The Benefits of Local City Play in Youth Soccer: Reevaluating the Travel Tournament Craze



The Benefits of Local City Play in Youth Soccer:
Reevaluating the Travel Tournament Craze

In the world of youth soccer, the landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade. There has been a significant push for teams to participate in regional travel leagues, often requiring players to travel long distances for games. What was once a tradition for older players has now become a race to introduce travel soccer at younger and younger ages, sometimes as early as 9 years old. In this article, we’ll explore the reasons behind this shift, examine its impact on young players and their families, and discuss why a return to local, in-city play might be a more beneficial choice for many.

The Rise of Travel Soccer for Younger Players

Over the last decade, youth soccer clubs and leagues across the United States have been expanding their reach into regional travel leagues. This has led to a situation where many teams find themselves traveling one to three hours away from their hometowns for league games, and in some cases, even farther, necessitating overnight stays. The promotion of travel soccer for younger children has become so prevalent that some clubs are advertising their teams two years in advance of actually joining elite leagues like the ECNL (Elite Clubs National League). This has been the dominant push in youth soccer in large cities such as Charlotte and Dallas and much of the United States.

Questions for Parents and Players

With this shift towards earlier and more extensive travel soccer, parents and players are confronted with several important questions:

Why is this happening?

Does it make me a better player?

Is it worth the time, money, and effort?

At what age does travel soccer make sense?

To address these questions, we must consider what’s truly in the best interest of the child and player, particularly in cities with robust soccer scenes like Charlotte.

The Flaws of Travel Leagues for Player Development

One of the most significant criticisms of early travel soccer involvement is that it may not be helpful for player development, especially at a young age. Clubs have become adept at separating families from their money and controlling their time. The fear of missing out on future opportunities and success often drives parents to commit to these programs.

Clubs frequently promote the idea that “practicing with better players” is the key to future progress, success, and development. However, it’s essential to remember that these teams typically have a core group of 6 or 7 players, with others subsidizing this small group. While practicing with talented teammates has its merits, there’s no substitute for on-ball skill development, decision-making, competition, and the desire to improve, especially for young children. Sitting in a car to travel a total of 4 to 6 hours for a 70-minute game is not effective in improving a player.

The Travel Soccer Time Drain and Money Drain

Consider the scenario of a 10-year-old traveling two hours each way (four hours round trip) to play a 60- or 80-minute game, not to mention arriving 45 minutes early. This translates to five hours invested in a single match. Additionally, many of these games may not be competitive, and factors like rain can lead to last-minute cancellations, leaving players and parents feeling frustrated.

On the other hand, if you opt to play locally, just 30 minutes away, you can utilize your time more efficiently. Players can scrimmage, practice as a team, engage in private lessons, or even participate in other sports, fostering a more well-rounded sports experience. Multisport participation is shown to reduce injuries and enhance valuable athletic skills. The cost is obvious local vs travel with hotel stay, food, and travel costs.

The Conflict Between Winning Today and Playing for Tomorrow

The larger soccer clubs’ primary focus is often on winning games in the present, while what’s essential to young players is having fun today and playing in game situations. These two objectives can often be in conflict within the current structure of youth travel soccer. Ask a group of players; would you rather win or play? The answer is play. The answer is to play all day every day. At what age should a player play less than 2/3 of a game? After the game most teams are played with a core of 6 to seven players and the rest subsidize the experience. The going Club and team talking point is we want everyone to progress. Winning is not that important. Is this truthfully stated? What do the team and coaches’ actions tell you? Do they match up?

What Age Should a player's team travel for league play?

This depends on the player. Obviously! But let’s break this down if you are way above your years in size. Speed and skill at 11 or 12 this fact is obvious. These players are already mostly playing in a professional MLS academy with a full-paid season by the team. Some of these players even quickly go to year-round academies like Barca in Arizona. These players are being placed into professional situations and contracts as young as 15 or 16. This is rare. These kids need the very best gameplay but you see they centralize the practice and the majority of time, it is very “local”. They are rare and still very local. The rest of the playing world is different. Some want to play in college or high school or maybe just with friends. Let’s examine an aspiring college player. Does traveling before 17 for the league give any advantage? The very top players are not traveling day to day. While you drive they are living near or at an academy and still getting schooled. They were on the ball training or doing fitness while you were driving for one game. They travel to the best fields for amazing games. You get one game and play a half on an ok field. Oh, but college coaches will at least be at next week’s showcase you say. They don’t really start until you are 17. They already have heard about a few 15-year-olds. The top player wants to be a professional and has a plan. You want to play college or high school and your plan is run by a money-making club that wants to win. You need to play games. You need to learn to compete. You need to build local rivalries. Players will rise from the later situation.

A Better Approach for Serious Players

For serious players in cities like Charlotte, where there’s a rich soccer culture, a more balanced approach may be the answer. Utilizing local leagues like the “Carolina Champions League” in combination with Charlotte Rise FC can provide the best of both worlds.

Players can participate in the local league and carefully plan and schedule a tournament season to complement their local play. This mindful competitive approach ensures more games over a weekend, instead of just one or two, and allows for a mix of larger and smaller tournaments to test skills and progress. Moreover, it provides more time for weekend scrimmages with in-play coaching, promoting a more comprehensive streamlined learning experience.

Join our Soccer Academy Teams Program for soccer skill development, league games, and tournaments.


In conclusion, while the trend towards early travel soccer has been growing, it’s essential for parents and players to critically evaluate whether this is the right path for their development. In many cases, returning to local, in-city play with well-planned tournament participation might be the best way to ensure a fun, holistic, and beneficial soccer experience for young athletes.


What are travel sports?

Travel sports involve youth sports teams that participate in competitions requiring travel outside their local areas, often encompassing regional and national levels.

Why are travel sports considered problematic?

Soccer travel problems often include high costs, excessive time commitments, and stress on young athletes, which can detract from their overall enjoyment and development in the sport.

Are travel sports worth the investment?

While soccer travel teams can offer high-level competition and exposure, it’s important to weigh these benefits against the potential downsides like burnout and financial strain to determine if they’re truly worth it.

Why do some argue that travel sports are bad?

Critics of youth sports travel argue that it prioritizes winning over development, often leading to excessive pressure on young athletes and overshadowing the importance of fun and skill-building.

What are the benefits of local play over travel sports?

Local play can offer more consistent game time and less stress, allowing young athletes to focus on skill development and enjoy the game without the logistical and financial burdens of soccer travel.

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