Where Do We Belong - Recreational or Travel Soccer?

Greg Hubbard
November 3, 2022

Both programs offer youth the opportunity to play and develop their soccer skills. So, what is the difference? Where do we belong?

Recreational soccer is typically run through public soccer programs and is the place where most of children start playing soccer. The purpose of recreational soccer is to provide an opportunity for kids of all ages, genders, and abilities to have fun, learn the sport and develop life skills including a lifelong love of the game. In recreational programs, all children who register will be assigned to a team and will receive equal playing time. Ability is not a factor, and all interested players are welcome. Coaches are usually parent or student volunteers who offer to coach their children or perform community service. Games are usually played close to home over the course of either a fall and/or spring season usually lasting about 8 weeks. There is usually a weekly practice and game. Recreational soccer easily allows for participation in other sports. Despite the emphasis on fun, players will receive technical and tactical training which may prepare them for travel or high school soccer. The cost of participation and uniforms for recreational soccer can cost under a hundred dollars a year.

The idea of “Travel” soccer may go by different names across the country. You might see the synonyms “Premier,” “Advanced” or “Select,” but for this article we will use the term Travel soccer for competitive soccer programs. Travel soccer is an exclusive level of soccer which can be administered by both public and private soccer clubs. These clubs hold annual tryouts. All players are welcome to attend try-outs, but not all attendees will receive an offer to join a team. Once asked to join, playing time is not guaranteed. Additionally, once on a team, players will continue to have to try-out each spring to keep their roster spot. Coaches are licensed, often professionals, and bring a wealth of personal playing and training experience to the teams they lead. Travel soccer is typically a year-round program (fall/winter/spring) with a minimum of two practices a week. League games maybe a combination of in-town and out-of-town with multiple tournaments each season which require out of town stays. Travel soccer clubs are typically affiliated with state or national soccer entities to secure progressively higher levels of play outside their areas. Players looking to join Travel soccer teams tend to have a higher dedication to the game of soccer with the minimum aspirations of playing high school soccer. The cost of Travel soccer typically starts over $1,000 per year and can grow to over $10,000 very quickly.

Now that you know the difference, which is right for your aspiring soccer player? Start by talking to your child. Before making the decision to take on the financial and time requirements of Travel soccer, understand your child’s goals and ability to manage its commitment alongside their other sports and school requirements. Some players are natural athletes that gravitate towards highly competitive environments, while others enjoy the social aspects of sports. Make sure to do your due diligence and understand a Travel soccer program’s competition level and travel requirements to gauge the actual financial and time commitments before trying out. So which pathway is right for your child? You will know by the amount of enjoyment your child gets from each interaction they have their teammates, coaches, and the game itself. For many that can be achieved at the recreational level, but if your child has higher ambitions and craves more games and competition, then Travel soccer maybe for them.

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