Right now, many of you may be thinking about travel soccer, either at Chelsea Piers or elsewhere. As a parent of a current Chelsea Piers travel player, I offered to share some thoughts that might help you make a decision this winter.
My son currently plays for Chelsea Piers. He started taking classes at CP at the age of 5 and progressed through the classes and winter league until we put together his current team which at the time was a U-8 squad. Of the 13 players who started with us, 10 are still members.
The team has had good seasons, and it has had down seasons. But it has never been anything less than a positive experience.
I: DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE COMMITMENT
Travel soccer (or any sport) requires a real commitment from not just the player, but the whole family.
This year, my son’s team started practice just after Labor Day, and between the fall outdoor season, the winter indoor season, spring outdoor season and tournaments in June, the team will be playing until July 1. This includes practices twice a week, plus games on the weekend.
In the CJSL, the games are limited to the five boroughs, but that can still involve significant travel time. Games can be as early as 8:00am, and there have been start times as late as 6:00pm on a Sunday. They play in cold and in rain; games are rarely cancelled (only for lightning or unplayable field conditions) and the same is true for practices. Practices can finish in the dark and the cold. You cannot be halfway in – that isn’t fair to you or to the other players on the team.
II: DON’T OVERESTIMATE THE COMMITMENT
No, this isn’t a contradiction.
While it involves a major effort, travel sports does not have to be all-encompassing, depending on the club. At CP, practices twice a week plus games may mean that you can’t go away every weekend, but it allows for lots of other activities and time to do other things.
III: NO ONE CLUB IS RIGHT FOR EVERYONE
There are lots of different places to play soccer in New York City. They all have distinct structures, philosophies and approaches designed to appeal to group of players and families.
At Chelsea Piers, we have a small program that is focused on long-term development and team-building. It’s not that the program isn’t designed to win – it is that winning is just one goal and it doesn’t come at the expense of developing both individual skills and a supportive and successful team environment.
If you and your child want more, there are programs that practice up to five times each week, and ones that play games all across the region. If you want less, there are places that are more low-key while still offering a chance to develop and play. If you think it’s too early for competition, some programs don’t begin playing actual matches until age 12.
IV: KNOW YOUR COACHES
A big part of the reason that we ended up at Chelsea Piers was the overall quality of the professional coaches in the soccer program. We did not know them, but we knew that we did not want a parent-coached team. But even with that, we put significant time into getting to know the coaches and to develop a relationship with them.
When a team comes together, the relationship between coach and parent is really important, as they need to understand your child and how to work with them. Every kid is different and taking the time to make sure the coaches know you will help build a long-term process.
V: IT IS A GAME, AND SUPPOSED TO BE FUN
It is a commitment, and it involves wins and losses. But while winning is more fun than losing, at this age, that can’t be the primary measure of success. It has to be about developing skills as an individual and as a team, and building a joy in the sport.
And at the end of the day, everyone involved should be having fun. Finding a group of kids and families that genuinely enjoy each other and support each other makes the experience so valuable.
They learn how to win together and lose together, how to be happy for others’ successes and supportive when things don’t go well. They become friends on and off the field and learn things about themselves and each other that last forever.
And honestly, this one is harder for parents than it is for the kids. They move past a tough game much easier and it is crucial to allow them to do so. I will confess to having to work very hard at this – and that is with 25+ years working in and around high-level collegiate and professional sports.
VI: IT IS MORE THAN A TEAM, IT IS A CLUB
One thing we have been trying very hard to build is a stronger sense of club across the age groups. From joint practices to games at the same field – we are all following the same path at Chelsea Piers.
Look at the other schedules and, if you can, stay for an older team’s game. The kids will get to know each other and you will be able to see how they will be developing from year to year. Feeling like they belong to something bigger is a big part of the overall experience.
And parents can be a resource for you – everyone involved has been through the same process you are going through and most of us are happy to talk about the issues we have faced along the way.