April 10, 2012
Let’s talk about the U.S. Soccer Federation’s new policy on boys’ Development Academies – the move that will require nearly year-round training and prevent players from joining their high school teams.
Obviously, there’s been some hot debate since the policy was announced last month, with parents, coaches and players coming down both for and against. Our national soccer gurus argue that breaks from premier training harm elite players, that they learn bad habits in high school soccer and must be retrained. I do understand national officials’ overarching reasoning: that a more rigorous model must emerge if American players want to compete more effectively on the world stage.
But we must acknowledge that high school sports provide a powerful experience for Americans, and play a significant role in this country’s culture. And that taking this opportunity away from young soccer players might do more harm than good.
Admittedly, I have no personal model for the kind of experience American high school sports delivers. In England, where I was raised and trained, high school soccer has no bearing or influence on athletic or social prowess. Competitive players participate on school teams for as long as they can, but club play takes over early – around 14. In England, professional academies rule the roost. These fortunate young players receive free high-level training, focused on pushing those select groups of players into the professional ranks as quickly as possible.