This episode was inspired by another great sideline chat. This one was between myself and a soccer day on the side of our futsal court last weekend. His son is looking at playing for more than one soccer team at the same time in the Spring. He was asking me about it & it reminded me of you, of course. You should hear what we talked about.
We talk a lot about multi-sport kids and the advantages kids can have by rounding out and improving their overall athletic IQ, but how about those kids who love soccer and want different experiences from different levels of competition and/or different groups of friends?
What is a Multi-Team Kid
Both my son and daughter were both multi-team kids. They played for more than one team each season. My daughter played on two teams at the same time. My son played on three. They got something different from each environment.
A multi-team kid is a kid who plays for more than one team in the same sport at the same time. Many of you should be cringing when I say this, but it's not uncommon. It's also not without its risks. What follows will be a discussion about some of those risks, the rewards, and what families and coaches should consider when dealing with multi-team kids.
Why Would Kids Play on More Than One Team?
A lot of it comes down to friends. Kids have friends on other teams that play in other leagues. They connect with one another in school. They say things like "You should come play with us. We have fun!" Kids hear about different styles, different experiences, and they want to go where their friends are and try new stuff. This is all very natural.
Other reasons to play on more than one team might be to find new challenges. Many kids love to play in a relaxed environment where fun and friendship rule AND in a more challenging environment where a crispy through pass is received by a competent player who can use it to the team's advantage. I'm not saying that either is more or less fun or that there are not competent players in recreation or classic programs. I'm merely pointing out that there are multiple reasons why players might like to play on more than one team.
For some, it's about exposure. Though I fear this is too often more of a marketing gimmick to attract parents willing to pay big bucks, than it is an actual opportunity to be scouted. Clubs, coaches, or parents move kids from platform to platform hoping to find the right platform so their kid can have the best chance of being discovered. While discovery is possible, see my episode describing US Soccer's alphabet soup for reasons why this might not be the best strategy.
As a coach, I want to be clear right out of the gate that playing on multiple teams in the same sport in the same season has risks. It can be made to work, but there are things we need to think about. Going down this path will require additional communication and in some cases, checking with your medical professionals.
So what are the risks?
So what are the benefits?
How Can We Address Our Considerations?
I can tell you what I did to make this work. I coach one of my kid's teams, but I know the coaches from the other teams my kids play on. I pay attention to what the other coaches are doing. I'm looking at things like position, style, and skills training. I adjust my own team to accommodate. In other words, if the coach from my son's varsity team is playing him one way, I take care to play him in a similar fashion on my team. He's a Junior in High School now so he's in that specialization window. If he were younger, I would probably approach things differently and go for more diversity. Whatever matching we do needs to be age appropriate.
One thing I do as a coach is deliberately avoid overuse injuries. In practical terms, this means I ask my athletes in the beginning of the season "Who is playing on another team or doing another sport this season?" My high school-aged players sort themselves based on who's already been running when they show up on my field. They already know I won't make them run twice in the same day.
Anything to do with running (track, cross country, soccer, etc) puts my on notice that that athlete may not need or be able to tolerate the same level of physical activity as my other player. I separate those multi-team kids from my others during hard physical training. They work on stretching, basic training, or tactics during those times. If I want to run the beep test on my kids, for example, I try to coordinate with the other team coach so ensure I'm not dropping that test on top of a 7-mile run.
As a general statement, I don't believe that playing on more than one team at the same time is for everyone. There are some players that thrive in a multi-team environment as my two kids have. It takes a higher level of communication and careful attention paid to the risks involved, but it can be made to work.
I think an ideal situation is one where the two clubs or teams see themselves as complementary, not competing. I think that in cases, as with my own club, where we see ourselves as support for players no matter where they end up playing, it can work. But it's critical to keep an eye out for over stress and burn out.
My own kids played all the way through high school and continue to look forward to playing in college - as an extracurricular activity. My son was trying to meg me in the kitchen just this morning - before school nearing the end of his junior year. No doubt that the beautiful game will be life long companions for both of my kids.