This post was updated at 11:00 pm EST on Wednesday April 15
With the official announcement of US Soccer dissolving the Development Academy (DA), we face yet another restructuring in our youth soccer landscape in the United States. This is something our soccer leaders are well equipped to handle and, rest assured, your children will be okay. Your child will have a place to play. While the names of the leagues may change, it is essential players know (especially amidst COVID) they will have a team, a club, and a developmental environment that will inspire them as we restructure our youth landscape.
It’s now time for US Club Soccer and US Youth Soccer to lead, collaborate where possible, and put the interest of players first and foremost. Fortunately, these organizations are much more equipped to do this now than in years past. There are quality people, strong leaders with strong soccer knowledge and important perspective leading in both of these organizations.
Five Hopeful Results of the Development Academy Dissolving
1. Our youth landscape will move into more regionalized competition and that is a good thing for players, coaches and families.
Keep in mind that our high-performance youth landscape (DA and top ECNL) was been built on the premise that our top players should be playing with top players all the time. At the time – when these programs were launched years ago – our player pool was not as strong and so this meant long travel distances for league games. And, to be clear, if you wanted to play relatively equally competitive teams 8 or 10 years ago – you usually had to travel to do so. That is no longer the case.
We have grown as a soccer nation with a strong base of youth players and teams, more highly developed coaches, and better managed organizations. One of the primary problems of the past has been teams or clubs who are qualified, not being welcomed into the ECNL or DA structure. Our youth soccer leadership must put an absolute end to these exclusionary practices - as they were typically borne out of fear of competition. Competition is good and a necessary component of increased quality – and so the idea that too much competition in one area will weaken the level of competition and that one club would lose players and suffer financial stress has no basis.
With regionalized competition, no longer will a DA team literally drive past 3 quality ECNL teams to play another DA team two hours further down the road. No longer will a quality team be shut out of competition because a coach who is already a part of the league is fearful of what will happen to their club if another local club is allowed in the league.
2. The path to the National Team will be more fluid, open, and clear
Parents and players have been incredibly misled over the years. The path to the National Team is not with the DA, or with a specific coach in the ECNL, or with ODP. The path to the National Team is extreme athleticism, often uncanny speed, tenacious training habits and a high, high performance mindset - along with some luck and ridiculous determination.
US Soccer will now have the ability to reallocate some of the $9,000,000 they are spending on the DA to develop a much stronger scouting network, regionalized events for top players, events for late developers, and strong localized coach education events to support the development of players.
If your child dreams of being on the National Team like so many children do, parents should not feel obligated to make a financial commitment to a specific league. If your child is good enough (see my note above about athleticism, speed, training habits, mindset, luck and determination) they will rise to the top and be identified regardless of their league or team, and when they are identified there should be little to no further financial commitment required of parents.
3. Our youth players will learn to win and battle for their teammates and feel a stronger sense of community with their team and club – essential building blocks to the strong character we want them to have.
One of the reoccurring complaints about our youth players these days from youth coaches, college coaches, National and professional team scouts is that our players lack the ability or desire to ferociously compete. Our players today don’t possess the deep, innate desire to win and sacrifice themselves physically and emotionally to leave everything on the field. Youth players today lack the understanding of what it means to be on a team and battle, to celebrate a win - or survive the pain of defeat together. We have actually fed and created this mentality in our children through our league structures where winning just doesn’t matter as much and we are more concerned with “showcasing” players instead of showing them the value of battling to win together.
The ability and desire to win matters.
With regionalized competition comes stronger rivalries and with stronger competition comes increased development.
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4. Parents will trust their club leadership to do what is best for their child
The foundation of the work I am doing with Soccer Parenting is to establish trust between clubs, coaches and parents. Thankfully, clubs have been listening to these messages for the past 6 years and have responded swiftly and strongly to establish trust by opening the lines of communication, setting clear expectations for coaches and parents, and focusing on improving both the on-field and off-the field experiences of the players.
When I speak to parents across the country, I often say that your number one responsibility when it comes to your child’s soccer experience is to make sure they are in the right developmental environment – one that suits your child’s mentality and athletic potential while also meeting their emotional needs as a developing human being.
Thankfully, parents have evolved in this area over the past years and are now more apt to follow their instincts, choose quality coaches who are also quality people to inspire their child – instead of being influenced by the narrative of a coach claiming to be the path to a college scholarship or a National Team placement.
It is really, really important in this time of restructuring that parents don’t start club hopping and instead look to their child’s coach and club leadership and trust them to help. If you can’t pick up the phone and call your child’s coach or club leadership and voice your stress and feel like you are being heard, listened to and feel a sense of connection or empathy – then let your instincts guide you from there.
That being said, I am continually impressed by the quality of club leadership and coaches in the game these days and while not all of them necessarily possess the strongest levels of emotional intelligence or communication skills – they care deeply for their players. Parents must start there and simply ask “Do they care about my child?”
5. Clubs and Coaches Will Improve
As I said above, increased regionalized competition will lead to increased quality of clubs and coaches. If parents of young players have a choice of 2 or 3 clubs that play in the same league for their child to grow up in, clubs will have to improve to survive. In the past, this concept of “improve” has unfortunately meant standards that limit other sport participation, establish further travel distances for competition to prove it’s the “highest level”, and involved higher fees.
Now, with more regionalized competition “improve” can mean quality coaches educated on motivation, emotional intelligence in coaching, and establishing a sense of community. “Improve” can mean a truly holistic developmental environment that meets the needs of individual players. “Improve” can mean clubs striving to keep as many players in the game, as long as possible, in the best environment as possible.
While the US Soccer DA dissolving causes a change in our youth soccer landscape that can be stressful, especially amongst all the unfortunate and inherent stress we are already feeling with COVID, it is important we focus on the potential positive outcomes:
- Our youth soccer ecosystem is developed and ready for more regionalized competition at the highest level,
- The path to the National Team will be clearer,
- Players will have more emphasis on lessons in team and developing a winning mentality,
- There will be an increased focus on trust which is the foundation of quality, and
- Club and coaches will improve.