Academy vs. High School: Youth Soccer Players Shouldn't Have to Choose
For the majority of ambitious young development academy players, the harsh reality is that they will not achieve their dreams of playing professionally.
They will undoubtedly look back fondly one day on the excellent training and facilities they were lucky enough to experience at the cutting edge of youth soccer in the US.
But will they also perhaps rue missing out on one of the great traditions of American sport – playing for their high school teams?
They will have no memories of playing alongside their classmates and school friends because playing academy AND high school soccer is now virtually impossible.
For the better players in America in 2015, the high school soccer experience doesn’t exist.
The academy v high school dilemma is one that goes against the grain for many parents and even kids. They want to play club soccer at the highest level and that means academy, but they also want to represent their high schools at a sport in which they excel, playing alongside players of lesser talents but certainly not lesser personalities. Sometimes, these are kids they have grown up with and played alongside their whole lives. Their matches against rivals are the talk of the school. It may not be the epitome of soccer development but high school can provide a safe and social soccer experience the players will remember and celebrate for the rest of their lives.
There is a choice, of course. Nobody forces young boys and girls to play academy, but they are certainly encouraged to do so if they want to be noticed by the top college and pro recruiters.
There is no doubt where Jurgen Klinsmann stands on the matter. “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,” he said in 2012.
“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.”
But countries around the world don’t necessarily share the same kind of high school experience the US has traditionally valued so highly in developing the character of young players of all sports.
According to an excellent article in The Guardian by Luis Miguel Echegaray, a former New York City high school coach, the decision in 2011 to stretch the US Soccer Development Academy season to 10 months for all youth clubs and players affiliated with the program affected about 4,000 young players and left high school programs across the nation significantly worse off as a result.
The top youth players then and now had a choice – and most went with the academy.
“I think it’s totally absurd not to play both,” Martin Jacobson, the boys’ head coach of Martin Luther King Jr, the most successful public school team in New York City, told Echegaray.
“Jake” Jacobson’s program has produced a number of NCAA and professional players, including Cosmos’s David Diosa and Mali international Bakary Soumare, and he says: “Our season is only taking eight weeks away from the Academy and in some instances, players could easily do both. Waivers should be granted. Players are missing out on so many social benefits by choosing the academies over high school.”
Nobody is saying the academies aren’t hugely beneficial to developing young players. European teams routinely send coaches over here to see how our club model works so successfully.
But is it really necessary for parents and players to have to choose?