The biggest culprit is the United States Development Academy. The academy programs are teams that are believed to be the elite of the elite, exclusively for the nations top players. Sounds pretty enticing if you're a high level player, huh? Well let's look a little closer.
Before advancing any further, in no way is this an attack on the USDA because for some players, the academy system will suit them better than any other system. This is to inform and to aid those who may be at the crossroads of: Academy? or High school?
To get a better understanding of what exactly the DA includes are three high school age groups in which clubs compete. Within those three age groups are a total of 73 clubs across the U.S. and a few in Canada. Of those 73, only 21 clubs are affiliated with a Major League Soccer club. If the DA is all about producing elite players, then why are there so many clubs with no "professional" affiliation? Aside from playing against quality opposition, what are the "other clubs" who aren't affiliated with MLS squads getting out of playing in the DA? Playing at one of the academies affiliated with a a pro club makes sense if it is something that you want to do for a living, but to lose your chance to play with your school mates just so you can play for one of the "other" academies doesn't make the most sense. What happens after you graduate from one of the non-affiliate academies? Sure, college is probably an enticing option, but the kids you've been playing against for the past for years on the affiliate academies are probably signing deals with their respective clubs.
The next issue lies in the restrictions put on players after signing for an academy. Players are pretty limited in terms of what they can and can't do physically outside of academy practice. The Development Academy believes that fewer, more meaningful games and no outside activity/competition is the best way to develop the next generation of U.S. soccer. Hmmmmmm.
I get that you don't want to overwork players or exhaust them, or burn them out and possibly even push a kid to the point that he or she is no longer interested, but after life in the academy, you move on to college. The college game is much different from any academy game or schedule. Unlike the academy system that protects players from not having to play too many matches, the NCAA does not care how many games you play in any period, as long as you play all of your scheduled games. Right off the bat, you will have played more games in your freshman year of college in a 2 month span than you had played in 6 months at the academy. High school soccer on the other hand takes after the college model of grueling weeks that can see a team play as many as three games in seven days. Sounds like another benefit of playing high school ball.
The other strange idea the DA has of "no outside activity/competition" is unbelievable as it is forcing ATHLETES to choose one or the other, and guess what... Soccer has one of the lowest number of athletic scholarships at the D2 and D1 level so more times than not, parents are pushing their kids down a different path when they have to pick on or the other. Decisions like that are decisions that could change the course of a players entire future, which is why high school soccer could be one of, if not the most important component of polishing off and preparing a soon to be college soccer player.
High school soccer is a completely different sport than club soccer, recreational soccer, and academy soccer. I'm not even sure if it should be called soccer, but that's exactly why it is so important.
For starters, high school soccer is the last time you will be playing soccer with limited to no expectations. Unless you're attending a private school thats recruiting top level players each year, or you attend one of the few perennial national powerhouses then you usually play at your local high school where you grew up. High school soccer fields are where some kids dream of being from the day they first see one, and that is fine because they know thats where the end of the road is, but for the few who will play after high school, it is merely a stepping stone, but a necessary one.
This may be news to you, it may be known to you, but playing in a club soccer game or an academy soccer game is completely different from a classic high school game. High school games have the element of real rivalry, real recognition, real emotion, and the chance to write your name in your own schools history books. These are all things that could help not only the kids who will stop playing after the last game of their senior year, but also the kids who will go on to play in the NCAA.
There is another glaring difference between the high school game and the club/academy game which is the style of play. The style of play in most clubs and academies is "possession, possession, possession, low-risk, pass the ball, keep the ball, don't make a mistake" thats fine in club soccer and in DA games but I promise it won't work in most high school soccer leagues. Why though?
High school soccer is PHYSICAL. High school soccer has this crazy ability to match a pre-pubescent, 115lb, freshman, against a 6'2", 200lb defender. This forces a player to think one of two ways. 1.) Wow, I can't wait to hit puberty. OR 2.) Okay, its time to get creative. By forcing young players to embrace their creativity at a young age, by the time they are seniors, they will have had the experience and knowledge to get themselves out of unfamiliar situations which is something that the college game will throw in their face on day 1 of pre-season.
The college game looks more like the high school game more times than not, so use high school soccer as a transition game, a way to familiarize yourself with a more physical match where athleticism is sometimes more important than skill, and passes are launched from your defensive third up into the attacking third. Use high school soccer as a tool to help you be better at the next level, there's no such thing as too much experience.
In no way am I trying to discourage anyone from playing for one of the USDA teams, but I don't think that spending all 4 of your high school years in the DA is a great idea for a majority of players. High school soccer is important. School pride is important. The everlasting memories with your friends are important. As cliche as it may sound, I played in some of the most memorable games in my life during my high school career. So before you think that the academy is where you want to play or where you think your kid should play. Think about their future.
Today in the U.S. there are more than 6,000 U.S. soccer clubs ranging from recreation level to elite travel teams that put just as many kids in college and in some cases more than most of the academies.
High school soccer is a brilliant resource, now go ahead and use it as your final preparation before you take it to the next level.
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