Soccer Elite Vs. Premier (ECHL, Select)

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Soccer elite and premier have no standard definition or meaning. Sometimes, they’re utilized to define clubs that draw more from than a single city, as opposed to community or town clubs.

However, they’re just prestige marketing-type terms. Club soccer, for instance, covers anything that’s not a recreational league. Academy, on the other hand, has no standard definition.

It’s utilized as a general name to describe a soccer club that’s more development and teaching-oriented, and less focused on winning games. However, let’s learn more about this topic below!

Youth soccer team in a huddle

Is Premier Better Than Elite Soccer?

In youth soccer, both cup and elite soccer represent the highest levels of play. They range from regional leagues to squads that conquer national championships and feed players into the national squads for their age groups.

Youth soccer is divided into recreational, select, premier, and academy. Recreational is the lowest whereas the academy is the highest form of youth soccer.

In recreational soccer, anyone can play, with no cuts, while select and up have tryouts. However, they’re divided by skill. Premier teams, on the other hand, take part in higher leagues and difficult tournaments.

Academies play 10 out of 12 months of the year. Their roster consists of the top 1-3 players from the top premier clubs nearby. So, they’re the highest you can go, unless you get contacted by the National team.

With premier and select, you pay anywhere between $400 and $4000 a year to play. Premier often costs more. However, if you make it into the academy teams, they pay for everything. Additionally, before you start high school, there’s the ODP (Olympic Development Program), which is like pre-academy.

The highest level for girls, on the other hand, is the ECNL regional leagues instead of academies.

Legs of youth boys soccer players

What’s the ECHL Girls League?

ECNL stands for Elite Clubs National League. It was founded in 2009 to alter the scene for elite female soccer players in the US through modern player-centered programming.

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ECHL also focuses on enhancing the overall experience by providing a better and more enjoyable player, coach, and club development model.

ECNL is basically the highest level of female soccer. It’s club-based with only member clubs enabled to take part in the event. However, it’s also very expensive.

Starting at U14, the girl’s teams can expect to experience traveling around the US. ECNL has had a large impact on soccer in Southern California with female players wanting to play for the many ECNL clubs such as So Cal Blues, Strikers, Slammers, Real So Cal, Eagles, West Coast, Surf, etc.

What draws female players and their parents to ECHL is the promised college scholarships. What’s your opinion on ECHL? Do you have any experience with ECHL?

Youth Soccer Players With Their Soccer Coach Watching A Game
Youth Soccer Players With Their Soccer Coach Watching A Game

What’s The Difference Between Premier And Elite Soccer?

According to my research, the only real difference between elite, premier, and select soccer is based on how much you’re going to be charged. Allegedly, many clubs advertise themselves as the “elite” team in the region. However, there’s a lack of quality control on who’s actually coaching the teams.

Therefore, if you’re searching for a soccer team for yourself or your children, please take a closer look at the coach in charge of the “elite” team and determine if they’re the right choice for you and your kids by seeing how they play the game.

They say they will develop top talent but make them show you!

Make sure that the coach has a clear and detailed vision of how they want their team to go forward. Do they require intensity in practice?

Do the things they operate on during the season actually build to their public style? Do they treat soccer players as people and relate to their teams on a personal basis?

If the answer to any of these questions is negative, the coach isn’t very “elite”. Thus, their players won’t reach their fullest potential under their influence.

Furthermore, never play or allow your children to play for a club if you’re not on their top two teams for the age group. Otherwise, you’re wasting money.

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So, you’re paying a high price for the prestige of saying “I played for x club”.

NPL provides a platform for long-term development by offering meaningful and consistent games between the region’s best players and also delivers different opportunities for players to be scouted by major league soccer.

Youth Soccer Players - Two players battling for the ball
Youth Soccer Players – Two players battling for the ball

What’s The Confusion?

With the appearance of what many in the youth soccer community refer to as the “alphabet soup”, the constant growth of new travel leagues, championships, and tournaments has overwhelmed the market with so-called “premier” and “elite” level competition.

Obviously, any tournament or league that sells itself as “mediocre” or “average” probably won’t get the attention of many travel soccer teams.

However, with all the competition platforms labeling themselves as “elite” or “premier”, these words have lost all meaning.


According to, both terms describe something that’s first in rank, leading, best, and so on. Thus, they’re not that different.

Even administrators and coaches who work full-time in the youth soccer scene openly say that they can’t keep track of all the new events and leagues.

With that being said, how can parents know which is truly elite competition and which is just labeled as such? Well, if more parents had the luxury of learning everything about youth soccer, they wouldn’t just toss between $10,000 and $20,000 per year for travel soccer expenses and fees.

Local Options

Instead, they would have some of the cheaper local options. There’s nothing wrong with youth soccer organizations branding themselves as “elite” and “premier”.

But they’re still profiting from people’s lack of knowledge or people who’re interested in getting their kids into these organizations just to brag about it later.

The industry also enables people to group and create leagues if they believe they can do it better. And in my opinion, I strongly believe the free market works well. Take ECNL for example.

Everyone would agree it has been a success. They’re a top-notch youth soccer league. In fact, they’re the original elite national league.

Pay to Play

Even US Soccer hasn’t been able to bring them down. However, the same industry that enabled the Girls ECNL to exist and become successful, opens this conversation about low-level travel soccer and pay-to-play, which I think it’s extremely ridiculous. However, that’s just my opinion. What’s your opinion?

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I will wrap this up by saying that it’s hard to determine which of today’s travel organizations and leagues have become just glorified and expensive recreational soccer.

Therefore, when choosing what’s right for you or your children, do your research and make a well-informed decision.


A very important thing to remember is that select, premier, and elite teams get the same dedicated pro training and instructional time. And the expected commitment is the same at all team levels.

However, every team is going to have different features to stand out. Elite teams travel more and play in bigger tournaments. However, they’re not actually better than the normal teams.

The parents just spent more money. Therefore, when choosing what’s best for you or your children, choose smartly.

Soccer Analyst and Publisher at Soccer Blade | Soccer Blade | + posts

Joel is a seasoned soccer journalist and analyst with many years of experience in the field. Joel specializes in game analysis, player profiles, transfer news, and has a keen eye for the tactical nuances of the game. He played at various levels in the game and coached teams - he is happy to share his insight with you.

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Youth Soccer FAQ

How do you know if a youth player is good?

A youth player is great at soccer they will have some of these qualities; ball control, endurance, speed, movement, strength, leadership, creativity, attitude, will to play, and will to win.

How can a parent support their child in soccer?

+ Play for fun with them. Don’t “coach” or “train” your child, just play soccer games with them!
+ Take them to soccer games. Getting kids around soccer is one of the best ways to grow their love for the sport as well as their game IQ. 
+ Sign them up! No matter what level your child is at, there are opportunities to play.
+ Choose the right level. If you want to help your child, choose a team/level that suits their abilities and interest level. 
+ Be the biggest cheerleader. Leave the coaching to the coach. As a parent, your job is to encourage your child and support them.

Do youth players get paid in America?

Players in the United States only get paid for playing soccer when they sign a professional contract. This is normally possible when a player turns 18 years old. In Europe, it is common for players to earn a salary when they are 16 years old.

What are the roles and responsibilities of a youth soccer coach? 

+ Selecting a team
+ Organizing training sessions
+ Communicating with parents
+ Scheduling practices
+ Scheduling games
+ Registering for tournaments/leagues
+ Attending league meetings
+ Administrative duties (e.g. registering players)

What are the youth soccer levels?

The youth soccer pyramid is now incredibly complex and often confusing. There are three separate organizations (USYS, USSSA, and US Club Soccer) sanctioning several divisions for youth soccer players, resulting in multiple high-level youth leagues. 

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