Club Coaches and High School Coaches

I am both a club soccer coach and a high school soccer coach.

Mine is not a unique situation. 

Over the last few months I have repeatedly been asked the question of which I prefer to coach, club or high school.  My response has remained the same, both.   While soccer is constant, club and high school each present unique challenges and unique opportunities.  I am not setting out to compose a compare and contrast essay on club and high school soccer. There will be elements of that present in the article, but my main goal is to help the layman understand the life of a coach.

(Hit the jump for the rest of the article)

Unless one gets a gig at the college or professional level, a coach does not make a living coaching soccer.  High school gets it right in labeling a coach's contract as "supplemental" for that is exactly what compensation for coaching a high school sport is - a supplement to regular pay.

Not all club coaches get paid.  That is a fact.  Those who do get paid generally earn per season the equivalent to that of a high school coach's supplemental contract. The difference being a club coach might coach and get paid for 3 seasons in one calendar year as opposed to a high school coach who has one season per year.

There seems to be a belief that high school coaches are somehow inferior to club coaches.  That a high school coach is someone who "volunteers" to coach in order to earn a few more bucks to help make ends meet.  I have encountered one or two of this type of coach over the years, but they are the exception.  I have tracked my hours and compensation as a high school coach. I get paid about $.05 per hour.  If anyone were in high school coaching simply for the money, they would be a fool of unparalleled proportions.   

I believe the teacher unions feed the negative stereotype of the high school coach. Many such unions have language in their contracts that provide teachers within a district preference for supplemental positions. To bolster these preferences a candidate for a supplemental contract needs only to be qualified and the exact determination of what constitutes qualified can be ambiguous at best.  With nearly three decades of coaching experience I have recently been passed over for high school coaching positions because I am not a school employee, teacher or otherwise. I have seen those coaching positions awarded to far less experienced candidates. There is no such thing as being more qualified or the most qualified for a high school coaching position. One simply must be qualified.  I am not a school teacher and attempts to gain employment on a classified contract so I can be present in the building throughout the school day have been thwarted ostensibly by the unions as well.  Those already in the system get preferential treatment over those attempting to gain entry into the system.  It is very much a closed system. 

I understand this is how the system works. I question who the system is working for.  Is this not supposed to be about the children, the student / athletes? Do they not deserve the best, the most qualified to be leading them?  And this is where parents and proponents of club sports often draw the battle lines.  The argument can be put forth that on the club level of participation in youth sports the coaching jobs go to the most qualified candidates. Of course, that is a generalization. There are coaches in club sports who lack experience and qualifications as well.

On the club side of youth sports it is often a mother or father who coaches.  This holds true until the "elite" or "premier" levels of club sports where the best coaches tend to congregate. In today's society of participation trophies everyone seeks to play in a league that promotes itself as "elite" or "premier."  Just because a club or league promotes itself as premier does not make it elite or premier.  In club sports as more and more lower level teams, clubs and league have sought to declare themselves premier the truly elite teams have begun calling themselves academies, or Midwest Regional or United States Club Soccer players and teams.  The nomenclature changes to assuage and feed egos, but nothing else does.

In order to pay their coaches 3 times a year the fees for club soccer can be ridiculous. I have nieces who have paid thousands of dollar per season for the right to participate in club sports. On top of that they were required to purchase uniforms, warm ups, bags and whatnot.  The total yearly fee can exceed $10,000.00 for the privilege of playing a youth sport on the club level.  Clubs sell you on the idea they can help the player earn a college scholarship.  In soccer, that is an outright lie!   Read here for the truth about scholarships for playing soccer in college .

So, what is the allure of club sports?


Not necessarily to be confused with quality of experience winning is often the driving force behind club sports.  Participation on a recreational team becomes less than satisfying because teammates do not take it as seriously or are not as committed. Parents and their  children gravitate towards others who have a similar level of passion for the sport. The parent coach often gets swept along in this current of bigger and better things. Sometimes the more success a family / player / coach enjoys on the club level the more frustrating a high school experience becomes.

I have had countless players from my club teams complain about their experiences playing for their high school teams.  Sometimes they complain about the high school coach. Other times it is their high school teammates. Sometimes it is both and everything in between.  The gist of it is, they win in club and are less successful in high school. It is rarely the other way around because the best high school players tend to be gobbled up by the best clubs.

This comparison of club sports to high school sports is ultimately unfair.  Recruiting is allowed and even encouraged in true club sports. A club or coach of a club team is free to assemble the best roster possible and draw players from as wide a geographical area as feasible.  High school rosters are limited to those who attend the school or live within the school district. This is a huge distinction.

In true club sports teams can usually select the division or caliber of play they wish to participate in. This can range from recreational level to elite, premier and beyond dependent on the abilities of the roster and coaching.  In high school sports teams are assigned a division by the high school association. This has nothing to do with the abilities of those on the roster. It has everything to do with how many attend the school. Size really does matter in high school sports. My present high school team plays in a league it probably doesn't belong in and against schools with 2 to 3 times as many students than we have. We have no choice. We are stuck with the league we are in and stuck with the division the OHSAA assigns us to.  The playing field isn't exactly even, but it simply is what it is.

In high school soccer I coach my team 6 days a week for approximately 3 months time.  I then am permitted to coach them for 10 more days in June / July.  Other than that I cannot assemble my entire team with a soccer ball present.  In club soccer, there exit no restrictions on how much training can take place or how many games may be played. It's up to the club / coach / team to decide.

Here's another hing to consider. In club sports the only eligibility requirements are age.  In high school sports academic eligibility often plays as big a factr as residential eligibility requirements do. I lost 3 starters from last years high school team to academic ineligibility. Think that impacted our season?  In club soccer they would have remained eligible dependent on their parents consent to continue playing.

I have been successful as both a club and a high school coach. That is, both my club teams and my high school teams win more than they lose. Winning is the barometer for success most use. Therefore, I'm not sure how to address those who say high school coaching is not on a par with club coaching.  In a perfect world, we might be able to have high school coaches trade roles with club coaches and see what happens. The results could prove enlightening.

For now, a mutual admiration society would serve our children best.  I really do not know anyone coaching high school sports for the money.  The motivation for high school coaches is a love of the game and a desire to make a positive impact on the lives of the youth they work with. No one is out there purposely attempting to fail at what they do. However they may have come by the "job" there existed on some level a desire to carry on in a sport they grew to love as a child themselves.  When I hear parents complain about a high school coach I wonder if they realize how they themselves are contributing to the teams lack of success.  What if they were to support the coaching staff, encourage them generally be a positive influence on the process? If you believe the coach doesn't know enough about the coaching or the sport itself, how about paying for a coaching course or building a library of coaching books and videos for the coach to use?

Of course, a coach could ask for help as well. but so many young or inexperienced coaches lack the confidence to do so. Sometimes they do not recognize they need help and other times they do but are intimidated to admit they need help. Again, in the end who are we doing this for? The children! And shouldn't providing the student athlete with the best possible experience be the motivation?

And before we put a club coach on a pedestal, lets remember they get to choose their roster and the level of competition they play. At the same time many club coaches are building up their roster they seek to dumb down their schedule, especially tournament schedules to accumulate wins.  So, a club team pads its win totals against inferior competition in order to promote itself and their coach as "elite". That doesn't necessarily make it true,

If you take nothing else from today's rambling please remember this - It's all about the kids. The only time it should ever be about the coach is if the coach fails to remember it is all about the kids. Club sports cannot be compared to high school sports or vice versa.  They are different. Coaching club is different from coaching high school.

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