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A different view on domestic soccer’s academy vs. high school debate

Sep 25, 2013, 4:19 PM EDT

HS soccer

Mandates from the U.S. Soccer Development Academy league, a national collection of under-16 and under-18 teams from MLS as well as non-MLS “academy” programs, force young players to choose between high school and club soccer.

And does this one ever light some crackling brush fires of discontent.

Long story short: U.S. Soccer and most MLS academy leaders will tell you this is best for the players’ development, that high school soccer can cultivate bad habits and even create unnecessary injury.

From the other side, the restrictions force teenagers to make tough choices – and that includes a majority who will never get into professional soccer match without paying the price of admission just like the rest of us. I’ve been 100 percent on record for a long time about the wrongheadedness of a rule with too broad a sweep.

Read here in the New York Times about a good example of how this weighs heavy on good kids. (That story is from about a year ago.)

Or, read here what I’ve said about it before on this blog.

It’s a debate that evokes high emotion on both sides – we are talking about our children, after all, and what stirs up passion, some reasonable and some not so much, like the well-being of our kids? (Just read the comments on the link to my previous PST article on this topic to witness this fever pitch of passion on both sides of the argument.)

Nor will the debate go away any time soon. To wit:

This is a slightly different take on it all; a high school parent who lobs the ball back in U.S. Soccer establishment’s court. In this L.A. Times piece, a father of two academy players says the “promises of improved development by the academy system are often grossly overstated.” Related, this is a great point:

US Soccer statements emphasize the importance of players learning to solve problems, but the environment they provide is ill-suited to do so. All teams are required to play similar systems and use the same style of play.  In contrast the diversity in playing style, tactics and player ability found in high school provided a fresh set of challenges each game.”

My objection is always about decisions that are ostensibly about the kids – but that are really about protecting the best interest of the clubs or the U.S. Soccer establishment. There’s a balance out there that needs recalibrating.

But this L.A. Times piece (you may agree or you may not – but it’s an interesting take) makes the point that even from a developmental standpoint, enforcing the “no high school” mandate does these players no favors.

  1. charliej11 - Sep 25, 2013 at 5:20 PM

    Making guys ( and gals ) choose is just ridiculous.

    I would love to see a break down of the money involved. I have to believe that money is the root of the problem, no one would be dumb enough to think the school system isn’t working. With 12,000 players playing in college and watching how fast the US young talent is getting better. That isn’t because MLS franchises all the sudden have tons of cash to invest in soccer for the US….at all.

    My guess is people are concerned about paychecks and guys only playing high school then moving to college wasn’t helping that cause… is pay to play for a reason and it isn’t to help the soccer in this country.

    • danielofthedale - Sep 25, 2013 at 5:51 PM

      Well I know my high school’s soccer team was coached by one of lit. teachers who never played soccer and had watched next to soccer on tv.

      I would expect that the high school and college soccer coaching is vastly below the level of coaching in football, baseball, and basketball. If I had a son and he was a very good soccer player and wanted to think about that a career path I would encourage him to go the academy route. They still offer a high school education so nothing lacking on that front and he would get much better coaching and more practice quality practice time.

    • randomhookup - Sep 25, 2013 at 5:58 PM

      The girls don’t have to chose (at least as far as USSF is concerned — their clubs may have a different view on that).

  2. rphillish - Sep 25, 2013 at 6:22 PM

    It’s gonna take both. America is far to large for MLS academies to cover the whole country. The major population centers will be covered, but more rural areas are going to be challenge, which isn’t a soccer specific problem. That’s just a fact of American’s size.
    If we utilize our schools and universities, get them on the same page, and doing the right things, we could have one of the largest youth programs in the world.
    As for the father in the LA times piece, I think he has a point. Different players will do well under different types of training and systems. Variety is a good thing, and no one set of skills make the best soccer player.

  3. wfjackson3 - Sep 25, 2013 at 10:50 PM

    Steve, the amount of favors done by the no HS rule might be overstated, but I don’t think anyone would agree that it does no favors at all.

  4. ralphschlom - Sep 25, 2013 at 11:33 PM

    I am a former college player who played in the PDL (PDSL) back then and I am also a referee of high school, college and DAL. I officiated 2 DAL games last weekend. I will say this. The U16/15 DAL teams I officiated would beat every high school team in my state and the game would end in 60 minutes because the DAL team would be up by 10 goals. The speed of play, pressure of the defense and talent of the players is no match for any high school team. The U16 DAL team would also take out may DIII and NAIA college teams. DAL is a pay for play league but that is also because of the travel, coaches and complexes. By the way the DAL teams take maybe 50 kids total from and entire state and they then don’t play high school soccer. Hockey does the same thing but nobody cares.

    • reformed2012 - Sep 26, 2013 at 1:38 AM

      This. It is Pay to play. Which means it is not avaliable to inner city kids to reduce poverty and crime. If you wan to forge the next world cup champion the sport must be accessible by all classes.

    • lyleoross - Sep 26, 2013 at 1:24 PM

      Wow! That sounds amazing, except when those kids move up to the NAT team, all that speed, skill, and pressure play is woeful compared to the rest of the world. Clearly, this isn’t the answer.

      The problem with pay to play, is that is what it is. Our development needs to find a way to mimic what is happening in the street in Brazil, non-formalized, one on one play, and skills building for fun with the ball.

      We have an obsession with winning games; that plays out in our development leagues, and in high school play. Yeah, I won a game. Boo, it doesn’t make better players, it only makes parents who can brag.

      • wandmdave - Sep 26, 2013 at 3:15 PM

        Pay to play is a symptom of lack of interest in the sport not an issue in and of itself. As the sport continues to grow that will go away naturally because money will flow into the game. Banning pay to play now will just eliminate our best training because it can’t be supported for free yet.

  5. reformed2012 - Sep 26, 2013 at 1:42 AM

    It can be easily fixed. Do it the Japanese way. One national annual high school tournament by NHSA. One state, one team. Single elimination brackets. Huge prize money pools for school districts that make it to the national tournament. Pay for national TV broadcasting rights. The USA got enough wealthy people to back this. Come on.

  6. godsholytrousers - Sep 26, 2013 at 6:05 PM

    My top High School player injured his MCL at a club game last weekend for the local Academy team. Who do I sue? LOL What is the local Academy Club doing to rehab this player? Nothing. We have him on an extensive rehab program here at school. What did they do to prevent the injury? Nothing. We have an extensive injury prevention program here at school. Who is doing the right thing for this young man? I’ll do the best I can. Who salvaged his big brother’s college soccer career when the same Academy team kicked him to the curb? You guessed it, it was me. Don’t get me wrong, I have two sons, both club soccer players, both also playing high school. It should be a marriage of adults helping to train and support these young men. What I don’t get is the lack of understanding of the vast resources that High School bring to the table developing the giant reservoir of players who don’t have the finances for “pay to play” soccer.

  7. nussdorferac - Sep 27, 2013 at 12:41 PM

    Do academies pay for the training of a player? If so, if it is even just a subsidy, then the academy certainly has the right to request the player forgo playing in high school.

  8. braxtonrob - Sep 28, 2013 at 2:37 AM

    I vote academies. Period.

  9. mindpulp1 - Feb 27, 2014 at 2:08 PM

    I don’t understand why this has to be an either/or. If US Soccer is really has the best interest of these kids in mind, they need to make sure that high school coaches are getting the best training possible.

    US Soccer needs to work with school districts to require coaches to hold a USSF or NSCAA coaching license with Continuing Education requirements.

    In addition, high school soccer programs need to be working in conjunction with local clubs.

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