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Frequently Asked Questions - Youth Soccer Roadmap

What are the youth soccer options for my child?

In the United States there are two levels of youth soccer: recreational and competitive (aka "travel or select club").

Recreational soccer is where all youth begin playing. This is traditionally a Fall season sport in Florida. There are programs offered through your city, school or community programs such as the Boys & Girls Club or the Y.  Players learn soccer from volunteer parents or community coaches, with "equal" playing time for all.    

After a few years of playing at the recreational level, as a parent you will know whether advancing to a higher level is right for your child and your family.  If not, there is plenty of excitement found in playing recreational soccer. 

Some city recreational programs often are affiliated with organized national soccer associations such as US Club, US Youth Soccer Association (USYSA), American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), etc.. where there is an agreed upon practice of equal playing time for youth recreational participants. This is necessary for  player development and the pure joy of playing. Most city programs are not members of these association and you will find most of the volunteer coaches and administrators lacking knowledge of accepted practices, which they can only learn about through these types of national associations.  It is unfortunate,  but there is little that can be done unless you are willing to volunteer your time to reshape and educate those involved in your particular community or school program.  Middle School soccer teams are considered recreational as well.  Fall recreational soccer is the most popular season in Florida; however, some cities and schools offer Winter seasons as well. 

An advantage of a city program being affiliated with one of the national organizations is a national championship series.  AYSO for instance has several regions in Florida where the various city leagues send a champion to compete. The winners of these regions are invited to play for the AYSO national championship held each summer.  It is a great event with some of the best recreational soccer being played.  The USYSA through their state affiliates, FYSA in Florida; offers Region Cup (March) competition for recreational teams. 

Competitive soccer is the next level of youth soccer.  This includes both High School and what is commonly referred to as "select, travel or club" soccer leagues.  The traditional season is Fall and Winter; however, many clubs play year-round, mixing a combination of field and indoor soccer. The quality of play is strongest in the travel club leagues.  High School soccer in many areas of the country is a mix of recreational and competitive players.  Equal playing time is usually not a consideration for most coaches, teams and clubs in competitive soccer, hence the term "competitive".  You compete for both a spot on the team and playing time.  

Soccer has the most organized and integrated youth competitive (travel) network of all the sports played in the United States today. There is just one governing body for soccer in the United States, USSF ("The Federation"), through licenses (affiliations) two main affiliates flow, USYSA and US Club.  This allows for greater control and ease of implementation.  In contrast, sports like football, baseball, softball, volleyball, basketball and many others are highly fragmented with competing infrastructures, which do not produce a unified state, regional or national championship.  Sports like football have city or sometimes county travel leagues depending on what area of the country you live; however, they do not have state, regional or national travel leagues.   Football recruiting is done at the high school level and through special combines and camps.  Lacrosse is a sport still in its infancy and the jury is out whether US Lacrosse Association will be able to quickly organize a travel league infrastructure.  Compare this to soccer where 100% of the college recruits are selected through the travel club network, not high school.

High School soccer in Florida is sanctioned through the FHSAA and is officially a Winter season. The season runs from October through the middle of February. High School teams compete first within their FHSAA assigned districts (local) as well as non-district games. At the end of the season they compete to determine a district champion. The two district finalists advance to a state region tournament with the winners advancing to compete for the state championship.  Throughout the course of the season, some high schools travel nationally to face the best competition. This is becoming more of an accepted practice amongst the best high school teams.  There is no National Championship for high schools at this time.  In Florida, the championship series consisting of district, regional and state competition is referred to as the FHSAA state championship series.  Outside of Florida many state high school associations offer Fall soccer only.

The other area of competitive soccer is known as "travel or select" soccer for players between the ages of 7-18.  There are three national organizations for travel soccer, USYSA, US Club and Super Y League (Nike).  The largest is USYSA .   Every state has an affiliate of USYSA. In Florida that affiliate is FYSA (Florida Youth Soccer Association).  FYSA sanctions or approves leagues throughout the state for both boys and girls.  In order to play in any FYSA sanctioned league, you have to sign up with a club approved to play in the league.

In South Florida the FYSA sanctioned girls travel soccer league is FLUGSA and the boys league is SFU.  Both are FYSA sanctioned leagues.  A list of the member clubs is found on the official FYSA league web site.  Each club offers as many teams, both boys and girls, as they can find competitive players in different age groups.   Each year, open tryouts for clubs is held following the FYSA State Cup tournament around the last week of May.  Most clubs only offer two (2) tryout dates per team so register early and keep in mind these dates usually overlap which means you might be only be able to tryout for one club during this period.  That said, teams which are in need of players will allow you tryouts on an individual basis until their team roster fills up.  It is imperative that you attend during the "open" tryout periods before the rosters are determined.  It is possible to find a team after that but the choices narrow quickly.  Your best bet in your first year is to find a local club with a team in your child's age group.  A local club offering both girls and boys travel soccer is Fort Lauderdale Select FC.

The age groups are U9-19.  (Under 9 on Aug 1 - Under 19 on Aug 1). 

Example: August 1, 2008 Travel Soccer Age Requirements

U-9 born between 8/1/1999 and 7/31/2000 U-10 born between 8/1/1998 and 7/31/1999
U-11 born between 8/1/1997 and 7/31/1998 U-12 born between 8/1/1996 and 7/31/1997
U-13 born between 8/1/1995 and 7/31/1996 U-14 born between 8/1/1994 and 7/31/1995
U-15 born between 8/1/1993 and 7/31/1994 U-16 born between 8/1/1992 and 7/31/1993
U-17 born between 8/1/1991 and 7/31/1992 U-18 born between 8/1/1990 and 7/31/1991

All clubs are not created equal, so check them out during their traditional season.  Attend practices and observe. Once you join a travel club team, you will have some obligations which you need to take seriously.   Attendance at all practices and games is a near must, even for the youngest age groups.  Lots of money and time have been committed to developing these clubs for the benefit of the players, so do not abuse this privilege if you are fortunate to make a team.  There may be tournament travel obligations.  

A full years cost for a U9-12 team is around $500 +/- depending on whether they attend out of area tournaments.  Older ages groups cost average $1,100 +/- excluding out of area tournaments.  Some of the best teams play a very aggressive travel tournament schedule. This can cost a family $2,500 +/-.   Financial aid is available with all clubs. 

Beyond the basic local travel leagues there are "advanced" leagues which the top travel club teams play in. Some travel leagues include but are not limited to:

Florida State League for U13-U19 girl's teams.  This is intended to be an early Fall league only.  They do not play in the spring except on rare occasions. Here you may find the top 10 or so teams from various Florida regions who are invited to participate in what is commonly referred to as a supplemental season.  Some teams skip the local league and only compete in the FSL due to the time and expense of this commitment. 

R3PL (Region III Premier League) is a Fall league and "by invitation only" for the very top teams from each of the USYSA National Regions, I-IV.  Region III covers the states of FL, GA, AL, MS, SC, NC, AR, TX, LA, TN and OK. Winners of each of the Region Premier Leagues compete in Region III Southern US Regional Championships with the winners advancing to the USYSA National Championships held each summer.

Super Y-League (Nike owned) is a mid-summer to early fall league for boys and girls ages U13-17.  There is no spring league.  Over 700 teams compete nationwide.  Nike purchased the league and parent company in 2008 when it acquired Umbro sportswear. 

Florida Premier League (FPL) is boys and girls ages U13-U18 and consists entirely of seven of the top clubs within the state.  This is exclusively a Fall league and intended to dovetail with the FHSAA Winter season meaning they will not play games during the high school season.  There will be some clubs with great teams who will not participate, however, overall the level of competition should be unrivaled in Florida.   Winners of the FPL will advance to the US Club regional and national championships. 

Elite Club National League (ECNL) is a sanctioned US Club event.  The league is similar to the USSF Development Academy but unaffiliated.  The ECNL replaced the Red Bull National League that operated for two years.  There are 40 teams teams nationwide which will compete in age groups U15 through U17.  The 10-match regular season schedule is conducted through multiple showcase events, with semifinals and finals both for league championships and promotion and relegation conducted for the top and bottom four teams in each flight. Three teams advance from the 2nd tier to the top, with three teams being relegated. A club championship will finish the competition. 

Additionally, there are new national and other elite leagues forming every year.  We cannot list them here as it changes with the wind.  Keep in mind this is ultra-competitive soccer and the time and monetary commitment is substantial.   Many of the players involved in these programs don't have the social or family life that you might require for your child.  You can and will get pulled into the vortex as you seek more and more elitism. 

End of Season FYSA (USYSA affiliate) Travel Competition Roadmap (Region Cup, State Cup and Beyond)

REGION CUP

At the end of the Fall season beginning in March there is the FYSA Region Cup Championship for U11-19 teams competing in the four FYSA regions, A-D (Region A is South Florida).  No teams are allowed to compete in both Region Cup and State Cup (discussed below).  At Region Cup all FYSA teams are invited to compete within their region in three different competitive divisions (I-III).

  • Division I is reserved for all teams registered as a FYSA Division I team or "A" level in their respective leagues (e.g. team code 311). The winners of each region compete in the FYSA President's Cup Championship.  Champions of the FYSA President's Cup in ages U13-U17 will advance to the USYSA Region III President's Cup Championship held each summer.

  • Division II is reserved for all teams registered as a FYSA Division II team or "B" level in their respective leagues (e.g. team code 312).  The winners from each of the top brackets of the D-II region in ages U11-U16 advance to the Davis-Hackworth Cup Championship.  FYSA Division II teams are permitted to compete in Region Cup Division I play.
     

  • Division III is exclusively for recreational teams. Winner is declared FYSA Region Cup Division III Champion.   

STATE CUP

At the end of the Fall season beginning in March there is the State Cup competition.  This is an open competition for all Division I and II U13-19 teams and not competing in Region Cup.  There is preliminary group play with teams advancing to the round of 16. The final four teams from the previous year are given a bye from playing each other in the initial rounds if their returning roster is at least 75% from the previous year. State Champions in the U14-19 groups will represent Florida in the USYSA Region III Southern Regional Championships leading to the USYSA National Championship competition.

Winners from the R3PL (Region III Premier League), discussed above, automatically advance to the USYSA Region III Southern Regional Championships regardless of how they fare in State Cup competition.

USYSA REGION III SOUTHERN REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

Winner of the State Cup championships and your Region's Premier League Champions compete in the USYSA Region III Southern Region Championship, even if they do not win their particular State Cup.

USYSA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

Winners of each USYSA Region Championships advance to the USYSA National Championship held each summer.  The winner is the best youth "travel" team in the USA.

HOW DO I SIGN UP MY CHILD FOR COMPETITIVE SELECT AKA TRAVEL SOCCER?

Usually you are required to attend a tryout with a travel club such as Fort Lauderdale Select FC.  Most clubs are short players, so making at least one team is likely if your child has recreational soccer experience. Many clubs have multiple teams in the same age group, e.g. an advanced level U14 team and an intermediate U14 team.  Some clubs even have three teams in the same age group.   Tryouts dates for U13-19 age groups usually begin the first Monday after State Cup ends.  This is regulated by USYSA and all their state associations.  Recruiting of players by coaches or parents of a travel team is strictly forbidden until the end of the State Cup tournament. Violations will be sanctioned by the applicable state association.  As a parent of a registered FYSA club player, you alone are permitted to approach a coach or parent from outside your club about playing opportunities for your child.  The "poaching" rule applies only to club coaches and existing members recruiting you and your child away from a different club.  Poaching guidelines help maintain the stability of teams and clubs, considering there are substantial expenses in operating a club. 

Whilst all clubs advertise tryouts dates, many are short players and will add them to the team if the fit is right.  Never be afraid to approach the head coach and ask them for an individual tryout during the season.  If they have two teams and you are fine with either team, it will make it easier for a coach to give the ok for a tryout.  So don't be afraid to ask, some will say no, but most will say yes.

Recreational players with the passion to play and train are encouraged to move up to travel club at any time during the year. 

WHAT HAPPENS IF MY CHILD IS CURRENTLY REGISTERED TO ONE CLUB AND WANTS TO JOIN A DIFFERENT ONE DURING THE SEASON?

Most clubs would prefer not to deal with "transfers" during the season as it breeds animosity between clubs and coaches.  However, there are many instances where it is perfectly acceptable, such as if you are moving out of an area and can no longer make the drive.  If you signed a club contract you may find there is a transfer fee buried in there for local transfers. It can be several hundred dollars. 

If your child is not receiving adequate playing time, that is a good reason to ask the coach for a meeting to discuss your child's progress.   There may be very good reason, such as all parties understood in the beginning of the season that the player was going to be on a team many levels above their skill level.  Consider training/practice time, as well as game time, before making your decision.  Playing time is the number one reason behind transfers, followed by lack of acceptable training regime. 

It is always preferable to wait until the season is over before moving to another club.   At the end of the year you then have the option to tryout for a more advanced team within your club as well as competing clubs.  However, if your child is older and does not have time to wait, there is nothing inappropriate with making a switch mid-season.  Just do it for the right reasons, not a parents pride or ego.  Children need positive role models and sticking it out until the end sends a message that they are not a quitter.  This is a team sport after-all.

WHAT ARE THE IDEAL OFF-SEASON CROSS TRAINING SPORTS FOR SOCCER?

Lacrosse, Basketball, Volleyball, Field Hockey and Track.  To increase stamina, try swimming or cross country.  There are many SAQ programs now being offered. 

WHAT ORGANIZATION IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE TWO LEVELS OF YOUTH SOCCER?

The USSF (United States Soccer Federation) is recognized by FIFA (Federation Intl Football Association) as the national governing body for soccer in the USA.  FIFA is the global organization that controls the body of soccer rules known as the Laws of the Game. 

In the USA, the four national youth affiliates of the USSF are:

1. United States Youth Soccer Association (USYSA) - Recreation and Competitive
2. American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) - Recreation
3. Soccer Association for Youth (SAY) - Recreation
3. US Club Soccer (SYL) - Competitive

Most recreational programs in the USA are member affiliates of USYSA, such as in Boca Raton, Florida; while others are affiliates of AYSO like Weston, Florida; and still other city programs such as Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach and Deerfield are unaffiliated with any USSF member choosing instead to run their own program without guidance and hope nobody complains too much.   

At the competitive (travel) level, clubs are member affiliates of USYSA and participate in a series of state, regional and culminating in a national championship.  A second organization, US Club Soccer recently came about to provide an alternative to USYSA travel soccer.  

The USYSA competitive season begins August 1 and ends with a national championship tournament series in July of the following year.  Within this one year timeframe there are many different leagues, some with overlapping dates, that are available to players.   In the middle of April each state member of USYSA holds a statewide tournament referred to as "State Cup".  All eligible clubs compete against each other until a state winner is determined.   This winner then goes on to play in their US regional tournaments against other state winners.  Florida teams compete in USYA Region III against teams from GA, TN, etc...   The winner of Region III goes on to compete in the National tournament. 

The table below give you a macro view of organized soccer from the youth to the professional international level.  Overview of the women's roadmap to the FIFA World Cup.

 

 

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