an average mid size city with roughly four high schools, so four high school boys basketball teams. That’s roughly 50-70 players. One club program in that same city can field 100’s of athletes on as many teams as it needs with as many players that join, providing more opportunities for athletes of all ages to play. In High School, the below average athlete, is “riding the pine”. In club sports – they are playing the game. How is that not a better system?
The clash between club sports and school sports can be seen in Soccer all across the country. In California, some high school soccer coaches cannot schedule weekend tournaments because their players will opt to play for their club teams on the weekend instead. And in Florida, high school athletes participating in year-round soccer may elect to play for their club teams rather than compete in the high school sport that runs parallel to the club season.
In fact, U.S. Soccer has taken away some athlete’s right to choose. U.S. Soccer is restricting any athlete training at one of its academies from participating in high school sports, a move that doesn’t come as a surprise to many. While we don’t agree with taking away an athletes choice by mandate, you have to ask yourself what is propelling an NGB to take such a drastic action. Our opinion – coaching, training and opportunity.
Playing club sports exclusively is a choice that is understandably difficult to turn down. Parents want the best for their children. Give them the best opportunities. Some parents believe club sports are the best bet for a college scholarship for their child, which is simply not true. College coaches find the best athletes, whether they are in a club or in a school program. But club sports offers greater coaching, training, and chances to play – which leads to improved atheletic performance – which could lead to a scholarship.
Some individuals in the school sport setting will claim that club sports simply want to line their pockets or are merely for profit. Which is not true. Yes it cost to play club sports, but some club sports are non profit organizations and extremely affordable. They just offer more opportunity. And besides when has been making a profit a bad thing. More money means better equipment, better facilities, better coaches, more teams, and expanded offerings.
Others claim that kids who don’t participate in school sports miss out on unforgettable moments and playing in front of hundreds of friends and family. May be true but as club sports picks up popularity, the crowds get bigger and better. I’ve seen club sports events attract tens of thousands of fans in a single venue and kids build unbreakable bonds with athletes from all over the country.
And club sport athletes get the opportunity to travel to some great locations, out of their state and participate against the best, building memories that can’t be matched in a local high school venue.
THE COMING AWAKENING
While soccer remains the sport most positively impacted by club sports, there are other sports that are starting to reap the benefits, as well.
Club volleyball, basketball, wrestling, gymnastics, lacrosse, cheerleading, swimming, all have great club networls and programs. We need great club sports in ALL SPORTS. Some club sports have always done better as a club sport – Tennis and Golf in particular. All sports should start to follow that model.
Could it happen in football? Maybe. Another sport becoming big is 7-on-7 football. Players in certain areas of the country, focus on football year-round, and 7-on-7 showcase tournaments are a big part of what many high schools are doing. And as it grows in popularity, it will start to impact some school programs. And once again I ask, is that a bad thing. Typically when something changes, it changes cause what is being provided now, is not working or meeting the needs of those who want it.
And besides, despite the rapid proliferation of club sports, participation at the high school level remains strong. According to statistics, overall numbers have continued to increase for the past 20 years. And though football numbers have seen a slight dip, that is attributed to the concussion issue, participation is still there.
So how can we keep Club Sports on the rise:
- Offer a better product producing better results.
- Keep club sport programs open to athletes of all ages and all skill levels. NEVER CUT AN ATHLETE.
- Keep club sport programs affordable
- Keep club sport coaches well trained
- Have more clubs in more sports. We need more wrestling clubs, table tennis clubs, track clubs, jump rope clubs, cup stacking clubs, fencing clubs and many more.
- Work with local school sports programs. Don’t create problems, but don’t submit to their restricting expectations either.
- Continue to build better facilities and training programs. We need more ice rinks, more soccer fields, more cheer gyms, and more everything.
- Keep the parents engaged and expectations real
- Always remember – It is about the athlete. Some are very young athletes. You are building the future of our country by building and shaping these young athletes bodies, hearts, minds, and spirits. Keep it a positive experience.
Club sports are not just critical to the improvement of the sport, or the athletes, but our society. I have always believed that athletes make better citizens. Better leaders. The more athletes we have, the better we all will be.