Travel Soccer

About Travel Soccer

Southwestern Youth Association Travel Soccer Program

SYA Soccer was founded in 1973 and has been developing quality players since its inception. 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 often novice, and are usually parent volunteers who offer to coach their children and their friends. 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 though particularly at the younger ages coaches are encouraged to try to give every player as much time on the field as possible. Additionally, once on a team, players will continue to have to try-out every June to retain their roster spots. 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 travel teams.

Who should play travel soccer?

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. If a child wants “more soccer” and seems to find success on the field in the house league, travel may be a logical step. Travel soccer is not for everyone, and in many cases a player and his or her family may be best served by participating in our recreational (house) program.

When are the games held?

Generally travel games are held on Sundays, 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; and as players get older and enter ‘showcase events’ games are also played on Fridays. 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. SYA does offer an Emerging Talent Program for those players that play in house but are looking for more professional coaching to supplement this training.


How can I find out when and where tryouts will be held?

Please check the website in April. Tryout dates and times will be listed there. You may also contact the travel commissioner or soccer office for information as the time draws near. Be sure to register online for tryouts (new and returning players) to ensure we have contact information for your family in the event a tryout date is changed or added, and so we can reach you should your player be offered a position on a team.

What do you mean by tryouts? What must my child do?

Tryouts are held every spring in late May and early June, and all interested children in an age group are encouraged to attend. Tryouts, which are held over two or three evenings, are essentially handled like a practice with coaches leading the sessions. Players’ ball control, foot skills, fitness, speed, and understanding of the game are assessed by the coaches. Results are announced within a few days.

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 “highest” 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, (called the “Red”, or “A”) team will make the first selections and contact players. The next team (“White”, or “B” 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 no more than 12 players. At U11 and U12, the teams play 8 v 8 and rosters cannot exceed 14 players. At U13, the teams play 11 v 11 and roster sizes can be increased to 18; at U16 they can carry up to 22 players although only 18 can dress for any particular game, so most teams do not pick up the full number. Many coaches choose to select fewer than the maximum number of players allowed in order to optimize each person’s playing time. Nobody wants 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 play a game in Bethesda, Washington DC, or Fredericksburg- but you’ll have about half of your games at ‘home’ on SYA fields such as Braddock Park, EC Lawrence Park, Arrowhead, or the SYA Sports Park. You may have a number of ‘away’ games nearby as well, in Chantilly or Reston or Arlington or Manassas for instance. CCL teams U11 and older will play teams from Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, Richmond, Roanoke, and Charlottesville and the “home” and “away” schedule will flip each year.

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 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. Some tournaments over long holiday weekends will extend the final to Monday. College showcase events, for older players, often run from Friday through Sunday with one game each day. Most teams play several 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 often teams participate in November tournaments following the end of Fall league play. Many 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. 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 the age of U12 SYA encourages all top-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 the finals are the next day. Cup champions advance to Regional play (U13 and older), and Regional champs compete for the national title. SYA has had great success in tournament and state cup events.

So what leagues do SYA teams play in?

We are fortunate to have several very competitive travel leagues in the area, and SYA teams compete in all of them. The National Capital Soccer League (NCSL) includes boys and girls teams from U9 through U19. Both leagues accept teams from Maryland, DC, and Virginia. The Old Dominion Soccer League (ODSL) accepts DC and Virginia teams with a few from Maryland and includes both boys and girls in every age group from U9 to U19. In 2011, SYA was one of a group of top clubs in the Northern Virginia area who joined the CCL. CCL had been an elite league in the rest of the state and a CCL North division was added. In the 2012, several Maryland clubs (FC Frederick, Potomac, Maryland United, and DC Stoddert) joined the league and it was re-structured and renamed CCL (Club Champions League, with the “V” for “Virginia” dropped to acknowledge the Maryland and DC clubs involved). SYA’s top teams (top two teams at U9 and U10) on both boys’ and girls’ sides compete against teams from Arlington, Braddock Road, Fredericksburg, Loudoun, McLean, and Lee-Mount Vernon (LMVSC). A second division was added for fall 2015 so in addition to the Red teams, SYA White teams will now be playing in CCL. This league is run by the clubs’ technical directors and is designed to focus on development over victories. All CCL teams from one club play matches against the same opponent club on the same day, which makes things easier for families. For instance, SYA may host Braddock Road and all SYA Red teams will play them that day. The next week, SYA may travel to play Arlington on their fields.

My child enjoys other activities, like dance or baseball- can that work?

Many travel soccer players participate in other activities. The coaches understand this, however, it is expected that a player’s primary commitment will be to his or her soccer team. In high school, many top players will find they need to choose one sport but for younger ones, a variety of sports are fine as long as the child and parents understand the commitment to the travel soccer team needs to be the priority over everything save school and family obligations.

How many hours a week will my child practice?

Generally speaking, travel teams practice three times a week for an hour and a half during the regular season. U9- U12 teams participate in “SYA Academy Training” on Mondays (U11-12s) and Tuesdays (U9-10s) and have two additional sessions with their team coach.

What is SYA Academy training?

SYA is very proud of the structure of the travel academy, and the teams who have been through it have been very successful. One night a week, all the teams in a particular age group (U11 girls, for instance) train together with the club’s top coaches. Technical skills are strongly emphasized, though fitness and tactical awareness are also included. The players are mixed together during Academy sessions. Through academy training decisions are sometimes made to move players from one team in their age group to another for a particular game. This is called “club passing” and we try to use it to best develop the players, offering them a variety of opportunities to develop and feel successful

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 often do not go at all. Some residential camps are within an hour of home, among them the Soccer Academy camps at University of Mary Washington and Randolph Macon Academy. Going to camp nearby sometimes makes children and their parents more comfortable- and most players really love the experience! Our youngest teams often do a week-long “mini-camp” in August to prepare for the season ahead. These camps are held on SYA fields. Older players hoping to play at the next level tend to look at college ID camps beginning after their freshman or sophomore years.

I’ve heard travel soccer is essentially a year- round sport?

Generally speaking, travel teams train and play, indoors or outdoors, about 10 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, and teams often run local “mini-camps” for several hours a day for a week. These are important to attend so it is best to attempt to schedule vacations in July. SYA teams generally plan to play at least one tournament by Labor Day weekend, and then league play (whether NCSL, ODSL, or CCL) begins around Labor Day (note: Fall CCL league matches start the weekend before Labor Day). Columbus Day is a holiday from league play, but a popular tournament weekend. The season usually ends by the second weekend in November. Some teams take a break until after Christmas, while others play a post-season tournament before Thanksgiving. Many college showcase events begin in November and take place over the winter months. Thus, high school teams may continue training outdoors when the weather permits all winter. After January 1, some teams gear up for indoor league play and may begin training inside in indoor soccer facilities or school gyms. 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 for all players take place again between late May and mid- June.

Tell me about the coaches?

Coaches are thoroughly interviewed by the Technical Staff (Paul Ellis, Dean McAlpin, Sean Burke, and Rob Olson). 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 many “A” licensed coaches (“A” being the highest U.S. license one can attain), “B” licensed coaches, and “C” licensed coaches. A number of our coaches hold European licenses as well. Some also have National Youth Licenses or specific accreditation such as goal-keeping certificates. 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. We have several Hall of Fame coaches on our staff. All SYA coaches are encouraged to participate in continuing education courses throughout their careers. 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 high-quality fields available for practice and for use by our teams in travel leagues as game sites. These include the new turf fields at Centreville High School as well as other turf fields at EC Lawrence, Braddock, and Arrowhead Parks. SYA Sports Park is under development and features three irrigated Bermuda grass fields with turf fields planned in the next year or so. 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 go on to enjoy college careers each year, and have found success in the district, state, regional, and even national Olympic Development Program. Should a coach have to miss a practice or a game, a well-qualified coach familiar with the team will be available to fill in for him. If a coach resigns, the club’s staff will find the replacement, sparing the parents from having to try to find someone qualified. In addition, being part of a unified club tends to make it easier to attract additional players to fill rosters through the years. Finally, elite leagues such as the CCL are only open to clubs with a unified system headed by a Technical Director, supported by a staff of trainers and administrators, and populated with recreational and travel level players in all age groups. All of this underscores the importance of playing with a recognized, development-oriented club.

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; contact the specific team for a more specific budget.

Uniform (two jerseys, two pairs of socks, two pair shorts, training top): +/- $175.00 (may last up to 3 years)

Annual registration with SYA: $1500-$1800, depending on age and team level (payable in 5 installments; includes league fees, insurance, coaches’ fees, referee costs, club fees for fields and administrative fees, etc.)

Tournaments: +/-$50.00 each, per player (x 2 or 3/season depending on the age; more for older teams)

Indoor league play: +/-$75.00 per player 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 program manager, Kathy Hull at or contact your team manager for more information. You will be asked to provide copies of last year’s tax forms and to fill in an application. Scholarship applications must be submitted in July each year.

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 needs of the team, such as sending emails, contacting opponents before games, passing along information from SYA, 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 August Cup organizational duties. Sometimes a manager handles all of this; often it is divided among a number of parents who serve as treasurer, tournament coordinator, etc.

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 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 birth certificate, military ID, passport or DMV-issued ID. Note that electronic copies are now permissible. 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; please send it to your manager via email as a .jpeg file. If your child was born outside the United States, please tell your manager and let her know when you moved here. You’ll also receive information about purchasing SYA travel uniforms and gear, about completing 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:




Can I watch a practice?

Especially for younger players, this is a good idea. The SYA Academy is held at SYA Sports Park on Monday (U11-U12 teams) and Tuesday (U9-U10 teams) evenings. You are welcome to go see what the players are working on and to talk to families about their experiences. Older players can contact teams using the listings on the Travel Soccer section of our website. Coaches are often willing to have potential players join the team for a training session.

I still have some questions.

SYA holds an information session every spring. Please attend this meeting where representatives will be available to answer your questions. You may also contact our Travel Program Manager, Kathy Hull, at or our Technical Director, Paul Ellis, at at any time during the year.



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SYA Office Location: 5950 Centreville Crest Lane, Centreville, VA 20121 | SYA Mailing Address: Southwestern Youth Association, P.O. Box 471, Centreville, VA 20122 Phone: (703) 815-3362 | Fax: (703) 815-2180 | E-mail: | Designed by GroupNet Solutions