Southwestern Youth Association Travel Soccer Program
Thank you for your interest in our travel soccer program. SYA is very proud of the coaches, parents, and especially the children who make up our travel teams. While we are hoping to use this forum to explain how travel soccer with SYA works, we strongly encourage you to talk to friends and neighbors about their experiences, while recognizing that each team has a unique character.
What is the difference between recreational (house) and travel soccer?
In our house program, all children who register on time will be assigned to a team, and will receive equal playing time. Ability is not a factor, and all interested players are welcome. Coaches are all volunteers who have a wide range of coaching background. Travel soccer is a competitive program. All players are welcome to attend try-outs, but not all will be asked to join a team. Once asked to join, playing time is not guaranteed. Additionally, once on a team, players will continue to have to try-out every June to keep their roster spot. Coaches are highly licensed, often professionals, and bring a wealth of personal playing and training experience to the teams they lead. Travel is a highly competitive world, and players’ development is of the utmost importance on SYA’s travel teams.
Who should play travel soccer?
Please realize that travel soccer is not for everyone, and that in many cases, a player and his or her family may be best served by our recreational (house) program. To be successful in travel soccer, children should show a high level of ability, and their families should recognize that a greater commitment, both in terms of attendance at practices and games as well as financially, is required.
When are the games held?
Generally, travel games are held on Sunday afternoons, but almost every team will find themselves with a Saturday game at least once during the season. They may have a game on Sunday that weekend as well. Tournament games are held on Saturdays and Sundays; tournaments are discussed below in more detail.
How old must a player be to tryout for a travel team?
Generally, players are offered the opportunity beginning at U9 (usually 3rd grade). SYA supports at least one team, and usually two or more, at every age through U18/19.
How can I find out when and where tryouts will be held?
Please check the website in May. Tryout dates and times will be listed there. You may also check with your child’s coach or contact the travel commissioners for information as the time draws near.
What do you mean by try-outs? What must my child do?
Try-outs are held every spring in June, and all interested children in an age group are encouraged to attend. Try-outs, which are two or three nights long, are essentially handled like a practice, with one coach leading the sessions. Ball control, foot skills, speed, an understanding of the game, and the like are assessed by the coaches. Within a few days, coaches may offer a roster position to a player, or may call to discuss areas where the child should focus on improving.
What if there are two teams (or more) in an age group? How do we choose?
Please note that for many age groups, children have the option of two or more teams within the club; they are encouraged to accept a slot from the best team to offer one, but this is not required and the final choice is the player’s. All teams in a specific age and gender (U10 boys, for instance) hold tryouts together. The more advanced, or “A”, team will make the first selections and contact players. The next team will then be able to make their choices and contact those children. It may take a few days to hear from a coach- do not despair if there is not a phone call the night that the last tryouts take place! Every player will be contacted, regardless of the outcome.
How many players will ‘make it’?
U9 and U10 teams play 7 v 7; therefore a roster will have not more than 12 players. At U11 and (starting in the fall of 2007) U12, the teams play 8 v 8 and rosters can not exceed 14 players. At U13, the teams play 11 v 11 and roster sizes can be increased to 18. However, many coaches choose to select fewer than the maximum number of players allowed in order to increase each person’s playing time. Neither the players nor their parents want to have a child sitting on the bench for long periods due to enormous rosters. Again, many age groups have multiple teams already, and SYA is willing to form more teams if interest and ability indicate the need.
What, specifically, does the “travel” part of Travel Soccer entail?
While many families, especially those considering this level of soccer for the first time, fear that by ‘travel’ they are committing to going to Delaware or Ohio every weekend throughout the season, this is definitely NOT the case. League games- roughly 9 of them per season- are played in the greater DC Metro area. You may end up playing a game in Winchester, or Ann Arundel County, or Fredericksburg- but you’ll have about half of your games at ‘home’ on SYA fields (such as ECL, Pope’s Head, Field of Dreams, and Kincheloe). You may have a number of ‘away’ games nearby as well, in Chantilly or Reston or Springfield or Manassas for instance. Traditionally with the youngest teams (U9 and U10), the travel leagues make an attempt to group the children geographically, although it is not guaranteed that there won’t be some games at a greater distance.
Can you tell me more about tournaments?
Tournaments comprise a large part of the travel soccer experience, and the children love them. Tournament weekends generally mean a team will definitely play two games on Saturday and at least one on Sunday, with the possibility of more Sunday afternoon if the team reaches the semi-finals or finals. Most teams play two or three tournaments per season. These often take place in the ‘pre-season’ (August and March), but may be held on Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Memorial Day weekends, and sometimes on the weekend following the last weekend of league play.
Most SYA teams play tournaments held locally. Clubs like Olney and Bethesda (in Maryland) as well as Springfield , Herndon, Stafford, Prince William, and VSA (Haymarket) host tournaments every year. SYA teams are expected to play the Cardinal Cup, which is the tournament our club holds in mid- August (two weeks before Labor Day).
Higher level and older teams may compete in tournaments in Richmond or North Carolina, and high school age teams who are very advanced sometimes are invited to more distant sites, such as San Diego or Disney World, for tournaments.
Additionally, from U12 on, higher level teams are encouraged to participate in State Cup play. This is a single elimination tournament which takes place over the course of about six weekends, with one game per weekend until a team either loses or reaches the semi-finals. State Cup semi-final games are held on Saturdays, and Finals are the next day.
So what leagues do SYA teams play in?
We are fortunate to have three very competitive travel leagues in the area, and SYA teams compete in all of them. Washington Area Girls Soccer League (WAGS) is, as the name indicates, all-girls, and accepts teams from U9 through U19. The National Capital Soccer League (NCSL) is the equivalent league for boys of the same ages. Both leagues accept teams from Maryland, DC, and Virginia. The Old Dominion Soccer League (ODSL) accepts DC and Virginia teams only and includes both boys and girls in every age group from U9 to U19. Except in the youngest groups all leagues attempt to make up ‘divisions’ based on skill and success as measured by their win/ loss record.
My child enjoys other activities, like dance or baseball- will that be all right?
Many travel soccer players participate in other activities. The coaches understand this, however, it is expected that a player’s primary commitment is to his or her soccer team.
How many hours a week will my child practice?
Generally speaking, travel teams practice twice a week for an hour and a half during the regular season. Sometimes a team will add a third night with a special trainer or to work on a specific aspect of the game such as shooting.
Do they have to go to residential camp?
No, no team forces a child to attend residential camp, although many older teams do go each year and strongly encourage everyone to participate. For various reasons, not all children are willing or able to attend. The very young ones do not go at all. Some residential camps are within an hour of home, among them the Soccer Academy camps at Foxcroft and Randolph Macon. Going to camp nearby sometimes makes children and their parents more comfortable- and most players really love the experience!
I’ve heard travel soccer is essentially a year- round sport?
Generally speaking, travel teams train and play, indoors or outdoors, about 11 months out of the year. After tryouts in June, July is a quiet month for travel soccer players and most families opt to take their vacations then. Starting at the end of July, residential camps get into full swing for players on older teams who choose to participate. Regular practices begin approximately August 1. SYA teams play the Cardinal Cup and possibly another tournament by Labor Day weekend, and then league play (whether NCSL, ODSL, or WAGS) begins the weekend after Labor Day. Columbus Day is a holiday from league play, but a popular tournament weekend. The season ends by the second weekend in November. Some teams take a brief break until after Christmas, others play a post-season tournament before Thanksgiving. There are teams who continue training outdoors when the weather permits all winter. After January 1, the majority begins to gear up for indoor league play and begin indoor training in the school gyms on Sunday afternoons. Indoor leagues and training finish in early March, and the outdoor pre-season tournaments take place. Around April 1, the spring outdoor season begins, and runs through the second weekend in June. Try-outs take place again in early- to mid- June.
I heard there are fall-only teams?
This year, SYA fielded two Fall-only teams. One was for U10 boys and the other for U11 boys. Both found success and enjoyed themselves. This is a new concept and we are anxious for feed-back about the idea.
Tell me about the coaches?
Coaches are thoroughly interviewed by the Director of Coaching (Rob Olson) and the Travel Commissioner (Russ Horn). Whenever possible, they are watched while training a team and while coaching a game before being offered a position. We are inordinately proud of our coaching staff, which features national level coaches. We have 5 “A” licensed coaches (“A” being the highest U.S. license one can attain), three “B” licensed coaches, and ten “C” licensed coaches. Additionally, the club has many more with state- level “D” and “E” licenses. Furthermore, a number of our coaches hold European licenses as well as US licenses. Their diverse backgrounds include time spent on National teams, professional club teams in the US and Europe, and coaching experience with ODP teams and national teams as well as at the high school and university level. If your children have participated in any of the clinics SYA offers, you’ve probably met several of our travel coaches already.
What are the advantages of playing with SYA instead of going with an independent team?
In addition to being a part of a well-known and respected club, both locally and nationally, and the presence of exceptionally well- qualified coaches, SYA offers other advantages to its teams. We have a large number of fields available for practice and for use by our teams in travel leagues as game sites. We also offer access to local school gymnasiums for indoor training during the winter when weather limits outdoor opportunities. Our club reps to the travel leagues have been involved in travel soccer for years and are extremely knowledgeable and able to help with whatever issues may arise. Because the club has a number of coaches from the travel side who are willing to do more, we are able to offer a number of specialized clinics, such as those for recreational and travel goal keepers broken down by age, travel player clinics for children to get extra time with the ball in a group setting, and U7, U8, and U9 clinics for advanced players to receive additional training in preparation for future experiences on a travel team. These clinics are exceptional bargains; some are free while others are less than $10 for an hour long session. SYA players have gone on to successful college careers (some signing letters of intent as early as their junior year!), and one young man is currently playing on the U17 National Team this year and attending the residential program in Bradenton, Florida.
It all sounds great- but how much will this cost my family?
Travel soccer fees can vary greatly depending on the team, the amount of actual travel, and other factors. Generally speaking, the fees will be within this range:

Uniform (two jerseys, two pair of socks, shorts)            $130.00 (may last up to 2 years)
Seasonal registration with SYA                                     $150.00 ($300.00/ year)
Coaching/ training fees, per season                                $150.00-$400.00 ($300-$800/ year)
Tournaments                                                            +/-$40.00 each, per player (2-3/season)
Indoor league play                                                        $60.00-$75.00 for the winter
Indoor training fee                                                         $70.00 for the winter
Is there any financial assistance available?
SYA does not want any child to be unable to play soccer because his or her family is unable to afford the cost. We will make every effort to provide assistance or waive fees in instances where the player’s family merits financial aid. Please contact the travel soccer representatives (Russ Horn at russ-don@att.net for boys, Kathy Hull at aderky3@cox.net for girls) for more information.
As a parent, what are my obligations to a travel team?
All travel teams need a manager, who is a parent volunteer. This person handles the day-to-day administrative aspects of the team, such as sending emails to the team, contacting opponents before games, passing along information between SYA and the team members, collecting proof of birth documents for new travel players, getting the roster set and player cards generated, and working with the league registrars. Additionally, there are other tasks which include collecting fees and writing team checks, handling tournament applications and registration, and Cardinal Cup organizational duties. Sometimes a manager handles all of this; often it is divided among a number of parents.
Once my child is selected, what happens?
After tryouts and selections are complete, the coach or team manager will call a meeting of the parents and sometimes include the children as well. A representative from SYA (the director of coaching or travel commissioner or coordinator) may also attend to help with questions. At this meeting, a manager will be chosen for a new team, or for an existing one if the manager is stepping down. You can expect that the coach will speak a little about his plans for the coming year, that the team will discuss pre-season training and tournaments, and that you’ll be asked for information including your names (as parents), your address, and your phone numbers. In addition, you should plan to bring a legal form of ID as verification of age. You may use your child’s original birth certificate, military ID, passport or DMV-issued ID. Note that copies, even notarized, are not permissible. The team manager will need to keep these for a bit so player passes can be generated; be sure to take care of anything else requiring this paperwork (getting a passport for your child for a summer vacation, for instance) before this meeting! The player card will also require a recent photo of your child; it should be 1” x 1” and needs to be a head shot. You can bring this as well. You’ll also receive information about purchasing SYA travel uniforms and gear, about doing the online league registration, and you’ll be able to ask specific questions.
In order to make a high school team, does my child have to play travel soccer?
In a word- no. Will it help? Probably. Travel soccer players are exposed to a fast-paced, technically advanced game. High school soccer teams are generally made up of players from a number of different travel teams. There are players on competitive club (travel) teams who do not make their high school squads, so it certainly offers no guarantee, but children with a serious desire to play in high school should strongly consider joining a travel team. The mere experience of trying out, accompanied by an understanding of the level of competition they will face, makes looking into travel soccer a good decision for these children.
How do I find out where travel game will be played so my child and I can go watch?
It is a good idea to watch a team in the age group or which your child is considering trying out. Within established groups (current U9 and above) you can watch the players, view the coach with his team, and perhaps talk to parents about their impressions and those of their children. For families with rising U9 players, watching the current year’s U9 teams can be viewed with a perspective of “Do I believe that my child thrive in this environment next year?” or “Do I think he or she will want to compete in this arena/ learn these skills in the next year?” You can find schedules by age group on the websites, as listed here: