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

14 Comments

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.