Game of numbers: Preps soccer sometimes struggles with turnout

Posted 10/13/11

Every high school sports program concerns itself with one aspect. Numbers. Without the turnout of interested student athletes, obviously no preps …

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Game of numbers: Preps soccer sometimes struggles with turnout


Every high school sports program concerns itself with one aspect. Numbers.

Without the turnout of interested student athletes, obviously no preps sports program can survive.

Boys soccer is one area where, depending on the area, can struggle to keep enough of the community’s kids involved with the high school program enough to field a full roster of teams.

One factor in the reduction of interest for some sports like soccer is the addition of others. As some schools develop and kick of new programs like lacrosse, there is sometimes a dip in the pool of the usual athletes available.

In addition, the competitive club system has a direct effect on preps sports like soccer which can at times be either supportive or adverse. ThunderRidge coach Chris Smith coaches the high school team and coaches club, and he is very well aware of the differences. Although the Grizzlies program has not been hurting for players since he became coach, he expects a drop could be in the future. The main reason? Burnout.

“Turnout will certainly decrease now with the direction our sport is taking, and that disappoints me,” Smith said. “I have yet to meet a kid who got burned out because of high school soccer. I have kids each year who don't come out though, because they were burned out from playing club soccer. Some of these players are some of the top players around too.”

Don’t get Smith wrong though. He said he enjoys coaching club soccer and all that comes with it. However, he is disappointed with some of his fellow club coaches for reasons other high school coaches run into all the time.

Grant Mello, a junior and starting goalkeeper for the Douglas County Huskies, said he was taking off the next year from club soccer because he was “tired” but he would continue to play high school soccer his senior season.

Over at Valor Christian, the boys soccer program has had low numbers for year, but coach Brian Shultz feels it may simply be because the school charges tuition. In past seasons, the Eagles have tried to swing players back and forth to make two teams, and this year is the first the program has been able to field a full varsity and junior varsity roster.

Number of clubs

Like almost any sport in the South Metro area, the competitive club systems can be a double-edged sword. While the club teams help high school programs by providing an outlet for student athletes to develop their abilities year round, some coaches in the club program can hinder the high school season.

“Some talk down to high school soccer to the kids, saying high school soccer is a waste of time,” Ponderosa coach Jim Engels said. “Many club soccer coaches are into themselves, and they forget that it’s really about the kids having a great high school and club experience.”

Engels said most of his players tell him they enjoy high school soccer more than club.

Seeing the situation first hand as a coach for both outlets, Smith agrees some coaches in the club system down-talk the high school experience to some players.

“This hinders our sport on so many levels,” Smith said. “One, it takes kids away from many of the most important parts of growing up. High school sports allow kids of the same community to participate together. It allows coaches to hold players accountable for more than just their behavior on the field, keeping up their grades and teaching them to be responsible citizens.”

Littleton coach Terry Banfield said traditionally there has always been a “battle” between high school and club soccer, which he’s not certain how it started. He said the Lions will get the majority of their players from Littleton Soccer-Colorado United, the local club in that area. Others may come over from club teams in Denver also.

“I hear all the time that players are pressured to not play high school soccer, but not at Colorado United,” Banfield said. “It may happen, but I don't hear it.”

Banfield did say, however, a few years ago, one of Littleton’s top female soccer players also played on a top Colorado Rush team, and she was told under no circumstances should she play high school soccer her senior year since the Rush team, at the time, were preparing for nationals.

“Unfortunately she didn't play for us, and then found out that other girls defied their coach and went to play high school their senior year,” Banfield said. “A girl at Fort Collins was one. Why would you deny someone that high school experience?”

Banfield said the Lions’ relationship with Colorado United is good. He trusts the coaches there, some of whom have even attended the Littleton High School games.

Number of kids

Banfield said at Littleton the total soccer player numbers have only dropped twice in the 16 years he has been coach of the Lions. In those two seasons, he said lower school enrollment, lack of interest and a spark of lacrosse a few years ago are responsible.

Adam Buseck, coach of the Heritage Eagles, said the population around a high school team and its school’s enrollment have the largest effect on a preps program’s turnout. The diversity of sports, he agrees, is also a major factor. In addition, as kids become more aware of their social status based on their consumption in a consumer-based society, some programs will lose players because teens may be putting more focus on getting jobs instead of high school sports, Buseck said.

However, Heritage is doing better in its numbers this season than ever, and Buseck has not found a “battle” with the club teams has effected the Eagles.

“Club soccer helps in nearly all cases,” Buseck said. “Only a limited number of players play at a high enough level. Club soccer helps to develop players in the off-season and before they arrive at high school.”

The Heritage coach also said consistent coaching within the preps teams and the overall image of the high school program are also key factors in ensuring the turnout is consistent.

At Arapahoe High School, soccer coach Mark Hampshire said he has also heard concerns for a reduction of interest for some high school teams in the area. The Warriors have also remained fairly consistent as well, although the numbers aren’t as high as Hampshire would prefer, he said.

Number of schools

Hampshire said a community’s demographics and the building of new schools can also play a part in dwindling numbers.

“Some schools cannot field lower level teams,” he said. “The gap in talent becomes more noticeable.”

New high schools and their respective sport programs always mean the pool of student talent in that community is spread thin to accommodate the draw to new institution. Douglas County School District has opened Rock Canyon, Castle View and Legend high schools all within the last eight years, totaling nine in the district all looking to build championship quality sports teams.

“Douglas County has built so many schools close together, it really makes it tough to be able to compete at a high level,” Ponderosa’s coach Engels said.

Number of leaders

Hampshire said one reason he has heard staff in the club systems have discouraged players participating at the high school level is since it offers such “elite” training and development, some players have trouble adjusting to playing with others not on their “level.”

“Some have never had to play with anyone other than those who are like them,” the Arapahoe coach said. “Therefore, some struggle with leadership qualities, teamwork and problem solving. ... The ‘lower’ squads suffer as a result. This is unfortunate.

“We have been fortunate enough that that has not been a huge issue for us. Yet.”


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