Is the U.S. Development Academy Taking Away Choices for Players?

The main topic of discussion among soccer coaches and parents over the last month has been the U.S. Soccer Developments Academy's move to a 10-month season beginning in 2012-13.

U.S. Soccer created the Development Academy in 2007 to improve the everyday environment for the elite youth player. The Development Academy is a partnership between U.S. Soccer and the top youth clubs around the country to provide the best youth players in the U.S. with an everyday environment designed to produce the next generation of National Team players.

U.S. Men’s National Team Head Coach JURGEN KLINSMANN commenting on the change said, “If we want our players to someday compete against the best in the world, it is critical for their development that they train and play as much as possible and in the right environment. The Development Academy 10-month season is the right formula and provides a good balance between training time and playing competitive matches. This is the model that the best countries around the world use for their programs and I think it makes perfect sense that we do, as well.”

A number of clubs already have switched to the 10-month season and have seen substantial improvement (Western Conference, Texas Division). U.S. Soccer recognizes there might be challenges during the transition process and will work with individual clubs to make this swift transition as easy as possible.

Moving to a 10-month season means that players will be able to focus on training together three or four days per week and play high quality games on the weekend nearly year-round. An extended season will allow for the addition of a large number of extra training sessions, which are the primary method of player development.

“Going to a 10-month season is an important step in the evolution of elite player development,” said U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director Claudio Reyna.

“The format provides the ideal platform to place an increased emphasis on the value of training on a regular basis, and offers the opportunity to play in quality, competitive games throughout an extended season. This schedule puts our elite players in line with kids in their age group internationally, and places the appropriate physical demands at this stage in their development.

All of this makes sense for the development of our top players. The controversy comes from the fact that instituting a 10-month season means that players in U.S. Development Academy teams will not be able to play for their high school soccer team. In states that prohibit high school athletes from playing soccer with a club team during the high school soccer season, the club teams have traditionally suspended their program during the three month scholastic season. This change will end that tradition.

Since the U.S. Development Academy only includes the top 78 clubs in the country this impacts a relatively small percentage of players but they are the top players in each of these areas.

Detractors feel like an opportunity is being taken away from young players. In a New York Times article on this topic Dan Woog, the boy’s soccer coach at Staples High School in Westport, Conn., recalled the night his team won a league championship several years ago and a group of players showed up at a diner afterward with their championship medals around their necks.

Suddenly, the other customers in the diner — a majority of them Westport residents — stood up and spontaneously gave the players a standing ovation. The players beamed.

“They’re going to remember that the rest of their lives,” Woog said. “They felt like kings. That’s not going to happen in the academy.”  Woog added: “We should be in the business of letting kids be kids. Not forcing them into thinking they’re going to be playing for Arsenal or Manchester United two years from now.”

My take on this is that the U.S. Development Academy's move has actually added an opportunity for players. There are still many, many clubs that will take the high school season off and their players will go and play for their school. But now there's a place for players who want to dedicate themselves to a high level of training and competition year round. The problem comes from families that want to have it both ways; play for a top level Development Academy and take off three months each year to play for their high school team which is almost always provides a much lower level of training and competition.

I think that this change was bound to happen because many of the Development Clubs, like Sporting KC, pay the majority of the costs that usually accompany club soccer. They are doing this in the hopes of developing, 'Home Grown Players' that move directly into their local club without going into the draft systems. The, 'Home Grown Player' program was instituted to encourage MLS Clubs to develop local, American talent. It makes sense that the MLS Clubs want to protect their investments and maximize the player's opportunity to reach the professional level.

Taking a path that is different from the traditional high school - college - professional route was bound to cause controversy but I think it's a change that is in the best interest of our top players and eventually our ability to compete internationally.

So what do you think are we adding an opportunity for our top players or are we forcing high school age players to make an unfair choice between two things that they really want to do?

Have a Great Day!



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