U12s: A 2001 Place Odyssey

British Columbia's current crop of U12 selects (and their parents) will soon be faced with making some difficult choices as they are fast approaching a fork in the road that divides the soccer landscape in their province. Before long, tryouts will be held for the 2001s' entry year into what was originally called the HPL (High Performance League), which was subsequently re-branded as the EA SPORTS BC Soccer Premier League. It will be the point at which some dreams will begin to take flight - while some others will learn that, as it is throughout life, sometimes goals need to change.

They were initially identified as promising young players at the age of nine. The U10+ program that the club runs is a selection-only group operating within an academy-type system. They've trained at least three nights a week September through March, with a weekend match thrown in. They've played in numerous team, club, district, and off-season tournaments. They've travelled hundreds of kilometers across the province, and across the border, easily logging more than 500 hours of structured soccer over the last three seasons. And for the majority, it wont be enough.

The very best of the best U12 talent is already in the Whitecaps' pre-residency program, the costs of which are borne by the Whitecaps' organization.

The best of the rest who can afford it will soon have the opportunity to move their game into the BCSPL, the second and lowest tier of elite play in the province. But while a player might make a BCSPL selection, it's not always a given that s/he or their family will find the league is the right fit for them.

Navigating in such uncharted territory requires the ability to distinguish rhetoric from reality as far as the BCSPL goes. Or at very least, to be aware that there's a duality at times.

As a case in point, it was recently put to me by a board member of the club my son plays with that if you're harbouring aspirations of your son playing college, university, or provincial team soccer, that avenue remains a possibility only if you go the BCSPL route, and that post-secondary institutions and Provincial Teams Programs personnel don't scout at the metro league level.

This claim was branded as "absolute rubbish" by Colin Elmes, Managing Director of TSS, a Richmond-based player development academy. According to Elmes, such messages constitute nothing more than "fear mongering." On the scouting front, he added that "We have done a great deal of networking with these people, and clearly they will scout everywhere to find players."

It's plain to see that there are definitely multiple messages out there.

Fees for BCSPL play range from franchise to franchise, with costs ranging anywhere between $2,000 and almost $3,000 per season. This does not include parents' accommodation or travel costs, or tournament fees, so you can tack on roughly another $1,000 to that figure.

Players can be selected and unselected. In last year's inaugural season of BCSPL play, there was the possibility of a player being selected for the fall mini-season, and then being unselected when the spring regular season started. That would leave a player high and dry for the next nine months until the next metro season got under way.

There is no guaranteed playing time requirement in the BCSPL, other than a mandated minimum of 30% over the entire program length. So, there can and will be times when a player at the lower end of the team's bandwidth sees little or no game action. However, as one proponent of the BCSPL tried to put it to me several months ago, "Everybody gets at least 75% playing time." Pressed on the matter, he revealed that he'd meant that everybody gets three (guaranteed) practices a week, plus (the possibility of time in) one match.

There's no question the talent level in the BCSPL is largely higher, and will challenge the best players currently involved in club soccer to develop among their equally-skilled and like-minded peers. If your child truly counts among the elite, with the right physical, technical, and emotional tools to make the grade, and you've got the temporal and financial resources to devote to it, the BCSPL is going to be the right choice.

For many, however, the BCSPL won't be an attractive option, whether it's down to cost, commitment, talent, or other reasons. Some play multiple sports, wish to play high school sports, or simply prefer to remain within the club community and among friends that they've known since the days when their pinnies dragged along the ground behind them as they tottered after the ball. None of these are possible if you're involved in BCSPL.

Metro fees typically run just under $1,000 a season, also with three practices a week. Quality coaching is still available, and de-selection does not occur (at least not mid-program). Down the road, if your son has the quality, BCSPL isn't necessarily ruled out, as club TDs can submit recommendations to their counterparts there. There are no guarantees, however.

There are interesting times ahead for all of us, and it remains to be seen who will opt or qualify for which route. As difficult as the decisions may be, if your family is all on the same page and your son or daughter is enjoying playing the game, you've made the right decision.

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