When it comes to playing time, effort and attitude are always sure bets to increase a player’s amount of time on the soccer field. But with so many leagues, ID camps, and teams to choose from, many players are faced with tough choices around getting more playing time for a good team versus risking some bench time on a great team with a stronger roster.
There is no easy answer to this question because every player has different goals, motivations, and expectations for playing soccer.
As you read the points below, it’s important to remember that game time is not the only opportunity for player development.
Players can improve and move up on rosters during practice and private training, even if private training means working alone with a ball and a wall. There are countless ways for players to close the skills gap, no matter which team they choose.
Benefits of Stronger Teams / Less Playing Time
- Weaker players on stronger teams can develop faster. If a player is the weakest starter on a team, that player will still get playing time, and they can use their teammates as examples to learn from to improve their own game. For players committed to soccer for the long run (e.g. for those who want to play in college), this competitive mindset will be essential.
- Playing for more difficult teams teaches valuable lessons about adversity and competition. If players want to stand out in the ODP, GDA, ECNL, USYS, and all the other ancillary competitions and league-sponsored events, playing at the highest level possible early in your soccer life is a necessity. Typically, college coaches will look to see whether high school players chose the most competitive soccer option available to them when making evaluations.
- Higher-level teams have more live exposure to college recruiters. If you are looking to play for a D1 college, coaches and recruiters from those schools will be on the field of the top brackets in the most highly competitive tournaments. Players who want to excel in competitive club leagues and get spots on D1 teams have a higher chance of achieving that goal if playing for more competitive teams (although it is definitely possible to get noticed by recruiters on teams at any level of play).
- You can have it both ways at the right soccer club. Some clubs allow players to train and get rostered with higher competition teams, while getting the bulk of playing time and starting with the lower level teams.
- As children get older, they will be forced to earn playing time no matter what, so some parents believe the most competitive teams are always the best option. For U12 and under, many teams try to equalize playing time. But by U14/U15, playing time on nearly all teams is earned. If kids are not putting in the work, they will spend some time sitting on the bench. While this might seem like a harsh reality, this will be even more true for high school soccer and, potentially, for college soccer.
We polled a Facebook group of soccer parents about their views on playing time vs. competition level, as it relates to college recruiting:
Benefits of Less Competitive Team / More Guaranteed Playing Time
- Bloated team rosters can be detrimental to player development. Soccer team rosters should be lean and have substitutes that are equal to or close to the same level as the starters. If there is a large gap in development between starters and subs and a player is not getting much playing time, then it may be benificial to look at a lower-level team. In fact, bloated rosters can hurt the development of everyone, if large development gaps mean players don’t get pushed as hard during training. Weaker players can lose confidence, while stronger players develop more slowly.
- Playing time can be important for building confidence. Everyone is on their own soccer journey, and sometimes it can be beneficial to build mental stamina on a less competitive team where a player might be able to shine. This is especially true at the early stages of soccer, where players are building their own love of the game.
- Less competitive teams do not mean average coaches. Sometimes, choosing to play for a less competitive team comes down to being more comfortable with a coach. Player development happens outside of game settings just as much as inside game settings. For many people, the right coach is more important than the league or level of play. Coaches develop a player’s soccer skills, life skills, game knowledge, mental aptitude on the field, and more. So choosing a less competitive team for the right coach fit can actually improve your outcomes in the long run.
- Sometimes, it pays to shine brightly on regional teams. If a player chooses to play on a less competitive team but also attends ID camps, records games with soccer camera systems like Trace, and uses social media effectively, they may have just as much success as players excelling in a nationally competitive league. This is particularly true for players who may want to stay local when it comes to college; in this case, a regional league may make the most sense from a cost, playing time, and development perspective.
- Player position matters for choosing the competition level. In an online comment, one parent gave the following example: “The keeper on our old team was making up to 20 amazing saves a game. Currently, my twins play on a much higher level with a much more talented team and the keeper makes 2-3 decent saves. I think playing on a better team hinders a keeper’s development.”
If athletes are aiming to play college soccer, new technologies such as Trace’s advanced game film system help players stand out in the recruiting process no matter what level of team they may play for. Many top clubs are already using Trace to record games. And smaller clubs and single teams utilize Trace’s game film system to give a leg up to their players and give them the same visibility as larger clubs.
If a player is good, he or she can use Trace to record key moments and compile those on a Trace iD to tell the story of their development. (Read a case study on how one player used Trace iD to overcome seemingly impossible odds to get recruited by a D1 college.)
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to deciding which team to play for, but players can excel and advance to college-level soccer with any team given the right mentality and hard work.