Scrap high school soccer, says club founder

This week, the founder of powerhouse Louisville youth soccer club United 1996, Muhamed Fazlagic, told Kick It that if he had any political power, he would shut down every high school soccer operation there is.

“Clubs are developing players for nine months and then high school soccer destroys everything during the remaining three,” he says. “It can take months for these players to get back to the level they were originally at.”

There is, he believes, a “huge disparity” in the quality of teams. And the coaches of these teams are, in the main, teachers with no real soccer experience.

“They concentrate more on conditioning than on technical development,” says Fazlagic. “And there are too many on rosters, meaning junior varsity and freshman players don’t get sufficient game time experience.”

The physiology is also “all wrong,” he believes, as players sometimes only have as little as 24 to 48 hours to recover between games.

In essence, he says it’s “parents’ fun time,” although he conceded the spirit in high school soccer is an undeniable positive.

So with the high school season kicking off in the next week across southern Indiana, we asked coaches, players and parents what they thought of it all.

 

The coach and his keeper

This past spring, Charlestown goalkeeper Cody Brinck made it onto Southern Indiana United’s U16 team and really saw the difference in competition that his varsity coach Andrew Smith had been telling him about.

However, Brinck says he would not be playing with the club if it wasn’t for high school soccer, and his coach agrees.

“Cody was a sophomore the first season he played with the high school team,” says Smith. “He was under prepared, lacked confidence, didn’t understand the game very well and had a limited skill set. I forced him to play the position as our starting varsity goalkeeper that season and by the end of that year he was doing very well.”

Brinck has been mowing lawns all summer so that he can rack up the cash required to cover the registration fees to play with SIU.  But not everyone can cough up the loot for club, and that’s why high school is important, he believes.

“It  may not be as rigorous as club soccer, but that is because it introduces the sport to kids who would never have the money to play club,” says the senior. “If we truly want the sport of soccer to be recognized in the US then we need to start treating it like a game anyone can play, not one where you must have the money or the dedication to play on a select club team. It needs to be accessible to America.”

His coach echoes the view.

“By focusing on club soccer only we aren’t accessing the best athletes possible,” says Smith. “Instead, we are only accessing the best athletes who can afford to play club soccer, which as anyone in athletics can tell you, is a preposterous notion.

“The reason basketball and football draw the best athletes in this country is precisely because those two sports are accessible to the athletes through playgrounds and public schools. The same thing that makes soccer great in Brazil, is what makes basketball great here — it’s a playground game. The structure of club soccer has destroyed that accessibility.”

Brinck says he believes high school soccer is also very important because of the relationships that are created.

“When you play on a team with a bunch of kids, you develop friendships that easily carry into the classroom and life in general,” he says. “Even if that were the only reason to keep soccer in schools, I would think that it would be enough.”

 

The ‘sports junkie’ and his daughter

New Albany senior Taylor Briscoe says her best soccer memories, not to mention the most important lessons learned, have all come from her experiences playing high school soccer.

“I have played club soccer many seasons and have enjoyed it,” she says. “However, I believe high school soccer has offered me more. (It) keeps a player very active while strengthening the player’s endurance, as sometimes there are multiple games in the same week, along with daily practices. The teams you play as a high school soccer player are very diverse and all have different skill levels.”

She thinks that high school soccer benefits a player equally, if not more, than competitive club.

“I know that my high school soccer coaches are all very experienced and knowledgeable on the sport,” she says. “And not only do you learn the skills of soccer and work your way to mastering them in the high school setting, but you also make connections with girls at your school and in your local area.”

New Albany’s Taylor Briscoe (right, goalie): “I have played club soccer many seasons and have enjoyed it. However, I believe high school soccer has offered me more.

Her father Doug is a self proclaimed high school sports junkie, attending basketball, soccer, volleyball,  softball,  baseball and “a little tennis and cross country”.

When  he attends a club soccer game, of which he has attended many, he can feel the difference straight away.

“The  energy is very low to the point I personally didn’t like it,” he says. “You rarely see anyone at a club game other than families of the players.  High school soccer and high school sports are much different.  They play a very important part in the high school experience.  It gets the parents, students and faculty involved and gives the players a sense of team work and school spirit.”

He added that since Julie Deuser and Jason Crane came on board as coaches at New Albany High School four years ago, the soccer program has gone to another level. 

“The players, parents, students and faculty have really gotten behind the girls’ and boys’ teams, and without their support the program would be not survive.”

Briscoe says that he, along with other parents, give countless hours to promoting high school soccer and raise a lot of money to help support the teams.

“We also got the girls involved in giving back with our charity fundraiser, Passionately Pink,” he says.  “Show me one club team that does as much for kids as high school sports does.”

 

A chance to have fans

Ronda Trimble, the mother of Floyd Central boys’ varsity senior Cray, says she agrees with most of what Fazlagic says, save for his view of the coaches and actually scrapping high school soccer.

“I think it is a well deserved break from their norm,” she says. “It is fun time for parents and players, and attaches kids to their school while promoting school spirit. It also gives them a chance to have fans — only the parents cheer them on during the competitive season.

“I disagree about the coaches in this area. Most are not teachers and do have soccer experience.  I think Cray has learned something from every coach he has had, from Dutch Vigar (with SIU, but also New Albany boys’ coach)  to Zach Watson (Floyd Central coach).”

However, a criticism is that they practice every day and can play several games per week.

“I attribute the three losses (in recent sectionals) to New Albany to fatigue,” she says. “We have one of the toughest schedules of any local team. We are still playing games the week before, and of, the sectional. Floyd Central is too worn out and beat up to perform to their ability and fall short.”

Cray Trimble, Floyd Central (7)

Cray Trimble, Floyd Central (7)

Trimble says she also understands Fazlagic’s point about kids going backwards due to the talent and skill level they compete against in high school.

“He is thinking of his team’s competitive advantage, but there is more to life than soccer — like finding a place you belong in high school, bonding friendships and winning one for school pride.”

 

And here is a selection of comments that we weren’t able to include in today’s Evening News & Tribune.

 

Michael Vejar, parent of Jordan Vejar, Jeffersonville

“Well, I’m sure there’s a financial piece to his comment also — no high school soccer equals more club teams for him during the fall season … hence more money.

“I don’t disagree that high school soccer is a step down from club, but in the overall scheme of things it also affords thousands of kids to play a game they might not otherwise get to play given the raising costs of playing club. Look at our situation for example: With Jordan playing for Javanon’s ‘94 team, we spend between $5,000-8,000 per season on travel, gas, lodging, food, tournament fees, etc. But high school soccer is essentially free and open to all.

“To us — Jordan especially – high school soccer is a welcome break from the rigors of club soccer. And, in many cases, those kids who are introduced to it and allowed to succeed often engage so much they join club teams in the spring.

“Case in point, last season Jeffersonville HS had maybe eight to 10 club players on the roster. This season, that number has almost doubled. Most of them are players who did well and liked it enough to join clubs after high school was over.”

 

Will Lorigan, Christian Academy of Indiana head coach

“Club soccer certainly has its benefits, like allowing soccer players to play more frequently and subsequently further develop their skills, but to say high school soccer should be scrapped is absolutely absurd.

“While some club players, if they are able to get on elite club teams, might be developed for nine months, most players aren’t. The allure of club soccer might sound appealing to some younger players and parents, but frequently club soccer has become a money-making scheme rather than a development program.

“Club teams frequently recruit players with the goal of having the best team possible. There is nothing wrong with that. However, a player or players that have spent a number of seasons being ‘developed’ are cut if better players come along. The ultimate goal is the promotion of the club, not the players; the players are merely a means to an end.

“Frequently club soccer practices become nothing more than scrimmages rather than skill focused sessions. Additionally, club soccer players often get better, like any sport, because of the higher volume of soccer they play, not necessarily because they are playing club soccer per-se. Any athlete that desires to get ahead of their peers and potentially play at college or professionally needs to put a lot of hard work in their own time, in the off season, not just during practices in season.

“Once on a club team, parents are required to spend large amounts of money on team fees and costs, and then even more on travel, accommodation, and other expenses associated with playing club soccer. By eradicating high school soccer, what this will ultimately do is make soccer an elitist sport where only those wealthy enough to can afford to play soccer and be developed at a high level. If club soccer is concerned with high school soccer ‘destroying’ the level of play then maybe they should focus on helping coaches at the high school level become more proficient at their jobs, if that is really even the case.

“Frankly, saying the ‘physiology’ of high school soccer is wrong because players have often only 24 hours to recover between games is quite ridiculous considering some travel teams play three, four and even five games of soccer in one weekend. High school soccer is a valuable part of the community for many reasons. For some schools it provides a physical fall sport which the school and community can become involved in and support. It provides tremendous school spirit, unlike club soccer where frequently only the player’s immediate family ever goes and watches. High school soccer also provides poorer or underfunded families and communities that either can’t afford club soccer or a school football program, an opportunity to compete in a fall sport.

“Ultimately though, high school soccer provides discipleship and mentoring that simply isn’t given to club players. One of the great things about having teachers coach high school athletes is that they understand how to work with youth and can provide valuable character building and life lessons that a soccer factory doesn’t provide and nor do they pretend to.

“Speaking for myself, I can say that while success on the soccer field is important, more important for me is the development of young men with character and integrity. These days too many young men and women are celebrated for being successful athletes but not fruitful, productive members of society.

“In reality we need more high school soccer players to further develop the under teamed JV soccer schedule of most schools. Additionally middle schools need to start developing middle school soccer like they do with most other high school sports to increase the volume and quality of soccer players making it to the high school level. Even if an athlete intends to play football at the high school level, soccer develops great foot speed, foot skills, and, coordination which are valuable to any sport.”

 

 Dutch Vigar, New Albany boys’ head coach

“I think Muhamed has made some valid points, but we need to understand they are generalizations.  Some of what he is saying is true for some school; not true for all schools.  If it was such a bad thing, I don’t think it would be so popular in the state of Indiana.  It is a positive thing for the school and school spirit.”

 

 Carson Webb, Jeffersonville boys’ head coach

“There are positive aspects for soccer players playing high school and club soccer.  The current trend is that you need to pick a sport at 13 years old and you can’t play anything else. Whatever sport you choose, you basically do it year round.  Depending on who you are and what your individual needs are, that can be a good thing or a bad thing.”

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4 responses

  1. It has been my experience that most players, once they get past the U15 stage of club soccer, they endure the club soccer spring season, while they truly enjoy the fall high school season.
    If truly elite players want to skip high school soccer and move to regional academies, foregoing their high school experiences, more power to them. For the vast majority of students in the U.S., high school soccer is their venue to showcase their talents in front of their friends and family.
    If club soccer only had 5 percent of the enjoyment factor that high school soccer offers, more people would truly enjoy that experience.
    This is coming from a person who founded and fully supports the only competitive girls’ soccer program in our Southern Indiana area.
    I wish only the best to both club and high school soccer players and families. The more soccer, the better.

  2. When I think about High School Soccer, I think about tradition and school pride. Whether or not your high school team wins a Sectional, Regional,etc., the bottom line is that you have that opportunity. Personaly, I would hate to see high school soccer eliminated because it gives all students the chance to play and leave a legacy at their school.

    Although, I do think Coach Muhamed Fazlagic is correct in that “elite” club player should be playing all year long which is why the top clubs in the US formed the Academies. Therefore, I think if Coach Muhamed Fazlagic wants players to forego their high school soccer season then the top club soccer programs in the area (United96, Javanon, Mockingbird) should merge together and form a Kentucky Academy, just as Carmel United did with Indiana United. With that said, you still need to have club teams within the Academy system that allows for all soccer players to make a choice-Club Soccer (seasonal) vs. Academy(playing year round). The Academy would be called Kentucky United Academy and have two academy teams and still have club teams for those not wanting to play year round soccer.

    In my opinion, Academies (year round soccer) are really being set up for the MLS franchises to allow the best players to go directly from the academy to the MLS, in order to strengthen the National team. I think you saw this first hand last night when USA played Mexico. Juan Agudelo is a prodigy of the New York Red Bulls Academy and skipped college soccer to go directly to the MLS and now plays for the National team. In this area, I only know of two players that have gone on to the MLS level , John Michael Hayden and Andy Farrell.

    Last year, our son played Academy soccer and had a great experience playing against the top level competition in his age group. However, one of the reasons he chose not go continue in the Academy system was that the Indiana Academy program would be playing year round his senior year. My son truly enjoys playing high school soccer with his friends and representing his school. However, when high school is over, he is always ready for the club season and to play with his club team that pushes him to become a better player and work on his soccer skills.

    I think one of the reasons club coaches don’t like high school soccer is that they feel the player picks up bad habits during the high school season. However, I think what they fail to realize is that most of the skilled club players usually play a totally different position for high school than for their club team. Since some schools have very few number of club players on their high school team, the skilled club player who normally plays defense on their club team, may have to play offense for their high school team. Therefore, when these players return to their club team after their high school season, they may be alittle out of sync, but they should bounce back quickly.

    Another major difference between High School Soccer vs. Club Soccer lies in the rivalries. If you have ever been to a high school soccer game where PHS vs. Jeff or Jeff vs. NA, or NA vs. Floyd Central, etc. you know exactly what I’m talking about. The players love playing against their friends from other schools and the fans love it, too! You don’t get that in Club soccer.

    Lastly, in regards to the great high school debate, it really isn’t much of a debate. If you want your son or daughter to play year round soccer, you should play in the Academy System, but remember how many actually move on to the next level? The other option, is to let them play high school soccer with their friends, represent their school and still play on a club team in their area to increase their soccer skills, just make sure you let your son or daughter make that choice for themselves, you will be glad you did!

  3. Club soccer isn’t doing its job, regardless of what goes on in high school. Muhamed Fazlagic’s comments reflect part of the problem: It’s not about soccer, it’s about the kids. In general, club soccer represents the interests of the club first, the coach second and the player third (at best).

    Fazlagic’s objective would seem to be the mass production of soulless soccertrons whose only purpose is to contribute to the clubs’ reputations and financial success.

    Success in youth soccer shouldn’t be about championships that coaches put on their resumes and trophies that go largely unnoticed at club headquarters. It should be about the physical, social and intellectual development of the players. How many kids stick with the sport (happily and for the right reasons)? How many eventually play in high school with and in front of their friends? How many are actually coached well enough (with personal attention to the development of their individual skills) to eventually play in college?

    It’s ironic that top qualifications for youth soccer coaches involves having played and coached at non-youth levels — at the college, semi-pro or pro levels. No one in youth soccer has any background in child development, for example. To be honest, no one in youth soccer really knows much about youths, what motivates them or what they are capable of intellectually, emotionally or physically.

    The financial incentives in club soccer are all wrong as well. Club fees are outrageous and contribute largely to paying over-qualified coaches who know little about children and to the development of facilities that are necessary only because of the insane requirement to play the sport year-round. We pull our kids from school to play in tournaments that start on Thursdays and run through the weekend because clubs have a huge financial interest in constantly expanding the number of entries beyond what their facilities can handle in a two-day period. The impact on the kids’ academics isn’t a concern at all.

    Awkward 8 year-olds get cut on the basis of the wisdom of soccer coaches and their all-encompassing desire to win, even at the youngest levels. Most of those kids eventually grow into themselves to excel at other sports, to the ultimate detriment of soccer. Year-round soccer prevents kids from playing other sports and developing a range of athletic skills that could only help them in soccer as they grow older. It used to be said that “Champions are made in the off-season”. But in soccer there is no off-season. Is it a big surprise we don’t win championships in international competitions? Year-round soccer also prevents kids from the inner city whose parents want them to play basketball and football from getting any soccer experience, shutting the door to a large number of athletes who might have decided to choose the sport later.

    In the Louisville area especially, the clubs have mis-managed the interests of the players because of their own selfish interests. Because United, Mockingbird and Javanon could not get an agreement on how to collaborate effectively, there is no U.S. Developmental program in the area. Players who want to develop within that system are increasingly playing in Indianapolis. As a result, Louisville is becoming a soccer ghetto, where the best players leave and the clubs fight selfishly over the remaining local market share.

    High school soccer is the only form of the sport that has a soul, where kids want to play and achieve as a team, and don’t jump ship every time they get an offer from a better team. U.S. Youth soccer would be better if it were school-based at all levels, if it were a spring sport that allowed children to find and develop talents in other sports and areas of interest, where there was oversight from officials who have the kids’ broader interests at heart, and where coaches would actually be accountable to parents’ groups (which is never the case at the club level.

  4. My problem with club soccer is the season is far to long scarp high school soccer then we have no accountabilty for studies and sport. Why does club soccer need a nine to ten month season. In other sports select teams do not play as long. Only having club soccer means only the rich kids can afford it and many talented kids from hispanic communities in places like Texas and California will never get the chance to show their talents and thus create an elitist culture which will destroy soccer in America and place us further behind where we were pre 1990 and we will stop qualifying for the World Cup because not only Mexico will be ahead of us but so will Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamacia, Guatemala, Cuba, Trinidad, El Salvador, and Panama. In fact we probably will not even qualify for the final six in Concacaf

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