Leagues, Academies, Camps – Which One is for My Kid?

Leagues vs Training vs Camps

I had an interesting conversation with a parent the other day about signing her son up for a soccer league versus soccer training. As a parent with a younger child, she wasn’t aware of what kinds of programs to look for to ensure her son gets the kind of instruction or service she’s looking for. This information is based on my experience as a parent but also as a professional coach with over 30 years of experience and research on sport programming. I hope it helps you make wise decisions for your kids!

This information is based on programs for children aged 4-10, is generalized and can vary from region to region within Canada.

Recreational League

  • Generally in a league, the kids play 1-2 times a week on a local field.
  • Parents volunteer as coaches who supervise.
  • Kids might do 15-30 minutes of activities and games.
  • For the remainder of the time they scrimmage against another team within the same club.
  • This would be considered physical activity.
  • Advantages: highly social, least expensive option, low commitment.
  • Disadvantages: little skill development, level of supervision and behavior/attention level of other kids is hit and miss.

Competitive League

  • Some clubs offer competitive teams at the U8 and U10 age groups which players are selected or tryout for.
  • They practice 1-2 times a week and the training includes additional technical training with the club technical director who is a professional coach (not offered in all provinces and clubs).
  • They play games against teams from other clubs once a week.
  • This would be considered physical activity however there are a few good clubs in Canada that are doing some physical literacy training, which is critical for long term development.
  • Advantages: Higher quality coaching, better skill development, player behavior level is usually higher.
  • Disadvantages: Most coaches place an emphasis on winning games over long term development which results in possible immediate success but high burn out and attrition after age 12. Players learn to place their self-worth in scoreboard results and standings. Child must be selected, higher commitment level, more expensive.


  • Camps are generally 1-week, 1-day or 1 weekend long.
  • They fall on a spectrum from babysitting to highly technical skill development.
  • Likewise they range from basic physical activity to advanced skill development. Physical literacy cannot be learned in a short period of time.
  • The myth is that you can send your kids to a camp and they’re going to come out better players because of the skills training. This is not going to happen. Like in school, we learn things through repetition and followup. For example, in school we study information over and over for a test to get it to sink in. Technical skills need to be practiced over a period of time and a coach needs to follow up and give them input. Usually, hopefully a coach at a camp has superior technical skills but if it’s not followed up by the regular team coach, anything learned at the camp will not stick.
  • Camps are great if you’re looking for physical activity over March Break or summer vacation that has some degree of quality or athletic focus.

Academies – The Latest and Emerging Trend in Canada

  • Academies focus on overall well-being and development and use a long-term focus in order for players to reach their maximum potential starting at even the youngest ages.
  • Professional coaches.
  • All levels of players are accepted because it has been proven that “late blooming” athletes tend to be more successful in later years. Those recognized as “talented” at younger ages typically burnout or plateau between ages 14-18.
  • Focus on individual development rather than the team winning a game. There is a curriculum or methodic process developed to track development each year as the player progresses. Curriculum includes physical literacy, technical skills, tactical play and mindset
  • Optimum practice to game ratio which is 3-4 practices per game at U6, U8, U10 age groups. Academy teams typically play in tournaments and exhibition games against carefully chosen teams that will optimize development.
  • Academies vary quite a bit from one another so it’s best to research the services and philosophies behind each one if you have the luxury of being able to choose one in your area.
  • Advantages: players reach higher levels of success, travel, depending on the individual academy any player can join.
  • Disadvantages: more expensive, higher commitment level.