We live, coach, and teach in an era of options. There are more athletic opportunities than ever before for all sports and all ages in all places. Club teams can help your small program, but they pose the potential for more harm than good. That being said, club teams can both help and hinder your athletic program in three areas: exposure, experience, and enhancement. We’re going to look at the pros and cons of each category.
Obviously, college scouts don’t make many trips to small campuses or athletic programs.
To compensate for this, many athletes will choose to participate in club sports in order to be seen and recruited by colleges.
This exposure can be great for your athlete, especially if his goal is to play college sports.
You need to realize that exposure in the club circuit goes both ways.
In my five years of coaching, I’ve set up three athletes (two eighth grade basketball players and one freshman baseball player) with off-season club teams. Within two years, all three decided to head to bigger schools. One of them actually became a starter at a local AAAAA public school (and I truly was thrilled for him), but the other two were out of their sports within a year after middling around on JV teams.
When you hook your athletes up with club teams, they will be tempted or recruited to go elsewhere. If you have surplus athletes to fill in the holes they leave behind, then great, but in small programs those departures can be a heavy blow.
Another con regarding exposure is that many players truly are exposed for what they really are. A benefit to off-season club participation is exposure to college coaches and recruiters. However, if a player is more deficient in some skills than he is proficient, then the exposure can be counterproductive.
“Players spend too much time getting exposed and not enough time getting better.” – TJ Rosene, head men’s basketball coach at Emmanuel College; coach with PGC Basketball
Competing on off-season club teams does provide extra experience for athletes.
They will be practicing regularly against other, often higher-caliber athletes. They will be playing in a lot of games, since the modus operandi of club teams is tournaments.
Depending on the club, they may end up playing twice as many games in the off-season as they do during your regular athletic season.
Experience is a great teacher.
The culture of club sports usually values game time over practice time.
The number of hours spent in game competition will far outweigh the amount of time spent in practice.
When they do practice, club teams rarely focus on player development; practices are usually spent developing team strategy for the upcoming five-game-minimum tournament. This is another example of the “peak by Friday” mentality.
Playing time and the player’s role on the team come into play as well. An athlete may spend all day at a tournament site and take part in several games. But how much time during those games did the athlete have the ball or perform a skill?
Minute for minute, club sports are not always the most efficient way to improve sport-specific skills in the off-season. Your athletes’ time would be best spent developing multilateral skills in another sport or taking part in individual skill development and training.
Players who compete in off-season club teams often return to their school teams prepared to enhance the overall program.
Players learn to compete against other motivated players. An athlete who learns to demand more of his teammates because more was demanded of him by his club team is a welcome addition that any coach would love to have.
Many times players will return to the school season eager to share new drills or strategies with their coaches and teammates.
This energy is invaluable and enhances the atmosphere of the program.
An athlete that returns to a school team that he sees as “less than” his club team can become complacent, detached, or frustrated.
It’s human nature to compare, and he will compare everything about his two teams. This attitude can have a negative impact on your program and is something that you as a coach will need to address.
If you are doing all you can to field a complete program at your school, you’ve probably already realized that your athletes who compete in off-season club teams are less likely to participate in other sports your school offers.
Hopefully, you also recognize the potential dangers of overspecialization that off-season club teams present.
Overall, the situation of the athlete is the greatest factor in determining whether or not to give club sports your blessing.
If the athlete and his family is totally dedicated to your school, then it may be a beneficial experience for him. Consider how his participation outside of your program will affect your overall program. Is he a multi-sport athlete at your school? If so, you may want to rethink suggesting club participation.
Remember, in many cases the cons outweigh the pros with club sports.
Find ways that you can help your athletes improve under your program.
Do your athletes participate on off-season club teams? How has it affected your program?