Increasingly soccer clubs are taking a more professionally legal approach to signing players to teams. They do this to A) insure they will be paid all the fees families owe to them and B) to dissuade players from club hopping every year. It’s probably a great idea for them, but could be problematic for members. It’s important that parents know what they are agreeing to when they sign up their child after tryouts. Just like a car loan or a credit card, parents need to be sure there are no hidden fees or surprise expenses for which they would be liable under the terms of the "contract" the club asks them to sign and that they aren’t giving up their ability to negotiate or to leave if warranted. We parents need to educate ourselves on what rules exist under our state soccer associations and what are our rights.
Club can’t survive without great coaching and a strong development program, both of which require continuous and stable funding. Since for the most part soccer is an optional diversion and not a necessary expense, parents will often decide to forgo the ongoing costs during tougher economic times. Additionally our sons and daughters can be fickle especially at the youngest ages. Their participation doesn’t spring from a passion for the game, but instead from outside factors such as friends, social standing, and achievement. When those things change then their attitude to continuing in the sport changes.
Since soccer training is a service rather than a commodity, clubs can’t recoup their losses by reselling a returned product. When parents stop paying, the money is lost unless clubs get paid up front or have a tight contract obligating a family to pay whether or not their child continues in the sport. Therefore, many clubs are requiring credit cards for all payments, even payment plans, because they then have arbitration through their bank to insure that the club continues its funding.
When I was my sons’ soccer club administrator, we had to argue several cases a year to the banks which ultimately supported us in our actions citing that we were providing a service rather than a tangible product. So parents need to be aware that they may be liable for all expenses no matter what situation arises – even injury. In fact many of the contracts that clubs request parents to sign clearly outline all the circumstances in which the families will continue to be obligated for all expenses: injury, job transfers or losses, lack of interest, and/or a move. Be sure that you completely understand what you are signing and what your rights are should you want to appeal.
Many state soccer associations carefully protect clubs financially. For instance, no player can be released legally from a club to play with another club until all fees have been paid. And no other club can sign a player who still has a financial obligation to a previous club, even if the season is over. These rules protect clubs not only from monetary losses, but discourage the threats parents will often make that they will pull their child from a team if certain conditions aren’t met. The club can’t be held hostage. The parent can absolutely remove their child any time they want, but they must pay all fees before they can get a release to play on another team. Even if fully paid up, families may not get a release from a club and will have to wait until the next scheduled state tryout date before being able to jump ship. Without a release, no other club can sign their child. Many parents may be under the false impression that all they have to do is leave, but state soccer associations protect clubs from such manipulation and threat. So be sure you educate yourself on the regulations from your state’s governing association to insure you don’t get an unpleasant surprise.
On the reverse side, clubs can be quite sneaky about what the real expenses of being on team include. It gets more difficult the more advanced your player becomes. Elite travel teams don’t want to scare off potential players from joining, but they also don’t want to have those players asking for scholarships because the expense of the team is too much to handle. So clubs will have a fee for playing on the team which will include practice facility use, coaching, a certain number of practices a week, and possibly even tournament fees.
But parents have to enquire about the hidden or possibly surprising costs. The biggest surprise will often be the cost of indoor soccer. When the fall season is over, the coach will begin to talk about the indoor league the team will join and indoor practices. These activities are considered "voluntary" so aren’t included in the original contract, but there is often an unsaid expectation that if we want our children to remain on a team we’re expected to participate. Three or four months of indoor soccer can be as expensive as eight months of regular soccer. Facilities are few and far between, which makes for high demand and pushes up their costs for rental. Tournament fees may be included in the contract, but parents can find themselves obligated to pay the expenses for coaches to travel and stay at the tournaments. Clubs will argue that these costs are unknown at the time of tryouts and are therefore calculated after the fact.
You will want to check to find out if basic uniform costs are included in your fees or are an added expense. One thing that I’ve learned is that manufacturers rarely keep a certain style in stock for longer than three years, so you might want to find out where in that style cycle you are when joining the club. If your first year at the club is the last year for the uniform style, you’ll have the expense of buying uniforms for two years if you stay at the club (and if you leave you’ll obviously have the expense of the new club’s uniforms). So you need to budget for those costs. Also consider where the travel tournaments will be held. Can you drive? Will you need to fly? What types of hotels does the club use? If you have a travel miles membership with a certain airline and/or hotel chain, you’ll want to find out if you are free to book your travel and rooms. Consider also that group reservations will usually be cheaper than regular airfare/hotel, so you may want to figure out if the savings justify the lost mileage. Finally know what your rights are when there are expenses outside of the contract that you were not expecting and can’t afford. Clubs need to be upfront about all expenses, and often are but sometimes you need to be prepared to ask the right questions.
Since clubs are using credit cards more and more often to make the transactions simpler and to protect themselves against the financial default of the parents, you will need to either factor in the cost of interest over time or find a way to pay off the debt immediately to avoid credit card fees. Many parents like the convenience of credit cards since they let them pay the high fees of a club over time, but you could also use your debit card to provide those monthly payments which would then come directly from your bank account. On the other hand, you may not feel comfortable advertising your credit card information to your soccer organization. If the club won’t accept a check, ask if they will take cash (and why wouldn’t they?).
Since the contract parents are asked to sign may actually be quite ambiguous when it comes to parental rights, no parent should sign quickly without reading it through thoroughly. That statement if fact for any contract you are asked to sign.
All states have clauses that protect consumers giving them a grace period, even after they sign, to opt out of the contract. Check those laws in your state, so you can protect your interests. Some clubs will try to pressure you to sign immediately making such threats as "until you sign your child isn’t on the team, so we can give the spot to another player." Those are empty threats. Even with state legal restrictions, the state soccer associations usually give players 24 to 72 hours to commit to a team in which time the club cannot, once offered, give away that slot to another player. Since these offers are often made over the phone or in another verbal format, parents can request a written offer which will ensure their rights are protected. Clubs are naturally worried that players may attend various tryouts and then pick the best option, rather than the first offer. Even if you aren’t dealing with tryouts and competition for your child’s talents, clubs can be quite insistent that you make a quick commitment to even their recreational program. Again, be sure what you are being asked to commit to when it comes to time and money. Despite the carefree sense of the choice, parents can find themselves suddenly ensnared in a financial obligation they may not have realized. Even young teams may be under pressure from other parents to participate in tournaments, albeit local, which will add expense and time to your investment. Ask the questions and demand the answers before you sign on the dotted line.
Youth sports is a big business in America supporting thousands of coaches, referees, training facilities, and uniform manufacturers. Therefore, no one takes this investment lightly. Since parents are footing most of this revenue stream, it behooves us to protect ourselves by getting all the details of our obligations so we can make an informed choice on what are the best options for our families. We may want to add a "soccer clause" of our own to the contracts we’re signing. Don’t be afraid to ask the club to oblige you in that regard. They aren’t the only ones taking a risk.