Brad Green and Heather Hilliard from Carlsbad United F.C.
The Carlsbad United F.C. Recreational Soccer program serves over 2000 enthusiastic young athletes in San Diego’s coastal North County. Under the direction of Brad Green and Heather Hilliard, this program is giving kids the chance to experience the beautiful game.
For ten weeks every year, from August through November, the soccer fields on Saturdays in Carlsbad are filled with young soccer players enjoying an active day of recreational soccer. While Carlsbad United F.C. (CUFC) is well known for its successful competitive program, the recreational side is also booming. With over 2000 players participating in the program – an amazing 50 percent at the U8 levels – CUFC Recreational Soccer is the leader in San Diego’s coastal North County.
Directed by Heather Hilliard and Brad Green, the rec soccer program provides local children with the opportunity to enjoy the game that millions around the world grow up loving. Teams practice once a week and play one game on the weekend, usually on soccer fields very close to home and with a trained volunteer coach. The soccer coach is usually a dad, but increasingly a mom can be found on the field sharing her passion for the beautiful game. Not all recreational soccer programs are alike and Carlsbad United places a strong emphasis on coaching education at all levels. Carlsbad United has more than 200 rec coaches and they are all required to receive their YM1 or YM3 coaching license before taking a team, and coaches must attend pre-season clinics which consist of two hours in the classroom and another two on the field.
Hilliard and Green are great examples of the emphasis on training and education at CUFC Recreational Soccer. After graduating from UCSD, Hilliard earned a Master of Science Degree in Sport Management from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1992. She then returned to UCSD as the Assistant Director of Athletics from 1993 to 2000. Green holds the FA Level 2 License, an NSCAA National Youth License and the USSF ‘C’ License.
“Recreational soccer is incredibly important,” says Hilliard, an accomplished soccer player who was a four-year letter winner at UC San Diego and still holds the school’s career goal scoring record (70). “It is a stepping-stone to competitive teams, especially in the younger age groups. And in the older age groups, it is a fantastic outlet for kids to play the great game of soccer during a short time period and at a reasonable cost.”
“Recreational Soccer is the foundation of our club,” agrees Green, who grew up in England and played with Exeter City Pro Youth and AFC Bournemouth Pro Youth. “We have hundreds of players that played recreational soccer and are now playing competitive, some of whom are now in the Elite program. We have All Stars, which we use to identify talent and recognize the players that have done well throughout the season.”
For many families who love the beautiful game, recreational soccer is a perfect way for their kids to get involved in an organized youth sports program without the frequently high investment of time and money required for competitive play. As Hilliard points out, “This way, young athletes can try out the game and see if it is something they want to pursue at a higher level, or just enjoy as a fun outlet for their boundless energy as they play multiple sports throughout the year.”
The goal of rec soccer is for the kids to have fun and learn more about the world’s most popular sport, and one of the benefits of rec soccer is that players can team up with friends and neighbors. There are no tryouts for teams, and each player gets at least 50 percent playing time. Teams are formed based on family requests for a specific coach, a neighbor’s child, or even a school or carpool group.
“Both of our directors, Heather and Brad, do a fantastic job running our recreational soccer program,” says Carlsbad United’s Director of Operations Michael Duggan. “Communication is key and having a clear youth soccer curriculum is critical for success. Our directors are seconded to none. Being positive and patience are the necessary qualities, and both directors have these traits by the bucket load. It is about kids having fun in our community and developing life-long soccer fans.”
Steve Cowell, Carlsbad United’s Technical Director says, “Our directors give our parent coaches the tools to go out and run a successful and fun-filled practice. It is our curriculum that separates us from other rec programs, and you can see the difference on the soccer field. Our championship weekend at the end of the season is unbelievable – an event enjoyed by all our families.”
“Like all programs out there, it’s all about the volunteers; without them there is no rec program,” Duggan explains. “All teams are volunteer-parent coached, and every coach in the program has to attend our club coaching education clinic. I have run these clinics for the last six years, and at the end of the clinic every coach goes away with our coaching handbook with over 60 different training sessions. We help our parent-coaches be successful and show them how to plan practice sessions so the players leave at the end of training wanting to come back.”
In addition to being the top athletic sport for kids, the Carlsbad United recreation program acts as a feeder for their competitive program. According to Duggan, almost 90 percent of the players on the U7 through U10 competitive teams began in the recreation program.
“Every top youth soccer club should have a professionally managed rec program,” insists Cowell. “Without it, it’s hard to develop a true program. Rec soccer is the foundation and grass roots of where it all begins, and it is a truly community run program for all the kids, no matter what their athletic ability is.”
“Our recreational program is a fantastic feeder program to the competitive side,” agrees Hiliard. “Players make the move at different ages, whenever they are ready to increase their time commitment to the game.”
Above all, though, recreational soccer is about having fun. Whether players are trying out the sport to see if they want to pursue it at a higher level, using it as a fill-in between other sport seasons, or just hanging out with their friends, enjoying soccer is the priority.
“Soccer should be fun,” Green insists. “That’s why we play.”
While many opportunities for recreation exist, Green, Hilliard, Cowell and Duggan are convinced that the CUFC Recreational Soccer program is an excellent choice for kids of any ability level.
“We offer the best coach education for our volunteer coaches to help them develop, which makes for a better experience for the kids,” Green explains. “We also work hard in making sure the teams are balanced and they players get to play with as many of their mates as possible whilst giving them the opportunity to meet new friends.”
“I think any team sport is fantastic for kids, but since soccer runs in my blood, I am a bit partial to our sport,” Hilliard admits. “The reality is that our recreational program offers kids the opportunity to participate on a team, play with friends, have fun, and learn sportsmanship, team spirit, and cooperation.”
“We are a community based program and our goal is to provide a fun, positive, safe environment for the youth of Carlsbad and surrounding areas,” explains Hilliard. “It is our goal to offer players the opportunity to grow while having fun and building a love of the game. We provide unlimited growth opportunities for players of all skill levels.”
According to Green, “It is all about the players. The goals of the program are to be the best Recreational Program in Southern California. We want our members and players to enjoy playing soccer and being a part of CUFC family.”
With Green and Hilliard at the helm, CUFC Recreational Soccer is on track to impact the lives of tens of thousands of boys in girls in the North County. While there will always be challenges – forming teams, getting enough volunteers, keeping the high quality of the program – with the strong support of Duggan and Cowell and the dedicated volunteer base, CUFC Rec Soccer will only grow.
This is the first season Green and Hilliard will be working side by side, as their two clubs, Carlsbad Lightning and Carlsbad Wave, have just merged. Both coaches are looking forward to teaming up. There is a joyful approach to the season that is inspired by their mutual respect, a respect that is echoed by their leaders Duggan and Cowell. “Everyone is benefiting from being United,” says Hilliard. “Especially the kids!”
Above all, what guarantees that the program will continue to be successful is the love that Hilliard and Green have for the sport and the impact it can have on young lives.
“I am motivated by knowing that I am making a positive impact in the lives of many youth soccer players in my community,” Hilliard says. “All it takes is one visit to a recreational game – to see the smiling faces and kids having fun makes it all worthwhile. I do this job because I love it.”
“I love soccer, so having the opportunity to work in the sport full time here in San Diego is a privilege and one that many people wished they had the opportunity to do,” says Green. “I feel lucky to have this opportunity, so the least I can do is work hard and dedicate my time to producing the best possible experience for the kids and our community.”