What's the Difference Between Travel Soccer and Recreational Soccer?

What's the real difference between travel and recreational soccer and how do I know which is right for my child? Here's a quick breakdown to help you decide. While most children start out playing recreational soccer, some will move on to travel soccer. A big question for many parents is - what's the difference?

Here's a quick overview.

Recreational soccer, also referred to as in-house soccer, is usually run through a local community or town program and is the place where most kids are first introduced to the sport. In recreational programs, kids are placed on teams and receive equal playing time. Ability is not a factor, and all kids are welcome to play. The emphasis is on participation and having fun. Coaching is typically done by team parents and games are against teams within the program at the same facilities each week.

Travel Soccer, also referred to as club soccer, is a competitive program for kids and families looking for a more rigorous challenge and the opportunity to develop a higher degree of athleticism. Players need to try out to earn a spot on a team and the emphasis is on skill development. As the name implies, teams play teams outside their club and travel to many games although the degree of travel can vary significantly. Most clubs play within their region and limit overnight trips to a few tournaments a year.

Ultimately, the decision to play on a travel or rec team should be based on the child's level of interest and what fits with the family's lifestyle and budget. Here's a useful comparison that can help you decide which is a better fit for you and your child.


Comparing Travel & Recreational Soccer

Age of Players

Travel: Teams generally start at U8, which means under 8 years-old, and go up to U19. At registration, most clubs require a birth certificate as proof of age and to prevent older children from playing on younger teams. However, younger children are permitted to try out for and play on older teams, a practice which is called “playing up.”
Recreational: Teams generally start at 4-5 years old and are available for players up to 12-14 years old, depending on the size of the program.


Time Commitment
Travel: Between scheduled games and practices, expect the team to meet 3-5 times per week during the soccer season. In addition to league play on weeknights, most teams will play in 2-3 weekend tournaments and some of these will probably require travel and overnight stays. In addition to the fall and spring seasons, most clubs will provide year-round training, which would include indoor soccer games during the winter.
Recreation: During the season, teams will play 1-2 games per week and have one practice per week.


Travel: The training is supervised by more experienced coaches who have obtained coaching licenses or are in the process of obtaining certifications.
Recreation: Coaching is usually done by parent volunteers with varying degrees of experience.



Travel: Among soccer clubs, costs vary dramatically but a general range would be $2,000-$5,000 per player, which covers their share for things like: uniforms, facilities, tournament fees, coach's salary, referee fees, and player development and skill training.
Recreation: Rec Soccer is meant to be accessible to everyone, so costs are kept to a minimum. Typical costs may range from $50 - $200.


Common Benefits

While there are differences between the two, keep in mind that both travel soccer and recreational soccer offer common benefits to children. Both provide opportunities to learn about the game, improve activity level and overall fitness, develop good sportsmanship, and build character. In the end, both are activities that contribute to raising healthy and happy children. 


Whichever path your child follows, be sure they have the equipment they need to be successful. Visit one of our soccer specialty stores conveniently located in Schaumburg, Glen Ellyn and Naperville. European Sports has been family owned and operated since 1997 and our customers are part of the family!

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