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.”
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.”
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.”