Friday, December 02, 2011

Soccer Ridiculousness--Part 2

In Soccer Ridculousness Part 1 we went over the absurd comments of college soccer coaches who object to any limits on current year-round training and competition for collegiate players.

Today, we cover the current push to prohibit elite players in the high school age group from competing with their schools.

In recent years, the powers that be in US youth soccer established an "academy" program for boys to supplement, compete with and generally confuse things with the existing Olympic Development Program, which was already confusing because it really has nothing to do with the Olympics.

Adding to the confusion, the girls have a different elite training program.

Putting aside, for the moment, the counterproductive effects of having multiple, overlapping and somewhat conflicting "elite" programs, let's get to what the boys Academy program is now trying to do.

Unlike ODP programs, which are run by state associations, the Academy program is run by individual soccer clubs who apply for the Academy franchise.  To get the Academy designation, they must meet certain standards and abide by certain rules that are supposed to enhance player development.

One of the rules now being proposed in the Academy is to PROHIBIT Academy players (all of whom are in high school age groups) from playing for their school teams.  This is a hugely misguided idea.

It is true that the quality of coaching at many high schools is inferior to that provided at the club level (not just the Academy clubs--almost any club).  High school seasons also conflict with club seasons; high school training conflicts with club training.  Many club teams "sit-out" the high school season to avoid conflict.

The Academy purists, however, believe that the high school season is detracting from the superior training of their young proteges, so they would simply get rid of the schools.

But that creates a huge dilemma for player who want the benefits of the Academy.  School soccer is VERY important to these kids.  In club games, the spectators are parents.  Many of those parents have been pushing their kids since kindergarten, yelling at them and countercoaching them from the sidelines.  Parents, being parents, are solely concerned about their kids, not the team.

In school, the spectators are fellow students.  They are cheering for the team--and its stars.  Being a star on the high school soccer team is a big deal for the ego of a student.  It gives the player an exalted place in the hierarchy of the school social strata.

Now, take the same kid, who everyone knows is a great soccer player, and have him (or her) suddenly NOT playing for the school team because his/her club team is so much more important.  Now that player not only loses the exposure to his/her school's cheering students, but actually becomes a traitor to the cause.  "Hey John, you're the best player at the school, how come you're not playing for the team?"

Potomac Soccer Wire recently had an excellent piece capturing just how agonizing this choice can be for players.  In this particular case, involving a girls team, the adults helped them work it out the right way--but that's getting increasingly rare.

The Academy and the various adults who rule youth soccer should not be creating this dilemma for players.  There is a better way to go:  improve high school coaching.  There is no reason that most schools cannot use club coaches for their school teams and adopt club training methods.  Some high schools already do this, and others should.  It won't be the Academy, but the Academy can easily work around the high school schedule and still give its precious charges the training and competition they need.

We'll add one more thing.  The folks behind the Academy think that they are bringing a European concept to US youth soccer.  In Europe, the professional soccer clubs run academy programs to identify and develop new talent.  But the US model is different in critical ways, and DOOMED TO FAILURE as a poor imitation of the European model. 

In Europe, the pro club academies don't charge for their programs.  As a result, they are drawing from the pool of ALL European players, and they are an attractive option for poor kids to pull themselves up.  The US academies, mostly at elite suburban clubs, do charge for their programs, and they attract a talented group of players from a limited subset of the population.  It's the exclusion of the rest of the population that makes all the difference!