LA Galaxy Educates Kids to Reach for the Stars
We were toiling through practice on a wet weekday afternoon when I realized my dream of playing professional football would never come true.
The rain was pouring down (this was England, after all) and we were playing a three-touch scrimmage at the end of a meaningless practice halfway through a forgettable season when we were sitting resolutely in a mid-table spot.
A new kid who’d just moved into the area was trying out for the high school team and nobody paid him a second glance as we ho-hummed our way through a series of drills doing just enough not to annoy the coach into keeping us away any longer from a welcome hot shower.
The first time the new kid first touched the ball around me, second touched past the other center back and third touched into the top right hand corner I kind of thought it was a fluke.
The fourth time I was looking at a career in journalism.
In truth it really doesn’t take more than a couple of glances to spot a thoroughbred. They kick the ball harder than anybody else without the need for back-lift. There’s a
purity about the way they play; a sixth sense about where the ball is going that really can’t be taught.
With the addition of this one player, we were no longer mid-table nobodies. We won the league that season and every one that he stayed at the school and nobody doubted that he had a glittering career ahead of him as a footballer.
He was especially convinced of this, so much so that he rarely bothered to turn up for lessons. He would play Saturday club football, Sunday morning games with hardened old hacks, and pick-up games over the park every day of the week. Rarely a competitive game would go by without a scout from one of the top clubs hanging around asking questions about him.
By the time he was 16, he’d stopped going to school altogether. What was the point? He knew he was going to be a football star. We all knew it.
Except he wasn’t. The next time I saw him several years later he had put on a lot of weight and was puffing on a cigarette. He clearly wasn’t playing soccer and he told me he’d struggled to find work of any kind since leaving school. It wasn’t even that he’d suffered some career-ending injury or been banned for life for doing something crazy like murdering a referee.
He just didn’t quite make it. Like millions of other young hopefuls around the world he didn’t have that special something – be it talent, brains or just plain luck – that is the sometimes paper thin difference between being a great player and a great professional player.
What is the LA Galaxy Academy?
This long ago memory came to mind this week as students selected for the LA Galaxy Academy’s inaugural high school education program prepared for the fall semester.
These lucky kids will have full use of the training facilities at the StubHub Center in Carson along with Gerrard, Keane and co. every weekday morning but after lunch, as devoted to the game as they undoubtedly are, they will spend the afternoons in classrooms at the Dominguez Hills campus working on a “blended learning” curriculum designed to give them a top notch education to complement their soccer training.
This not a new concept; they have been running successfully in Europe and South America for years and the Philadelphia Union set up an academy school last year which, like the Galaxy’s program, is free of charge.
What makes this such an important step is that a leading club like the Galaxy is acknowledging that the current college-centric thinking of US soccer is no longer realistic.
There isn’t time for a potential star player to showboat through the irrelevant college system before playing professionally in the MLS or elsewhere. By the age of 22 they need to be fully developed enough to play alongside the world’s very best, not picking out graduation gowns.
The best academy graduates will not be going off to college programs; they will be progressing on to LA Galaxy II and, hopefully, the first team. It’s the only sensible course for a young professional footballer.
The Galaxy and the Importance of Education
By launching its own school program, the Galaxy is underlining the importance of education. The club is saying that it doesn’t matter how good the kid is, they still need to learn. For some, the football dream is going to have to make way for another one and they need to be prepared for that.
Everyone will be winners here. All the football “students” will get a good education to go along with their excellent training and university will be the perfect choice for a percentage of those who don’t quite make the grade to go pro.
The players that do go on to make their living in the sport will always have the option of going to college later on.
As we look to provide more top homegrown players to make their mark in the footballing world, academies like these will ensure at least that some kids don’t slip through the net.
I’d like to tell you there was a happy ending for the striker that tormented me all those years ago, but his life spiraled further downhill as the years passed by and he eventually took his own life at the age of 32.
Without football in his life he really didn’t have anything else as an anchor. It’s a story perhaps worth telling to your sons and daughters as they argue there really isn’t any point learning statistics when they will one day be playing Number 9 for Real Madrid.