The U.S. Soccer Development Academy will begin competing in a 10-month season starting with the 2012-13 season. Along with our membership, we strongly believe that for the elite young soccer players who are committed to reaching the highest levels of the sport, the move to a 10-month season will have a profoundly positive impact on their development.
Below are answers to frequently asked questions about the Development Academy and the move to a 10-month season.
Why is the U.S. Soccer Development Academy making a move to a 10-month season?
From the start of the Academy program, our goal has been to close the gap with the top footballing nations in the world. The 10-month schedule, from September through June, or July based on postseason play, is what a typical elite soccer player's schedule looks like around the rest of the world.
Moving to a 10-month season means players can focus on training together three or four times per week and play meaningful games on the weekend nearly year-round. Fewer games and an extended season will allow for the addition of a substantial number of extra training sessions, which are the primary vehicle for player development.”
We are competing in a global marketplace. We are not just trying to prepare elite players for college and the pro ranks in the United States; we are trying to prepare players to compete against the best clubs and international teams from around the world. Therefore, our standard has to be higher.
The move to a 10-month season is being driven by our membership, the majority of which has been overwhelmingly supportive of the initiative because they recognize the value of player development. A number of clubs have already switched to the 10-month season and have seen substantial improvement (Western Conference, Texas Division).
How does playing in the Development Academy help a player develop individual skills?
By participating in the Academy, a player gets substantially more hours on the training field. With as many as four training sessions per week, there is significant opportunity to work on technique and receive instruction from coaches and U.S. Soccer Technical Advisors as part of a continuous seasonal plan for the players’ development. Simply put, the more hours spent with the ball at their feet the better.
On average, clubs will have continuity between 32-40 weeks of active training in a Development Academy 10-month season as compared to 12 weeks of training with a high school season. That adds up to a substantial amount of invaluable training time.
How does the quality of competition compare?
The quality of competition within the Academy environment for games is unmatched on a weekly basis. Players compete against the top players from their region and around the country throughout the year, and they do so after quality preparation throughout the week.
Equally important is the quality of competition and intensity within training sessions among like-minded players of similar motivation and ability. With a reduced number of games, the competition for spots on the field becomes more significant, raising both the level of play and also preparing the players for what they will experience at the elite level.
Players will have the chance to compete in meaningful matches that will determine qualification for the Academy Playoffs, and ultimately the opportunity to play for a national championship.
The rules governing games in the Development Academy match the rules that govern soccer games around the world (FIFA), whereas high school rules often focus on different priorities. For example, allowing substitutes to re-enter a match, which is common in high school and collegiate soccer, is never allowed in a real professional or international competitive match. This rule alone has a huge impact on a player’s development technically, tactically, physically and psychologically.
Is U.S. Soccer saying that kids can no longer play high school soccer?
Every player has a choice to play high school soccer or in the Development Academy. We believe that for those elite soccer players who are committed to pursuing the goal of reaching the highest levels they can in the sport, making this decision will provide them a big advantage in their development and increase their exposure to top coaches in the United States and from around the world.
We are talking about a group of players that want to continue at the next level, whether that is professional or college, which is still the destination for a majority of our graduates.
How will the implementation of the 10-month season occur?
The 10-month season will begin throughout the Academy in the Fall of 2012.
U.S. Soccer also recognizes that there may be challenges during the transition process and is willing to work with individual clubs and players to make the change as smooth as possible.
We understand there may be unique situations for a small population of players, such as those in certain private schools, and we are willing to discuss different options and determine a solution so they can participate in the Academy.
If the best players play in the Academy, won’t that reduce the quality of high school soccer?
Overall, only one percent of all players currently playing high school soccer are involved with the Development Academy.
We are only talking about a small percentage of elite players who have the goal of playing soccer at the highest levels.
High School soccer will continue to make an important contribution to the soccer landscape in this country.
Are you saying that playing high school soccer impedes player development?
High school certainly has a place in the soccer landscape in this country. For the elite player who is committed to reaching the highest levels, the Development Academy provides a more focused environment for player development through more training, fewer matches and against better competition, and a schedule and rules that are consistent with how the game is played around the world.
Won’t a player miss out on the fun of playing high school soccer?
High school soccer certainly plays an important role for those kids who participate. The elite players who choose to commit to the Development Academy will be around like-minded individuals in pursuit of a similar goal and will experience many of the same benefits. Players will have the chance to compete with and in front of their family, friends and club members, along with college and pro scouts, and most important, our Men’s National Team scouting network on a weekly basis.
Will younger players get less playing time than they would in high school?
One of the primary goals of the Development Academy is to encourage clubs to have younger players “play up” against older competition in both training and matches. This both speeds up young players’ development and challenges them against better competition, which keeps their interest in the game.
While playing time is a part of development, the majority of improvement for young players takes place on the training field. With increased time in training against better competition, players can accelerate growth. At the same time, coaches have more of an important role to invest time in each player’s personal development.
Are the coaches in the Academy better than high school?
There are many quality coaches in both the Development Academy and high school teams. The Academy environment allows for more focused and consistent training with less emphasis on games. Academy players and coaches also receive ongoing feedback, instruction and guidance from U.S. Soccer Technical Advisors, who are also the main scouts for the U.S. National Team programs.
What are some of the benefits of playing in the Development Academy?
Having players in this elite training environment for 10 months promotes increased technical standards and allows for greater accountability for players and coaches.
Coaches have a great opportunity to devote more time in training to following the U.S. Soccer Curriculum and Best Practices.
Both players and coaches must learn to deal with and manage the challenges of playing a 10-month season in matches using international rules, which is what they will experience at the highest levels.
A 10-month season allows for a greater opportunity to institute a style of play, develop and implement a system, and build team chemistry in accordance with the U.S. Soccer Curriculum and Youth National Teams.
This format allows for more careful seasonal planning, scouting and player identification, with ongoing evaluation and mentoring from U.S. Soccer Technical Advisors and National Team coaches.
The expanded season gives teams increased opportunities for younger kids in their club to “play up” against older players in both training and matches, thereby accelerating their development.
Playing high school is a more enjoyable experience and creates a better connection to the community. Academy teams don’t provide players with the social aspect of high school sports.
From a social standpoint, U.S. Soccer appreciates the value of high school soccer and will place a greater responsibility on the Development Academy clubs to develop the person as well as the player – both on and off the field.