GUIDANCE : Tryouts & Competitive Clubs
SFYS Recommendations: Factors to consider for Competitive Players
Each year we’re asked for information and guidance regarding tryouts, especially as the number of Clubs and options continue to grow. One recurring question from parents is “...when is the right time to consider a move to travel?”
The short answer is there is no right time, as many families find that between the recreational level and local competitive leagues, there is a broad spectrum of competition and years of development opportunities for their child.
Crucially, it's important to focus on your player's needs, not some elusive "should" out there. Players who love the game that are in a good environment where they are challenged but still having fun will keep playing and keep getting better. Over time, it often makes sense to move between teams/clubs to accommodate that growth - but there is no set path or timeline for this transition.
Landscape : Competitive Leagues
The competitive soccer landscape in recent years has changed drastically:
NorCal and CCSL used to be considered competitive "Travel Leagues" because they are regional leagues vs. local leagues. It used to be that a team had to be gold or better, demonstrate lack of adequate local competition, or win out of SFYS Competitive Upper House in order to participate in those leagues, because the City was adamant about fairly balancing field usage and keeping competitive players in San Francisco vs. having to travel out of SF for competitive play.
Since Covid, there are no more restrictions on league of play, which has resulted in some soccer clubs looking to privatise competitive soccer in San Francisco by moving their competitive teams out of SFYS Upper House to this restrictive private league, in which only member clubs may participate - despite the fact that there are more than enough local teams at the lower competitive levels.
Why the shift to private leagues? Most member clubs will tell you that it’s because that’s where the competition is. Which in some flights is absolutely true: because these clubs *made* it true by pulling their teams, which left non-member clubs and independent competitive teams without multiple Upper House flight options. In some flights (most notably on the girls’ side), the consequence has been that independent and non-NorCal competitive level teams/clubs must be willing to travel regionally + sacrifice their autonomy, their club/team name, uniform, identity and in most cases their players to participate via a member club in order to have access to robust NorCal flights in their age group instead of just being able to play in Upper House in San Francisco against local San Francisco teams.
Some member clubs will also tell you that from an administrative perspective, being a NorCal team is “easier”: for example, US Club has no coach licensing requirements (so staffing is more flexible - can literally hire anyone) and no volunteer Team STAR is required. SFYS stands by our decision that each of these participation requirements are critical to the success of our leagues and the support ecosystem that keeps players and youth refs in the game. From a business perspective, some clubs are wary of asking for volunteers given how expensive their programs are - however, others offer registration discounts for those volunteers' players.
Parents *do* have a say - and most of the NorCal member clubs are very thoughtful about team placement between all the leagues based on player skill and interest. So be sure to ask the club/coach your player accepts an offer for what league they intend to place the competitive team your player is trying out for and what the implications are for that decision (in cost, coaching, commitment, travel, playing time, additional opportunities, etc. as noted below).
Cup play opportunities
Participation in regional "state cups" do not require participation in that soccer association's league of play - Cup play is not subject to city validation for residency, etc. and teams and club must purchase fields for their home matches. That means that Upper House teams can play in CalNorth Cups by directly registering with CalNorth or via SFYS (for example, beginning Fall 2023, Upper House teams that win their bracket will be SFYS-sponsored to CalNorth regional cups). Upper House teams (or a unique roster with a combination of players across teams) which are already in NorCal clubs may participate in the NorCal State Cup tournament. In nearly all cases, participation in these supplemental cups is at an additional charge.
A word about “poaching”
A reminder: The governing bodies of US youth soccer state that players are free to move, without restriction, from soccer year to year (each Fall). Additionally, local associations like US Club & CalNorth prohibit offers prior to the end of the current soccer year - meaning, tryout offers are for FALL 2023, not for the current spring or summer seasons. They also require an environment in which families can explore their options free of intimidation. The tryout window exists to ensure that families have the necessary time to explore and consider these options.
Dedicated San Francisco Competitive Tryouts are scheduled for 4/29-30 and there are no SF Upper House, NorCal or CCSL games scheduled for that weekend, but participation is completely optional. It’s also not the only time your player can consider an alternate team - so don’t worry if your player wants to move up but isn’t available that weekend.
Note that tryouts give coaches a chance to evaluate players, but they are not generally good for players or families to evaluate clubs or teams for fit. Also, it is not possible to attend all the tryouts during the tryout weekend, so: Do Your Research. One of the challenges and benefits of playing soccer in San Francisco is that we all share City resources, and it’s possible to see a nice cross-section of clubs and teams at any field complex for both practices and games. (It's also why SFYS can't host competitive games on tryout weekend.)
We HIGHLY recommend attending team practices or games in advance of tryouts to get a sense of coaching and playing styles - and so that your player only attends tryout(s) that make sense for them.
Where are teams practicing?
>>> SFRPD Spotery Public View of Team Practice Allocations
- ANY Player may OBSERVE a practice or a game!
ONLY Recreational Players moving to Competitive Teams may participate in a practice by appointment. Ask the Team or Club you’re interested in to secure a practice participation appt.
There is no centralized calendar to find tryout times and locations, or see a complete listing of all teams and clubs that are looking for players. Refer to the SFRPD-Approved Team and Club Flyers for more information and confirm with the team or club you are interested in trying out for when and where tryouts are.
SFYS does not endorse any club. If you see our logo on a flyer, it is because that club has teams that participate in our SF Youth Soccer Leagues.
For budgeting purposes, SFYS Player Registration costs for SFYS house league recreational and competitive play is conservatively $100-$150 per player per season (Financial Aid available). Any charges above that are for team or club benefits (coaching, uniforms, tournaments, etc.), which vary by team and club.
Players are not required to attend tryouts, nor is there any requirement to move to competitive soccer.
That said, many players do want to! And in San Francisco there are more than 20 soccer clubs to choose from - and some awesome independent competitive teams as well. So do your research so you can find the team or club that's best for your player.
Though SF Youth Soccer does not endorse any club or team, we do have some strong recommendations re: considerations for how to determine which team or club to try out for if the move makes sense for your player.
Factors to consider when looking at a competitive soccer club
Cost: Competitive club soccer in San Francisco can routinely cost over $2,000 per year, per child, with some being considerably more or less. You will need to contact prospective clubs for prices / financial aid. Consider what you’re paying for when you choose your team/club - and whether the extra $thousand(s) will get your player a true player development curriculum, a dedicated, licensed and experienced coach, any guarantees of playing time or positive supplemental activities/opportunities that are worth the investment, particularly at the Copper and Bronze levels, when players are still learning and growing as they get better and more competitive. Here are some questions to ask regarding cost to play:
What does the registration cost include?
- Licensed and experienced coach? (Note that NorCal does not require coach licensing of any kind)
- Dedicated coach? (some clubs don’t assign a coach to a rec or lower level competitive team, but rather rotate coaches through based on availability)
- Uniforms/gear, such as bags, training kit, etc.?
- Minimum Playing time?
- Tournaments and Travel (and if not, what are the additional costs/expectations?)
- Is supplemental programming included, such as summer / winter / futsal / camps? If not, what is the expectation for participation/cost?
New team or Existing team?
You may be interested to know if your child is being offered a spot on a team with a lot of returning players or if it’s a new team with many players new to the club. If you have a team and are considering joining a club to play in a regional competitive league, make sure to get a commitment from the club about whether your team will be able to maintain its integrity, or if your players will essentially go into a player pool.
While it’d be great to have a consistent practice location, SF Rec & Park utilizes a lottery system which results in teams being located at a variety of fields from season to season. It’s important to realize that only teams U12 and older are scheduled on full-sized pitches. Teams U11 and younger often practice either on the small side areas of complexes or on small field areas around the city. While teams may frequently practice at the same location over a period of time, this is never guaranteed.
We recommend clarifying how often the team will practice. Typically it’s one or two days. Some teams that have secured access to non-city fields may offer a third day. Is your player participating in multiple activities other than soccer? Is the amount of practice conducive to your player's interest and commitment to the sport?
Where will the team participate? There are two competitive local leagues run by SFYS (Upper House and Varsity) as well as regional travel leagues (CalNorth CCSL and US Club NorCal). There are also supplemental tournaments, some over the course of a season, some over a weekend. Each varies in cost and commitment. Travel leagues are best when there isn't enough local competition. There are some clubs who prefer not to play locally with their competitive teams, for a variety of reasons, including that there is great marketing around "travel" play and as such they can charge more. If the team your player is considering joining is not already successfully playing at the silver or gold level or above, consider whether the coaching and cost are worth it, or ask if they field local competitive teams as well.
Who is the coach?
Some players will be made offers on teams with longstanding coaches, others onto teams where the coach is likely known. In some cases, it will be determined later. If this is an important factor in your decision, feel free to inquire as to if a coach has been assigned to your child’s team.
Does it matter to you if there is a dedicated coach for your player's team? (some clubs don’t assign a coach to a rec or lower level competitive team, but rather rotate coaches through based on availability)
You should feel comfortable asking what a coaches license is if it is not listed on the club’s website. In a few cases, coach or DOC licensing is a factor in whether a club or team qualifies to play in a specific league. It's up to you whether (and how much) licensing and experience are important for your player's development.
SFYS requires each team to have a head coach with a minimum Grassroots coaching license + field training. NorCal does not require coach licensing of any kind, except for the Club DOC (Director of Coaching), though those requirements have been relaxed in recent seasons.
This means that NorCal clubs can hire anyone at any time to step in. In a best case scenario example, clubs hire local college players to help train and stand in on game day. In the most egregious (real-life) example, teams hire off Craig's List or Indeed stating "No experience necessary" (!!).
Does the club handle all of the administration? Many clubs have administrators while others use team managers (parents) to handle some of the administration. One of the most underrated considerations in sport is how much logistical coordination goes on behind the scenes. Make sure that you are clear what your family is responsible for and what the team or club will handle for your player AND the team they join.
Goalkeeper / Supplemental Training
Most clubs do offer specialized keeper training or supplemental training, such as injury prevention support, so you should feel comfortable to ask "what else are you offering my child?"
Teams and Clubs participating in tryouts submitted the following flyers to SF Rec & Park for approval. Ideally most of the questions above are answered, but if not, contact information is provided so you can follow up with the team/club directly.
>>> City Schedule for Fall Team Offers
>>> TIPS FOR TRYOUTS: PARENTS DO YOUR RESEARCH
>>> My tips on finding the right club – Jimmy Obleda of Fullerton Rangers (CA-S)
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I'm copying a post on the community feed from another parent in the hope it gets more responses here. Curious to hear what parents of girls on Upper House teams think about this...
I am a parent (and assistant coach) for my daughter's 3rd grade team. We are contemplating moving to a more competitive flight next fall, and are looking into SFYS's upper house vs Norcal's competitive league. A few friends have told me Norcal provides a progression of tiers for player improvement (teams can move from bronze to silver to gold, etc) and guest play in higher tiers, but at the same time it's much more expensive and then there's the travel what sounds like every weekend! I'd appreciate hearing from parents on current upper house club teams what they think about this trade-off, and why you've stayed or why you expect to leave.
Out of curiosity, I looked at how an older group of teams (2010 girls) fared when making that same move (upper house to Norcal bronze tier) following the fall 2021 season. One year later, in the fall of 2022, these teams were still in bronze and all finished in the bottom half of their bracket. And in the spring of 2023, they're still in bronze except for one team that dropped to copper. I realize that's just one cohort of teams, but I have to wonder if they had just stayed in upper house, would their experience have been better (lower cost, less travel, better results on the field)?
Comments from parents on other upper house teams would be appreciated!
Hi, I am new to this process of trying to sign my daughter up for Upper House Try-outs... I see a LOT of information and FAQs... like doing research. But the information is very fragmented on this site. Is there actually a condsolidated "Registration" form for try outs??? When I see the word registration with a link, I kind of expect to see some sort of form at that link.
any help and clarification is appreciated.
Good column, appreciate this input. I would add that parents need to understand what appropriate "development" is at each age, what that means tactically during practice, how coaches acheive this on a weekly basis. Are the basics covered? Is your child able to: trap the ball with both feet both inside and outside of the foot? Can the coaches demonstrate at least 4 different ways to pass & shoot the ball? Can your child chest down the ball? How many players can 2 touch when receiving/passing the ball? When should your child expect mastery of 1 touch passing? When you watch the team play, is eveyrone just ballwatching, or is there running off the ball to support the attack? Are the rondos just part of the warmup or are they a component of training? Be aware that by asking these questions, your coaches may get very defensive because they typically don't teach much of this at all, even after years of training your child. Hold coaches accountable and they will improve. If you just let them do whatever they wanna do, there will probably be little development. Only by asking these questions and holding the CLUB accountable (since coaches move around all the time), do you have a chance of your player improving steadily over time. Good luck, parents!