Youth Soccer Programs 101: Recreational vs. Academy vs. Select Soccer

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If you’re the parent of a young soccer player, but you never played soccer yourself, you may be confused by all the different types of youth soccer programs, including recreational, academy, select — and for older kids, high school teams.

You don’t want your child to be unhappy or uncomfortable by signing them up for the wrong program. So how do you choose the one that’s best suited for your child’s abilities and goals? To make your decision, it’s important to have an understanding of the differences among recreational, academy and select soccer. We’ll also explain how high school teams come into play.

Recreational Soccer

Recreational soccer places fun as a priority. Most children start playing recreational soccer to learn the rules and foster a love of the game. Recreational soccer is usually offered for all ages, but it is much more popular among younger players as they are introduced to the sport.

In recreational soccer, the coaches are usually volunteers — oftentimes parents of one of the players. Recreational leagues emphasize equal playing time for all the players, so no one feels left out and everyone gets a chance to participate. Also, there are no tryouts required for recreational soccer.

If a player in recreational soccer decides they want a more competitive environment, they can move up to academy soccer or select soccer, depending on their age.

Academy Soccer

Academy soccer is often used as a bridge from recreational to select soccer. It’s generally for players ages 7 to 10 and requires a tryout. Academy soccer is more competitive than recreational soccer. It emphasizes improving skills and prepares players for select soccer.

Although players do not have to play academy soccer to move on to select soccer, academy programs train players to be prepared for a more competitive environment. In academy soccer, players may not get equal playing time, as the coaches select players based on their skills.

Select Soccer

Select, or club soccer, is for players ages 11-18. This program is for passionate players who want to compete at a higher level. Players must try out for a team and are not guaranteed a spot year after year. Select soccer usually requires travel throughout the state and region.

If your child is interested in playing high school soccer, it’s important that they have experience playing select soccer. Select soccer and high school soccer work together with alternating seasons.

The combination of high school and select soccer is great for preparing players for college soccer by providing exposure and experience. If your child is a standout player on the field and wants continue their soccer career, check out the local clubs in your area.

If you have any questions about which program to sign your child up for, any coach would be happy to help. Here at AYSES, we also offer open skills training that can be used to assess your child’s playing ability. As a club that emphasizes development, we offer four programs designed to advance players to the next level. To see our programs and learn more about our club, visit our youth soccer programs pages.

Download Our Free E-book

This 18-page e-book, exclusively from AYSES, covers topics such as how to know when your child is ready for competitive soccer, why it’s important to teach soccer fundamentals at a young age, and how to help your child practice soccer at home. Download it now for free!


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