The American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) is a fifty-year-old, volunteer-based, national soccer program represented in over 100 areas nationwide. The program offers various levels, recreational to club. The core program is coached by volunteers (like me) and the secondary programs are coached by soccer professionals. Kids can start as early as three or four years old and play through high school. AYSO is designed to offer soccer at a recreational level and, as the kids grow and develop, the program offers additional soccer and clinics with the highest level of play at the club level. That program is called United.
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I come to you as a parent in the thick of it with a couple of sporty ten-year-olds who love playing soccer. They started playing when they were four years old and, like me, AYSO was their stepping stone. In my town, this program is very often one’s introduction to soccer. However, over the last six years, I have observed a sense of urgency for folks to leave their recreational league, in this case, AYSO, and rush into the “competitive club soccer world” far too early.
I think there is a false sense of urgency fueled by a few misconceptions that prompt these premature departures and I want to clear the air.
Recreational options like AYSO are wonderful programs that offer a fun and relaxed approach to learning how to play soccer. Volunteers at the very introductory level manage and coach these young kids and, to be honest, at this level, a little fitness and some fun with a ball is good enough. Not all volunteers are created equal and just like pro coaches some are better than others. My favorite memories of my youth soccer experience are some of my earliest with AYSO. I started as a lady bug and finished as an EIU Panther. Those early soccer memories have stayed with me for life.
I want the future youth soccer players of America to have those same fond memories. No need to rush into specializing and expensive club programs. There is a time and a place for all of that.
Beyond the core program is the next level, called EXTRA. This is for kids who have a desire to play more soccer and to be coached by soccer professionals. There are extra practices and extra inter-league games each week as well as a host of clinics. This program is offered to second graders and up and the cost for the opportunity to play soccer almost every day is the best deal in town.
The final stop and highest level of play offered by AYSO is their travel team, called United. This program is open to incoming fifth graders. It is tryout based and again, should your future soccer star make this team, they have the access and the opportunity to play soccer seven days a week. There is no program around that offers this for the price. Unfortunately, not all kids will make the United program, but that doesn’t mean your child’s soccer experience should end there. That is the beauty of AYSO. There is a place for everyone and all skill levels.
My point: there is no need to rush into expensive programs with time commitments that don’t allow your young and developing children to play and do other things as much as they would like to and should.
Take it slow.
Rest assured, if you have a future stud or studette living under your roof, the real development happens around 14 and 15 years old, not eight. If you have a kid who loves the game and wants to play all the time, there is no program around that offers what AYSO does for the price–no matter the level. I hope I have shed some light on this wonderful program that has offered more than just soccer to many. As a former athlete and current coach, this topic is important to me because, I truly believe that if we pump the breaks on determining our kids’ athletic futures and let them “just play” for a little bit longer we would see less burnout and more progress and positive development in the future.
My son has been an AYSO participant from the beginning and, this fall, he will wear his first United Jersey. His experience has been nothing short of enriching, challenging and enjoyable. He has learned and grown as a player and, at the end of the day, “fun” is the one word he uses to describe his experience. Because of the affordable cost and low-pressure time commitment, AYSO has allowed him to have a multi-sport experience, which is important when it comes to avoiding injury as well as growing as an athlete.
My two cents. Thanks for dropping in.