With my player graduating in a matter of days and college starting for her a few days later I thought that I would share a little of what to expect your first year of ECNL. My player’s 97/98 was the first to go from U14 through U18 competing exclusively in the ECNL.
1. Be prepared for sharing sidelines with the opposing team.
I figured that I would start with this one since it tends to be the biggest issue. I get that you are really pumped about your daughter’s team but making negative comments about the other team and/or players could lead to some situations. You never know who is within earshot so be as enthusiastic as you want to be with a measure of restraint and positive verbiage. It could be your daughter that makes the next bad play and that jerk could be talking about her. Don’t be that jerk.
2. Be prepared for faster more physical play.
I like to coddle and protect my player as much as the next person so the consistent speed of play and physicality was a little bit of a shock at first. All of the teams in the Southwest conference and most of the teams that you will see at the Phoenix, San Diego or any other U14 showcase is going to have some pretty talented players and a definite style of play. No more kick and hope soccer. Even the bad teams will have talented players and will have a gameplan on how to try and win with them. Good clean challenges are going to happen so don’t whine to the ref about how dirty the other girl was. This is the big leagues and your princess has to hold her own and adjust.
3. Don’t expect the sidelines to be filled with college coaches at U14.
Lots of first year ECNL parents expect there to be college coaches at every game and at the very least watching the showcase games. The truth is that at U14 half the kids aren’t even in high school and 13 year old girls are far from being finished products physically. The coaches know that a star at this age may just be an early bloomer so they don’t waste much time looking at them. Now if a team or a game has a bunch of YNT players you might see a few of the top schools and some of the local schools working on a preliminary wish list but there won’t be any serious views until the champions league playoffs. The U15 season will be when you start to see quite a few coaches at showcases and the occasional coach at league games and practices. The real action starts at U16 and continues into the the beginning of the U17 season. The U18 season you see usually only a dozen or two coaches watching games.
4. This is the year of fun road trips.
Not that road trips aren’t fun later on but this is the year when you don’t have to get on any planes and you get a couple of fun trips to Vegas and Phoenix. Also I am sure you have done an out of town trip by this point in your player’s career, however this is different. When you go out of town for a tournament there are several days of games with several games a day and nothing at stake other than a meaningless trophy. When she plays in an ECNL game out of state, she will only play in one high level game and as you are soon to find out, every game and every point counts. These trips become business trips for the girls. They get to start getting ready to travel like a college team where they travel together, room together and eat together. These trips are real bonding experiences for them. And for us adults only having one game means plenty of leisure time for gambling, golf and adult time.
5. Be prepared for large rosters and limited substitutions.
I’m going to say something that not a lot of people are going to like but it is the truth. The ECNL is a competitive league and this is the year where playing to win is at it’s highest. Every player wants to get on the radar of potential college suitors and only 16 teams make the playoffs so expect some heated battles. Also expect only about 15-16 players to see more than 10 minutes a game. This is the harsh reality of ECNL. With no reentry in a half the coaches are going to be strategic with substitutions and not every player is going to play in every game. Don’t stress it though because at U16 when the recruiting hits fever pitch coaches will sacrifice wins at showcases in order to insure that all the players get a good amount of field time so that they will be recruited.
6. Be prepared to have your mind blown at your first ECNL showcase.
Make sure to either show up early or stay after your daughter’s game at the U14 showcase held in conjunction with the Phoenix and/or San Diego national events. Find out where a game between a couple top U16 or U17 teams is and check it out. You will not only have your mind blown by the extremely high level of play in those games but your head might explode the first time you see 70+ college coaches, many from the top programs in the country, watching a fast pace game between a bunch of 15 and 16 year old girls! Most don’t believe it until they see it. I remember the first time I told anyone that hadn’t seen it for themselves and lets just say they were skeptical.
7. Be prepared for ECNL envy/hate.
Up until this point all of the top teams from ECNL clubs and non ECNL clubs have gotten the chance to face off against each other in league and in National or State Cup. Starting this year the ECNL teams no longer play in a local championship and other than in Surf Cup, Thanksgiving Surf Cup,Vegas Showcase and a few ECNL club tournaments the top non ECNL teams will get no chance to play the ECNL teams in meaningful games. To add fuel to the fire in many of those games the ECNL teams will be experimenting and playing the players that don’t see much time in ECNL games. That leads to a lot of harsh words about ECNL teams being afraid to play the top non-ECNL teams. It isn’t true but you will hear it. I have seen my player sit out many games against non ECNL teams but not until a showcase her junior year (over a year after she was committed) when the coach wanted to make sure the uncommitted girls got more PT, did I see her sit out a minute of an ECNL game. In every age group there are 1-4 local teams that can compete with the ECNL teams but unfortunately they get screwed and some parents will be a little salty about it.
8. Expect to see lots of mistakes but lots of growth from your player.
Having to play against great competition week in and week out is going to challenge your player in ways you haven’t seen often. It’s going to cause her to make some mistakes that may lead to losses today but don’t fret. This is going to be a year of tremendous growth. She is going to learn how to make decisions quicker, how to handle different offensive and defensive schemes and how to deal with adversity. Trust me when I tell you that today’s losses are going to lead to tomorrow victories and for those that want it, an opportunity to play soccer in college.
9. Expect to see less silly tournaments.
I know that it is exciting to see your player play games and most of the wonderful your women that are playing club soccer like to compete. However, this will likely be the last year that your player’s team will play in any insignificant tournaments. Outside of the Surf tournaments and the Players showcase most ECNL teams will only play in their club tournament and maybe 1 other from an ECNL clubs. Personally I see this as a benefit because tournaments can be a grind.
10. Be prepared for the discovery player controversy.
Every ECNL team is allowed to have 2 players that are rostered to other teams play with them. Usually these are outstanding players that help the team win. These players can be great for results but they have some negative side affects. Unfortunately these outstanding players tend to play significant minutes which can cut into the minutes of regular players that play their dues and this can cause some friction. This can cause friction and I will leave it at that.