Fans' View

Fans’ View: The joys of high school soccer

Photo: Staci Klemmer

We live in the North Penn School District. My oldest son, who is now a tenth grader, will graduate in a class with over 1100 other students. The high school only has room for grades 10-12; 9th grade stays at the Junior High with 7th and 8th grade.

For an average athlete, playing high school sports is a given. Most schools, including the one I teach at, have maybe 40 to 50 kids come out for soccer and often all of the players are taken. Sure, you may not make varsity, you may not get much playing time, but there at least is a seat on the bench for you.

At North Penn, there is, in theory, a rule on how many 9th graders are taken for the JV/Varsity teams. The year before my son was a 9th grader, they took four.

Last summer, I forced (mean mom!) my son to try out for the team. I told him, you aren’t going to make it, but it will be good experience. Keep in mind, I already knew three of the four 9th graders they were going to take , so I figured there was no way that my kid would be the 4th.

Over 80 players tried out for the team. 15+ were 9th graders. The second day they have to do a timed 2 mile run. In theory, to stand a chance of making the cut, you have to run it in under 13:30, so I had dragged my son out to the local track over the summer to time him. He was averaging around that time.

The list of those who have made the cut is posted on Friday, the last day of tryouts. By that time, realizing that the level of competition is beyond their skills, a few of the kids trying out have already dropped out.

I don’t know who was more surprised to see his name on the list, me or my son. It was one of those moments when you can say to your kid, “See, hard work does pay off.” Yes, I did kinda sort of burst into tears.

The JV team ended up with six 9th graders — the most ever taken — and they had a great season. The downside was that there were 28 players on the team. The good news was that the coach did a great job of rotating so just about everyone got playing time. And as a proud mom, I can say my son was starting half way through the season.

This year, tryouts were a lot less stressful. While some 80+ kids tried out for the team, I knew my son’s spot was his to lose. In fact, after the first day, they pulled him up to train with varsity. In the end, he made JV and he’s OK with that. He’s started all three preseason games and has gotten plenty of playing time.

Tryouts can be a crap shoot. Coaches have such a short time to evaluate everyone’s skills. This week my younger son is trying out for the 7th grade team. The only advice my eldest had to give to him was when you do the run, make sure you are in the front of the pack.

I’ve had a few discussions with other parents about this need to only evaluate kids on their speed rather than their ball skills or how they read the game. I understand that when you have 30+ kids that have to be cut, you need a way to weed them out, but it seems pretty one dimensional to rely just on how fast a kid can run two miles.

So all you PSP high school/middle school coaches, how do you evaluate players? What are you looking for? Does the player who works his butt off in tryouts have a leg up on someone who doesn’t work as hard, but might be faster?

For now, I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping my younger keeps up on the run and makes the team.


  1. I say that the a player is valued based on four metrics:

    Technique, Physical fitness (which includes raw athleticism along with endurance), tactics (knowledge of the game in game situtaions), and character. The last one is hard to explain but you know when you see it. Doing the work to come into camp fit, it shows fitness but it also shows character, so it’s important.

    It kills me to cut kids every year. It takes courage for every kid to be there. But limited resources and the need for the team to feel unity trumps the desire to include everyone. Also, hearing, “No, you’re not there,” can help kids. Albert Einstein wouldn’t make our team, but on the other hand, he would have more important things to do.

  2. Oh Staci…I’m already worried about my boys playing high school soccer…and the oldest is only 10! They’ll be at Conestoga, where it’s not uncommon for an A-team travel player to get cut from the high school team. As a pediatrician, I always encourage kids to play sports because it does so much for their mental health, self-esteem, etc. Hopefully when big, competitive schools have to make a lot of cuts, they could also develop some type of intramural/club/pickup soccer. I also wish that “raw athleticism” wasn’t a major selection criteria since kids develop at such different rates in high school. There are many kids who are on the smaller side who get overlooked in high school sports only to become fantastic athletes later in life when their physical development catches up.

    • There are many smaller kids with raw athleticism who aren’t overlooked. My brother and I were in that category. Good coaches can spot the difference and the kids with smaller builds and that raw athletic talent need to find a way to make the bad coaches notice them – whether its working late after practice, coming into camps fit and mentally focused, playing smart and with more tactical acumen, and pushing the “bigger” kids to excel beyond using their own athleticism.
      Coming from a guy who was always the “small kid,” that’s an excuse made by others for you.

  3. Timely article. My son is a freshman this year (Bensalem HS), and trying out for the freshman team. They try and keep everybody, but there’s just a touch too many kids so 4-5 will get cut either the end of this week or the beginning of next. They have a scrimmage today.
    In my son’s favor, last year in our rec league I convinced him to “convert” from what was essentially a wing/forward with no real direction on the field to playing fullback. My son has ridiculous stamina and speed – he runs a 5-minute mile and 19-minute or so 5K, is ridiculously tough, and has a strong throw-in. He embraced the role given that it lets him really open up a bit and take advantage of his speed while letting him be a bit physical on defense. Now, at school, when the coach asked the 26 or so kids, “Who wants to play defense?” he was one of only 6 or 7 to enthusiastically volunteer. When the coach asked about forward, there were 10-12 kids who raised their hand. He would have no shot as a forward, but seems to have a good chance at fullback.
    His general footwork is his weakness. The hope is his “unteachables” – speed, stamina, good leadership skills, knowing his position well, toughness, etc – outweigh the things a coach can teach him when it comes to his footwork.
    And… I think I’m more nervous about it all than he is. He’s pretty level-headed overall, and so while he’d be disappointed to get cut I think he’d handle OK overall. On the other hand, I think it would do him a world of good to make it, even if it was at the bottom of the roster. He did track in middle school (and plans to do it in HS as well), and his grades were always better just before and during track season, for example; he’d slack off the first marking period knowing his grades didn’t really matter. Making soccer forces him to keep his grades up. It also gives him someplace to direct his raw energy, allows him to build new friendships, and all those other positives from being on a team.

    • I played soccer through high school for a long time, mostly in the 80s til about 91. Back then rec coaches knew pretty much nothing about the game more than it was played by 11 guys per side and that you needed to put the ball in the net. I was short and quick and was always put on a wing or as a center forward. I was unremarkable.

      When a coach with a clue finally switched me to fullback, I started really contributing. I might have been short, but I had a knack for defense. Was able to keep other players from getting by me. I started to have a lot more fun playing competitively. It’s so important to have a coach that can find a player’s best position. Good luck to your son.

    • Well, he found out after their scrimmage yesterday that the coaches have decided not to cut anybody from the Freshman team. My wife was reading between the lines of what she could hear, and it sounds as though there are some concerns about attitude issues for some of the varsity players, so the coaches want to make sure there are enough kids to handle the “trickle down” effect of dropping kids off varsity – then kids on JV move up, then kids on Freshman move up to JV.
      He only had between 5-10 minutes playing time yesterday. Had one throw-in, and opted to go short to the wide-open center-mid rather than taking the big throw. I didn’t see the play, but it sounds like a solid decision. Also had an interception and a defensive stop in his few minutes.
      He’s not used to sitting, so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles it. Hopefully he opts to work harder and make decisions harder for the coach going forward.

  4. I’m a NP Alum. Loved the athletics there. Large school and very competitive – not just sports but pretty much any program. Tell your sons to keep focusing on improving their level play while hitting the gym and track in the offseason.
    Sidenote: If he’s seriously interested in improving his fitness, have him go out for NP’s wrestling team. Some of my buddies are volunteer coaches and they will put him through the ringer. He’ll be in much better shape – strength, endurance, mental perseverance – by the team next fall rolls around.

  5. As a former college player (D3 haha) and coach at the high school and D3 collegiate level, the idea behind the run was more to test the players who had followed the training regiment requested by the coaches.

    An Example: When I was playing and then coaching in college, we had to run the 2 mile in under 12. One year, we had a returning starter and captain entering his senior year who thought the rules did not apply to him. He came in out of shape, ran poorly and lost his captaincy.

    As a high school coach, we looked for a number of different things. Being at a smaller school, we knew a good amount of the kids coming in and all the returners so it made things a bit easier. I would say the while making sure to be able to handle the run and being physically fit, a player will stand out for their overall performance. You would be surprised with how much a good coach will remember a singular play during a preseason session that will resonate on a players vision or understanding of the game. Coaches often will put players in smaller sided games so that their skills show through but also should their work rate and stamina.

    NP is a big school and it is good that he has been noticed by the coaching staff as that is half the battle, now its up to him to hone his skills outside of the program to make sure he continues to progress up the latter.

    • I did it in high school and college (D1) and used it for fitness evaluations for my players when I coached high school. The 2 mile timed run is actually called the Cooper Test, developed in 1968 by a Dr. Kenneth Cooper. It was a way to predict endurance and VO2 in a large group of people, in his case….the Air Force. Wasn’t as easy back then as it is now. The test is run as far as you can for 12 minutes and to stop at where you are at the end. If an athlete or member of our military can do two in twelve, the prediction is they have very good VO2…..and a high rate of endurance. Is it aged, and have its limitations, yes……..especially if you don’t know your personnel. That’s why other methods like beep tests are used now as well, I used that too. It’s a slightly different assessment, but useful. Some colleges and high schools run a three mile now, instead of the two….or, on top of it! I’ve seen three in 18 in college and 3 in 21 in high school.

      • Yeah in my final 2 years of college and afterwards we used the beep test in addition to the cooper test…not fun for a goalie!

      • Hahaha! +1

      • +1. Coming from a goalie, it sucks.

      • If the beep test is the one I think it is, they used it in my kids’ middle schools as part of their “presidential fitness” testing. My son outlasted the recording they had in 7th grade; in 8th grade, they found a longer recording specifically because of him; instead, he outlasted the gym period – they had to stop him because class was over.
        I have no idea why he has such good stamina. He spends as much time as possible glued to his iPod and Nintendo DS. 🙂

      • Heredity or environment bro!

  6. Oh yeah, and the Academy killed HS soccer……………….

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